JBS 6 – 2018
In recent works the concept of the ‘Idea’ has shifted from a peripheral concern to a much more crucial, decisive and prominent term within Badiou’s philosophical project – but one which has yet to find an appropriate place within Badiou’s typology. Aside from the generic, non-technical, layperson’s usage, Badiou deploys a wide range of uses across his oeuvre.
In Being and Event, for instance, we find an intriguing interplay between a revisionary but historically sensitive use of the Idea vis-à-vis Plato – and to a lesser extent, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant and Hegel – and a particularly Badiouian sense of the Idea as a term interchangeable – or at least inextricably linked – with mathematical axioms. In the latter sense, Badiou’s recognition of mathematics as the pure ontological discourse par excellence rests upon it being the ‘locus of the Idea,’ as the ‘place-holder of the Idea as Idea,’ where axioms, as such, are ‘the grand Ideas of the multiple.’ Given Badiou’s latter meta-ontological development of the term, though, the status of the former usage remains unresolved, and, as such, presents us with a rich and untapped field for research.
In Logics of Worlds, however, the treatment of the term takes up a much more central position within Badiou’s theoretical project, a position which since has been reaffirmed in many of his most popular and accessibly-written works, such as: The Communist Hypothesis, Philosophy and the Event, Philosophy for Militants, The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings and The True Life. It is in Logics of Worlds, especially, where we begin to glimpse a sense that the Idea is central to a meaningful life: where ‘“to live’ and “to live for an Idea” are one and the same.’ This dramatic and provocative sense of the Idea draws upon much of the ontological foundations Badiou has laid across his oeuvre and arguably restores some of the conceptual insights of the Idea expounded in the Theory of the Subject. ‘Excess summons lack’ at an evental-site, writes Badiou, ‘so as to bring forth the idea’ – i.e. the intermediary of existence and non-existence – from which a new regime of truth may follow: ‘an Idea presents the truth as if it were a fact.’
It is this concept of the Idea, as an essential component, or even the crux, of the evental process, and prerequisite of a meaningful life, which appears to play a decisive role in foreshadowing the third ‘tome’ of Being and Event: The Immanence of Truths. As Badiou explains in Philosophy and the Event, ‘subjectivity is signalled by the possibility of an Idea, of a new Idea – to use the terminology of the third volume of Being and Event … which doesn’t yet exist!’ It seems, then, that in its articulation of how an event ‘occurs for a given individual when she or he is incorporated within a procedure of truth, when she or he is seized by an Idea,’ Being and Event: The Immanence of Truths may seek to clear up how the Idea arises as well as the conceptual issues of Being and Event which persisted, if not intensified, within Logics of Worlds. Badiou’s mature treatment of the Idea, then, represents a possible concept which can bind together, not just Badiou’s three systematic theoretical works, but also the manifold applications of Badiou’s thought to arenas such as politics, etc.
The Idea has an uncertain, yet pivotal, role in Badiou’s philosophical system. As it stands, the function of the Idea, in its role as consolidating the whole of Badiou’s mature philosophy, lies in bridging the gap between the finitude of the individual and the infinitude of a truth, or truth procedure, viz., the Idea appears to be the concept which binds Being and Event, Logics of Worlds and – possibly – The Immanence of Truths together. With the increasing importance of the Idea in Badiou’s work, and with a new major theoretical text on the horizon that promises to continue to focus on the Idea, now is a fruitful time to reflect on the role of the Idea in Badiou’s work as a whole, from his engagement with the concept of the Idea in the history of philosophy, including Plato, Kant, Hegel etc. to its increasingly important role at the heart of his own system. With this objective, JBS 6: Interrogating the Idea focuses on the relation between the Idea and Badiou’s philosophical and political projects.
Oliver Downing (University of Liverpool)
Jan-Jasper Persijn (Ghent University)
Brian Smith (University of Dundee)