Sunday, 23 June 2013

Much Badiou About Nothing

Alain Badiou is a French intellectual, long-time Maoist, and author of a 1988 book L'Être et l'Événement (translated as Being and Event). He is a Professor at the European Graduate School where his webpage biography says:
Trained as a mathematician, Alain Badiou is one of the most original French philosophers today. Influenced by Plato, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze, he is an outspoken critic of both the analytic as well as the postmodern schools of thoughts. His philosophy seeks to expose and make sense of the potential of radical innovation (revolution, invention, transfiguration) in every situation.
I read Being and Event a couple of years ago, as it can be found as a pdf, and I had recalled mention of Badiou by Alan Sokal and Jean Bicmont in their 1998 book Intellectual Impostures.

Anyway, I'd forgotten him until recently, but had an occasion to watch a Youtube video, "Infinity and Set Theory: How to Begin with the Void" of Badiou giving a 2011 talk concerning set theory and "the void" (a transcript is here).

Here is a snapshot I took of the talk (at 53:05). What's wrong with it? Don't cheat! (Hint below)

It doesn't even seem to be a typo or a spelling mistake, as he keeps repeating it.

(I make plenty of spelling mistakes - a friend on facebook keeps correcting my rubbish English ...)


  1. Clearly he's deconstructing it. Or something...

  2. No, you are misled. It's picture of Saturn, referencing the philosophy of Sun Ra.

  3. Left, right, tomato, tomato...

  4. Ha - an interesting Parisian idiolect that I'm unfairly oppressing!
    But, oddly though, Badiou's 1968 book on models is in fact ok. The "philosophy" strikes me as silly. It's available here


  5. I'm not a fan of Badiou particularly, but he makes a lot more sense from an analytic perspective if you read him as beginning from a radical version of the sortal-relativity thesis: there are no fundamental units of reference and quantification, only units that appear (as objects) within quantificational domains structured by something like systems of sortals that enable their re-identification.

    From here, he claims that ZF set theory lets us think the reality behind this appearance (multiplicity without unity) because it has no units, only sets of sets spun out of the empty set (the void). Of course, this requires a meta-ontological interpretation of set theory (which just is ontology), and this is where it gets fairly iffy as far as I'm concerned. Nevertheless, you can sort of see him as occupying something like Kant's position regarding phenomena and noumena, with the difference being that whereas Kant thought all that we could know about noumena is that they exist and are non-contradictory, Badiou thinks ZF set-theory gives us more purchase, at least enough to circumscribe their relation to phenomena.