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New Left Review 35, September-October 2005


French philosophy from the 1940s to the 1990s viewed as a third exceptional moment in the history of the discipline, after classical Greece and enlightenment Germany. Alain Badiou takes four coordinates for a tour de force of terse analysis: the antecedents of this moment, the enterprises it launched, the links it forged with literature, and the relations it developed with psychoanalysis.

ALAIN BADIOU

THE ADVENTURE OF FRENCH PHILOSOPHY

Let us begin these reflections on contemporary French philosophy with a paradox: that which is the most universal is also, at the same time, the most particular. Hegel calls this the ‘concrete universal’, the synthesis of that which is absolutely universal, which pertains to everything, with that which has a particular time and place. Philosophy is a good example. Absolutely universal, it addresses itself to all, without exception; but within philosophy there exist powerful cultural and national particularities. There are what we might call moments of philosophy, in space and in time. Philosophy is thus both a universal aim of reason and, simultaneously, one that manifests itself in completely specific moments. Let us take the example of two especially intense and well-known philosophical instances. First, that of classical Greek philosophy between Parmenides and Aristotle, from the 5th to the 3rd centuries bc: a highly inventive, foundational moment, ultimately quite short-lived. Second, that of German idealism between Kant and Hegel, via Fichte and Schelling: another exceptional philosophical moment, from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries, intensely creative and condensed within an even shorter timespan. I propose to defend a further national and historical thesis: there was—or there is, depending where I put myself—a French philosophical moment of the second half of the 20th century which, toute proportion gardée, bears comparison to the examples of classical Greece and enlightenment Germany.

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