Difference and Identity: Theses on the Future of Thought

Difference and Identity: Theses on the Future of Thought
François Laruelle
In En tant qu’un: la « non-philosophie » expliquée aux philosophes (Paris: Aubier, 1991), p.116-121

I) Philosophy, or the domination of Difference over Identity
1) In the history of philosophy, Difference and Identity have received a growing importance. There are three landmarks: simple predicables or quasi-predicables in Porphyry; then concepts of the reflection of the understanding in Kant; then central categories of the deconstructions of metaphysics or deconstructions of presence in contemporary philosophy. Here, we will use them with this generality as concepts of the theory of philosophy and in this “meta”-philosophical calling.

2) Difference and Identity form a circle: they co-belong to each other, determine each other reciprocally, are inseparable from the double perspective of their knowledge and reality, and this is the case regardless of the distance [décalage] or distance between them.

3) There is a paradox of their relations within philosophy, for example in the statement: the Identity of Difference and Identity. 1) Identity seems dominant, intervening twice, as the worker and the contemplator, while Difference only intervenes once, as a worker (equivalent to scission or the dyad). 2) However, Difference has become dominant within a great part of contemporary philosophy: I/D (metaphysics) –> D/I (its “Nietzschean” critique and its deconstruction), because this reversal revels a more profound invariant domination of Difference (under the most general form of the dyad): every philosophy begins through an operation of differentiation (line of demarcation, decision, the division [partage] between two experiences of reality: cf. “ontological difference”) and remains within this element even when it thinks Identity.

4) Identity is always in the last resort submitted to Difference. Their co-belonging is identically the primacy of Identity over Difference. This primacy is the most general essence of thought in the philosophical mode (beyond its “metaphysical” or “logocentric” forms).

5) There is a mechanism of Difference when it stops being an intra-generic concept and becomes the essence of Being: not 2 is 1, but 2 becomes 1 and 1 becomes 2. This structure generalizes the concept of the “unconscious” in the philosophical mode.

6) The (paradoxical) consequences for Identity: 1) Identity is always divided, there are several concepts or significations of Identity; devalued and overvalued (the principle of identity: A = A or the numerical identity but also “Transcendental Unity,” etc.); 2) functionally reduced to its functions of synthesis of Being or experience (the fundamental axiom of philosophy: the One unifies); 3) subordinated to Being, that is, to the dyad, to transcendence (cf. Heidegger’s example: Identity is only conceived as principle, that is, as divided: A = A; and therefore ordered to Being).

7) Some conclusions: the essence-of-the-identity of Identity has been forgotten or ignored by philosophy. It is not a “metaphysical” forgetting, but a philosophical forgetting that globally brings philosophy back into question. Philosophy is the thought that is principally and in priority grounds itself on Being, on Transcendence (scission, decision, exteriority, nothing, nothingness) and which can only do so by ignoring the essence of Identity or Indivision which would suffice for itself and knows itself as such. All philosophers require Identity without, however, thinking its essence.

8) The forgetting of the essence of Identity is the same thing as the forgetting of the essence of the One. The watchword: a science of the One qua One has failed twice. First through its submission to the science of Being qua Being; and a second time through the very failure of the science of Being as a science. Philosophy is the thought that “transforms” this (scientific) failure into (philosophical) success.

II) How is a thought of Identity qua Identity possible?
1) Several imperatives are possible that define in each a specific way of thinking. For example: “Take care of being as a whole” (–> ontology or metaphysics). “Be the guardian of the Other man as the guardian of your brother” (–> Judaic thought). What type of thought determines the imperative: “Think Identity qua Identity or think Identity independently of Being”? … It is what we will here seek under the name “science” or “the sciences themselves.”

2) Identity qua Identity negatively means: the being-identical of Identity, that is, therefore, a “relation” immediate (to) itself, not mediated by Being or Transcendence and its modes (presence; objectivation; scission; nothing; intentionality, and, in general: differe(a)nce). And Identity qua Identity positively means: the radical immanence (to) oneself as indivision that is non-decisional or non-positional (of) oneself but knows who or what they are. Identity is now the real itself and chases Being outside of this real in the strong sense.

3) Identity as such can therefore be neither the object (even the ideal object) nor the subject (the mode or correlate of the object); we cannot aimintention, or project it; we cannot point to it like an ontological entity or even beyond Being. Both Platonism and Neo-Platonism are thereby excluded, but not only them: every philosophy aims for or intentions (at least as a part) for the One.

4) From the point of view of its thought, what does “qua Identity” mean? Identity qua Identity means that it is already and absolutely given, given without remainder, before thought which nevertheless thinks it, and thinks it as the Given itself anterior to thought. More precisely:

5) On the one hand, Identity is a theoretically new “object,” an emergent object in relation to ontological or philosophical discourse; Identity is an object that is irreducible to philosophy that only thinks it in a relation of reciprocity or convertibility with Being. The radical immanence of Identity (as real and not as logical or logico-real identity) is invisible within the Greco-Philosophical or “Western” horizon, which gives primacy to Difference in general, giving primacy to Transcendence.

6) On the other hand, there is the absolute, uni-lateral precession or a precession without reciprocity of Identity over thought, the real over its representation, and it corresponds to the irreducible real kernel of causality, from the relation of the cause (the real of Identity) to the effect (thought). There is no “mechanistic” conception here of causality, even if the dialectic is, as much as any reciprocity is, excluded here. Thought does not modify the real but lets itself be unilaterally determined by the real. This is probably the rigorous meaning of the “determination in the last instance.”

7) Finally, “to think Identity” is no longer to ob-jectivate and transform Identity but to think according to Identity taken up as a guiding thread. This means the following: thinking within its succession or its posterity, unequally to Identity, and seeing everything in Identity, that is, to see everything in this inequality. A thought that does not point to an “object” but follows it and which nevertheless would be a thought (of) the object – a non-positional thought (of) Identity – is de jure possible as an effect of Identity.

8) We will say that this thought that no longer claims to co-constitute the real is the absolute “reflection” – the reflection without a mirror – of Identity. It is not a re-presentation but the original presentation of the real, determined in the last instance by the real.

9) To make the concept plausible and non-contradictory, it is enough to therefore conclude on Identity by the (new) structures and rules of this thought, by deducing them (we won’t do this here). These new structures and rules implement the efficacy of pure Identity or radical immanence even within transcendent objects that are always given, to the contrary, under the form of a mixture of immanence and transcendence (for example differe(a)nce or, in general, the dyad-form).

III) The Thought (of) Identity, or science itself.
1) Does this thought (of) the real as Identity already exist under an identifiable form? Is this thought already realized somewhere, but invisible, because of philosophy itself? This is probably the very thought of science; science as thought and not only as the production of knowledges. We must limit the authority of philosophy to make way for science.

2) There are four indications to support this hypothesis. 1) This thought of science is the full implementation without remainder of the uni-laterality of the causality and is thus opposed to the circle or hermeneutism broadened by any philosophy that wants to produce the real. 2) Science is radically immanent, even when it (necessarily) uses transcendent data; it expresses the efficacy of the real alone over thought and the necessity to rectify knowledges in accordance with the real. The thought of science is even more immanent than Spinozism. 3) Science is the reflection (of) the real; it is a transformation of given theories into theories more adequate (to) the real. It is a thought of radical adequation and that does not exclude its transformation to the contrary. 4) Science is a minimal thought, poorer than philosophical, but specific and “anterior” to the philosophical. Science thinks autonomously, and consequently science does not think like philosophy.

3) Every science – on condition of writing it thus, bracketing objectivation – is rather a science (of) the singular but in the last instance alone; it relates its phenomena and their generality to their Identity of the last instance by the means of the theoretical representation that “reflects” the real without aiming at it.

4) The essence of science is “forgotten” or “denied” by philosophy and the epistemological images that it gives to it. Epistemology is a transcendental illusion, an amphibology that confounds the object of the scientific type (Identity) and the object of the philosophical type (the mixture); epistemology is what assumes that the object of scientific knowledge is the result of an objectivation that co-belongs to the essence of the real.

5) The update of the scientific essence of thought below the Greco-ontological presuppositions involves a new economy of the traditional relations of philosophy and science: the priority (and not the inverted domination) of science over philosophy; the passage from philosophy to the state of (necessary) material for a science of Identity or a science of the One qua One.

6) The forgetting of the One is stronger and wider than the forgetting of Being: it is consummated not by the “metaphysics of presence” alone but by any philosophy as thought grounded principally on transcendence (even “absolute” transcendence, even the deconstructive transcendence of the authority of the logos). The future of thought is the assumption of the One “itself” or the One qua One rather than Being qua Being.

translated by Jeremy R. Smith

taken from here

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