The Antiphilosophers

by Steven L. Bindeman (Author)
©2015 Monographs XVIII, 269 Pages
Series: American University Studies, Volume 220


In this volume, author Steven L. Bindeman presents a survey of the key figures in postmodern antiphilosophy. Noting that the main thrust of their work can be found in their need to respond to the threat of nihilism, he is guided by the question, if the path to abstract truth is no longer viable, what then? He shows how the antiphilosophers turn their focus on the complexity of lived experience in place of the search for certainty, which was in their view what previously had guided the dominating discourse of the modernist philosophical tradition. Through close examination of a broad variety of texts, Bindeman illuminates how the antiphilosophers initiate a new way of doing philosophy, one which prefers to examine the question, Does it work? instead of, Is it true? Moreover, Bindeman demonstrates how the antiphilosophers are united in questioning the centrality of the great cornerstones of western metaphysics – time, self, universe, and God – because of their insistence that there is no way to reach beyond any of these words to the actual things to which they refer.
Utilizing the exposed, significant fault in the foundation of all philosophical systems, The Antiphilosophers delivers new insight concerning the issue of how we should relate to the resultant chaos. Written with a rare combination of philosophical rigor and clarity of expression, Bindeman’s work will be of interest to students and scholars of postmodern philosophy.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for The Antiphilosophers
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface: Badiou’s Concept of Antiphilosophy
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: The Four Central Themes of Antiphilosophy
  • Chapter One: Two Responses to Nihilism: Kierkegaard and Nietzsche
  • Chapter Two: The Break with Science: Husserl and Freud
  • Chapter Three: Silence at the Edge of Language: Wittgenstein and Heidegger
  • Chapter Four: Reason Under Siege: Benjamin and Horkheimer/Adorno
  • Chapter Five: The Lived Experience: Bachelard and Merleau-Ponty
  • Chapter Six: Strategies of Disruption: Levinas and Derrida
  • Chapter Seven: Exploring the Edge of the Real: Foucault and Deleuze/Guattari
  • Conclusion: Philosophy at the Boundaries of Thought
  • Appendix: Badiou and Žižek Debate Antiphilosophy

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Preface: Badiou’s Concept of Antiphilosophy

The contemporary French philosopher Alain Badiou has devoted a significant part of his work to the theme of antiphilosophy (while at the same time claiming that he is himself “anti-antiphilosophy”).1 He has centered his attention on the work of three postmodern antiphilosophers: Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Lacan. Antiphilosophers, he says, are awakeners, the ones who force other philosophers to remember that if they are true to themselves they will always be out of step with and mistrusted by the powers that be. They know they must speak with the voice of authority, arrogantly, seductively, even violently when necessary. They know that once their ideas become incorporated into academic knowledge their voice will cease to have power. They also know that “they must make their life into the theater of their ideas and their body into the place of the Absolute.”2 In other words, the radical thinking of the antiphilosophers is a deeply personal act, not without risk. In fact, their belief in the integrity of personal experience will often be the main source for their attacks on the abstract nature of philosophical discourse.

Badiou notes three joint operations for antiphilosophers: (1) they criticize philosophy for claiming the category of truth for itself and for constituting itself as a theory; (2) they assert that philosophy cannot be reduced to its fallacious theoretical exterior because it then reveals itself as an act, consisting of a series of fantastical stories about “truth” which are nothing more than clothing, propaganda, and lies; and (3) they direct their own work against such philosophical ← ix | X → acts in favor of newer and more radical acts which destroy their predecessors while clarifying their noxious character.3 Antiphilosophers thus reduce traditional philosophy’s use of categories to mere language, characterize its emphasis on truth and system as the pretensions of a will to power, and claim a more radical stance for themselves.

Badiou also advances the claim that “each antiphilosopher chooses the philosophers that he intends to make into canonical examples of emptied and vain speech.”4 The critically engaged work of the antiphilosopher thus exists in a context which is relative to and directed both for and against particular philosophers and their particular situations. While he provides examples of classical antiphilosophers working in this vein, such as Pascal for/against Descartes, Rousseau for/against Voltaire and Hume, and Kierkegaard for/against Hegel,5 he also focuses on the work of three modern antiphilosophers who launched an attack on the entire philosophical tradition: Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Lacan. Here we find an even purer form of antiphilosophy than ever before, because the totality of their work is based on instances of violent subjectivity which are directed at the destruction of the entire philosophical tradition and its enclosure of life by truth.

In order to understand the fundamental themes of the antiphilosophical view of philosophy, Badiou turns to Lacan, whose work he believes “is a necessary condition of the renaissance of philosophy”6 today. Following in Freud’s footsteps, Lacan considered philosophy to be a form of psychosis. More specifically, he saw philosophy as a discourse of mastery based upon its complete disavowal of what he called the fact of symbolic castration.7 “Symbolic castration” is Lacan’s term for when an individual experiences the gap between who he or she really is, and the symbolic mask that makes him or her into something other than this. The subject is thus cut off from the real “I” by projecting something else into the world at large.8 In other words, the mastery of the world that philosophers assume for themselves is based on the lie they make when they think they have complete access to the truth about anything—an assumption involving their refusal to acknowledge that they are lying to themselves in the first place.

The role of the antiphilosopher, then, for Badiou consists in alerting philosophers to the unavoidable contemporaneity and non-permanence of their discourse. Philosophers might otherwise believe themselves capable of producing substantive truths of their own, whereas such truths can only come to them from the outside, namely from the non-philosophical practices such as science or art or politics or love that are for Badiou the four material conditions for philosophy, and from which it is always suspended. Philosophers in his view must avoid the temptation to “suture” themselves to any one of them, or risk cutting themselves off from the other conditions—and thus from real life as well. ← x | xi →

With his concept of “suture” (from his Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (2013)) Badiou names the operation whereby philosophy, instead of giving equal weight to each of its four conditions, cancels itself out by delegating its powers to just one of them. As examples, he refers to science during the positivist suture of philosophy, to politics during the Marxist-Leninist suture, to poetry with Heidegger, and to love and friendship within the works of Levinas and Derrida.9

Philosophers must also take into consideration the compossibility of the four conditions, by studying for example the intersection of art and love in the novel or by recognizing how traditional philosophical concepts like truth or the subject are actually external abstractions from the composite reality to which they refer. In fact, Badiou defines philosophy as the creation of a “space of compossibility” for heterogeneous truths. In his view, it is not simply a question of registering truths by how successfully they are applied in praxis but rather of thinking their compossibility in the historical present. He borrows this term from Leibniz, for whom the notion of compossibility referred to a world without contradictory elements, since in his view not even God could bring into existence a world in which there is some contradiction among its members or their properties.10 Compossibility for Badiou indicates the theoretical possibility of joint truths existing within the indeterminacy of real-life events. Thus, real-life truths for him are not simple abstractions but complex heterogenous contingencies.

In Badiou’s view the philosopher must always pay heed to the antiphilosopher because the antiphilosopher guards against the philosopher’s temptation to allow any one of the four conditions to dominate the others and risk falling into a dogmatic pattern of thinking. When philosophers address the four conditions in a genuinely philosophical manner, though, they will learn to refer to inaesthetics rather than art; metapolitics rather than politics; transitional ontology rather than science; etc. While concepts like science, aesthetics, and politics refer in Badiou’s view to mere objects disconnected from reality, inaesthetics, metapolitics, and transitional ontology relate more concretely to the complexity of event-based reality.11 “Inaesthetics” accordingly is Badiou’s term for a way of relating to artistic creation that does not create a mere object but an immanent and singular event; the other terms function similarly for him.

“Philosophy is always the breaking of a mirror,” says Badiou. “This mirror is the surface of language, onto which the sophist reduces everything that philosophy treats in its act. If the philosopher sets his gaze on this surface, his double, the sophist, will emerge … The sophist is the one who reminds us that the category of Truth is void,” he adds.12 This means that if philosophers look into the mirror that is the surface of language they will see only empty words. Badiou at once embraces both the traditional modernist notion that truths are genuinely eternal and unchanging, ← xi | xii → and the postmodernist notion that truths are constructed through historical processes. If truth remains but a linguistic or rhetorical effect of mere historical context, however, then there will be no escape from the “prison-house of language.”13

Badiou ends up proposing a triangulation between philosophy, sophism, and antiphilosophy. One way of understanding this triangulation is by grasping the role of the sophist and the antiphilosopher as necessary educators of the philosopher. Both sophism and antiphilosophy are rival discourses that put philosophy to the test. Where, then, lies the difference between the two? If antiphilosophy and sophistry are indiscernible mirror images of one another, what is the source of their conflict over questions of language, being, meaning, and truth? The answer lies in the fact that unlike sophism, antiphilosophy is still a form of philosophy. While the sophist just wants to win an argument, the antiphilosopher still wants to understand the nature of things which lies at the root of all experience.

The antiphilosopher’s turn to the ineffable, lived experience—as it is lived in its own unique moment—is a turn that proper philosophers will never take because of their dependence on meaningful discourse. The opening up of an inner voice with its own private language is similarly inaccessible to them. If this inner voice is allowed to remain dormant, however, the philosophical enterprise again runs the risk of settling into dogma. Recognizing the decisive role of the listening and speaking subject constitutes another feature that is typical of antiphilosophy, since the experience of creating a philosophically radical idea not only gives precedence to the personal truth over and above the impersonal one, but also seems to be the kind of experience that cannot be transmitted except in a near-autobiographical style.

Alongside Badiou’s work, Boris Groys with his Introduction to Antiphilosophy adds an additional dimension to the subject by choosing to emphasize the “anti” aspect of antiphilosophy. He compares it to the anti-art of the dada movement, specifically with the “readymades” of Duchamp, which seemingly marked the end of art because they demonstrated that any ordinary object could be exhibited as a work of art. Although it may have seemed at the time that art institutions would lose their legitimacy and become obsolete, when the readymades were assimilated into the history of art their radical otherness as found art objects that resist commodification was canceled out.

For Groys, antiphilosophers are essentially readymade philosophers, because what they provide is readily produced yet still offers an alternative to the truth-production of traditional philosophers. Antiphilosophers ascribe philosophical value to certain already-existing practices which they then interpret as universal. Examples of this for him include Marx’s concept of the modern economy, Mauss’s work on the rites of gift giving and returning, Nietzsche’s discovery of the will to power, Kierkegaard’s focus on anxiety, Heidegger’s focus on boredom, Bataille ← xii | xiii → and Bakhtin’s belief in tears and laughter, and McLuhan’s theme of the electronic media.14

While these completely ordinary practices operate against the exclusive discipline of traditional philosophy (with its dependency on logic, mathematics, and rigorous thinking) they enable antiphilosophical practice to find its foundation in the universality (and instability) of everyday life. Antiphilosophers thus produce evidence from all sorts of common experiences, practices, objects, and attitudes. When they remove things from their original context and place them into new contexts, these disruptive acts enable them to create new meanings. Groys concludes that antiphilosophy is actually the final, absolute stage of philosophy—because instead of creating mere texts like traditional philosophy, antiphilosophy “instructs us how to change our mind in such a way that certain practices, discourses and experiences would become universally evident … [and it thus] offers the only possible path for its [philosophy’s] survival.”15 (Groys’s work here complements Badiou’s nicely, since ultimately they both acknowledge the interdependence of the two approaches.) Unlike traditional modes of philosophical thinking which seem complacently insular in comparison, antiphilosophy is willing to get its hands dirty—and the undermining of truth’s authority is disruptive.

In his essay “An Absurd Reasoning” (from The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays) for example, Albert Camus responded deeply and personally to this disruption of the order of things. He insisted that a world without truth inexorably leads to the issue of suicide remaining the one and only truly serious philosophical problem. “One kills oneself because life is not worth living,” he wrote.16 He too, like antiphilosophers before and after him, thought that philosophy needed to respond authentically to the problem of nihilism. Not interested in the usual social or personal reasons for suicide, he focused instead on its relation to individual thought: “Does the absurd dictate death? … It is always easy to be logical. It is almost impossible to be logical to the bitter end … Is there a logic to the point of death?”17 The absurd condition leads us to the deserts of thought. Born of the confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the universe, the leap into the absurd leads to the challenge of living in constant revolt against social and political conformity. Within the absurd condition one discovers the same scorn with which Sisyphus had become master of his own absurd fate, by scorning the inevitability of time’s passing and living only in the moment, refusing to accept certainty about anything.

For the other antiphilosophers as well, how to cope with the lack of absolute certitude in a world devoid of eternal truth is the fundamental issue, and it is against this very notion of certitude that they are united. The problem of certitude is closely related in their minds to issues of crisis, lived experience, the eclipse of truth, ← xiii | xiv → and the undermining of traditional conceptions of space and time. What’s wrong with certitude is that it leads to dogmatism, and it is thus complicit with modes of thought that are totalizing (an insight developed by Levinas). Wittgenstein in fact devoted a whole book to the subject (On Certainty), focusing on the theme that we really don’t have a consistent idea of what we mean by the concept since we use it in so many different contexts. Any claim for certainty also introduces the need for developing a whole system of related ideas in order to justify its authority. The related issue of truth also required just such a system for Nietzsche—since for him truths are just dead metaphors, mere lies that will always benefit the few over the many.

However much we might need truths, the antiphilosophers teach us that we should never allow them to have too much authority and control over our lives. As Deleuze and Guattari insisted, the best we can do with truths is to allow them their sway for a short while—as long as they remain useful—and then discard them in favor of others. With this new approach to the functioning of truth the antiphilosophers visualize a new world order, one which operates under more flexible sets of rules than ever before. While the term “antiphilosophy” suggests that the practice of philosophy is being challenged in some way, what is really being challenged is not philosophy itself but its authority as the provider of eternal and unchanging truth.

The search for a radical act of transcendence may require the antiphilosopher to redefine truth rather than to jettison it altogether. What matters most then is the experiential content of the speaking subject. As Levinas would say, the attempt to express the act of transcendence in writing (in contrast to speaking) concerns not what is said but the effect of what is said, and this implies a putting down of the Said because it lacks the authenticity of the Saying. With this privileging of rhetoric over logic, of the Saying over the Said, Levinas suggested that what really matters is the subjective change that an idea can produce in us rather than anything objectively measurable, and since this effect is beyond the scope of mere logical formulation we need to find alternative modes of access to this domain, other than the writings of traditional philosophers. It is to the antiphilosophers that we turn for help with this matter.


 1. See the section “Anti-antiphilosophy” in Peter Hallward’s Badiou: A Subject to Truth, pp. 20–24.

 2. Badiou: Wittgenstein as Antiphilosopher, pp. 67–68.

 3. ibid., pp. 75–76. ← xiv | xv →

 4. ibid., p. 9.

 5. Badiou, Logics of Worlds, p. 425.

 6. Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, p. 84.

 7. See Bosteels, 2011, pp. 6–7.

 8. See Žižek, How to Read Lacan, p. 34.

 9. See Bosteels, “Radical Antiphilosophy,” p. 32.

 10. See “Leibniz’s Modal Metaphysics,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 11. See Badiou, 2004, p. 10.

 12. Badiou, 2009, p. 25.

 13. This is the title of a work by the Marxist philosopher Frederic Jameson, with which he referred to the ahistorical bias of the French Structuralist and Russian Formalist approaches to linguistic systems.

 14. Groys, Introduction to Antiphilosophy, p. xi.

 15. ibid., p. xiv.

 16. Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, p. 10.

 17. ibid., pp. 10–12.


Badiou, A. (1999). Manifesto for Philosophy. (Trans. N. Madarasz.) London: Verso.

Badiou, A. (2004). Handbook of Inaesthetics. (Trans. A. Toscano). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Badiou, A. (2009a). Logics of Worlds. (Trans. A. Toscano.) NY: Continuum.

Badiou, A. (2009b). Conditions. (Trans. S Corcoran.) NY: Continuum.

Badiou, A. (2011a). Wittgenstein’s Antiphilosophy. (Trans. B. Bosteels.) London: Verso.

Badiou, A. (2011b). “Who is Nietzsche?” in Pli, 11, pp. 1–10.


XVIII, 269
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (July)
postmodern antiphilosopher nihilism abstract truth
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XVIII, 269 pp.

Biographical notes

Steven L. Bindeman (Author)

Steven L. Bindeman was Professor of Philosophy and Department Chairperson at Strayer University, Arlington campus, until his retirement in December 2010. His teaching experience reflects not only his interest in philosophy and psychology, but also in film and media studies, science fiction, world music, and comparative religion. Bindeman has been elected into Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities. He has published articles on Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Levinas, the creative process, and postmodernism, as well as numerous book reviews. His book Heidegger and Wittgenstein: The Poetics of Silence (1981) is currently listed as a recommended text under the listing «Heidegger» in the Encyclopedia Britannica.


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