Jerrold L. Kachur The hegemony of metaphysical constructivism: but let’s not leave Language as the Real God to lay only at the feet of hermeneutists and the vitalists: it is also shared with the hegemonic position on truth, the analytical logicists and positivists drawing on atheist Hume, transcendentalist Kant to the agnostic later Wittgenstein on big T Truth, also understand little t ‘truth’ as bounded by a finite logic that gets meaning from the senses in language.
In the eight modern cases, there is a fundamental assumption to privilege Knowledge, Language or Meaning and to constitute what I would broadly call the constructivist approach to Absolute Truth. For Badiou, the above eight approaches to truth fail for five reasons: (1) they privilege language over being; meaning over truth; and communication over commitment; (2) ‘Truth’ is simply a matter of appropriate conformity to widely recognized norms; (3) they equate knowledge with truth and eliminate the possibility of encountering the indiscernible or undecidable; (4) in a constructivist’s universe, every definition fits and everything remains in its properly recognized place and apparatuses of control maintain the worlding;
and (5) true meaning is equated with habitual use (i.e. cultural tradition);
thus, thinking is to leave everything as it is.25 According Badiou’s use of the Axiom of the Void, there is at least one claim or assumption that cannot be deduced or demonstrated but nevertheless must be asserted as an article of faith. Furthermore, according to post-Cantorian set theory, as a structural condition of thinking there is another generalization that can be made regarding the Axiom of Choice. This function of choice always exists as to what claim or assumption can or may be asserted even though it cannot be shown (or constructed). Therefore, in a well-ordered system of thought, the choice will be illegal (i.e. there is no existing rule for it) and anonymous (i.e.
there is nothing to discern). Interestingly, of the eight historical formulations defending relativism, there is always a deep assumption of an ‘absent’ Absolute Truth in their different defences of a naturally finite or historically limited kind of truth. However, note that such claims about ‘no big T Truth’ and ‘many little t truths’ are both big T Truth claims. Radical relativism lives uneasily with an expressed absolute certainty in It. Picture it as a rowboat with two oars - it can only move forward with ignorance of the connection and one alone takes it in a circle back to the other. If this contradiction is challenged as unintelligible, incoherent or contradictory these are defended as a virtue of an ironical stance in a paradoxical world. Postmodernists are against absolute, universal or objective claims except for themselves. As Habermas points out: ‘paradoxically […] they somehow keep believing in the authority and superiority of philosophical insights: their own.’4. Re-Engaging Big T Truth Atheism According to Badiou and the axioms of post-Cantorian set theory, in any well-ordered system of thought there is at least one claim or assumption 8 Trashing Truth in Eight Easy Steps that cannot be deduced or demonstrated but nevertheless must be asserted or said: it is an illusion to believe that one has escaped one’s fundamental assumption, so scientists, philosophers and theologians each have their absolute presupposition and article of faith. Badiou’s theory of the Event attends to the nature of secularist revelation and builds a positive theological defence of atheism on the contours of post-Cantorian set theory, which challenges both religious fundamentalism and post-modern relativism. From the point of view of both religious theologians and deflationary secularists, the fundamental assumption may be perceived as based on an irrational and absolute faith, a kind of fundamentalism that the atheist has about Truth and the death of God. Contradiction in atheism creates ambivalence between negative and positive statements of faith in the proposition that God does not exist; atheism can appear both as ‘a theism’ and ‘not a theism.’ Pragmatists such as Kai Neilson and Richard Rorty side with the deflationist approach to God and Truth-talk because they see a logical contradiction in denying God’s existence absolutely.27 Other atheists - in their absolute defence of their ‘theism’ - have been as publicly adamant as religious fundamentalists in defending their atheism and science as an assertion of faith in the nonexistence of God.28 Alain Badiou, however, sees this religious/science split as a conflict between Platonists of the One (God/Nature) who have not addressed ‘undecidability’ in forcing such claims. While he wants to provide a basis for a militant defence of atheism, that is a fighting spirit, as do vulgar militant objectivists above, he also wants to acknowledge the inherent undecidability concerning the Absolute without falling into a kind of anthropocentric relativism of the pragmatic deflationists and multicultural subjectivists.29 We still need to be committed to the Absolute in some way.
Badiou’s two-pronged solution is first, ‘regarding the God of metaphysics, thought must accomplish its course in the infinite,’30 which means treating post-Cantorian set theory of the infinite in mathematics as the ontology of philosophy and, second, regarding ‘the God of poetry, the poem must cleanse language from within the slicing off of agency of loss and return. That is because we have lost nothing and nothing returns. The opportunity of a truth is a supplementation.’31 In this secularist way Badiou resurrects the Absolute Truth of the death of the God of Religion.
The militant defence of atheism must provide an organizational principle for the relationship between state and society to defend against religious fundamentalism and post-modern relativism. However, while the nature of state secularism is a secondary point of contention which I cannot further develop here, suffice it to say, secularists will still disagree over a multiplicity of ways to restrict Religion or God-talk in the public sphere.Whether the theology of Money or of God, or Nature, or Man, or even Nation or Society, there is a time to decide and a time to prescribe. Badiou provides a positive fighting program for Absolute Atheism and a way to defend State Jerrold L. Kachur Secularism against reactionary nationalism, religious fundamentalism and post-modern relativism. Intellectuals must speak big T Truth with militant atheism as one of its defining characteristics to enable two demarcations: (1) between a true universal typified by Christian, Islamic or Communist militancy and a false universal typified by the laws of money, exchange and the market and (2) between ineffective and effective eventual truths:
respectively revelations in which atheists can no longer believe, for example, the Rapture, versus those related to investigative procedures which atheists can believe in, for example, in science, politics, art and love.33 This is Badiou’s call to the intellectual mind and potential memory in all people, possibly an Event will shake the slumber, to choose and to commit to the Void where truths will gather for those who believe in secular miracles.
Notes R Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Vintage, New York, 1962, p. 33.
F Furedi, Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone Continuum, London and New York, 2004.
A Negri, ‘Living the Imperial Transition: In Order to Struggle’, in Empire and Beyond, Cambridge Polity Press, Cambridge, 2008, p. 40.
R Hofstadter, loc. cit.; also see S Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason, Vintage, New York, 2009 (updated ed.); F Furedi, Where Have all the Intellectuals Gone loc. cit.; L Lapham, Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent of the Stifling of Democracy, Penguin Press, New York, 2004;
J Kachur, ‘Interculturalism and Bad Habits of Mind: a Barbarian Critique of America as Cult Practice’, in Exploring Cultural Perspectives in Education 2007, H Maitles (ed), ICRN Press, Edmonton, AB, 2008, pp. 366-405.
A Badiou, Being and Event, Continuum, London, 2005; A Badiou, Conditions, Continuum, London, 2008; A Badiou, Logics of Worlds, Continuum, London, 2009; A Badiou, Infinite Thought, Continuum, London, 2005; A Badiou, Number and Numbers, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2008;
A Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, SUNY Press Albany, NY, 1992;
A Badiou, Briefings on Existence, SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 2006; several sources provide excellent overviews of Badiou’s work: P Hallward, Badiou:
A Subject to Truth, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2003;
S Gillespie, The Mathematics of Novelty: Badiou’s Minimalist Metaphysics, re.press series, Melbourne, 2008; J Barker, Alain Badiou: A Critical Introduction, Pluto Press, London, 2002; C Norris, Badiou’s Being and Event, Continuum, London, 2009; E Pluth, Badiou: A Philosophy of the New, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010.
Hofstadter, op. cit., p. 27.
10 Trashing Truth in Eight Easy Steps A Gramsci, Selections from Prison Notebooks, International Publishers, New York, 1977, p. 9.
ibid., p. 10.
E Said, Representations of the Intellectual, Vintage Books, New York, 1994, pp. xii-xiii, xiv, 109.
ibid., pp. 85-102.
See J Barker, ‘Appendix: The Basic Principles of Set Theory’, in A Badiou, A Critical Introduction, Pluto Press, London, 2002, pp. 149-155.
A Badiou, Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy, Continuum, London, 2005, p. 10.
G Cantor cited in: M Hallet, Cantorian Set Theory and Limitation of Size, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1984, p. 13.
Deuteronomy 5: 6-8. In Islam, the first monotheistic pillar begins with “There is no god but God …”.
B Woodward, Plan of Attack, Simon and Shuster, London, 2004.
O Bin Laden, ‘Message to Americans’, in G Kepel & J-P Milelli, Al Queda In Its Own Words, Belknap Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008 , pp. 72-77, footnote 1.
B Obama, ‘The 2010 State of the Union Address’, viewed on 4 April 2010, http://www.youtube.com/watchv=L1PWQtCDaYY.
J Habermas, Between Naturalism and Religion, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2008.
J Ratzinger & J Habermas, The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2005.
S iek, The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2003, p. 6.
A Badiou, ‘Dictionary’, in Being and Event, op. cit., p. 525.
Some would argue that the Absolute exists but it is rationally inaccessible or it exists and is irrationally accessible via magic, mysticism, or poetics etc.
Badiou’s key point is that we can think the Absolute rationally via postCantorian set theory.
For a concise summary of Badiou’s critique of the variants of constructivism see: P Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2003, pp. 159-161.
J Habermas, ‘Philosophy as Stand-In and Interpreter’, in After Philosophy:
End or Transformation, K. Baynes, J. Bohman and T. McCarthy (eds), MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1987, p. 307.
Jerrold L. Kachur R Rorty and P Engel, What’s the Use of Truth, Columbia University Press, New York, 2005; K Nielsen, Atheism & Philosophy, Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 2005; A Flew, God, Freedom and Immortality, Prometheus Books, New York, 1984; NHG Robinson, ‘Faith and Truth’.
Scottish Journal of Theology, vol. 19, June 1966; C Hedges, When Atheism Becomes Religion, Free Press, New York, 2008.
C Hitchens, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2007; R Dawkins, The God Delusion, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 2006; S Harris, The End of Faith:
Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2004; D Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Viking, New York, 2006.
A Badiou, Briefings on Existence, op. cit., p. 30.
ibid., p. 31.
Four discernible existing paradigms of secularism are currently available:
Anglo-American Liberal, French Republican, Turkish Republican, and Communist Chinese. The American mode is the most religion-friendly and seeks freedom of religion from state control. The French mode emphasises the role of the state and the freedom of the political sphere from the influence of religion. In these two cases, secularism can mean anti-clericalism or state neutrality or the rejection of religious idioms and symbols in the public sphere. The Turkish mode represents state control of religion whereby institutions control religious symbols, language, leadership and networks, and in this case, seeking to create an enlightened Islam, build national identity and to provide legitimacy for its governance by blocking the use of religion against the state. The Chinese model, following the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist socialist models, also represents state control of religion and similar institutional controls; however, atheist materialism is promoted as the state religion and there is an active suppression of religious freedom and practice.
See: MH Yavuz, ‘Modes of Secularism’, in Secularism and Muslim Democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 2009, pp. 144170; L Zhufeng (ed.), Religion Under Socialism in China, M E Sharpe, New York, 1991; D Shambaugh, China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2008.
E Balibar, ‘Alain Badiou in French Philosophy’, in P. Hallward (ed), Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, Continuum, London, 2004, pp. 37-38.
12 Trashing Truth in Eight Easy Steps Bibliography Badiou, A., Being and Event. Continuum, London, 2005.
–––, Conditions. Continuum, London, 2008.
–––, ‘Dictionary’. Being and Event. Continuum, London, 2005, p. 525.
–––, Logics of Worlds. Continuum, London, 2009.
–––, Infinite Thought. Continuum, London, –––, Number and Numbers. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2008.
–––, Manifesto for Philosophy. SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 1992.
–––, Briefings on Existence. SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 2006.