The Philosophical End-times: How to Change Philosophy to Put it in a Situation to Contribute to Real World Problems?

Philosophies and Problems of the Real World

Anne-Françoise Schmid, trans. Sylvia

from: Oraxiom: A Journal of Non-Philosophy, Vol. 1 No. 1 (2020):  Issue No. 1, The End Times, pp. 33-40

Abstract: We make the hypothesis that philosophy and the real world have no direct relations and we elaborate the conditions such that philosophies may be in relation with it. For this, we make use of the notion of impossibility, of the de jure multiplicity of philosophies, of the question of sufficiency of philosophy, as well as of a real which is not the product of philosophy, as well as within non-standard philosophies. We reinterpret these results with the aid of the notions of genericity and replace philosophy’s habitual concept of overdetermination by that of under-determination, that which changes the relations between philosophies and other disciplines. They no longer survey the latter, but they are juxtaposed for creating new links between philosophies among themselves and with other disciplines.

Key Words: philosophy, generic, real world, interdisciplinarity, under-determination, integrative object.

            How to modify philosophy in a way by which it may have some impact on real world problems? In such a question, there are two unknowns: philosophy and the real world.

  1. Traditionally, philosophy has been thought as concerning the real world, for the good reason that it was supposed not only to identify but also collaborate with its constitution by the means of a dialectic or a topology. But this engendered some problems, exactly that of the real world. A philosophy should have reason against another since its thought collaborates in the constitution of the real world. We have then a quantity of “real worlds” in concurrence and which can go to war.

  2. The “problems” of the real worlds designate at the same time a sort of “impossible” for philosophy, but which it is the occasion to surpass, and of giving place to a new philosophy. The problem of the real world is considered as being within discourse and not belonging to it, which we circumvent with a rhetoric, but one that radically escapes it.

  3. This situation has the consequence that each philosophy thinks it arrives in a real world that degrades, “now only finance, now only globalization and stupidity have invaded the world, etc.…”, each philosophy believes it can provide its solutions and establish its mastery. This puts it in a contradiction, humanism was the stupidest thing that was, and however today’s world is considered dehumanized. As soon as a philosophy is explained publicly, it constructs this type of contradiction that surpasses it in its technical work.

  4. Time goes towards still more dark horizons, where philosophies, as exceptions, may give some light. Philosophy thus also gives its temporality to the problems of the real world.

            The question is neither of destroying philosophy nor the “real world”, but to undo the entanglement, the one and the other will have new dimensions, liberated by the bracketing of the complementarity and opposition of the two notions.

Problems 1-4 give some idea of the structure of philosophy: it gives itself within a double opposition, to other philosophies and to the “real world” insofar as it escapes the philosophical light. It is given with its proper boundaries, as if it were it alone that constructed them. For each philosophy, there is a double empirical: what it puts at a distance, and what its transcendental makes seen. There is a double temporality, that of tradition, which is its treasure, and the one that it must surmount with the help of a philosophy, for which we do or do not take sides, with the aid of recalls in the tradition (“I am a Kantian”, “I was a Sartrean and a phenomenologist”, etc.). There is thus a narrative of the formation of philosophies which starts from a point more or less close to tradition to combine it with an impossible (how to think at the same time phenomenology and structuralism, how to make a place for the "subject" in a formalized system, etc.…). It is within this impossible alliance that each philosophy is born. This impossible alliance is excessively interesting, but it should be transformed in taking up each of the problems 1-4 again.

  1. Philosophical reason should be affirmed not only as plural, but as being necessarily multiple, and of multiple principles, and not remain narrow. Let us take philosophy out of both the tradition and the darkness of the real world, to give it a consistency of the "form" of specific thoughts, that of contraries, so as to neutralize these, but to pose them either in their reciprocal independence or in their identity. We take account of contraries, but by modifying their syntax. The consequence of such a modification is that a philosophy has no weight in front of a “problem of the real world”, but that it can make on the contrary superpositions of fragments of philosophies to indirectly describe them. We invent a syntax of philosophical combination, sometimes habitually considered as contrary.

  2. Let us admit that there are problems of the real world but take them out of a philosophical interpretation. This signifies that the real precedes philosophy, and that it is the occasion for philosophy of new impossible alliances, but only indirectly allowing to describe them, by admitting descriptions of others. This does not signify that all philosophies are equivalent with regard to the real world, since there are superpositions, systems of “layers” and strata, that the problem and its dimensions can only be known through the synthesis without synthesis of indirect approaches. We know now that many scientific problems no longer find definitive syntheses, our medicine is dealing with epidemics without an infectious agent where the synthesis of cognitions is no longer possible: obesity, depression, but I also add, the objects that contemporary sciences construct on an interdisciplinary fund. It is these objects, without philosophical or ethical status except for the objective appearance of the intention of researchers, which I had called "integrative objects".

  3. It is not necessary to consider our times more difficult than another to establish the authority of philosophy. We know that the times are hard, but it is not necessary that this conviction or this lived be accompanied by a linear and quasi-descendant representation of time. There can be concomitantly several temporalities in action. We can see, what is the most current, the future as a to-come [a-venir], like the series of the past and the present. We can also see the future as a mode that induces a break in the present or the past and puts to work these two representations at the same time. A future towards which we go, but which at the same time “drops” (it is an expression of François Laruelle) into our present and past.

  4. Philosophy has without doubt its temporality which it should undo between traditions and impossible futures, but problems of the real world also have and give rise to plural temporalities independent of those of philosophies and its multiplicities. Elaborating temporal dimensions and not just one, synchronizations, de-synchronizations, musical movements or noises, multiple partitions. There must be an architecture without sufficiency, which does not give simply as a ruin of the future, as with the Romantics. This architecture limits the general thesis according to which philosophy, like the owl, always gets up at nightfall, when it is already too late. The philosophies are there, once each time. From solitary linearity, we pass to a multiplicity constructed and to be constructed, where the solitudes participate in an "intimate collective" without closure, from where we can return to philosophies, but neutralized, transformed into conceptual materials to indirectly comprehend the real, and its famous “problems”.

            These propositions do not deprive philosophy of value, they amplify it on the contrary, on the condition of admitting that they have no direct action possible on "real world problems” but do nothing yet by constituting themselves. But it is not their unity, their rationality, which makes their value, but their fashion of creating solutions to an impossible problem.


The Concept of Genericity

            But to take its value philosophy should be oriented towards a generic, it should find and create a space and a place where the concepts extracted from such and such philosophy take a new sense or new dimensions. It should, within its relations to sciences, be accompanied by a generic epistemology, relatively independent of particular disciplines, which does not pretend to bear directly on the sciences, nor draw its generalizations from historical facts alone. It should also be accompanied by a generic ethics, given the constant is the equilibrium of disciplinary boundaries, and not massive judgements in opposition. Ethics introduces within philosophical and scientific work a democracy, where disciplines and systems each intervene for the same weight. Thus understood, philosophies are more object-oriented rather than simple languages, “trading zones” for treating contemporary questions. Neutralized, philosophies are new dimensions for understanding objects, and not only languages for constructing equivalences between social, philosophical, scientific activities. Heterogeneity is an element of the contemporary world, and philosophical concepts are the indirect means of giving measures to philosophical, scientific, social disparities.

            The generic is an Occam’s razor, it extracts concepts from their theoretical fabric, making another minimal usage where the real is the occasion of the philosophical, where the human and the scientific are no longer distinct.


How to Evaluate the Objects of “Technology”?

            Habitually, when we evaluate the products of nano-sciences and nanotechnologies, molecular biologies, synthetic biologies, predictive biologies, we treat them within a dynamic of risks, uncertainty, cost/benefit. What is left out is their objectivity, which greatly impoverishes their evaluation.

            Of course, the notion of the object is also transformed. It is no more about manipulable objects, where the object and the subject are separated in a phenomenological distance. It is as we have said, an object makes superpositions of knowledges, but also of non-knowledges, since each discipline is partially incompetent, where the appearance of unity is constituted of the intentions of researchers, not synthesizable, not explicable by the convergence of different disciplinary perspectives, as complex objects are. We must treat within these objects our cognitions as much as our non-knowledges. In an Ethics Committee, each one speaks as an expert, and yet it must pronounce on objects (and not only on language) which are beyond our knowing. It is an objective given of generic epistemology, it is no longer just a question of proving or justifying based on disciplinary logics, but to postulate an unknown object, as an X given the properties are repartitioned in an unexpected fashion within disciplines.

            For the evaluation of an object which we call “integrative”, one must above all not be preoccupied with qualification in a scientific or technical object. Treating a fabricated living object of technique too rapidly means that we see the evaluation only arise at the last moment, when everything is there and already done, without ever coming back to scientific dogmas. Treating an integrative object as uniquely technical is to see it as a series and consequence of a major discipline, “molecular biology”, “synthetic biology”, without seeing that for all these disciplines, the interdisciplinary and generic grounds precede disciplinary emergence. One treats objects as if they were the fruits of a mono-disciplinary science, and this is why we cannot evaluate them only on the results. On the contrary, we must from the start understand the object in its scientific heterogeneity, technique, ethics, giving an experimental method for determining the dimensions of the object.

            Generic epistemology has the characteristic of elongating the various dimensions of a discipline, science, objects, to construct and postulate a generic space. The evaluation of scientific objects can be done if we postulate all of its dimensions + 1, and not as the social results of the usage of these objects. That there are advantages and risks is certain, but they take another sense, by conserving their dimensions. This method supposes a certain slowness, it seeks to distinguish dimensions, to comprehend contemporary objects as distinct from complex objects, to take account of cognitions just as well as non-cognitions, of partial and momentaneous syntheses. But on the other hand, it is also a rapid method, because it allows the disciplines to collaborate without the interdiscipline being an aftereffect, because we would be unhappy with the insufficiency of disciplinary results, that it manifests flows of difficult to describe cognitions within a hierarchy of disciplines. It does not suppose a ready-made judgement on these objects, whether the products of a more and more dehumanized world or of a more and more comfortable world. The human is already there, and it is up to us to engage ourselves in the fashion in which we make use of these objects. Opening dimensions allows to avoid the shortest and most hierarchized interpretations.


The Under-Determinations of Relationships Between Philosophies and Sciences

            Such a method supposes that we do not consider philosophy in isolation. Philosophy’s cognition can no longer be an “auto-modeling” as Plato dreamt. Philosophy can only, like the other sciences, be known within the element of heterogeneity. To cognize philosophy, one indeed needs something that functions like the “real world”, that we can only indirectly represent through other disciplines. It is evidently not by positivist characterizations of a discipline over another, one must generically transform the concepts of these disciplines.

            For example, non-standard philosophy combines the variables “philosophy” and “quantum” in one matrix. Why “quantum”? Without doubt because it is the first science to teach us that its formalism does not directly bear on natural phenomena, but on states and operators. It took the invention of interpretations and even natural languages by physicists to exposit their fundamental concepts. The philosophical question is not so much of knowing whether concepts have an operative value, but rather that we cannot directly bring our cognitions onto objects considered natural.

            Cognizing philosophy is to be capable of putting it in relation to other cognitions under these cognitions, to not recreate the classical oppositions, that give “reason” to such and such philosophy rather than another. It is a fashion not of denying its tradition, but of redistributing it in diverse materials, and in diverse dimensions. The quantic interpretation of philosophy allows to give a sense to superpositions, to the non-commutativity of disciplines, to the imaginary that synthesizes by quarter circles… An ethics where “man” is the “real”. A quantum epistemology, where the fundamental notions are no longer those of theory and experiment, of theory and fact, but of distinct orders of magnitude, virtual, future, superpositions, oscillations of thought. To come back to objects for which we propose a method of evaluation, we could come back to the heterogeneity that presents biology from an epistemological point of view. Habitually, biology is judged across other disciplinary structures, mechanics, physics, chemistry, and in general in this order. The result is that we regret the non-unification of biology by a theory, it is a dream that comes back time and again under the form of theoretical biology. Or else we see it passing from descriptive to constructing, like chemistry, its own ontology. The result is that in no way can we make a proper and strong character out of the multiplicity of its disciplines, of its various genetics. That a science may be made of explicit multiplicities is highly interesting. For example, this allows to give an epistemological status to “givens”, that contrary to facts, do not make a “face” to a theory, and can be the object of interpretation of many disciplines. We do not see that these concepts are at a time informatic, mathematical, and experimental in an entanglement that no longer depends on only one of the biological theories.

            We can thus put these particularities of biology and those of philosophy in a matrix, and thus transform the philosophical multiplicities.

            We can also put the concepts of traditional epistemology and those generic epistemology in a matrix, and thus form concepts that, indirectly, tell us something of these sciences on an interdisciplinary fund.

            These relations between philosophies and sciences for modeling disciplines are not of the order of overdetermination. We will not overdetermine philosophy by physics and biology to better render it similar to science. No, we admit the heterogeneity of these neutralized domains, and their putting in relation can help us model their differences. These relations are of under-determination exactly because we admit the forms of heterogeneities. Philosophy does not become science, science does not become philosophy, but they can function together in so-called problems “of the real world”.

            So, rather than asking oneself what the evaluation of an object would be from a philosophical point of view, we can pull consequences from what an evaluation could be without philosophy, without ethics, without the sciences. This under-determination is a fashion of better seeing what each brings to this evaluation.


Disciplinary or Indisciplinary Philosophy?

            We have in a certain fashion affirmed philosophy’s particularity, as a double border, as alliance of the empirical and the impossible, ethics as having the equilibrium of borders as its constant, but this is for better plunging within contemporary interdisciplines. To make continuities between disciplines too quickly does not permit us to see the richness of their possible and impossible links. They represent dimensions of objects that must be taken account of for their evaluation.

            What to then say of disciplinary philosophy? This would not have the sense of suppressing it as an old thing, since it is an indefinite source of philosophical concepts and methods that one would probably lose without it. Continental philosophy gives us the philosophical gesture across its history, analytical philosophy across methods of other sciences, mathematical logic, sociology—but always with the idea that they directly bear on problems of the real world. But one must attempt to limit the authoritarian effects of institutional philosophy, by admitting in a militant fashion the plurality of philosophical and scientific regimes, by transforming its statements so as to deprive them of their authority, by prolonging the philosophies as so many forms for the indirect comprehension both of philosophies and that of theirs which is the most heterogenous. One then sees that being in the “contemporary” is a wager [pari], an engagement and not only a descriptive and positivist situation. Comprehending that being in the contemporary is not simply to have overcome a delay or lag but to put it at our side as without temporal force, as one can make the future “drop” within the contemporary.


Acknowledgements Directly Related to this Contribution:

  • To François Laruelle for having constructed a modeling of philosophy that is not an auto-modeling, and for having constituted the first corpus of non-standard philosophy.

  • To Armand Hatchuel for his C(oncepts)-K(nowledge) theory of design which shows that if one gives a generic interpretation of concepts, scientific and technical inventions are one another questions of design between impossible concepts and cognitions.

  • To Muriel Mambrini-Doudet for her concept of the natural lieu of the interdiscipline which permits projecting a space where management conserves the sciences and its trades.

  • To Marie-Geneviève Pinsart for having established the epistemological importance of non-knowledge in the functioning of ethics committees.

  • To Léo Coutellec for reintroducing the pluralities of times within integrative objects and his constitution of their non-standard evaluation and having produced on the ethical and epistemological conditions of the integrity of sciences (PhD), to be published.

  • To ethnopsychiatrists of the third generation (“Clinic of Multiplicity”), for having reintroduced and given an indisciplinary and open sense to the concept of “collective intimacy”.

  • To Robin Mackay (editor of the journal Collapse) for having given an interpretation of integrative objects in aesthetics.


Academos, dir. Anne-Françoise Schmid. Epistémologie des frontières. Paris: Pétra, 2012.


Hatchuel, Armand et Benoît Weil. Les nouveaux régimes de la conception. Langages, théories, métiers. Paris: Vuibert-Cerisy, 2008.


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Laruelle, François. Introduction aux sciences génériques. Paris: Pétra, 2008.


Legay, Jean-Marie et Anne-François Schmid. Philosophie de l’interdisciplinarité. Correspondance (1999-2004) sur la recherche scientifique, la modélisation et les

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Mathieu, Nicole, et Anne-Françoise Schmid eds., Modélisation et interdisciplinarité. Six disciplines en quête d’épistémologie. Paris: Quae, collection “Indisciplines”, 2014.

Pinsart, Marie-Geneviève et Céline Kermisch, eds. Les nanotechnologies, vers un changement d’échelle éthique. Bruxelles: Ed. EME, 2012.


Schmid, Anne-Françoise et Muriel Mambrini-Doudet. Épistémologie générique. Manuel pour les sciences futures. Paris: Kimé, 2019.


A Selection of Articles:

Schmid, Anne-Françoise. “The Science-Thought of Laruelle and its Effects on Epistemology.” In: Laruelle and Non-Philosophy, edited by John Mullarkey and Anthony Paul Smith, 122-142. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.


Schmid, Anne-Françoise, Muriel Mambrini-Doudet, and Armand Hatchuel. “Une nouvelle logique de l’interdisciplinarité.” Nouvelles perspectives en sciences sociales 7, no. 1 (2011): 105-136.


Schmid, Anne-Françoise. “Epistémologie générique: De l’ego à l’« intimité collective » de la science.” Philosophie et culture 5, no. 41 (Mai 2011): 145-156. Texte in Russian.


Schmid, Anne-Françoise. “Couturat’s Reception of Leibniz.” In New Essays on Leibniz Reception in Science and Philosophy of Science 1800-2000, edited by Ralph Krömer & Yannick Chin-Drian, 65-84. Basel: Birkhaüser, 2011.


Schmid, Anne-Françoise and Armand Hatchuel. “On Generic Epistemology.” Angelaki: The Journal of Theoretical Humanities 19, no. 2 (2014): 131-144.


Coutellec, Léo. “Une anticipation interdisciplinaire de la question des poissons génétiquement modifiés.” Natures sciences sociétés 19, no. 3 (2011): 266-271.


Coutellec, Léo and Isabelle Doussan. “Legal and Ethical Apprehensions Regarding a Relational Object. The Case of the Genetically Modified Fish.” Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics (2011): 861-875.


Coutellec, Léo. “Au-delà de l’évaluation des risques: incertitudes, valeurs, pluralisme,” in Acte du colloque « Éthique et évaluation » organisé par le Comité Éthique, Économique et Social (CEES) du HCB, 2012.