Review: Éthique de l'étranger. Du crime contre l’humanité

Hugues Choplin, trans. Sylvia

Éthique de l'étranger, Du crime contre l'humanité, by François Laruelle, Paris: Kimé, 2000, 390 pp.

           François Laruelle’s last work, Éthique de l'étranger, can firstly be read from the work’s explicit theme: ethics. From this point of view, the author’s intention is not to deploy a new ethics or a new philosophy of morality. Doesn’t a formal or structural, yet radical, analysis of the works of Plato, Kant, and Levinas attest that such an undertaking—legitimate in its order, that of the world—is doomed to losing ethics’ identity? And condemned to blending it—according to the philosophical structure of the mixed, bilaterality or even reciprocal determination—with mundane phenomena that it endeavors to integrate (that it is about, to take contemporary examples, cloning or biotechnology, etc.)? Far from bearing—at least directly—on mundane contemporary stakes, Laruelle’s problem indeed rather concerns ethics (or the philosophy of morality) itself: it is about explicating rigorously or without blendand therefore without philosophy! —, and to thus render it its identity.

            Designating ethics’—or rather non-ethics’—vertebral column developed by Laruelle, three principal concepts render the resolution of this problem possible: these are the concepts of radical misfortune, stranger, and neighbor [prochain]. They all proceed from the unprecedented encounter of two heterogeneous universes: on one side, the particular philosophical universe constituted by ethics (notably Plato, Kant, and Lévinas) and, on the other, Laruelle’s non philosophical universe conquered according to its essential dimensions in Principes de la non-philosophie (1996). If the former determines the language of the work—which reposes on a consummation of philosophico-ethical terminology (the term of the neighbor is, for example, issued from Lévinas’ text)—, the second, essentially indifferent to ethics and, more radically to Philosophy [la philosophie], impresses the decisive structure, uni-laterality (or unilateral determination), that articulates these three concepts. By virtue of this structure, the stranger and the neighbor transmit radical misfortune to ethics itself… but a transmission that, definitively not mundane since it is uni-lateral (it goes from radical misfortune to ethics without making the inverse trajectory), proves to be irreducibly heterogenous to these, mixed or bi-lateral, that configures philosophizing it and the ethics that it institutes. Thus, we will be careful not to—philosophically—mistake the significations of the multiple formulations proposed by Laruelle, particularly those, provoking, denouncing philosophy as criminal or racist—inasmuch as it lacks man as radical misfortune (whence the work’s subtitle: Of Crimes against Humanity [Du crime contre l’humanité]) and thinking it as stranger. Far from raising a moral point of view valid for the world, but indeed rather testifying to an unprecedented language-related [langagière] liberty, these formulae participate in a rigorous exploitation—qua uni-lateral—valid for ethics itself (and hence only for the world).

            Engaging no moral signification, isn’t this explication absurd? Surely… on the condition however of restraining the space of the sense to the regime of the mundane and/or of philosophizing. Now, it is exactly this restriction that seems to definitively render Laruelle illegitimate. Precisely—and here we are led to Éthique de l'étranger's second possible reading—the general project that guides it consists in elaborating nothing less than a new discipline, not concurrent with (it does not play on the same terrain) but rather complementary to philosophy, reposing on a mode of thought that is unprecedented since it is uni-lateral. “Is a form of thought possible […] that no longer proceeds by mixture […]?” (p. 204). From this point of view, the treatment of ethics is important only because it contributes to the affirmation of non philosophy. In this sense, this work would envelop an application of non philosophical thinking (on ethics), destined to attest to its proper coherence—in the same manner that the institution of every philosophy confirms the puissance and perennity of philosophizing!

            Such a reading remains, centered more on the thinking than on its object, which seems to put the force of the work deployed here on this specific object by Laruelle that designates ethics too much in the background. Definitively, combining both the deployment of non philosophical uni-laterality as such and a rigorous explication of ethics, Éthique de l'étranger seems to constitute, for the reader, a tremendous invitation to practice the latter, in a manner both free and rigorous, the new mode of thinking convocated by non-philosophy. Since, here again, if several philosophies of ethics are possible, several non-ethics can equally be invented. Initiated by Laruelle, the non-philosophy of ethics therefore awaits its non-philosophers! In fund, the message of this work seems to us to be such.