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Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil

One of the most powerful voices in contemporary French philosophy explodes the facile assumptions behind the recent ethical turn.
Ethical questions dominate current political and academic agendas. While government think-tanks ponder the dilemmas of bio-ethics, medical ethics and professional ethics, respect for human rights and reverence for the Other have become matters of broad consensus.

Alain Badiou, one of the most powerful voices in contemporary French philosophy, explodes the facile assumptions behind this recent ethical turn. He shows how our prevailing ethical principles serve ultimately to reinforce an ideology of the status quo, and fail to provide a framework for an effective understanding of the concept of evil.

In contrast, Badiou summons up an “ethic of truths” which is designed both to sustain and inspire a disciplined, subjective adherence to a militant cause (be it political or scientific, artistic or romantic), and to discern a finely demarcated zone of application for the concept of evil. He defends an effectively super-human integrity over the respect for merely human rights, asserts a partisan universality over the negotiation of merely particular interests, and appeals to an “immortal” value beyond the protection of mortal privileges.

Reviews

  • “This is a fiery little book. ”
  • “His reasoning is powerful and surprising, making some of the best writing in current European philosophy, and his credentials are impeccable.”
  • “Badiou is at his strongest in pointing to the inconsistencies of a facile multiculturalism, the pluralism of the food court and the shopping mall, which wilts in the face of any genuine expression of cultural hostility to liberal values.”
  • “His lively, stimulating and sometimes completely batty book is an attempt to make us think differently about what matters to us ... it is hard not to feel some sympathy for Badiou's intuition that 'morality', 'evil' and indeed much of our standard moral vocabulary often serve as almost deliberate disguises for mediocre policy-making, social complacency and a general lack of adventurousness about life”

Blog

  • A letter from Alain Badiou


    The below is a letter from Alain Badiou regarding a critical review in
    Actu Philosophia of Emmanuel Faye’s book on Heidegger by Jean-Clet Martin. Read the review (in french) here

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  • The ancient Alain Badiou responds to the dashing Laurent Joffrin


    Alain Badiou, whose most recent book The Age of the Poets has just been published, has written the below response to Laurent Joffrin, Editorial Director of Libération, who has written an article in Libération criticising Badiou for his use of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in a recent debate:

    In the context of a debate with Marcel Gauchet on the theme ‘communism and democracy’ I invoked certain characteristics of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in service of a complex argument. This proved sufficient for Laurent Joffrin to abandon instantly the toil that doubtless occupies all of his time – the soft laying-off of almost a hundred employees from the Libération newspaper – to give his verdict: Badiou is just a frozen dinosaur.

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  • An interview with Alain Badiou: theatre and philosophy, an antagonistic and complementary old couple



    During your talk in Avignon’s ‘Theatre of Ideas’ series you evoked the tensions at work within the 2,500 year-old couple of philosophy and theatre.  In your view are these fruitful tensions, or, on the contrary, destructive ones? Nietzsche’s ‘The Birth of Tragedy’ offers evidence enough of this difficult relationship, while Socrates (helped by Euripides) wanted to sound the death knell of tragedy and herald the triumph of reason…

    Alain Badiou: There have been two fundamental currents in philosophy ever since its origins, and not just one. What Nietzsche called philosophy is a Platonism that he had largely fabricated. So you could make a lot of objections to Nietzsche even based on Plato himself. Nietzsche counterposes a certain construct of philosophy to the original fundamental power of Tragedy, the Appollonian and Dionysian, but this is still only one definition of philosophy among many others, which he uses as a sort of war machine. It ought not be forgotten that Nietzsche went so far as to say that ‘the philosopher is the criminal of criminals’ – he did not qualify his assertions.

    I think that in reality the relationship between philosophy and theatre is an ambiguous one, from its very origins.

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Other books by Alain Badiou Translated by Peter Hallward