Meditations on Last Philosophy

To ask the question “What is philosophy?” typically requires that the philosopher return to the origins of thought, to plumb the depths of being in pursuit of its foundations. This is what Kant does in the Critique of Pure Reason, what Heidegger does in Being and Time, and even what Deleuze and Guattari do in What Is Philosophy? It is the most emblematic philosophical chore, to return to first principles.

François Laruelle, however, does no such thing. This kind of question is the very question he refuses to answer, refuses even to pose. Not what philosophy? Not how philosophy? Not even where or when philosophy? If Laruelle asks anything, he asks Why philosophy? And, more important, Why not? Why not no philosophy?

Avoiding his own first principles, then, Laruelle passes instead to the last, the last principles, or more precisely the last instance. Where philosophy is always vying to be first, non-philosophy is content to be last. After all, Laruelle’s one is no prime mover, no ultimate substance. The reverse is true, in fact: Laruelle’s one is a “last mover,” a finite and generic real.

“The question Quid facti? is the object of metaphysics,” remarked Deleuze in his book on Kant. What is the fact of knowledge? Not this or that particular piece of knowledge, what Laruelle calls the “regional knowledges,” but the very condition of knowledge itself, its fact.

From Kant to Foucault and beyond, the pervasive question of philosophy is not so much what something is, or even how something behaves, but what are the conditions of possibility for any x whatsoever? In other words, if Plato asks what is truth, Kant asks what are the conditions of possibility for truth? Kant makes the stakes known on many occasions: “How is metaphysics at all possible?” “How is cognition from pure reason possible?” “How are synthetic propositions a priori possible?” “How is pure mathematics possible?” Not so much what is philosophy, but what are the conditions of possibility for philosophy itself?

The two questions are ultimately the same though, because philosophy, as Laruelle defines it, is synonymous with the decision to reveal the conditions of possibility for philosophy. In this sense, Kant would be, in Laruelle’s opinion, a philosopher par excellence, a philosopher raised to the second power, for Kant is not simply enacting the philosophical decision (and thus doing philosophy), nor reflecting on the philosophical decision (asking what is philosophy), but rather demonstrating the philosophical meta-conditions for any kind of philosophical reflection whatsoever.

This is why Laruelle never “returns to first principles,” as many philosophers are wont to do. He never seeks to found a new philosophy or to reinvigorate an existing one by reflecting on its own specificity. He is no modernist, after all. Instead Laruelle seeks the “last principles.” And if anything Laruelle’s work is a question of “last philosophy.” Deviating from the aspirations of Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, Laruelle’s project constitutes an inexhaustible series of Meditations on Last Philosophy.

But Laruelle’s “last” is not a chronological last. It is a messianic last. Laruelle’s last philosophy is last only in the sense of Marx’s “last instance,” an immanent and finite lastness that reflects nothing, supersedes nothing, and indeed is not a “meditation” at all in the proper sense of the term as reflection-on or consciousness-of. Rather, in-the-last-instance means roughly “in the most generic sense.” Laruelle’s messianism is therefore neither ancient nor modern, neither special nor particular. But merely generic. The last, the least, the finite.

So if it is indeed fair to label Laruelle’s work a series of “meditations on last philosophy,” a basic characteristic begins to emerge: Laruelle’s work is a rational messianism, a messianism of reason — or as he would likely put it, “the messianic without the messiah.” With a stress given not to first philosophy, but to last philosophy (as non-philosophy), Laruelle injects a messianic temporality into thinking. Under such messianic temporality non-philosophy dualizes — Deleuze would say “virtualizes” — the first and the last, the prior and the posterior, the a priori and the a posteriori into a metastable identity of after-before and before-after. Indeed, as in Matthew 20:16, the last shall be first, and the first last.

(Excerpted from Laruelle: Against the Digital [University of Minnesota Press: 2014], pp. 129-130.)