An Introduction to the Philosophy of Alain Badiou

Simone A. Medina Polo
10 min readJul 27, 2022

[NOTE: This piece is a presentation that I gave to the cohort for Creston Davis’s 2022 seminar on Epistemology where Badiou offers a distinct outlook on the topic of truth.]

1) What is Philosophy?

Alain Badiou (1937-present) is without a doubt a philosopher par excellence. This is meant in the sense that Badiou stresses the philosophical commitment to the claim that “there is truth” above all as the key defining characteristic of philosophy. While noting that we will break down these concepts more fully, this characterization of philosophy is consistently a theme throughout his major philosophical trilogy Being and Event.

Being and Event systematizes the claim that mathematics is being at its most minimal discursive sense, and thus we can develop an account of fundamental ontology from mathematics while highlighting the developments of contemporary mathematics that destabilize the question of axiomatic foundations by stressing their decisive assumptions — in short, for Badiou, there is being as a totality and event as a discontinuity that disrupts being while introducing something new to be counted into the fabric of being through what he calls a “generic truth procedure.”

Being and Event II: Logics of Worlds moves away from the minimalist mathematical ontology that delimits the philosophical procedures of ontological questioning, and instead adopts a form of (Hegelian) logical phenomenology to describe how the issues of being as such are characterized in the moments of determinate being. Thus, the ruptures of being by events are thematized in accordance to how subjects assume attitudes in relation to these events. In short, where we are not only dealing with truth at an ontological level, but we are dealing with the way these truths appear within the constructive logics of determinate worlds to determinate beings ultimately dealing with the question of what it means to live (Logics of Worlds, 144).

Being and Event III: The Immanence of Truths is just about to be published in English. The text acts as a culminating bridge between the ontological mathematics of volume I and the logical phenomenology of determinate being of volume II. Bringing together Badiou’s discussion of the oscillation of truth between the infinite and the finite, he summarizes the project of Being and Event as an exploration of the universality of truth in the first volume, providing a theory of the singularity of truths in the second volume, and arguing for their absoluteness in the third volume by recapitulating the series as a dialectical movement. For Badiou, “philosophy’s task ever since its inception: to create, in the conditions of its time, the knowledge of the existential possibility of truth” (The Immanence of Truths, 590). Given this systematic commitment to truth, it might serve us to unpack the underlying approach that we may find in any Badiou text.

2) What is Thinking?

Philosophy is concerned with thinking, which he defines as “the non-dialectical or inseparable unity of a theory and a practice” (Infinite Thought, 79). In other words and as we will see, Badiou is interested with thinking as a zero-degree point between concepts and engagements, a moment when these lock onto one another as a moment of Truth, which he calls Event — when something happens, concepts and engagements have to assume a subjective attitude towards what they are processing; and in Badiou’s philosophical fidelity, these concepts and engagements reconfigure themselves to be faithful to the Event and whatever the element it was that concepts and engagements overlooked before the Event (Being and Event, 232-233). Furthermore, for Badiou, thought is only of being (Being and Event, 282).

In this respect, Badiou holds that as much as we are concerned with philosophy, its role has to take into account different non-philosophical /non-dialectical conditions of philosophy through which, by virtue of truth generic procedures, philosophy is able to subtract their products in a systematized manner (Manifesto for Philosophy, 33–39).

3) Philosophy and Its Conditions

For Badiou, Philosophy is not an isolated affair, as it has conditions where the binding of theory and practice occurs. Badiou argues that immanence is in the conditions of philosophy as politics, art, science, and love. There is truth that binds the immanence of philosophy to the subjectivation of its subject, as the subject always returns to the truth. This process can happen through thinking, but it is important to note that thinking is not stepping back from the point where concepts and engagement meet. Therefore, forms of thinking for Badiou are science, love, politics, and art which constitute the conditions of philosophy as non-philosophies. When thinking happens, philosophy is in touch with its conditions in such a way that thinking engages in what Badiou calls a truth generic procedure (Being and Event, 327 and 331-343). Truth generic procedures can be defined as the process of concept-practice and practice-concept by which an element that hasn’t been accounted for yet in the constructive being of knowledge has to be taken account of.

Let’s exemplify these truth generic procedures: science has moments of truth such as scientific revolutions, i.e. that Physics as a whole had to reframe itself in the transition from the Newtonian paradigm to comprehend the Einsteinian Event in the modeling of science; when we fall in love, we cannot pretend as if nothing happened, as our ideas of the loved one change in the face of love and our engagements attest to the Event (In Praise of Love, 33); in politics, a revolution brings to the forefront of the social a tension that it witnesses, such that the way of being in the city (the polis) is reframed (Metapolitics, 141-152); and in art, new techniques, mediums, mindsets, and circumstances transform the possibilities of what art can be (The Age of Poetry, 4-5). In each of instances where thought happens, the philosophical Idea is reactivated and remodeled in accordance to dislocation of its conditions — as Badiou writes of the Idea of Communism: “The Idea is an historical anchoring of everything elusive, slippery and evanescent in the becoming of a truth. But it can only be so if it admits as its own real this aleatory, elusive, slippery, evanescent dimension” (“The Idea of Communism,” 8).

For Badiou, philosophy pertains truth, and it is in the face of the Event that thought happens as the faithful inscription of what is new into being. Rendering this slightly differently, Badiou is interested in localizing the void, what was missing from our constructive knowledge, as in the event we are trying to figure out what is the proper place of what once was void (Being and Event, 175). Philosophy not only arises from its conditions, but it also changes their constructible knowledge in a moment of truth. In addition, the philosopher has to learn to be a scientist, an artist, a lover, and a political agent, as the philosopher’s commitment to truth flaunts without these conditions to reel the philosophy into truth.

In moving on into the piece on the desire of philosophy, I will highlight that towards the end of the collection of essays Infinite Thought there is a short article titled “The Definition of Philosophy” which eloquently states all of this while also speaking further to the resistances that truth meets in its being and articulation (Infinite Thought, 165).

4) The Desire of Philosophy

“The Desire of Philosophy” opens Infinite Thought with a survey about what defines philosophy for Badiou, what opposes philosophy, as well as the contemporary orientations of philosophy, what is philosophy for them, and what is common to them to a point of detriment. In short, Badiou aims to defend truth and thinking from the tendencies that characterize contemporary philosophy while considering the contemporary demands that are made upon philosophy. At its core, Badiou argues that the world needs philosophy more than philosophy thinks, and philosophy must address its stagnation to meet this contemporary demand.

The desire that mobilizes philosophy is characterized through logic, revolts, universality, and risks — this is often the crux of Badiou’s recurring phrases of “logical revolt” (Rimbaud) and “all thought begets the throw of a dice” (Mallarmé). Logic is a belief in the power of argument and reason. Universality is the addressing of all human beings as thinking beings. Revolts are the discontent of thinking in confronting the world as it is. Risks are the decisiveness at the core of the commitment to a point of view.

Each of these characteristics of philosophy is met by contemporary challenges as the principal obstacles to the desire of philosophy. Merchandise as the commodification of freedom, which deflates the possibility of revolt. Mass communication which exacerbates a disconnected and incoherent condition which undoes logical time. Technical specialization which fragmentalizes the world away from the prospect of universality as the validity for all thinking. Calculative security which does not take any chances.

Figure 1. The Characteristics and Obstacles of the Desire of Philosophy

In light of these challenges to philosophy, Badiou turns his attention to the contemporary orientations and localizations of philosophy. Hermeneutics is the deciphering of the meaning of being away from closed technics and towards the openness of its authentic destiny — this outlook is associated with Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer (Germany). Analytic Philosophy is the strictive demarcation of meaningful propositions through logical rules derived from grammatical analysis to purify language from the amphibolies of non-sense — Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Vienna Circle of logical positivists portray this position, and it took hold in Anglo-America though it was rooted in Austria. And Postmodernism is the deconstruction of the given and the constructions of universality through the insistence of difference and plurality, thus philosophy is a mixed practice where heterogeneity must resist homogeneity — this characterized by Jacques Derrida and Jean-François Lyotard from France, and its influence has spread to Spain, Italy, and Latin America.

Figure 2. The Orientations of Contemporary Philosophy

Badiou highlights two common features of contemporary philosophical orientations. The negative common feature that is common to all of these orientations is the end of classical metaphysics: the closure of the history of metaphysics by technology (Heidegger), the end of metaphysical non-sense in utterances (Carnap), and the end of grand narratives and modernity (Lyotard). The positive common feature is that language is the crucial site of thought: interpretative capacities (Heidegger and Gadamer), rules and games (Wittgenstein), and what it allows (Derrida). In short, there has been a change from truth-oriented philosophy to meaning-oriented philosophy in light of the linguistic turn.

However, the detriment of this is that they are unable to sustain the desire of philosophy in several accounts. They can give way to the fetishization of a particular language as destiny in the instance of Heidegger’s German nationalism and his nostalgia for the Greeks. By privileging scientific language, there is both a contempt for rebellion and an inaccessibility to philosophy, in the instance of all of these kinds of philosophy.

What all of these accounts of philosophy have also questioned is the metaphysics of truth, which calls for its reconstruction and rehabilitation in Badiou’s account. In turn, truth is what mobilizes the desire of philosophy as a universal logical revolt that is willing to commit to its risks. In light of this, Badiou argues that we need new forms of philosophy. And in his proposal, Badiou argues for a foundational decisiveness that language is not the sole horizon of thought even though the organization of thought happens through language — to this end we are concerned with universal transmissibility. In addition, philosophy resists the incoherence of contemporary speed by disrupting it with a time for thought against its demands which would otherwise dissolve the desire of philosophy — philosophical thought takes time in a singular way. Thus, philosophy aims to rehabilitate the category of truth and it seeks to reorganize itself around this reconstruction of truth.

Lastly, if philosophy can flourish in the contemporary world, it has to address the demands that call for philosophy as well as the current stagnation of philosophy. There are four reasons why the world is demanding something from philosophy:

  1. Social sciences cannot replace philosophy because they do not speak to the singular decisiveness of truth which calls for thought, instead it opts for statistical and numerical information
  2. There are emancipatory projects which have failed. In light of this, we have to face injustices in our own name and decisions in relation to truth
  3. Reactionary passions call for a new rationalism that is informed by the history of philosophy that has preceded it
  4. Liberalism and representative democracy obscure the fragility of a world filled with crises. Philosophy must ensure that thought can take these crises on without anxiety.

It is for these reasons that Alain Badiou is a philosopher par excellence insofar as he puts the commitment to philosophical truth at the heart of the love of wisdom. And ultimately, Badiou helps us get a sense of why the world needs philosophy today.


Badiou, Alain. (2014). The Age of Poets. Trans. Bruno Bosteels. New York: Verso.

— — — (2007). Being and Event. Trans. Oliver Feltham. Great Britain: Continuum.

— — — (2010). “The Idea of Communism” in The Idea of Communism. New York: Verso.

— — — (2003). Infinite Thought. Trans. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens. Great Britain: Continuum.

— — — (2009). Logics of Worlds: Being and Event II. Trans. Alberto Toscano. Great Britain: Continuum.

— — — (1999). Manifesto for philosophy: Followed by two essays: “The (re)turn of philosophy itself” and “Definition of philosophy”. Trans. Norman Madarasz. Albany, N.Y: State University of New York Press.

— — — (2006). Metapolitics. Trans. Jason Barker. New York: Verso.

— — — (2022). The Immanence of Truths: Being and Event III. Trans. Kenneth Reinhard. Great Britain: Bloomsbury.

Badiou, Alain and Nicolas Truong. (2012). In Praise of Love. Trans. Peter Bush. U.S.A.: The New Press.



Simone A. Medina Polo

Simone A. Medina Polo is a philosopher and an PhD candidate at the Global Centre for Advanced Studies for Philosophy and Psychoanalysis.