Literary and Critical Theory Alain Badiou
Hollis Phelps
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 August 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0110


Alain Badiou (b. 1937) is a leading French philosopher and European intellectual. He is the former chair of philosophy and emeritus professor at the École Normale Supérieure, one of France’s most prestigious and well-known graduate schools. His thought and political commitments, which revolve around a renewed idea of communism, were shaped by the student uprisings in France in 1968. A playwright, novelist, mathematician, and political activist, he is the author of hundreds of publications, which include novels, plays, pamphlets, criticism, political writings, and works of philosophy. Much of his earlier work focuses on the implications and consequences of the uprisings, which he submits to philosophical analysis and mathematical formalization to develop a materialist theory of the subject. Badiou achieved international prominence, however, with the publication of Being and Event, in which he grounds the question of being in mathematics, specifically set theory. His use of mathematics as a way to address the main questions of ontology—combined with meditations on art, science, politics, and love— provides the backbone of his philosophy. Badiou’s project, then, can generally be understood as focused on developing a theory of being, truth, and the subject, though in hindsight it is the question of truth, or truths, that constitutes its trajectory. Like many contemporary philosophers, Badiou, rather than considering being in light of unity or the one, considers it in terms of difference and multiplicity, whose relational organization can be grasped via formal, mathematical operations. Ontology, however, mainly serves in Badiou’s thought as a vehicle for thinking the event, or what is not being qua being. An event ruptures being, introducing novelty to closed situations or worlds. Although such events are rare, they instigate the creation of subjects who, in fidelity to an event, construct unexpected, novel truths. Following on his reading of Plato, who remains a constant inspiration for his philosophy, Badiou claims that truths can be produced in four domains: art, science, politics, and love. Philosophy, in this sense, does not produce truths but, rather, thinks them and their interrelation. Art, science, politics, and love are thus the raw materials for thought or, as he refers to them, the conditions for philosophy. The following article provides an overview of the main features of Badiou’s philosophy, including main primary texts, general overviews, anthologies, and a discussion of secondary literature related to the four conditions of philosophy. The concluding section focuses on religion, as an area that has generated a lot of discussion, perhaps against Badiou’s intent.

Main Primary Texts

Badiou is the author of dozens of books and countless articles, the scope of which ranges from abstract, philosophical reflection to more occasional writings meant for a popular audience. Without question, Badiou’s three magna opera that punctuate the last forty or so years of his work remain essential for grasping his philosophy as a whole, both broadly and in detail: Being and Event, Logics of Worlds: Being and Event 2, and L’être et l’événement 3: L’immanence des vérités. Of these, a grasp of Being and Event is a prerequisite for understanding the rest, as it is where Badiou outlines in detail the main tenets of his ontology. One could name any number of works published prior Being and Event, which was originally published in France in 1988 (Paris: Seuil), as important for understanding the development of Badiou’s thought, though three remain particularly important. The Concept of Model, originally published in 1969 (Paris: Maspero), contains Badiou’s outline for a mathematical materialism, and remains essential for understanding the role of mathematics in the development of his thought more generally. Theory of the Subject, originally published in France in 1982 (Paris: Editions du Seuil), contains in nuce many of the themes that continue to occupy Badiou’s attention, albeit without the support of an explicitly developed ontology. Although the experimental nature of the book makes it more difficult to read than others, its focus on subjectivization remains crucial for understanding the later articulation of his theory of the subject. In Can Politics Be Thought?, originally published in 1985 (Paris: Seuil), Badiou provides a preliminary articulation of his theory of the event. The work, although short, likewise remains important for understanding his thesis that politics is distinct from the state and the larger question of the relationship of his philosophy to antiphilosophy. Of the books published after Being and Event, a few can be listed as representative of specific components of Badiou’s philosophy; these books, moreover, have been influential in the reception of the latter. Although Badiou discusses them in numerous places, Conditions provides a standard discussion of how he sees philosophy as conditioned by art, science, politics, and love. Ethics provides a concise, accessible statement of Badiou’s notion of fidelity to an event as the basis for ethics, in contrast to poststructuralist emphases on difference. Deleuze: The Clamor of Being discusses the main points of contention with Deleuze’s philosophy, reading him against the grain as a philosopher of being and the one. Given that Deleuze is, perhaps, Badiou’s main philosophical competitor, it is an important statement of how Badiou sees their differences. Finally, although not given as much attention as other works by some of Badiou’s main interpreters, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism has been very influential in the English-speaking reception of his work. His reading of Paul as an antiphilosopher has also drawn attention to what some see as lingering theological issues in Badiou’s philosophy.

  • Badiou, Alain. Deleuze: The Clamor of Being. Translated by Louise Burchill. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

    Badiou argues that Deleuze, rather than being a thinker of difference and becoming, is ultimately a thinker of the one and being. The book is important for understanding how Badiou sees his project in light of another significant philosopher. Originally published in 1997 (Paris: Hachette).

  • Badiou, Alain. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil. Translated by Peter Hallward. London: Verso, 2001.

    Originally intended for a broader, general audience, Badiou criticizes difference as the ground of ethics in favor of an ethics of truths, based on fidelity to an event. The third of his books to be translated into English, it has been especially influential for the broader reception of his work. Originally published in 1998.

  • Badiou, Alain. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. Translated by Ray Brassier. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

    Although often given short shrift among many of Badiou’s interpreters, this work has had a tremendous influence on the “turn to Paul” in the early 2000s. His sympathetic, yet irreligious, reading of Paul also remains important for understanding the relationship between Badiou’s philosophy and antiphilosophy, as he considers Paul to be a representative of the latter. Originally published in 1997 (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France).

  • Badiou, Alain. The Concept of Model: An Introduction to the Materialist Epistemology of Mathematics. Edited and translated by Zachary Luke Fraser and Tzuchien Tho. Melbourne, VC:, 2007.

    One of Badiou’s earlier works, in which he outlines a mathematical basis for materialism. The book remains important for understanding continuities in how he sees mathematics as a condition for thought and practice. Originally published in 1969 (Paris: Maspero).

  • Badiou, Alain. Conditions. Translated by Steven Corcoran. London: Continuum, 2008.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350009066

    Badiou discusses philosophy’s four conditions: art, science, politics, and love. These conditions run throughout his work, but the discussion here is especially to the point. Originally published in 1992 (Paris: Editions du Seuil).

  • Badiou, Alain. Theory of the Subject. Translated by Bruno Bosteels. London: Continuum, 2009

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350252042

    Originally published in 1982 (Paris: Editions du Seuil) and thus prior to Being and Event, Badiou here seeks to outline in less systematic fashion a theory of subjectivization. Although he would later abandon certain theses developed in the book, it remains crucial for understanding his later theory of the subject and the continuity of his thought.

  • Badiou, Alain. Being and Event. Translated by Oliver Feltham. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

    The first book of the Being and Event trilogy, which would span over forty years. Remains essential for understanding Badiou’s philosophy. Technically a work of metaontology, Badiou here works out the set-theoretical conditions for understanding being as undifferentiated multiplicity and develops a philosophical theory of the subject based on the event. Originally published in 1988 (Paris: Seuil).

  • Badiou, Alain. Can Politics Be Thought? Translated by Bruno Bosteels. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018.

    Badiou argues for a continuation of Marxist politics, although as a politics that is not identified with but subtracted from the state. The book also provides one of the first statements of Badiou’s notion of the event prior to the publication of Being and Event. Originally published in 1985 (Paris: Seuil).

  • Badiou, Alain. L’être et l’événement 3: L’immanence des vérités. Paris: Fayard, 2018.

    The third book in the Being and Event trilogy focuses on the absoluteness of truths as singular exceptions that must navigate the temptations of democratic materialism and transcendentalism.

  • Badiou, Alain. Logics of Worlds: Being and Event 2. Translated by Alberto Toscano. London: Bloomsbury, 2019.

    The second volume of the Being and Event trilogy focuses on how truths appear in worlds. The book relies primarily on category theory rather than set theory, and contains important revisions of his theory of the subject. Originally published in 2009 (London: Continuum).

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