A Biography of Ordinary Man

François Laruelle


Laruelle, François. A Biography of Ordinary Man: On Authorities and Minorities. 1985. Translated by Jessie Hock and Alex Dubilet. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2018. Paperback: 9781509509997.


“This book is a foundational text for our understanding of François Laruelle, one of France's leading thinkers, whose ideas have emerged as an important touchstone for contemporary theoretical discussions across multiple disciplines. One of Laruelle’s first systematic elaborations of his ethical and 'non-philosophical' thought, this critical dialogue with some of the dominant voices of continental philosophy offers a rigorous science of individuals as minorities or as separated from the World, History, and Philosophy. Through novel theorizations of finitude and determination in the last instance, Laruelle develops a thought 'of the One' as a 'minoritarian' paradigm that resists those paradigms that foreground difference as the conceptual matrix for understanding the status of the minority. The critique of the 'unitary illusion' of philosophy developed here stands at the foundation of Laruelle’s approach to 'uni-lateralizing' the power of philosophy and the universals with which it has always thought, and thereby acts as a basis for his subsequent investigations of victims, mysticism, and Gnosticism. This book will appeal to students and scholars of continental philosophy, philosophy of religion, ethics, aesthetics, and cultural theory.”


Translators’ Introduction

Throughout, Laruelle parallels “mystigue, pragmatique, topique” through rhyme (viii)

In English, this “parallelism” is obscured between “la pragmatique (pragmatics) and la topique (topics), on the one hand, and la mystique (mysticism), on the other” (viii)

Laruelle uses three words for the one English individual: “individu, individuel(le), and individual(le).” (ix)

“First, we translate the standard French noun for ‘individual,’ individu, as ‘individual.’ Second, we translate the standard French adjective for ‘individual,’ individuel(le), as ‘individuel,’ preserving the -el of the French. Third, Laruelle coins the peculiar adjective individual(le), a term we suspect is modeled after Heidegger’s distinction between existenziell and existenzial. Like the noun individu, we translate this form as ‘individual’” (ix)

It is important for readers to remember that individuel is the more common in French, and that individual, familiar in English, is the neologism (ix)

“by translating Laruelle’s term individual(le) as ‘individual,’ we avoid what Laruelle himself is trying to avoid, namely, leaving the duel, or ‘duel’—the contest between two adversaries so central to philosophy—in the individual” (ix)

Laruelle’s eloignement is Heidegger’s Ent-fernung or de-distancing (x)

Laruelle’s comme tel is Heidegger’s als solche or as such. His tel quel is as it is, and his en tant que tel is as is (x)

Laruelle’s originaire is originary, which has also been the French translation for Heidegger’s ursprunglich or primordial (x)

Laruelle uses Autre for Other, but when he uses Autrui it is “either in implicit or explicit reference to Levinas’s ethical thought” (xi)


The “stakes” of Laruelle’s project here are “those of the life of every man” (xii)

“this essay, unlike The Minority Principle … finally unfolds in the rigorous order required by the transcendental science of individuals as such” (xii)1

This book “begins with the One or Minorities and draws its conclusions from them” (xii)

Introduction: A Rigorous Science of Man

1. From the Sciences of Man to the Science of People

“It is reasonable to revolt against philosophers” (1)2

“‘Ordinary man,’ the finite individual whom we also call Minorities, is located in this indifference [to philosophy], which he draws from himself rather than from philosophy” (1)

Laruelle presents five “human theorems” (1):

  • “Man really exists and he is really distinct from the World”
  • “Man is a mystical living being condemned to action”
  • “man is condemened … to philosophy”
  • His condemnation to action and philosophy “organizes his destiny … [to] ‘World,’ ‘History,’ ‘Language,’ ‘Sexuality,’ ‘Power,’ which we refer to as Authorities in general”3
  • The “rigorous science of ordinary man” is thus “a biography of the individual as Minorities and as Authorities”

Laruelle intends this “biography” to replace both philosophy and the sciences of man (the human sciences) (2)4

This will be a “transcendental science” which is neither empirical nor philosophical (2)5

“if science is to cease to be a techno-political fantasy and become a real science, it must be unique and specific; and it is man who must be irreducible in his multiciplicity if he is no longer to be this anthropological fetish, this spineless phantom that is nothing but a shadow of the Sciences of Man, that is, of the sun and Reason mutually obstructing each other” (2)6

“Every science that comes into being strains to capture all of reality, and is animated by the old mytho-philosophical ambition of identifying the Whole with the real, Totality with the absolute” (3)

“ethnology, linguistics, biology, and the science of history (in the Marxist sense),” the Sciences of Man in question, “do not emerge without attempting to moor man, considered as a remainder, to their continent or their raft” (3)

But these are not “specific” enough for Laruelle’s rigorous science. They merely construct “historical man,” “speaking man,” “social man,” “psychic man” (3)

Laruelle seeks instead a “necessary connection between the sciences of man and their object” (4)

As such, this science “must be based in the specific essence of its object, in the truth of its object” (4)

Man is “indeterminate in its origin and in the Greco-unitary philosophical presuppositions that serve as its foundation” (4)

“anthropology is only a phantasmatic projection of Greco-Christian ontological prejudices onto real man” (4)

“Man has never been the real object of philosophy, which dreams and thinks of something else, of Being for example, and as a result hallucinates the individual” (4)7

“Greco-ontological thought” cannot know “the non-anthropological essence of man” because it “only knows man by encircling him in prefixes or quotation marks, in precautions or relations … never as a ‘term’” (4)

Philosophy “conflates ordinary man with any given man, with the universal individual whose guiding pattern and excellent essence is the philosopher” (4-5)

“Philosophy identifies man with generalities or attributes … and it is once again the philosopher who comes to the fore under the guise of these generalities, the philosopher who requisitions man for his own goals and his own values, which are very specific and need the cover of the universal” (5)

“The essence of the individual has remained unthought,” and ordinary man is trapped in the “mixture or parallelity of man and logos,” this “ruined cradle” (5)8

“Anthropo-logical difference prohibits beginning with man and his solitude. Anthropo-logical difference begins from a mixture or a universal: man as language, as desire, as society, as power, as sex, etc. It cannot be satisfied with ordinary man: it does not even see him” (5)9

“anthropo-logical difference is the scission of the indivisible essence of man; it separates or thinks it separates what man is capable of” (5)

This is the “scission” or “hallucination that affects unitary thought” (5)

Philosophy thus loses the “real and absolutely singular essence” of man (5)10

The philosophical substitutes for man are “quasi-transcendental androids … fictional beings responsible for populating the desert of anthropological screens, shadows projected on the steep walls of Ideas, inhabitans of ideal caves” (5-6)

Philosophy forgets “the real or ‘finite’ essence of man” (6)

Anthropo-logical difference “is identical to its own history, an auto-destruction or auto-inhibition of the mixture of man and logos” (6)

“Anthropo-logy … is the Greco-unitary myth that must be excluded by a theoretically justified science of man” (6)

The absolute essence of man to be obtained will be “non circular” and thus “radically determining” of secondary anthropo-logy (6)

Is this “a final philosophical gesture” or a “radicality [that] no longer belong[s] to the order of philosophy?” (6)

2. Man as Finite or Ordinary Individual

Laruelle does not want to make the ordinary individual “exit” from the “enclosure” that is the conflict between philosophy and the “Sciences of Man,” but rather demonstrate that “man never entered this enclosure” (6-7)

For ordinary individual, “this conflict is none of his business, save through a unitary hallucination” (7)

The ordinary individual is “determined and completed straightaway and absolutely precedes the phantasms of anthropo-logical parallelism” (7)

The “ordinary man … draws an inalienable essence from himself” but this essence “above all does not mean that he is causa sui” (7)

This ordinary individual is contrasted with the “philosophical android” that is “part of the philosophical machine, a part of Being, of Desire, of the State, of Language, etc.” (7)11

The “essence of man is not a difference” but “the radical subject of an ordeal,” which “holds him in himself and prevents him from ever leaving himself” (7)

The ordinary individual is an “unecidable decision” and “inalienable” (7)

“Man is the real object of a science as soon as he is recognized in his specificity, irreducible to the objects of other sciences, and in his reality rather than in the mere possibility of his ‘figures’” (7)12

Specificity and reality are a “single twofold requirement” (7)

The “rigorous science of individuals … requires, in an ultimately radical way, that the Whole and its modes, the universal or authoritarian predicates, not be ‘all,’ that man be straightaway outside-whole or that he introduce into the World, or rather outside of the World, a duality of which the World, the Whole, and their attributes are only one of the sides” (7)13

This rigorous, radical science refuses “being unitarily enclosed in totalies or unities,” seeking the “real relations among the sciences” not in some “unity,” which is “utterly mythological,” but in… something (7)

This is not a new destruktion/deconstruction: “It is useless to renew or deconstruct metaphysics” (8)

“What is necessary is to change the paradigm of thinking; to move from a philosophical paradigm,” one in which we ceaseless variate upon Being, Difference, Same, Other, “to a paradigm we call minoritarian or individual, which is based on a transcendental but finite experience of the One as distinct from Being, the World, and their attributes” (8)

The “individuel is always also universal” (8)

The “individual [l’individual] is the individual [l’individu] without remainder or excess, the nothing-but-individual who a priori precedes all forms of universality” (8)14

This “distinction” forms “the foundations of a non-empirical (non-worldly, non-historical, non-linguistic, non-sexual, etc.) but transcendental science of individuals or of ordinary man” (8)

The shift of paradigm for thought is from Being to the One (8)

The “games of the Same and the Other … are satisfied with the substitute of an anthropology or—which is not all that different—of a unitary critique of anthropology” (8)15

“We propose to break the alliance of man and the authoritarian predicates (Desire, Language, Sex, Power, the State, History, etc.) that lead to sciences that are not those of man, to break the alliance of man and philosopher, master of predicates” (8)

But, can we ask: “Is there a proper and primitive essence of man, one that would not be an attribute of something else?” (8)16

The “human in man is not reducible to the sum of his predicates … Real man is subject, nothing-but-subject” (8)

The “subject here also is not a special predicate; it is a subject that has never been a predicate and that no longer needs predicates in general, that is straightaway inherent (to) itself or a sufficiently determined essence” (8)17

“The essence of man remains in the One, that is, in the inherence that is non-positional (of) itself, in a nothing-but-subject or an absolute-as-subject, that is, a finitude” (8-9)18

“Individuals are ‘real’ prior to totality; they are not modes of a substance and they are not even understandable starting from infinite and universal attributes” (9)

“Ordinary man … takes his essence from himself, or more precisely, immediately from his essence, without it having been an attribute beforehand” (9)

“I am a sufficient Solitude, too far below ‘solipsism’ to have to extricate myself from it. I am not a Cogito, a relation to a Site or to an Other. I am out-(of)-the-question: no question of man, no ontic or ontological primacy of the question of man” (9)

“I am the beginning of my life and my thought … my essence (and essence in general) is defined by characteristics that are absolutely original, primitive, internal, and without equivalents” (9)19

“There is a question (of) Being, but the One is out-(of)-the-question” (9)

Laruelle seeks to “describe” the “structures of this ordinary man … Individual structures … finite, inalienable, and thus indisputable, lived experiences” (9)

The “biography” of these experiences will “render possible a science of his relations to the World, to History, to Language” (10, 9)

This work begins with the “irreducible individual kernel” (10)20

“The phenomenal givens of this science and its only text is the One: but precisely because it is the One, it is not unique. The One is not—above all is not—Unity or the Unitary Ideal … The complete text of the science of man is double or dual—dual rather than duel, just as it is individual rather than individuel” (10)21

Laruelle, pompous as ever, says “we refrain from flattering the slaves of the Cave or … providing a defense of the sheep against the eagles” (10)22

Ordinary man is against the “heroic and agonistic conception of man passed down to us by the Greeks, which casts a new light under the names of difference, differance, and differend” (10)

Laruelle will “attempt to make visible man without a face and without qualities. This is a treatise of the Solitudes” (10)

3. From Philosophy to Theory: The Science of Ordinary Man

Commentator’s Note: I was derailed from my reading at this point and have yet to get back to this book.


  1. This already has me thinking of Simondon and individuation. 

  2. Great. Off to a characteristically sassy start. 

  3. In Laruelle’s Philosophies of Difference, these “Authorities” are described as “philosophical hallucinations of the One” (177ff.). 

  4. Bio-graphy, life writing, evokes Mullarkey’s Laruellian diagrammatology in Mullarkey, Post-Continental Philosophy

  5. Intimating the implosion of empiricism and rationality in Philosophies of Difference

  6. Okay, good, establishing right off the bat the one=generic=finite=multiple equation. 

  7. It will be interesting to interread this with Simondon. 

  8. This cradle is philosophical scission

  9. This solitude is what I want to pursue through Kierkegaard/Levinas. 

  10. Yes! This is some Kierkegaardian stuff right here. Absolute particularity

  11. The gendered dimension of Laruelle’s argument is hard to ignore. His solitary man seems very much a heroic figure, the stoic outlaw. Opposed to the android stands the ordinary man, stands in his essence. But what of the cyborg who was never, nor is ever, permitted to claim an essence? Laruelle + Haraway or Haraway contra Laruelle. 

  12. That is, historical man, linguistical man, desiring man, etc. 

  13. Emphasize: THE WHOLE IS NOT ALL. 

  14. The “nothing-but-individual” is raw individuation (Simondon) and the contingency of said individuation (Meillassoux). 

  15. This is philosophy, Being and Difference in constant, violent scission. 

  16. This feels very much the Heideggerian gesture. Seek Being through Dasein, seek the contingent One through Ordinary Man. What we find in ordinary man is our instance of contingency, which points us back to the unilateral determination that is individuation from the one less-and-more than one. 

  17. I was critical of a similar position via Nancy in my thesis. Nancy restores the subject to the predicate, dissolves the self-substantive Kantian subject. How to read between? What do I believe here? I think Laruelle allows me to go with Nancy beyond Nancy… the predicate with which the subject is, the predicate to which the subject comes, is contingency itself, the contingent real—the rest without origin or authority. 

  18. As Galloway, the One is finite and generic 

  19. Laruelle’s obfuscation constantly detracts from his points. He couches his claims, radical as they are, in the language of his tradition. If I can cut through this, I understand him to be saying that ordinary man is without origin (I am the beginning, and as non-reflective, I therefore have no beginning). This is the same as “absolutely original” and without equivalents. The finite and generic One is this one here, this one here, in person. Without equivalent, but generic. How? Contingent realization. 

  20. Radically contingent singularity. 

  21. The one is finite and generic, which renders it non-unique. The one is mere contingency, the contingency of the preindividual less-and-more than individual, unilaterally determinative of the individual, exhausting itself in the last instance in the individual, but not yet have done so, as the last instance is still to come. 

  22. That is, the inversion of ressentiment

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