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What is generic humanity? Badiou and Feuerbach

Nina Power
Middlesex University

Whilst it may at first seem strange to try and relate the philosophy of Alain Badiou back to a generally neglected moment in post-Hegelian thought - one that at first sight has little to do with Badiou’s current conceptions of subjectivity or with his set theoretical ontology - my concern here will be with two particular themes in Badiou’s work that I will argue resonate with key elements of the theoretical doctrine expounded by Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). First, the interventionist critique, from the standpoint of the present, of philosophies of finitude. This critique is carried out in the name of man’s ‘capacity for immortality’. Second, the formulation of a conception of ‘generic humanity’. This term as used by Badiou - l’humanité générique1 - can be historically and conceptually related, via Marx, to Feuerbach’s conception of Gattungswesen.

This term is usually, and somewhat misleadingly, translated as ‘species-being’ or ‘species-life’, but is better rendered as ‘generic being’, or even, in a more strictly philosophical sense, ‘generic thought’. This non-naturalistic formulation of the problem of the human unites both Feuerbach and Badiou in a particular kind of expansive rationalism.2 Thus, for Feuerbach, "the being of man is universal and infinite, because the universal and the infinite are the objects of his thought" (Hanfi 1972: 23).

This paper will be divided into two sections; first, a discussion of the relationship between concepts of generic humanity and politics, and, second, a brief examination of the status of the attack on existing philosophies of finitude such as we find in both Badiou and Feuerbach.
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