Regaining Humanity’s Central Place: Ruyer’s Cosmology

Anti-Speciesism: A Radicalization of Non-differentiation

1 When the relationship between violence and its object is no longer ascribable, as with the hypervegetarian slogan “fromage = carnage,” [1] one is inclined to wonder naively: why such hatred?

2 Ruyer was “tempted to suspect a psychological barrier” among the biologists who wanted to explain embryonic development or evolution exclusively through “various mechanisms without finality.” [2] He imagined that the occasionally violent refusal of finality came from a “fear of slipping into ‘religious’ [...] conceptions.” [3] Consequently, he used the psychoanalytic notion of “resistance” to explain a surprising contrast between the ingenuity of scientific experiments and the extremely crude logical errors that are committed, for example by confusing a “trigger” with an “explanatory reason.” In short, anti-finalism may be yet another “sad passion.”

3 Similarly, the violence of those who defend the “cause of animals” is constantly surprising. Just as anti-religious anxiety can explain the “resistance” to finalism, the motive of contemporary anti-speciesism is perhaps a form of postmodern resentment, or a symptom of postmodernity as resentment. And yet it seems to manifest itself as a hedonistic moral argument, which would identify the fact of causing pain – without the consent of the creature subjected to it – as the supreme evil. Pain (experienced unwillingly) would then be such an evil that the difference between the subjects that sense that pain, whether humans or animals, cannot be factored into any casuistic discussion. It is enough for them to have a nervous system. Pain is evil in all its degrees, the lowest first of all: discomfort, being deprived of the enjoyment that is due according to specific differences. This is why the great models of animal friendship illustrated by the saints are to be execrated as much as cheese shops, butcher shops and artificial insemination. Ursicinus (a companion of St. Columbanus whose Latin nickname means “little bear”), after having reprimanded a bear who had eaten his donkey, put the bear to work in place of the donkey. By what right do we make a donkey a beast of burden? By what right do we accuse a bear of eating that donkey? To borrow an expression from Charles Melman, a Lacanian psychoanalyst, just as there is such a thing as comfort medicine, there is now a right to comfort, whose purpose is to compensate for any lack of satisfaction. This lack cannot be assessed on the basis of norms anymore, for now that heaven is empty, the subject is relieved of all obligations, or freed from all debt: he becomes a “man without gravity.” [4]

4 Since it is a question of “pain,” of being sentient, it should go without saying that this hedonistic morality is due to an advance in sensibility, in compassion: what’s more, a learned, enlightened compassion. It seems to us that we must instead consider a shadowy element that we call “resentment,” for lack of a better word, which should perhaps be understood as a desire for entropy, an egalitarianism in accepting what is, by means of which no one would ever have to withstand criticism ever again – what Saint-Exupéry called the “liberty not to exist.” This is why we must combine the critiques of the difference between humans and animals with the polymorphous critique of all kinds of differences, mainly sexual differences but also differences of culture, religion and nation. We could characterize our era in the following way: relativism, materialism, an unprecedented psychic economy that demands enjoyment and its exhibition to the point of liquidating earlier disorders (neurosis, hysteria) in favor of new ones (the weariness of the self, depression, paranoid grievances, and irremediable lacks, for want of limits, debts, or impossibilities), permissiveness, victimization, openness toward others (or rather “closedness,” as Allan Bloom has shown, [5] since modern tolerance presupposes that others do not themselves believe in what they believe any more than we believe in what we believe). These traits form an ideology of dedifferentiation. In this respect, Philippe Muray speaks of an “iron non-differentiation.” [6] From now on, difference must only be a purely factual form of diversity, the “thusness” (ainséité) of the non-identical. Reduced in this way, what is different is what “makes no difference.” Anti-speciesism is a continuation of nominalism. Anyone who would make a difference anything more than pure diversity takes the responsibility of establishing a hierarchy, assigning a role, confining, stigmatizing, setting norms, deauthenticating: in short, creating a victim. Individuals choose for themselves, or only take cues from themselves. “When individuals are no longer definable by their differentiating traits (by their differential characteristics), there is nothing left in them that can be refuted.” [7]

5 We hear anti-speciesists say that they defend “the cause of causes.” Denouncing sexism, racism, nationalism, and ethnocentrism would only mean fighting regional battles, whereas anti-speciesism gets at the principle of the differentialists. For it is necessary to eliminate humanism, and empty the heavens the way René Viviani, around 1906, extinguished, “with a magnificent gesture, lights that will never shine again.” [8] Indeed, all postmodernity and its violent vigilance do is bring modernity to completion: in the XIXth century, Max Stirner was essentially alone in denouncing modernity’s hypocritical contradictions and humanist moralism.

6 To have nothing asked of oneself is the sole coherent consequence of scientistic positivism, for which no species exists, for which all differences are accidents.

7 We therefore do not take animal rights seriously. We do not even think that man must become the cause of causes. But it seems relevant to us to try and get a better sense of the grandeur of humanity, as unoriginal as that is since the “thinking reed.” In so doing, we will defend a “humanist” argument, with one important distinction. Postmodern non-differentiation completes modern humanism, that humanism that, according to Stirner, dispossesses the individual of what is theirs by incoherently maintaining obligations toward an abstraction. That abstraction is humanity, an abstraction that is just an undeclared inheritance from more religious eras – one disguised as a philosophy of history. In other words, it is an abstraction that is the complete form of that eidos of history that Eric voegelin attributes to the gnosticism of Joachim of Fiore: “From the Joachitic immanentization a theoretical problem arises which occurs neither in classic antiquity nor in orthodox Christianity, that is, the problem of an eidos of history.” [9] In fact, the Age of the Holy Spirit prophesied by Joachim (to whom we also owe double-truth theory, making it possible to split belief from knowledge) could embrace both modernity and postmodernity, with the first destroying authority by proposing the utopia of human progress and the second freeing humans from the emancipators themselves so as to no longer offer anything but a fragmented humanity, where all the fragments are equivalent, made up not of individuals but of agglutinations of flavors and colors, of groups whose solidarity is sometimes formed through the designation of a common enemy.

The Privilege of Humanity: The Relation Tototality

Ruyer’s cosmology: Beings as Activities of formation

8 The interest of Ruyer’s work lies in his philosophy of living systems, an anti-mechanist biology enabling, first of all, an understanding of the similarity of all living beings, and even of all organized beings so as to distinguish the originality of humanity. The community of living beings forms a basis, giving animals capacities that are refused by mechanical philosophy: intelligence, conduct, inventiveness, and so on. Of course, this reappraisal entails at least as many positive ethical consequences concerning humanity’s relationship to the other animals as anti-speciesism does. The main argument for formulating humanity’s originality is neither consciousness nor intelligence, but rather the nature of the human brain. Ruyer’s writings feature many chapters on the brain. It is not our purpose here to expound a theory that is spread out among seven or eight works, from La conscience et le corps [consciousness and the Body] to L’Art d’être toujours content [The Art of Always Being Happy], taking in Éléments de psycho-biologie [Elements of Psychobiology], Néo-finalisme [Neofinalism], Dieu des religions, Dieu de la science [god of Religions, god of Science] or L’Animal, l’homme, la fonction symbolique [Animal, Man, the Symbolic function]. [10] We shall limit ourselves to an overview that is as simple as possible.

9 First of all, a remark on the nature of these texts: they concern philosophy, not epistemology. Ruyer’s only epistemological proposition can be summarized as a modification of Antoine Augustin Cournot’s theory according to which “science knows forms.” In his 1930 dissertation, Esquisse d’une philosophie de la structure [Outline of a Philosophy of Structure], Ruyer replaced mechanical philosophy with a purely spatial structuralism, thereby remaining faithful to Cournot. But by looking more deeply into the question of structural consistency, Ruyer understood that linkage is the blind spot of the knowledge of forms, that which will always remain unobservable and indispensable. Hence the introduction of a decisive difference in La conscience et le corps (1937) between structure as “known form” [11] and structuring activity as “true form,” where the latter refers to the principle of the internal bearing of forms and their linkages. Any real, individuated being that “sorts out” how to exist for itself is because it makes, through what it makes, because it makes itself. Structure is an abstraction, a reconstruction, that to be sure makes a great many facts intelligible, but that does not resolve the question of the very formation of forms. And yet we must emphasize that this formation is a structuring, actualized, constant activity: it is not the passive, deterministic product of an initial formation, or of an arrangement. For example, the form of dunes results from grains of sand added to the driving force of the winds that moved those grains. The (structural) knowledge of the dunes is complete, perfect, according to Pierre-Simon Laplace’s deterministic formula, whereas formation, or a form as active formation, is actualized, so to speak, in every true form (unified and maintained, unlike a group or a contour, which is what dunes are): it is here-now.

10 It is here-now for individuals, or what Ruyer calls the beings of the “main series,” with which one must contrast the crowd-beings or the clusters, for which structural knowledge is enough. Here is a common example: the water molecule is a being of the main series, whereas a river is a crowd. Another example is the difference between one herring and a shoal of herrings. Still another: what makes a group of players into a team? The (unobservable) connections of shared participation in the rules of the game. All of the beings that are not in the main series are fragile, even though they may form immense structures, for they either change with the slightest breath, like dunes, or they wear out and crumble away in the absence of their users, who are capable of maintaining them in their function. If one is familiar with the ideas of Leibniz, one recognizes the mere development of ideas by someone who, according to Ruyer, deserved credit for posing problems well. A veritable cosmology asserts itself here: in opposition to the idea of a universe made of layers – whether these are Karl Popper’s Worlds 1, 2, and 3, or the succession of inert matter / life / psyche / spirituality, where problems of emergence are posed (how can a consciousness capable of evaluation emerge from a mechanism?) – a fibrous structure must be adopted. The universe is a weaving, a colonization of beings from the main series: atoms, molecules, organisms, with the latter forming vaster domanial units, but where the unity is of the same nature as a psyche-expanse, the true expanse, which is irreducible to the partes extra partes of the geometric expanse. Their side-by-side multiplicity gives rise to relationships that are known to statistical laws: relationships of wear and friction where, while beings are made, collections of beings (the physical world) become fixed, which is never anything but a decelerated way of disintegrating, according to the laws of increasing entropy.

11 Scientific knowledge, therefore, cannot teach us about a real organism or the real brain, but merely the structural, observable brain. We cannot expect an answer from the sciences of the brain on questions regarding the relationship between the mind and the body. The answers to these questions belong to a form of physics that is understood as a natural philosophy or an undivided philosophy-science. Precisely, the invaluable contribution of quantum physics and wave mechanics, like that of biologists’ experiments on embryos or the brain, consists in “halts of knowledge,” [12] or “blanks,” when faced with something that can only be described through analogy. While scientists try to draw positive conclusions from neurology in favor of spiritualist theories (John C. Eccles, for example, in Evolution of the Brain: creation of the Self), Ruyer infers from science that there is a need for a reversal in causality, from mechanical (spatiotemporal) causality to thematic (psychic) causality. For Eccles, for example, quantum mechanics makes it possible to understand the interaction between the mind and the body, “analogous to a probability field of quantum mechanics, which has neither mass nor energy yet can cause effective action at microsites” [13] where “each Soul is a new Divine creation which is implanted into the growing foetus at some time between conception and birth.” [14] Ruyer may have thought that contemporary physics was a “royal gift to [spiritualist] philosophy,” but he did not see it the way Eccles did.

12 If there is one major, if not crucial, experiment to be performed in biology, it is the one highlighting the regulating capacities of an embryo that has undergone surgical operations. The same goes for the brain: all of the experimental facts that Ruyer prioritizes present the recovery of mental functions despite serious lesions or, more generally, all the facts presenting cerebral localizations that are not precisely local, but regionally local. These capacities denote what is known as an embryonic and cerebral “equipotentiality.” Through this fact, an intriguing connection between the brain and the embryo is established. What is important first of all is the dead end where the mechanistic explanation finds itself. And yet equipotentiality is not a mysterious capacity: it is a positive property of embryonic or cerebral tissues. The fact that a tissue, which under normal conditions of development is directed to become a left hind leg (or some organ), may become a left front leg (or some other organ), does not mean that we have discovered some mysterious “power” within it, a formative force of some kind. It means, in a negative fashion, that formation is not an effect of causes that are given here-now, according to a strictly precise local determination. If I look at a watch, I immediately know that a consciousness oversaw its organization, that there had been an earlier conscious labor that is now deposited in the current arrangement of the watch’s parts, which is simply a fossilized finality. When an experiment shows me that a territory can just as easily become one being as two identical beings, or one organ as another one, I immediately know that I am witnessing a formation that can only be that of a current consciousness, which works thematically, on canvases and not on rails. This work is analogous to the production of a painting, with the theme “limb” receiving a series of particular determinations: “front” limb, “right” limb, etc. This work is a work of memory. In chapter XXVII of Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, on the supposed “rights of vegetables,” he marks the start of what will become his theory on memory and habit as the causes of embryonic development. From this perspective, Ruyer owes Butler a great deal. Ruyer’s masterly contribution is in his ontology of true forms, precisely in his argumentation in favor of their psychic reality as “absolute surfaces,” i.e. united by a non-geometric, non-exterior point of view on themselves. A true form (an atom, an elephant) is indistinctly maintained and known by itself. Clusters and crowds (dunes, queues, rivers) are not maintained; aspects and contours (clouds, landscapes) are merely views-by-others. According to Butler, what appears as automatism in development, its lack of consciousness about its action, is a product of the perfection of embryonic knowledge, the habit-memory acquired over so many generations: “Each stage of development brings back the recollection of the course taken [by the seed] in the preceding stage, and the development has been so often repeated, that all doubt – and with all doubt, all consciousness of action – is suspended.” [15]

13 Ruyer summarizes the true, simply epistemological, nature of equipotentiality as follows:


Equipotentiality is the objective functional aspect that a particular mode of reality assumes for an observer: a consciousness – that is, as we shall soon see, an absolute form, an absolute self-surveying domain. As the assembled and interconnected structures of a machine are the sign of a consciousness that was once applied to this assemblage and represent, so to speak, fossil finality, so equipotentiality is the sign of an actual consciousness. The adult equipped with a brain was at first an embryo without a neural plate. The embryo’s primary consciousness is therefore primary from all points of view relative to the consciousness that is turned toward the world. The “I-consciousness” as a domain derives from the domain of embryonic consciousness. If we want to grasp the facts, we have to become used to dissociating consciousness and brain and to associating consciousness and organic form. The brain is not an instrument for becoming conscious, intelligent, inventive, or reminiscent. Consciousness, intelligence, invention, memory, and active finality are tied to the organic form in general. The brain’s “superiority” or its distinctive character is that it is an incomplete organ, an always open network, which thus retains equipotentiality, the active embryonic consciousness, and applies it to the organization of the world. [16]

The Brain as Embryo Extended in Time

15 The disconnection between the brain and consciousness is the decisive step. For Bergson, the brain, the site for communicating movements, cannot produce thought. The same goes for Ruyer, but in his view, if the brain of which Bergson speaks – the brain of neurologists – produces nothing, this is because it does not exist: it is merely a reconstruction, an object, whereas the real brain produces thought. But it does not have a monopoly over consciousness, memory, invention, or intelligence. All true forms are conscious. This panpsychism is in line with Butler’s intuition when he asked: “What is to be intelligent if to know how to do what one wants to do, and to do it repeatedly, is not to be intelligent?” [17]

16 The analogy of the brain and the embryo comes from their capacity for thematic organization, and their shared epigenetic aspect that always goes from the general to the particular. But the brain does not distinguish itself as an organ of consciousness, capable of finality. The embryo makes a brainless brain. Similarly, an amoeba, lacking a neurological apparatus, really behaves, hunts, avoids, learns... The difference between the brain and the embryo lies elsewhere, and it is a twofold difference: a difference of reversibility and of relation. An embryo is provisionally thematic for the time it takes to develop, which can be extremely short. Once an embryonic territory is determined, without however being differentiated yet, it is irreversible, and if it is transplanted elsewhere from its functional location, it does not adapt to the site of transplantation. Incidentally, this is how the “determination” of an embryonic territory becomes known, whereas it is not directly observable. It is known that a territory is determined as a “limb” when it no longer “knows” how to do anything except to be a “limb” when it is transplanted into a site where it should, according to that site, develop into another organ. Conversely, the brain is determined reversibly. For example, it “sets itself up” for a given mathematical operation, for learning a text by heart, or for some psychological “set” (“winning despite the pain”), then, like a “magic slate” (surface magique) [18] or a “school slate” (two of Ruyer’s favorite images in Eléments de psycho-biologie), it erases itself and becomes available again for some other organization or for a formless return to pure attentiveness. The brain is like the embryo, the suture of two dimensions: the world of significations and meanings, and the spatiotemporal world of connections. It is neither one nor the other separately. But this suture makes reversible organs. With each mental activity, the brain makes an organ. But like an embryo extended in time, it never leaves its embryonic, almost natal or neotenic state. It is the site of possibles, permanently abutting the (transspatial) site of Forms.

Another Relation

17 What does a nervous system add to an organism? A distance. Whereas the amoeba’s body is its whole experience of the world – whereas its body is its world, or the world – for the animal the world is announced, the animal has been informed about it. The animal that is endowed with a nervous system is a being in relation with the world: what it feels is what it knows about the world.

18 What does a human brain add to this relation to the world? In the tradition of von Uexküll and of Buytendijk, Ruyer limits the animal’s relation to the world to a relation to an environment (umwelt). In other words, the animal, through its nervous system, also lives as a “magic slate,” but the senses to which it is sensitive are those of specifically determined situations. This determination is inspired, suggested (soufflée), by instinct. Perception and the corresponding action are dictated, which does not mean that they are determined in the mechanist sense of the word, or encoded. The relationship to the species is determinant with the animal. For the animal, the species is the individual, unlike the condition of angels, where individuals are species. [19] In other words, the animal has no personal life and humans cannot have a personal relation with animals.

19 Here we must make the brain the site of consciousness in the ordinary sense of an intention focusing on values, not just significations or meanings. While the brain in general allows for a mediate consciousness of the world, at a distance from the body, a consciousness that is freer than that of the amoeba but nevertheless subjugated to the species in the case of the animal possessing a brain, the human brain offers the greatest psychic distance, the greatest amount of interplay. This is because the human being is also a person insofar as they are in relation with values, in all domains of action (theoretical, ethical, aesthetic). The human being goes from the status of an individual to that of a personal subject, thereby internalizing their existence as an adventure, to the extent that they are linked to an assessment and not to doxic and praxic injunctions – what must be seen in a given situation (something appealing, something threatening) and what must be done (take something, run away, etc.) This capacity gives rise to personal life because it is linked to another capacity: the ability to conceptualize the Totality, the World stricto sensu.

20 The human being belongs to a species with no other belonging than this relation to All. Their irony, their laughter, and their amazement are the signs of this. This non-belonging to a “species,” one that is bound to an environment so to speak, transforms what they are naturally, giving them a nonarbitrary human and cultural dimension, for they receive “what must be seen” and “what must be done” politically – political in the Aristotelian sense – i.e. culturally.

21 Can we understand what has all the hallmarks of an overturning? Ruyer only gives one image of this: an iceberg that flips over as the submerged portion wears away. “The perfecting of the brain could only occur in the manner of an occasional cause of inversion”; “the volume of the brain, and even its perfecting, explains nothing by itself.” [20] Thus the human brain, instead of being an intermediary in the service of the organism, a sentinel and the servant caring for organic life according to specific requirements, puts the organism to work for it instead. In humans, the brain is not just the seat of conscious life: it is practically the whole organism, for it is the participation in a semantic world, which is all of human life. Humans are ready to sacrifice their body to this, if this sacrifice is a form of this participation. Ruyer appreciated Saint-Exupéry’s expression: “My act is myself.” And yet what is my act if not the union of a meaning and a person, i.e. their intention?

22 If we summarize the role of the brain, we must establish a hierarchy of the beings in the main series, i.e. all the beings that are neither crowds, nor clusters, nor aspects, nor artificial creations, according to the nature of the consciousness or the thematic activity that they are. The minimal physical individuals (atoms, molecules) are immediately their species. The plants and animals without nervous systems behave in such a way that they sense their environment without mediation. The animals with brains have a relation with the world, established by the species. Humans are, in a way, whole for the world, or autonomous in the face of it. They are the only ones without reference points: for them, the world is a question without a definite instruction manual. And even if one existed, it would not be defined biologically, but culturally, according to symbols. How is this possible? To speak of an overturning of the relationship between brain and organism is never anything but describing what is impossible to explain by who knows what quantitative complexification, or by an emergence that would amount to the shallowest form of verbalism. Does Ruyer demonstrate weakness by not giving his opinion on the cause of that relation to the Totality? The introduction of L’Animal, l’homme, la fonction symbolique seeks a third strategy between a mythological explanation via preexistence and a magical explanation via emergence. Creationist spiritualism (Eccles for example) makes the relation to the Whole the act of a created soul, since God wants His creatures to participate in Him; for Ruyer, this is mythology, the explanation of the same by the same. Materialism extracts life, intention, and value from inert matter: for Ruyer, this is absurd magic. The third strategy is not “centrist”: it aligns itself more with mythology, for mythology possesses the testimony of our own activity here-now, imbued with nourishment from essences and creative aims. Let us also note that this passage to the totality is, for Ruyer, characteristic of religion. Therefore, it is not indifferent that the hierarchical place of the human was contested just as modernity came into being, if we conceive of modernity as immanentization, secularization and disenchantment.

Apology of Anthropocentrism

23 Let us summarize the essential aspects of Ruyer’s cosmology. We must distinguish two kinds of beings: on the one hand, the true beings (the “main series”) – which are because they make themselves, or which are “formations,” where this term is always to be understood in the sense of an activity here-now – and on the other, aggregates and artifacts. Modern science (methodically reducing all beings to mechanisms) completely (and statistically) knows the beings of the second kind, whereas the “true” beings are only known structurally. Observation and experimentation, as well as the progress made by contemporary physics, have the advantage of revealing the “blanks” in knowledge that can only be interpreted through a collaboration between science and philosophy.

24 Ruyer’s interpretation is a panpsychism. Its principle is the following: the structuring activity that every physical being is or constitutes presupposes a meaning that directs it. This is a thematic activity. It presupposes a relation between every being and the intelligible regions of nature, in other words with non-spatial and non-temporal levels of reality located within nature itself, and not in another world. Without these levels, nature would be nothing but dust, as the poet John Donne says, and as Leibniz says as well. The consistency of beings is semantic. The consistency of a hand is a result of the hand, before being a result of mechanical structures.

25 The specificity of the human being rests on the functional revolution in one organ: the brain, which is an embryo extended in time. To put it another way, embryonic equipotentiality is maintained within the brain, an exceptional organ because it remains a magic slate, inscribing and erasing in conjunction with the tool-organs (all of the mental functions). The difference between the human and the animal stems from a reversal in the relations between the brain and the organism: with humans, the organism puts itself at the service of the brain. This reversal makes the human person, for the thematic activity in humans is no longer limited to the interests of (individual or specific) survival, nor is it absorbed in the already “metaphysical” relation with the non-spatial and non-temporal world of the “typical” senses: instead, it is open to a world of “values.” This new relation is what makes the person (as distinguished from the individual) as well as the World (conceptualized as a totality).

26 These theories have weaknesses, to be sure. Just as Ruyer refused the idea of creation despite being a theist, we must avoid thinking about the divine touch on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But is the image of the overturned iceberg any better? If the doctrine of emergence (associated with the idea of a layered structure) is absurd, we must admit that Ruyer’s cerebral revolution is no explanation.

27 This is why we must resolve to find only one description that accounts for human experience, in particular the cultural nature of humanity.

28 This long detour responds to our initial question: how can we explain the violence with which some refuse to grant humans a privileged place? We must denounce a widespread error concerning anthropocentrism. Often one only sees it as a kind of naiveté, associated with archaic cosmologies. One might as well see the Galilean crisis as a mere astronomical debate. The cosmological crisis of the XVIIth century (only a few, like Pascal, were to grasp its significance) is a crisis of physics, a crisis of a unidimensional (exclusively spatiotemporal) closure of nature, a crisis where the idea of nature as an order comes to an end. Modernity arises from this naturalism, where nature is a system of laws, of factual constraints. The nature of modern physics is deprived of obligations: no one has to respect it or admire it. Humans can conquer it, for they are not “at home” within it anywhere.

29 If Ruyer’s cosmology is true, nature is multidimensional, and one is particularly “at home” in it if one is attuned to what maintains that nature, to what endows it with consistency, i.e. not just meanings, types, essences but, beyond this “polytheism,” the Sense of senses. Humans are linked to the Sense of senses once they are linked to the World as totality. This relation to a kind of metaphysical axis of the world (axis mundi) is what makes the centrality of humanity. Centrality is this relation – it is everywhere where humans represent it: standing stones, omphalos, trees, etc. “This image is probably quite close to what is most essential – we will also say, what is truest – in the human vision of the world and of existence.” [21]

30 The refusal of human privilege is understandable. Modernity, through its acosmism and its materialism, is the first expression of this. But this expression has been concealed by an ideology of an eidos of history, giving history the sense of humanity’s realization, of its perfecting. This ideology is fading away, and the Emperor has no clothes, scattered in so many small groups. The cosmos of the moderns is the real rule of the postmoderns: it is not binding. For a modern, all of the centers laid out by such different cultures are the same, not because they make it possible to be uplifted – as in Ruyer’s irenicism – but because none of them lead anywhere in a universe that is just space and time, indefinitely. Anthropocentrism is not the pride of man-as-measure, but the consciousness of a possible profundity and a possible elevation. The refusal of that central place only appears to be an effect of compassion or humility, “Christian virtues gone mad” (Chesterton). In reality, it is an effect of resentment or a desire for inertia, for the center is a site of reception and of rigor. This receptivity and this rigor is what the human brain makes possible, not as an organ of intelligence, of finality or even of the psyche – since all beings, as structuring and therefore thematic activities, share these qualities – but as an organ of relation to the Totality. One has to mistake the center for a site of ominous power to believe that it is a question of humanity to leave that place empty.


  • [1]
    Literally “cheese = carnage.” For an English equivalent, see Faith Ridler, “Militant vegans vandalise a cheese shop by spraying ‘dairy = death’ in red paint on the window,” Daily Mail Online, 13 May 2020 [translator’s note].
  • [2]
    Raymond Ruyer, Néo-finalisme (Paris: PUF, 2012), 39-40 [Neofinalism, trans. Alyosha Edlebi (Minneapolis / London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 34].
  • [3]
    Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 39-40 [Neofinalism, 34].
  • [4]
    Charles Melman, L’Homme sans gravité (Paris: Denoël, 2005).
  • [5]
    Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987).
  • [6]
    Philippe Muray, Après l’Histoire (Paris: Gallimard, 2000), 242.
  • [7]
    Muray, Après l’Histoire, 243.
  • [8]
    Charles Péguy, “De la situation faite au parti intellectuel,” Œuvres en prose complètes: Tome 2 (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), 552-565.
  • [9]
    Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (Chicago / London: The University of Chicago Press, 1987), 119.
  • [10]
    Of these, only Néo-Finalisme has been translated into English [translator’s note].
  • [11]
    Ruyer, La Conscience et le corps (Paris: PUF, 1950), 30.
  • [12]
    Ruyer, La Conscience et le corps, 33.
  • [13]
    John C. Eccles, Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self (London: Routledge, 1989), 197. Here, Eccles relies on a physicist, Henry Margenau, who draws connections between quantum indeterminism and freedom that do not come anywhere near Ruyer’s position. While the notion of “field” allows Eccles to assess the “action of mental events on neural events” (Evolution of the Brain, 197) – in the same way as the “morphogenetic field” performed similar, and similarly dubious, services for embryology – the notion of “the creation of the soul” is in his view a response to another question, one of the unity of the self: “How are we ‘someone’?”
  • [14]
    Eccles, Evolution of the Brain, 249.
  • [15]
    Samuel Butler, Erewhon (London / New York: Penguin, 1985), 239.
  • [16]
    Ruyer, Néo-finalisme, 88-89 [Neofinalism, 74-75].
  • [17]
    Butler, Erewhon, 238.
  • [18]
    Conrad is referring to the children’s toy comprising a piece of waxed cardboard covered with a plastic sheet where one can write text on the sheet with a plastic stylus then lift the sheet to make the text disappear [translator’s note].
  • [19]
    See Tobias Hoffmann, “Introduction,” in A Companion to Angels in Medieval Philosophy, ed. Hoffmann (Leiden / Boston: Brill, 2012), 7 [translator’s note].
  • [20]
    Ruyer, Dieu des religions, Dieu de la science (Paris: Flammarion, 1970), 50.
  • [21]
    Ruyer, Dieu des religions, Dieu de la science, 70.