Neutral Views: “Philosophy”

Neutral Views: “Philosophy” – Collaborative Analysis / Discussion Panel
Chairs: Sunil Manghani and Gary Peters

Friday 2 September 2011 / 2.30-4.00pm / Room: Skell 037

Let’s start out from a “philosophy” (with scare quotes, since what is at issue is precisely that this be a philosophy)

…is expelled from philosophy, to the extent that it doesn’t retain the philosophical “imprint”: the concept.

This “im-position” (at least as seen from the Neutral) = philosophy’s arrogance

But this is not the Neutral’s “view” of philosophy … it doesn’t oppose it but distances itself from it…

…one must say no to the concept, not make use of it. But, then, how to speak, all of us, intellectuals? By metaphors.

Instructions: In preparation for the session participtants are asked to:

(1) read the following passage from Roland Barthes’ The Neutral, on ‘The Concept’, pp.156-157;

(2) submit a brief written response in the comments box below.

(3) attend the session!

The aim of the session is to garner a collective reading, all of which will be archived here.

(For further details of the conference and a full programme click here)



  1. I seem to have a number of disagreements with the author. Perhaps the most important one is about the very grasp of the notion “neutral”. Is skepticism really “neutral”, as the author suggests, or is it a form of cognitive self-denial? And why is Nietzsche “outside” of philosophy just because he is negative about the epiphenomenal world? Nietzsche is not neutral, he is emphatically negative by embracing destruction of what, by his lights, already contains the seeds of self destruction, in the name of the creation of a new, superb reality. This may be insane, but it is certainly not “neutral”. Furthermore, the author seems to suggest, along Marxist lines, that philosophy requires engagement, and that anything that is purely contemplative is somehow “outside” of philosophy. Even in this perspective, with which I disagree, Nietzsche is not a-philosophical – quote to the contrary.

    • s.manghani

      Thank-you for being the first to offer your thoughts here… never an easy task.

      It is good to read of your disagreements with the ‘author’ – it sets the ball rolling for some healthy debate! Barthes states at the opening of the lecture course: ‘…the Neutral doesn’t refer to “impressions” of grayness, or “neutrality”, of indifference … “To outplay the paradigm” is an ardent, burning activity’. …and it is in this respect I really appreciate this first ‘ardent, burning’ response!

      I look forward to hearing further views… (and feel free to come at things from any angle, in any style!)

  2. Stella Baraklianou

    I come into this from a quite a different perspective, that is from a photographic one:
    Barthes’ view of the The Neutral is central (and in many ways a natural culmination) of the previous Writing Degree Zero (1967) and of course, Camera Lucida (1980). Particularly since the earlier Third Meaning (1977), Barthes had been interested in articulating a “third space”, firstly through cinema stills, later with Camera Lucida in the form of photography. I believe that in the Neutral he has gone to great pains and lengths to find applications of his Neutral – in this particular passage, with regards to philosophy.
    What interests me is an implied “movement” of thought, evident throughout the Neutral, that effortlessly moves from an abstract thing (concept) to a certainty of an event (memory of a loved one, for example). It is a movement that binds an all encompassing, potentially “universal truth” with very intimate and personal details. In the specific passage, the essence of Skeptics time, of a suspension, of an epoche is crucial. Barthes finds the idea of “the concept” as an imposter, an arrogant negation of the possibility that philosophy has to offer. Interestingly this is exactly what leaves an opening, inserting the Neutral in a philosophical manner: it is not that the concept ceases to exist or is negated, but by suspending it and placing it in the realm of the sensible (here he alludes to Nietzsches nihilism and close encounters with the Skeptics) recommends the “becoming” the activation of the concept. […]

    I return to the certainty of the event: for this can only be my truth, my certainty. This movement is like going back to look at the photograph (portrait) of a (now deceased) loved one. In front of the image, I am certain of them having-been-there, at that moment. (Camera Lucida, 77-85). I know that moment existed (the indexical nature of the photograph points to it.) In that photograph –life immortalised (signifying neither beginning or end) – also signals the outside of the paradigm. Through my love for that now deceased person, I have reached a sense of certainty about the event: from a state of paralysis, (of the frozen time of the photograph, from my truth), begins the gesturing towards perhaps a more universal state of mourning or immortality.
    A philosophy of gesturing and nuances: this is what I believe is proposed.

  3. Richard Fitch

    While, as something of a ‘Greek Sceptic’, my first impression of the passage, and of the lecture series in general, is broadly sympathetic, I fear it does suffer from being in the orbit of Hegel. It accepts Hegel’s representation (chiefly in the Phenomenology) of Pyrrhonism as hyper-subjective and essentially psychological (as the meaning of Scepticism has changed, one can avoid some confusion by referring to the two schools of ‘Greek Sceptics’, and the styles of thought they initiated, as either Academic or Pyrrhonian. Here Barthes is referring to the latter). Pyrrhonism is not focused on the psyche, but on the problems raised by difference, and in particular by the the differences one finds in human sociality. Its core insight is the impossibility of successful justification (as the telos of the giving and taking of reasons), not, as in modern scepticism, the impossibility of successful cognition. From this insight Pyrrhonians can undo the tyranny of every dogma. If, with Barthes, the undoing of the dogma of the concept only leads to a dogma of the Neutral (and this, I fear is the effect of taking Hegel at his word, and of Barthes’ desire for the neutral), then dogmatic tyranny remains effectively undisturbed. Indeed, it would probably be just yet another example of sceptical self-refutation. The problem are not particular dogmata, but is dogmatism as such. And ultimately dogmatism is a problem for the philosopher not because it is tyrannical or ethically obnoxious, or in bad taste, though it usually is, but because it doesn’t work as a work of reason-giving and taking. And as such, dogmatism, whether philosophical, anti-philosophical, or a-philosophical, conceptual or neutral, implodes into nihilism with the potenial to violently rip apart the fragile fabric of human sociality.

  4. Gavin Wilson

    Barthes’ use of ‘skepticism’ draws our attention to the word and its usage. We must be sceptical (pun intended) whether Barthes chose this spelling over the perfectly serviceable French source ‘sceptique’. I doubt that Barthes ever accidentally or arbitrarily used language, even whilst discussing the subjectiveness of knowledge.
    Skepticism recalls for me the (misspelled for effect) ‘magik’, when used as a deliberate archaism, connotating something supernaturally false or unreliable. The attention-seeking ‘k’ seems to be invoked for effect, a garish make-up apologetically applied to a word suspected of being dull or unprepossessing. Skepticism’s superficiality is completed, not in its being expelled from philosophy, but from its dislocation with the Neutral. Skepticism not so much loses the ‘imprint’ of philosophy, as leaves behind that form of scepticism which communicates doubts as to the trustworthiness of the senses as media of absolute truth. Its attention is no longer on expressing the neutrality of sceptical doubt, but instead announces its impartiality, averring towards the making of a contentious statement.
    Yet does this also equate to a sceptical neutrality (or a neutral scepticism) of the kind of philosophical arrogance Barthes speaks of? I rather think it does. Perhaps then, however it is spelled, the concept behind the words neutral and skeptical metaphorically pushes at the door marked ‘Out of Philosophy’ rather than ‘In to Philosophy’.

  5. Johne999

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