The Specific Difference of French Philosophy
The idea that there might exist something called French philosophy, as distinguished from "French theory," or "theory," or Continental philosophy, and that it might extend beyond the twentieth century, is not self-evident. It's also not clear why the terms structuralism and post-structuralism have come to characterize a transitional moment in this field of thought. In addressing these larger questions and proposing a counter-history of the pivotal moment of the 1960s, this talk will focus on the way specific difference-a term given its fullest consideration in the Medieval Aristotelian tradition-is employed by different French philosophers, above all Louis Althusser, to signal a major rupture or break that is nonetheless challenging to discern. Both theorist and actor in this drama, Althusser, along with a cast including Rousseau and Lévi-Strauss, helps us discern why French philosophy may have reached such a precipitous turning point in 1966 that its very name and being were irreparably altered.