Cite as: Françoise Balibar, ‘What Is a Thing?’, lecture presented at the workshop Chaos et jugement infini: Chaos und unendliches Urteil / Chaos and infinite judgment, ICI Berlin, 26 June 2009, part 1, video recording, mp4, 28:56 <>
26 Jun 2009

What Is a Thing?

By Françoise Balibar
Martin Heidegger characterized modern science as the discovery that mathematics “touches upon things”, and does not simply provide a means for representing them.  It would seem that this characterization has become more and more appropriate, and this talk will describe how contemporary physics characterises its objects through mathematical concepts of symmetry related to nineteenth-century discoveries of group theory (Galois, Klein, Weyl) and non-Euclidean spaces (Riemann).
Physical objects are now defined through their symmetries, and even theories themselves are now built in order to satisfy specific invariance conditions and symmetries. Symmetry has thus become the main way of accessing the world as it is built in physics.Françoise Balibar is a historian of science and professor emerita of physics at the Université Denis Diderot, Paris VII. She has published numerous works on Albert Einstein, the theory of relativity, and on the history and epistemology of physics.


ICI Berlin
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ICI Berlin

Video in English

Part 1

Format: mp4
Length: 00:28:56
First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin

Part of the Workshop

Chaos et jugement infini: Chaos und unendliches Urteil / Chaos and infinite judgment

Thursday, 19:30 Lecture
Monique David-Ménard:
Der Begriff des Urteils bei Deleuze und in der Psychoanalyse

Friday, 10:00 – 18:00 Closed Workshop

10:00 – 11:00
Marcus Coelen:
Chaotische Urteile und Unendlichkeiten der Literatur

11:00 – 12:00
Françoise Balibar:
Relativité et contingence

12:15 – 13:15
Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky / Christoph Holzhey:
Kampf gegen das Chaos, Kampf gegen die Meinung.
Intensive Größe und Empfindung bei Gilles Deleuze und Hermann Cohen

13:30 – 14:45 Lunch break

14:45 – 15:45
Monique David-Ménard:
Das unendliche Urteil bei Kant und seine Lektüre bei Gilles Chatelet in ‘Les enjeux du mobile’ (Paris 1993)

15:45 – 16:45
Ali Benmakhlouf:
Chaos, indétermination et mouvement du monde

17:00 – 18:00
Final discussion

Friday,19:30 Lecture
Françoise Balibar:
What is a Thing?


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)


Françoise Balibar
Ali Benmakhlouf
Marcus Coelen
Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky
Monique David-Ménard
Christoph Holzhey

Organized by

ICI Berlin mit Beteiligung der Forschergruppe Theoriepraxis