Summary

  • The problem of this book is “the nature of thought’s relation to the absolute” (1).

Keywords

  • “correlationism”: “Such considerations reveal the extent to which the central notion of modern philosophy since Kant seems to be that of correlation. By ‘correlation’ we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other. We will henceforth call correlationism any current of thought which maintains the unsurpassable character of the correlation so defined. Consequently, it becomes possible to say that every philosophy which disavows naïve realism has become a variant of correlationism” (5). The “correlationist circle” is then the vicious cycle one gets caught in, within Western metaphysics, when trying to think beyond thought.
  • “ancestrality”:
  • “speculation”: “Let us call ‘speculative’ every type of thinking that claims to be able to access some form of absolute” (34).
  • “Contingency is such that anything might happen, even nothing at all, so that what is, remains as it is” (63).
  • “From now on, we will use the term ‘factiality’ [factualité] to describe the speculative essence of facticity, viz., that the facticity of every thing cannot be thought as a fact. Thus factiality must be understood as the non-facticity of facticity” (79).

Notes

1. Ancestrality

  • What are properties? “All those aspects of the object that can give rise to a mathematical thought (to a formula or to digitalization) rather than to a perception or sensation can be meaningfully turned into properties of the thing not only as it is with me, but also as it is without me” (3).
  • A return to a “pre-critical” or “naive” metaphysics (a similar move that Bennett makes) (3); naive b/c correlationism dictates that we cannot get outside ourselves in thinking the absolute.
  • “Thus, one could say that up until Kant, one of the principal problems of philosophy was to think substance, while ever since Kant, it has consisted in trying to think the correlation” (6).
  • “And if contemporary philosophers insist so adamantly that thought is entirely oriented towards the outside, this could be because of their failure to come to terms with a bereavement – the denial of a loss concomitant with the abandonment of dogmatism. For it could be that contemporary philosophers have lost the great outdoors, the absolute outside of pre-critical thinkers: that outside which was not relative to us, and which was given as indifferent to its own givenness to be what it is, existing in itself regardless of whether we are thinking of it or not; that outside which thought could explore with the legitimate feeling of being on foreign territory – of being entirely elsewhere” (7).
  • “Dating became ‘absolute’ with the perfection of techniques (basically in the 1930s) that allowed scientists to determine the actual duration of the measured objects” (9); note as Meillassoux introduces the problem of ancestrality how cultural techniques become key.
  • “For let us be perfectly clear: from the perspective of the correlationist, the interpretation of ancestral statements outlined above is inadmissible – or at least, inadmissible so long as it is interpreted literally. Doubtless, where science is concerned, philosophers have become modest – and even prudent. Thus, a philosopher will generally begin with an assurance to the effect that her theories in no way interfere with the work of the scientist, and that the manner in which the latter understands her own research is perfectly legitimate” (13).
  • “Confronted with the arche-fossil, every variety of idealism converges and becomes equally extraordinary – every variety of correlationism is exposed as an extreme idealism, one that is incapable of admitting that what science tells us about these occurrences of matter independent of humanity effectively occurred as described by science” (18). The formation “even when confronted with data which seem to point to an abyssal divide between what exists and what appears?” poses an interesting challenge re: Meillassoux’s investment in the concept of “data” (18).
  • Fundamentally, the problem of ancestrality is about reclaiming philosophy’s ability to think the absolute beyond the sciences or religion (26).

2. Metaphysics, Fideism, Speculation

  • “Our task, by way of contrast, consists in trying to understand how thought is able to access the uncorrelated, which is to say, a world capable of subsisting without being given. But to say this is just to say that we must grasp how thought is able to access an absolute, i.e. a being whose severance (the original meaning of absolutus) and whose separateness from thought is such that it presents itself to us as non-relative to us, and hence as capable of existing whether we exist or not” (28).
  • “But we also begin to understand how [Decartes’] proof is intrinsically tied to the culmination of a principle first formulated by Leibniz, although already at work in Descartes, viz., the principle of sufficient reason, according to which for every thing, every fact, and every occurrence, there must be a reason why it is thus and so rather than otherwise” (33).
  • “Every materialism that would be speculative, and hence for which absolute reality is an entity without thought, must assert both that thought is not necessary (something can be independently of thought), and that thought can think what there must be when there is no thought. The materialism that chooses to follow the speculative path is thereby constrained to believe that it is possible to think a given reality by abstracting from the fact that we are thinking it” (36).
  • “What I experience with facticity is not an objective reality, but rather the unsurpassable limits of objectivity confronted with the fact that there is a world; a world that is describable and perceptible, and structured by determinate invariants. It is the sheer fact of the world’s logicality, of its givenness in a representation, which evades the structures of logical and representational reason. The in-itself becomes opaque to the point where it is no longer possible to maintain that it exists, so that the term tends to disappear to the benefit of facticity alone” (40).
  • “We are trying to grasp the sense of the following paradox: the more thought arms itself against dogmatism, the more defenceless it becomes before fanaticism” (48). “Against dogmatism, it is important that we uphold the refusal of every metaphysical absolute, but against the reasoned violence of various fanaticisms, it is important that we re-discover in thought a modicum of absoluteness – enough of it, in any case, to counter the pretensions of those who would present themselves as its privileged trustees, solely by virtue of some revelation” (49).

3. The Principle of Factiality

  • “We have now identified the faultline that lies right at the heart of correlationism; the one through which we can breach its defences – it is the fact that the argument of de-absolutization, which seemed unanswerable, can only function by carrying out an implicit absolutization of one of its two decisions. Either I choose – against idealism – to de-absolutize the correlation; but at the cost of absolutizing facticity. Or I choose, against the speculative philosopher, to de-absolutize facticity – I submit the latter to the primacy of the correlation (everything I think must be correlated with an act of thought) by asserting that this facticity is only true for-me, not necessarily in-itself” (59–60). “It remains for us to follow the path of facticity, while taking care to ensure that its absolutization not lead back to a dogmatic thesis” (60).
  • “This is indeed a speculative thesis, since we are thinking an absolute, but it is not metaphysical, since we are not thinking any thing any (entity) that would be absolute. The absolute is the absolute impossibility of a necessary being. We are no longer upholding a variant of the principle of sufficient reason, according to which there is a necessary reason why everything is the way it is rather than otherwise, but rather the absolute truth of a principle of unreason. There is no reason for anything to be or to remain the way it is; everything must, without reason, be able not to be and/or be able to be other than it is” (60).
  • “But only the time that harbours the capacity to destroy every determinate reality, while obeying no determinate law – the time capable of destroying, without reason or law, both worlds and things – can be thought as an absolute. Only unreason can be thought as eternal, because only unreason can be thought as at once anhypothetical and absolute. Accordingly, we can say that it is possible to demonstrate the absolute necessity of everything’s non-necessity. In other words, it is possible to establish, through indirect demonstration, the absolute necessity of the contingency of everything” (62).
  • This is the part where Meillassoux starts to get really really weird: “We see something akin to Time, but a Time that is inconceivable for physics, since it is capable of destroying, without cause or reason, every physical law, just as it is inconceivable for metaphysics, since it is capable of destroying every determinate entity, even a god, even God. This is not a Heraclitean time, since it is not the eternal law of becoming, but rather the eternal and lawless possible becoming of every law. It is a Time capable of destroying even becoming itself by bringing forth, perhaps forever, fixity, stasis, and death” (64).
  • Note that also in this chapter Meillassoux dispenses of all laws except the Principle of Non-Contradiction (78).

4. Hume’s Problem

  • “So long as we believe that there must be a reason why what is, is the way it is, we will continue to fuel superstition, which is to say, the belief that there is an ineffable reason underlying all things. Since we will never be able to discover or understand such a reason, all we can do is believe in it, or aspire to believe in it. So long as we construe our access to facticity in terms of thought’s discovery of its own intrinsic limits and of its inability to uncover the ultimate reason for things, our abolition of metaphysics will only have served to resuscitate religiosity in all its forms, including the most menacing ones. So long as we construe facticity as a limit for thought, we will abandon whatever lies beyond this limit to the rule of piety. Thus, in order to interrupt this see-sawing between metaphysics and fideism, we must transform our perspective on unreason, stop construing it as the form of our deficient grasp of the world and turn it into the veridical content of this world as such – we must project unreason into things themselves, and discover in our grasp of facticity the veritable intellectual intuition of the absolute” (82).
  • “This objection is the following: it seems absurd to maintain that not only things but also physical laws are really contingent, for if this was the case, we would have to admit that these laws could actually change at any moment for no reason whatsoever” (83). “To answer the foregoing criticism of the claim that physical laws are contingent is to propose a speculative solution to Hume’s problem” (85): “What is this problem? In its traditional version, it can be formulated as follows: is it possible to demonstrate that the same effects will always follow from the same causes ceteris paribus, i.e. all other things being equal? In other words, can one establish that in identical circumstances, future successions of phenomena will always be identical to previous successions?” (85).
  • Note that the acausal nature of the laws of reality are revealed through scientific revision, a la the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry (92).

5. Ptolemy’s Revenge

  • “Yet it has become abundantly clear that a more fitting comparison for the Kantian revolution in thought would be to a ‘Ptolemaic counter-revolution’, given that what the former asserts is not that the observer whom we thought was motionless is in fact orbiting around the observed sun, but on the contrary, that the subject is central to the process of knowledge” (118).
  • “But science’s promotion over philosophy as guarantor of knowledge has become the locus of a misunderstanding, not to say wrong-footing, that appears to be without precedent in the annals of thought – for it is at the very moment when philosophy attempted for the first time to think rigorously the primacy of scientific knowledge that it decided to abjure precisely that aspect of thought which constituted the revolutionary character of scientific knowledge: its speculative import” (120).
  • Note also the deep import of the Copernican/Galiliean mathematization of nature for Meillassoux’s argument here (124).

Archive and Impact