December 29th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Quentin Meillassoux: On Re-reading After Finitude - Part I

"Empirical science is today capable of producing statements about events anterior to the advent of life as well as consciousness." 
      - Quentin Meillassoux








On re-reading Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude, the first thing I'm struck by is the lucidity and clarity of his mind: it flows from one argument to the next, taking in the panorama of the dark alien landscape of the great outdoors of thought and being, which is not so much in need of a new mathematical vocabulary of the real - as it is yearning for a mind free of its own self-invested plenitude, hoping against hope that it will step outside itself and its own correlational prison and gaze upon that which is: the in-itself, divested of all human contact and experience, yet  brightened by that inexplicable figuration of pure astonishment. Like an agonist in some ultimate glass-bead game of truth he weaves the myriad threads of philosophical discourse, unravelling the knotted aporia at the center of our black modernity, marshaling from one text to the next thoughts that will explicate a speculative solution to our current philosophical quagmire. Yet, unlike Magister Knecht in Herman Hesse's classic novel, Magister Ludi, Meillassoux is not just some forlorn aesthete of the final thought, instead he is confronting nothing less than the truth of what is, then asking the oldest of questions: What can I know? What shall I do? What can I hope?

Out of this amalgam comes a formidable and yet brilliant set of new problems, issues and concerns relating to our views of self, society, and the universe. He begins stipulating that the difference between objective and subjective representation is shaped by two types of subjective representation: those that can be universalized, and are thus by right capable of being experienced by everyone, and hence 'scientific', and those that cannot be universalized, and hence cannot belong to scientific discourse. [1: 12-13] Then he makes an interesting point:

"From this point on, intersubjectivity, the consensus of a community, supplants the adequation between the representations of a solitary subject and the thing itself as the veritable criterion of objectivity, and of scientific objectivity more particularly. Scientific truth is no longer what conforms to an in itself supposedly indifferent to the way in which it is given to the subject, but rather what is susceptible of being given as shared by a scientific community" (ibid. p. 13).

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S.C. Hickman

Quentin Meillassoux: On Re-reading After Finitude - Part II

"To think ancestrality is to think a world without thought - a world without the giveness of the world."
      - Quentin Meillassoux

The radicalization of scientific thought in its quest to discover the "source of its own absoluteness" is the key to Quentin Meillassoux's second essay in After Finitude. Philosophy must "take up once more the injunction to know the absolute, and break with the transcendental tradition that rules out its possibility" (50). This is not a withdrawal into either metaphysics or dogmatism, instead we must move beyond the inadequacy of  the Cartesian project just as much as we move beyond the Kantian idealism of the correlationists by seeking another "relation to the absolute" (50).  

He argues that Descartes proof of God, or the 'ontological proof', which infers God's existence from his perfect nature/being: since he is perfect, and since existence is a perfection, God cannot but exist (50). Meillassoux show two ways in which a correlationist might refute this ontological argument: a 'weak' model, which is that of Kant, and a 'strong' model, which seems to be dominant today (50). The weak argument against the ontological proof comes down to the simple basis of the circularity of the correlation that "because absolute necessity is always absolute necessity for us, necessity is never absolute, but only ever for us (53). Kant chooses another path, he maintains that it is a logical contradiction to assert the non-existence of God as much as it is to assert his existence. Harman tells us this is because for Kant the thing-in-itself is unknowable, yet he "maintains that it is thinkable" (54). Kant asserts that we can know a priori that logical contradiction is absolutely impossible. Harman tells us that "this is why it is imperative for Kant that Descartes' thesis be refuted - for if it was contradictory for God not to exist, then by Kant's own premises, it would also be absolutely necessary ... that God exist. Consequently, it would become possible to obtain positive knowledge of the thing-in-itself through the use of a logical principle alone (54-55). Ultimately Kant chooses to follow Hume in arguing that there "is no contradiction involved in conceiving of a determinate entity as existing or not existing (55).

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