Monday, June 13, 2011

Meillassoux's After Finitude

I know some readers are interested in speculative realism so I will post some excerpts from a previous IPS discussion on Meillassoux’s book After Finitude.
Just a quick comment this morning. Rayburn's review at Amazon said:

"Guided by Badiou's use of set theory, Meillassoux argues that Hume's probabilistic reasoning rests upon the dubious assumption that the set of possible outcomes of an event can be totalized. Probability as a metaphysical fact is undermined by Cantor's discovery of "transfinites"--that is, the multiplicity of infinities that cannot be gathered into a single 'meta-set.'"

This seems to be related to my prior critique of holarchical complexity?
It [also] seems to me that the likes of L&J's embodied realism avoids the correlational divide, as it is grounded in pre-human, environmental and biological "ancestrality."
Yes, I was thinking along those lines, as well -- that enactive, embodied cognitive models avoid a number of the problems he identifies with correlationism. I'll need to get more familiar with his overall thesis, but my impression is that while he appears to target (and possibly dismantle) several of the conceptual supports of postmetaphysical (and integral) approaches, his approach is in other ways in accord with the thrust of an "integral enactive postmetaphysical" philosophy (arguing, for instance, for the value of a grand synthesis, and tackling the performative contradiction of strong relativistic correlationism head-on). Based on my initial (very cursory) impression so far, I am not sold on the direction he has taken, but I think it represents an interesting challenge.

I like this edited excerpt from the above summary of Meillassoux's work:

"What Meillassoux intends is to transform the disavowal of sufficient reason from a poignant limitation on finite human knowledge into a positive principle of contingency in the things themselves.... In place of the famous Leibnizian principle, Meillassoux offers a new principle of absolute unreason in the things. The correlationist will respond, of course, that we cannot be sure that things themselves are contingent, but only that they are contingent insofar as we know them. Against this predictable objection, Meillassoux demonstrates that correlationism itself already presupposes the very principle that he advocates.

"The speculative philosopher merely adds an additional twist: namely, if the correlationist is to avoid becoming a subjective idealist, he cannot allow the openness of possibilities to be just one possible option among others. The agnostic correlationist's entire argument hinges on replacing absolute Christianity, atheism, or subjective idealism with an absolute openness."

We pondered some of this before, that the pomos have a hidden absolute in the "contingency of the things in themselves." Of course this had led to the charge of performative contradiction. Pomo tries to get around this charge but why not, as M suggest, just admit this absolute at the heart of the matter? Of course this absolute isn't metaphysical but rather only an "openness to possibilities." But like our prior discussion of transitional strucutures it has to replace the other views with a strong claim of its'own, not merely negate the others and leave us in suspended animation.

All of which reminds me of several threads discussing Derrida as doing exactly this through his undeconstructable messianicity aka the wholly other.
Here's a blog post from someone writing a book about Meillassoux discussing the six key pillars of M's argument. An interesting excerpt:

"Meillassoux is interested in the contingent relations between events across time, and has no discernible interest in the emergence of wholes from parts in any given moment."
I [also] just read Caputo's interesting [and relevant] review of a book about a debate between Millbank and Zizek.
Interesting. That does seem close to D's messianic notions. But I'm not sure how that lines up with Kegan's work (on the unfolding of orders of meaning-making and world-negotiation), which I find more compelling than what I understand Zizek to be saying. It seems to me that Zizek is describing a particular turn, not the necessary shape of every turn.
And it seems to me that M questions the kind of Hegelian holarchical "meta" synthesis necessary for the likes of Kegan. And that the likes of a Zizek or Derrida accept contingency as an "absolute." As M says, this isn't a particular turn but the ontological nature of the things in themselves.
Yes, I understand. What isn't clear to me is whether this completely invalidates the evolution of meaning-systems that Kegan describes, or whether it just undermines the "closure" we might expect any new emergent meaning-making system (including a meta-system like Kegan's) to exhibit. In other words, while we may speak of a holotropism in the movement of meaning making -- a movement towards wholeness -- there is no single meta-set of meaning that ever "arrives." I know you've studied and thought through this more carefully than I have, so I might be missing something, but it still seems to me that the "move" that the likes of M or D or Z make isn't "open" to everyone; it won't make sense to everyone, they won't be able to "see" it (apparently apart from a degree of development).

If contingency is taken at an extreme so that there is no possibility of speaking of "systems" at all, then one wonders how Brassier could speak of the "predictable" responses of correlationists...
Like you I'm not sure that it invalidates the evolution of meaning making, only that evolution in this case likely doesn't follow the trajectory of biological evolution (transcend and include). That is, I'm not so sure that the evolution of worldviews, for example, is of the "developmental" variety but rather much more contingent to specific environmentlal and cultural conditions. Even some Gebserians see worldviews not as continuous but as completely irruptive "mutations" with prior views, much more contingent to conditions and X factors. Hence we get the feeling of plurality in M, that his absolute is not a metaphysical singularity with any specifc goal. Or even a more general goal like "progress" or " increasing complexity" or "wholeness" etc. This seems to be the same issue in Jospeh's thread on evolutionary spirituality.

As to M/D/Z's views being avaiable to anyone, of course not. But it might be more a matter of learning and understanding than of progressive development? Granted the learning process itself is in some ways developmental but perhaps not entirely, especially after a certain point? I don't know, just fishing.
I'm curious to explore -- whenever I get the chance! -- the possible relationships (positive or negative) between Meillassoux's mathematically based ontology of contingency and Marks-Tarlow's mathematically based ontology of contradiction.

Not being a mathematician (not even close!), I'm sort of at a loss with many mathematical references, but this entry suggests that Meillassoux is up to something similar to Spencer-Brown's efforts, at least in ways of working if not conclusions (I'm too unclear on Meillassoux's work to speak to conclusions)...
It really doesn't seem like M is saying the same thing as Marks-Tarlow from the other thread. For example from this review:

"The point of disagreement between Hegel and Meillassoux is contradiction. To obtain a philosophical system of endless becoming and relating, Hegel sacrificed the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction, so that anything objectively contains its dialectical opposite which makes it develop further, from inside as it were. Contradiction’s diffusion across all beings immediately turns Being into Becoming. And objective, real contradiction was the principle that made from Hegelianism a radical tradition, from Marx to Mao to Marcuse.

"For Meillassoux, however, the concept of contradiction entails a form of necessity which he will not allow. For if there were an entity that was contradictory, it would have to give up absolute contingency, being 'tied' to its non-being or its opposite and hampered in its development by this link (here Deleuze would concur). More abstractly, if non-existence and otherness are already attributes of the contradictory entity (it is and it is also not; it is its own other), it cannot really move between what it is and something else: 'a contradictory entity could never become other than it is now, for it is already ‘other than itself ’ as it exists now,' as Brassier clarifies about Meillassoux’ position. 'Since it remains self-identical in being-other than itself, it cannot pass into or out of existence. Thus it exists necessarily, since it is impossible to conceive of it as not existing.'"
A few notes on this Meillassoux business.

1. I don't much like the activity of thinking and what little of it I have done has generally been a disservice to my life; it is not particularly entertaining for me and rarely gets me where I want or need to go. But because we have just returned to Vla. from a 3-month helter-skelter, dashed-plan journey across one third of the USA and one third of Canada in a marginally functional, but thunderously powerful, '93 GMC conversion van, I am decompressing here in the tropics and giving my instincts and habits for impulse a necessary rest. So I sank to the level of thinking and thus welcomed the novelty of Meillassoux. I have not read After Finitude but absorbed almost everything I could find about it on the web. Apparently coming from a different source than Edward I found the essay by Arun Saldanha to be quite clear, direct and balanced and the most helpful review of those sampled.

2. I firmly appreciate the idea that contingency is the only absolute. Now that was a stroke of genius. Likewise for the perception that the Great Outdoors is chaos exempt from even probabilities. Both fit my experience especially the last three months of it that began with the eventually successful pro se work to quash an arrest warrant that had been issued for me in Arizona in 2005.

3. In Meillassoux I have finally found a contemporary writer to whom I can refer for the justification of my statement: : "The fact that so many smart people appreciate Kant really creeps me out."

4. Saldanha touches cursorily on Meillassoux' refutation of parts of Rorty's works, a refutation to which, within the limits of Saldanha's brevity, I disagree. My reading of the situation is that Meillassoux, a Continental philosopher much concerned with "what is," does not have the cultural perspective to sufficiently contextualize Rorty as an American political theorist focused on "what works."

5. I like this quote:

"The subject is transcendental only insofar as it is positioned in the world, of which it can only ever discover a finite aspect, and which it can never recollect in its totality. […] That the transcendental subject has this or that body is an empirical matter, but that it has [stronger still, it is] a body is a non-empirical condition of its taking place—the body, one could say, is the ‘retro-transcendental’ condition for the subject of knowledge.” (AF, 25)"

6. I agree with Kela and Edward that there isn't much of a correlation between the works of Meillassoux and Marks-Tarlow. Although they both call on mathematics for back-up, they are writing on two different topics. Parenthetically, I can appreciate Marks-Tarlow's application of a borrowed vocabulary to throw a novel light on long standing theory. If it helps to get her clientele through their troubled nights then it is more than worth all those difficult words.

7. In my research on Meillassoux I came across references to his fellow "Speculative Realist/Materialist," Ray Brassier. He is quoted in his Wikipedia bio as writing: "Philosophy....would do well to desist from issuing any further injunctions about the need to re-establish the meaningfulness of existence, the purposefulness of life, or mend the shattered concord between man and nature. It should strive to be more than a sop to the pathetic twinge of human self-esteem. Nihilism is not an existential quandary but a speculative opportunity." Yes! There is hope for humanity.

8. To the extent that the greatest "spiritual" event of my life was a six-week-long ecstatic revel at the realization of the total meaninglessness of human existence, I have a profound respect for the anti-humanism of Meillassoux and Brassier. My own modest nihilistic speculation is that those of us who care to can, from the depths of the abyss and for the sake of doing something cosmically unlawful, counterfeit an unabashedly arrogant faux humanism (is arrogance ever anything more than faux?) an live on in the joy of our own inauthenticity.

9. I again found nothing in this thread that has anything to do with spirituality, but that is just as well because I have noticed that whenever anyone posts anything in IPMS that is even vaguely spiritual it is immediately derided as naïve and the thread dies an early death.
I reread this at theurg's suggestion and it really is a good account. Thanks again Balder. Several commetators I have read online have taken "correlationalism" as referring only to Kantianism, but this more detailed account makes it absolutely clear that Meillassoux means a much broader spectrum of philosophical/epistemic positions, including phenomenology, the phenomenalism/representationalism of the empiricists, and the constructivism of the post-moderns. So what does this mean for Sellars' kantian attack on the "myth of the given?"
There was, according to some, a kind of materialist/skeptical school in classical India that also claimed to have a kind of 'spiritual' path, the Tattva-upaplavavadins. They were vitandavadins, like the ancient ajnanikas (skeptics/agnostics), Shri Harsha, the most sophistcated of the Advaitins, and the Prasangika Madhyamikas, and like those other schools, made use of a reductive dialectic (neither a, not a, both a and not a, neither a nor not a).

Me: We also discussed Meillassoux in sections of the real and false reason thread, pp. 4, 5 and 6. Here is one of my comments from p.6:

It seems to me Meillassoux in a way frames correlationism as a dichotomy between mind and being and given this separation has them interrelating. But the pragmatic nondualism does not posit a human consciousness over and against a thing it itself, so it's not so much a correlationism in that sense. Rather it's a correlationism only in that the mind is based in the body/environment interaction. And the human body itself went through a long evolution long before so-called rational consciousness, reaching back into this ancestral. Human evolution goes all the way back to ancestors in the primordial soup, e.g., "ranging from the amoeba all the way up to humans." So this type of correlationism does not assume or retrofit a "human consciousness" as it is now backward but rather the result of a long history of predecessors in antiquity. And what "relations" it has even in its current state cannot escape that history, as if thought or contemporary "consciousness" is a thing in itself relating to an objective thing in itself. M's criticism seems more aimed at Continental philosophy and a very specific, limited brand at that and doesn't apply to this American nondual tradition. The cogscipragos seem in fact to share M's criticisms of such philosophy.

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