Sunday, August 21, 2011

Postmetaphysically Absolute

Balder recently forwarded to me an open access book on speculative realism called The Speculative Turn. I have since found it online at this link. I'm beginning Hagglund's chapter criticizing Meillassoux starting on p. 114. An excerpt:

"Meillassoux targets nothing less than the basic argument of Kant’s transcendental philosophy, which holds that we cannot have knowledge of the absolute. Against all forms of dogmatic metaphysics which lay claim to prove the existence of the absolute, Kant argues that there can be no cognition without the forms of time and space that undercut any possible knowledge of the absolute. The absolute would have to be exempt from time and space, whereas all we can know is given through time and space as forms of intuition. As is well known, however, Kant delimits the possibility of knowledge in order to ‘make room for faith’. By making it impossible to prove the existence of the absolute Kant also makes it impossible to refute it and thus rehabilitates the absolute as an object of faith rather than knowledge.

"In contrast, Meillassoux seeks to formulate a notion of the absolute that does not entail a return to the metaphysical and pre-critical idea of a necessary being. He endorses Kant’s critique of dogmatic metaphysics, but argues that we can develop a ‘speculative’ thinking of the absolute that does not succumb to positing a necessary being. According to Meillassoux, ‘it is absolutely necessary that every entity might not exist. 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’. The absolute in question is the power of time. Time makes it impossible for any entity to be necessary, since the condition of temporality entails that every entity can be destroyed. It is precisely this destructibility that Meillassoux holds to be absolute: ‘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 words and things—can be thought as an absolute’. Armed with this notion of the absolute, Meillassoux takes contemporary philosophers to task for their concessions to religion. By renouncing knowledge of the absolute, thinkers of the ‘wholly other’ renounce the power to refute religion and give the latter free reign as long as it restricts itself to the realm of faith rather than knowledge. As Meillassoux puts it with an emphatic formulation: ‘by forbidding reason any claim to the absolute, the end of metaphysics has taken the form of an exacerbated return of the religious’"(115).

Hagglund goes on to challenge M's claim that the likes of Derrida does not posit a knowledge of the absolute and thus opens the door to religious faith. We saw some of this defense for example when H defends against Caputo's endorsement of faith through Derrida in another thread. But before we get to this (forthcoming) I have a few quick observations on the above excerpt.

I appreciate M's assertion that we can indeed formulate a speculative notion of the absolute, that we can "know" it in a sense. Meanwhile though he delimits this knowing in that it is not apprehension of an "it," a necessary being, a thing-in-itself. Every thing is subject to time and decay, i.e., impermanent, and thus it is time that is the absolute. Or perhaps that time itself is timeless, eternal, ongoing without end, unconditional, etc. I know we can argue that time is relative to the motion between two objects, but I don't think that's what he's referencing here. It seems time is without context in that it is the very condition within which things exist, much like we discussed in the QM thread about a postmetaphysical and "reasoned" (i.e., inferred) notion of the absolute.

As is my wont I am reminded of (versions of) Buddhist thought on the emptiness of phenomena in that they are impermanent and without independent existence, that they are not absolute, and yet this very fact is an absolute condition of all existence. And we can come to a conceptual knowledge of this absolute. Nevertheless this unconditional pre and trans condition is not metaphysical in that it is not a being or thing that we can capture but of which we can "speculate" nonetheless. And it seems here both M and H might also depart from (some) Buddhists that claim a privileged access to a direct, nonconceptual “experience” or state of conscious awareness of said absolute. But I'm not sure of this yet, just my own incipient speculations of the yet to come in this chapter.

And yes, I realize an inferred speculation is an "experience" of sorts but it doesn't seem the same as the type of meditative certainty of an absolute being. It seems more an experience of openness and contingency, of unknowing rather than knowing. And yes, I realize that some Buddhists indeed posit knowledge of the absolute as this contingency. We'd need once again to get specific as to which and who and where, so for now just a pointer to a previous discussion with the qualification my criticism is only toward those that might posit such an absolute “being,” Buddhist or otherwise.

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