“What we seek then is a non-metaphysical absolute, capable of slipping through the meshes…”
– Quentin Meillassoux
(Note: this series of essays was written back in 2009-2010… and, do not reflect changes in science or philosophy since that time.)
Etymology of mesh:
1530s, “open space in a net,” perhaps from some dial. survival of O.E. max “net,” or from its cognates, M.Du. maessce, Du. maas, from P.Gmc. *mask- (cf. O.N. möskvi, Dan. maske, Swed. maska, O.H.G. masca, Ger. masche “mesh”), from PIE base *mezg- “to knit, plait, twist” (cf. Lith. mezgu “to knit,” mazgas “knot”). The verb is first recorded 1530s, in the figurative sense of “to entangle.”
The correlational cogito resigned as it is to the facticity or finitude of human experience, devoid of all reference to the absolute is ensnared in the mesh of a knitted, plaited, twisted non-event. Entangled and corrupted by its own delirious self-sufficiency, bound to illusory forms of the unreal, forged in the interstitial margins of a minimalistic purity, and guided by a religiosity that dismisses the real as a terror and an impossibility; cut off as it is from the outside, the great outdoors, which is for it a feckless dream, a wandering thought amid shadowy fogs of a distempered mind, for whom the fabled dreamland of the absolute has become the graveyard for philosophical dogmatists: atheist and Christian and subjective idealist. Now this correlational cogito seeks only the solace of the linguistic turn that offers within its interminable textuality a salvation in traces, a voidic alchemy of thought and being, self and world correlated in the twisted knot of a communitarian consensus.
But to instigate a counter-offensive against this encircled community of the correlational cogito we must go by the path that absolutizes “the very principle that allows correlationism to disqualify absolutizing thought” (AF: 86). Doing this we follow those first explorers who “acknowledged correlationism’s discovery of a fundamental constraint… that we only have access to the for-us, not the in-itself – but instead of concluding from this that the in-itself is unknowable, they concluded that the correlation is the only veritable in-itself. In so doing, they grasped the ontological truth hidden beneath the sceptical argumentation – they converted radical ignorance into knowledge of a being finally unveiled in its true absoluteness’ (AF: 86-87). But these mighty explorers foundered upon the shoals of “the essential facticity of the correlation” (AF: 87). Instead of denying this facticity we new voyagers in quest of the absolute must “discover an ontological truth hidden beneath the facticity; if we can succeed in grasping why the very source which lends its power to the strategy of de-absolutization through fact also furnishes the means of access to an absolute being; then we will have gained access to a truth that is invulnerable to correlationist scepticism” (AF: 87). Striding across the bleached bones of our compatriots who have fallen by the wayside, each of us must pick up the clues they’ve left behind continuing down that dark path we “must grasp in facticity not the inaccessibility of the absolute but the unveiling of the in-itself and the eternal property of what is…” (AF: 87). For it is “not the correlation but the facticity of the correlation that constitutes the absolute” (AF: 87).
What if the absence of reason were an “ontological property, and not the mark of the finitude of our knowledge”? (AF: 88). What if the world as we know it had no reason to be the way it is? What if the laws that we have so willingly taken for granted were not the truth of the world? What if everything “could actually collapse: from trees to stars, from stars to laws, from physical laws to logical laws”? (AF: 89) And what if all this were possible, and that the reason for it were that there is no “superior law capable of preserving anything, no matter what, from perishing”? (AF: 89)
Those pretenders to the throne, the anti-realists, who wander the irreal halls of their forlorn palace in correlational bliss; those misers of a singular thought: the self-world axis of co-dependency, who attack us for conflating “facticity with contingency” not knowing that “facticity can no more be identified with contingency than with necessity, since it designates our essential ignorance about either the contingency or the necessity of our world and its invariants” (AF: 89). Instead we who know better “turn facticity into a property of things themselves,” which allows us to formulate a “contingency capable of being applied to the invariants that govern the world(i.e. its physical and logical laws)” (AF: 90). Only by demonstrating the absolute contingency of the given can we show forth the facticity of the correlation that disqualifies dogmatic idealism and realism (AF: 90). For only by demonstrating the potential of everything to be different(i.e. its capacity-to-be-other), is contingency “immunized against the operation whereby correlationism relativizes the in-itself to the for-us” (AF: 92).
Meillassoux asks how “then are we able to claim that this capacity-to-be-other is an absolute – an index of knowledge rather than of ignorance? (AF: 93)”. Against the Christian dogmatist who affirms life-after-death, and the atheistic dogmatist who affirms annihilation-after-death, and the subjective idealist who tells us that life-beyond-life is unthinkable we come to the Speculative philosopher who “maintains that neither the two dogmatists, nor the idealist have managed to identify the absolute, because the latter is simply the capacity-to-be-other as such…” (AF: 93). He goes on to show how this “capacity-to-be-other is an absolute” by “maintaining that we can think ourselves as no longer being; in other words, by maintaining that our mortality, our annihilation, and our becoming-wholly-other in God, are all effectively thinkable. But how are these states conceivable as possibilities? On account of the fact that we are able to think – by dint of the absence of any reason for our being – a capacity-to-be-other capable of abolishing us, or of radically transforming us” (AF: 94).
The correlationist comes to the end of her tether when she discovers the “capacity-to-be-other” is presupposed in the “thought of facticity – this latter is the absolute whose reality is thinkable as that of the in-itself as such in its indifference to thought; an indifference which confers upon it the power to destroy me” (AF: 94-95). But the correlationist questions this as Meillassoux states it (and I quote at length):
“Even so, the correlationist might still make the following objection: ‘The speculative thesis is no more certain than those of the realists and the idealist. For it is impossible to give a reason in favour of the hypothesis of the real possibility of every envisageable post-mortem eventuality, rather than in favour of the necessity of one among those states proposed by the dogmatic hypotheses. Thus, both the speculative and the metaphysical theses are equally conceivable, and we cannot decide between them.’ But our answer to this must be that, on the contrary, there is indeed a precise reason for the superiority of the speculative thesis, and it is the agnostic herself who has provided us with it, viz., the agnostic cannot de-absolutize the capacity-to-be-other without thereby absolutizing it once again. For her objection, in effect, relies once more upon the conceivability of a capacity-tobe-other which must be thought of as absolute, thereby leaving every eventuality open, rather than closing them in favour of one of them alone, like the dogmatists do. The correlationist does the opposite of what she says – she says that we can think that a metaphysical thesis, which narrows the realm of possibility, might be true, rather than the speculative thesis, which leaves this realm entirely open; but she can only say this by thinking an open possibility, wherein no eventuality has any more reason to be realized than any other. This open possibility, this ‘everything is equally possible’, is an absolute that cannot be de-absolutized without being thought as absolute once more” (AF: 95).
It is at this point that Meillassoux tells us that 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” (AF: 98). He tells us that we can take one of two ways out of the correlationist circle: either by absolutizing the correlation, or by absolutizing facticity. He opts for the second path.
Faciticity presents us with the basic task of uncovering “an absolute that would not be an absolute entity. This is precisely what we obtain by absolutizing facticity – we do not maintain that a determinate entity exists, but that 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. 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” (AF: 99).
He tells us, after Aristotle, that the principle of unreason is anhypothetical*, but also absolute – for as we have seen, one cannot contest its absolute validity without thereby presupposing its absolute truth” (AF: 101). He sees at the heart of correlationist ideology the formation of a religious view of life, one that allows for “religious discourse in general, this is because it has failed to delegitimate the possibility that there might be a hidden reason, an unfathomable purpose underlying the origin of our world. This reason has become unthinkable, but it has been preserved as unthinkable; sufficiently so to justify the value of its eventual unveiling in a transcendent revelation. This belief in an ultimate Reason reveals the true nature of strong correlationism – far from relinquishing the principle of reason, strong correlationism is in fact the apologia for the now irrational belief in this very principle” (AF: 103). Speculative philosophy can attack this correlational circle with its religious undertones by “accentuating thought’s relinquishment of the principle of reason to the point where this relinquishment is converted into a principle, which alone allows us to grasp the fact that there is absolutely no ultimate Reason, whether thinkable or unthinkable. There is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given – nothing but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence” (AF: 104).
In summation Meillassoux tells us we “can now claim to have passed through the correlationist circle – or at least to have broken through the wall erected by the latter, which separated thought from the great outdoors, the eternal in-itself, whose being is indifferent to whether or not it is thought. We now know the location of the narrow passage through which thought is able to exit from itself – it is through facticity, and through facticity alone, that we are able to make our way towards the absolute” (AF: 104). Yet, in the end our victory is a Pyrrhic victory: “For the only absolute we have managed to rescue from the confrontation would seem to be the very opposite of what is usually understood by that term, which is supposed to provide a foundation for knowledge. Our absolute, in effect, is nothing other than an extreme form of chaos, a hyper-Chaos…”
We have fallen through the meshes of corrleationsim and into the hyper-Chaotic underbelley of existence itself without the bedrock of a reasoning thought to ground us; instead, we have only the principle of unreason to guide us – like a new Virgilian apprenticeship in terror and horror we shall follow the trackless way into this weird realm of the real without guide or anchor beyond the very principle of unreason that helped us get passed the meshes of correlationist philosophy to begin with. For only this principle of unreason can be thought as eternal, because only unreason can be thought as at once anhypothetical and absolute, therefore “we can say that it is possible to demonstrate the absolute necessity of everything’s non-neccessity. In other words, it is possible to establish, through indirect demonstration, the absolute necessity of the contingency of everything” (AF: 101). But this contingency is not to be confused with the “empirical contingency of objects,” instead absolute contingency “designates a pure possibility; one which may never be realized. For we cannot claim to know for sure whether or not our world, although it is contingent, will actually come to an end one day. We know, in accordance with the principle of unreason, that this is a real possibility, and that it could occur for no reason whatsoever; but we also know that there is nothing that necessitates it. … Contingency is such that anything might happen, even nothing at all, so that what is, remains as it is” (AF: 102-103).
* * *
We will take up this hyper-Chaos in the next essay Part IV…
*Note: “By ‘anhypothetical principle’, Aristotle meant a fundamental proposition that could not be deduced from any other, but which could be proved by argument.30 This proof, which could be called ‘indirect’ or ‘refutational’, proceeds not by deducing the principle from some other proposition – in which we case it would no longer count as a principle – but by pointing out the inevitable inconsistency into which anyone contesting the truth of the principle is bound to fall. One establishes the principle without deducing it, by demonstrating that anyone who contests it can do so only by presupposing it to be true, thereby refuting him or herself. Aristotle sees in non-contradiction precisely such a principle, one that is established ‘refutationally’ rather than deductively, because any coherent challenge to it already presupposes its acceptance” (AF: 100).
1. After Finitude: An Essay on the necessity of Contingency (AF) (2008)