Meillassoux: Fideism and the Rise of Speculative Materialism

god

In some ways Meillassoux’s overarching enemy is religion and fideism rather than correlationism per se, for as he states it (and I quote at length):

It now becomes possible to envisage a speculative critique of correlationism, for it becomes possible to demonstrate that the latter remains complicit with the fideist belief in the wholly-other insofar as it actually continues to remain faithful to the principle of reason. If the strong model of correlationism legitimates religious discourse in general, this is because it has failed to de-legitimate 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. By way of contrast, speculation proceeds 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, KL 932-939)

Of course Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths. As an atheist and speculative materialist Meillassoux seeks to destroy such notions irrefutably. Behind the trope of Reason is the hint that it has always masked the secular face of God. So that philosophy for far too long has kept its roots tied to the onto-theological religiosity of the big Other masked as Reason. This is ultimately why Meillassoux seeks to overthrow the PSR (Principle of Sufficient Reason) because it hides behind its façade the greatest enemy to an atheistic materialism: God and the fideism that supports it. Yet, as he tells us even atheism has to go, for the simple reason that “once the absolute has become unthinkable, even atheism, which also targets God’s inexistence in the manner of an absolute, is reduced to a mere belief, and hence to a religion, albeit of the nihilist kind” (AF KL 686).

Faith is pitched against faith, since what determines our fundamental choices cannot be rationally proved. In other words, the de-absolutization of thought boils down to the mobilization of a fideist argument; but a fideism that is ‘fundamenal’ rather than merely ‘historical’ in nature – that is to say, a fideism that has become thought’s defence of religiosity in general, rather than of a specific religion. (AF KL 686)

When it comes down to it his greatest enemy is both ideological dogmatism and sceptical fanaticism. For as he says:

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. (AF KL 737)

1. Meillassoux, Quentin (2014-12-10). Time without Becoming (Kindle Locations 449-451). Mimesis International. Kindle Edition.
2.  After Finitude: An Easy on the Necessity of Contingency (Kindle Locations 787-800). Kindle Edition.

Link to the essay: https://www.academia.edu/9897421/Time_without_becoming

Jean-Pierre Dupuy: The Myopia of Experts

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The inherent myopia of expertise makes it liable from time to time to tragically stupid errors of judgment. One thinks of credit-rating agencies in particular. By making public their evaluation of a bank’s or a country’s present position, they give the future no other choice than to raise the bidding on past tendencies. The power and influence conferred by recent legislation on a handful of experts who have already more than once displayed their incompetence have created a situation in which an unfavorable rating plunges the bank or country in question into a downward spiral from which it will have the greatest trouble extricating itself. … Under pretense of objectivity and neutrality, the rating agencies behave like apprentice sorcerers. Even when the future seems to confirm their pessimism, because publicizing a rating downgrade causes it to be justified by events, they maintain that they have simply judged the situation correctly and that their opinion had no effect on the final outcome. This is the stupidity of expertise.

– Jean-Pierre Dupuy,  (2014-10-01). Economy and the Future: A Crisis of Faith

Jean-Pierre Dupuy: Economy and the Future: A Crisis of Faith

hp_cuthulu

Modern societies, in pulling down all the old barriers, all the prohibitions, rituals, and symbolic conceptions that once worked to curb human violence, unleashed new forces of unprecedented creativity. But these were counterbalanced by new forces of unprecedented destructiveness, so that the world was transformed into a single community of human beings living under the threat of being reduced to ashes, scattered among piles of radioactive rubble.

Little by little, Economy emancipated itself from the shackles of the sacred. Once held in check by religion, and then by politics, it has today become both our religion and our politics. No longer subject to any higher authority, it cannot decide our future, or make us a world in which to live: it has become our future and our world. Advanced postindustrial societies have been well and truly mystified, in the original sense of that word, and their politicians hoodwinked. The result is paralysis.

–  Jean-Pierre Dupuy,  Economy and the Future: A Crisis of Faith

Quentin Meillassoux: Hyper-Chaos and the Real

tao

This morning I was rereading a few of the passages I’d gleaned from Quentin Meillassoux’s essays gathered in Time without Becoming. What struck me is this almost – shall I call it, Chinese quality about his sentences: the simplicity and elegance of statement that brings with it this sense of mastery and logic that is so merciless that it makes one tremble, and yet – at the same time, it awakens in one’s mind this state of meditative awareness that what one is reading is in accord with the truth.

His concept of Hyper-Chaos seems to be one of these facets or figures, a trope that acts as an attractor gathering into itself the causal nexus of ideas from which all things arise.

…the notion of Hyper-Chaos is the idea of a time so completely liberated from metaphysical necessity that nothing constrains it: neither becoming, nor the substratum. This hyper-chaotic time is able to create and destroy even becoming, producing without reason fixity or movement, repetition or creation.1

He explains how he came to such a notion through the logic of time: temporality itself demanded it. In most conceptions time there is both fixity and becoming, synchronic and diachronic, Chronos and Aeon. Kant would internalize time and space as categories in the mind. Meillassoux needed an absolute concept that would treat reality on its own terms, a concept that would transform our understanding of time itself as both underpinning our conceptions of Being and Becoming as well as instigating a conception of time that was not-All; a non-totalistic time before time: an absolute time of pure supercontingency. As he states it chaos as a concept entails disorder, randomness, the eternal becoming of everything. Such a concept could not explain contingency, or even what he now terms “supercontingency”. No, “these properties are not properties of Hyper-Chaos: its contingency is so radical that even becoming, disorder, or randomness can be destroyed by it, and replaced by order, determinism, and fixity” (ibid. KL 288). He came upon this concept in trying to define what he implied by his other concept “facticity”: What is facticity once it is considered as an absolute rather than as a limit? The answer is time. Facticity as absolute must be considered as time, but a very special time: “hyper-chaos”. (ibid. 284)

So hyper-chaos is a special type of time, a time that includes both fixity and change, being and becoming; yet, it does not meld these into some formless soup, instead it allows them to oscillate within a void of pure negativity. As I was thinking about this and trying to visualize such a notion I remembered the Taoist symbol of yin and yang, of the male and female rotation of light folded in darkness, and darkness folded in light. In explaining facticity Meillassoux will tell us:

If the facticity of the correlation can be conceived of, if it is a notion that we can effectively conceive of … then it is a notion that we can think as an absolute: the absolute absence of reason for any reality, in other words, the effective ability for every determined entity, whether it is an event, a thing, or a law, to appear and disappear with no reason for its being or non-being. Unreason becomes the attribute of an absolute time capable of destroying or creating any determinate entity without any reason for its creation or destruction. (ibid. KL 258)

This notion of an absolute Time that is capable of destruction and creation without any grounding or foundation in reason, a groundless ground of unreason almost seems a throwback to certain notions in F.W.J. Schelling. In his 1809 essay on human freedom Schelling will state:

…following the eternal act of self-revelation, the world as we now behold it, is all rule, order and form; but the unruly lies ever in the depths as though it might again break through, and order and form nowhere appear to have been original, but it seems as though what had initially been unruly had been brought to order. This is the incomprehensible basis of reality in things, the irreducible remainder which cannot be resolved into reason by the greatest exertion but always remains in the depths. Out of this which is unreasonable, reason in the true sense is born. Without this preceding gloom, creation would have no reality; darkness is its necessary heritage. (Schelling 1936, 34)

What stood out in this passage was this notion that the most fundamental basis of reality, the “irreducible remainder which cannot be resolved into reason by the greatest exertion but always remains in the depths” is the very figure of Meillassoux’s hyper-chaos, of a special time before time as we know it; or linear, subjective time. And, secondly, the idea that reason arises our of this unreasonable foretime of the abyss: this irreducible remainder. Lao Tzu’s short book would hint at such a notion as well:

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.2

The whole point of this exercise for Meillassoux was to refute the anti-realist tradition of Kant and his progeny up to and including the phenomenologists. What he discovered in this tradition of anti-realism was a “performative contradiction”: the absolutization of facticity. As he states:

Everything can be conceived of as contingent, depending on human tropism, everything except contingency itself. Contingency, and only contingency, is absolutely necessary: facticity, and only facticity, is not factual, but eternal. Facticity is not a fact, it is not one more fact in the world. And this is based upon a precise argument: I can’t be skeptical towards the operator for every skepticism. (ibid. KL 272)

Within all forms of correlationism, weak and strong, he found their reliance on this absolutization of facticity. So that through his principle of factuality (“Factiality is not facticity, but the necessity of facticity, the essence of facticity.”) he thinks it possible to enable a speculative materialism that can clearly and without doubt refute correlationism. At the heart of correlationism is this notion that there are no objects, no events, no laws, no beings which are not always already correlated with a point of view, with a subjective access. This “philosophy of access” (Harman) is what many term the anti-realist tradition. And it is against this that Meillassoux seeks to overcome through his use of mathematics:

Now, my project is to solve a problem that I did not resolve in After Finitude, it is a very difficult problem, one that I can’t rigorously set out here, but that I can sum up in this simple question: would it be possible to derive, to draw from the principle of factiality, the ability of the natural sciences to know, by way of mathematical discourse, reality in itself, by which I mean our world, the factual world as it is actually produced by Hyper-chaos, and which exists independently of our subjectivity? To answer this very difficult problem is a condition for a real resolution of the problem of ancestrality, and this constitutes the theoretical finality of my present work. (ibid. KL 354-359)

The point of this is to think X independent of any thinking, and Meillassoux realized that within the very conceptual tools of his enemy – the anti-realist correlationists, and their fight against the absolute – he found a path forward, a way out of the circle. The principle of factiality unveils the ontological truth hidden beneath the radical skepticism of modern philosophy, to be is not to be a correlate, but to be a fact, to be is to be factual, and this is not a fact. (ibid. KL 278-282) So this strange logic of unreason at the core of reason breaks us out of the circle of correlationism that has bound us to the tradition of finitude and the limits of reason since Kant. His proposal to use mathematics as a tool independent of the observer and the empirical reach of consciousness or intentionality is the quest he undertakes to demonstrate his thesis.  We await his demonstration.

1. Meillassoux, Quentin (2014-12-10). Time without Becoming (Kindle Locations 312-314). Mimesis International. Kindle Edition.
2. Mitchell, Stephen (2009-10-13). Tao Te Ching (Perennial Classics) (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.