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

9 thoughts on “Meillassoux: Fideism and the Rise of Speculative Materialism

  1. “It is striking that a philosopher with Meillassoux’s considerable knowledge of science
    would present such an inadequate description of the actual debates about the emergence
    of life. A materialist account of the emergence of life is by no means obliged
    to hold that all matter is alive to some degree. On the contrary, such vitalism has
    been thoroughly debunked by Darwinism and its most prominent philosophical proponents.
    For example, what Daniel Dennett analyzes as Darwin’s dangerous idea is
    precisely the account of how life evolved out of nonliving matter and of how even the
    most advanced intentionality or sensibility originates in mindless repetition.12 Rather
    than vitalizing matter, philosophical Darwinism devitalizes life. For Meillassoux, however,
    life as subjective existence is something so special and unique that it requires an
    explanation that is refractory to materialist analysis.13 In Dennett’s language, Meillassoux
    thus refuses the ‘cranes’ of physical and biological explanation in favour of the
    ‘skyhook’ of a virtual power that would allow for the emergence of life ex nihilo. ” — Martin Hagglund

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    • Yea, I’ve read Hagglund but think he’s totally misreading Meillassoux. Not sure where he get’s the notion of Meillassoux as vitalist, since this is one of the main – as M will term it – correlational enemies that he attack’s even in this beginning work. He considers vitalism as a form of strong corellationism:

      [it] consists in absolutizing the correlation itself. Its basic line of argument may be summarized as follows: it was claimed that the Kantian notion of the thing-in-itself was not only unknowable, but also unthinkable. But if so, then it seems that the wisest course is simply to abolish any such notion of the in-itself. Accordingly, it will be maintained that the notion of the in-itself is devoid of truth because it is unthinkable, and that it should be abolished so that only the relation between subject and object remains, or some other correlation deemed to be more fundamental. A metaphysics of this type may select from among various forms of subjectivity, but it is invariably characterized by the fact that it hypostatizes some mental, sentient, or vital term: representation in the Leibnizian monad; Schelling’s Nature, or the objective subject-object; Hegelian Mind; Schopenhauer’s Will; the Will (or Wills) to Power in Nietzsche; perception loaded with memory in Bergson; Deleuze’s Life, etc. Even in those cases where the vitalist hypostatization of the correlation (as in Nietzsche or Deleuze) is explicitly identified with a critique of ‘the subject’ or of ‘metaphysics’, it shares with speculative idealism the same twofold decision which ensures its irreducibility to naive realism or some variant of transcendental idealism:

      1. Nothing can be unless it is some form of relation-to-the-world (consequently, quently, the Epicurean atom, which has neither intelligence, nor will, nor life, is impossible).

      2. The previous proposition must be understood in an absolute sense, rather than as merely relative to our knowledge.

      After Finitude: An Easy on the Necessity of Contingency (Kindle Locations 557-565). Kindle Edition.

      I’ve read other things by Hagglund and find him to be untrustworthy as a commentator. His inability to see what is in front of his eyes, and to twist what people have really said into the opposite is well known. I’d have to spend time finding other examples of his misprisions. But this notion that Meillassoux is a vitalist is sheer non-sense. Meillassoux’s notion of the ‘principle of factciality’ is at the core of his philosophy, not life or vitalism. If anything he has reversed Kant’s dictum on the limits of knowledge and defined facticity, not life, as the property in things-in-themselves:

      “facticity will be revealed to be a knowledge of the absolute because we are going to put back into the thing itself what we mistakenly took to be an incapacity in thought. In other words, instead of construing the absence of reason inherent in everything as a limit that thought encounters in its search for the ultimate reason, we must understand that this absence of reason is, and can only be the ultimate property of the entity. We must convert facticity into the real property whereby everything and every world is without reason, and is thereby capable of actually becoming otherwise without reason. We must grasp how the ultimate absence of reason, which we will refer to as ‘unreason’, is an absolute ontological property, and not the mark of the finitude of our knowledge.”

      After Finitude: An Easy on the Necessity of Contingency (Kindle Locations 777-781). Kindle Edition.

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    • If anything I’d have to go with Adrian Johnston’s reading of Meillassoux as the better choice, since it takes into account the later notion of the ‘inexistent God’:

      (an excerpt from an essay I wrote ages ago):

      Johnston then tells us that even such a student of Badiou, as Quentin Meillassoux, voices concerns in his master’s latest turn toward religion. Meillassoux for whom fiedeism is an ultimate enemy supposedly bemoans the ‘exacerbated return of the religious’. [2] And, yet, Johnston tells us Meillassoux in a recent article “strangely speculates that a God resembling the divinities of monotheistic religions, although he admits that such a deity has been and continues to be non-existent, could come to exist at any moment in the future” (94). Johnston tells us that Meillassoux sees a fine line between metaphysics and speculation: the first “defined as a philosophical position combining an epistemology of access to the asubjective absolute with an ontology in which some being thereby accessed is necessary in the sense of necessarily existent”; and, the later, is defined as non-metaphysical speculation that is “defined as a philosophical position accepting the epistemological part of (pre-Kantian) rationalist metaphysics while rejecting its ontological part ” (94). Johnston in disgust at Meillassoux’s toying with a virtual god that might even “perform such miraculous gestures as resurrecting the dead and righting the wrongs piled up over the course of a brutal, unjust human history” asks: “How could the author of After Finitude, with its polemics against the new fideism of ‘post-secular’ thought sheltering under the cover of post-Kantian epistemological skepticism regarding claims about the objective nature of being an sich… simultaneously indulge himself in musings about a virtual, spectral peut-être interminably holding out the promise, however uncertain or unlikely, of the ex nihilo genesis of a divinity fulfilling the expectations of the most fanatical of the faithful?” (94)

      Johnston decides that instead of unpacking a full reading of Meillassoux and just how he came to such a philosophical position he will instead focus on Meillassoux’s reading of Hume, which will allow us to touch based with both his speculative materialism and its “parallel peculiar divinology” (95). Against Meillassoux’s project in which Hume’s epistomology is ontologized, Johnston tells us we should instead turn Hume’s empiricism against this ontologization “as a weapon on behalf of a real(ist) and atheist materialism worthy of the name” (95). This new materialism that Johnston proposes would return us to a full fledged praxis, grounded in empirical sciences, as well as realigning itself with a politics that knows the ideological and institutional stakes involved in such a praxis. He continues telling us that this form of praxis would inform itself of the Marxian power of Marx’s 1845 ‘Theses on Feurbach’, in which the parallax view of praxis enables both natural sciences and the Umwelt or surrounding circumstances to be revealed in all their political circumstance in the materialist praxis of the times.

      Johnston tells us that others – most notably, Slavoj Zizek, have drawn parallels between Lenin’s and Meillassoux’s work, saying, as Zizek relates it: “‘After Finitude effectively can be read as ‘Materialism and Empirio-Criticism rewritten for the twenty-first century’.’ (96). Johnston argues that the difference between the two thinkers is not so much in their philosophical positions as it is in their stance toward idealist religiosity and spiritualism: on the one hand, Lenin through an aggressive and combative assault tries bravely to slam shut the door on such speculation, while Meillassoux, on the other hand, opens that door wide open allowing such theological frameworks to renter by way of the back door of speculative materialism. He tells us this happens by way of Meillassoux’s key concept of ‘hyper-Chaos’, which allows him to “assert the existence of a specific ultimate real as underlying material reality” one that is based on a “temporal absolute of ground-zero contingency, as a necessarily contingent, non-factically factical groundless ground” (97). This is Meillassoux’s ‘hyper-Chaos’.

      Johnston reviews at length Meillassoux’s critique of Hume’s problem of induction “saddles him with the necessity of surmounting the problem of ‘frequentialism’: If material being an sich is contingent qua containing within itself no law-like necessary connections, then why isn’t reality and the experience of it a violently anarchic and frenetic flux? Asked differently, how come there are apparently stable causal orders and structures if absolute being actually is hyper-chaotic?” (103) Johnston goes on to tells us that neither of the other speculative realists, Ray Brassier and Graham Harman, “are satisfied with Meillassoux’s answers (or lack thereof) to this question, particularly as worded in the second fashion” (103).

      Johnston’s essay goes into much more detail and examples that tease out the religious ideology underpinning Meillasoux’s work in particular to his use of the concept of ‘hyper-Chaos’, but I will only add in this aspect of what he’s discovered and what Meillassoux has made clear, that “hyper-Chaos permits reviving the originally religious notion of creation ex nihilo. It permits this insofar as, at each discretely isolated and contingent temporal instant ungoverned by sufficient reason or causal necessity, anything could emerge for no reason whatsoever and out of no prior precedent as a preceding potential (i.e., out of nothing).” (107). Johnston tells us with this one move Meillassoux is able to sweep away a problem that has faced some of the greatest philosophers and scientists of all ages: the ‘hard problem’ of “how sentient life, as consciousness, arises out of nonconscious matter isn’t a problem at all—this genesis is simply an instance of the ex nihilo made possible by the time of hyper-chaotic absolute contingency” (108). He marks out a critique by Hagglund, who in another essay in Speculative Turn, sees Meissalloux’s concept as “scientifically suspect” (108). Then in an ironic equivocation Johnston himself says: “if emergence ex nihilo sparked by an omnipotent power isn’t a religious idea, then what is?” (108)

      There is much more to Johnston’s critique than can be reviewed here, but in regards to a materialist reading of Meillassoux Johnston summarizes his findings, saying, “the vaguely Heideggerian version of ontological difference operative in Meillassoux’s (and Badiou’s) philosophy is inadmissible and invalid for a properly materialist philosophy” and “the additional indictment is issued that Meillassoux nonetheless doesn’t invariably heed this stratified level-distinction between rational ontology and the reason(ableness) of ontic regions” (111). Being an absolutist rationalist of no absolute, and being averse to a Humaen skepticism Meillassoux seems to waver in a a Heraclitian flux world with his key concept of hyper-Chaos. Instead of a return to the natural sciences that Hume skepticism guarded, Meillassoux leads us toward a “God-to-come, about the infinitely much less than one-in-a-trillion possibility of the arrival of a divinity resembling that mused about by the most traditional monotheistic religions and their old prophecies” (113). Johnston against such a Meillassouxian reading asks: “Shouldn’t the de-totalizing of probabilistic chance in favor of trans-finite contingency make this even less worth pondering, forcing its likelihood asymptotically but rapidly to approach zero?” (113)

      Against Meillassoux’s anti-Zizekian tendencies in which “Žižek tries to smuggle atheism into Christianity via the immanent critique of a Hegelian dialectical interpretation of Christianity for the sake of a progressive radical leftist politics of Communism, Meillassoux, whether knowingly or unknowingly, smuggles idealist religiosity back into materialist atheism via a non-dialectical ‘materialism’” (113). Instead of an argument against religious ideologies Johnston tells us Meillassoux’s After Finitude for whom “divinology and emergent life ex nihilo are rigorously consequent extensions of the speculative materialism” subtends it within a stringent rationalistic and speculative philosophy (113). In a final summation in which he praises Meillassoux for the many ” striking virtues, especially in terms of its crystalline clarity and ingenious creativeness, and deserves credit for having played a role in inspiring some much-needed discussions in contemporary Continental philosophy”, he dams the project of the book’s core argument as being unduly religious in intent “at least for any atheist materialism concerned with various modes of scientific and political praxis” (113). And, in one final admonition Johnston states that “sober vigilance is called for against the danger of dozing off into a speculative, but no less dogmatic, slumber.” (113).

      1. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (editors) (re.press 2011)
      2. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, (London, Continuum, 2008)
      3. Žižek’s Ontology: A Transcendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity, (Evanston: Northwestern University Press 2008).

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      • Hagglund actually moves in short order onto the critique of the virtual god. I agree that this line of Meillassoux’s thought completely violates his own principle of factiality / hyper-chaos. I like Jonstons analogy to Zizek here, and I see he and Meillassoux as running anti-parallel to one another, likely deriving from how they each “materialize” Fichtean consciousness along different dimensions.

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      • Exactly… another author I’m reading of late, Joseph Carew has a book on Zizek out that is available both on amazon.com and open access: Ontological Catastrophe: Žižek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism

        He also takes an opposing view to Johnston’s notions of the Real and other aspects of Zizek’s work … a link:

        http://quod.lib.umich.edu/o/ohp/12763629.0001.001/1:4/–ontological-catastrophe-zizek-and-the-paradoxical?rgn=div1;view=toc

        His argument with Johnston:

        “Johnston in my view has a tendency to downplay the intrinsically paradoxical nature of all such inquiry into the obscure origins of the psychoanalytico-Cartesian subject in Žižek’s work in two ways. On the one hand, he emphasizes that the subject is rendered possible by a short-circuiting of its libidinal-material ground. But if an emergent breakdown in nature’s inner being does give rise to the ontogenetic possibility of the subject, it in no way gives birth to the latter: nature’s auto-laceration may be necessary for the self-positing freedom of transcendental subjectivity, but it is not sufficient, for there is no possible transition from nature to subjectivity, a point that—though also raised by Johnston—I believe must be radicalized. This is why on my reading the reference to Fichte is so important, for if Žižek’s metaphysics is an attempt to show how a transcendental materialism can be developed, it nevertheless refuses to give up on the fundamental claim made by Fichte that the upsurge of the pure I in being is executed “by absolute freedom, not through a transition, but by means of a leap.” As a result, we can also understand
        why Žižek displays hesitation concerning Johnston’s and Malabou’s shared project of merging philosophy and neuroscience—because there is ultimately no emergence of subjectivity possible within his parallax ontology.”

        I, too, had wondered why Johnston in his book Zizek’s Ontology had not gone into detail on Fichte. He does speak in depth to Schelling and Hegel, but rarely if ever covers Fichte at all. While Zizek himself relies heavily on Fichte, especially his concept of Anstoss….

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      • Actually I’m in process of several works dealing with the gamut of my own involvement with the various materialisms. The first is a foray into both the history early, middle, and late materialisms… as well as an in depth introduction to most of the post-Marxian philosophers, and then an introduction to the various umbrella works under the rubric of New materialisms, Speculative Realism, Dialectical Materialism, Speculative Materialism, Transcendental Materialism etc. In some ways I’ve been writing this work for 3 years, but am slowly integrating it into a living work in the traditional sense. I hope to have it finished within the next year. I’ve limited myself to specific concepts and themes so that it will take on a limited set of problems that current versions of materialism are trying to answer or instigate further questions.

        Since its a thematic work dealing with specific problem sets rather than trying to explain every aspect of each philosopher, I’ll be dealing only with those philosophers questions or solutions based on these problems.

        Obviously for many current philosophers the main problem is the correlationist circle: how to know an object or thing independent of the human observer, etc. What are the conditions necessary for the emergence of mind/consciousness/intelligence out of inorganic matter? Several other basic questions that many philosophers and scientists are seeking answers too, as well. This battle between realists and anti-realists, materialists/idealists, etc. The sense of what is materialism: an inverted idealism, a vitalism, an atheism, a ? Is materialism fragmenting into a pluralist vision? One only need to see such sights as http://newmaterialistscartographies.wikispaces.com/New+Materialism to see that there is almost a multitude of branching flavors of materialism now.

        Obviously my path favors Badio-Zizek-Johnston etc. but this does not insure that I agree with their complete conceptual outlay. I still rely heavily on the concept that the sciences are a condition of philosophy for the 21st Century, and no materialism worth its salt will speak to the world unless it transforms its conceptuality into something “useful” to bridge that gap between the practical sciences and philosophy. Philosophy must come down into the streets again both politically and educationally or it will remain a sideline for academics to advance careers within the global economic system rather than changing it.

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