What is Speculative Realism?

I’m often asked what exactly Speculative Realism (from now on short SR) is. And as I use it as a category on this blog, I thought it would be a good idea to explain it here.

First of all: There is no exact definition of SR. Instead there is a (hi)story of this term. Before the story comes to the coining of SR, let’s describe the context where it emerged from. After that I explain the origin, further development and the problems of its use.

Analytic and Continental Philosophy

In the 20th century philosophy was split in two traditions: Continental and Analytic Philosophy. These two traditions cannot always be clearly discerned. Most of the classifications are due to academic groups and the self-promotion of universities. There are many tendencies in philosophy that can be used for classification. But non of them withstands a closer look.

Let me give you one narrative about these two traditions. Analytic Philosophy is often associated with a technical approach to language and a more “science” oriented approach in general. One of the best examples of the analytic tradition is maybe the Wiener Kreis (Vienna Circle). This group was strongly influenced by the early Wittgenstein and his book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. This book tries to develop a theory of language where everything fits into a system of representation. The late Wittgenstein instead takes another approach where he looks at the use of language. This means that a word doesn’t represent something, but is learned by its use in a context. In the Tractatus there are some passages that hint already at possibility of this late version too. In this reading the Tractatus doesn’t want a perfect system of representations, but to show the nonsense of this approach. But this reading is controversial. But back to the Wiener Kreis: The Wiener Kreis read the Tractatus as a work about good and strict references. They wanted a philosophy where terms are defined and clearly used. Everything that is unclear and cannot be transformed in a language of representation was in their eyes not serious scientific or philosophical work.

On the other side we have the continental tradition. (Even if it has continental in its name, it doesn’t mean anything anymore – if it ever meant something). Two very prominent figures of the continental tradition are Heidegger and Adorno. Both criticized the Vienna Circle sharply – and in many points rightfully so. The continental tradition – from then till now – was discounted by the other side as obscure and unnecessarily confusing. This accusation has a point. Many works of the continental tradition are not striving to be clear. But this accusation misses a point. For example: In the case of Adorno his writing tries to develop a certain way of thinking. This thinking can best be approached if one follows the movements of this thinking. His texts are often written in a way that the reader has to make this movements of thoughts while reading it. And Adorno’s philosophy is not about the results of this thinking, but about this method of thinking itself (one of the reasons his magnum opus is called Negative Dialektik/ Negative Dialectics; it’s not about positive results). And this reflection about thinking and the impossibility to give clear definitions is seen as a major feature of continental philosophy.

This little story tells us about one way to define the two opposing modes of philosophy. But we can use it in the same way to destroy the illusion of Analytic and Continental as different traditions. I already hinted at the two different (or two different ways of understanding) Wittgensteins. And in self-appointed Analytic Philosophy you can find both versions. Also you can find in the continental tradition a lot of thinkers reading and writing about Wittgenstein. Style and self-promotion of oneself or an academic group or institution is often far more important than supposed thematic or methodic differences.

Poststructuralism

In the middle of the 20th century there emerged – primarily in France – a new line of Continental Philosophy that is often summarized under the name Poststructuralism. This current is also more complex than most introductions and definitions give it credit to. But let’s concentrate on a certain contentious idea inside this current: Deconstructivism. This idea developed by Jaques Derrida destroys the idea of any presentation or representation. In a very popular simplification it is about the idea that terms come in opposites, that are hierarchical ordered and therefore bring norms with them. The political and philosophical project of this idea is than to destroy the order of terms by bringing in a third one. On the one side Deconstructivism is one of the most popular ideas of Poststructuralism. It is very powerful in some political projects – especially feminism and Queer Theory. But on the other side it is one that is laughed upon – especially by self-defined analytic philosophers. Analytic Philosophers criticize the resulting unclear texts or the simplicity of the idea. Derrida’s works are actually a lot more richer than the popular caricature that is created by both sides.

Deconstructivism has also led to a fixation on language and a declaration against any fixed meaning that is shared by too many poststructuralist thinkers. This led to criticism inside primarily continental circles. One example can be found in Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of my Life:

As soon as it was established in certain areas of the academy, deconstruction, the philosophical project which Derrida founded, installed itself as a pious cult of indeterminacy, which at its worst made a lawyerly virtue of avoiding any definitive claim. Deconstruction was a kind of pathology of scepticism, which induced hedging, infirmity of purpose and compulsory doubt in its followers. It elevated particular modes of academic practice – Heidegger’s priestly opacity, literary theory’s emphasis on the ultimate instability of any interpretation – into quasi-theological imperatives. (p. 16f)

Correlationism and Philosophies of Access

We can now jump to the origin of SR. On 27 April 2007 a workshop in London was titled Speculative Realism. This was the first time the name actually appeared.

This announcement was reprinted in Collapse III p. 306

From its announcement we can take a provisional definition of SR: You can read something about a “continental” orthodoxy that is anti-representational or “correlationist”. Above should have given a superficial understanding of the anti-representational continental orthodoxy. The original SR-philosophers of the workshop set out to answer a question – often posed in analytic circles, but mostly ignored in the recent continental tradition: How can representation work? Thereby dissolving the border between continental and analytic further. But let’s have a closer look at two terms that try to clarify that “continental” problem: philosophies of access and correlationism. The term philosophies of access stems from Graham Harman. Graham Harman is the philosopher who – up to date – is the philosopher who is most eager to use SR as self-description. His own project is also termed Object-Oriented Ontology (OOO) or Object-Oriented Philosophy (OOP). Harman has the idea that nothing is really completely accessible, but instead withdraws behind our contact. But this feature is in his opinion nothing that is a human problem. Fire that burns wood never is in a complete contact with the wood it burns. His term philosophies of access wants to point to the problem that it is OUR access to things that is somehow privileged. Instead Harman wants to criticize the philosophies of access for their anthropocentric view and instead establish a view where everything is withdrawn and where we have to explain how contact is even possible. His contribution Vicarious Causation to the workshop wants to explain exactly this problem of contact (like nearly everything else he has written).

Meillassoux tries to tackle the problem of contemporary philosophy differently: He identifies as correlationism the position that there is no knowledge of the world without a (cor)relation to us thinking it. (I leave this explanation very short because I have written a lot about Meillassoux on this blog already; starting here: https://polphil778328996.wordpress.com/2019/08/10/the-philosophy-of-quentin-meillassoux-part-i/ ) His project sets out to delineate how speculative thinking transgresses this limit and is able to reach an outside. Therefore the title of his first big book After Finitude.

Harman himself explains very good the main differences between his own approach and that of Meillassoux:

Kant holds as follows:

a. The human–world relation stands at the center of philosophy, since we cannot think something without thinking it.

b. All knowledge is finite, unable to grasp reality in its own right.

Meillassoux rejects (b) while affirming (a). But readers of my own books know that my reaction to Kant is the exact opposite, rejecting (a) while affirming (b), since in my philosophy the human–world relation does not stand at the center. Even inanimate objects fail to grasp each other as they are in themselves; finitude is not just a local specter haunting the human subject, but a structural feature of relations in general including non-human ones.

Harman, Graham: Quentin Meillassoux. Philosophy in the Making (Second edition) p. 4

So we start with something confusing. The “common enemy” of the philosophers of this workshop is not so clear as it seams. The approaches are very different. Maybe one could say that SR wants to change something in Continental Philosophy. But that is not really helpful since not every new theory in continental circles can be considered as SR.

Speculative Realism

Another interesting anecdote stems from Harman’s retelling of the coming together for the workshop. Especially the passage about finding a name for it tells a lot:

As noted, the Speculative Realism Workshop took place on 27 April 2007. Some months earlier we still had no name for the group, which had rallied around ‘correlationism’ as the shared enemy unifying four philosophical projects with little else in common. At first it seemed as though we might settle on ‘Speculative Materialism’, Meillassoux’s name for his own system, despite my own rejection of materialism. No better alternative emerged until Brassier offered ‘Speculative Realism’. The name had such appeal that it was adopted immediately by all members of the group, though Brassier (who disliked ‘speculative’) and Meillassoux (who preferred ‘materialism’ to ‘realism’) eventually distanced themselves from the term. Grant has since taken a turn in the direction of British Idealism, which leaves the author of the present book as the only original Speculative Realist who still endorses the term wholeheartedly. ‘Speculative Realism’ has since become a familiar phrase in continental philosophy circles in the Anglophone world, the subject of numerous university courses and ceaseless discussion in the blogosphere. It has served as a rallying point for the young, and has helped focus continental philosophy for the first time on the realism/anti-realism dispute, which was formerly dismissed as a ‘pseudo-problem’ by the overly reverent disciples of Husserl and Heidegger.

Ibid. p. 79f

What we have seen so far and what this quote makes clear again, is that SR was coined as an umbrella term for four very different philosophers. Two of them I have explained a little bit more in detail. To bring the other two in would confuse only more.

But the Harman quote gives us a second problem – a problem that leads to the post in the first place. SR has become a familiar term in some academic circles and is used e.g. for a series of publishing (redacted by Harman himself). Concerning the impossibility to give the term a clear definition or direction that seems strange. Therefore I want to show an example of the debate in the blogosphere Harman is talking about and the critique of Brassier on the distribution of this term. And finally I will give a short comment of my own.

SR and politics

Shortly after the workshop and the reprint of the workshop in Collapse Volume III the blogosphere went crazy with ideas how to further develop these concepts. One very confusing moment of this debate was that it often talked about SR as a philosophical current with clear characteristics. One topic was very prominent: Poststructuralism made ontological questions political; SR brings back forgotten ontological questions without direct political implications. The question many bloggers tried to answer was now: What is the relation between SR and politics?

(An example and point of entry is this k-punk post: http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/010946.html Many of the links are broken. Some can be recovered via the wayback machine – others can’t.)

Ontology – as the discipline about the structure of our reality/world and sometimes even multiverse – was often occluded in Poststructuralism. Derrida and others showed the implicit tenets of other ontologies and how they reflected ways to think about the world and therefore how to structure society. The deconstructivist project for example wasn’t able to deliver an ontology of its own. That meant that it wasn’t able to construct a political view or future society people could aspire to. Not all poststructuralist projects were ontology-forgotten. Deleuze and Guattari delivered a new ontological model – maybe one of the reasons some people don’t count them as real poststructuralists. Nevertheless in the atmosphere of some academic circles at the beginning of this century it was definitely refreshing to hear about the construction of a new ontologies. In a political atmosphere that Mark Fisher described so well as Capitalist Realism (see his book with the same name) it was clear that a concept was needed that could outside the supposed deadlock of neoliberal finitude. The emerging awareness of the climate crisis also needed a political theory that went further than language. Therefore Meillassoux’s ontology that proposed that everything is contingent – except contingency itself – looked like an exit for the necessity of neoliberal capitalism and Harman’s talk about inanimate objects looked like a way free ourselves from anthropocentric thinking and toward a thinking of objects and the earth – thereby accepting the crisis of our planet as a philosophical subject.

This explains the debate, but also shows how some – often continental oriented academies – weren’t able to look outside their favorite theories and question their tenets. SR enabled these circles to look outside. But a closer look shows that other theories and similar questions were already available (e.g. a certain reading of Deleuze/Guattari and one of their favorite philosophers Alfred Whitehead). Each of the original SR-philosophers brought something new, but it wasn’t ex nihilo. And we still can’t say there is a tenet for SR that holds scrutiny – only in the way Harman proposes in the above quote as counting him as the only real speculative realist. But then why talk about SR and not about Harman?

Brassier’s and Wolfendale’s criticism

In 2014 Pete Wolfendale’s The Noumenon’s New Clothes was published. It continued a critique of Harman’s approach previously argued out on his blog. The main idea is that Harman develops a system of withdrawn objects and their structure, but is unable to deliver any arguments why we should look at the world this way (humorously he calls it the withdrawal of arguments). Wolfendale seems to see a problem in humanities that aren’t able to get outside their phenomenological and linguistic descriptions. The supposed aim of SR to get to the outside is undermined by Harman in withdrawing to the inaccessibility of everything. (The noumenon – as the thing of thought that cannot be completely accessed outside thought – reappears. In an approach to go beyond Kant – who tried to show the inaccessibility of things-in-themselves – Harman falls back to a position very similar to Kant’s. Therefore the title.)

In an afterword to this book by Ray Brassier, he criticizes Harman’s use of the term SR sharply. He starts with an “existence test” that Harman often evokes and that is also present in the above Harman quote:

Has Speculative Realism passed the existence test? Graham Harman has certainly served as its indefatigable midwife. No doubt modesty forbade him from mentioning that he is commissioning editor of the ‘thriving book series’ he cites, and the self-volunteered editor of the new Speculative Realism section of the popular PhilPapers website. His claim about postdoctoral fellowships and semester-long university courses sounds an impressively academic note, flagging the institutional recognition that is generally accepted as the seal of intellectual respectability. Yet here a note of caution is in order, since Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology have also succeeded in securing toeholds in American university programmes. Academic recognition is not compelling by itself unless we are told the names of the fellowships and institutions in question. Moreover, a sceptic might be forgiven for querying the reliability of a witness testifying to Speculative Realism’s indubitable existence from within the pages of a publication whose official subtitle is ‘A Journal of Speculative Realism’. And if existence is to be measured in terms of blogs, books, and Google hits, then Speculative Realism lags woefully far behind Bigfoot, Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster, all of whom have passed Harman’s ‘existence test’ with flying colours. (p. 409f)

Then he goes on to show that it is impossible to find good criteria for a distinction between SR and not-SR. In the end he attacks Harman’s self-branding and self-promotion:

Ultimately, neither commonalities nor shared aversions suffice to clearly demarcate Speculative Realists from other philosophers. Considered as a philosophical movement, Speculative Realism is vitiated by its fatal lack of cohesiveness. Whether we try to define it negatively by what it is against or positively by what it is for, we exclude too little and include too much. Harman justifies his branding of Speculative Realism as a ‘universally recognized method of conveying information while cutting through informational clutter’. The problem is that those he has enlisted as the brand’s representatives diverge on so many fundamentals that the noise generated by bundling them together far exceeds any possible informational content this grouping might have hoped to provide. In the absence of even a minimal positive criterion of doctrinal cohesiveness, all that is left is chatter about something called ‘Speculative Realism’—placing it on an ontological par with chatter about the ‘Montauk Project’. It is not difficult to see how Speculative Realism passes Harman’s existence test, since this test is predicated on a principle as simple as it is dubious: to be is to be talked about. (p. 416)

For Brassier this branding goes hand in hand with Harman’s dubious use of science and Brassier contrasts Harman’s position with those of the other original SR-philosophers:

Is there anything of real philosophical import at stake in the controversy over what Meillassoux calls ‘correlationism’? I think that there is indeed, but unfortunately this is precisely what has been obscured by the concerted attempt to brand Speculative Realism. The impetus for the original, eponymous workshop was to revive questions about realism, materialism, science, representation, and objectivity, that were dismissed as otiose by each of the main pillars of Continental orthodoxy: phenomenology, critical theory, and deconstruction. The synopsis for that workshop, which I composed with Alberto Toscano, is worth citing because it illustrates the shortfall between the concerns that animated the original ‘Speculative Realism’ event, and those of the current Speculative Realism brand:

“Contemporary ‘continental’ philosophy often prides itself on having overcome the age-old metaphysical battles between realism and idealism. Subject-object dualism, whose repudiation has turned into a conditioned reflex of contemporary theory, has supposedly been destroyed by the critique of representation and supplanted by various ways of thinking the fundamental correlation between thought and world.

But perhaps this anti-representational (or ‘correlationist’) consensus—which exceeds philosophy proper and thrives in many domains of the humanities and the social sciences—hides a deeper and more insidious idealism. Is realism really so ‘naive’? And is the widespread dismissal of representation and objectivity the radical, critical stance it so often claims to be?”

The interest in rehabilitating representation and objectivity remains my own personal preoccupation and was certainly not shared by any of the other participants then or now. But the issue of the link between representation and objectivity generates questions about the status of scientific representation, which in turn lead to the more fundamental issue of philosophy’s relation to the natural sciences. This issue is central to Meillassoux’s work, whether in the form of his attempt to provide a speculative proof of the contingency of the laws of nature or in his account of the positive ‘meaninglessness’ of mathematical signs. But it is equally fundamental for Grant, whose reactivation of Schellingian Naturphilosophie requires reasserting ‘the eternal and necessary bond between philosophy and physics’—an interest emphatically reaffirmed by Grant’s ongoing research into the philosophical implications of the ‘deep-field problem’ in cosmology. It is precisely this concern with renegotiating philosophy’s relation to the natural sciences that is conspicuously absent from the Harman-sanctioned branding of Speculative Realism. For Harman, such concern smacks of ‘scientism’. Indeed, Harman’s vocal disdain for ‘scientism’ (not to mention ‘epistemism’) confirms the extent to which, notwithstanding the eccentricity of his reading of Heidegger, he remains an orthodox Heideggerian. For Harman, metaphorical allusion trumps scientific investigation and fascination with objects trumps any concern for objectivity. Indeed, the irony—as Pete Wolfendale’s withering dissection of Object-Oriented Ontology demonstrates—is that in Harman’s hands, Speculative Realism merely exacerbates the disdain for rationality, whether philosophical or scientific, which is among correlationism’s more objectionable consequences. It is this misology which Meillassoux’s After Finitude sought to challenge. Far from challenging it, Harman’s Object-Oriented Philosophy pushes this misology towards even more reckless extremes, such that it ends up being, as Wolfendale puts it, ‘correlationism’s eccentric uncle’. (p. 416 – 419)

This harsh critique of Harman is in my opinion justified. That still leaves the question: why did I chose SR as category on my blog.

Conclusion

As we have seen there is no good test to distinguish SR from not-SR. It was an event that tried to challenge some problematic tenets in certain continental circles. But the self-promotion of Harman has made it a problematic term. I used it as a somehow known category, because I thought interested people are drawn to the buzzword. After using it – until now – only for my Meillassoux posts it would have been better to use the category speculative materialism (Meillassoux’s name for his own project). DeLanda – a philosopher I have written about and has a book published in Harman’s SR series – isn’t in that category. I thought about putting the posts there, but – aware of the SR problem – I decided to use this category only for the four initial philosophers. In the end SR is an ism and all isms share the faith of being good orientations in the first place and misleading in the second – especially if you want to take a closer look. Isms can also be used to organize different people and ideas to develop a direction (especially in politics) and stop being useful if the ism enters ossification. As Brassier has shown in the last quote there is no direction of SR, because Harman goes in a very different direction than the others. Maybe it’s time to forget SR and talk about good philosophy.

Advertisement

On Reza Negarestani, Abduction and Theory Fiction

Reading and rereading old books and articles by Reza Negarestani and Alex Williams has led my to a way of thinking about the theoretical framework of theory fictions. First of all: What are theory fictions? Let’s start with an example: In Collapse III a translation of an article by Quentin Meillassoux was published. In this article Meillassoux uses two short quotes by Gilles Deleuze. Instead of using the oeuvre of Deleuze to explain these quotes, Meillassoux treats Deleuze as a pre-socratic philosopher of whom only these two fragments have survived. Both quotes talk about immanence but with a different reference. One states that Spinoza was the prince of immanence. His whole work is saturated with immanence. The other refers to Bergson to whom immanence came only once: at the beginning of his book Matter and Memory. Meillassoux constructs two possible schools of Deleuze interpretation: one favoring the quote about Spinoza, the other the one about Bergson. Meillassoux focuses on the latter one, because if Spinoza’s work is filled with immanence than there is no noticeable place to understand what immanence is. Bergson on the other hand has an event where immanence occurs and then disappears. Therefore we have a difference in immanence. Meillassoux indicates to physics where it is well known that, to establish a magnitude, a variance is needed. Now the real theory fiction starts. Meillassoux analyzes Bergson’s Matter and Memory in order to find this difference and construct a theory of immanence that is not Bergson’s. It is neither Deleuze’s even if it resembles it in many points. Nor is it Meillassoux’s own position – though there are a lot of parallels.

Meillassoux’s theory fiction is generated by a selection of methods and theory-parts [incidentally selection is one of the main themes of the resulting theory fiction]. After the selection these parts generate something new, something unforeseen, a theory of its own that doesn’t belong to any of the philosophers involved (Deleuze, Bergson, Meillassoux).

Another philosopher working with theory fictions is Reza Negarestani. His book Cyclonopedia takes theories from archeology, philosophy, mathematics, computation, conspiracy theories, geology and many other resources to generate an incomparable assemblage of genres and thoughts. Each of the elements interacts with others in a way that the elements not what they were before and creating something new. [Cyclonopedia also plays with hyperstition – generally defined as fictions that make themselves real. In this post I want to focus on the aspect of theory fiction. In the near future I will probably go into hyperstition as well.]

This process can be described by another theory of Negarestani: his philosophy of decay. In his contributions to Collapse IV and Collapse VI, he uses alchemy, medieval philosophy, chemistry, mathematics and theories of dynamic systems to think about decay. Without much detail the core idea is that decay is subtractive as well as productive. On the one side the object or thing that enters decay asymptotically dissolves. A decaying apple loses over time more and more of its composition and properties. On the other side that what is taken away, generates something new. The worm-infested, mouldy, foul apple is a place of production. A clearer picture is given in his Collapse IV contribution Corpse Bride: Thinking with Nigredo. Here Negarestani uses a cruel Etruscan method of torture to illustrate the idea of decay. The torture consists in the tying of a victim with a corpse. The tortured person is fed and kept alive. The decay of the corpse is transferred to the tortured person. The bodies merge together and become something like a black slime.

The important points about decay are that it describes processes of continuous transformation and dissolution thereby questioning our often discrete, ordered and essentialist view of the world. Negarestani develops decay from concrete examples to an abstract process that enables us to describe processes in a different and probably more adequate way. Cyclonopedia can be described as a form of abstract decay where genres and theories melt into each other, dissolve and produce something new and different. Another example may help. Alex Williams has used the process of abstract decay to describe wonky music. Wonky is a word used to describe a certain style of dance music that emerged in the first decade of this century. In Williams’ own words:

What is most interesting about Wonky thus far is its trans-generic nature, its relative looseness and inclusiveness to a proper diversity of disparate aesthetics: stretching between Rave, Dubstep, G-Funk, Instrumental Hip Hop, Crunk, Pop, UK Garage, IDM/Electronica, Techno… etc. Moreover it operates in a number of different tempos, (chiefly dubstep’s 138 bpm and hip hop’s slower 90-110bpm) with producers scattered between different continents, and different regimes of consumption (club and home listening). Even further, the very notion of “wonky” itself is a deeply slippery idea. Sometimes it indicates de-quantised drums (as in Flying Lotus, Lukid, and other post Dilla beat-artisans) sometimes pitch-bent synth and bass work (Joker, Starkey, Rustie), sometimes a maddening rush of 8 Bit arpeggios (Zomby, Ikonika, Rustie again). Wonky is not so much a genre unto itself. Instead it operates as a kind of trans-generic mutational agent, spreading seamlessly between bpm species, liquidating textures, distending rhythmical consistency like so much manipulable sonic sticky toffee: All that is solid melts into a new electronic psychedelia, as fluid and mellifluous as the globalised capitalism which spreads it. Wonky in the sense of off-key, out of place, misshapen, breaking through an electronic music environment increasingly characterised by myopic microgenre developments and parodic stylistic affectations, as a set of strategies to be applied to a pre-existing template. In a sense then Wonky detournes pre-existing genres (instrumental hip hop, grime, rave, dubstep etc) corroding the arid grid-like bass kick / snare matrix into something closer to the handmade asymmetrical anti-rhythms of Burial, pushing the shuffled culminating and accelerating sensual textural play towards a surrealist fair ground of Dali-esque percussive affect.

(An example of a wonky track can be found here.) This excellent description of wonky leads Williams to view the production and sound of this music as abstract decay. This form of decay is abstract because it uses the mechanisms and dynamics outlined by Negarestani and is not necessarily connected to the romantic/gothic/black metal associations of decay. In his Wonky 3 post he summarizes:

Wonky applies, in its woozy textures, liquefying day-glow synthetics and dilating anti-quantised beats something surprisingly akin to the process My Bloody Valentine exercised upon indie rock guitar music- from within the tradition itself (not from the cynical perspective of the outsider) a method by which surplus aesthetic value can be extracted from deadened forms, by applying abtract-decay processes of liquefaction, breaking down the rigid sonic matter (be it the hard bone matter of drum patterns or the softer flesh of synth textures or the fibrous masses of bass pressure). In this sense perhaps it intimates a kind of sonic anti-affirmatory dark vitalism, at the level of process, since perversely its immediate affect is bright, crisp, colourful, rather than the dank encrustations we would traditionally associate with decay.

Of course music is not the only field abstract decay can be applied to. In the Collapse VI contribution Negarestani outlines fruitful ways to describe politics, architecture and many more fields of research in the perspective of decay.

An interesting question concerning the philosophy of decay is its status. Is it a fully-elaborated theory that can describe all the processes in this world? Is it a theory fiction? I haven’t found any commentary to this question by Negarestani himself. I think it is something in between and there is a summary of Negarestani’s project by Alex Williams that seems to provide a base for my current understanding. Before the quote I’m going to outline my interpretation. I think that the philosophy of decay isn’t a theory that should explain everything. At least not in the way that a Manuel DeLanda or Graham Harman would see their theories. Many philosophers work with one concept and try to improve it to a point where it seems as adequate as possible. Often this leads to an incomplete description and blinding out of certain aspects of the world. What Negarestani seems to do is to look for elements in theories that can be brought together to generate new descriptions of our world. This leads to new perspectives and insights. The philosophy of decay shows that it allows new ways of thinking and more adequate descriptions than more traditional systems. But that doesn’t mean that it is the right or perfect theory. It is more like an experiment – a philosophical experiment or an experiment in theory.

A 2018 founded blog involving Reza Negarestani is called Toy Philosophy and his book Intelligence and Spirit (which I haven’t read yet) is available with a Lego set. The Lego set is announced with this description of toy philosophy:

What sets toy philosophy apart from regular philosophy is its emphasis on play, counterfactuals, and model pluralism, as opposed to a game with pre-established rules and a set method.

Central to philosophical Lego is the concept of a toy model. Every model is bound to be theory-laden to some extent. Theories always come with their own baggage of implicit assumptions not only about how things are, but about how and by what means they should be structured. We often take such assumptions for granted, as if there is a direct correspondence between how we structure the world and what the order of things is—the traditional game played by philosophy. In contrast, we imagine a new form of philosophy where such correspondence is understood to be an unwarranted assumption, and where, in playing endlessly with our conceptual and logical resources, we enrich the very reality we are talking about, and even fabricate it anew.

Another support for my view can be found in an article from Alex Williams called Escape Velocities. The article is primarily about accelerationism (more on this in future post soon). For the perspective of this post it’s not important what accelerationism is – only that Negarestani’s work can be described by a framework that Williams calls epistemic accelarationism:

For Negarestani, epistemic acceleration rests in generating new ways to navigate conceptually. This spatialized, geometric understanding of conceptual behavior emphasizes the creative aspects of thought, focusing on conceptual discovery and abductive transition, over and above analytic parsimony. This modern system of knowledge, much inspired by recent work in the synthetic philosophy of mathematics, is driven by opportunities to build connections, bootstrapping out of local horizons of knowledge and tracing the pathways which exist towards more globalized conceptual horizons. In this sense, Negarestani’s project is one which argues for a “true to the universe” thought, which binds the traumatic and vertiginous inhuman perspectives that scientific and mathematical thought provide to the rational subject. This revolution “for and by the open” prioritizes neither the global over the local nor the local over the global, but rather their imbrication with one another, their potential for perforation, and their possibilities for transplantation or transition. Considered from the perspective of an epistemological account of conceptual space, this is to operate under the rational injunction towards exploration, albeit of a necessarily traumatic kind. Epistemic acceleration then consists in the expansion and exploration of conceptual capacity, fed by new techno-scientific knowledges, resulting in the continual turning-inside-out of the humanist subject in a perpetual Copernican revolution. In so doing, epistemic accelerationisms preserve the crucial distinctions between thought and being, and hence are capable of undergirding a rationalist picture of the world and its operations.

[In this post I’m not going into Negarestani’s theory of trauma that is mentioned here.] In recent years Negarestani has been described as neorationalist. His thinking uses resources from analytic and rational side of philosophy. But he adds something new, opens a different perspective and uses these approaches differently.

A lot of rational thought works under the umbrella of deductive reasoning. A deduction can be described as the application of a general rule to a cause to which it can be applied and concludes a result (e.g. Premise 1 or rule: If it rains, the street is getting wet. Premise 2 or cause: It rains. Conclusion: The street is getting wet.). Because rules are not always given, we need a method to find rules. One classic form of finding rules is inductive reasoning. An induction uses the repeated observation of casue and result to infer a rule (e.g. I observe that it rains and the street is getting wet. Therefore I state that: Every time it rains, the street gets wet). A classic example of induction highlights the main problem of induction: I observe a lot of swans and they are all white. Now I conclude: All swans are white. After this conclusion I discover a black swan and my conclusion turns out to be wrong. This problem is usually framed within the description of deduction as truth conserving and induction as truth expanding. A deduction doesn’t add a new truth. If the premises (rule and cause) are true, so is the conclusion. An induction on the other side adds a new truth. Even if case and result are true, that doesn’t necessary mean they are always true. The generalization in the rule adds a new truth.

Charles Sanders added therefore a new kind of reasoning: abductive reasoning. Abductive reasoning is often described as the inference to the best explanation. In the parochial illustration of rule, cause and result, an abductive inference starts with the result and asks what rule could be applied to find the cause for it. Therefore it is often compared to detectives who investigate a murder scene with all the results in form of evidence and try to find the cause. This description of the three forms of inference as an ordering of cause, result and rule is limited, but exemplifies the point I try to make about Reza Negarestani. While many traditional rationalists work with axioms and rules to see what they can deduce from them or try to find out how an inductive inference can have an as small as possible margin of error, Negarestani can be assigned to abductive reasoning. In the quote above Williams writes that Negarestani’s theory is “focusing on conceptual discovery and abductive transition, over and above analytic parsimony.” An announced collection of Negarestani’s writings is called Abducting the Outside.

Negarestani’s abductive reasoning shouldn’t be described as seeing results and looking for the right rule to find the cause. Instead it can be seen as toying around with theories to see how they change the cause, the result as well as the connection between them. Theoretical frameworks have a huge impact on our understanding of the world. Often they are implicit. Making them explicit and toying around with them opens the door to an awareness of this framework.

This point should not be seen as form of relativism. The forthcoming collection is called Abducting the Outside. Williams is quoting Negarestani as someone who wants to develop a theory that is “true to the universe”. There is something we investigate and explore. The use of theories and theory fictions helps us getting a broader picture but they have to be tested against an outside or reality. Different theories give us different insights about the world – some more adequate, some less. In the end theory fiction seems to be a wrong word or concept, because every theory can be seen as a kind of fiction or narrative giving us a guideline and structuring principle through the complexity and mess of our world. But also every theory shows us something about the outside. Some of the questions that remains are: How to discern what a theory occludes and what it illuminates? How can we bring our insights together to get a better understanding of our world without falling back into a single framework that occludes certain aspects of the world?

Meillassoux and the Relative Autonomy of Science

There is a very common misunderstanding regarding Meillassoux. A very good representation of this misunderstanding can be found as point 3 in Christian Thorne’s contribution to Speculations III with the title Outward Bound. On Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude (https://punctumbooks.com/titles/speculations-iii/: p. 282 – 284). To prevent misunderstandings regarding my own relationship to Meillassoux and Thorne, some remarks: I don’t think Thorne is completely wrong. Some of his points refer to serious problems in Meillassoux’s philosophy (e.g. that epistemology and ontology are blurred – still Thorne tackles it too superficially). Thorne has also some remarks I regard as ridiculous. This post is not about Thorne. I want to show a misunderstanding concerning After Finitude that is represented in Thorne’s paper. As I will show this doesn’t mean that there aren’t any problems with Meilassoux’s argumentation. I’m not a Meillassoux apologist. I think he has something to say to us and I also think his theory is not faultless. In engaging with Meillassoux and thinking about the problems he tackles, a lot of insight can be developed and maybe a different (even maybe better) theory can emerge. Because I don’t have all the answers at the moment, I want to realize what of Meillassoux is important and what should be disregarded or replaced with other arguments. With this clarification in front, let’s look at the misunderstanding.

Already in point one Thorne criticizes that Meillassoux has no empirical restraints. That is not entirely untrue and may point to a serious problem. But the context of the quoted parts of After Finitude are not an a level of empiric problems. Of course the antinomy of ancestrality refers to empirical sciences and empirical problems, but the antinomy is not about empirical problems. It is about what Kant called transcendental: the condition of the possibility of X. Meaning Meillassoux is interested in the framework that enables us to talk about empirical data. All the transcendental chapters of Kant are not concerned with empiric constraints and especially not some philosophies of language Thorne seems to defend. Therefore Thorne makes a more serious systematic failure than he thinks Meillassoux makes (see Thorne’s second point).

This leads Thorne to his misunderstanding in point 3. The accusation is that Meillassoux’s treatment of language is “lunatic” (p. 282). Thorne wants to show that Meillassoux completely excludes any meaningfull talk about the language problems of science. To support his claim he quotes from the first chapter some sentences about the ultimate meaning of science. Out of context a reader not familiar with the work itself could think Thorne is completely right. But if someone opens Meillassoux’s book and reads the quotes in context, it should be obvious that the sentences don’t belong to Meillassoux’s position at all. Regularly I hinted at the dialogical structure of his works. Meillassoux presents a position, than an argument against this from another position, than a reply from the first position to this objection, sometimes a third position enters the stage and so on. He uses many positions and their arguments against each other. As I tried to show in one of my previous posts, the antinomy of ancestrality is developed by an impasse between a naive realist position and the correlationist position. The first chapter – presenting this antinomy – doesn’t offer any results or solutions. The quotes Thorne uses are the words of a naive realist and not Meillassoux’s own.

But what is Meillassoux position on language? Meillassoux opens a problem that the correlationist framework (and therefore also the one of a lot of philosophers of language) has no framework to talk meaningful about the contents of science. That doesn’t exclude that a feeling for language can help to understand the political, cultural or social aspects of science. But these aspects are not the subject of Meillassoux’s inquiry. I think Meillassoux is not so far away from a perspective expressed by Ray Brassier (in his contribution to this reader: https://www.re-press.org/book-files/OA_Version_Speculative_Turn_9780980668346.pdf). Brassier speaks of the relative autonomy of scientific subjects, meaning they have political and social aspects (therefore relative) but they cannot be exclusively understood on these terms (therefore their autonomy). If you only consider language and politics you never understand quantum physics. Here Brassier’s own words:

To reject correlationism and reassert the primacy of the epistemology-metaphysics nexus is not to revert to a reactionary philosophical purism, insisting that philosophy remain uncontaminated by politics and history. It is simply to point out that, while they are certainly socially and politically nested, the problems of metaphysics and epistemology nonetheless possess a relative autonomy and remain conceptually irreducible—just as the problems of mathematics and physics retain their relative autonomy despite always being implicated within a given socio-historical conjuncture. The fact that philosophical discourse is non-mathematical and largely (but by no means entirely) unformalized (but certainly not unformalizable), does not provide a legitimate warrant for disregarding its conceptual specificity and reducing it to a set of ideological symptoms. Again, this is not to assert (absurdly) that the problems of metaphysics or epistemology have no social determinants or political ramifications, but simply to point out that they can no more be understood exclusively in those terms than can the problems of mathematics or physics.” (p. 54)

Meillassoux doesn’t engage directly with physics (and maybe that’s a problem). He wants to understand philosophical and meta-scientific thinking in accord to how they can make sense of scientific statements. Meillassoux makes clear that the conditions of scientific meaning cannot come from our language alone. He thinks about the logic behind the frameworks of encounters with science. And here he discovers a problem. His solution to this problem is different (and will be reconstructed on this blog in the future): Mathematics is a meaningless language in his view. And because it is purely formal, he thinks it is much more appropriate to the content than the (socially helpful) reformulations in popular science books. His view on mathematics is problematic, but not because some putative lunatic use of language. Meillassoux doesn’t say anywhere that it is impossible or senseless to look at the political and social aspects of science. He just says that this alone cannot explain the results of science itself. He just says that the framework of philosophy of language is not able to give science meaning. And that’s an important point.

To summarize: The accusation that Meillassoux (and other’s like Brassier) disregard the social and political problems mediated by language is a misunderstanding. To engage sciences one has to look at their framework and their system. They posses a relative autonomy that enables a discourse about their political aspects on the one side and prevents a complete understanding solely on the field of politics or social sciences on the other. To criticize Meillassoux one has to look at its arguments and not on some of his unpleasant results. Superficial criticism leads to unnecessary antagonisms without understanding.

Problems with Meillassoux and Traditional Modal Logic

As I already mentioned in my last two posts, there are problems if it comes to reconstructing Meillassoux with modal logic. In this short post I want to collect the questions and problems that Meillassoux’s philosophy presents modal logic with.

Before that I want to reflect a little bit about the value of reconstructing Meillassoux with logic. Maybe my project is in some parts in vain. One of the reasons why it could be in vain is that (at least until now) I didn’t consider problems in the tenets or methods of Meillassoux (like Toscano does in his contribution here: https://www.re-press.org/book-files/OA_Version_Speculative_Turn_9780980668346.pdf).

On the other hand Meillassoux explicitly uses logic and reason to tackle the problem of correlationism. But the logic he uses is not completely the logic analytical philosophers are used to. Well aware of the logical problems tackled by his influences (especially Deleuze and Badiou), he uses terms and concepts outside the traditional conception of logic.

His writing style is that of a dialogue. There are often a lot of different positions and Meillassoux presents their arguments. He uses a lot of phrases like “The subjectivist would argue …”, “The correlationist would reply …”. Therefore I’m often reminded of Platonic Dialogues or Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

While reading I find the arguments often very convincing. But he never formalizes them (which doesn’t mean that they unformalizable). If I try – like in my last post – to reconstruct them at least a little bit more formal I come to questions about the kind of logic and reasoning behind it. Meillassoux tackles problems of the event, contingency and the virtual. If criticisms like that of Toscano and Brassier (in the same reader linked above) are right and correlationism has to be attacked otherwise, we haven’t excluded a contingent world enriched with real virtualities and impossible events. So I think my project is not completely in vain because it can help to consider and get to the bottom of the problems of ontological and epistemic modalities.

I hope that explains a little bit my approach and attempts. Now I want to present a set of open questions:

  • In his article Potentiality and Virtuality (first English publication was in Collapse II; an open access version can – again – be fund in this reader: https://www.re-press.org/book-files/OA_Version_Speculative_Turn_9780980668346.pdf) Meillassoux tackles the problem of probabilistic reasoning. In short this problem consist in constructing a set of cases to which probabilities could be applied to. (A problem discussed in a wide variety of research areas: see e.g. Nassim Taleb: The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable and the response Elie Ayache: The Blank Swan. The End of Probability.) This is linked to Meillassoux’s definition of “Tatsache” and “Archi-Tatsache” presented in the last post (I use the German translation because I’m still waiting for my copy of Pli with the English translation). How can we talk about the necessity or probability of facts and events, if we have a restricted or no knowledge of their being otherwise. This questions the very foundations of possibility and probability in modal logic and probability theory. Taleb and Ayache talk about a backward narrative of an event that constructs its own possibilities; after it happened! Therefore each reconstruction with traditional modalities has to be questioned regarding their metaphysical and/or ontological conception of probability and possibility. The relation between Existence and Possibility is more complicated than I presented it so far. I’m not sure how much better a reconstruction with Kripke works, but it will be more accurate than my previous version. [Note that another problem arises here. I blurred distinctions between the terms “probability”, “possibility” and “potentiality”. They are related, but are they all prone to the same problems? I’m not sure whether Meillassoux is clear in distinguishing them.]
  • There is a line of tradition from Bergson to Deleuze to Badiou and finally to Meillassoux where they think in a novel way about the concepts of virtuality and event (that will actually be the subject of my Master thesis). Traditional logic and probability don’t contain these concepts and are challenged by it. A big question is, if these concepts can be integrated in these systems, or if the systems can be expanded, or if we need completely new ones (DeLanda in his book Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy tries to answer this question via Deleuze; at the moment I’m writing a paper about his contribution on social ontology and I want to use his book to reconstruct Deleuze’s conception of virtuality in my thesis). My method on this blog is an experimental one. I tried it with a simple concept of modal logic (System T) and will now try it with a more complex one (Kripke). Something I have to explore more is how these concepts are applied to epistemological (sometimes also called gnoseological) or ontological distinctions (see for example footnote 7 on p. 232f in Meillassoux’s article).
  • Something that’s already implicit in the points above are the relations (or more logical: opposites) between modal terms and also the relation between epistemological and ontological statements. What does it mean for the logic of a model that an event creates its own possibilities? About what kind of possibility do we talk in that moment? How is this related to novelty and is a novelty an actualization of something that was virtual or possible before? Is a novelty purely epistemological or is there meaningful way to talk about novelty in the world (and is it than on the level of virtuality, reality or actuality)?

All these questions and problems lead me to the possibilities of this blog. In a homework, paper or thesis I have the problem that I want to present something finished or thought through to a certain degree. I would never have submitted a paper where I use System T to reconstruct Meillassoux because I see the problems. On this blog I can publish impasses, directions of thought and experiments. Even if the results are only to see that the impasses, it is a possibility to write something, practise writing (especially writing in English and not my native language) and have feedback (at the moment only a handfull of people, but maybe that will change).

The Philosophy of Quentin Meillassoux, Part III: The Facticity of Correlation (German)

Like my last post in this series, this one is in German. If you need an English translation, write me and I will translate this post as soon as possible.

In diesem Post verfolge ich die Argumentation aus Meillassouxs Aufsatz Metaphysik – Spekulation – Korrelation weiter. Im zweiten Kapitel des Aufsatzes wird das Argument über die Faktizität der Korrelation vorgestellt. Wie im Post über die Antinomie der Anzestralität aus dem ersten Kapitel, lasse ich andere Werke von Meillassoux beiseite. Die im Argument vorkommenden Positionen werden in anderen Texten weiter differenziert oder variieren leicht. Der Kern des Arguments scheint mir derselbe zu bleiben. Daher ist die kurze Version des Arguments gerade für ein erstes Verständnis sehr gut geeignet.

Die Positionen

Wie so häufig bei Meillassoux, werden verschiedene Positionen und die Argumente für und gegen diese eingeführt. Dadurch ergibt sich eine dialogische Struktur, die an Platon oder Humes Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion erinnert.

Die Teilnehmer der Debatte des hier besprochenen Arguments sind der Korrelationismus und die subjektivistische Metaphysik. Implizit steht natürlich Meillassouxs eigene Position – der spekulative Materialismus – im Hintergrund, die auf den Moment der Debatte wartet, an dem sie eingreifen und – wie der Held im heroischen Epos – zur rechten Zeit die Lösung des Problems bringen kann.

Der Korrelationismus wird – wie im letzten Post erwähnt – hier nicht ausdifferenziert. Es wird mit der annähernden Definition gearbeitet, dass der Korrelationismus jene Position ist, “der zufolge es keinen Sinn hat, Zugang zu einem Ding unabhängig vom Denken erlangen zu wollen, da wir uns der wesentlichen Korrelation des Denkens und des Seins, in der wir uns immer schon befinden nicht entziehen können.” (S. 26f) Jedoch detailiert Meillassoux in diesem Kapitel den Korrelationismus ein wenig. Der Kern des Korrelationismus bestehe aus zwei Entscheidungen: dem korrelationalen Zirkel (das was in obigen Zitat von S. 26 geschildert wird) und der Faktizität der Korrelation (welches ich im Folgenden genauer erläutern möchte). Ein wichtiges Kriterium des Korrelationismus ist, dass er ein “Unternehmen zu Entabsolutierung des Denkens” (S. 41) darstellt. An dieser Stelle kommt die subjektivistische Metaphysik und die Faktizität der Korrelation ins Spiel.

Die subjektivistische Metaphysik beschreibt nach Meillassoux “jede Metaphysik, die die Korrelation von Sein und Denken verabsolutiert” (S. 43). Der Streit zwischen Korrelationismus und subjektivistischer Metaphysik besteht folglich darin, dass letztere behauptet es gibt nur die Korrelation, wohingegen der Korrelationismus sagt, dass wir zwar nur die Korrelation haben, aber das nicht heisst, dass es genausogut anders sein könnte.

Die Argumentation

Die Argumentation kann in drei Schritte zergliedert werden. Zuerst wird das subjektivistische Argument für die Absolutheit der Korrelation angebaracht. Anschließend lässt Meillassoux den Korrelationismus dieses Argument außer Kraft setzen (das Argument über die Faktizität der Korrelation). Zu guter letzt verweist Meillassoux darauf, wie ein nicht-subjektivistisches Absolutes durch das Gegenargument des Korrelationismus aufgemacht wird. Dadurch will Meillassoux den Korrelationismus mit seinen eigenen Mitteln überwinden.

Das subjektivistische Argument

Das subjektivistische Argument basiert auf dem korrelationalen Zirkel. Ein vom Denken unabhängiges Ansich kann nicht widerspruchsfrei gedacht werden. Das subjektivistische Argument basiert auf einer weiteren impliziten Annahme: Was nicht widerspruchsfrei gedacht werden kann, ist unmöglich. Daraus ergibt sich der Schluss: Ein vom Denken unabhängiges Ansich ist unmöglich. Dieses Argument kann schematisch untereinander geschrieben werden:

P1: Ein vom Denken unabhängiges Ansich kann nicht widerspruchsfrei gedacht werden.

P2: Was nicht widerspruchsfrei gedacht werden kann, ist unmöglich.

K: Ein vom Denken unabhängiges Ansich ist unmöglich.

Zum Vergleich hier das Argument in Meillassouxs Worten:

“Was sagt nun der Subjektivist? Dass ich das Andere der Korrelation nicht denken kann: Ich mag zwar denken, dass die gegebene Welt anders ist, dass die Gesetze zu Fall gebracht sind – ich kann mir in der Tat eine Welt mit anderen Gesetzen denken und sogar im Detail ausmalen. Aber ich kann nicht die Abschaffung der Korrelation selbst und ihrer etwaigen Invarianten denken, denn die Abschaffung zu denken, bedeutet, sie zu denken, also sich in einen pragmatischen Widerspruch zu verwickeln. Wenn das Andere der Korrelation undenkbar ist, heißt das für den Subjektivisten, dass es unmöglich ist: Das Nicht-Korrelierte ist ein völlig absurder Begriff und deshalb genauso inexistent wie der der euklidschen würfelförmigen Sphäre. Die Korrelation ist dem Subjektivisten zufolge also keine kontingente Realität, sondern eine absolute Notwendigkeit.” (S. 46)

Die Faktizität der Korrelation

Um die Widerlegung des subjektivistischen Arguments zu explizieren führt Meillassoux drei modale Begriffe ein: Kontingenz, Tatsache und Archi-Tatsache.

Kontingenz:

“jedes Seinde, Ding oder Ereignis, von dem ich weiß, dass es tatsächlich nicht sein oder nicht gewesen sein könnte, oder anders sein könnte” (S. 45 Hervorhebung im Original)

Tatsache:

“jede Art von Seiendem, von dem ich mir vorstellen kann, dass es anders ist, aber von dem ich nicht weiß, ob es tatsächlich anders sein kann” (ebd. Hervorhebung im Original)

Archi-Tatsache:

“jede Tatsache, von der ich mir in keiner Weise ihr Anders-Sein oder Nicht-Sein vorstellen kann und deren Notwendigkeit ich nicht beweisen kann” (S. 46)

Der wesentliche Unterschied zwischen Tatsache und Archi-Tatsache besteht daher, darin, dass die Andersheit der Tatsache vorstellbar und die der Archi-Tatsache unvorstellbar ist.

Für den Korrelationisten ist die Korrelation eine Archi-Tatsache. Aus der Archi-Tatsache folgt, dass die Korrelation zwar nicht anders gedacht werden kann, aber trotzdem ihre Notwendigkeit nicht bewiesen werden kann. Der Subjektivist macht aus korrelationistischer Sicht zwei Fehler: 1. Er schließt aus der Undenkbarkeit auf (ideelle Ebene) eine wirkliche oder ontologische Tatsache. 2. Er nutzt die bloße Gegebenheit der Korrelation, um via der Undenkbarkeit auf ihre Notwendigkeit zu schließen.

Figure 5.3

Der zweite Fehler der subjektivistischen Metaphysik lässt sich durch Modallogik erhellen. Als Grundlage wähle ich hier das logische Hexagon der Modallogik (siehe dazu meinen letzten Post). Die großen Streitfragen rund über die Axiomatisierung der Modallogik, ob es nicht eher ein Hexagon ist (ohne Wirklichkeit und Nicht-Wirklichkeit) und andere Unklarheiten lasse ich hier Beiseite. Mir geht es hier nur um wenige Verhältnisse, die in allen mir bekannten Modallogiken gleich sind.

Wir haben Aussage A: “Es gibt die Korrelation”

Der modale Status dieser Aussage ist unklar. Betrachten wir zwei Möglichkeiten: Einmal kann es sich um den Fall handeln, dass A notwendig A ist (formal: NA), andererseits kann es sich bei A um ein kontingentes A handelt. Die Kontingenz in letzterem Fall ist definiert als etwas, das ist, aber genausogut nicht sein könnte (formal: MA∧¬NA). Uns interessiert aus der Kontingenz nur der Teil vor dem Junktor (dem “und” dargestellt durch “∧”). Dass A der Fall ist, kann also entweder daher kommen, dass es notwendig (NA) oder dass es möglich (MA) ist.

Die subjektivistische Metaphysik hat als Ausgangspunkt nur die Aussage A. Jedoch soll darauf geschlossen werden, dass A notwendig ist (NA) und nicht A unmöglich (¬A) (die beiden Aussagen sind modallogisch synonym: NA=¬A). Die Aussage A impliziert jedoch nur, dass A möglich sein muss (die sogenannte subalterne Opposition). Wie die Aussage “Alle X haben die Eigenschaft a” die Aussage “Es gibt X, die die Eigenschaft a haben” impliziert, gilt dies auch für Existenz und Möglichkeit. Um zu existieren, muss etwas auch möglich sein. Umgekehrt gilt dies jedoch nicht. Aus “Es gibt” folgt nicht “Für alle gilt”; genauso folgt nicht aus der Möglichkeit die Existenz. So folgt aus der Notwendigkeit zwar die Existenz, aber nicht aus der Existenz die Notwendigkeit.

Der Subjektivist begeht also den Fehler, dass er aus der Existenz auf die Notwendigkeit schließt. Der Korrelationist hingegen nimmt die Korrelation ebenfalls als gegeben (existent) an, schließt aber nicht auf deren Notwendigkeit.

Spekulativer Materialismus: Die Faktizität als Absolutes

Das letzte Argument, in dem Meillassouxs eigene Position zum Vorschein tritt, soll in diesem Post nur angedeutet werden. Zuvor fasse ich noch einmal zusammen.

Der Subjektivist sieht die Widersprüchlichkeit in einem Denken des Nicht-Korrelierten. Dieser Widerspruch ist jedoch ein reiner Widerspruch des Denkens, der uns nichts darüber sagen kann, ob die Welt nicht anders möglich wäre. Daher schreitet der Korrelationist ein und sagt, dass aus der bloßen Gegebenheit und der Unvorstellbarkeit ihres Gegenteils, noch nicht ihre innere Notwendigkeit folgen kann. Die Korrelation ist für den Korrelationisten also gegeben, aber nicht notwendig gegeben.

Diese Operation des Korrelationisten stellt für Meillassoux einen wichtigen Punkt in der Entabsolutierung des Denkens dar. Mit dem Argument gegen den Korrelationisten ist nichts mehr notwendig gegeben und alles könnte möglicherweise ganz anders sein.

Meillassouxs Trick besteht darin, genau diesen letzten Teil (alles könnte ganz anders sein) zu verabsolutieren. In mehreren Schritten versucht er zu zeigen, dass die radikale mögliche Andersheit eine Kontingenz ist, die als einziges notwendig gedacht werden kann.

Offene Fragen

Das Argument scheint intuitiv schlüssig zu sein. Bei genauerem Hinsehen wird mir jedoch klar, dass hier mehrere Ebenen sind. Die Modalitäten (möglich, notwendig, …) werden mehrfach verwendet. Jede Modalität taucht auf der Ebene des Wissens, der Vorstellung und der Welt auf. Mir ist – trotz langer Auseinandersetzung mit diesem Argument – noch immer unklar, wie die Modalitäten der verschiedenen Ebenen miteinander zusammenhängen und, ob hier nicht Vermischungen und dadurch Fehlschlüsse stattfinden. Vielleichtist dieses Problem besser zu behandeln, wenn es nicht mit dem System T, auf dem meine Graphik und Impliaktionen basieren, sondern mit Kripkes Modallogik behandelt wird. Kripke bietet mit der sogenannten accesebility relation eine Formalisierung für genau dieses Problem. Daher setze ich mich gerade mit Kripkes Modallogik auseinander und versuche das Argument mit seiner Variante zu rekonstruieren.

The Philosophy of Quentin Meillassoux, Part II: Antinomy of Ancestrality (German Version)

I finally made it to write my second post about Meillassoux. This post is in German, because I use as reference primarily one essay and I only have a German translation of it. I plan to translate this post into English. If you are an English reader of my blog and you want to see what I wrote, please write me or comment on this post that you want an English translation. If I know people are out there who want to read this post in English, I’m a lot more motivated to translate it and the sooner there will be a translation.

In diesem Post versuche ich die Antinomie der Anzestralität zu rekonstruieren. Anstatt auf Meillassouxs Hauptwerk Après la finitude Bezug zu nehmen, verwende ich einen neueren Aufsatz mit dem Titel Metaphysik, Spekulation, Korrelation (zu finden in dem Merve-Band Realismus Jetzt; https://www.merve.de/index.php/book/show/394). Meillassoux führt in diesem Text klar in seine Terminologie ein und verwendet – wie häufig – seine dialogische Struktur. Unter der dialogischen Struktur verstehe ich, dass Meillassoux eine These vorstellt, anschließend mögliche Gegeneinwände vorführt und diese wiederum widerlegt. Dies trifft auch auf die Darstellung in Apres la finitude zu, wo jedoch gleichzeitig schon tiefer auf seine Korrelationismus-Definition eingegangen wird. Die Frage, die diesen Post beschäftigen soll, ist noch nicht der Korrelationismus, sondern, wie die Antinomie der Anzestralität funktioniert und ob es sich um ein ernsthaftes Problem handelt.

Die Begrifflichkeiten

Ausgehend von der Feststellung, dass Datierungswissenschaften auf Ereignisse referieren, die vor der Entstehung jeglichen Lebens auf der Erde oder gar des Universums stattgefunden haben, fürt Meillassoux in seine Terminologie ein. So nennt er anzestrale Ereignisse jene Ereignisse, “deren Datierung angeblich vor der Entstehung von Leben auf der Erde” liegen (S.25). Aussagen, die auf jene Ereignisse referieren, werden von ihm anzestrale Aussagen genannt.

Die Positionen des Korrelationismus und Anti-Realismus können nach Meillassoux den anzestralen Aussagen keinen Sinn zuordnen. Korrelationismus wird in diesem Aufsatz allgemein deffiniert und nicht mehrere Varianten vorestellt (wie in Nach der Endlichkeit). Die Definition lautet hier, dass der Korrelationismus jede Position ist, “der zufolge es keinen Sinn hat, Zugang zu einem Ding unabhängig vom Denken erlangen zu wollen, da wir uns der wesentlichen Korrelation des Denkens und des Seins, in der wir uns immer schon befinden, nicht entziehen können.” (S. 26f)

Kant – der für Meillassoux Korrelationist ist – sieht in anzestralen Ereignissen kein Problem. Meillassoux verweist selbst darauf, dass Kant sein transzendentales Projekt mit seinen frühen kosmologischen Theorien in Einklang gebracht hat. Für Kant ist klar, dass wir über die Vergangenheit durch unsere Gegenwart Kenntnisse gewinnen. Meillassouxs Antwort darauf gelingt durch eine weitere Begrifflichkeit. Er unterscheidet zwischen subjektivierter und anzestraler Vergangenheit. Subjektivierte Vergangenheit ist eine “durch ein oder mehrere Subjekte einst konstituierte Vergangenheit” (S.32). Die anzestrale Vergangenheit hingegen ist eine Vergangenheit die per definitionem nie von lebenden Subjekten als Gegenwart konstituiert werden konnte. Die anzestrale Vergangenheit wird von Subjekten als Vergangenheit konstituiert; die subjektivierte hingegen ist eine Gegenwart, die durch den Fluss der Zeit zur Vergangenheit wird. Bei der anzestralen Vergangenheit schreiten wir rückwärts (auch Retrojektion genannt). Die anzestrale Vergangenheit ist immer schon Vergangenheit und kann für Subjekte nur durch Rückschreiten von einer Gegenwart erfolgen; daher schreibt Meillassoux, dass sie schon immer “seine eigene Zukunft gewesen ist” (S.33). Subjektivierte Vergangenheit wurde ursprünglich als Gegenwart konstituiert, anzestrale hingegen kann nur als Vergangenheit konstituiert werden.

Das Argument

Um zu erklären, in wie weit anzestrale Aussagen Probleme für den Korrelationismus darstellen, verweist Meillassoux darauf, dass es nicht darum geht, dass der Korrelationismus eine anzestrale Vergangenheit annehmen muss, sondern darum, dass der Korrelationismus anzestralen Aussagen keinen Sinn zuordnen kann. Das kantsche Projekt – als Beispiel für eine philosophiehistorisch wirksame korrelationistische Position – versucht die Bedingungen der Möglichkeit von Wissen(schaft) zu bestimmen (auch transzendental genannt; nicht zu verwechseln mit transzendent, was “überschreiten” bedeutet). Dabei meint Kant, dass die Bedingungen der Möglichkeit vom Subjekt ausgehen. Genau dieses transzendentale Subjekt stellt für Meillassoux das Problem dar, welches anzestrale Aussagen keinen Sinn zuordnen kann.

In Meillassouxs eigenen Worten ist das Problem also folgendes:

“Es mag den Anschein haben, dass wir uns letztlich damit zufrieden geben, gegen den Korrelationismus einzuwenden, dass es ein Universum vor dem Auftauchen des Menschen gegeben hat und dass dies beweist, dass man Realist sein mus – was offensichtlich eine naive Kritik wäre. Das ganze Problem besteht darin zu begreifen, worin sich unsere These von einer derartigen Trivialität unterscheidet […] Man muss zunächst verstehen, dass das Problem der Retrojektion nicht in naiver Weise behauptet, dass es ein Universum gab, das an sich vor der Subjektivität existiert hat – was eine Petitio Principii wäre [also ein Zirkelschluss, bei dem die Konklusion (der Schluss) schon in den Prämissen (Annahmen) steckt]. Das Problem betrifft, wie gesagt, die Bedingungen des Sinns der Wissenschaft, wenn sie sich auf anzestrale Ereignisse bezieht. Es fragt sich, ob das Transzendentale, dessen Aufgabe darin besteht, die Bedingungen der Möglichkeit der Wissenschaft aufzuzeigen, nicht vielmehr die Bedingungen für Sinn zerstört – es fragt sich also, ob der spontane Realimus der Wissenschaft in Wahrheit nicht die unverzichtbare Bedingung für den Sinn ihrer Aussagen ist. Wir setzen dem Korrelationismus also nicht in naiver Weise die Idee einer Realität entgegen, die dogmatisch als uns voraus liegend gesetzt wird; wir untersuchen die Bedingungen der Bedeutung einer anzestralen wissenschaftlichen Aussage.” (S. 34f Hervorhebung im Original)

Um zu sehen, dass Datierungswissenschaften nicht mit dem transzendentalen Subjekt zu vereinbaren sind, verweist Meillassoux, auf die doppeldeutige Struktur der kantschen Philosophie hin. Das transzendentale Subjekt ist für Kant eine zeitlose Struktur, die die Bedingungen von Wissen aller empirischen Subjekte umfasst. Auf der anderen Seite kann das transzendentale Subjekt nur zeitlich gefasst werden, da es ohne Instanziierung (sprich wirkliche empirische Subjekte) keine Referenz und somit keinen Sinn hat. Anzestrale Ereignisse – so schließt Meillassoux – fallen somit in einen (zeitlichen) Bereich, der für die transzendentalen Subjekte per se unzugänglich ist.

Um dies genauer zu verstehen und sich vor einem Möglichen Einwand zu schützen, verweist Meillassoux auf eine bekannte Fragestellung: Was passiert, wenn im Wald ein Baum umfällt, und niemand schaut zu? Der Korrelationist hat darauf schnell eine Antwort parat: Unsere Welt ist immer lückenhaft gegeben. Diese Lücken können wir durch Wissen und Schlussfolgern schließen. Wenn wir durch den Wald gehen und einen umgefallenen Baum beobachten, dann können wir darauf schließen, dass er vorher stand und – bspw. durch einen Blitzeinschlag – zum Umstürzen gebracht wurde.

Dies löst nach Meillassoux jedoch nicht das Problem nach dem Sinn der Anzestralität. Der Korrelationist verwechsle eine lückenhafte Gegebenheit mit einer gegebenen Lücke. Die Welt der lückenhaften Gegebenheit besteht aus Ereignissen, die von Subjekten unter anderen Umständen wahrgenommen werden hätten können. Daher spricht Meillassoux bei der lückenhaften Gegebenheit von möglicher Erfahrung.

Anzestrale Ereignisse hingegen besitzen jedoch keine mögliche Erfahrung, da es kein Subjekt hat geben können, welches sie hätte wahrnehmen können. Anzestralität ist eine gegebene Lücke.

Versuch einer Interpretation des Meillassouxschen Zeitverständnisses

Um dieses Problem genauer zu verstehen, habe ich versucht das bei der Antinomie der Anzestralität aufgeworfene Problem der Zeit in eigenen Worten neu zu schildern. [Dieser Abschnitt bezieht sich nicht direkt auf Meillassouxs Texte. Ich versuche jedoch so gut wie möglich innerhalb seines Projekts und seiner Argumentation zu denken.]

Meillassoux II - Pictures - 1
Figur 1

In Figur 1 ist eine intuitive, aber auch naive Version eines Zeitstrahls zu sehen. Auf dem Zeitstrahl sehen wir zuerst einen Abschnitt, der die anzestrale Zeit umfasst. Diese liegt vor der Entstehung von Leben auf der Erde (lassen wir die Probleme von anderen extraterrestrischen und anderen fremden Lebensformen und das Problem vom Beginn der anzestralen Zeit aus Gründen der Vereinfachung und Klarheit beiseite). Anschließend folgt die subjektivierbare Zeit, also jene, in der Subjekte – wie oben erklärt – Ereignisse zumindest der Möglichkeit nach wahrnehmen können (auch hier weden – aus selben Gründen wie bei der anzestralen Zeit – Probleme weggelassen: die Frage, ob es ein Ende der subjektivierbaren Zeit gibt – bspw. durch die Extinktion jeglichen Lebens im Universum – und die Frage danach, welche Lebensformen überhaupt zu Erfahrungen fähig sind).

Meillassoux II - Pictures - 2
Figur 2

Ein erster Versuch zu verstehen, was der Korrelationismus macht, wenn er über anzestrale Zeit spricht, ist in Figur 2 dargestellt. Der Punkt T soll einen Zeitpunkt (vermutlich eher ein Zeitraum) angeben, an dem eine Retrojektion stattfindet. Es mag zunächst verwundern, dass die anzestrale Zeit nicht mehr vor der subjektivierbaren liegt. Wie Meillassoux jedoch zeigen möchte, kann die anzestrale Zeit im korrelationistischen Rahmen nicht sinnvoll vor der subjektivierbaren Zeit liegend gedacht werden. Somit muss der Korrelationismus die Zeit verdoppeln. Aus einem Zeitraum oder Zeitpunkt der subjektivierbaren Zeit heraus muss der Korrelationismus die anzestrale Zeit retrojizieren. Die anzestrale Zeit kann im Rahmen des Korrelationismus nur als Erfahrung von der subjektivierbaren Zeit heraus gedacht werden. An dieser Stelle lohnt es sich zu Fragen, was ein Zeitstrahl überhaupt darstellen kann. Aus korrelationistischer Perspektive ist nur die (möglich) erfahrbare Zeit durch das transzendentale Subjekt gegeben. Der primäre Zeitstrahl in Figur 2 repräsentiert also die durch das korrelational transzendentale Projekt sinnvoll gegebene Zeit. Daher muss die anzestrale Zeit außerhalb des primären Zeitstrahls liegen, da dieser die Grundlage für eine Zeit außerhalb der Erfahrbarkeit bildet.

Meillassoux II - Pictures - 3
Figur 3

Ein anderer Versuch die korrelationistische Zeit anzugeben ist in Figur 3 dargestellt. Hier habe ich versucht, das Problem des Zeitpunktes zu umgehen und zu zeigen wie die subjektivierbare Zeit durch Retrojektion rückwirkend die anzestrale Zeit generiert. Wie ich oben versucht habe zu schildern, sind die Bedingungen für eine korrelationistische (oder auch phänomenologische) Zeit ein Verlauf von Gegenwarten, die zu Vergangenheiten werden. Die anzestrale Zeit, die aus korrelationistischer Sicht jedoch schon immer Vergangeheit gewesen sein muss, wird also erst durch die subjektivierbare Zeit erfahrbar gemacht. Wie Meillassoux schreibt,

“ist das Anzestrale nie eine Gegenwart gewesen, bevor es eine Vergangenheit für die Subjekte ist: Es ist im Gegenteil seine eigene Zukunft gewesen (das heißt unsere Gegenwart, die es umgekehrt rekonstruiert), bevor es eine Vergangenheit ist; denn als Vergangenheit ist es voll und ganz konstituiert – und nicht rekonstituiert – durch unser aktuelles Zrückgehen zu ihr.” (S. 33 Hervorhebungen im Original)

Da in Figur 3 der Zeitstrahl erfahrbahre Zeit (also die Zeit, der der Korrelationismus ihren Sinn geben kann) darstellt, ist der Zeitstrahl der anzestralen Zeit in die Vergangenheit gerichtet. Die anzestrale Zeit wird rückwirkend erfahrbar gemacht. Auf der Ebene des Referierens (also des korrelational Gegebenen) muss der Korrelationismus die Zeit umkehren und via Erfahrung in die umgekehrte Richtung laufen lassen.

In Figur 2 habe ich dem Zeitstrahl absichtlich keine Richtung gegeben, da hier die Retrojektion die anzestrale Zeit von der subjektivierbaren Zeit aus konstituiert, aber das Problem der Richtung und des Verlaufs noch offen bleiben sollte.

Meillassoux II - Pictures - 4
Figur 4

Während Figur 1 eine intuitive Sicht auf die Zeit darstellt und Figur 2 und 3 die korrelationistische Zeit in der Rekonstruktion von Meillassoux darstellen sollen, soll Figur 4 die wissenschaftliche Zeit bzw. die Zeit aus Meillassouxs eigener Sicht darstellen. Um sowohl die anzestrale und die subjektivierbare Zeit zusammenzuführen und wieder in eine Ebene zu bringen, muss eine absolute Zeit angenommen werden, in welcher beide wieder zusammengeführt werden: eine inhumane absolute Zeit, die die unkorrelierte anzestrale Vergangenheit, die korrelierte subjektivierbare Zeit und die mögliche Zukunft nach der Vernichtung allen Lebens (im Schaubild als unsubjektivierbare Zukunft betitelt) einschließt.

Dies geht meines Erachtens aus Meillassouxs eigenen Worten hervor:

“[U]nser ganzes Unternehmen besteht darin, die These zu stützen, dass man auch dann, wenn es kein Denken gibt, ohne Inkonsistenz das denken kann, was es gibt, dass man also eine bestimmte Form von Absolutem denken kann, das nicht von unseren mentalen Kategorien abhängt, da es an sich besteht, ob wir nun existiern, um es zu begreifen, oder nicht. und es liegt an einem solchen Absoluten, dass die Bedeutung der Wissenschaften gerettet werden kann, insofern sie selbst das Anzestrale als einen ihrer möglichen Gegenstände enthalten. Dieses Absolute muss, wie sich inzwischen erahnen lässt, die Form einer Zeit radikaler Unmenschlichkeit annemen, da es ihm möglich ist, unserer Menschheit insgesamt vorauszugehen und sie hervorzubringen, oder sie auch zu zerstören, ohne selber davon betroffen zu sein. Eine Zeit, die keine Form des Denkens sein wird, sondern Hervorbringung und mögliche Vernichtung jedes Denkens, eine Zeit, die kein Bewusstseinsstrom sein wird, sondern der Strom, in dem Bewusstseinsformen auftauchen und untergehen.” (S. 38f)

Die Antinomie

Bevor ich auf die Fragen, die Meillassouxs Argument aufwirft, zu sprechen komme, soll noch einmal kurz das bisherige zusammengefasst und die eigentliche Antinomie präzisiert werden.

Der Korrelationismus als transzendentales Projekt, kann nach Meillassoux nur korrelierter Zeit einen Sinn geben. Die Bedingungen von Sinn sind durch das transzendentale Subjekt gegeben. Auch wenn dieses als zeitlos gedacht wird, so ist es in der empirischen Zeit nur durch Subjekte, die das transzendentale Subjekt instanziieren gegeben. Wenn der Korrelationismus die Bedingungen für das Anzestrale angeben möchte, kann er dies nur durch diese empirischen Subjekte. Die subjektivierbare Zeit ist die Zeit, in der diese empirischen Subjekte leben können. Die anzestrale Zeit ist keine lückenhafte Gegebenheit, sondern gegebene Lücke. Die gegebene Lücke kann also nur durch Retrojektion geschlossen werden. Damit wird die anzestrale Zeit jedoch aus der subjektivierbaren Zeit heraus konstituiert. Ihr kann kein genuiner Sinn zukommen, sondern nur einer, der rückwirkend geschaffen wird. In den Datierungswissenschaften wird die anzestrale Zeit jedoch als eine Zeit gesetzt, die ihren Sinn unabhängig von der Rekonstruktion haben soll. (Wie Meillassoux in Nach der Endlichkeit anmerkt, kann eine Datierung falsch sein; eine wissenschaftliche Datierung soll aber zumindest der Möglichkeit nach unabhängig von der (Re-)Konstruktion wahr sein. Auch in dem hier besprochenen Aufsatz heisst es: “Das heißt nicht, dass die zeitgenössischen, auf ein unmenschliches Universum angewandten Theorien der  Wissenschaft wahr sind, sondern, dass es Sinn ergibt, davon auszugehen, dass sie wahr sein können. Jede wissenschaftliche Theorie gibt sich als revidierbare Hypothese (oder Ansammlung von Hypothesen) aus, aber als Hypothese muss sie sinnvoll als mögliche Wahrheit gesetzt werden können, also eine Bedeutung haben.” (S. 39))

Meillassoux fasst die daraus entstehende Antinomie wie folgt zusammen:

“Jeder Realismus wird sogleich zerstört durch den pragmatischen Widerspruch, den er unvermeidlich zu enthalten scheint [dies ist die Position des Korrelationismus, die ja noch nicht widerlegt ist, sondern bis jetzt nur in eine Aporie geführt wurde]; doch andererseits scheint jeder Anti-Realismus eine Destruktion des Sinns der Wissenschaft zu beinhalten, da die Wissenschaft uns eine anzestrale Zeitlichkeit entdecken lässt, die im Lichte des Korrelationismus sozusagen ‘verrückt’ wird. Das ist die Antinomie, die wir vertiefen und auflösen wollen.” (S. 38)

Offene Fragen

Das Problem der Zeit in einem korrelationistischen Rahmen scheint mir ein ernsthaftes Problem zu sein. Zeit taucht in der Philosophie häufig in doppelter Form auf. Viele dieser Konzeptionen können in zwei Kategorien eingeordnet werden: phänomenale Zeit und mathematisch erfassbare Zeit. Häufig werden diese Konzeptionen mit punktueller und ausgedehnter Zeit(erfahrung) verbunden. Die Debatte versucht dann zu klären welche Zeit(konzeption) primär ist. Die Antinomie der Anzestralität aus transzendentaler Perspektive scheint mir ein wesentlicher Beitrag dazu zu sein. (Ein sehr guter und lesenswerter Artikel zu diesem Problem ist Aiôn und Chronos von John Sellar, welcher in Collapse III veröffentlicht wurde.)

Ein von Meillassoux – meines Wissens – bis jetzt noch unbehandeltes Problem ist die Frage danach, was überhaupt Zeit ist. Sein eigener Ansatz (der bis jetzt nur angerissen wurde und dessen Begründung noch aussteht) scheint auf eine linear ablaufende absolute Zeit hinauszulaufen. Sein (ebenfalls hier noch nicht behandeltes) Kausalitätskonzept (oder vielleicht besser Akausalitätsprinzip) passt nicht zu konventionellen Zeitkonzeptionen. Die linear – von Vergangenheit zur Zukunft fließende – Zeitauffassung Meillassouxs hingegen kann “traditionell” genannt werden. Minkowski, Einstein und Barbour sind Physiker, die Zeit auf eine Art und Weise konzipieren, die in starkem Gegensatz zu Meillasouxs Auffassung stehen. Auch stellt sich die Frage, ob nicht lineare Zeitkonzepte (sofern dies überhaupt Sinn macht; siehe auch: https://twitter.com/NegarestaniReza/status/1232471280932098048?s=20) und die These das Zeit nicht real oder primär ist (siehe dazu Babours Beitrag in Collapse V) die Antinomie der Anzestralität nicht ebenfalls als unwissenschaftlich und unsinnig darstellen lässt. Vermutlich hat der Korrelationismus trotzdem ein Problem. Jedoch stellen alternative Zeitkonzeptionen Meillassouxs Argument und Position vermutlich in Zweifel. (Dieser Punkt wurde, wie ich meine mich zu erinnern, bereits von Ray Brassier angesprochen; jedoch kann ich den Beleg nicht mehr finden.)

In kommenden Posts will ich auf diese Fragen genauer eingehen und Meillassouxs Begründung für seine eigene Konzeption darstellen. Ich hoffe jedoch das Argument und die Antinomie ein bischen beleuchtet und klarer gemacht zu haben.

The Philosophy of Quentin Meillassoux, Part I

Introduction

In the last weeks I re-read a lot of articles from the french philosopher Quentin Meillassoux. One of my questions now is: What exactly is his project? And what does it necessary entail?

To answer this question I want to use my long planned blog and spread the link to this blog to the people I’m discussing with. In the following I want to make a first reconstruction of Meillassoux’s project as far as I’m understanding it. Hopefully there will be a lot of comments that will help to improve this text and end up in a better version of it.

At this point I’m not sure how far Meillassoux’s project can be carried out without making big mistakes. But before big criticism or praise starts, I think it’s necessary to understand what we are talking about.

My own fascination with speculative materialism (the name Meillassoux gave his project) is that it tries to think about the world as the world (or you could say the world in-itself viz. he thinks about ontology). I’m often disappointed in philosophical and scientific discourse when it comes to the point of working theories. Sometimes it seems like a dogma that a theory is a construct made by men and a theory is a good theory if and only if you can work with it.

That doesn’t sound like a good explanation. It is the case that a theory is made by humans and that language with all its problems plays a big role. But that doesn’t explain why a theory works. Or why a theory can have effects and lead to discoveries or inventions. Each scientific theory – even if you are humble and say it’s an approximation – has at least the claim that it has something to do with the world. Each scientific theory has epistemological problems but there is also always an ontological dimension that can’t be explained away by references to convention or pragmatism. You still can ask meaningful why a theory works. So that’s my personal interest in Meillassoux

The Project

But now to Meillassoux himself. In this first post I postpone the reconstruction in favor of a summary of his programm. It’s a kind of checklist for further posts. I try to identify the theses and in the future I try to reconstruct the arguments for each of them.

In the discussion on the Speculative Realism event at Goldsmiths Meillassoux summarizes his project:

“In After Finitude [Meillassoux’s first book], the problem that I encounter is that of explaining the possibility of science, physics, being able to describe a world without humans. For a transcendental philosopher, for what I call ‘correlationism’, this makes no sense – it is an absurd question to ask, ‘What would the world be if there were no humans?’ ‘What would the world be like if we didn’t exist?’ – This is an absurd question, the absurd question, I think, for every Kantian or post-Kantian philosophy. But the problem is that sciences are supposed precisely to explain what the world is like even if there are no humans. What is the world before humanity? What could the world be after humanity? So, my problem is just a problem of possibility. What distinguishes scientific description is its mathematicity. So, the problem that I encounter is to explain how mathematics might possibly be able to describe this world. Of course this description may be deficient, it may be that there is far more in the world than mathematics is able to describe. But at least we must explain the possibility that the theory – a theory which may be refuted in the future – a physical theory, might be able to describe the world. That is the fact I want to explain. I don’t feel that contemporary theories are necessarily true – maybe they are false, but maybe they are true; this ‘maybe’ must be explained. So, it is really a modest position. I just want to explain the possibility of mathematical explanation. For I think this possibility is a condition of an explanation of science itself. By which I mean: how it is possible that mathematics could be able to describe the world, even a world without humans. This is the problem of science.” (Collapse III, p. 328f)

So the problem that Meillassoux wants to answer is how is it possible for sciences to have at least the possibility to grab reality. The first point is his philosophical enemy which he coins correlationism. In After Finitude he writes:

“By ‘correlation’ we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other. We will henceforth call correlationism any current of thought which maintains the unsurpassable character of the correlation so defined.” (After Finitude, p. 5)

But why should correlationism be a problem? Isn’t it obvious that we have a relation to the world and that we analyze the world through our relation to it and ourselves in relation to the world and others? The answer can be found in the first quote above where Meillassoux says: “But the problem is that sciences are supposed precisely to explain what the world is like even if there are no humans.” (Collapse III, p. 329)

Therefore Meillassoux created an argument about what he calls ancestrality. He gives the following definition:

“I will call ‘ancestral’ any reality anterior to the emergence of the human species – or even anterior to every recognized form of life on earth.” (After Finitude, p. 10)

He tries to show how a correlationist approach is incapable of grasping the ancestral claims of dating procedures in different sciences. So Meillassouxs first point is: Correlationism is a problem because it is unable to grasp ancestral claims. (In the next post I want to go further into this argument and try to reconstruct the argument about ancestrality.)

But how to break out of correlationism? Meillassoux gives a list of tenets (or decisions) a correlationist has to uphold. (After Finitude, p. 8) One of them he coins correlationist circle (which I will try to reconstruct in the next post). He tries to use this argument against itself and thereby destroying the old doctrine of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (further short as PSR). According to the PSR there are causes for everything. Meillassoux tries to establish exactly the opposite: There are no sufficient causes and something can happen because of nothing.

The argument is very complex and will be the subject of an own post. The strategy in short consists in showing how correlationism argues against his other enemy: subjectivism or idealism. The latter tries to show a necessary relationship between subject and world. Against subjectivism the correlationist employs an argument about the correlation, that tries to show that the correlation is factual and not necessary. The facticity of the correlation is for Meillassoux the starting point to construct his thesis that only contingency is necessary (the relation between facticity and contingency will be adressed in a later post). Or as he writes: “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, as opposed to the mark of the perennial deficiency in the thought of what is.” (After Finitude, p. 52. The complete argument can be found in the third chapter of After Finitude and a shorter version in the second half of his talk on the Speculative Realism event, in print in Collapse III)

The next step in his project as explained by himself:

“I try to elaborate a principle, the principle of factuality, which says that only contingency is necessary. Not merely that contingency is necessary, but that only contingency is necessary. So, what do I try to do? I try to demonstrate that contingency has properties, fixed properties.” (Collapse III, p. 391)

The principle of factuality has therefore properties and with these properties we can determine some tenets of the world. This part of the project is not very well published until now. That’s what Meillassoux is planning to do and to publish. But until now the articles, talks and his book end with prospects how to carry that project out in the future.

So far at this point. Hopefully this post will give people a good overview about the general ideas of Meillassoux. In the next post I start reconstructing the arguments and the discussion can start. If something is not clear, don’t be shy to comment.