3.6 The diachronicity of thinking and being
Meillassoux seeks to rehabilitate ‘intellectual intuition’ in thought’s apprehension of absolute contingency in being. But here things start to look fuzzy, for Meillassoux states that we can call this intuition intellectual since the contingency is not perceptible in the thing, but it becomes accessible to thought in its access to the Chaos which underlies the apparent consistency of phenomena, i.e. thought’s apprehension of Chaos underneath appearances is the intellectual grasp of the groundlessness of facticity:
”[W]e must project unreason into the thing itself, and discover in our grasp of facticity the veritable intellectual intuition of the absolute. ‘Intuition’, since it is well and truly in [à même] what is that we discover a contingency with no bounds other than itself; ‘intellectual’, since this contingency is nothing visible, nothing perceptible in the thing: only thought can access it as it accesses the Chaos which underlies the apparent continuities of phenomena.” (Meillassoux 2006: 111)
So it seems thought’s apprehension of being is twofold: on the one hand it perceives (intuits) the attributes of the thing-as-it-is, while on the other it intellectually apprehends the contingency of the being’s existence sustained in the underlying Chaos which underwrites it. But the precise nature of this apprehension is somewhat mysterious, since the subsistence of properties it perceives as belonging to the thing-in-itself must be effaced by the intellectual apprehension of consistency, since the latter indexes the presumed regularity of the object to appearance, i.e. regularities as an operation of thought and so for-thought, while at the same time thought is capable of apprehending, beneath appearances, the Chaos of absolute contingency as pertaining to the thing-in-itself. Moreover, this seems to be precisely what Meillassoux is aiming at in rehabilitating the distinction between primary and secondary qualities: the first pertaining to the absolute intuition of logical possibility in things-themselves in the Chaos of absolute time, severed from the domain of real possibility which ascribed regularities for appearances. But what Meillassoux seems to miss is that by relegating regularity to real possibility threatens the presumed independence of objective relations apprehended intellectually in the infinity of logical possibility; since any identification of what presents itself as a logically possible object for thought cannot depend on the appearance of regularities for-thought without reintroducing the correlationist priority of time. Objective identity must therefore not depend on any notion of subsistence in time, since this would be to reintroduce the correlation in assigning all objective reality to the synthesis of thought before ‘Chaotic time’. But this is an impoverished materialism, lending itself all too easily to a critique of a tacit ‘metaphysics-of-presence’; Meillassoux must rather ascribe objective reality to follow from the Chaotic contingency which bounds itself to the mathematic intuition logical possibility.
Yet although we know regularities are possibly apprehended in thought in spite of contingency, and that contingency can interrupt the flux of becoming just as it can disturb identity, it still remains unclear precisely in which way thought can simultaneously intuit things-in-themselves and reduce regularity to appearances. It seems Meillassoux needs to say that even if regularity is phenomenological, the mathematical intuition which finds objective reality in absolute time, since to defer objectivity to the perception of regularities and therefore to mere appearances is to effectively reproduce a proto-Kantian duality between phenomenal entities (which would include even the objects science deems as independent) and the contingency of noumenal.Chaos. For this, Meillassoux needs an argument to show how the objective stability of logical possibility, if not the temporal regularity of real possibility, can be intellected in contingent Chaos itself, independently of thought. This is indeed Meillassoux’s intention, as Brassier notes:
“Moreover, where real possibility is subsumed by time as form of transcendental subjectivity, absolute possibility indexes a time no longer anchored either in the coherence of a subjective relation to reality or in the correlation between thinking and being. Thus the intellectual intuition of absolute possibility underwrites the ‘diachronicity’ of thinking and being, a diachronicity which for Meillassoux is implicit in the ancestral dimension of being uncovered by modern science. However, in light of the problems attendant upon Meillassoux’s distinction between ancestrality and (spatio-temporal) distance, and the idealism associated with attempts to privilege time over space, it would be better to characterize the autonomous reality discovered by modern science independently of any reference to time, whether transcendental or ancestral.”
Unfortunately, and as we saw in the last section, the required argument seems to be missing from Meillassoux’s account, while its necessity is blatantly urgent.
”‘It would be a matter of establishing that the possibilities of which Chaos – which is the only in-itself – is effectively capable cannot be measured by any number, whether finite or transfinite, and that this super-immensity of the chaotic virtual is what allows the impeccable stability of the visible world’ (Meillassoux 2006: 153).”
Perhaps Divine Inexistence will provide? Anyhow, Meillassoux thinks must insist he can guarantee the diachronicity of thinking and being, and thereby the possibility of the realm of independent beings, as resting on the ontological bedrock of logical possibility in absolute time, bounded only by contingency. Science differs for myth in preserving this diachronicity and withstanding its falsification, thanks to the Galilean possibility that Nature (and so the structure of reality) can be mathematized. So philosophy and speculative thought must yet live up to the promise of this diachronicity. Next we will see how Brassier considers some possible complications surrounding Meillassoux’s reinstatement of intellectual intuition.
3.7 – The Paradox of Absolute Contingency
In order to ward off idealism, Meillassoux distinguishes between:
a) The reality of the ancestral phenomenon.
b) The ideality of the ancestral statement.
By way of this distinction, he parts way with the Pythagorean identification of being with mathematical entities: the apprehended mathematicity of objective reality as expressible in statements is ideal while the phenomenon itself is not mathematical but real. If the two were identical, then it would be possible to say that the phenomenon possesses a reality identical with numbers or equations, which remain ideal entities insofar as they signify. So the referents of signifying statements exist as described, but not correlatively to the statements themselves which supervene on the correlational present. Brassier underlines that Meillassoux needs this in order to sustain the diachronicity of the ancestral past and the correlational present, since the statements have ideality while the phenomenon is presumed to have reality independently and non-reducible to the former. To suppose otherwise is to relapse into idealism.
Here things turn difficult: Brassier intends to show how Meillassoux articulates his secondary disjunction between the real and ideal in terms of the distinction between existence and essence: the fact that something is, and what it is. The principle of factuality stipulates that absolute contingency is the only essential quality of things-in-themselves; whose only intrinsic constraint is that they not be contradictory. So that something is only conditioned by the constraint of non-contradiction which is to necessarily ‘contingently exist’. Because, as we saw, absolute contingency is a property of things-in-themselves (contingency conditions the correlation and not the other way around) then it must be distributed equally in thinking and being. This would mean that the real/ideal aspects of being/thought are given to intellectual intuition. Thought must be accessible through intellectual intuition in its ideality, but also as a real phenomenon independent to thought itself and only subject to absolute contingency in absolute time.
Thought and being must have real and ideal aspects, therein lays the separation from the Pythagorean thesis. So the arche-fossil requires likewise the disjunction between the ideal ancestral statement and the real ancestral phenomenon, where the latter is irreducible to the former. But how are we to think of the reality of the ancestral phenomenon if its being is said to be ideally inscribed through the intellectual intuition? Indeed, the reality of the ancestral phenomenon cannot be said to necessitate an ideal aspect, since this would be to render continuity between the mathematical ideality of correlational statements and the phenomenon itself, i.e. being having an ideal aspect seems to engender Pythagoreanism. How then are we to guarantee the independence of real phenomena from the ideality of the statements in which they are encoded?
Therefore, it seems that in order to render the real phenomenon independent from the statement Meillassoux ends up reintroducing the idealist correlation, since the ancestral statement’s mathematical idealization cannot coincide with the phenomenon’s being, while at the same time it is only through thought’s access to the real/ideal in intellectual intuition that we can guarantee its reality. The problem is thus again to construe this apprehension of a real phenomenon totally independently of the mathematical idealization in the statement. Facing the difficulty of speculatively assessing the independence of the ancestral real phenomenon from the ideal statement such that it is only through the intellection of the latter that we guarantee the existence of the former, already seems to subsume the real/ideal distinction to the noetic pole of thought. This means that the reality of the phenomenon would be a matter of questioning epistemological access through thought, thereby demanding verification pass through thought’s capacity to separate its ideal and real aspect, reintroducing the correlation.
”Thus the question confronting Meillassoux’s speculative materialism is: under what conditions would this secondary disjunction between the real and the ideal be intellectually intuitable without reinstating a correlation at the level of the primary disjunction between thinking and being? To render the distinction between the reality of the phenomenon and the ideality of the statement dependent upon intellectual intuition is to leave it entirely encompassed by one pole of the primary disjunction, i.e. thought, and hence to recapitulate the correlationist circle.” [Pg: 87]
So we are caught in a web: to claim the ancestral phenomenon is independent of our statements and counter Pythagoras’ equation of being and thought we must assert that intellectual intuition gives us the possibility of distinguishing the ideal from its excessive real in thought, i.e. the secondary disjunction assigns being on thought as given to intellectual intuition, reaffirming the correlation which it sought to stave of. Brassier must thus provide a non-phenomenological account of being-as-such, which does not render it as something mediated by intellection and thereby force its absolute independence from ideal statements in thought: ideality needs to be disassociated from thought.
“Consequently, Meillassoux is forced into the difficult position of attempting to reconcile the claim that being is not inherently mathematical with the claim that being is intrinsically accessible to intellectual intuition. He cannot maintain that being is mathematical without lapsing into Pythagorean idealism; but this relapse into Pythagoreanism is precluded only at the cost of the idealism which renders being the correlate of intellectual intuition.”
Let us note that although Brassier seems to think Meillassoux is forced into saying being is the correlate of thought, the latter could effectively sidestep this problem if he could guarantee thought’s access to real phenomena outside mathematical idealization. The problem seems to be this lacunae in Meillassoux account; since as we have seen it remains for him to show how phenomenological temporal ascriptions of substantiality can be reversed to render the former to be mere functions of ‘pure objectivity’. In lack of such an account, Brassier corners Meillassoux into the claim that intellectual intuition would be correlationally mediating being rather than simply accessing its non-ideality otherwise. We can tentatively anticipate the strong separation of mathematical ideality from phenomenal reality would be underwritten by the demand of absolute contingency of primitive Chaos. But the argument is missing nonetheless. It should be indicated that Brassier’s pointer is therefore more of a demand for this missing piece more than signaling a definitive impasse due to logical inconsistency. In principle, if we can construct the reality of the phenomenon outside mathematical ideality and ground intellectual intuition’s access to this reality being without thereby transforming it into a correlate of thought, even if it must pass through it, then we can avoid Brassier’s diagnosis that Pythagoreanism can only be precluded at the cost of idealism. The latter certainly admits that much [Pg: 88].
Meillassoux’s central problems rest in his simultaneous project of effacing the Kantian problem of access while establishing the autonomy of scientific phenomena. Given this axis, he needs to show how being is potentially grasped intuitively in its contingency, since to render it necessarily intelligible would be to reinstate the idealist continuity between thought and being which he seeks to deny. In any case, it seems the primitive promise of the Galilean-Cartesian mathematization of nature would finally obviate recourse to the distinction between thought and extension, between ideality and reality. Thought is to be extirpated from its ontological diachronicity and reinserted into the singular reality to which it leads access. This way, thought’s separation from reality is avoided, just like reality’s uniform identification with being and ideality with thought is avoided. So the next question is if the principle of factuality is itself necessarily contingent, since according to it everything exists contingently? Does it include itself in its designation?
Note that this question (is the statement ‘everything exists contingently’ contingently existent?) is not the same as the previously assessed question about the stipulated weak version of the figure of the existence of contingent existence and its meta-facticity (whether contingent existence itself exists contingently). Whereas the latter deliberates about the ontological limit between empirical correlational and transcendental in-itself, the former simply asks whether statements/thoughts are existing entities within contingent reality. For if the thought can be separated from the rest of existing entities subject to absolute contingency this certainly cannot be due to an ontological gap between thought and being, an abyss which would make the ideality of thought incommensurable to the absolute time of scientific objectivity. All we need is to assume that thought is fact like any other. So we can treat the statement as being self-referential.
First, if the thought exists, it exists contingently. But then the negation of the statement could equally exist: the thought ‘contingent entities do not necessarily exist’ could exist. But since contingent entities are said to be absolutely necessary we need to deny that the truth of this negation is possible, which amounts to saying it is necessary that the thought ‘contingent entities exist’ is true. Brassier says this entails that the thought must therefore exist necessarily. But here I am baffled: that the truth of the statement is necessarily true does not seem to entail that the existence of the thought is necessary. The statement ‘everything is contingent’ could be necessarily true even if the thought did not exist and was thus contingent?
“Thus if the thought refers to itself it necessitates the [possible] existence of its own negation; but in order to deny the possible truth of its negation it has to affirm its own necessary truth, and hence contradict itself once more.” [Pg: 90]
I don’t see still how this follows, however, unless one presupposes that truth pertains to thought exclusively, and so that for the thought to be true it must exist. But this is not required, not even under the hypothesis of self-referentiality, since this only entails the necessary possibility of the thought’s negation as existing, and therefore the necessary truth of the thought. Perhaps the clue is here with respect to truth. This seems to be because Meillassoux assumes truth is correlative to thoughts/statements, so only statements are true or false. If so, then to say that the thought is true if and only if it exists would be to say it is contingent rather than absolutely necessary than everything exists contingently, which means it is possible for a necessary existence to be, which is what the principle of factuality expressly denies. That is, unless one begins the regress into asserting contingency in-itself at a higher transcendental level as in the weak version of the figure of the necessary of contingent existence (if something exists, it exists contingently). So it seems we must assert the existence of the thought in order to render its truth necessary, since truth requires its support on the existence of thought. Perhaps Meillassoux could sidestep this by saying that the factual truth of the statement/thought somehow subsists independently of its thought, thereby eliminating the paradox? Help on this would be appreciated.
In any case let us move toward the second possibility which negates the principle’s self-referentiality. In the case the thought does not include itself, then it becomes a detached ideality which is necessary for the thought of contingency, a thought whose coherence is therefore validated in an ethereal way, extirpated from reality. This threatens to repeat the correlationist circle yet again. Finally, if the necessary contingency of existence does not depend on the truth of the statement we risk making contingency totally discrepant to thought and therefore compromise thought’s access to reality-in-itself. This can easily lead into embracing irrationalism and a correlationist threat, perhaps of a solipsistic or idealist kind, looms in the horizon once more. Brassier synthesizes what he sees as a paradoxical result as follows:
“If he accepts – as we believe he must – that thinking is part of being as the second fundamental speculative implication of scientific rationality after that of diachronicity, then the universal scope of the principle of factuality generates a paradox whereby it seems to contradict itself: the claim that everything is necessarily contingent is only true if this thought exists necessarily. Alternatively, if Meillassoux decides to uphold the exceptional status of thinking vis-à-vis being, then he seems to compromise his insistence on diachronicity, for the intelligible reality of contingent being is rendered dependent upon the ideal coherence of the principle of factuality. Indeed, the appeal to intellectual intuition in the formulation of the principle already seems to assume some sort of reciprocity between thinking and being.” [Pg: 90]
Brassier presents Meillassoux’s two brief retorts to these presumed shortcomings. For this he relies on the strength of the principle of factuality and its two purported virtues:
a) Rational requirement - It renders reality susceptible to rational apprehension
b) Materialist requirement – Being remains irreducible to thought.
Being exceeds thought on all side given contingent existence’s possibility of emergence and destruction, there is no remainder insofar as there is no sufficient reason. Reason is forever absent from being’s deliverance to Chaos, the intellectual intuition is susceptible to destruction just like any other factually existing being. But this doesn’t take away from the fact that the intellection nonetheless comes in contact with the true as something independent of it. So it seems that Meillassoux does pursue the separation of truth from thought after all, as I suggested before!
Anyhow, this leads into the retort to the second objection: that there is a paradoxical result in assuming the self-referentiality of the thought of the principle of facticity. Meillassoux does this by distinguishing between the principle’s referent from its actual existence: the latter is contingent, but the former is necessary. Furthermore, it is the necessity of the latter which renders the former’s referent eternally necessary, i.e facticity as necessary. So the principle will be necessarily true as soon as it is thought, but whether it is thought is contingent. The truth of the statement is therefore attached to the statement if and when thought, but its truth is necessary because of the principle’s necessary referential existence. But Brassier insists that this does not yet explain how we can account for the purported independence of the real from intellectual intuition; it is in and through thought that the principle’s necessity is safeguarded. So we must clarify the nature of the intellectual intuition.
Clearly, he seeks to deny the productive intellection of Kant where the object is the production of thought’s synthetic assortment of sensible data. But it remains unclear which theory Meillassoux is here advocating so that it could avoid the correlationist impasse and avoid the contradiction of positing thought produces directly its object which conflicts with the materialist requirement. How are we thus to separate the principle’s contingent intension from its eternally necessary extension. Likewise the connection between the truth of the thought/statement and the purported referent which necessitates it is obscure.
”‘Reference’, of course, is intimately related to ‘truth’, but though Meillassoux claims that the truth of the principle is guaranteed by its ontological referent, this connection is anything but semantically transparent, since the extension of the expression ‘absolute contingency’ is no more perspicuous than that of the term ‘being’. The customary prerequisite for realist conceptions of truth is an extra-theoretical account of the relation between intension and extension, but Meillassoux’s attempt to construe the latter in terms of intellectual intuition makes it exceedingly difficult to see how it could ever be anything other than intra-theoretical. Indeed, it is unclear how the referent ‘absolute contingency’ could ever be rendered intelligible in anything other than purely conceptual register.” [Pg: 93]
so finally, it seems Meillassoux must base the purported independence of the real phenomenality in the intensional sense conveyed by the intellectual intuition’s assertion that ‘everything exists contingently’, which seems to once again subordinate being to its constitution in thought, making this concept as given to the intellection the base for determining the necessary contingency of the real. Brassier then will attempt to think the pass through correlationism’s divide of the real and ideal beyond recourse to the transcendentally constitutive disjunction between thinking and being. Next Brassier will assess this possibility in the works of Badiou and Laruelle.