martes, 2 de febrero de 2010

Meillassoux and the End of Correlationism: Nihil Unbound - Chapter III

Brassier’s next step is to describe and assess Meillassoux’s trenchant critique of ‘correlationism’ and the problem it faces when confronted with the natural science’s ascription of the arche-fossil.

Post-Kantian philosophy, Meillassoux argues, faces serious challenges when confronted with the scientific description of phenomena/events which occurred prior to the emergence of life. For example, radioactive isotope readings provide an index to measure the age of rock samples which existed before life. It can also predict what will happen in a future after life has dissipated: For example, matter in the cosmos will disintegrate into unbound elementary particles in one trillion, trillion, trillion years from now.

Note: "here we can anticipate one of Brassier’s objections to Meillassoux. This arche-fossil’s statements continue to rely on a chronological notion of ancestrality which relates to a before and after the time of experience, thereby making it possible for the correlationist to always appropriate the chronological references from the perspective of a present (for example, the disintegration of the milky way 3 billion years from now or the ancient rock’s existence millions of years ago from now) as being the condition for the thinking of the objective time described in the ancestral phenomena. The chronological ordering of events, which orders events in relation to a time extended from a past to a present, constructs objects in terms from time, whereas Brassier proposes time should be understood purely as functions of objective relations. In other words, the chronological description of the arche-fossil allows the correlationist to reify the temporal chronological ordering made possible by the consciousness as that which is presupposed to describe objective relations, and so the indissociable correlation of the temporal opening of the subject / experience /consciousness / being-in-the-world / life which provides its object.

This implies that the alleged ‘independence’ of ancestral phenomena is indeed illusory, which is what Meillassoux diagnoses as the correlationist creationism. This is why Brassier thinks the special focus on the arche-fossil’s ancestrality might get in the way of the required necessity to sever the correlation in relation to all of sciences’ objective statements, and not just those ordered in chronology for their ancestrality. For it is the bulk of contemporary science’s statement which correlationism seems to be at a loss for explaining, while the latter seems perfectly equipped to designate the origin and end of the correlation in space-time outside the chronological privileging of temporal spacing. Chronology is still constructed in terms of time, so even if it tells us consciousness had a beginning at a certain point, one can always say it is the temporal opening of consciousness which makes possible the chronological objectivization, and the presumed independence of the ancestral claims. The idea is then to construct time as a function of objective reality, not the other way around."

The fundamental feature of post-Kantian philosophy concerns its rejection of a world in-itself existing independently of our relation to it. Clearly, the question of the precise nature of this ‘our’ comprises a complex series of variations and versions: from subject, Dasein, thought, Life, existence… the idea seems to be that objective reality supervenes on its transcendental constitution by our activity, whether this is construed as consciousness (Husserl, Sartre), intersubjective consensus (Rorty, Wittgenstein), or a community of rational agents (Habermas). Just as the idealist suture of the object to the subject is to be dropped, so is the naïf objectivism which claims our independence of the object. Rather, reality presupposes the pre-theoretical constitution of the transcendental, which in turn provides access to (under certain conditions whose structure is the proper philosophical preoccupation) scientific objectifying cognition. If the entities in-themselves described by sciences ancestral phenomena make any sense, it is because they are transcendentally guaranteed as in-themselves for-ourselves. It is this pre-representational dimension of thought which guarantees that the objectification of science remains an unfounded metaphysical chimera unless thought as an intrinsic moment of the correlation.

“This is the reigning doxa of post-metaphysical philosophy: what is fundamental is neither a hypostasized substance nor the reified subject, but rather the relation between un-objectifiable thinking and un-representable being, the primordial reciprocity or ‘co-propriation’ of logos and physis which at once unites and distinguishes the terms which it relates. This premium on relationality in post-metaphysical philosophy – whose telling symptom is the preoccupation with ‘difference’ – has become an orthodoxy which is all the more insidious for being constantly touted as a profound innovation.” [Brassier: Pg. 51]

Behind this fascination with the pre-theoretical encounter with the world, the skeptical problematic of whether the world exists independently of our representation dissuaded: we are already thrown in the world, within it, before we can reify it as something independently of ourselves, or our theoretical views as representing it. This transcendental immersion with the world is ontologically presupposed in every representation. Of course, correlationism goes further than that: it locates meaning as rooted in this pre-theoretical dimension, and so the philosophical mode of access need not conform to the scientific language. This is touted as the great Heideggerean-Wittgensteinean insight: the phenomenological conception withdraws from the strictly objectified description of theory to a theory of the pre-theoretical, just as the overall renouncement on the possible retrieval of meaning/truth through scientific discursivity delivers us to the poetic word and literature.

But, Meillassoux contends, the arche-fossil presents a real problem for the correlationist picture. How can correlationism make sense of scientific ancestral claims to events which occurred prior to the correlation? Since correlationism says that all cognizable reality depends on our relation to it, the transcendental constitution of reality is what gives access to all phenomena, including those described by scientific theories. Since Kant, and contra Berkeley, known things cannot be dependent upon their perception since known things qua objects obtain through the synthesis of categorical form with sensible material. There is no transcendental object as such, to cognize an object as being independent of our constitution is to misunderstand the nature of objectivity which is precisely a synthetic function of the transcendental subject's act.

“The transcendental object is not cognizable, since it provides the form of objectivity which subsumes all cognizable objects; all of which must be linked to one another within the chains of causation encompassed by the unity of possible experience and circumscribed by the reciprocal poles of transcendental subject and transcendental object”

But the arche-fossil designates a time anterior to the possibility of experience, thus not given in the form of the transcendental object of experience, something Kant denied was possible. For the latter, we must relate the series of ancestral events to a possible experience from the correlational present. But, Brassier argues, we cannot trace back from our present experience all the way into the ancestral phenomena described by science, since possible experience emerged from that time in which there was simply no perception. We cannot extend our experience prior to the emergence of nervous systems which provide its possibility. So scientific descriptions of ancestral statements seem to contradict the necessity of the correlation, since they describe a reality totally independently of their having a relation to thought.

”Don’t science’s ancestral and descendent statements strongly imply that those ontologically generative conditions of spatiotemporal manifestation privileged by correlationists – Dasein, life, consciousness, and so on – are themselves merely spatiotemporal occurrences like any other?” [53]

The two correlationist responses

1) The arche-fossil designates a lacuna in manifestation and not of manifestation:
The correlationist argues that the gap produced by the arche-fossil is no more relevant than the fact that there’s places in the galaxy that go unperceived right now. It merely exemplifies the lacunary constitution of experience which already Husserl underlined through his notion of adumbrations, and even Kant when he said that sensible intuition can’t apprehend the entirety of sense datum. Ultimately, had there been a witness he/she would have perceived the ancestral phenomenon according to the correlation’s guarantee through life, consciousness or whatever else. The lacuna in manifestation is thus not the absence of manifestation, merely the sign of its lacunary nature.

But Meillassoux says the arche-fossil is not a mere gap in manifestation, but designates the absence of manifestation tout court. To reduce the arche-fossil to the unperceived is to assume there is always a correlation, while the scientific statement designates a time anterior to the time of the possibility of manifestation. The ancestral cannot be reduced to the ancient. Degrees of ancientness are constructed on the basis of past, present, future dimensions, determined by the possibility of manifestation so that any past can remain a function of the correlational present. So the idea is that the scientific description of the arche-fossil is not reducible in the phenomenological conception of time in which ancientness is constructed within the conditions of manifestation which grounds the correlation. The former described the origin of the latter, and points to a time anterior to it.

“But ancestrality indexes a radical ‘diachronicity’ which cannot be correlated with the present because it belongs to the time wherein the conditions of correlation between past, present, and future passed from inexistence into existence. Accordingly, ancestrality harbours a temporal diachronicity which remains incommensurable with any chronological measure that would ensure a reciprocity between the past, present, and future dimensions of the correlation.” [Pg. 56]

So the correlationist still hasn’t shown how it is possible to synchronize the claim that all phenomena are correlational, and the scientific claim that there is a time in which we can locate phenomena which are not in it and which can signal the beginning of the relation alongside all other phenomena. Of course the correlationist doesn’t deny the existence of a mind-independent world; but it does say that thought is necessary to think of any reality, or that nothing in thought can be construed as being independently of thought. Reality remains a function of thought's contribution; being and thinking remain tied in a knot of mediation. But science thinks its phenomena as being independent of thought and empirically preconditioning thought. So if no thinkable reality is thought of as independently of thought, the arche-fossil’s independence from the correlation must be a fiction. But this is what science denies by designating a totally general time wherein manifestation begins and will eventually end.

2) Scientific space-time is empirical while the correlation is transcendental / logical

So, to say that conditions of manifestation originated in space time is to confuse two registers. One can say the organism which is conscious emerged in space-time but not the conditions of manifestation themselves, which are the ontological precondition for spatio-temporal phenomena but are not themselves in space-time. To confuse the two registers is to be guilty of paralogism. These are not existent in another supernatural register, they are simply the logical preconditions for space-time.

Meillassoux’s answer is to appeal to the corporeal support of the transcendental conditions. To say transcendental conditions are not in space-time but are also not eternal as in an infinite substance is possible insofar as they are instantiated in a finite organism, whose beginning and end is precisely localized by scientific space-time. Only this way can we avoid reifying the subject into an infinite substance. So there is an indissasociability to the material conditions providing empirical ground for the logical register of the transcendental. Human reason is not infinite, but embodied and immersed in its material existence, the transcendent has no existence apart from that which embodies it. The time of the body’s emergence is the time for the instantiation of the transcendental as well. But the ancestral time before the body’s emergence cannot be coextensive with the time of the correlation since it is the time in which the correlation passes in and out of existence; the former scientific homogenous line is necessarily more general.

”Thus the ancestral time indexed by the arche-fossil is simply the time of the inexistence of the correlation. This ancestral time is indexed by objective phenomena such as the arche-fossil; but its existence does not depend upon those conditions of objectivation upon which knowledge of the arche-fossil depends because it determines those conditions of instantiation which determine conditions of objectivation.” [Pg. 58]

Brassiers’s critical observations

1) Meillassoux continues to rely on chronology to separate
a) cosmological time and
b) anthropomorphic time.

The former is said to precede and succeed the latter.

So the distinction seems to be implicitly logical when it should be empirical: it distinguishes two different times when it’s supposed to dispense entirely of the chronological ordering between past, present and future. There is no inconsistency in asserting that the correlation could be coextensive with that of the universe, as Hegel’s Geist postulates a self-relating negativity inherent in material reality. This is the tacit appeal to chronology: in saying ancient time is the absence of correlation and not a gap within it he continues to perceive the diachronicity of the two times from within the chronological conception of past, present and future, i.e. from within the correlation. So in the end the presumably independent cosmological description of the ancestral is still thought insofar as it ‘translates’ a past and future to the correlational present; that is, according to the present which signals the time of correlation as a condition for the thought of ancestral phenomena.

So the lesson seems to be that we cannot make the separation in terms of such a chronology! The indissociability of space-time leads us rather into asserting time is a function of objective relations and not the other way around. Or else, the correlationist can always appropriate the in-itself of the ancestral into an ancestrality which makes sense as thought for the correlational present, and so not really in-itself. So we must jettison both chronology’s conception of time in cosmology as well as phenomenology. Objective functions are prior to the tripartite temporal division of past, present and future, either in cosmology or existential/ontological analysis.

”By insisting on driving a wedge between ancestral time and spatiotemporal distance, Meillassoux inadvertently reiterates the privileging of time over space which is so symptomatic of idealism and unwittingly endorses his opponents’ claim that all non-ancestral reality can be un-problematically accounted for by the correlation. Thus the trenchancy of Meillassoux’s rejoinders above actually masks a significant concession to correlationism. For surely it is not just ancestral phenomena which challenge the latter, but simply the reality described by the modern natural sciences tout court… To maintain the contrary, and insist that it is only the ancestral dimension that transcends correlational constitution, is to imply that the emergence of consciousness marks some sort of fundamental ontological rupture, shattering the autonomy and consistency of reality, such that once consciousness has emerged on the scene, nothing can pursue an independent existence any more.” [59]

The two regimes of sense: the insistence of the correlationist.

The correlationist can finally take one more stand and claim that really the ancestral phenomena’s independent reality is in fact fictional; an illusion which comes from confusingly thinking that reality could obtain without thought. The ancestral statement is intelligible but non-real: what we think happened in the past without thought finally happens in thought in the present. So the ancestral statement designates a reality outside of thought in and for thinking, so the antecedence of the ontic ancestral phenomenon is possible by an ontologico-transcendental regime of sense anchoring it and converting all reality for-us. So there are also two temporalities: the ontic temporality and transcendental temporality (duration). The correlationist insists that it is philosophy’s privilege to describe this fundamental temporality.

Brassier contends here that this doesn’t explain how science can signal where the correlation proper to life and consciousness can be shown to end and begin. It is tacitly assumed rather than demonstrated that the entities described by science have merely instrumental value as fictions. But this is to extrapolate illegitimately: that temporality is a condition for experience to temporality as a condition to non-experiential phenomena described by sciences.

Note: In fact, the correlationist can only assume this by saying that spacetime relations must be described in chronological sequencing of past, present and future, from the perspective of the correlational present. But this is what the contemporary conflation of space-time denies, since it can describe its entities apart from such a chronological description. So the experience of temporality is an entirely regular phenomenon within space-time, and not an ontological gap which signals the temporality of the correlation. So the correlationist continues to assume that space-time is just derived from ontological time rather than demonstrate it. This doesn’t prove scientific realism, but shows correlationism can not prove the subsumption of space-time to ontological time, but only assume it.

This can be obviated by saying the correlation is eternal, in which case we are cornered to the Deleuzian (neo-Spinozist) vitalism or Hegelian absolute idealism; or even simply deny the truth of sciences at large. Life or reality did not exist prior to the existence of consciousness, which is a remarkably subtle form of creationism. Brassier asks sarcastically “perhaps cosmology was contrived by transcendental consciousness in order to test our faith in the perenniality of the latter?”. Finally, he avows the scientific suspicion against the correlationist claims, which might turn out to be less naïve in its subscription to scientific realism than the correlationist in his urbane variety of creationism.

“For once we have put science and philosophy on an equal footing before the real it becomes necessary to insist that there is no possible compromise between the claims of correlationism and the ancestral claims of science: if correlationism is true, science’s ancestral claims are false; if the latter are true, correlationism is false.”

In the end, correlationism apparently cannot afford to be inscribed by the empirical conditions of space-time. Science’s ancestral phenomena, if real, jeopardize the very armature of the correlationist appeal to the underlying ontological priority of the correlation. Brassier will then follow Meillassoux in surveying how from Kant onwards correlationism became such an attractive, and apparently unavoidable, route for thought.

The Principle of Factuality

The Copernican turn, as we know, shifts the central metaphysical question about things-in-themselves into questions of access: how are things constituted for-us; for the transcendental activity of the subject. This is the origin of the whole jumble about ‘conditions of possibility’ as the overcoming of traditional metaphysics. Whereas the latter asked, innocently to the eyes of the critique, ‘what is x’, the transcendental inquiry takes its point of departure by shifting the question to the how of the phenomenon’s constitution. So the question for the transcendental philosopher becomes rather: under what conditions is x experientially available for our finite perspective? The transcendental constitution of the being for cognition is tantamount to the being qua object: objectivity is correlative to the synthetic activity of a finite subject schematically objectifying the multitude of sense data to which it is submitted. Knowledge of x is answerable only in the form of how x is constituted through our schematic experience as in Kant, or with respect to our pre-theoretical engagement with the world as in Heidegger, and all other correlationist variations. As we know, the post-Kantian philosophies jettison the thing-in-itself, the noumenal realm of an independently subsistent domain of being, as a metaphysical residue. So the in-itself appears either as a moment internal to reason (Hegel) or is dropped altogether /speculatively suspended (Husserl, Heidegger). We will see this in detail below.

But the ancestral phenomenon is presented as a thing-in-itself, outside correlation, so the question is how we can think of a phenomenon outside all relation to thought. Brassier anticipates this as implying the preponderance of the objective over that of relations to thought or non thought. By the same token, to sidestep these transcendental questions or leave them suspended, risks leaving us within the correlationist circle. So now we put at the center of philosophical questioning the relation between thought and knowledge, or being and thought. Meillassoux begins this examination by distinguishing between two versions of correlationism:

a) Weak correlationism: Insistence on the finitude of reason, and our contingent access to things. Transcendental conditions provide the phenomenal, not things in themselves: that things appear under such and such conditions is a contingent fact of finite reason, not necessary features of things-in-themselves. So transcendental structures are contingent in the sense that there is nothing in the presupposed noumenal being which necessitates the correlation: that objects appear as they do is a fact which we cannot ground on anything, the principles of reason remain blind to themselves since there are no ‘meta-transcendental principles’ (either proper to the-world as such or otherwise) which could guarantee grounding Reason’s synthetic activity.

Here, Hegel will point out that Kant has already violated the limits of knowledge by stipulating there is a necessary realm of beings-in-themselves (noumenal) which remains outside conditions of access. So his strategy is to say that the transcendental constitution of the subject is part of things in themselves, so that their apparent independence can be thereby introjected to being a moment of the Notion’s infinite and negative self-deployment: concretely in the idea of Nature as the realm of pure-externality without mediation, through which Reason re-appropriates finally sublating it and arriving at the in-and-for-itself. In this movement, which Hegel calls radical negativity; thinking founds its access to being, in the restlessness of the infinity of Spirit. This restitution of the principle of sufficient reason finally eternizes the correlation.

b) Strong Correlationism:
Heidegger’s trick is twofold: insist, with Hegel, that we must jettison the thing-in-itself in its presumed independence from the correlation, but continue to assert the Kantian groundless contingency of Reason. Unlike Hegel’s self-grounding subject, Heidegger’s Dasein is thrown into the world in which the facticity of phenomena remains essentially ungrounded in reason; it is rather the pre-theoretical, non discursive antecedence immersion in the world which delivers appearance to contingency. This is Heidegger’s notion of Facticity (Faktizität). So the correlation obtaining between the subject and its object is essentially groundless in reason, free floating, also observable in Foucault’s ‘archeology of knowledge’. That is to say, just as for strong correlationism there is no substantive underlying metaphysical ground for the correlation, whether in the form of an absolute subject deploying itself in negativity and contradiction, the correlation is sustained by facticity’s groundlessness in reason. This is why, after dispensing with all metaphysical residue of grounds, post-Heideggerean thinkers insist in that the prospect of a thorough discursive architecture of knowledge grounded is absurd, one can at most describe the epochal configurations of knowledge and their deployment as unquestioned motors for the life of being (which Heidegger calls ‘the history of being’). So Meillassoux proposes to restitute the legitimacy of the in-itself outside of all relation to thought, and thereby sever the correlation once and for all.

The strategy concerns turning the strong correlationist appeal to facticity against itself. Against Hegel, strong correlationism resists absolutizing the subject of the correlation to affirm its groundless contingency, since there is a non-conceptual primordial relation to the word irreducible to the concept or reason. The correlation whereby phenomena are given to thought is thereby without reason. We cannot know whether the principles of reason are necessary or contingent, since there are no meta-principles to compare them to. But this amounts to saying that in every case that there is a correlation to being, or that a being necessarily shows itself according to the correlation, is impossible. The correlation cannot itself be guaranteed; thereby it is necessary that the correlation remains as such groundless and therefore contingent. If the principles of reason are undecideable, then the correlation is necessarily contingent, since nothing guarantees that appearing under transcendental conditions is necessary for all beings. Facticity does not ground its access to the object in reason; it thereby absolutizes the contingency of the correlation as such. This means that facticity is necessary: it is necessary that that the transcendental principles which guarantee the correlation remain undecideable, and therefore that the correlation under which phenomena appear is itself contingent. Contingency is therefore not subsumable under the correlation, but is more general. Facticity is necessary = Contingency is necessary.

“Thus it finds itself confronted with the following dilemma: it cannot de-absolutize facticity without absolutizing the correlation; yet it cannot de-absolutize the correlation without absolutizing facticity. But to absolutize facticity is to assert the unconditional necessity of its contingency, and hence to assert that it is possible to think something that exists independently of thought’s relation to it: contingency as such. In absolutizing facticity, correlationism subverts the empirical– transcendental divide separating knowable contingency from unknowable facticity even as it strives to maintain it; but it is thereby forced to acknowledge that what it took to be a negative characteristic of our relation to things – viz., that we cannot know whether the principles of cognition are necessary or contingent – is in fact a positive characteristic of things-in-themselves…

…Meillassoux’s speculative materialism asserts that the only way to preserve the in-itself from its idealist incorporation into the for-us without reifying it metaphysically is by realizing that what is in-itself is the contingency of the for-us, not its necessity. Thus, when facticity is absolutized, it is the contingency or groundlessness of the for-us (the correlation) which becomes in-itself or necessary precisely insofar as its contingency is not something which is merely for-us. Speculative materialism asserts that, in order to maintain our ignorance of the necessity of correlation, we have to know that its contingency is necessary. What is absolute is that everything is necessarily contingent or without reason” [Pg: 67]

So strong correlationism finally violates its own claims to not being able to decide outside the correlation, since in order to de-absolutize the correlation is needs to assert the necessity of contingency, the same necessity that antecedes the correlation by asserting contingency applies to being as such, and not just within the correlation. This leads to Meillassoux’s principle of factuality: the absolute is the absolute impossibility of a necessary being.” [Meillassoux 2006: 82]. Unlike the Nietzschean or Heraclitean absolutizing of perpetual flux or becoming, which asserts the necessity of non-identiy, Meillassoux’s principle asserts that inconstancy can be interrupted with the same arbitrariness than perpetual flux, a ‘hyper chaos’ which renders nothing impossible; a ‘blind idiot God’ which is the ruin of every future oriented faith, any deliverance to fideism outside the rule of thought either in the guise of meaning or of grace. This contingent time is finally absolute in that it is ‘without norms, blind, and devoid of all the other divine perfections […] It is a power possessing neither goodness nor wisdom […] a time capable of destroying becoming itself by bringing forth, perhaps forever, fixity, stasis, and death’ (Meillassoux 2006: 88). Finally, Brassier asserts that this allows us to transcend the pseudo-mystical enthronement of what lies outside reason, which is the avowal of the Heideggerean and Wittgensteinean legacy:

“Thus post-Kantian philosophy has abjured rationalist atheism for a profoundly equivocal species of agnosticism – something which is nowhere more apparent than in the work of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, with their thinly disguised exaltations of mystico-religious illumination over conceptual rationality.13 But where the post-Kantian critique of reason seems to license irrational and/or religious hypotheses about the ultimate nature of reality, Meillassoux’s rationalist critique of the critique of reason aims to rehabilitate reason’s claim to be able to access reality as it is in itself by purging rationalism of its metaphysical accoutrements. For it is reason itself that now prescribes the destitution of all rational necessity and the enthronement of absolute contingency as the only certainty.” [Pg. 69]

Next we will see the consequences Meillassoux draws from this.

3.5 Meillassoux’s the Three Figures of Factuality
We will now see three consequences Meillassoux draws from his principle of factuality, which he calls ‘figures of factuality’:

1) A contradictory entity is impossible.
2) It is absolutely necessary that contingent entities exist.
3) The Laws of nature are contingent.

Meillassoux sees the logically consistent derivation of these three consequences as establishing the independence of things-in-themselves, without resorting to God or any transcendental scapegoat. He thereby attempts to rescue the mathematical access to things-in-themselves through the non-metaphysical absolute contingency.

3.5.1) The existence of a contradictory entity is impossible
Let us try to reconstruct the argument formally, for the sake of clarity (Brassier’s exposition here is a bit confusing, so this might help):

a) If a contradictory entity exists, then it sustains contradictory properties, i.e. it is what it is not.
b) If an entity is what it is not, then there is no property which it doesn’t have now but which it had in the past, and no property which it doesn’t have now which it could have. It is ‘always already’ everything it is not.
c) For any entity to change, it must be possible for it to either acquire or lose some property it doesn’t yet have.
d) (from a-c) Thus, a contradictory entity could not undergo change.
e) If a contradictory entity never changes, then it remains identical insofar as it is other-than itself.
f) (from d-e) A contradictory entity cannot pass in and out of existence, since this would presuppose change.
g) The contradictory entity exists necessarily, since it must exist and don’t.

Note: It seems that Meillassoux cannot be thinking of existence as a property, since it would imply that the entity exists and doesn’t exist at the same time; in which case it makes no more sense to say it must necessarily exist than it does to say it must necessarily inexist. Wouldn’t it be impossible then to privilege the necessity of existence?

However, this is exactly what Meillassoux wants, since if existence is a possible attribute of an entity then the contradictory entity must both have it and don’t. So the entity must exist given this framework. This is the only way I can make sense of Meillassoux’s claim that it is impossible to think of the non-existence of the contradictory entity. We should emphasize here that the logic stipulated by the contradictory entity is strictly para-consistent: the principle of non-contradiction does not hold since the contradictory entity is necessary, but this necessity is guaranteed only insofar as it obeys the principle of the excluded middle: it must exist necessarily because, as a contradictory entity it is simultaneously everything it is not.

We should be clear in that Meillassoux’s contradictory entity is not merely contradictory in some respect, but it must be contradictory as such. We must differentiate between the stipulated strongly contradictory entity and a weakly contradictory entity. We can define these two positions as follows:

1) Strong contradiction : for every property x, an entity S is both x and not-x.
2) Weak contradiction : there is at least some property x such that S is both x and not-x.

Meillassoux requires the strong contradiction to advance his argument for the necessity of the contradictory entity. That is, because in order to guarantee the non-thinkability of the non-existence of the contradictory entity S, it must be impossible for it to have any property x and not have not-x at the same time. If all it took for an entity to be contradictory was that it exhibited for some property x both x and not-x, then it is perfectly thinkable that the entity could inexist. This is why he excludes the weak contradiction from consideration through premise (b); thereby guaranteeing the immutability of the entity.

“But this is tantamount to saying that a contradictory entity has always been and will always remain as it is, for it is always already everything which it is not. Since it remains self-identical in being-other than itself, it cannot pass into or out of existence. Thus it exists necessarily, since it is impossible to conceive of it as not existing.” [Pg: 70]

The necessity of the contradictory entity is the hallmark of the Hegelian absolute, which predates on its contradiction. This ‘absoluteness’ which characterizes the necessary contradictory entity is also not forced to exclude contingence, since it postulates this contingency as the passage of the Notion form the externality of Nature to the necessity of the correlational mediation in the in-and-for-itself. So contingency is reduced to being transitory in the Spirit’s coming to itself, in which contradiction guarantees the deployment of the infinite movement of negativity.

This opens up, incidentally, a host of questions with regards to Hegel’s logical framework. Badiou speaks of Hegel’s logic as being intuitionistic: it doesn’t respect the principle of the excluded middle insofar as the negation of p is not equal to its affirmation; as we know, the negation of the negation is its reflexive determination, for example. So the choice is not necessarily between p and not-p. However, Meillassoux underlines the necessity of contradiction for Hegel’s dialectics, which seems to speak of him rather as a para-consistent framework: since the entity must in every case exhibit p and not-p, and not-p is by necessity everything which is outside of p, being other than itself. For this reason the entity cannot change, since it being contradictory it simultaneously includes everything that it excludes before every property: it is either p or not-p and both p and not-p.

Perhaps I am the confused one here, but this whole part leaves me somewhat dissatisfied. It would also be interesting to see how the introjection of change into the life of the absolute is accomplished precisely insofar as the contradictory entity is necessarily changeless, since the movement of the Notion is not the change underwent in the life of Spirit, but merely Spirit’s coming-to-itself. So the contingency embraced by the absolute necessity of the contradictory entity must in a way supervene on the constitutive illusion of Spirit’s immediate externality of Nature in which the correlation is not absolutized. Only the full weight of the absolute as the life of contradiction can inject the life required for Spirit’s sublation from the transitory moment of illusion of contingency to the necessity of the correlation.

Unlike Hegel, Meillassoux insists in that only contingency is absolutely necessity, not in virtue of its momentary autonomy from a mediating absolute. Speculative idealism thus sees contingency as trapped in the circle of the absolute, while speculative materialism’s insistence on the necessity of contingency bans the possibility of a contradictory entity. This ban restricts thought from grounding itself:

a) On a self-grounding of infinite Reason - such as Hegel’s Spirit; coming to itself in the circular and contradictory closure of the dialectical process.
b) The (fideistic) finite expectation of the Infinite ‘Other to Come’ - outside the sterile space of finite existence in its finite circumscription to the finite (Derrida, Levinas…)
c) The immanent One-all qua Virtual - realm as in for example the Deleuzean conception of Life through perpetual becoming. This amounts to a religious avowal of immanent divinity, absolutizing the necessity of the perpetual flux of becoming instead of the idiocy of the contingent.

“Thus, far from licensing irrationalism, Meillassoux’s principle of factuality effectively banishes it. It precludes the possibility of pantheism as much as of fideism. For just as the pathos of finitude can and indeed has left the door open for the claim that there are non-conceptual modes of access to infinite alterity – the ‘Other to come’, ‘redemption’, etc.; so Life’s eternal becoming can and indeed has been divinized as the ‘One-All’ whose affirmation by vitalists so easily tips over into an imperative to mystical participation, perpetuating the pathos of reverence which remains the hallmark of religiosity. But the intelligible absurdity of absolute time stymies any temptation to revere it, whether as ‘infinite Other’ or as ‘One-All’ – and so the principle of un-reason precludes the temptation of vitalist pantheism as well as the fideism of finitude” [Pg: 71]

With this we can move towards the next, and doubtlessly messier, section on the necessary existence of contingency.

3.5.2 – Necessary existence of contingency
Meillassoux claims: contingent entities must exist. This figure has two versions, a weak and strong one. In the end Meillassoux seeks to show how the former implies the latter finally. Anyhow, the distinction is made between:

a) Weak version – if and only if something exists, then this something is contingent.
b) Strong version – it is absolutely necessary contingent entities exist.

Meillassoux contends that the weak version of the principle corners us into positing a meta-facticity which makes contingent existence contingent. Recall that the principle of factuality claims that everything that exists must do so contingently: there are no higher principles, transcendental or ontological, which would necessitate that entities exist as they do. But the weak principle says more, it says that the fact that all entities are contingent is itself a contingent fact. That contingent things exist becomes then nothing but a contingent fact itself, one which must be registered not by the groundlessness of a reason which unbinds being from thought, but which is also capable of assessing this groundlessness itself and to say of it that it is contingent.

Brassier writes that this operation requires relativizing the first facticity (of existence) into a contingency for-us, while elevating the second order facticity (of the contingency of existence) into a necessary in-itself. Put bluntly, the necessary contingency of existence is subordinated to the contingency of the necessity of contingent existence. So this operation finally still absolutizing contingency; the weak version merely stipulates it is necessary to posit the necessary of a second order relativization. This second order relativization stipulates that it is necessary transcendentally that the contingent existence of empirical entities remains itself contingent. Brassier’s phrasing is slightly misleading:

“Contingency is absolutized as something independent of the ‘for us’ even as it is deployed in order to relativize it to the latter. Thus the weak interpretation has to assert the necessity of contingently existing things at the transcendental level in order to deny it at the empirical level.”

However, we should underline that it is not that entities exist transcendentally in a contingent way in order so that they exist contingently empirically as well. The necessity of the transcendental contingence is at the level of principle: empirical entities exist contingently, and this is necessarily contingent in the second-order facticity. This operation can be repeated ad infinitum, so that in the end for contingency to exist in-itself it must be absolutized. To attempt to avoid the absolutization of the assertion of contingency by proceeding back away from the empirical contingency of existence only repeats the absolutization at the transcendental level; and so ad infinitum for every time its necessity is in turn relativized.

“But the claim that it is not necessary that contingent things exist has to invoke a second-order facticity or contingency in order to deny the necessity of contingent existence at the level of fact…

Moreover, any attempt at canceling this assertion by ascending to an even higher level which would render the facticity of facticity itself contingent would immediately entail an
infinite regress. For at every level at which contingency is affirmed of itself it is also thereby absolutized. Contingency is absolutized as something independent of the ‘for us’ even as it is deployed in order to relativize it to the latter. Thus the weak interpretation has to assert the necessity of contingently existing things at the transcendental level in order to deny it at the empirical level.” [Pg:71, emphasis added]

This way, the weak version of the figure ends up coinciding with the strong version. Why? Because absolutizing the second order facticity means that contingently existing things do so contingently, which means that contingency is necessary in-itself, when it is not-for us, it shows itself as necessarily a feature of the thing-itself and not for us. So this necessity at the transcendental level guarantees that contingency must obtain transcendentally.

Note: "But this confuses me heavily; we have made it necessary that contingent entities exist contingently, but how does this assert the existence of entities by necessity and not simply that of the meta-facticity, i.e. of the principles at some transcendental level? Isn’t the denial of the necessity of empirically existing beings, guaranteed by the necessity of contingency at the transcendental level? How does the absolutization of the necessity contingency to existence in-itself? How or why are forced into accepting the existence of things this way? I still don’t get it! I think the idea is that the weak version is either cornered into accepting some transcendental entities to deny the necessity of contingency in empirical objects for us, so to say existence in-itself is necessarily contingent must mean transcendental entities exist to guarantee this contingency is not necessary empirically."

Anyhow, let us follow Brassier through this a little further and see if there is any light to be shed into this issue. He imagines the following objection: that it is necessarily contingent that contingent things exist entails only that it is necessary that inexistent entities could exist, not that it is absolutely necessary that existing entities exist: “The absolute necessity of facticity is merely a guarantor of the necessity of inexistent things; not a guarantor of the necessity of existing things.” [Pg: 72] But Brassier counters that there cannot be two facticities, since to think of contingency as absolute is to think it univocally for both existence/inexistence. He continues and says that although we can conceive of entities as potentially existing/inexisting, we cannot think of existence itself as potentially existing/inexisting, since to think the inexistence of existence would be to think nothingness itself, which is impossible. This point is somewhat obscurely made; I think it amounts to saying that existence as such, not relative to any entity, cannot be thought as not existing, since this is not really a thought of anything; one can at most think the inexistence of existence, not the inexistence of inexistence, since existence is always relative to an entity. Since both the possibility of existence and inexistence are necessary to think of facticity and contingency, we cannot restrict the principle only to inexistent things. Meillassoux concludes:

‘It is necessary rather than contingent that there is something rather than nothing because it is necessarily contingent that there is something rather than something else. The necessity of the contingency of the entity imposes the necessary existence of the contingent entity’ (Meillassoux 2006: 103).

Admittedly, I still find this argument rather confusing, since I only see how the necessary contingence of contingent existence entails absolutizing of contingence, and so that it is necessarily contingent that what inexists could possible exist, and that what’s existent could possibly inexist. How or why are cornered into asserting the necessity of contingent entities existing? How are we cornered into the strong version? I am very confused here.

In any case, Meillassoux and Brassier see reason for celebration in this result, since it demystifies the age-old question about the enigma of existence: why is there something rather than nothing? Draining the question of its pseudo-mystical depth, notable in all correlationist philosophy (for example in Heidegger’s purported second beginning outside the metaphysical epoch through event of co-appropriation (Ereignis)), the answer becomes necessarily disappointing, but a disappointment than is nonetheless therapeutic in that it relieves the romanticist/religious burden from philosophy. Through this argument, that things must exist is a necessary result of existence being contingent, since for an entity to be contingent it must be necessary that the entity contingently exists. That entities must exist contingently is not a contingent fact alongside others, but in principle necessary, which is why even the weak version of the figure reverts inevitably into the strong version.

”The question must be resolved, since to claim that it is insoluble or devoid of meaning is still to legitimate its celebration; but its resolution should not elevate us to the eminence of a first cause – only to the reminder of the latter’s eternal absence. We must free ourselves of the question – and this involves not just resolving it, but formulating an answer to it which is necessarily disappointing, so that this disappointment becomes the most instructive thing about it. The only appropriate attitude when faced with such a problem is to maintain that there is little at stake in it, and that the soul’s vibrato when confronted with it, whether sardonic or profound, is inappropriate.”
(Meillassoux 2006: 98)

Next we must move into the third principle, which asserts that nature’s laws are also contingent, and so to Meillassoux’s assertion that Nature is fundamentally inconstant.

3.5.3 The inconstancy of nature

Perhaps one of the most intriguing consequences Meillassoux draws from the principle of factuality is the thesis that nature is fundamentally inconstant, proper to the figure of an untamable Chaos. Here Meillassoux resurrects Hume’s problem of causality in order to gives a new spin to it which does not lead into the Kantian correlationist vacuum. He begins by diagnosing the misrepresentation of the problem of causality as being tantamount to ‘the problem of induction’, when in truth it concerns the question of the uniformity of nature. We must schematically review Hume’s account, along Meillassoux to proceed. For Hume, cause-effect relations exhibit three fundamental characteristics:

1) Spatiotemporal contiguity between A-B
2) Temporal priority of A over B.
3) Constant conjunction of A and B.

Hume’s lesson is well known: there is nothing in these three principles which would justify attributing anything like a ‘logical’ conception of necessity which underlies the commonplace conception of causality. Moreover, existential claims supervene on experiential reports, or on the principle of contradiction; neither of which provide grounds to establish anything like a logical relation. Nothing in (1)-(3) provides a basis for that, just like there is no apparent logical contradiction in considering the existence of A or B independently of relations (1)-(3). Hume’s conclusion is that causal inferences are unwarranted; whatever experience(s) exhibits conditions (1)-(3) these do not suffice to inflate the relation into one of logical or causal nature. This invites the ban on inductive reasoning tout court, of course.

In the end, for Hume, we are lead into this deceptive resort to induction through a psychological disposition which is nothing but based in habit, relative to thought’s contingent association of ideas. If so, then the validity of the scientific reason grounded on inductive reason is now suspect. Universality is inaccessible to experience; nothing in the psychological binding of ideas generates anything like a logical necessity. In response to Hume, Popper emphasized the non-inductive character of the scientific experimentation, since their testing concerns their deductive falsification rather than their inductive verification. Experience can falsify a theory or hypothesis, not confirm it. However, Brassier reminds us perspicaciously, that falsificationism seems to deny the possibility that the same experiment could falsify a theory if it hasn’t done so already. There is a presumed constancy in that it is assumed that a theory/hypothesis can ‘pass the test’ by experience, since the latter’s non-falsification will be tacitly assumed to establish what would happen if the test was repeated every time. This of course is required for any scientific experimentation to work, since to disown science’s capacity to anticipate regularities in nature from collected data would render all prediction impossible.

“Were that stability to be lacking, so that the same experimental conditions which corroborated a theory at time t1 falsified it at time t2, then experimental science as we know it – whether inductivist or non-inductivist – would become impossible. Yet it is precisely this uniformity, and thus the very possibility of an experimental science of nature, which Hume’s critique of causality undermines.” [Pg: 75]

Indeed, if we take Hume’s arguments seriously, then not only we would be weary to draw a logical ground for causality to verify general theories, but we would be forced to renounce the possibility of any sufficiently grounded anticipation of regularity in Nature. Thus the assumption of a uniform universe in which events/objects are bonded causally is revealed as a ruse subject to skeptical disavowal. For the number of logical possibilities opened by an event are infinitely larger than the empirical in its observable and obstinate repetition of a given outcome. It is this wide gap which leads us into mistakenly assuming some form of logical necessity bonds the structure of events as causal relations. But the these events are rather contingent, and their necessity is nothing but an illusion of thought. Meillassoux underlines that, having given up on reason and experience, Hume seeks for the root of this elevation in the (unavoidable) disposition which is the psychological association of ideas. He thereby avoids delivering thought to the denial of causality, rooting it in habit.

It is this resistance to fully denying the existence of uniformity, through his appeal to psychological habit, that reintroduces Hume to the metaphysical circle and which signals his tacit endorsement of the principle of sufficient reason. Since this association occurs invariably to our experience, Hume must conclude that phenomena exhibit regularity in their presentation to consciousness. So, instead of denying uniformity, he merely denies the apparent logical necessity of external causal relations in nature; habit alone, in its faithful surrender to what it perceives as uniform, is up to the task. The substitution of habit for reason should not mislead us; there is a principle since the psychological compulsion is necessitated by the apparent uniformity given to thought as such, and not in the world as such. We can see without difficulty how this sets the stage for the correlationist coup through Kant, by asking how an experience of constancy is possible (which for Kant assumed the form of the synthetic object of experience).

”Where metaphysics provided a dogmatic warrant for the necessity of uniformity through the principle of reason, Hume’s empiricism turns the constancy of appearances into a function of habit, while his skepticism confiscates insight into the ground of uniformity from reason and abandons it to faith. In this way, Hume’s skepticism paves the way not only for Kant’s transcendentalization of uniformity, but more profoundly, for Kant’s critical legitimation of fideism.” [Pg: 77]

For Kant, Hume fails to see how the suspension of causality would entail an absolute chaos outside all possibility of representation, which thus indicates that the uniformity of representation is actually rooted on our conscious activity. Constancy is not a result inductively inferred from experience, but the precondition for all experience as such, since to think of the experience of anything outside its stable appearance in thought is strictly possible. Since representation is given, Kant rebuts Hume’s skeptical suspension, introjecting causality to be a function of the subject, but also thereby relegating indefinitely the independence of the noumenal to the chain of causal connections. The latter are relegated to the phenomenal, to the synthetic activity of finite subjects.

"In sum, Kant’s solution to the riddle of induction is as follows: we do not illegitimately infer universal principles, such as the law of causality, from particular instances, since our representation of those instances is already conditioned by those universal principles. The necessity of causality is not inferred – it is presupposed.” [Pg: 79]

Meillassoux here finds fault in Kant’s transcendental copout. For to say uniformity is necessary for representation doesn’t entail that uniformity is necessary. That there are stable laws of nature does not entail these laws are necessary. To equate uniformity with necessity is to beg Hume’s question again: on what basis do we infer this necessity? On what is it grounded? Additionally, Kant assumes that if the laws of nature were inconsistent, they would necessarily morph so rapidly to as to make all representation impossible; it would presumably make all synthetic activity impossible. This is what Meillassoux calls the ‘frequentialist implication’. Next we will see his ‘anti-frequentialist argument’.

The ‘frequentialist implication’ follows from the thought of probability, in light of the gap between logical and empirical realities. As we saw, the former seems to allow for innumerable more possibilities than the latter’s regular occurrences. In this sense necessity appears, or so the frequentialist implication lead us to believe, on the side of the empirical. Were there not uniformity in the laws of nature which structure of the empirical world itself such regularities would be incommensurable. The example of the dice is simple to follow: imagine the sides of a die as the logical possibilities which regulate the possible configurations of a universe over an undetermined number of throws. The number of possibilities here is clearly immense, and nothing seems to privilege the probability of one configuration over another. But since the actual world exhibits glaring regularities, then there must be constraints on the empirical world which limit the contingent infinite possibilities of the die throw. Were the laws of nature contingent, the probability of science’s picking up regularities would be too small to be plausible. The set of physical factors incommensurable to logical possibility thus presumably provide the warrant for the belief in the constancy of nature.

But Meillassoux retorts that this presupposes that it would be possible to quantify the series of actual occurrences to calculate their probability of recurring in a given series, by assigning them a fixed (numerical) value. This can be done irrespective of whether the series considered is finite of infinite, since as long as we can assign the occurrence a fixed number infinity is perfectly accessible to probabilistic calculation. However, Meillassoux stresses two problematic assumptions here:

1) Chance can be totalized – All possible logical outcomes can be quantified.
2) Intraworldly probability can be used to draw conclusions about the probability of the world altogether . – The possibility of calculating the probability of an occurrence x in a world T can lead us into considering the probability of world T occurring instead of some alternative world.

But Cantor’s work denies the plausibility of (1); chance cannot be totalized as a whole. It is not possible to imagine a totality of possible universes such that we could then safely determine the probability of a world happening rather than another. This is because the cardinality of the stipulated possible totalization, whether finite or transfinite, can always be exceeded. Thus the problem lies in the notion of a limit or whole; it is not possible to quantify any given series of occurrences in the world to equate it to the world as such, any more than it is possible to imagine a totality of possible universes, i.e. to quantify all possible series. But this is what would be needed in order to demonstrate the improbability of experiential regularities, since this probability could only be calculated under the hypothesis that we can quantify the possible series of occurrences to make equal to the world and then compare it to a totalized series of possible universes. We can quantify the infinite, but not totalize it. There are always possibilities which escape any given quantified set of possibilities, so no set can ever be equal to the world such that it could serve as an index for a global probabilistic calculation:

”And this non-totalizable continuum of logically possible outcomes can never be hypostatized in the form of a ‘world’. But if there is no set of ‘all’ logically possible outcomes, it makes no sense to call any one set of logically possible outcomes more or less ‘probable’ than any other; and hence there is no warrant for the claim that the configuration exhibited by our actual universe is somehow ‘necessitated’ by some as yet unknown set of physical factors, while alternative universes are merely contingent. Thus at the logical level, possibility is governed by contingency, not probability.” [Pg: 81]

So Meillassoux concludes from this that the laws of nature exhibit a contingency which is no expressible in terms of chance/probability. He thereby opposes global contingency referent to possibility and intra-worldly chance at the prone to probability. The frequentialist mistake is thus to conflate the two levels, thus violating the non-quantifiable realm of global contingency. So to say the laws of nature are contingent does not entail they are governed by chance, and so a quantifiable measure of probability applied to our world to calculate the chances of all logical possibilities is unwarranted. By the same token, it is unwarranted to assume that the contingency of the laws of nature, not being subject to chance, could imply that its frequency of transformation would make it impossible for representation to occur. There is no logical incompatibility between regularity and the possibility of representation.

Of course, Brassier is quick to note that although this argument is effective in rebutting the frequentialist implication he does not yet explain how or why it is that the universe exhibits such regularities in representation, or that such representation is possible. Even if one assumes a non-representationalist account of nature, Meillassoux does not yet provide a theory of uniformity. Given absolute contingency, regularity remains at the ontological level a mystery; as is its precise status with respect to the rest of the argument against correlationism. Namely, is the apparent uniformity of nature epiphenomenal or is it a feature of things-in-themselves? Is it a product of the correlationist circle that can be safely dispensed with by recourse to the objective scientific discourse? Although this is not discarded, Meillassoux’s argument does not show how this could be done. Brassier likewise notes that the principle of non-contradiction would not help settle the issue, since regularities are registered between phenomena separated temporally, and so not becoming contradictory. Given that science surely depends on its possibility of registering regularity, and given Meillassoux’s purported attribution of scientific claims to being about things-in-themselves, the grounding for such uniformity is an important issue to settle.

Meillassoux seems aware of this difficulty, and knows his anti-frequentialist move does not yet establish the thesis that reality-in-itself is non-totalizable multiplicity. Perhaps here Badiou’s own ban on Nature as a totalized concept bears in the argument, since in Being and Event he establishes that there can be no total concept of Nature, there can be no ordinal-of-all-ordinals without violating the prohibition on self-belonging guaranteed by the Axiom of Foundation (B&E, Meditation 10-11).

‘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)

Brassier seems to anticipate such an argument would be integral to Meillassoux’s own project, albeit absent in its current form. It will be interesting to see if and how Brassier links Badiou’s own conceptual register to Meillassoux’s thesis about reality being non-totalizable multiplicity; but this will have to wait for now. In the next section we will follow the relation in Meillassoux’s account between thinking and being, as it has emerged in the tension between the absolute contingency of noumenal Chaos and the observed regularities in appearance (indeed, it is unclear what precise ontological status, if any, does the notion of appearance hold in Meillassoux’s account if correlationism has been disavowed). This is the subject of the diachronicity of thought and being.

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