New After Finitude review
It could be that this is already known, but yesterday I ran into a new review of Meillassoux’s book, on the latest issue of Cosmos and History (which, by the way, is hosted by the Open Journal Systems, just like Speculations). The review, by Arun Saldanha, titled ‘Back to the Great Outdoors: Speculative Realism as Philosophy of Science’ is of course available in open access .pdf here.
You might want to read the whole thing, for Saldanha looks at After Finitude in its potentiality for philosophy of science (and the title probably gave it away), and for an active, direct dialogue with the natural sciences, which is something I find of great urgency if speculative realism’s potentiality for ‘bridging the gap’ (between analytics and continentals, between philosophers and natural scientists) is to be put in practice.
I just wanted to quote some passages (all the highlighted bits are mine) where he moves some critiques to Meiilassoux’s project, regarding the problem of transcendental methodology:
To choose between the empirical or the transcendental is a decisive methodological starting-point for any philosopher, logically preceding regional problematics such as knowledge, spacetime, sensuousness, givenness, etc. the choice brings one into either the realist or the idealist camp. But could we then not consider Meillassoux’ decision for the mathematical-empirical over the transcendental as itself part of a transcendental gesture, i.e. as an assumption on how all thinking operates and ought to operate and not whimsically based on a mere rhetorical positionality that has to be justifed logically, physiologically, or anthropologically? If “transcendental” names the decision to clear conceptual ground within existing philosophical discourse for claiming to access the absolute—either the absolutely human for Kant or the absolutely real for Meillassoux—then no ontology or metaphysics can escape some form of transcendental methodology. In short, the attack on kant in After Finitude may have to be reconsidered in the light the question of whether the transcendental is necessarily a correlationist plane. (317)
on Meillassoux’s arbitrary choices for his scientific examples:
if Meillassoux relies too easily on the hyper-exotic to demonstrate mind-independent reality, to which intelligence, to which subject is this exotic, if not the ambitious (and male) french continental philosopher who has time to only dabble in science? Geophysics and mathematics no doubt yield great rhetorical power for antihumanism, but to accord them privilege brings in necessity through the backdoor. The in-itself, the great outdoors, is all around and within. As Harman’s brand of phenomenology understands well, there is a forever-exotic remainder that all perception and conception skirts around, whether of music, fnance, or supernovae, and whether mathematisable or not. (319)
and in particular–recuperating some of Brassier’s own remarks on the topic–on the legitimacy of the absolute ontological priority of mathematics for the development of any realist doctrine:
What the exact status is of the ideality of mathematical discourse within the purported materialism, respectively realism, in Badiou and Meillassoux is a complicated problem that both will no doubt be continually urged to explain. [...] That mathematics can describe, predict, and formalize and is internally constricted by its self-generated rules is logically and empirically apparent. Demonstrating this ontological power of mathematics, on the other hand, is incumbent upon the realist who bases ontology upon it. (318)
Philosophy has a right to formalize science for its own purposes, of course, but the question is what resources for thought are thereby lost. What was the Galilean event without the telescope? This is not to argue for Latourian bafement about the role of technology in blurring the boundary between human and world, but for the signifcance for ontology of the intrinsic excess of reality over the mathematicizable and representable. Even more than in logical positivism, this excess remains irredeemably under-analyzed in Meillassoux’ system. [...] The desire for mathematics and the denunciation of the social sciences that Meillassoux inherits from Badiou is certainly a striking rejoinder to cultural studies’ turn to scientifc metaphor and the Bergsonian-Deleuzian vitalism we find fourishing today, but it inherently risks abstracting from physical and social reality, becoming quasi-esoteric at worst, reductive at best. If Meillassoux’ speculative system is to become a realist ontology of and for all the sciences, including those that expose power, the unconscious and social diference, its reliance on mathematical reductionism will have to give way to a rigorous appreciation of the richness of contemporary scientifc knowledge, particularly perhaps of biology. Fortunately the general aims of the system are more than worthy enough to guide such elaboration. (320)
These quotes nonetheless, the review is largely positive and enthusiastic. I think that in this last part Saldanha has a point, but I also believe that (as he recognizes) we must always keep in mind that for all its argumentative beauty and speculative power After Finitude remains a (short) first work (yes, apart from the Divine Inexistence, but–as far as I can speculate without having seen it–I still think that the arguments in AF are more basic and foundational for Meillassoux’s project), of a philosopher that has repeatedly reminded us that his complete system will be far larger in scope and size than this initial prolegomeon. In the meantime, I think it is good news to see its review on a journal like Cosmos and History which is generally more oriented towards philosophy of science than it is towards pure ontology.