Harman on Meillassoux
Harman, updating us on his progress on his forthcoming book on Meillassoux, has compiled a list of the 6 key points of After Finitude. He introduces them by honestly stating that
I am only convinced by point #1. I think the other five are all incorrect, though still very interesting.
Point 1 is, of course, the one ‘stating’ that ‘Correlationism is the Enemy’. Now, I am looking forward to read in detail Harman’s reading of Meillassoux, but sometimes (with his reading and with most of the readings done so far) I find puzzling how much attention has been given to only a part of Meillassoux’s argument (the part where he identifies the enemy and its weaknesses so to speak), mostly downplaying the rest of his book.
Of course, when projected in the larger ‘speculative realist’ arena, Meillassoux’s identification (and naming) of correlationism as the conditioned reflex (or better, unconditioned, since it is one not dependent on previously acquired experience?) of post-Kantian philosophy has contributed to shaping and focusing the general, retrospectively named anti-correlationist trend — a philosophy against philosophies of human access. And yet, I can’t help but think that Meillassoux would like to be remembered –should his philosophical work somehow stop tomorrow– as being the one who debunked the principle of sufficient reason, the one who individuated a new kind of absolute in contingency and the one to envision (but still not flesh out, and we should remember that he explicitly tells us that this is the direction that he’s interested in pursuing) a link between the possibility of absolute mathematical statements and the absolute character of his principle of factiality (what I would call ‘point 7′, something which he arguments more organically in that bit of his lecture that I translated some time ago)
[Yet rejecting Pythagoreanism. In this context Harman mentions Ladyman and Ross, but I would add that to find the most hardcore and shameless contemporary Pythagorean one should look to the work of Max Tegmark (interestingly not a philosopher but a theoretical cosmologist)...I am planning to write something about Tegmark and Meillassoux so stay tuned].
In other words, Meillassoux’s philosophical project is completely dedicated to assigning to philosophy (i.e. to reason) the capacity of demonstrating how the possibility of accurate mathematical descriptions of reality is derivable from the radical logic of the principle of factuality:
Philosophy’s task consists in re-absolutizing the scope of mathematics…but without lapsing back into any sort of metaphysical necessity (AF:126)
The critique of correlationism is a first step in his sharp, step-by-step way of argumentation, not its final endgame nor (it seems to me) its central intuition. Harman recently praised –rightly so in my opinion, as it is one of my favourite passages in the book– Meillassoux’s analogy of Plato as the philosopher of the chaotic world of appearances and the orderly and necessity-bound absolute world of ideas and of himself as reverting the order, proposing a seemingly ordered phenomenal world dancing necessarily on absolute hyper-chaotic feet. Indeed, if there is anything like ‘Meillassoux’s central intuition’, or anything like ‘the one great idea’ which he has, it is not the revelation that the correlationist king is naked but the relentless upholding of the necessity of contingency, the radically deflationary move of whipping the carpet of sufficient reason out from under the feet of western philosophy.
AF is indeed ‘an essay on the necessity of contingency’, not ‘an essay against correlationist philosophy’. I’ve taken the time to perform a silly little experiment and create a wordcloud of AF as a whole, and here is the result:
As any blind statistic, the conclusions we can draw from looking at this picture are limited and uncertain (note: ‘one’ is very prominent but it is one of those ‘common words’ that the program creating the wordcloud should have eliminated automatically…) and could be used to support different interpretations but I do think that it gives a fairly good snapshot of Meillassoux’s concerns: ‘absolute’, ‘reason’, ‘necessity’, ‘contingency’ are the kind of terms that dominate AF, much more than ‘correlationism’. Indeed, Meillassoux’s real ‘enemies’ are much more the ‘religionizers of reason’ than the correlationists.
Of course, one can disagree with his thesis, and it is possible to offer a balanced portrait of a philosophical position that you find wrongheaded. Yet, no matter how diligent a reader you are, every reading is always a partial and a biased one, so we should be careful to always look at the whole picture of Meillassoux’s work.
To be honest (reviewers of AF excluded, somewhat forced to comment on all the topics of his work) the only one who in my opinion really tackled Meillassoux on his preferred ground of the principle of factiality has been Martin Hägglund, in his marvelous XXI Century Materialism talk (I’ve got a transcript of his talk, and I have been thinking of sharing it here, but I’ve got the impression that that paper will be part of the Speculative Turn anthology, so I thought it was better to wait…In the meantime you can download the talk here). I probably should say that I am somewhat biased in this judgement, since Hägglund’s book is one of the books I’ve most enjoyed last year, for his exemplary lucid, articulate, fertile and yet careful reading of Derrida: a task all the more praiseworthy in today’s philosophical scene where Derrida is more often than not considered an avoidable trace (ah the irony!) leftover from yesteryear’s philosophy or even a somewhat embarrassing memory. Yet, so far, no one has taken Meillassoux’s argument of necessary contingency as seriously as Hägglund has: and note that his reading was critical, yet not because he discarded Meillassoux’s thesis, but because (in a way) he claimed it not to be radical enough.
Anyway, I am not pointing fingers towards anyone in particular, mind you, but I just wonder: in reading the anticorrelationist Meillassoux and in keeping aside the ‘necessity of contingency’ Meillassoux (artificially separating two moments of the same argument) are we not running the risk of downplaying the most speculative thesis of his speculative materialism?