More Monotonous Musings on Meillassoux: Factiality

And now another alliteration, anyhow, to continue with my (monotonous) reading of Meillassoux’s After Finitude, I’ve just now reached the end of Chapter 3, “The Priniciple of Factiality” and have read through Ch 4 “Hume’s Problem,” but I will focus on the former for the most part. There was a section that really caught my attention towards the end of Ch. 3, in which Meillassoux writes:

Philosophy is the invention of strange forms of argumentation, necessarily bordering on sophistry.  To philosophize is always to develop an idea whose elaboration and defense require a novel kind of argumentation, the model for which lies neither in positive science–not even in logic–not in some supposedly innate faculty for proper  reasoning.  Thus it is essential that a philosophy produce internal mechanisms for regulating its own inferences (77)…

This is no more evident than in the middle chapters of After Finitude.

A quick summation of what’s been done so far. The first two chapters consist of a discussion of correlationism and the history of philosophy, and allow Meillassoux to “clear the air” so to speak, in order to confront the problem of the arche-fossil/ancestrality. Meillassoux then turns to look for the solution to this problem by overcoming correlationism from within.  Here’s Meillassoux:

We have to show that the correlationist circle–and what lies at the heart of it, viz., the distinction between the in-itself and the for-us–is only conceivable insofar as it already presupposes an implicitly admission of the absoluteness of contingency (54).

This chapter begins the “constructive” of the book.  We have seen that the correlationists insist upon the co-dependence of the human and the world expressed through a variety of terms/concepts.  This has the effect of reducing the in-itself to the for-us.  So the problem of ancestrality, as we have seen, is reduced to a for-us, and hence, it is rendered to be unproblematic.  There are a couple of options, according to Meillassoux:

1. The facticity of the correlation generates a new absolute, a new in-itself:

[Various metaphysicians] turned the correlation itself, the instrument of empirico-critical de-absolutization, into a model of the absolute.  In doing so, these metaphysicians did not simply trick correlationism: they were not trying to unearth an absolute that the could than deftly turn against critico-skepticism..they acknowledged correlationism’s discovery of a fundamental constraint…but instead of concluding from this that the in itself is unknowable, they concluded the correlation is the only veritable in-itself.  In doing so, they grasped the ontological truth hidden beneath the sceptical argumentation–they converted radical ignorance into knowledge of a being finally unveiled in its true absoluteness (52).

2. Forget about the correlate, what of the “great outdoors?”

We must show why thought, far from experiencing its intrinsic limits through facticity, experiences rather its knowledge of the absolute through facticity.  We must grasp in factiticy not the inaccessibility of the absolute but the unveiling of the in-itself and the eternal property of what is, as opposed to the mark of the perennial deficiency in the thought of what is (52).

It should be obvious that position 1 (a position close to the bishop’s esse is percipi) is not so good because we’re still not really able to grasp the in-itself, it’s just recast/restructured differently, but we are left with the same problem as in other philosophies of access.  So position 2 is the way to proceed.  On the next page Meillassoux continues:

The supreme necessity ascribed to the correlational circle will appear as the opposite of what it first seemed–facticity will be revealed to be a knowledge of the absolute because we are going to put back into the thing itself what we mistakenly took to be an incapacity in thought.

From here Meillassoux attacks and re-inscribes the principle of sufficient reason as the principle of (absolute) unreason, the former fails:

…quite simply, from the falsity of such a principle–for the truth is that there is no reason for anything to be or to remain thus and so rather than otherwise, and this applies as much to the laws that govern the world as to the things of the world (53).

All this in the first four pages of the chapter.  In the next section of the chapter (54ff) Meillassoux playfully (vertigonously) outlines several positions vis a vis a host of philosophical interlocutors, all of whom are concerned about the afterlife.  We first come across a disagreement between two dogmatists, one Christian, the other atheist.  The positoins can be reduced to this: either God maintains the soul after we die, or God does not.  Next we meet the correlationist, who not at all unexpededly, starts prating on about theoretical agnosticism, that is, both dogmatists are wrong, neither can be certain about such knoweldge of this particular thinig-in-itself (live after death) since we are restricted by our access/the conditions of our knowledge about something that lies outside the phenomenal world.  Now, we meet yet another person, the subjective idealist.  This dude thinks that the correlationist is just as silly as both of the dogmatists because “each think there could be an in-itself radically different from our present state…I cannot think of myself as no longer existing without, though that very thought, contradicting myself” (55).  Not surprisingly, the correlationist is the least wrong because he admits life after death is minimally, thinkable, but doesn’t turn such possibilities into mere belief (dogma or not-dogma–as the case may be).  What’s left?  The speculative philosopher, of course.  Correlationism and the two dogmatisms are out because each permits an absolute solution to the problem: the afterlife (Xtian), being wiped off the face of the planet (atheist), and the correlation itself (e.g. esse is percipi).  At this point, Meillassoux gestures to two options:

Either I choose–against idealism–to de-absolutize the correlation, but at the cost of absolutizing facticity. Or I choose, against the speculative philospopher, to de-absolutize factiticy–I submit the latter to the primacy of the correlation by asserting that this facticity is only true for me, not necessarily in-itself…we cannot take the idealist path, which is still beholden to the idea of real necessity, according to which some determinate entity must absolutely be (59-60).

Meillassoux chooses to “follow the path of facticity.”  Again an “absolute that isn’t an absoute entity:”

This is indeed a speculative thesis, since we are thinking an absolute, but it is not metaphysical, since we are not thinking any entity that would be absolute. The absolute is the impossibility of a necessary being (60).

Meillassoux, finally at the end of the chapter, lists some new vocabulary (79ff).  Factiality (the principle of unreason) is put to work in the above quote, and points to the “speculative essence of facticity” or rather, the “non-facticity of facticity.”  Jargon, yes indeed, but it’s actually kind of helpful.

There is an interesting use of Aristotle’s arguments regarding non-contradition in the Metaphysics (Gamma 4) to show that the principle of unreason, or factiality, is both absolute and anhypothetical, e.g. not needed to be demonstrated 61f) since all is contingent:: “we maintain that the in-itself could actually be anything whatsoever and that we know this” (65).  Given this rather wild absolutization of contingency, the next step is demonstrating the consequences (or conditions for any entity to be contingenty and un-necessary).  Here Meillassoux enters into a provactive discussion and justification (through factiality) of two of Kant’s principles:

1. The thing-in-itself is non-contradictory

2. There is a thing in-itself.

In the following chapter, Meillassoux adds another, viz., 3. “the laws of nature are themselves contingent,” but I’ll just stick to 1 and 2 for now.  The Cartesian aspect of After Finitude is no more visible than here, for what Meillassoux is seeking to accomplish, I think, by “bring back” our ability to “touch” the absolute through math/science.  At the start of the book, Meillassoux writes on page 3:

…all those aspects of the object that can be formulated in mathematical terms can be meaningfully be conceived as properties of the object in itself.

Albeit, this is not identifiably “metaphysical,” but this epistemic priviliging of mathematics to the in-itself that is going to end up conforming to some properties that we can deduce, e.g. the statements 1,2 and 3 above, seems to rest on a strange (Kantian) critique/confrontation of both Kant and Descartes (and Hegel).

Ok, onto a brief consideration of 1 and 2–if you’re interested in this move, it’s about 10 pages and I highly reccomend checking it out for it is far more interesting and subtle than I am going to make it seem.  Hell, it’s my reading notes transposed onto a blog, come on!

First, Meillassoux deploys his notion of factiality to prove that the thing-in-itself is not contradictory.  The argument invokes Aristotle, Leibniz and Hegel, but cashes out thusly: if things that were contradictory existed, then such things would be necessary.  Yet, such a contradictory thing would have no actual determinacy and in turn, would not butt up against any kind of alterity to make it contingent, so contradictory things are impossible.  Again, here Meillassoux maintains the principle of unreason (factiality) to push the principle of sufficient reason off to the side.

Next, Meillassox defends (2) there is a thing-in-itself, or that the existence of contigency is necessary, without recourse to theology or fideism.  Instead, Meillassoux pursues this by “deflating” Leibniz’s question: “Why something rather than nothing?”  Ultimately:

It is necessary that there be somehting 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 (76).

From Meillassoux’s “non-metaphysical, speculative” position the thing itself becomes “the facticity of the transcendental forms of representation” and from the absoluteness of this facticity, he generates, or rather, deduces, the qualities of the in-itself, which Kant himself rendered self-evident (76).  After finitude, facticity has to be deduced.  So, I think, at least from the perspective of the first 3 (maybe 4) chapters, what Meillasssoux has deduced is far closer to Descartes than Kant, with regards to the deduction and properties of the in-itself.

Anyway, however spotty, this is a reinscription of my reading notes as I work through and evaluate Meillassoux’s book, which has been, for the most part, quite interesting and fruitful.

Some Older Posts on Meillassoux:

Grasping (at) the in-itself: Reading Meillassoux

Philosophical Fanaticism: Reading Meillassoux Part II


One thought on “More Monotonous Musings on Meillassoux: Factiality

  1. Pingback: Meillassoux, Contingency, and Kantian Catastrophes « Perverse Egalitarianism

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