Meillassoux: Divine Inexistence

This is the reading for Saturday, May 27th.  You can get all the details at our page.

Imagine rolling dice and coming up with six.  Some might say this outcome was determined, and others might insist it was pure chance, and still others might say it was a mix of the two.  What they would agree on is that the faces of the dice had the appropriate numbers which could have produced a six—and importantly, this means that chance requires a set of pre-existing possibilities to work on.  We can think of any situation this way, as the actualization of pre-existing possibilities, governed by laws, chance, or a mix of the two.

Quentin Meillassoux’s work is dedicated to working out a single core idea: that the absolute truth of all existence is contingency.  Every single thing can exist, not exist, or exist differently.  What this means for our dice is that the ratio of chance and determinism governing their tumbling can be sidestepped entirely: Meillassoux’s thesis is the the faces of the dice can change, and can change for no reason, and importantly, it means this process does not answer to any possible account of probability.  Entirely new sets of possibilities can appear in the world, possibilities that had absolutely no antecedent.  He quite literally believes anything is possible.

His term for the appearance of new possibilities, or new dice, is the advent ex nihilo of a new world because they emerge from nothing and for no reason.  He says there have been three new worlds: the emergence of matter, the emergence of life, and the emergence of thought.  Life appeared in the context of matter, and thought appeared in the context of life.  Divine Inexistence is about the possibility of a fourth advent ex nihilo in the context of thought: the world of justice, a world of resurrected humans.  The goal is the final vanquishing of the division between being and value, otherwise known as the famous is/ought distinction.

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The Emergence of Correlational Forms

We know there was a time when no form of subjectivity existed, and we know there was a subsequent time in which subjectivity did exist.  The question is, how can we describe the gap between these two times?  How, and on what basis, can we think the time of the emergence of subjectivity?  The Scylla any answer to this question faces is that any description of pre-subjective time is always thought from within subjectivity, or from within what I will call a correlational form. This problem would indict any such description as either dogmatically metaphysical or as a performative contradiction (i.e. to think where one is not).  The Charybdis is the possibility of a positivist neurological or eliminative reductionism, in which subjectivity is eliminated altogether.  With the elimination of subjectivity comes the elimination of phenomenal appearance and any kind of normative structure, which would produce its own form of performative contradiction (i.e. to insist on the truth of eliminativism after having eliminated truth and falsity).

In order to think the time of the emergence of correlational forms, we have the necessities to think where one is not and to maintain a distinction between truth and falsity.  The project is an attempt to describe a correlational form that can fulfill both requirements.

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Divine Inexistence & “Spectral Dilemma”

Originally discussed on May 5, 2012

Meillassoux’s first principle is factiality: contingency is the eternal and absolute truth of all things.  Any and every thing can exist, not exist, or exist differently, and all things can change from one of these states to another for no reason.  The principle of factiality stands in sharp opposition to contemporary philosophy’s fiercely feigned indifference towards the questions of absoluteness and a world outside human thought.

In the essay “Spectral Dilemma” and some released excerpts from his still unpublished book Divine Inexistence, Meillassoux opposes factiality to feigned indifference towards another topic: the capital-G Good.  For some time now, philosophy – so far as it refuses the religious answers of a Levinas – has been attempting to describe an ethics that would not be beholden to an absolute Good.  Meillassoux seeks to end this refusal.

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After Finitude, Chapter 4: Hume’s Problem

Originally discussed on April 21, 2012

The subtitle of After Finitude is “An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency”.  This necessity was shown in chapter 3, and it can be briefly stated as follows: the principle of factiality teaches us that no thing exists necessarily.  Any and every thing could not exist, or exist, or exist differently.  There is no ultimate law governing the world: anything can happen, for no reason at all.

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After Finitude, Chapter 3: Facticality

Originally discussed on April 7, 2012

Meillassoux has established three things so far. First, if the ancestral is thinkable, then an absolute must be thinkable.  Second, there is no thing that exists necessarily.  Third, we must get past the strong correlationist position in order to establish an absolute.  In this chapter, Meillassoux finds his absolute in facticity – our “inability” to know why thought and the world are not different.  He then uses facticity to show that real contradiction is impossible, and then answers the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

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After Finitude, Chapter 2: Metaphysics, Fideism, Speculation

Originally discussed March 24, 2012

In chapter one, we saw that thinking ancestrality means thinking the world as it is apart from thought.  In order to show how this is possible, we need a way to break free of the common denominator of much philosophy from the last two hundred years: the claim that to be is to be a correlate.  In other words, in order to be knowable or have any qualities, a thing must be in a relation with thought.  Ancestrality shows us that we can know things that can exist and have qualities entirely apart from thought.

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After Finitude, Chapter 1: Ancestrality

Originally discussed March 10, 2012

In After Finitude, Meillassoux argues that the most basic characteristic of philosophy since Kant has been correlationism: the claim that to be is to be the correlation of a thinker and a thing.  In the first chapter, he uses the aporia of the arche-fossil to begin driving a wedge between thought and appearance.

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