Quention Meillassoux
Philosophy in the Making

by Graham Harman
Edinburgh University Press 2011


Meillassoux23
23 contingency - 29 facticity - 30 factiality


19 Very Strong Correlationism is found among post-modern philosophers.
They "dismiss every variety of universal as a mystificatory relic of the old metaphysics and will claim that it is necessary to think the facticity of our relation to the world in terms of a situation that is itself finite". And thus the correlation in which we find ourselves has no universal features, but is "anchored in a determinate error of the history of being, or in a form of life harbouring its own language-games, or in a determinate cultural and interpretive community, etc." (AF 43). Meillassoux will soon reject this notion in the name of the related and startling idea of "factiality".

21 Meillassoux's attempt to dismantle a flawed portion of the correlationist argument and turn it against itself presupposes that correlationism avoids melting into absolute idealism. Meillassoux is well aware of the danger:

"if strong correlationism can easily rebuff the realist ..it is altogether more difficult for it to defeat the "subjectivist" metaphysician. For how is one to legitimate the assertion that something subsists beyond our representations when one has already insisted that this beyond is radically inaccessible to thought".

Boe: the unobservable - unmarked space

22 What is meaningful for humans need not exhaust the totality of what is real. For " the strong model of correlationism can be summed up in the following thesis: It is unthinkable that the unthinkable should be impossible" (AF 41).
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23 Meillassoux's spectrum:

1. Naive Realism: "The things-in-themselves exist and they are knowable".
2. Weak Correlationism: "The things-in-themselves exists.they are not knowable, but at least they are thinkable".
3./4. Strong/Very Strong Correlationalism: "The things-in-themselves are unknowable and also completely unthinkable. In short they are meaningless. But that does not mean that they do not exist."
5. Absolute Idealism: "The things-in-themselves are unknowable and also completely unthinkable. In short, they are meaningless. And that means that their existence is impossible".

Traditionally, Kantians have been at position 2 and Hegelians at position 5. Meillassouxplaces various 20th-century figures at positions 3/4, preferring 4 for himself. But this position 4 will soon be transformed into oneof the most surprising philosophical positions of our time:

23 Speculative Materialism:
Speculative Materialism, which tries to avoid the two extremes of absolute idealism and correlationism. To escape the former it must abstain from hypostatizing the correlate of thought and world; to avoid the latter, it must move beyond finitude and think the absolute. Thus, "every materialism that would be speculative, and hence for which absolute reality is an entity without thought, must assert both that thought is not necessary (something can be independent of thought), and that thought can think what there must be when there is no thought". (AF 36)

23 Contingency
Weak Correlationism is the familiar Kantian position that the things in themselves can be thought but not known. But for Absolute Idealism, to think the things in themselves outside thought is to turn them into objects of thought, and thus there is no way to point beyond the human-world correlate at all.

Wedged between these two positions is Strong Correlationism. In one sense it agrees with Absolute Idealism that we cannot claim to think the unthought without falling into a performative contradiction. But unlike Idealism, it holds that our inability to think the unthought does not prove the nonexistence of the unthought. This Strong Correlationism serves as the launching pad for Meillassoux’s own position, Speculative Materialism.

24 As we will see in the present section, his strategy is to transform our supposed ignorance of the things in themselves into an absolute knowledge that the things-in-themselves exist without reason, and that they can change at any time for no reason at all.

In this way the cautious agnosticism of Kantian philosophies is avoided, but so is the collapse of reality into thought found in German Idealism. In their place Meillassoux offers a wonderfully bizarre metaphysics of absolute contingency in which anything can happen without reason and without warning.

Ultimately this will yield to what Meillassoux calls the principle of unreason, “whereby everything in the world is without reason, and is thereby capable of actually becoming otherwise without reason" (AF 53).

What turns out to be the absolute is not the correlate itself (as for absolute idealism), but the facticity of the correlate (AF 52).

26 This is due to the facticity of the thought-world correlate in the eyes of the Correlationist, which means that the conditions of the correlate can only be described, not explained.

Whereas the Subjective Idealist finds it impossible for anything to exist outside thought, the correlationist admits that an in-itself sounds meaningless but denies we can know that what is meaningful to us exhausted the realm of possibility. We simply know that the thought-world correlate exists, not that it must exist. The idealist justifiably says that we cannot think the unthought, but it does not follow that the unthought cannot exist.

But now comes the fifth and final character of the drama: the Speculative Materialist, a dramatic projection of Meillassoux himself. And here we see the intimate and inverted link between Meillassoux’s own position and what he calls Strong Correlationism. For whereas Strong Correlationism can be read as an epistemological claim about our finitude, ignorance, and need to sceptical agnosticism,

Speculative Materialism reverses these claims into an ontological doctrine. In other words, the Strong Correlationist thinks we cannot know which possibility about the afterlife is true, but the Speculative Materialist thinks
we can know that any of them could be true, and without reason. This apparently has splitting point is actually the key to Meillassoux’s entire system, and is worthy of closer attention.

27 Notice that the existence of this possible otherness cannot itself be inscribed within thought, or else the Correlationist would collapse into the position of the Idealist. In other words, the idealist might say “we cannot think a pre-existing outside thought, and therefore no tree exists outside thought”, and the correlationist might counter with “we cannot think a tree existing outside thought, and yet such a tree might exist nonetheless”. But notice that this latter claim already pushes beyond the closed circle of thought. For it cannot mean that "for me we cannot think a tree existing outside thought, yet such a tree might exist nonetheless for me", since this is a simple contradiction. Instead, it means that "for me we cannot think a tree existing outside thought, yet such a tree might exist nonetheless in spite of my not being able to think it". To say otherwise would be a collapse into idealism.

Correlationism is true only if subjective idealism might be wrong. But if it might be wrong, then it is absolutely true that it might be wrong, and correlationism is no longer a merely agnostic position. Rather than remaining trapped in the circle of merely human finitude, it has finally discovered something genuine about reality. But for this very reason, it instantly turns into the speculative materialist position of Meillassoux himself.

The only way for correlationism to remain different from idealism is to replace the absolute status of the thought-world correlate, not with finitude and ignorance about the otherness of the world, but with absolute knowledge that the world might be other than we think.

As Meillassoux puts it: “the correlationist's refutation of idealism proceeds by way of an absolutisation (which is to say, a de-correlation) of the capacity-to-be-other presupposed in the thought of facticity” (AF 57).
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Boe: fact - facticity - factiality:
36: Facticity itself cannot be just a fact; it must be necessary, or else correlationism would collapse into idealism. This led us to
the principle of factiality: everything that exists is absolutely contingent.
37 If it were merely the case that if something exists then it must be contingent, then the facticity of that thing would merely be a fact, since we would already have suppose that its existence was not necessary. But while establishing the principle of factiality, we already saw that facticity cannot be a fact. Therefore, something must exist that is contingent in order for contingency to be necessary and that something obviously must be something in-itself, since the kingdom of the for-us is entirely dependent on the existence of human or at least animal life, which is purely contingent.
Hence
there is something that exists in itself. Or as Meillassoux puts it: “it is necessary that there be 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” (AF 76).
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29 The entire drama can be summarised briefly as follows:
The atheist and the believer are both derailed by the Kantian point that we cannot have access to reality outside our conditions of access to it.
The idealist is defeated by Meillassoux’s point that
the meaninglessness of thinking a world outside thought does not mean a world outside thought is impossible. And finally, the correlationist is defeated by being transformed into a Speculative Materialist. For the correlationist avoids being an idealist only by insisting that there “might” be an in-itself different from the for-us”, and this “might” has to refer to a real in-itself, not just an “in-itself-for-us”.

The correlationist claims to abstain from any form of the absolute, but can only be a correlationist by holding that there are absolutely a number of different possibilities.

Meillasssoux concludes: “we have now identified the faultline that lies at the heart of correlationism; the one through which we can breach its defences” (AF 59) - namely, there is no way to avoid making either facticity or the correlate absolute.

If we say that everything is the correlate of an act of thought, then we have absolutized the correlate and become subjective idealists. Or, we can escape this position by de-absolutizing the correlate and saying that, after all, there might be something outside it. But this means absolutizing facticity, by saying that it is absolutely true that there might be something outside the correlate of thought and world. In other words, once we escape the prison of Dogmatism, we can only be idealists or speculative materialist. The standard agnostic version of correlationism turns out not to be entirely agnostic, in spite of itself.

Another way of looking at this is that facticity it self cannot be factial. The point of facticity for Meillassoux, we recall, is that it means that the correlate of thought and world can only be described, not deduced it is merely there, and we cannot know exactly why - in contrast with subjective idealism, which thinks it can deduce the necessity of the thought-world couplet.

30
But we have just discussed how correlationism leads to the absolute possibility that reality could be other than the correlate, and this shows why facticity it self cannot be factial.

In other words,
if the specific features of our facticity can only be described and not deduced, the same is not true of facticity itself.

And here Meillassoux coins in new French term, factualité, which Ray Brassier (with Meillassoux’s explicit approval) has rendered in English as “factiality”.

As Meillassoux puts it: “From now on, we will use the term “factiality” to describe the speculative essence of facticity, viz. that the facticity of everything cannot be thought as a fact" (AF 79).

While facticity means that the structure of the correlate can only be described rather than deduced, factiality means that facticity itself is something that can be deduced.

Such a deduction is precisely what Meillassoux tried to provide in the debate between the speculative materialist and the correlationist. If facticity can be taken to mean that there is no necessary reason for any feature of experience, the hidden surprise here is that facticity itself is necessary. That is the meaning of factiality, to which Meillassoux attaches the expected adjective “factial”: “We will call “factial” the type of speculation which seeks and identifies the conditions of factiality" (AF 79).

The analysis of the conditions of factiality now becomes the explicit goal of Meillassoux’s philosophical enterprise: the discovery of what it calls “figures”, or the necessary features of factiality.
To give a few examples, non-contradiction turns out to be one such figure or necessary feature (AF 69), as does the fact that
there must be something rather than nothing (AF 80), and the fact that every mathematical statement can be absolutized (AF 126). As Meillasssoux says on the final page of the book: “the factial is defined as the very arena for a speculation that excludes all metaphysics” (AF 128).

30 At first, it might seem that not much is a gained when we move from the correlationist to the Speculative Materialist: “
What the sceptic construed as ignorance - everything is possible - we now construe as knowledge, but knowledge was content seems as indeterminate as the most complete ignorance” (AF 65). Or as Meillassoux put it even more humorously, as if imagining a possible heckler: “instead of saying that the in-itself could actually be anything what ever without anyone knowing what, we maintain that the in-itself could actually be anything whatever and that we know this” (AF 65).

But we have already seen the significant difference between the two positions. Whereas the correlationist merely says that we are ignorant of what may or may not lie outside the correlate, the Speculative Materialist does attain to a certain kind of absolute knowledge.

31 After all, the correlationist “is incapable of disqualifying any hypotheses about the nature of the absolute” (AF 65). But “the Speculative Materialist knows two things that the sceptic did not: first, that contingency is necessary, and hence in eternal; second, that contingency alone is necessary” (AF 65).

In one of his most effective war cries, Meillassoux proclaims that “we are going to put back into the thing itself what we mistakenly took to be an incapacity of thought” (AF 53).

Whereas it might be thought that the lack of reason for anything is derived from the finitude and ignorance of human knowledge, Meillassoux actually claims the opposite: the doctrine of finitude is generally associated with a hidden reason, one that humans simply cannot grasp.

With his turn toward absolute knowledge, Meillassoux strips the world of any place where shadowy hidden reasons could reside. The reason for things having no reason is not that the reason is hidden, but that no hidden reason exists. And “this absence of reason is, and can only be the ultimate property of the entity” (AF 53).

The entity holds no cryptic properties in reserve, as if in Heideggerian fashion; Meillassoux could never support the doctrine of truth as unveiling, since there is never any veil for him in the first place.

The world is a surface without depth or potential, though there is still a virtual dimension to Meillassoux’s system that we will soon discuss. “There is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuiousness of the given - nothing but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence (AF 63).

But the important thing for now is that
facticity, converted into a factiality, is “the real property whereby everything is capable of actually becoming otherwise without reason” (AF 53). The absence of an ultimate reason for anything is what Meillassoux also calls the “principle of unreason”, though he prefers “factiality” to “unreason” on the grounds that the latter might sound merely negative.

But there is one possible misunderstanding that must be avoided. In the popular mind necessity is often linked with stability and contingency with flux. It is easy to see why. If there is no reason for anything to be the way it is, there would seem to be no pillar of its reality, no hidden infrastructure supporting its being in a stable state.

The usual view of contingency, in short, associates it with what Meillassoux calls “precariousness”. For it "designates a possibility that is bound to be realised sooner or later, so long as physical and organic laws remain as they have been up until now" (AF 62).

To say that everything must eventually perish would amount to a metaphysical thesis about the nature of the cosmos. By contrast, Meillassoux "does not see by virtue of what there would be reason necessitating the possibility of destruction as opposed to the possibility of persistence (AF 63).

Meillassoux - Philosophy in the Making


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