Purple Magazine
— F/W 2012 issue 18

Mehdi Belhaj Kacem

reading and rereading After Finitude, the philosophical masterpiece by Quentin Meillassoux


They say Quentin Meillassoux is the French philosopher who’s getting the most buzz in the English-speaking world since Jacques Derrida. In French he’s published two books and only a few articles. Of course malicious gossip has surfaced that his books are overrated, which has drawn the suspicious inquiry of academic cynicism. But, his books are for real!

In fact, his publication in 2006 of Après la Finitude (After Finitude) was already a significant step in the history of philosophy. Its factual ontology reveals the necessity for correlationism. Everything, without exception, is contingent. The only thing necessary — the only true, ultimate necessity — is that everything is and must be correlational! In any case, reading a book like After Finitude leads one to a profoundly changed vision of the world, as is the case with all great philosophers. Indeed, after reading his factual ontology one can no longer be surprised that the existence of life on earth is commanded by no real underlying necessity, by no God; but that its existence is a miracle. The date of this turning point, the final flourish of the “death of God,” was, without a doubt, Galileo’s telescope: the millions of planets surrounding ours are not swarming with multitudes of different life forms, there is no “biodiversity” comparable to ours. Therefore, the advent of life, the evolution of Man on a planet — this planet, is technically and statistically not only a miracle, but a major miracle.

The book I’m preparing on the philosophy of Meillassoux (not yet published) pays tribute to this emerging philosopher, who deserves to be recognized in his generation alongside the greatest philosophers of the previous one, Deleuze and Derrida. Mine will be the second major book, after the excellent Meillassoux, Philosophy in the Making, by Graham Harman (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), that focuses on this philosopher. And like Harman I’m not relying only on Meillassoux’s publicly available books, but also on his “unknown masterwork,” which is still unpublished, his doctoral thesis of 1997, which he has rewritten over and over without satisfaction, and whose title is both provocative and promising: L’Inexistence Divine (The Divine Inexistence).

My theory, contrary to Harman’s, is that all the ideas that QM presented in Après la Finitude were contained in this already legendary, still-unpublished dissertation. And something else, which I estimate to be even truer, is that QM belongs on the extremely short list of great precocious philosophers like Hume and Schopenhauer, all of whom had their great ideas at the age of 25. There’s another precociously gifted philosopher, Schelling, whose decisive ideas in philosophy were developed when he was 21, but Schelling rethought and renewed his ideas constantly, maintaining editorial silence for nearly 20 years, while never ceasing to work and rethink his ideas. However, I think QM is closer to Hume and to Schopenhauer: the solidity of his discovery and the constructions he has deduced over two decades have made QM’s thoughts move circularly within his philosophy, which may explain his reserve, his caution, and his resulting editorial parsimony. If you have read L’Inexistence Divine or have seen QM speak in public, you will understand that nothing, in 20 years has really “advanced” in his thinking. But his primordial discovery was so radical and of such genius and precocity that it remains a sort of poisoned apple — as if QM, dazzled by his own find, has been condemned to be the guardian of it and to keep it discreet if not untouchable.

I’m not prepared to go into detail on this future book, but I can say that it is less about refuting QM and more of a proposal that serves as a counterpoint to his philosophy — a point of view that differs from the perspectives he offers, which are all based on his historical discovery: that correlation is necessary. What I will do, however — while also paying homage to the moral and material support my friend Olivier Zahm has given me over the years — is to offer a preview of Après la Finitude, which also refutes a key point in QM’s factual ontology: the name given to his ontology, which apparently went unnoticed by its readers.

Here’s my idea. In Après la Finitude, QM demonstrates how the two great artisans of the philosophical revolution, Hume and Kant, who were also the destroyers of the metaphysical conception of the world, have still conceded one point to metaphysics. And what is the heart of all metaphysical thought? The belief in the true necessity of things. Now, we in the philosophy world all know the crisis Hume brought to philosophy: if the sun rises tomorrow, it has nothing to do with true necessity, it has more to do with the habits we have laid in service to our poor human understanding. Yet nothing proves that the sun must rise tomorrow, neither the repetition of one of the laws of nature, nor the pathetic empirical habit we have constructed of seeing it come up day after day. But Hume, and Kant after him, did not, according to QM, go as far as radically taking down the doctrine of necessity. Why? Because the laws of nature are stable, even if their necessity is inaccessible to the lame finiteness of our understanding: the sun rises and sets regularly, even if we have no idea why. Kant would radicalize the demonstration with the absurd laws of reason; those that were part of his grandiose first critique are also the laws of nature, which we know are stable, without which none of our representations would exist; in fact we wouldn’t even be here to formulate the hypothesis of the primordial inconsistency of the laws of nature. But if the laws of nature were correlational, then statistically it would be nearly impossible for these laws to not be changing constantly. Which is the heart of QM’s argument. As heir to Badiou’s un-totalization of our metaphysical horizon, QM demonstrates that one cannot envisage — as Hume and Kant presupposed, without realizing it — the question of the laws of nature to include the All — all possible cases in a game of chance. Because if such were the case — the non-necessity of the laws of nature — there would in fact be an infinitesimal statistical chance that the laws might stabilize. But since the laws are stable, it must be that a true necessity, albeit one beyond the limits of our understanding, presides over this stability.

It is here that QM intervenes with his factual ontology, slicing into the history of philosophy with a principle he calls hyper-chaos. Hyper-chaos is the fact that no facts are necessary, that all facticity and all facts are correlational, that the laws of nature themselves are perfectly contingent. This means that since those laws are indeed stable wherever and whenever we have observed them, and since the core of this stability — contrary to what Hume and Kant believed — means that it is a radical correlationism and not true necessity, in turn, that also means that the stability of the laws of our world constitute not only a probable miracle, as Hume and Kant supposed, but a trans-probable miracle. And this is what factual ontology demonstrates. And its beauty blazes brightly when you discover it.

But what bothered me right away while I was reading Après la Finitude is this: QM pretends to discover a deductive link between hyper-chaos and the stability of natural laws. The details of my counter-arguments are reserved for my book, but I will give you the basics here. The only thing QM demonstrates effectively is that it is indeed hyper-miraculous that a phenomenon like life on Earth has been enduringly stabilized, but certainly not eternally stabilized. This stabilization derives from the miraculous intersection of millions and billions of laws. Such that, for example, the event QM calls for at the end of L’Inexistence Divine, the advent of God and the immortality of bodies and of an eternal reign of justice, will be in its turn the improbable combination of a transfinite number of laws, creating a “miraculous” result that is relative to the laws of which we are aware. QM’s argument in its favor is not wrong: as there is no transcendental, superior law for God to not exist. This God may exist even if nothing guarantees His Coming.

So what is the problem? For me the problem lies in his concept of hyper-chaos.

In my view, QM confuses the real correlationism of the stability of natural laws and the metaphysical instance of the perpetual abolition of that stability. This is what Hume and Kant thought as well: if there is no true necessity underlying the stability of laws, then there must be a hyper-chaos, where nothing has the time to acquire substance, where everything is constantly moving toward its exact opposite. But, precisely, such an abolition of laws never takes place. And QM cannot show a single example of this in the entire history of the cosmos, which is his central error. The laws of life have not in any way abolished the laws of matter: they are a miraculous combination of these laws, a “lifting” in the Hegelian sense, and not an abolition. The Big Bang itself, in all likelihood, did not abolish the laws that preceded it, but did in fact combine them in an impronostic, unforeseeable, and miraculous fashion. The human experience is the unceasing experience of the discovery of laws, of the appropriation of the laws of nature by science. That the stability of laws is correlational does not mean at all that a transcendental instance exists anywhere with the power to abolish these laws at any time, which would in this case be the mirror of the doctrine of true necessity. In my view, hyper-chaos is no less illusory than true necessity. In the world there are only laws — and there are so many of them that no system of reason can possibly be capable of embracing them all.

In Après la Finitude, QM speaks of the “absurd fear that the laws may cease to be stable.” Excuse me, but that’s like the pot calling the kettle black! Never before has a philosopher, not even Schelling or Deleuze — the two philosophers who are closest to factual ontology — so wanted to terrorize his readers with the omnipresent threat of the world collapsing from one minute to the next. That the “laws” are stable is absolutely correlative, just like all the rest. That one might confuse this correlationism with an absence — in other words the possible disappearance of these laws — is the error which keeps QM in his metaphysical orb, from which he will have so decisively helped to free us, more than any other contemporary philosopher.

[Table of contents]

F/W 2012 issue 18

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS






purple BEAUTY

purple TRAVEL

purple LOVE

purple NAKED

purple PHILO

purple NIGHT

purple WINTER


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