Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Necessity of Contingency or Contingent Necessity: Meillassoux, Hegel, and the Subject

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Necessity of Contingency or Contingent Necessity: Meillassoux, Hegel, and the Subject

Article excerpt

'The antidote to a post-Kantian catastrophe threatens to be a neo- Hegelian reverie'. (1)

I.

Quentin Meillassoux's After Finitude (2008) brings about another intervention into philosophy by what Francois Laruelle calls 'non-philosophy'. (2) In the arche-fossil statements of contemporary scientific discourse, e.g. dating the origin of the universe at 13.5 billion years ago, Meillassoux sees a rejoinder to the post-critical philosophical environment which, since the Copernican revolution in philosophy, has instituted the subjective conditions for the presentation of objects over the objects presented, elevated relations over related terms, and maintained the modes of presentation (transcendental) against what is presented (objective). This shift is what Meillassoux calls 'correlationism'. (3) To interpret the kinds of ancestral statements presented by the arche-fossil, the correlationist irremediably commits a twofold retrojection and doubling of their meaning: the correlationist will first retroject the conditions active for a subject now onto an ancestral past such that any conceivable event--past, present, or future--must conform to the modes of subjective representation; and second, the correlationist interprets the content of an ancestral statement as objectively true (yes, the evidence indicates that y event happened x years ago) with the addition of a formal 'codicil', that the ancestral statement is true only 'for humans' (AF 13/30). Thus the world for the correlationist is 'what is' for the subject; indeed, it must be. This conditioning of the world through a subjective armature simply reflects the nature of the a priori transcendental--all objectively true statements are true for us, objects thinkable by us, as given to the epistemic conditions of human cognition as such.

While philosophy since Kant has labored under correlationist assumptions, according to Meillassoux, ancestral statements interdict this 'correlationist two-step' by shifting the very conditions which support the correlationist circle onto an ex-centric, asubjective discourse (mathematics). In ancestral statements it is no longer a question of securing the necessary conditions by which something can be presented to the subject, but a question of the emergence of the transcendental as such, 'the emergence of the conditions of taking place of the transcendental'. (AF 25). The modern mathematicization of nature thus instituted 'the decentering [excentrement] of thought relative to the world within the process of knowledge'. (AF 115/160). Following Badiou, Meillassoux views mathematics as a uniquely transparent, non-metaphysical discourse which simultaneously allows us to absolutize statements about the world but which nevertheless remains irreducible to the correlationist circle. The upshot of Meillassoux's account is that in mathematics we have the means at our disposal for decentering the correlationist circle, for which all necessity is necessaryfor the subject, in a form of contingency for which contingency alone is necessary, the thesis Meillassoux calls the 'necessity of contingency'. Thus, according to Meillassoux, once we recognize that nothing is necessary except that no-thing is necessary, it is possible to track truly asubjective, diachronic referents, such as, those concerning ancestrality.

This account, however, leaves us with at least one important unanswered question about the correlationist subject: What has become of the correlationist subject if it is has been permanently displaced by mathematical discourse? Has the place of the subject simply been evacuated by the decentering discourse of mathematics, or did it never exist at all? And who is the subject of the enunciation of ancestral statements? This question concerning the correlationist subject immediately invokes the figure of Hegel as the post-Kantian figure who, like Meillassoux, attempted to think the 'absolute' by overcoming the correlationist subject, while also bringing contingency into the center of his system. …

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