Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Quentin Meillassoux: A New French Philosopher

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Quentin Meillassoux: A New French Philosopher

Article excerpt

QUENTIN MEILLASSOUX

A NEW FRENCH PHILOSOPHER

This article is a review of Après lafinitude, the remarkable debut book of Quentin Meillassoux.1 In my estimation, this work is one of the most important to appear in continental philosophy in recent years, and deserves a wide readership at the earliest possible date. An English translation by Ray Brassier will be published by Continuum in the near future.2

Meillassoux's book is written in a lucid and economical style, covering abundant terrain in just 165 pages. It offers bold readings of the history of philosophy-Aristotle is not realist enough, Hume not skeptical enough. It shows bursts of scathing wit, as when drawing wry parallels between the anti-Darwinian reveries of creationism and major schools of presentday philosophy. Most importantly, Après la finitude offers a ruthless attack on virtually all of post-Kantian philosophy, now labeled as "correlationism," and proposes an original "speculative" solution (though not in Hegel's sense) to the Kantian impasse. Meillassoux proposes nothing less than a return of philosophy to the absolute, which for him means reality in itself apart from any relation to humans. The critical portions of the book strike me as definitive: much of what we know as analytic and continental philosophy looks rather different following his assault on correlationism. Meillassoux's own ideas, plausibly described as the mere antechamber to a larger and still unpublished system, lie open to possible objections. Nonetheless, his appeal to an "ancestral" realm prior to all human access succeeds in defining an unexpected new battlefield for continental thought. Barely forty years old, he seems likely to emerge as one of the important names in European philosophy in the decades to come.

We should begin by situating Meillassoux among the more established contemporary thinkers. For many years, continental philosophy in the Anglophone world was dominated by Heidegger and Derrida. Neither of these figures will soon disappear from radar, and Heidegger is now celebrated as a classic for the ages even by mainstream analytic thinkers. But since the miH-1990s, the HeideggeroDerridean brand of continental thought has faced increasing competition from new trends: initially from the books of Gilles Deleuze, and more recently from the heterodox tag team of Alain Badiou and a resurgent Slavoj Zizek. While major works by these "new" authors have been available for many years, what is more recent is their increased momentum among the younger generation of continental philosophers. In terms of background and orientation, Meillassoux is not difficult to place among these currents. He was a student of Badiou, and the preface to the book is written by Badiou himself, who can barely find sufficient words to praise it-by fusing absolute logical necessity with a radical contingency of the laws of nature, Meillassoux is said to "open in the history of philosophy... a new path foreign to Kant's canonical distribution between 'dogmatism,' 'scepticism,' and 'critique.'"3 Furthermore, despite the absence of set-theory notation and other known Badiouian flourishes, there are obvious points of similarity between teacher and student: the major role for mathematics, including the anointment of Georg Cantor as a pivotal figure for philosophy; the fondness for step-by-step logical argumentation; the absence of any especial interest in Heidegger or the phenomenological tradition. Both authors also display grand systematic ambitions of a kind that seemed unthinkable in our field a short time ago. Nonetheless, Meillassoux's vision of the world is not Badiou's, and certain aspects of the former even cut against the grain of the latter. According to published information, Meillassoux was born in 1967 in Paris, son of the economic anthropologist Claude Meillassoux (19252005), an intellectual maverick in his own right. He is a graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, and has been employed at that institution for the past decade. …

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