This is the final post summarizing some conclusions from Difficult Atheism, before this series launches out into new territory. In previous posts I have introduced the series, discussed a schema for distinguishing between different atheisms, sketched Alain Badiou’s interruption of the mytheme by the matheme and Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Christmas Projection”, and reflected upon Nancy’s own idea that there is “something in Christianity deeper than Christianity” itself. I now turn to Quentin Meillassoux and ask once more, in a preliminary way, whether there might be a moment in his thought that can be considered “theological”.
Meillassoux avoids both Badiou’s assertion of the unchangeable nature of philosophy and Nancy’s recourse to a Christian notion of the archetype in his “something in Christianity deeper than Christianity”. He does this by insisting that the only starting point for his philosophy is that there is no necessity. Note that this is his starting point, not his final position. We shall see below that a certain necessity does enter Meillassoux’s thinking (the necessity of contingency, and the necessity of the law of non-contradiction), but it is made necessary, precisely, by the need for there to be no necessary being or necessary law.
The radical nature of his position becomes apparent if we consider the import of this “only”. There are no eo ipso necessary laws, either of nature or of logic, and certainly no necessary being or beings. Why does Meillassoux insist on this starting point? Because allowing any necessity into philosophy would, in fact, be opening wide the door to religion. A belief in perennial laws is religious because it makes some transcendent action necessary in order to maintain the laws over time. Without such a metaphysical intervention there is nothing to guarantee that (natural or logical) laws may not change. Concomitantly, Meillassoux warns that ‘We have removed the gods, but we have kept the belief in the divine solidity of laws’ (L’Inexistence divine 4), reminiscent of Nietzsche’s “I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar.”
For his own part, Meillassoux insists that these constants can be abolished, for the simple reason that nothing sustains them from the outside (ID 4). He deals at length with the obvious objections that could be raised to this adherence to the contingency of natural and logical laws, not least among which is the observation that natural laws have remained constant over a long period. We might resist Meillassoux’s notion that natural laws could change at any instant with the simple observation that they do not, in fact, change: Eppur non si muove! Meillassoux’s argument, in brief, hinges on the difference between chance (understood in terms of a finite and known number of possibilities, like a dice throw) and contingency (for which there is no known number of possible outcomes). Whereas chance presupposes a prior structure within which it operates (for example the structure of the faces of a die), contingency obeys no law and works within no such structure (ID 13). It follows, Meillassoux argues, that we cannot use probabilistic reasoning about the set of all possible worlds, because there is no set of all possible worlds (ID 36-38). Contingency is the appearance of a new universe of cases, not the appearance of any given universe (ID 16). We are therefore mistaken to refute Meillassoux’s thesis on the basis that the chance of a given law not having changed over a very long period of time (the argument that “if it can change, it would have changed by now”), because chance itself is only thinkable under a regime of the stability of physical laws, and so the objection assumes the stability it intends to prove.
Meillassoux builds his position as follows. First, there can be no real necessity, no necessary being, on pain of theology. Secondly it follows that the facticity of a thing is not itself a fact (Après la finitude 107/After Finitude 79), because if facticity were itself a fact (that is to say, contingent and not necessary) there could be a necessary being, and the door would once more be open to religious fideism. So, the only necessity is contingency itself:
what is, is factical, but that what is is factical, this itself cannot be a fact. Only the facticity of what is cannot be factical. Or again, in other words: it cannot be a fact that what is is a fact… The contingency of beings, and it alone, cannot be a contingent property of that being (ID 44).
Factiality, in other words, is the non-facticity of facticity (AF 107/AfF 79). Contingency is itself necessary in order to avoid a necessary being which, after the death of God, we have no grounds to admit into our thinking. We may say that an object is de facto red, but not that it is de facto de facto (ID 46).
You can read all the posts in this series on one page here.
And what is necessity? Necessity consists in the impossibility of qualifying contingency as contingent (ID 47). Contingency is necessarily non-contingent, because if it were contingent then there could be a necessary being, which Meillassoux has already ruled out. In order to avoid falling back into metaphysics, Meillassoux stresses that the principle of factiality does not maintain that contingency is necessary, but that only contingency is necessary (AF 108/AfF 80), as a direct correlate of the absence of any necessary being, event or law. Click here to read the full post at christopherwatkin.com >>
Abstract for Thinking with Nancy conference: Nancy is a thinker of radical emancipation
I have just finished the abstract for my talk at the Thinking with Nancy conference … Continue reading Abstract for Thinking with Nancy conference: Nancy is a thinker of radical emancipation
New project: How stories of liberation shape our selves and our society
As the Michel Serres book reaches its final stages, I am beginning an exciting new … Continue reading New project: How stories of liberation shape our selves and our society
Michel Serres book project update: Draft Introduction
For the past three and a half years I have been working on a monograph … Continue reading Michel Serres book project update: Draft Introduction
My review of Kevin Hart’s Poetry and Revelation in Los Angeles Review of Books
My review of Kevin Hart’s Poetry and Revelation has now been published in the latest edition … Continue reading My review of Kevin Hart’s Poetry and Revelation in Los Angeles Review of Books
Helping students to approach language learning as a way of life, not a slot on the timetable
Mastering a language is not like learning any other Arts faculty subject: to learn a … Continue reading Helping students to approach language learning as a way of life, not a slot on the timetable
Research Hacks #24: What we think about when we think about academic impact
No-one working in academia today needs me to point out the importance of the impact … Continue reading Research Hacks #24: What we think about when we think about academic impact
If my brain is damaged, do I become a different person? Catherine Malabou and neuro-identity
A couple of years ago I had the privilege of teaching in a joint Monash-Warwick … Continue reading If my brain is damaged, do I become a different person? Catherine Malabou and neuro-identity
French Philosophy Today paperback now shipping
I just received my copy of French Philosophy Today in paperback. You can find it … Continue reading French Philosophy Today paperback now shipping
Download the handout for my live-streamed paper on Serres and alterity this coming Tuesday
If you are planning to follow my live-streamed paper on Michel Serres and alterity on Periscope … Continue reading Download the handout for my live-streamed paper on Serres and alterity this coming Tuesday
Reflections on live streaming academic papers with remote Q&A
First of all, some good news: Deakin have given me the go-ahead to live stream … Continue reading Reflections on live streaming academic papers with remote Q&A
I’m planning to tweet live video of my research seminar on Michel Serres and the Question of Alterity next Tuesday
Next Tuesday I will be giving a seminar at Deakin Univesity, Melbourne, on Michel Serres’s … Continue reading I’m planning to tweet live video of my research seminar on Michel Serres and the Question of Alterity next Tuesday
Research Hacks #23: Three Microsoft Word macros for quick mark-up of articles, essays and thesis chapters
I have the pleasure of reading a lot of student essays and supervising a number … Continue reading Research Hacks #23: Three Microsoft Word macros for quick mark-up of articles, essays and thesis chapters