meillassoux on the necessity of being

Meillassoux does not agree with Williamson that all being is necessary being, but there is an interesting point of agreement between them and Coggins (whose position I described briefly here). All agree it is necessary that something (concrete/determinate) exist.

However, whereas Williamson and Coggins adopt the method of reflective-equilibrium + abduction, Meillassoux offers something different. He goes so far as to say that it is self-refuting to deny the necessity of (contingent) being. (It is also ultimately self-refuting to hold that any single thing exists necessarily, he says.)

Reconstructed, Meillassoux’s argument for why something must exist goes something like this (2008: 74):

  1. The only alternative to asserting that it is a necessary truth that something determinate exists is asserting that it is a fact that something determinate exists (premise).
  2. Asserting the latter means asserting that the existence of contingent truth is a fact (premise).
  3. If something is a fact then it is not necessary, and vice versa (premise). 
  4. Hence to deny that it is necessary that something determinate exists is to hold that it is a contingent truth that there are contingent truths (from 1-3).
  5. It is contradictory (and hence self-refuting) to say that it is a contingent truth that there are contingent truths (premise).
  6. Hence it is self-refuting to deny that it is necessary that something determinate exists (from 4-5).

Beginning with premise (5), it is clear that Meillassoux relies on the following bridging premise: if something is not necessary then it is not absolute, and if it is not absolute then it is relative. Given this premise, to assert the contingency of contingency is to assert the relativity of relativity, and in this way the self-refuting nature of relativism is transferred to the denial of the necessity of contingency.

Now, the supposed link between contingency and relativity is highly contested, and indeed (I would estimate) rejected by most. However, perhaps we can offer alternative support to (5) as follows: if it is only a contingent truth that there are contingent truths, then in some possible world there are only necessary truths. Now, supposing we aren’t restricting the accessibility between worlds, it follows that in the world where there are only necessary truths, it is true and thus necessarily true that there are only necessary truths. Hence from the premise that it is contingent that there are contingent truths, it follows that there are and are not contingent truths, which is a contradiction. So it must be necessary that there are contingent truths.

Unfortunately, as far as I can see, the problem with Meillassoux’s argument occurs earlier, with premise (2). This premise effectively asserts that, if there could have been nothing concrete or determinate, then it cannot be necessary that there are contingent truths. Probably the underlying premise is that without the existence of something in every possible world, there cannot be any necessary truths as such, and hence cannot be any necessary truths about contingency or contingent truth.

One way to support this underlying premise would be via something like Coggins view, which she says is just Aristotelean realism about universals. Given the plausible premise that some (if not all) necessary truths express or involve universals in some way, then given Aristotelean realism about universals, it seems to follow that some (if not all) necessary truths require the existence of something in every possible world.

None of this seems obviously correct to me, however. It may be a fact and thus contingent that anything exists, but I want to see more explanation as to how this entails that it is also a fact and thus contingent that there are contingent truths. Why can’t we follow Williamson in denying the supervenience of contingent truth on being, and then simply deny Williamson’s own necessitism, in order to arrive at a position compatible both with Meillassoux’s radical contingency and the possibility that there could have been nothing?

References

    • Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, (Continuum: 2008).
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