meillassoux and the possibility of nothing

According to Meillassoux’s second “figure” of unreason, “it is absolutely necessary that the in-itself exists, and hence that the latter cannot dissolve into nothingness.” (2008: 71, cf. 2011: 165) Meillassoux asserts that although no determinate material reality is absolute, it is nevertheless true that

contingency is nothing outside of what is contingent – it is not a ‘free floating’ principle, but always a property of determinate beings. I thus establish that something must exist – and not pure nothingness – and that this something is not necessarily a thinking thing. This something that does not necessarily think is matter in general (2012: 13).

Matter in general – which sounds a lot like a reification – necessarily exists; because (a) contingency is necessary; and (b) necessarily in rebus. It follows from this that there couldn’t have been nothing. Meillassoux writes:

[A]lthough I can think the contingency of this existing thing, I cannot think the contingency of existence as such (or of the fact that something exists in general). Thus I am perfectly incapable of thinking the abolition of existence, and so becoming-inexistent is only conceivable as the becoming of a determinate existent, not as the becoming of existence in general (2008: 75-6).

If existence as such is contingent, Meillassoux argues, then facticity is just a fact, i.e. there is a facticity of facticity – and since we’ve already ruled this out by accepting the weak interpretation of the non-facticity of facticity, we must conclude that the latter entails Meillassoux’s preferred strong interpretation, according to which existence (i.e. matter in general) is necessary.

Compare this with Gabriel’s alternative (2011: 130): according to him, for contingency to truly have the last word there can’t be any guarantee that even it is necessary. Rather, unprethinkable being – now figured ambiguously as the facticity of reason – becomes the contingency of all necessity, and hence the contingency of the necessity of contingency (2011: 134). But what can this mean if not that contingency could have failed to be? For Schelling it seems to involve – or at least tempt us towards – an eschatological regression into incomprehensible necessity.

Now, dialectically it may prove difficult to dislodge Schelling from his ambivalent perch, but it seems to me that Meillassoux’s position is a little more exposed. The question I want to pose is whether Meillassoux’s argument against the possibility of nothing subtly begs the question against an ontologisation of strong correlationism, i.e. against the sort of view Martin Hägglund finds in Derrida. In the quote above Meillassoux relies heavily upon the claimed unthinkability of the abolition of existence, which we can grant arguendo. Recall that he wants to say that the strong correlationist is wrong to believe that, by thinking the possibility of the unthinkable via the unreason of the real, she is thereby able to deny the absoluteness of facticity. This is supposed to legitimise the inference from unthinkability to impossibility. My question is: what if the strong correlationist wants to assert the absoluteness of facticity by applying it to itself? This is to make facticity more, and not less, absolute than Meillassoux contends.

To keep his position coherent, Meillassoux must not treat contingency as a substrate or as a (metaphysical) subject of predication, since it would then be determinately necessary – even if it does not determine contingent beings in any way. (Necessary existence is a determination of the absolute insofar as contingent existence is possible.) This potential difficulty can be avoided by holding that contingency is neither relative to the necessity of correlation nor itself the necessity that something-or-other exist, but instead relative to the possibility of nothingness that confirms it whilst excluding all necessary existence.* As a slogan: contingency is necessary because it is contingent.

The picture that emerges from this is that of an ontology/metaphysica generalis of contingent being – of the contingency common to all beings – corresponding to an atheology/metaphysica specialis of divine inexistence qua possibility of nothing.


*Cf. Thacker’s description of Schopenhauer (2011: 18-19): “Instead of asserting an Absolute Life (grounded by its own principle of sufficiency, and driven by an ontology of overpresence), Schopenhauer will drop the bottom out of the ontology of generosity. What remains is, quite simply, nothing. No overflowing life force, no pantheistic becoming, no immanent principle of life running throughout all of Creation. Just nothing.” Of course, Thacker immediately goes on to say that this nothing is a “paradoxical and enigmatic something.” Nevertheless, he does acknowledge that attempting to think the in-itself as some sort of life requires a “minimal equivocity” with regard to phenomenal life (ibid).

References

  • Markus Gabriel, Transcendental Ontology: Essays in German Idealism, (Bloomsbury: 2011).
  • Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making, (Edinburgh University Press: 2011)
  • Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, (Continuum: 2008).
  • Quentin Meillassoux, “Iteration, Reiteration, Repetition: A Speculative Analysis of the Meaningless Sign”, trans. Robin Mackay, (2012).
  • Eugene Thacker, ‘Dark Life: Negation, Nothingness and the Will-To-Life in Schopenhauer’, Parrhesia, 12 (2011), pp. 12-27.
This entry was posted in cartesian dreaming and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s