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After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency Hardcover – June 7, 2008
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'Rarely do we encounter a book which not only meets the highest standards of thinking, but sets up itself new standards, transforming the entire field into which it intervenes. Quentin Meillassoux does exactly this.' Slavoj Zizek
"After Finitude will certainly play a central role in ongoing debates on the status of philosophy, on questions pertaining to epistemology and, above all, to ontology. It will not only be an unavoidable point of reference for those working on the question of finitude, but also for those whose work deals with political theology, and the status of the religious turn of philosophy. After Finitude will certainly become an ideal corrosive against too rigid assumptions and will shake entrenched positions." — Gabriel Riera, University of Illinois, Chicago, in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews, 2008
"There is something absolutely exhilarating about Meillassoux's argument, and it is not difficult to see why his book has already aroused so much interest. The exposition and critique of correlationism is brilliant and Meillassoux is at his best when showing the philosophical complacency of contemporary Kantians and phenomenologists. The proposal of speculative realism is audacious and bracing, particularly when he defends the idea of nature as a 'glacial universe', cold and indeifferent to humans. Such is Pascal's 'Eternal silence of infinite spaces', but without the consolation of a wager of God's existence. However, by Mellassoux's own admission, his proposal is incomplete and we await its elaboration in future books. Although, his style of presentation can turn into a sort of fine-grained logic-chopping worthy of Duns Scotus, the rigour, clarity and passion of the argument can be breathtaking." — Simon Critchley, TLS, Feb 2009
"Meillassoux addresses the question whether natural laws are necessary, and if so why, raised by Kant and gnawed by subsequent philosophers from Hume to Foucault. He offers a logical proof that the only feature of the laws of nature that is absolutely necessary is that they are contingent. He explores the ethical and metaphysical implications. Brassier translates Apres la finitude, which was published in 2006 by Editions du Seuil." -Eithne O'Leyne, BOOK NEWS, Inc.
'A penetrating critique of the post-Kantian "correlationism" that has dominated philosophy on the European mainland over the last 250 years.' - Books of the Year, Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Ray Brassier is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon.
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Meillassoux rejects speculative metaphysics (mostly coming down these days to religion) and accepts the generally anti-realist notion that the Principle of Sufficient Reason, need not apply to the world apart from human experience of it, but holds that the principle of non-contradiction should not be abandoned. Even if we cannot conceptually embrace infinite possibility (totalize the world), it cannot be that the world contradicts itself. All of this comes down to there being no absolutes, no "necessary being" and no "thinkable totality of all possibility" except for the fact of contingency. The only absolute for Meillossoux is that everything is contingent and might have been other than it is.
But all of this leaves historical and present day (postmodern) anti-realists in the position of claiming that we cannot know anything beyond our experience at all, and it is this mistake that he aims to rectify. Despite his general acceptance of the Kantian starting point, he insists that the achievements of science over the last two centuries well demonstrate that we can discover (through an objectivity emerging from shared experience, the results of repeated observations and experiments) much that is true about the world of the past and the present even if such truth lacks the a priori assurance of mathematics.
That problem comes down to why, if it is correct to reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason for the world apart from human experience, the world, that is the laws of physics, seem to be so stable? If the history of the universe comes out to its not-necessary "facticity", that it is the way it is merely by chance, why aren't the laws and regularities constantly changing rendering our ability to comprehend anything, even to be conscious at all, impossible? Kant's answer to Hume was that the stability is only the effect of the categories of our consciousness, and if the in-itself (Kant's noumenon) were not stable there couldn't be any consciousness in the first place. But Kant accepted the Principle of Sufficient Reason which Meillassoux rejects. Instead he points out than an unstable in-itself might appear stable for long periods (essentially an anthropic argument). Instability need not mean moment-by-moment instability.
Meillassoux argument rests itself on our ability to "mathematize" our shared experience. That we can describe phenomena in-the-world in mathematical terms and discover not only that 2+2=4 (a priori) but also that E=mc^2 (a posteriori) speaks to us of the world's stability. But he never quite gets around to telling us how mathematics grounds the stability. Indeed I do not see how it can because if it did, that would render the world necessary.
But there is a further problem here. If instability were really a quality of the in-itself and the universe was infinitely (or trillions of years) old, a few tens of billions of years of stability would not be problematic. But if he is right about the meaningfulness of scientific discoveries, then the universe is only 13.8 billion years old and yet the laws have been stable at least since the moment of nucleosynthisis a second or so after the big bang. That means the laws have been the same for 13.8 billion years minus 1 second! Extraordinary stability indeed!
To sum up, a beautifully written book, well argued, a delight to read, with many insights into the relation between human experience (the for-us) and the antecedent (the for-itself) world. But it doesn't quite finish the job, something Meillassoux says he must let go of (for now I presume) at the end of the book. A fantastic example of how good philosophy is done even if, in my humble opinion of course, he begins from the wrong starting point and never quite finishes.
One of the major successes of this work is that creates an alternative to Kantian thought. Before having read this, my impression was that someone would come along, and synthesize rationalism and empiricism in a different way, so as to present an alternative that is totally external to the Kantian paradigm. That is not what Meillassoux does in this work (and this is one of the creative aspects of the work). Instead, he illustrates Kantian failures by going outside of all Kantian philosophy and demonstrating, through meta-diagraming, that what all Kantians and post-Kantian (even those who claim to be anti-Kantian) have done is buy in to "correlationism," a much needed neologism. Moreover, the correlationist thinking, Meillassoux claims, is what ensures that the absolute seems unobtainable.
My only complaint about the book is that Ray Brassier translated it. I think Meillassoux should have tried translating it. My problem with Brassier translating it is that Brassier --as brilliant as he is-- talks and writes like a scatterbrained individual, which makes this work somewhat difficult to read. When work is already a challenging enough a read, I don't think Brassier should be the guy translating it.
Overall, I can't recommend this book more. It will stand as one of the major modern contributions to philosophy.
Meillassoux performs the seemingly impossible task of resurrecting the stance of science and the absolute in philosophy while inaugurating a new brand of "unreason." In the process he bridges a divide that seems to confront us every day: that is, the contrast between the naive realism we take for granted in our daily lives and the nagging feeling that we really don't know s*** (excuse my French).
Like many of the 20th century philosophers Meillassoux confronts in After Finitude, I've tended to side with those who assume absolute knowledge is out of our reach as humans, or at least, that Hume's problem of induction pretty much killed any pretension we had about a completed science. And while those problems still loom, I have to admit After Finitude did open up a new avenue for thinking those issues. Sure, Meillassoux does pepper his essay with the requisite neologisms, but I found most of them to be useful additions to his argument.
Does it get a bit wild when he replaces god with something called "Hyper-chaos"? Yeah, but that's part of the fun.
Who knows, by the end you might just find yourself convinced.
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