Thursday, January 26, 2012

Meillassoux’s work should not be taken as a rigorous anti-theist materialism

Over the past few days discussion has sprung up about Meillassoux's relationship to theism.  Two blogs in particular - I'll note them in a moment - have pointed summaries of how Meillassoux relates to non-classical theism (for example, process theism - this seems to be a positive relationship) as well as fideism (correlationism - this is Meillassoux's major critique of "traditional" theisms).  

Paul Ennis has rightly pointed out that Meillassoux's take on religion has been out there for readers to look at since 2007, long before translation of excerpts of L'inexistence divine appeared last year.  Paul acknowledges that there are "choice" readings: in other words atheists will mute or "scale back" what are perhaps key M texts that open up possibilities for new types of theisms, including developments of "process theism."  In the discussions one comment sums up this idea well:
[C]urrent Meillassoux fans will avoid reading this text [L'inexistence divine] for as long as humanly possible.
 Adam / An und fur sich notes: Meillassoux's work is religiously oriented.   

He cites the following reasons.  

1. The belief in creation ex nihilo 
2. Anthropocentrism: the contingent becoming of the universe reaches its pinnacle and unsurpassable goal in humanity  
3. Faith in the resurrection of the dead  
4. Hope in a coming mediator figure who, though possessing the divine power necessary to inaugurate the resurrection, empties himself  
5. An ethics based on living in joyful hope of the resurrection 

Another comment states:
    Meillassoux explicitly says that his target is fideisim, but he pretty consistently uses fideism, theism, and religion interchangeably. And it’s definitely fair to ask whether he’s neglecting non-fideist (as well as non-classically-theist) theology, because the answer to that question is certainly “yes, he is.”
    I think that a construction of what Meillassoux could mean for theology (given many of Meillassoux's ideas that constitute speculative realism) is fair game, and it has been neglected.

    Currently I am writing a paper for EN 2012.  The title is "Meillassoux's God and Process Theism."  I hope to clarify why and how reading Meillassoux as an anti-theist materialist is simply wrong.  It's a choice reading to focus on AF (where his relationship to non-classical theism is scaled back) and it is not a cogent claim that to say that Meillassoux is somehow atheistic.  Brassier absolutely, I would take it.  But Meillassoux?  No way.

    From duncanlaw blog we get the following.  Note, I love his post and my sarcasm in what follows isn't directed at him.  His post is largely spot on.
    1.) Meillassoux’s work is religiously oriented. Indeed it seems to me that one of the main motivating forces of his work is the desire to guarantee the possibility of physical resurrection. I’d be inclined to argue that you can infer this from After Finitude – but in Spectral Dilemma he pretty much comes out and says it. I’m puzzled by the way Meillassoux’s work is being received as a rigorous anti-theist materialism, or even as compatible with same.
    6.) Meillassoux is able to move from the ‘logically’ necessary to the ‘ontologically’ necessary. ... Hallward’s Radical Philosophy review of After Finitude emphasises this nicely: Meillassoux doubly conflates ontology and epistemology. FIrst he reads a lot of thinkers who are making essentially epistemological claims about reality-for-us as making ontological claims about reality itself. Then Meillassoux argues that something like logical necessity gives us access to ultimate reality – the absolute – without making it clear how this claim of ontological knowledge is meant to be guaranteed or justified. Meillassoux thinks that his sense of necessity is able to do what Descartes’ ontological argument failed to: guarantee knowledge of ultimate reality through the simple structure of thought. 
    I don't see this as a bad thing, quite.  Conflating ontology and epistemology has been looked at at length.  I intend to do some fancy footwork along the "logical" meets "ontological" lines using Hartshorne (hint: it paradoxically seems to ditch necessity as traditionally understood).  To the Absolute we go.
    11) This in turn makes me suspicious when Meillassoux inveighs against creationism. I’m not totally clear what’s going on here...
     This sounds right, but the creationism argued against would be the "traditional" biblical theists that seem to be the straw man subject to many attacks.  I've gone beyond being annoyed at these "fight all forms of transcendence!" types, lumping any advances in process thought (Stengers, anyone?) along with those evil 'ole transcendence types.  Yep, gotta get them "creationists," Paw.  

    Wait...isn't Whitehead a sort of creationist?!?!?  He is, in a completely different sense.  But we'll just choose to casually ignore that.
    12) For what it’s worth, you can play the Being-as-capital parlour game with Meillassoux, too. “If we look through the aperture which we have opened up onto the absolute, what we see there is a rather menacing power – something insensible, and capable of destroying both things and worlds, of bringing forth monstrous absurdities, yet also of never doing anything, of realizing every dream, but also every nightmare, of engendering random and frenetic transformations, or conversely, of producing a universe that remains motionless down to its ultimate recesses, like a cloud bearing the fiercest storms, then the eeriest bright spells, if only for an interval of disquieting calm. We see an omnipotence equal to that of the Cartesian God, and capable of anything, even the inconceivable; but an omnipotence that has become autonomous, without norms, blind, devoid of any of the other divine perfections, a power with neither goodness nor wisdom…” Remind you of anything?
    Yep.  And why aren't the folks mentioned above getting this?  Oops, that's right!  They'll be busy railing against those "transcendence" types.
    12) Finally – this is a bit of a low blow… “[I]f we assume that the segment of the sequence has this very great length – or in other words, that the ‘world’ lasts long enough – then our assumption of randomness entitles us to expect the occurrence of a cosmic period in which the law of gravity will seem to hold good, although ‘in reality’ nothing ever occurs but random scattering. This type of ‘explanation’ by means of an assumption of randomness is applicable to any regularity we choose. In fact we can in this way ‘explain’ our whole world, with all its observed regularities, as a phase in a random chaos.” The Logic Of Scientific Discovery, p. 190. I’m aware, of course, that Meillassoux sees his original contribution as the distinction between probabilistic chance and ‘absolute’ contingency (a distinction that unfortunately rests, imo, on massive confusion about how probabilistic explanations work); and I’m aware that The Logic of Scientific Discovery isn’t making any ontological claims. Nevertheless – as a general rule of thumb: if Karl Popper sounds a lot like a precursor, you’re probably not as radical as you think.
    Again, this is brilliant.  Finally I find out that I am not the only who sees Peirce and Whitehead, Bergson, and just a very few others, as having outlined the steps for this dance already.  

    Wait!  Oh, that's right.  I say that "just because I have an interest" in those figures.  Has nothing to do with their arguments.  

    Leibniz. Whitehead. Peirce. Bergson.  It's called reading them instead of casually (and often arrogantly) using their philosophy to warm over what you say or to set up as a straw man to knock down.  

    So let's call a spade a spade.
    An important corollary, is that those who scoffed at the idea that Meillassoux’s work had a religious component – and, indeed, those who strenuously insisted that no true anti-theism was possible without an engagement with Meillassoux’s epochal, unprecedented theoretical breakthrough – were idiots.
    Agreed.  And this goes out to those idiots who scoff at the religious component to Whitehead's work, as well (because the trend involves not only Meillassoux).  Obviously there is no religious component here to wrestle with, afterall.  Not just idiots Duncan, utter stupidity.  The complete opposite of what sort of dialogue concerning religion that someone like Whitehead would have endorsed.  (As a note, I bring up Whitehead because I would dislike very much to see the same sort of "cut God a priori from Meillassoux!" response that one often gets with Whitehead.)