Tuesday, March 4, 2014

more on Kacem's The Meillassoux Effect

The following are some thoughts prompted by a post from Terry of Agent Swarm blog HERE.  Terry has given us some invaluable translations and presents in English for the first time just how important MBK's criticisms of Meillassoux truly are.  Kacem is definitely a name you'll be hearing about in the future.

Kacem construes Meillassoux to be a problematic thinker due to his dual allegiance to Badiou and Deleuze. Badiou for the inspiration of ontology as mathematics (set theory), and Deleuze for surcontingency (and its virtual nature).  It is not that Meillassoux veers toward subjectalism, vitalism, or even scientism, as someone who unites Badiou and Deleuze might.  Rather, it is the noumenalisation of these factors that is problematic, according to Kacem.

In the past many philosophers have criticized moments in After Finitude where Meillassoux is just at a loss when proper citation, evidence, or support seems needed.  In particular, there are, indeed, several instances of straw men in that book, particularly when it comes to criticisms of "correlationism."  (In fact, many recent criticisms of the phenomenological method are put forward in the same vein as these straw men and come off as disingenuous for similar reasons.)  Here Kacem states that QM is "hiding from himself" and is incapable of recognizing the fatal contradiction in his system.

The contradiction is not performative and actually does not involve a human correlate.  It is much more dangerous, and hence, possibly truly a fatal error.  In essence, Kacem points out that the "factial negation" of any form of surcontingency in QM's system is precisely the sort of mathematical necessity and universality which is required (and presupposed) for his argument concerning set theory to work.  (QM's argument is that because no totalizable number of sets are possible one cannot say one coming-to-be "event" is any more likely than any other.  There just isn't a closed total to draw from.)

The result is that QM has duplicated Absolutes.  One in surcontingency, and one is the necessity required to either ground surcontingency or the logical and mathematical ontology needed to explain the nature of its existence.

In the past I've compared to QM to a Schellingean process philosopher on this account, where, instead of two there are three Absolutes within his system.  The third Absolute holds true in temporal form, and hence there is a way to construe three modal operators at work in rotatory motion within his system ala Hegel, Schelling, and Bergson.  But the "bluff," as Kacem points out, is that QM denies necessity, though requires it at each turn of the rotor: whether in the establishment of Worlds, the creation of an advent, or whathaveyou.

Kacem then goes on to critique the incompatibility of QM's statements with contemporary scientific findings concerning natural laws.  Here Kacem seems to be neglecting a Peircean (and even Deleuzian) understanding of law as a natural feature of the world established by habit.  There are laws, but they may change (rather slowly) over time.  On the other hand, Kacem is right to state that the fact that QM states that these laws can change at any time, for any reason, seems to undermine his position that the laws governing surcontingency (or the necessity of it) *and* the proposed temporal order of the creation of Worlds, are a real possibility in the sense that their creation/event can be anticipated in any meaningful way.

The issue comes down to stability.  There is a "meta" level of stability whose appearance seems unjustified if his theory concerning surcontingency and set theory is true.  Kacem thinks that it is QM's Kantian noumenalisation of surcontingency that allows the positing of this "meta" level to take place.  (I am not sure I agree.)  On Kacem's account, surgcontingency is nowhere to be seen, and thus there is no way to account for surcontingency's real properties save for the mathematical ontology whose necessity surcontingency denies.  Deleuze does not suffer this problem because the Deleuzian mathematical ontology is fundamentally a description of empirical conditions (albeit an empirical transcendental method, e.g. "transcendental empiricism"), whereas QM's is a "demonstration" only in the sense that it relies on mathematical ontology to achieve phenomenal expression of an unfalsifiable hypothesis ("transcendental materialism").  This is to say that whatever surcongtingency is or does, we can never know so directly or according to a method that can make sense of its necessity, despite Meillassoux's own claims.  That necessity is presupposed rather than proven given the contradiction in the system.  Ironically, I think this is because Meillassoux, despite denying that there is a transcendental core to his dismantling of correlationism, utilizes a transcendental core and then keeps it.  Thus, QM is not a philosopher of immanence, but of transcendence.  For me, personally, philosophically, this is not especially problematic because of my own theological commitments.

In the end, Kacem finds that Meillassoux noumenalises what ought to be (and can be) adequately described within a rationalist, materialist ontology.  Just as Harman, so says Kacem, cannot explain the interior of whatever he presupposes to be an already eternally individuated item (and thus is a philosopher of transcendence in two ways: that of an unknowable inner core and that of failing to provide a meaningful account of individuation), Meillassoux cannot explain the noumenal Absolute that his phenomenal Absolute presupposes, and thus also is a transcendental philosopher.  In this way Kacem states QM is still stuck in finitude (and indirectly in correlation) despite his rationalist materialism and mathematical ontology.