Category Archives: Speculative Realism

Meillassoux ‘on religion’

Putting together my paper on Meillassoux and Latour for the upcoming Varieties of Continental Thought and Religion conference in Toronto, I’ve been thinking a lot about the way Meillassoux characterizes religion – that is, I’ve spent a lot of time frustrated by the way Meillassoux mischaracterizes religion. It has occurred to me, though (and maybe this is just obvious? at any rate, it seems important to note), that Meillassoux would have a very hard time making his philosophical case concerning the divine inexistence if he didn’t (mis)characterize religion the way he does.

First of all, there seem to be a number of interrelated assumptions that he makes (some of them aren’t even stated explicitly, while others are stated but not well argued for). There’s the overall assumption at the core of his project that in all cases immanence is preferable to transcendence – i.e., reference to any transcendent being or concept is philosophically unacceptable. OK, this more or less follows from the argument in After Finitude, and it has become generally accepted for a number of reasons anyway. But then the more particular assumptions regarding religion come, including:

  • religion necessarily involves reference to transcendence
  • religion involves, specifically, the conception of a necessary Supreme Being
  • religion involves belief in an account of the creation of the world by such a Supreme Being
  • religion conceives of its Supreme Being as by nature unthinkable by humans
  • religion is essentially irrational
  • religion is to be avoided at all costs

Yet, since Meillassoux’s concept of God, the hope for a coming world of justice, and the figure of a divine mediator bear so much in common with common (Abrahamic) religious themes – as has been pointed out elsewhere – he actually has to do some work to distinguish his position from that of what he calls religion. In order to bring his own position is sharper relief, he needs this caricature of religion. It seems that his idea of hope for the world of justice is a purely immanent, philosophical hope only because religious hope is necessarily hope for that which we cannot think, faith in a God who is necessarily an inscrutable, authoritative Supreme Being; the immortality that religion desires is the immortality of an other life, not this life. If it turns out, though, that religion isn’t what Meillassoux thinks it is, his position collapses into a fairly traditional theological one (or, if not traditional, at least not novel and not irreligious). In other words, here’s something that’s ripe for deconstruction.

(Who knows, though; the revised and completed version of The Divine Inexistence might fix all of this…)

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atheism

Graham Harman posted this snippet from Meillassoux’s L’inexistence divine, regarding atheism:

“Atheism is a strategy of the besieged. One begins by admitting that the territory of immanence is just as religion describes it, then one declares that this territory is the only one that exists, and finally one invents every possible way of rendering it livable despite that fact.”

I have nothing to say about this, really, other than that I find it to be probably the single best metaphor for atheism that I’ve ever encountered.

contingencies

Yesterday on Object-Oriented Philosophy, Graham Harman made the following point about Quentin Meillassoux:

What many people still aren’t getting, and I myself didn’t quite grasp initially, is that Meillassoux is in a sense pro-correlationist, unlike the rest of us. For Meillassoux, the argument that “if you try to think a tree outside thought, you are thinking it, and it is thereby a tree inside thought” is a compelling fact for all philosophy. The attempt to get outside this circle is, for him, merely a dazzling rhetorical move or appeal to a “rich elsewhere” (he finds Latour guilty of this, and by implication me too). … Meillassoux really stands in the Badiou/Zizek/Lacan cluster, admires Hegel more than anyone else, and is not really a classic “realist.” Meillassoux simply wants to radicalize the human/world correlate into a form of absolute knowledge.

This is probably the clearest, most direct, and (it seems to me) most accurate characterization of Meillassoux’s position that I’ve come across. My reaction to his argument in After Finitude has always been that he has things backward (or upside-down?), so that the conclusions he draws from his mostly rather sharp insights tend to be the opposite of where those insights actually point. For instance, he sees “ancestrality” as a problem for “correlationism” because the ancestral datum signals a non-given existence, a time before givenness. But of course this is only a real problem if givenness has to be confined to givenness to or for the subject or thought in general, which seems to be exactly what he would want to argue against. If his initial characterization of correlationism is to be taken seriously, then it would be that position for which ancestrality is not a problem – or at most is a sort of attractive pseudo-problem. I can’t help but see it as such in After Finitude.

Now, I find his argument regarding the principle of factiality – viz., the sub-titular case for the necessity of contingency – much more engaging (if not always completely consistent). Thinking contingency as absolute is a problem to which so-called correlationism seems to be inescapably led, and one that it wouldn’t really be capable of addressing in any of its classical forms. What does bug me, though, is Meillassoux’s apparent attitude that taking the principle of factiality seriously amounts to an unstoppable critique of religion and/or theology. (This point, which is only a minor theme in After Finitude, makes me eager to get my hands on a copy of L’inexistence divine.) At least in After Finitude, Meillassoux never really engages with actual theological positions (many of which, at least in contemporary Christian theology, would be more than happy to endorse the complete contingency of every existent thing and existence itself – this is a perfectly coherent interpretation of creatio ex nihilo). Instead, he conflates belief, theology, and naïve fideism in a very facile way and then acts as if a defeat of the weakest of these amounts to a defeat of all of them.