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  • Toward a Speculative Realism
  • Robert S. Lehman (bio)
Quentin Meillassoux’s Après la finitude: Essai sur la nmécessit de la contingence. Paris, France: Éditions du Seuil, 2006. 180 pages, 22 euros (paper).

In Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, Alain Badiou notes a surprising philosophical similarity:

[W]e can state that Deleuze’s philosophy, like my own, moreover, is resolutely classical. And in this context classicism is relatively easy to define. Namely: any philosophy may be qualified as classical that does not submit to the critical injunctions of Kant. Such a philosophy considers, for all intents and purposes, the Kantian indictment of metaphysics as null and void, and, by way of consequence, upholds, against any “return to Kant,” against the critique, moral law and so on, that the rethinking of the univocity of ground is a necessary task for the world in which we are living today.”

(45–46)

What stands out in this characterization of Deleuze, and of Badiou himself, is not only the refusal of Kant’s “Copernican revolution” in favor of something closer to a pre-critical metaphysics, but also the assertion that this refusal could not be more timely; indeed, that it presents itself as nothing less than “a necessary task.” A brief survey of trends in Continental thought supports Badiou’s conviction: the turn to pre-critical sources is ubiquitous. Alongside the writings of Deleuze and Badiou, recent years have seen the translation into English of Louis Althusser’s final essays, which engage in a productive dialogue with Greek atomism (Philosophy of the Encounter), as well as the development of a non-Hegelian and fundamentally Spinozist Marxism in the writings of both Antonio Negri (The Savage Anomaly) and Pierre Macherey (Hegel ou Spinoza). In the majority of these works, however, while the battle cry is “metaphysics!” the stakes of the debate are political rather than philosophical sensu stricto. Thus, when Badiou insists elsewhere that “a return to Kant is always a sign of closed and morbid times” (quoted in Hallward, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, 56), he has in mind the political implications of Kant’s moral theory rather than the philosophical tenability of the Kantian transcendental. No doubt the compatibility of critical philosophy with leftist politics remains a pressing question; nonetheless, absent a careful philosophical engagement with Kant’s project, the refusal of the Kantian revolution on political grounds appears questionable. One does not break with critical philosophy by fiat.1

Quentin Meillassoux, a former student of Badiou’s and current professor of philosophy at the École normale supérieure, is the most recent thinker to take up the struggle against critical philosophy. In his stylistically clear yet conceptually dense book, Après la finitude: Essai sur la nécessité de la contingence, Meillassoux argues that recent scientific work has condemned to the dustbin of history not just Kant’s transcendental philosophy but all of those philosophies that suppose Kant’s critical injunction, a list that includes every post-Kantian idealism, phenomenology, and Lebensphilosophie, as well as every manifestation of the linguistic turn. Against this “correlationism,” that is, against any philosophical system that takes as its object the relationship between consciousness and world, Meillassoux makes a case for a speculative return to the thing in itself — the very position that Kant is supposed to have demolished.

What sets Meillassoux’s project apart from other attempts to resuscitate aspects of classical metaphysics, however, and what makes it particularly threatening to Kantianism, is its insistence that experimental science is what forces us to reject correlationism. On numerous occasions, Kant makes clear the degree to which his philosophy ought to ground the work of the empirical scientist. His Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, for example, essentially provides an a priori justification of Newtonian mechanics, and when in the first Critique he fixes the borders of human knowledge, his ultimate aim is to bracket speculative metaphysics and to establish the realm proper to scientific reason. If it proves to be irreconcilable with contemporary science, then, the theoretical component of Kant’s philosophy risks becoming an historical curiosity.

A precise definition of correlationism is central to this assertion. Meillassoux describes correlationism as “the idea according to which we...

Additional Information

ISSN
1092-311X
Print ISSN
2572-6633
Launched on MUSE
2008-03-20
Open Access
No
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