- Doing Science Justice:Speculative Materialism and the Facticity of Research
The contemporary climatic situation is as urgent as it is frustrated. The pace of movement on international agreements, public opinion and national legislation is at odds with the time frames suggested by many scientific estimates. In this context it seems vital to seek new philosophical resources for responding to the sciences of the climate. Quentin Meillassoux’s philosophy is appropriate for this task for two reasons. Firstly, he believes that what he calls “speculative materialism” is a new system of thought. Its philosophical novelty may open up new possibilities for relating to science and to the environment. Secondly, the novelty of his approach emerges out of the broad narrative he winds around contemporary paradigms of thought, the conventional background against which he wants to make his mark (he is largely concerned with philosophy, but this story easily spans other humanities disciplines and the social sciences too). Just as one might assert oneself philosophically against such a framing of the status quo, so a politics of climate may be aided from better diagnosis of the contemporary situation, the obstacles and assets of the landscape through which it is to be accomplished.
I use this paper to expand Meillassoux’s argument towards its potential implications for climate science. This is a challenging task, of which I can only really suggest the beginnings and a few initial directions. But I want to argue that this kind of philosophy could hold great potential in this area, and that it will be well worthwhile those of us interested in the problems of the climate following closely its future development.
Meillassoux has emerged as a prominent figure within a younger generation of thinkers, many of whom are looking to him for signs of the future path of continental philosophy. His rise in fame has been buoyed by his association with the “speculative realism” movement (see, for example, Bryant, Srnicek, and Harman), as well as a tide of interest, over the last decade or so, in the work of his teacher, Alain Badiou. Meillassoux presents his philosophy as something of an architectonic, a grand system for thought, [End Page 163] but it is important to bear in mind that this anticipated scope reaches far beyond what has yet appeared in print (so far a handful of articles and two short books). I shall here confine myself to discussing After Finitude, where he gives the most systematic treatment of his ideas, but which, by the admission of its own subtitle, modestly proclaims itself to be only an “essay.”
As with the other essays in this special issue, the problem of the climate provides me with a central motivation and it is this I discuss first. That being said, the question I derive from this problem is one of how we relate to science in general, so I spend little time discussing the climate in particular. The second section addresses the theoretical challenge posed by the somewhat problematic position of language in Meillassoux’s relationship with science. I then spend the third section of the essay outlining the core of Meillassoux’s argument, before moving on in the final section to relate his philosophy to theories from Science and Technology Studies. I argue that the concept of “facticity” captures something of the driving force of scientific practice, and that Meillassoux’s treatment of this concept may provide a novel and informative dimension to our analysis, potentially opening new options for approaching science.
In this essay I explore our relation to the climate through the problem of “doing science justice.” It is important to note at the outset, however, that this is by no means the only manner of engagement. Most significant among alternatives would be a philosophy of the environment, often thought phenomenologically, in terms of the world as the horizon of human existence (see, for example, McWhorter and Stenstad 2009): “That world of everyday Dasein which is closest to it, is the environment” (Heidegger 1978, 94). Being-in-the-world, in the Heideggerian manner of speaking, is a fundamental attribute of Dasein, of being-there, through which it is possible to think of...