December 21, 2008

Meillassoux argues that science is able to think a time that cannot be reduced to any givenness

Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, Continuum, 2008, 148pp., $19.95 (hbk), ISBN 9780826496744.
Reviewed by
Gabriel Riera, University of Illinois, Chicago

Meillassoux argues that the stakes are high since science is able to think a time that cannot be reduced to any givenness, or that preceded givenness itself and, more importantly, whose emergence made givenness possible. One begins to understand the audacity of these claims insofar as they posit a time radically different from that of consciousness, a time that, due to its indifference, would seem to resist the modern tenets of the inseparability of the act of thinking from its content, thus enabling us to conceive the realms of phenomena and of the in-itself each apart from the other.

Meillassoux's postulates, therefore, aim to break with those of what he refers to as correlationism: the dominant philosophical position that following Kant postulates that our knowledge can engage only with what is given to thought and never with an entity subsisting by itself, and that reaches its exhaustion with Heidegger and Wittgenstein.

This book breaks with modern philosophy in showing that it is science that compels the thinker to discover the source of its own absoluteness. The book therefore deals with two issues -- the arche-fossil and Hume's problem regarding the necessity of the causal connection -- that are linked to the question of the absolute scope of mathematics. The rehabilitation of the mathematical absolute contests three prevalent positions for which the de-absolutization of thought also implies its de-universalization:

  • first, all forms of neo-Kantianism and the different varieties of the contemporary "return to Kant", for whom it is only possible to uncover the universal conditions for an entity's perceptibility;
  • second, the philosophy of "radical finitude" that thinks the facticity of our relation to the world in terms of a situation that is itself finite; and
  • finally, all forms of postmodernism that dismiss any claim to universality as a mystifying relic of old times.

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