I enjoyed Quentin Meillassoux’s book (please see my prior post): it is creative and thought-provoking philosophy at its best. I can’t endorse Q.M.’s quest for a “speculative materialism”, but I found his views on the central topics of contingency and necessity (hyper-chaos!) very interesting and challenging to my own opinions.
1. Why Materialism?
I came to Q.M.’s discussion of “ancestrality” and its challenge to “correlationism” from a different perspective: I don’t agree that the right goal involves purging mind from nature, thereby elevating the scientific account as such to truth. (I’m actually not even sure why he wants to be a materialist, as I’ll explain below). I don’t think “correlationism” is completely wrong in that I think subjective points of view are indeed ineliminable aspects of our world. I note ancestrality poses no prima facie problem for Russellian monism and panexperientialism. But I thought Q.M. made excellent points in his critique of most philosophers’ failure to provide an account of the compelling nature of scientific facts, and the trap of centering reality on human consciousness and/or language. He draws a persuasive connection between these problems and philosophy’s slide into deflationism/anti-realism (and sometimes postmodernism) which has hurt its relevance.
Now, I really liked his exploration of contingency and proposal of a hyper-chaos model. Q.M. views facticity (the absence of a reason for something) as a kind of universal solvent that ultimately undermines any view of what’s necessary other than contingency itself. Interestingly he shares with his “correlationist” opponents the rejection of arguments for any necessarily existing entity or entities. And it is certainly true that many or most modern philosophers reject not only classic arguments for the existence for God – but also broadly reject the possibility of engaging in metaphysics to reach conclusions regarding the necessity of logical truths, mathematics, physical laws, morals, etc.
With regard to the “correlationist” philosophers, Q.M. uses the fact that they themselves might agree that subjectivity itself can't be demonstrated to be necessary as ammunition against them. If even this can be doubted --and note a correlationist would tend to argue this in refuting an absolute idealist, for example-- then the correlationist subject-object “circle” is not necessary either. It turns out then, that, in rejecting absolute idealism, the correlationist has endorsed the ubiquitous scope of facticity. And, ironically, this is evidence to Q.M. that facticity itself can be elevated into something absolute and necessary (“factiality”). (Note he sees this as a necessary principle, not an entity).
Now, here is where I pause to wonder why Q.M. is a self-described materialist. He believes he has derived that things-in-themselves do exist (as contingent facts), but even if he has shown they exist independent of human minds, he hasn’t ruled out that they might have aspects of both mind and matter, or that perhaps facts might be somehow neutral with respect to those categories.
2. My “well-behaved” chaos vs. Hyper-chaos
But let me get back to the issue of necessarily existing entities.
A. Has he really shown necessarily existing entities are impossible?
B. Couldn’t hyperchaos be a necessary entity?
Now, in the absence of a knock-down argument for the necessary existence of something, why would someone believe in its truth? Well, some assume rationality can reach beyond our world and conceive of what is possible, and that this can lead us to map what is metaphysically possible and what is necessary. There are two problems: first, some disagree with this rationalist premise; second, people disagree regarding what’s conceivably possible. In fact, the widespread disagreement can be taken as evidence for the faultiness of the premise.
Now, Q.M. doesn’t offer new arguments against rationalism, he just assumes that the forces of modern anti-rationalism are on firm ground, and then he turns to his project of finding (ironically) a new absolute in the fact that everything can be questioned and found lacking a reason for its being.
But I’m not ready to concede that rationalism is dead just because there exist a preponderance of modern philosophers who think so (they could be wrong). I’ve argued there is a viable modern foundation for rationalism, inspired by the discovery that indeterminism is true of our world (see recent posts here and here).
In fact, I have been entertaining a model for a necessarily existing entity which is a chaotic ground of all metaphysical possibilities (including variation in physical law) – with the creation of the actual an intrinsically chancy process. (see for instance my posts on Timothy O'Connor's book). But my chaos has been “shaped” via rationalism: I thought certain conclusions, such as the fact that logical and mathematical truths were necessary, and that actual events are always experiential events, were justified by reason. And I have been willing to entertain the possibility that other truths might be necessary, too (morals/values?).
But Meillassoux has done a good job making me question my capacity to reach such conclusions. For every necessity I propose he might assert there is no way to be sure, and thus the only sure thing is (“super-”) contingency.
And yet I note that he immediately follows his conclusion of supercontingency and hyper-chaos with a derivation of the principle of non-contradiction, which, as it is based on conceptual analysis, seems pretty rationalist. And he hopes to derive other such conclusions, involving mathematics for instance. At this point I start to wonder if his project is very different from mine (albeit more sophisticated). And by the way can’t I define hyper-chaos as the set* of all non-contradictory possibilities and refer to this as a necessarily existing entity?
I’ll stop there. There’s lots to think about, and “hyper-chaos” is definitely haunting my thoughts, thanks to Q.M.
* I assume he'd say that we can't sum the possibilities because they are "transfinite", hence untotalizable, given his arguments in Ch.4.