I’m sure these posts are getting old by now, but despite the acrimony and heated nature of these discussions, I do think a good deal of progress has been made in clarifying points, posing questions, and developing positions. I doubt that ultimately there will be any consensus, but this development of respective positions is itself worthwhile and, I think, it is refreshing to see an actual philosophical debate taking place rather than endless exegesis on texts without asking the much broader question “is this position true?”. It’s a shame that these discussions have to get so ugly. I’m guilty of being ugly in some of my rhetorical tactics, as are, I think others. Over at Grundledung, there’s a post up discussing the recent debates surrounding Kant, Meillassoux, realism and anti-realism, announcing a more thorough discussion of Kant to come. At the end of his post, Grundledung writes:

In the posts that follow, I will concentrate on three cases, with an eye towards why the readings of Kant matter. (I won’t address the recent hot topic concerning time and ancestrality, since I can’t devote the energy to it, especially as tempers are flaring once again.). Again, the aim will be to show why a focus on Kant is not a morbid fixation but a useful piece of the puzzle. I want to show how the cases I’ll look at bear upon substantive issues in metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, even when abstracted from the historical issue of what Kant thought. Also, I shall try to counter the second-guessing of the motivations of critics of speculative realism, providing some symptomatological musings of my own. However, I also want to issue a plea for a bit of old-fashioned bourgeois civility, which would not go amiss on all sides. I’ve no interest in questioning other people’s intelligence or integrity.

Unfortunately I’m having difficulty linking directly to the post, but that aside, I cannot agree more. It is difficult to practice this sort of civility in the heat of debate, but I do think it’s something worth striving for. As I’ve remarked before, I do not think that sarcasm and jest translate well in this medium, and they often are counter-productive to the course of discussion, shifting the discussion to the speakers involved rather than the analysis and evaluation of the claims being made. Everything spirals out of control. It’s difficult to understand why these philosophical discussions get so heated or ugly.

read on!

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Over at Speculative Heresy, Alexei draws attention to a passage series of passages from Meillassoux’s After Finitude and concludes that he is basically stating that the correlationist must reject the big bang or be inconsistent with his philosophical premises. I reproduce most of Alexei’s quotations and analysis here:

When speaking of a Kantian approach to ancestral statements, QM writes

It is the intersubjectivity of the ancestral statement […] that guarantees its objectivity, and hence its ‘truth.’ it cannot be anything else, since its referent, taken literally, is unthinkable (AF 15)


The logical (consitutive, originary) anteriority of givenness over the being of the given therefore enjoins us to subordinate the apparent sense of the ancestral statement to a more profound counter-sense, which is alone capable of delivering its meaning: it is not ancestrality which precedes givenness, but that which is given in the present which retrojects a seemingly ancestral past. (AF 16)


the correlationist […] end[s] up with a rather extraordinary claim: the anscestral statement is a true statement, in that it is objective, but one whose referent cannot possibly have actually existed in the way this truth describes it It is a true statement, but what it describes as real is an impossible event; it is an ‘objective’ statement, bu it has no conceivable object. Or to put it more simply: it is a non-sense (AF 17)

Finally, from the same page as the last,

There is no possible compromise between the correlaion and the arche-fossil: once one has acknowledged one, one has thereby disqualified the other. In other words, the consistent correlationist should stop being modest and dare to assert openly that he is in a position to provide the scientist with an a priori demonstration that the latter’s ancestral statements are illusory; for the correlationist knows that what they describe can never have taken place the way it is described.

So all these quotations aside, I think a nice, synthetic reformulation is my paraphrase: If you’re a correlationist,” says QM, “you must think that the big bang is a fiction, or not be consistent!”

Alexei is correct, this is what Meillassoux is arguing. In fact, it gets even worse. Unfortunately I don’t have After Finitude at hand, but Meillassoux, in a rather snide moment, goes as far, at one point, with comparing the correlationist with a young earth creationist.

I think all of this fails to make much sense if we do not understand what is central to Meillassoux’s entire argument. When Meillassoux evokes the arche-fossil and ancestral statements, he is not interested in just any old claim about the ancestral. Rather, at the core of Meillassoux’s arguments are precisely those instances of the ancestral relating directly to the emergence of life and, more specifically, human consciousness. In other words, the key issue for Meillassoux is that of what we are to make of claims that life, mind, consciousness, humans, etc., are the result of natural causes.

The question here should be that of why this particular case is so important to Meillassoux. Why should neurological claims and evolutionary claims be any different than any other scientific claims with respect to correlationist thought? One point worth keeping in mind is that when Kant wrote the Critique of Pure Reason, there was neither a neurological account of consciousness, nor a theory of evolution. Consequently, within the Kantian framework of natural science, these issues were not even on the radar. Kant could comfortably make claims about the nature of mind and consciousness without having to think of mind as an object of natural science.

Matters, however, change with the advent of evolutionary theory and neurology. With neurology, for example– which Meillassoux doesn’t evoke –mind because just one more object governed by natural laws. This object is very complex, of course, but it is not, nonetheless, outside of nature. In these discussions I have seen others, on a number of occasions, claim that there is no conflict between neurology and a Kantian account of mind. However, look at how Kant resolves the third antinomy. The third antinomy revolves around the debate between free will and determinism. Unlike the first two antinomies where both opposing positions turn out to be false, the third and forth antinomy are resolved by showing how the apparently conflict between the two positions is just that, apparent, and that therefore both positions are true. As a crude sketch of Kant’s solution to the third antinomy, Kant argues that at the level of phenomena or appearances, all things, including mind, are governed by cause and effect relations. However, at the level of things-in-themselves, or the domain beyond appearances, the categories no longer apply so there is no contradiction in the claim that we are free at this level.

I am not here trying to make the case that all of our actions are determined or to advocate determinism. Rather, what I wish to draw attention to is this split between appearances and things-in-themselves with respect to mind. From the standpoint of neurology what Kant is, in effect, claiming is that brain is not really a condition of consciousness or mind because we are here only talking about appearances. So the Kantian is simultaneously claiming that at the level of appearances all these observations about brains are true, but since we’re only here talking about appearances brain is nonetheless not the condition or ground of mind or consciousness. In other words, it seems to me that this is a tricky and sophisticated way of remaining a dualist. But this is precisely what cannot be accepted within the framework of neurological accounts of mind or within the framework of evolution because in both cases mind is the result of natural causes, not some beyond forever unimpeachable by natural causes. I certainly agree that we should raise questions of whether or not we’re free, but these questions must be posed within the framework of a realist neurological account of mind, not an account that treats these findings as mere appearances.