Wednesday, October 22, 2008

After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency

Or, An Introduction

Back when I was first beginning to read Martin Heidegger, my first question was about the world before Dasein, or human existence. A badly formulated question, of course, and it was treated as such; I was simply told, and I quote, "You can't ask Heidegger that question."

At the time, it seemed like a complete cop-out of an answer to me. However, I did eventually come to see that the question was a bad one, and I dropped it. To ask on what day, in what year, did Dasein first "appear" makes no sense; it forces the ecstatic clearing into a vulgar conception of time. The "world," defined as the totality of that which appears, has no "origin" as such. If we are speaking about the date of the origin of matter, the proper answer is "The origin of matter can be placed at 14 Billion years ago, for humans."

I learned to re-forumulate or set aside other standard philosophical questions, such as causation. Hume's problem - that we cannot observe causation - is dissolved. If causation is not itself a phenomena, then it is a secondary issue for philosophy.

Now along comes Quentin Meillasoux, for whom none of this is satisfactory. His target is the old, pre-Kantian question of "things in themselves," apart from any appearance to humans. A startling project, one usually only attended to by people who are, not surprisingly, pre-Kantian dogmatists in their philosophy. Kant, of course, set up the dogmatic-skeptical-critical distinction. A dogmatist sees the world as a whole, without any antinomies or paradoxes. A skeptic simply claims that all stability and knowledge are fleeting. The critical stance, which is what all post-Kantians aspire for, is the attempt to declare which sorts of things can be properly known (the phenomena) and which can't be (the noumena).

Meillassoux is actually searching for a way to leave behind these distinctions; he wants the things-in-themselves without the dogmatic world that goes with them, and the critical stance without its kernal of skepticism. An ambitious fellow.

Meillassoux's style is very much argumentative, which means it is possible to engage with his concepts and movements in a way that it is very difficult to do with many other writers (Martin, I'm looking in your direction). So, that's what I'll do. It's a fun book, even if he calls me a creationist.

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