Meillassoux and Post-Secular Philosophy

“So long as we believe that there must be a reason why what is, is the way it is, we will continue to fuel superstition, which is to say, the belief that there is an ineffable reason underlying all things” (After Finitude, p. 82).

This belief, according to Meillassoux, is logically unnecessary, since there is no reason that reason must be ontologically foundational. Leibniz’ principle of sufficient reason only follows from the belief in a perfect and eternal God whose essence is to exist, and who could not but create the best of all possible worlds. Meillassoux, in contrast, discovers an absolute that is unreasonable because purely chaotic, and argues that nothing is necessary, not God, physical law, or any finite thing. In other words, everything is contingent, and this contingency is not merely a transcendental statement concerning the limits of human factiality, but a speculative statement about the nature of reality itself. Asking “why is there something, rather than nothing?” is not a silly or unanswerable question: the answer is “no reason.” This is Meillassoux’s principle of unreason, which is the result of his desire to seek out an argument that dispels the sense of wonder provoked by Leibniz’ question. This wonder, he thinks, leads to the religionization of philosophy, especially in a post-Kantian atmosphere where reason is forbidden any claim to the absolute, thereby leaving philosophy defenseless against non-rational poetic, spiritual, or psychological (etc.) claims to have uncovered its truth.

The “return of the religious” is a strange fact about our contemporary world. Sociologists had long assumed that modernization would necessarily lead to increasing secularization. The failure of the secularization thesis leads me to wonder whether religiousity isn’t a more basic feature of human nature than atheist or nihilist thinkers typically want to let on. This is an anthropological, rather than an ontological issue, but then again, maybe Leibniz’ question should be reframed in the context of Kant’s transcendental critique: “why is something given for us, rather than simply being in itself?” Put otherwise, why consciousness capable of asking “why?” when there just as easily could have been something not given to anyone at all?

Meillassoux writes about the necessity of contingent beings, and perhaps approaches an answer to my question in that context. He argues that if contingency is necessary, then contingent beings are also necessary. And to be a contingent being implies being a finite incarnation that has a point of view on the world and so naturally asks “why?” despite the fact that Being itself offers no reason.

Nihilism is very convincing on intellectual grounds alone. But perhaps knowlege and truth cannot be limited to the dictates of logos (what of ethos and pathos?). More soon…


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