“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Intuitive Thinking vs. Reflective Thought: Harman on Meillassoux

I’ve just read Graham Harman‘s essay for continent. entitled “Meillassoux’s Virtual Future” (2011). As usual, it is primarily Harman’s style of philosophizing that really excites me. I am fascinated by the way he juggles and plays with ideas, even when I don’t finally agree with his attempts to securely mold a certain set of them into a consistent metaphysical system. In the essay linked above, he refrains from arguing for or even mentioning any of his own metaphysical positions. Instead, the focus is on the philosophical impact of Quentin Meillassoux‘s thoughts, on how they might come to effect the history of Thought by being reversed or radicalized by the “rude handling from later figures” (p. 88, continent. 1.2).

Harman says elsewhere that he

“is inclined to say that what really makes a philosopher important is not being right, but being wrong…One becomes an important philosopher not by being right, but by attracting rebellious admirers who tell you that you are wrong, even as their own careers silently orbit around your own” (p. 87).

He goes on to offer examples of future philosophers who might memorialize Meillassoux’s ideas through radicalization or reversal, but I think he leaves out a least one other interpretive possibility. Harman references Meillassoux’s respect for German Idealism several times, but he never fully unpacks the Schellingian or Hegelian ontologies in order to properly distinguish them from Fichtean subjective idealism. He argues that so-called “strong correlationism,” the starting point of Meillassoux’s philosophy, must inevitably fall back into subjective idealism, since otherwise it speaks nonsense by asserting that the unthought can be thought.

Thought, according to Aristotle, must be non-contradictory. This is a result of his doctrine of substance and the principle of sufficient reason. If we make a further experiential distinction, however, between thinking and what is thought, we see that while the latter must remain consistent to be considered reasonable, the former must remain inconsistent for the same reason. Thinking is the differentiation of that which nonetheless remains whole; it is identity in process, not an identifiable product; it is the transitive flow of experience, rather than its substantive content. The unthought cannot be thought, since the unthought is that which produces thought. It is the activity of thinking itself.

Harman continues:

“In a world where everything is instantly converted into thought, we cannot claim that there might be something extra-mental anyway, because this ‘might be something’ is itself converted into a thought by the same rules that condemned dogs, trees, and houses to the idealist position [that when I think the thing, X, it becomes X for thought]” (p. 81).

Thinking is outside thought not because it is extra-mental, but because it is the naturans underlying the naturata. Nature itself thinks: it is an open ended process that is neither objective nor subjective, since thinking is productive of both of these concepts. Thinking is always converting itself into thought, but never can thinking itself be thought. I agree with Harman that Meillassoux (at least on my Schellingian reading) seems to be offering a kind of Zen koan (p. 81).

I unpack this Schellingian form of speculative realism more fully elsewhere (HERE and HERE and HERE). See also Rudolf Steiner’s Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path, especially chapter 7: “Are there limits to human cognition?”





3 responses to “Intuitive Thinking vs. Reflective Thought: Harman on Meillassoux”

  1. outTake Avatar

    Matthew, you are analysing quite impressive, and you got interesting quote from Graham Harman. Been Philosopher also mean to be contradictory with the world’s rules of functionality, so you’ll attract bunch of people who are telling you that you are wrong. I think Harman also going to this point.

    Actually i just figured out why i’m attracted by people who telling me that i’m wrong, haha

  2. Speculative Philosophy and Incarnationalism in Whitehead and Meillassoux « Footnotes to Plato Avatar

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