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

After Finitude and Fideism comes Speculative Christianity?

Quetin Meillassoux is an important philosopher, according to Graham Harman,

“not from the fact that he is plausibly right about so many things, but because his philosophy offers such a treasury of bold statements ripe for being radicalized or reversed. He is a rich target for many still-unborn intellectual heirs, and this is what gives him the chance to be an important figure.”

Leon Niemoczynski (After Nature) has recently posted about the theistic implications of Meillassoux’s work. He asks why so many Speculative Realist have ignored the religious aspects of his anti-correlationism. Adam at An und fur such pointed out Meillassoux’s ontology of radical contingency, taken to its extreme in The Divine Inexistence, leads to a reformed Christian incarnationalist scheme, where human value is derived, not from a past act of incarnation, but from our hope for future resurrection.

In an earlier post on this issue, I suggest that Meillassoux “dismisses fideism to re-affirm its object through the apotheosis of reason.” Philosophies of the Absolute cannot avoid inquiry into divinity. Whether explicitly atheistic, like Ray Brassier’s eliminativism or or Levi Bryant’s materialism (Larval Subjects), or explicitly theistic like Whitehead’s philosophy of organism, metaphysical systems cannot simply ignore the presence of divinity in the universe. They either have to explain away spiritual experience by reducing it to religious indoctrination, and explain away the persistance of religion by reducing it to biopolitical, psychological, and/or ideological factors, or they have to discover God in cosmogenesis. If a scheme of thought choses the prior reductive route, it would no longer seem to be in pursuit of a comprehensive picture of reality, but merely of a subsection of it. It would no longer be properly metaphysical, in other words, since it has prejudicially disqualified the miraculous in favor of the mundane. Metaphysics is the (perhaps endless) pursuit of a systematic discourse concerning both the limits (immanent, finite aspects) and the freedom (transcendent, infinite aspect) of the Absolute. Immanence and transcendence are not properly thought of as opposites; rather, transcendence is the superlative of immanence. The infinite is not opposed to the finite, but contains and indeed implies it.

Meillassoux’s conceptual recourse to the contingency of facticity in After Finitude leads him eventually into the ethical issues surrounding the contingency of the Act of creation itself in The Inexistent Divine. If everything is absolutely contingent, then this world-creating Act, too, was gratuitous. Creatio ex nihilo: creation for no reason whatsoever. For this very reason, everything remains possible, even for our seemingly irredeemable world. Our world. Despite the anthrodecentric gesture of his’ After Finitude, Meillassoux seems to affirm in Inexistent that man “is born to be [nature’s] ultimate end,” as Kant supposed. “Such an end, however” Kant goes on to warn, “must not be thought in nature” (CoJ). Such an end seems to imply the divine’s entrance into the world, or at least its earthly birth within the incarnate human soul.




4 responses to “After Finitude and Fideism comes Speculative Christianity?”

  1. Adam Robbert Avatar

    I appreciate that you’re opening up this avenue of discussion further, Matthew. However, I am unconvinced that we have to choose between either the “mundane” and the “miraculous” particularly insofar as we have no genuine basis for generating a concept of the “purely mundane” or the “purely miraculous.” I would also say that it is not the case that the miraculous has been “prejudicially eliminated” when it seems that Brassier et al. are taking a serious look at the possibility of metaphysics not anchored in the divine through a process of reason, rather than an appeal politics. These are ontological arguments and, I would say, not simply the motives of an a priori atheism but rather the consequence of certain movements in thought. Not that I agree in the end, but this I think is a fairer assessment than to continually say, ‘these folks don’t agree with me, they must be prejudicially conditioned.’

    Basically, I think the theological question is open and so I appreciate the work of interpreting contemporary theory in terms of theological questions. I’m just not convinced that the options you offer above are large enough to (re)capture the religious dimension. In this sense, I think Whitehead actually cracks the door open to something bigger; not a panentheism where God transcends a world he is completely immanent to, but the much more radical image of a God who transcends the World that itself transcends God (“It is as true to say that the God transcends the World, as that the World transcends God. It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God” p. 348).

    Whitehead paints a much wilder interplay of the God-World binary and in this way lets us think a step further than the predictable narratives of sacred-secular, god-world, miracle-mundane where, “Neither God, nor the World, reaches static completion” (p. 349). In other words, not only does God escape a World that escapes God but there is no final moment within which it is revealed which is which! To my knowledge this line of thinking is only partly thought in the (jewish) Derrida for whom the postponement of justice (Christ) is indefinite and the (christian) Whitehead for whom this is state of postponement is a cosmological attribute of things, rather than something completed by the human. If I were a theologian, thats where I would be heading.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Hey Adam,

      When I made the comment about the prejudicial dismissal of theology and spirituality from metaphysics, I was not rejecting such positions just because I don’t like them. I make such statements only because I think I’ve done the ontological heavy lifting to back it up in other posts. In this particular case, I think this essay on Whitehead’s naturalistic panentheism provides a strong argument against atheism for cosmological and anthropological reasons: https://footnotes2plato.com/2010/12/09/religion-and-the-modern-world-towards-a-naturalistic-panentheism/

      I certainly agree with your portrayal of Whitehead’s metaphysics as a kind of “wilderness theology,” a theme I’ve explored before. I also just recently posted this video response to our own Adam Hudson, wherein I try to argue for the irrelevance of the question “does god exist?” in the hopes of shifting our attention away from ontology and into ethics, where the question becomes “how can mobilize a religious vision to make society more just?”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXq58lzT1Ig

      1. Adam Robbert Avatar

        Well — I’m certainly sympathetic to the move towards ethics! And even more so to questions regarding how to mobilize religious communities to ethical aims.

        I guess I just have two small qualms then: (1) I’d argue that Whitehead is not a panentheist, but something bigger (see above), and (2) For someone who is trying to mobilize, you sure spend a lot of time on the ontological arguments!

  2. Whitehead, Eternal Objects, and God | Footnotes to Plato Avatar

    […] After Finitude and Fideism comes Speculative Christianity? (footnotes2plato.com) […]

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