Tag Archives: correlationism

Thinking, the In-Itself


There’s been some back and forth and back again between Paul and Graham largely as a result of Paul’s recent interview with Peter Gratton as part of Peter’s course on Realism. See also the exchange between Ben and Graham on Hegel and Zizek.

Paul’s been brining up Hegel for a while now since he’s “in the air” in Dublin. I have to say this makes me more than a little uncomfortable. I’m not friendly to Hegel or Hegelianism and the neo-Hegelianism of the Ljubljiana Lacanians makes me equally as on-guard. The reason I’m so uncomfortable with this is the ease with with they all do away with the very real problem of the in-itself.

The in-itself is of course a long-standing issue for debate in post-Kantian philosophy and is one of the important fault lines that Meillassoux revives in After Finitude where he bases correlationist thought on the principles of correlation and factiality. The strong correlationist is the one who maintains the strength of the principle of correlation and does away with the principle of factiality (doing away with the in-itself, contingency, and freedom ultimately). I shouldn’t have to repeat this, I’m assuming people know this. By aligning yourself with Hegel (especially) you fall immediately into the Fichtean move of rejecting the in-itself (or more accurately for Fichte, making the in-itself a closeted for-us, making things-in-themselves a necessary illusion in order for the performance of the infinite ethics of the Kingdom of Ends; depending on your reading of Hegel, the same move is made though possibly for different reasons).

The same move is made by the Lacanians; the in-itself for Zizek is nothing but the “Imaginary Real,” a fantasy of a non-Symbolic realm prior to language or even humans. There is no world outside of the Symbolic for Zizek meaning there is no in-itself. This is why ultimately he favours Hegel to Schelling. Schelling of course maintains the in-itself in opposition to both Fichte and Hegel (though with the support of Schopenhauer, who is of this Schellingian strain of post-Kantian thought that finds its way into people like Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson, etc.) The significant move of this strain of post-Kantianism is not only that they maintain the in-itself, but that with this school of thought the in-itself is in some sense known. In opposition to both the Fichtean line which does away with the in-itself and the more orthodox Kantian line which maintains the in-itself but also its unknowability, this line of thought (which I refer to as “Vitalist”) says that the in-itself is in some sense grasped through self-analysis (this is the importance of “intuition” for Schelling and Bergson for instance). We have access to our own noumenal existence by which we understand other existents to have their own non-phenomenal (that is, non-for-us) existence. Just as I am not the sum of my phenomenal appearance (I am unconscious, I am will, I am virtual, etc, etc.) neither are objects.

This also gives us clues as to how non-human objects interact with each other, as well as their inner lives. First, it allows for a pre-human and post-human world. Vitalism accepts history as a given, things existed, things happened, before there were human beings to observe them and these things are in no way dependent on our knowing to have existence. In the same way, aspects of my existence go un-actualized, remaining unconscious. This in no way means they do not exist, simply that I don’t know of them.

The importance of this cannot be under-estimated. The road to anti-realism is paved with Hegelian intentions. I don’t see how anyone could read Hegel and take a realism from it without doing some serious work (which even the Marxists have trouble maintaining, what does Nick Land call dialectical materialism? Shoddy idealism, I think). This means ultimately that I’m on the side of Graham and Grant on this one, once the in-itself is ditched, there is no possible realism. For the same reason then that Fichte irreversibly anti-realist, so too is Hegel.


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The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism

(The following is a small [edited] section from a recent paper I’ve written on Meillassoux’ critique of correlationism as it pertains largely to Schelling, though I hope to expand it to include other “thinkers of the unconscious” as much of my research relates to the history of the unconsciouss. This paper will likely find its way into the second half of my thesis.)

The fundamental question to be asked when attempting to determine whether a thinker is a correlationist seems to be the following:

Is there or can there be being without thought? If so, can we know it or speak of it?

There are two correlationist positions on the matter: First, there is the weak position which claims that there are things-in-themselves but that we cannot know them, and second, the strong correlationist position claims that there are no things-in-themselves at all, as the very idea is unsupported speculation. I would like to put forward the suggestion that a certain strain of thought associated with the concept of the unconscious should be thought of as a “third way” on the matter of things-in-themselves. Both Schelling and Schopenhauer for example pose a difficult problem for this dichotomy, as they both claim allegiance to the Kantian legacy of transcendentalism and yet both criticize Kant for his agnosticism on the subject of things-in-themselves. What is crucial in understanding the problem these thinkers pose to Meillassoux’ dichotomy is that while they both claim there are things-in-themselves, they also both claim human beings have knowledge of them. For Schopenhauer, this is Will, while for the early Schelling, this is Nature as productive (Natura naturans). The distinction Meillassoux makes between weak and strong correlationism seems to fall apart in light of such thinkers, as they prove the possibility of a position not accounted for, not a realism in the sense Meillassoux insists upon (what he calls ‘speculative materialism’), but not a Kantian idealism with an unknown X lurking in the background, nor a true speculative idealism whereby the possibility of being without thought proves impossible.

These two thinkers prove there can be a position which accepts Kantian things-in-themselves, but eliminates the mystery often associated with them. How is this done? It is with the concept of the unconscious. For Schelling for example, Nature is not inanimate matter, but nor is it quasi-divine mystery, it is unconscious spirit, unknowingly free (it images freedom). The distinction is not one of things-as-appearances and things-in-themselves, but rather, one of things as conscious (subjects), and things as unconscious (objects). There can then be being without thought, because this is simply the state of the natural world, that is to say, entirely unconscious. In other words, metaphysical thinkers of the unconscious are entirely free of the correlationist circle as they accept a universe free of human beings as a possibility, the ancestral statement need not be put through the filter of the correlation in the present, as natural history has a place in a system like Schelling’s whereby natural science studies precisely those instances of spirit older and other than the human being. Again, there are things-in-themselves, but they are not unknown, they are like us, they simply don’t know it. Both thinkers allow for there to be existents without human thought attached to them, and therefore do not fit his correlationist criteria. We should say then that there are more options available to contemporary metaphysics than simply correlationism or Meillassoux’ speculative materialism. Indeed, there is a whole other historical lineage available to contemporary realism, it simply needs to be brought to light.

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