Tag Archives: Meillassoux

The Limits of ‘Correlationism’

The Sea of Ice

Graham mentioned that he liked my distinction between structuralism (read broadly) and other forms of correlationism. I’ve felt, probably since first reading After Finitude, that Meillassoux’s categories tell a very small story and that that story should be broadened to include new categories or designators. In some ways this has meant broadening ‘correlationism’ but it also means looking at how contemporary thinkers designate their contemporaries. Graham’s work for instance is very good on this, as he lays out clearly why his position is different from materialism (of many types), the two forms of correlationism, empiricism, occasionalism, relationism, etc, etc. He writes a story with many characters (17 apparently, if Treatise on Objects will contain his own system against 16 others), which I really appreciate. I suppose my own efforts stem from this desire to tell a big story, to have many characters rather than a strict argument against one single position. In my paper in Claremont for instance, there were several such systems at work, with some overlap: eliminative materialism, eliminative idealism, weak and strong correlationism, speculative materialism, OOO, transcendental realism, and neo-vitalism. The two forms of eliminativism could perhaps (in the case of eliminative idealism at least) be subsumed under the heading of correlationism, as I mentioned yesterday of structuralism.

As for structuralism as a variety of idealism, I don’t think this is quite right. I don’t know if the category ‘idealism’ makes sense anymore after we have chosen to adopt ‘correlationism.’ As Graham has said before, initially Meillassoux thought himself to be arguing against idealism, but he realized that there were important differences between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ forms of correlationism, both of which would be, under more classical terminology, ‘idealist’ in the sense of being anti-realist. But the important difference has to do with things-in-themselves, and not simply the principle of correlation. Since structuralism as I have defined it maintains the possibility of novelty, of things being other than what they are, and of things existing outside of thought (however traumatic this transition from unthought to thought may be), they are not really classifiable under Meillassoux’s schema. Nor are they classically idealist. If we take perhaps the two extreme forms of idealism to be those of, on the one hand, Berkeley, and on the other, Fichte, then this becomes clear. For Berkeley, there are no things in themselves because everything is always being perceived by God. So while we could say he is an idealist in the sense of all things being mental, he is also an anti-realist in the sense that nothing exists apart from being perceived. For Fichte, we have the relation of Subject and Object boiling down to the fact that the Object is always created by the Subject as a form of opposition. The Object only has being from the Subject, who creates it in order to strive against it (in the form of absolute freedom and the striving for Justice). He is therefore both an idealist (the Object is created entirely by the mind of the Transcendental Subject) and an anti-realist (the Object has no reality apart from this relation to human mind). There also really are no things-in-themselves for Fichte for this reason, as the Object is always excluded from Subjectivity in order to be further integrated and included. So both extreme examples of idealism share the fact that they are strong correlationists (there are no things-in-themselves) as well as the fact that they are anti-realist (all things are reducible to mental processes or Mind generally).

Structuralism, which I should point out I am entirely against, maintains along with the weak correlationist that there are things-in-themselves, but claims we not only imagine them as a possibility, we encounter them as trauma. We also do not cause them to exist, as they have some disorganized being outside of thought, existing whether we like it or not. So the structuralist is neither a correlationist in the weak or strong sense (things-in-themselves actually do exist and we know them in some traumatic way), nor are they a strict anti-realist (Nature exists in opposition to Culture, even if it is a swirling tumult of chaos).

I have also proposed a lineage of “Transcendental Realism” in both my Claremont talk as well as another essay, where I maintain that there is a lineage after Kant that takes Kantianism (and critical philosophy generally) seriously, while also maintaining that there is more to things than our ideas of things. I locate this tradition with the rejection of Fichte by his star students, Schelling and Novalis, and see it as the ground of Romantic philosophy broadly understood to include Schopenhauer, Fechner, Nietzsche, von Hartmann, etc. It’s also a tradition which takes Spinoza very seriously, as well as aesthetics and mysticism. This is because they represent a group that knew that the logical consequence of Enlightenment thought was the reduction of the real to the rational and that this isn’t the case. They accept that there are things-in-themselves and that we have some vague knowledge of them through non-cognitive means, like sensation, imagination, intuition, etc. This is precisely the critique of Kant that Schopenhauer makes, that we actually know something of the in-itself because we are able to grasp the in-itself in us intuitively. They are also realists in the sense that things exist prior to human thought and will exist after we are gone. This is because they accept the metaphysical unconscious, that conscious perception not only is not the ground of reality, but is really only a very small part of the cosmos.

I think this gives some idea, at least in part, of the limitations of ‘correlationism’ as a category. While it is useful and telling of certain figures, it is in no way the whole story. We simply need to add more characters to the story of contemporary philosophy.


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The Schelling Effect?: Philosophy in the Shadows


I gave a guest-lecture for one of the graduate seminars here at MUN last week. The course is a historical reading of Schelling’s Freiheitsschrift, providing the context necessary for a thorough reading of Schelling’s essay from Spinoza, to Kant, to Fichte, to Boehme. My lecture took the opposite strategy, making a case for taking Schelling as a significant figure by tracing his ideas and concepts through post-Schellingian thought. I’ve decided to post the handout from this otherwise unscripted lecture since I know there are people who frequent this blog who are very much interested in Schelling and his effect on philosophy. I hope this will help those interested further their study of some of Schelling’s key concepts.

I have posted the handout here on my Academia.edu page.


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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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On Vicarious Head-Scratching

I’ve been seeing a lot on Harman and capitalism and his model of causation as “nonsense” and whatnot and thought I’d try my hand at an explanation. For one, I don’t see why Harman’s model of causation is so hard to grasp but maybe its because I have a different background than most of those involved in the theory-corner of the blogosphere. I also want to stress that I’m not an object-oriented philosopher. I have serious misgivings about OOP which will be evident from my paper for Speculations. In fact, my paper will be on the subject of change and causality. That doesn’t mean however that I don’t think highly of the theory or that Harman should be insulted or attacked. Disagreements happen, we’re all adults here.

There are essentially two modes to understanding Vicarious Causation. The first is Aristotelian, the second is Kantian. It should be noted that both of these give us different versions of Occasionalism, that is, a mediated model of causality. I think the main problem people have with Harman’s theory is that they approach it strictly from the perspective of Heidegger’s tool-analysis, which while foundational for Harman’s thought has been overshadowed by a newer model of OOP over the past year. I think this this clear from lectures he’s given recently where the tool-analysis is explained but not foundational. He’s found new, better ways to ground the theory which makes it much more historically relevant and probably much easier to grasp by those without the Heideggerian or even phenomenological baggage.

Continue reading


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Correlationism and the Political

I really don’t get this political debate. I thought I did, but I guess I don’t. Either you are a realist or you aren’t, you can’t have it both ways. If you claim that there is anything that correlates with Being then you are a correlationist and an anti-realist. Of course, I disagree with certain people being implicated in Meillassoux’ formulation of correlationism because I disagree with his binary of Being/Non-Being, meaning I think “process” philosophers (Schelling and Schopenhauer for example) allow us to break with correlationism as well as the metaphysics of presence. This means that when Schelling says Freedom/Spirit or when Schopenhauer says Will, they are not correlationists because those are simply other names for Being (or rather, Becoming). They exist whether or not there are humans or thinking because their systems allow for unconscious entities (which is why so many Schellingians became scientists and why he was himself concerned with the natural sciences).

This is not the case for the political however. “Politics” is not another name for Being; politics are dependent on human beings. Certainly without humans there would be complex relations among entities, certain organisms would form politic-like organizations. We could say then that politics “image” other systems of relations, in the same way that Schelling speaks of “imaging freedom.” What he means is not that one is real and the other a copy, but that one is conscious and the other not, meaning one is reflexive. Politics are relations become conscious. Human beings, unlike ants or bees or wolves, are able to consider and change their grounding systems, able to weigh and decide the differences between varying systems and enact these decisions.

Nick has asked the questions: “(1) Are two galaxies colliding in the vast emptiness of space, political? (2) If yes, how?”

I think the answer is obviously no. Galaxies are unable to reflect on their relations, actions, etc, and are therefore not political. My decisions regarding my own systems of relations are political however insofar as they are conscious decisions. Certainly there is nothing inherently political about the fact that my body requires sleep (all animals do), but where I choose to sleep could be a political decision, as could a number of other factors involving this simple process. In this same way, a tree is not inherently political until I make it so.

We could perhaps question whether or not this means that speculation is in itself a political activity. This seems to be the main argument thrusts upon those of us who deny the ontological is political. Again, I follow the thinkers of the unconscious here and maintain that an unbiased view of things is possible. It follows that this view is not only not correlationist, but is devoid of politics until I inject them into it or thrust them upon it.


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This malign influence from the future


There’s a great article in the New York Times on the Large Hadron Collider, and the possibility that it is sabotaging itself from the future. A sample:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.

Where we’re going we don’t need grandfathers.

Something else of interest to those of us interested in Meillassoux and speculative materialism is this:

Another of Dr. Nielsen’s projects is an effort to show how the universe as we know it, with all its apparent regularity, could arise from pure randomness, a subject he calls “random dynamics.”


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Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism

I have decided to make available a short draft version of a larger work, what could probably be called my greater “project” that I am actively working on. As has been pointed out by both Nick and Ben in their recent interviews with Paul Ennis, I am part of a small group of speculative realists (a name I gladly wear) that not only defends, but attempts to expand on the tradition of psychoanalysis, or more specifically, the metaphysics of psychoanalysis.


The piece in question is “Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism” and could best be described as my immediate reaction to Meillassoux’ After Finitude, written a few months ago. The work is still very much early on, and I hope to expand on it a fair amount, with all of the sections growing. The purpose of the paper was to cap off a reading course I did this past winter on Schelling, Lacan, and Zizek. I had just read Meillassoux’ book and asked my advisor if I could write a short piece attempting to sort out my ideas on how Meillassoux relates to the metaphysics of psychoanalysis. The sections on Badiou, Schelling and Schopenhauer are admittedly rough, but I think there’s a seed of something larger there. I will be expanding on all of these ideas this fall when I will be sitting in on a seminar on Schopenhauer, since it’s been a couple of years since I read The World as Will and Representation. I also hope to add a section on Eduard von Hartmann, but I’m not sure when or if I’ll have time to really deal with his massive The Philosophy of the Unconscious. I would also like to figure out how Zizek fits in with all of this, though I suspect his Hegelianism would not fare well.

Anyway, please read the piece (again, it is only very brief, draft, etc, etc.), and let me know what you think.


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