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Meillassoux lists three positions that fall under the label correlationism: transcendentalism, phenomenology and postmodernism. This implies that most correlationists are ‘continental’ antirealists. These continental antirealist positions tend to emphasize questions of givenness, human access, and transcendental subjectivity. The correlationist claims that when you speak about objects, events, laws or beings you do so in the sense of the correlationist’s commitment: as given.
When I saw that the author of this book was based in Dublin I got onto the philosophy student grapevine (translation – I sent a text) and within minutes had the full skinny on Paul J. Ennis. Ireland is a very small place. The social scene of former philosophy students is even smaller.
Ennis is here critiquing the theories of Quentin Meillassoux and the Continental Realist school he has come to represent. Nothing less than a challenge to the dominant theories of Immanuel Kant, whose ‘Copernican Revolution’ has infused academic philosophy ever since, this is a fascinating discussion. Focusing on Meillassoux’s ‘After Finitude’ initially, Ennis then expands his book to include a study of the aforementioned Kant, Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek and Markus Gabriel, before becoming beached on the lonely shore of Heidegger. There is nothing less at stake here than the relevance of philosophical discourse itself, Ennis providing a candid examination of the opposing sides in this refreshingly modern philosophical debate.
What Meillassoux terms the ‘arche-fossil’ or ‘The Ancestral Realm’, forms the basis of his attack on post-Kantian correlationism – the notion that we can only know the world as it is perceived. As scientific discovery and technological advancement have increased, divisions between mind and body, phenomenological bracketing and noumena have become the stuff of tired academic lessons. Philosophy has become the dogmatic study of ‘ephemeralities’ ghost of thoughts propounded by dead men. The Anglo-American, or Analytical school of philosophy has exhausted the limits of Wittgenstein, who in turn reduced Kant’s legacy to a discussion of statements. The study of thinking, metaphysics, ethics, all become boiled down to a series of logical relations, dependent on science for its existence, which it gave birth to as ‘natural philosophy’ (brilliantly described by Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle).
Continental Philosophy dredged literature and art for its material, following Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt School. Meillassoux abandons this retreat, instead insisting on the existence of ‘ancestral time’, a knowable state of the world absent of human life. Ennis summarises one argument as follow, that if “anything in our world can be depended on it is that the sun will rise: that it is necessary for the sun to rise. Meillassoux retorts that the necessitarian inference is a piece of mathematical probabilistic reasoning.“
Should the world suddenly end, the human world, our part in this universe would be over. Meillassoux embraces the scientific perspective of the observer-less model of existence. In effect this change in European thought represents a rejection of post-modernism, an assertion of mathematical absolutes. Philosophy has traded in a sort of backdoor theism for too long, as well as a sycophantic devotion to science (all in aid of preserving its territory over academic discourse) – Meillassoux rejects both in favour of a philosophical model that can accomodate hard science.
This is an excellent introduction to a fascinating new development in philosophical thinking.
With thanks to Zero Books for my review copy.