Harman on Meillassoux

27Oct10

In a very interesting post, Graham Harman discusses Meillassoux’s philosophy as a philosophy of immanence. He writes:

“What Meillassoux claims to prove is that the things-in-themselves would exist even if all humans were extinguished. Thus, the things can exist without us.

However, in order for something to be a thing-in-itself, it is not enough simply that it exists when we aren’t looking at it. The real question is: what is it when we are looking at it? And for Meillassoux, the answer is clear: the things themselves can be exhaustively known by thought, in absolute fashion. There are no secret, unfathomable depths to the things; philosophy is a philosophy of immanence.

My claim is that no “philosophy of immanence” can also be a philosophy of things-in-themselves. If you think the things are exhaustible by knowledge, you are simply defining the things as having a character that is able to appear exhaustively in the phenomenal sphere [...] But in speculative realist terms, this is also one of those points that divides the group in half. For Brassier also, there is no difference in kind between thoughts and things. If something is known scientifically, it is known in adequate fashion (with perhaps some provisos added for the ever uncompleted labor of science). Here too, the world is made up of images: good scientific images and bad folk images. It’s a completely different theory from Meillassoux, but they are both confident in the ability of human thought to plumb the depths of things. Compare my position and Grant’s with the other two here, and you will see that we say the opposite.”

I’m not sure if Brassier’s relation to things-in-themselves holds here given his relation to Laruelle and his criticism of Land. On the other hand I think that both Meillassoux and Brassier overestimate the ability of thought (Brassier via transcendental binding of thought to zero and Meillassoux binding thought logical categories). Immanence, at least in the Deleuzian sense, collapses thought and materiality – on the hand the fact the Deleuze makes formalizations of thought into productions (such as concepts) partially naturalizes thinking but, in the last instance, Deleuze shelters the privilege of thought from the chaos of being-as-becoming (despite the thunderbolts of the dark precursor).

Harman is right of course that both OOO and Grantian process philosophy limit the knowability of things where the formal it is an ontological unknowability of objects whereas for the latter it is the speed of processes which makes complete knowability impossible that is, for Grant it is an epistemological issue (as far as I can tell) and not an ontological issue.

But the ontological-epistemological relation is the looming problem of all speculative realism as it’s how we situate ourselves in relation to the Bastion of Kantianism.

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