“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Sunday, May 8, 2011

On a Fundamental Difference with Meillassoux

Meillassoux's beautiful prose argues forcefully in favor of the idea that real things can't be self-contradictory. He is afraid that if the law of noncontradiction (LNC) is breached, philosophy opens the door to belief and restrains thinking.

In the first third of After Finitude, Meillassoux rules violations of LNC out of court totally. Then he lets them back in a little bit, via a consideration of paraconsistent logics—that is, logical systems that employ seeming paradoxes but in a relatively constrained way.

Meillassoux constrains their constraint even further by policing paraconsistency—it's supposedly only to do with databases and other software entities.

This slight slippage is in itself interesting—as if Meillassoux can see the danger, and yet as if he's not ready to throw non-LNC thinking out completely. Paging the logic of the supplement...For a philosopher interested in busting through a small crack in the work of Kant (his imagery), this small fissure deserves some attention.

There's more to say on all this.

In any case, for now, the fundamental difference is that I hold that contradictory beings exist—that this is what existence is in some deep sense. In other words, violations of LNC such as the Liar paradox (“This statement is false”) exist as archaeological evidence of something in the ontological realms. The fact that consistent systems are also incomplete (Gödel) is also pretty compelling, despite what Meillassoux says about logical systems and inconsistency.

And on that note, there are plenty of paraconsistent theories that pertain not to software but, for instance, to the way hydrogen atoms behave, and the way waves propagate.

To take a brief example: my concept of the strange stranger, which is roughly the same as the non-rabbit of Brassier's nicely titled essay “Behold the Non-Rabbit.”

What I mean by this is that this rabbit, this one right here, no matter what its name is, no matter what it was or will be (Hegelian dialectics and all that), is inconsistent, in itself.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


For this to be a fundamental difference, the PNC would have to be an essential ingredient of Meillassoux's project. If necessary beings are possible so long as the PNC is false, then the truth of the PNC would indeed be essential. Perhaps in Meillassoux's forthcoming work we will see a strong argument along these lines. But in After Finitude the situation is, as perhaps you allude to in your post ("[t]his slight slippage..."), somewhat confused. Specifically, it is not clear that Meillassoux has properly distinguished the PNC from the PNT (The Principle of Non-Triviality). And so it is not clear whether it is the former or the latter which is essential to his project. In particular, when he says that he has proven that a trivial being cannot exist, how is it supposed to follow that merely contradictory beings cannot exist?