SPECULATION ENVY AND SURCONCEPT: Meillassoux’s correlationist style

The concept of “correlationism” no doubt has a rigorous definition in Meillassoux’s AFTER FINITUDE, unfortunately this definition makes it next to useless in describing recent and contemporary rival philosophies. The formal definition of the concept of correlationism requires supplementation by a much more free and easy notion that can be applied to all sorts of philosophies on the basis of a vague impression that they are not giving enough emphasis to the sciences, or merely out of dislike for some word in the rival’s philosophical vocabulary, regardless of its defintion. Basically this informal acception of “correlationism” boils down to meaning “speculative”, but the wrong sort of speculation,  that is in a word metaphysical rather than in accordance with the presuppositions of the sciences.

The problem is not speculation based on empirical science versus that based on idealist metaphysics, but scientism. Despite the rhetorical display of going beyond postmodernism and post-structuralism, we are presented with is a reductionist view of science that is blind to its own component of speculation or theory. Everyone is empiricist in that they respect the facts, but the reductionist is a naive empiricist who is in denial of the problem that the facts do not speak for themselves, i.e. that speculation is an integral part of science.

The reductionist is typically someone who presupposes an already given interpretation of the facts that is construed as just the facts speaking for themselves, without interpretation, hence the inability to countenance someone who explicitly acknowledges this speculative component. The task is not to derive theory from the facts, as this is logically impossible, comporting a logical fallacy. The task is to elaborate a hypothesis (speculation) capable of accounting for the facts. Speculation-envy is based on self-blindness. Meillassoux is a mathematico-scientific reductionist.

My conclusion is that the whole philosophical style of Meillassoux is “correlationist” in the more extended sense that it is deployed in the domain of the pure concept cut off from any application to the concrete world, that I have called the “surconcept”. Meillassoux is not concerned about pollution, genetic manipulation, global warming, the power of social networks, the treatment of minorities, the struggle for planetary hegemony. We look in vain in his book for the proper name of an event that pushes him to think: Einstein, Freud Stalinism, Nazism, the Shoah, Hiroshima, post-colonialism, Gaia, something that is an event for both the layperson and the philosopher. Nothing. For him the stake is: “the nature of thought’s relation to the absolute” (page 1, first page), “to reconcile thought and absolute” (page 128, last page).

Note: The “surconcept” is the concept deployed only in the domain of pure ideality, cut off from any application to the concrete world. It begins and ends in the library or the archive, without reference to the events in our concrete life. It creates or supposes a dualism that has no basis in a thought that does not bifurcate. That is why I say that Meillassoux’s very style is, from the beginning, correlationist. He thinks that his problem exists because his concepts say it exists.

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