PRINCIPLES OF THE EMPTY SIGN: Online Lecture by Meillassoux (abstract)

A new lecture by Quentin Meillassoux is available online at the site Savoirs ENS of the École Normale Supérieure. The title is “Principles of the Empty Sign”. Here is my translation of the abstract.

“The aim will be to defend a realism that we call “subtractive”. According to this realism, which appeared in the 17th Century, it is possible for thought to grasp, by a selective operation, what the world is in the absence of all thought. The philosopher is thus supposed to be capable of subtracting from the given whatever is due to subjectivity, and of conserving only the intrinsic properties of the external thing: for example, by the exclusion of all sensible properties.

We shall attempt to reactivate, in the contemporary field, this gesture, long discredited. To do this, we will proceed in two steps:

First we will set out once again from Cartesian doubt, and attempt to radicalise it, in order to arrive at a form of the cogito capable of giving us an updated model of the solipsistic imprisonment of thought.

Secondly, we will work at extracting ourselves from this face-to-face encounter of the subject with itself, to attain a real that is independent of all subjectivity.

This will proceed by way of two concepts:

that of an absolutised contingency,

and that of a sign devoid of all meaning, or an “empty sign”, at the possible foundation of the mathematisation of the world without us”.

Original French here:

Il s’agira de prendre la défense d’un réalisme que l’on nomme “soustractif”. Selon ce réalisme, qui apparaît au XVIIè siècle, il est possible pour la pensée de saisir, par une opération sélective, ce qu’est le monde en l’absence de toute pensée. Le philosophe est alors supposé être capable de soustraire du donné ce qui est dû à la subjectivité, pour ne conserver que les propriétés intrinsèques de la chose extérieure: par exemple, à l’exclusion des qualités sensibles.
On tentera de réactiver, dans le champ contemporain, ce geste, longtemps déconsidéré. Pour ce faire, on procédera en deux temps: d’abord on repartira du doute cartésien, en tentant de le radicaliser, pour aboutir à une forme de cogito capable de nous donner un modèle actualisé d’enfermement solipsiste de la pensée. Puis, dans un deuxième temps, on travaillera à s’extirper de ce face-à-face du sujet avec lui-même, pour atteindre un réel indépendant de toute subjectivité. Cela en passera par deux concepts: celui d’une contingence absolutisée, et celui d’un signe dépourvu de sens, ou “signe creux”, au fondement possible d’une mathématisation du monde sans nous.

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3 Responses to PRINCIPLES OF THE EMPTY SIGN: Online Lecture by Meillassoux (abstract)

  1. The River Of Principles, Flowing From The Empty Sign

    [Meillassoux]: “The aim will be to defend a realism that we call “subtractive”. According to this realism, which appeared in the 17th Century, it is possible for thought to grasp, by a selective operation, what the world is in the absence of all thought. The philosopher is thus supposed to be capable of subtracting from the given whatever is due to subjectivity, and of conserving only the intrinsic properties of the external thing: for example, by the exclusion of all sensible properties.

    {AK}: Bifurcation of the region of the “given” into subregions; of “subjectivity & sensible properties”; & of “intrinsic properties of the external thing”; & then subtracting one from the other; all occur as operations of “thought”.
    For “all thought” to be able to ‘select’ its own absence, using empirical regionalisations of its own production, is a strange suggestion.
    There is a Zen saying: “If you work on your mind, using your mind, how can you avoid an immense confusion?”
    “Mind”, & “Thought”, are open determinations; neither the ‘subject’, nor the ‘object’, are so fully determined, that its worth burdening them with the metaphysical baggage Meillassoux plonks on them. Let it live & breathe, then see what’s going on.

    [Meillassoux]: “and that of a sign devoid of all meaning, or an “empty sign”, at the possible foundation of the mathematisation of the world without us”.”

    {AK}: I wonder if he read that recent discussion with Dominic Fox? & then read the Derrida quotes, therein? Lol
    Anyway, he’s wrong. The notion of “emptiness” (or “empty sign”), would preclude capture by any ‘metaphysics of foundation’. Not that it would necessarily reject such, but the notion, or determination, of ‘foundation’, to obtain as a significance, requires a ‘system’ or ‘structural economy’, in order to inhabit the position of ‘foundation’. This could vitiate “emptiness” (or “empty sign”). I say “could”, because the alleged vitiation is contingent on how the metaphysical status of that ‘system’ or ‘structural economy’ is characterised.
    “[T]he mathematisation of the world without us”, already presupposes various metaphysical commitments, which, as we know, Meillassoux proffers according to traditional naïveté.
    Identifying a combination of conceptualisations; “the world”; “mathematisation”; & “us”; according to a “subtractive realism”; is a set of determinate, metaphysical commitments, that’s all.
    Of course, one can ground all this with “emptiness” (or “empty sign”), but such a sunyata is at the root of every such ‘ground’. However, the “empty sign” cannot be uniquely identified as “the possible foundation of the mathematisation of the world without us”, alone, it is far more than just that, & far less.

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  2. Pingback: DELEUZIONAL, LARDUELLEAN, OR LACANALISED?: My Big Other Exists less | AGENT SWARM

  3. landzek says:

    Yea. I think Miessaloux had a good idea, with ‘after finitude’but is having difficulty seeing it through, so hes digging for something that may have a chance of putting him back on the pedestal , so to speak, of the guy who made popular correlationslism. We might notice Harman has a similar road bump ( but i think Grahm has a couple legs to stand on). But at least M effort might be interesting, even if i never can read French. Lol. Thanks for the small translation T.

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