Brassier/Meillassoux and the Problematic of Representation


As Kant claimed in his Critique of Pure Reason that it is not uniformity that is a necessary criteria of ‘in-itself’ or ‘things-in-themselves’, but the possibility of consciousness and representation that require the constancy of phenomena in nature leading in and out of the tautological presupposition of the constancy of phenomena on the one hand and constancy of nature on the other. This representation or as Brassier says the problematic of representation has been accepted by the continental tradition without putting up any challenge that has encouraged relinquishing epistemological considerations into the theoretical investigations of nature and conditions of cognition. Meillassoux, on the other hand identifies the ‘frequentialist implication’ argument in Kant that proves the impossibility of representation as due not to the contingency of laws. Having identified it, he proceeds to expound his ‘anti-frequentialist’ argument that demonstrates that the contingency of the laws of nature need not entail their frequent transformation and thereby the impossibility of their representation, as his principle concern is to show what he calls the principle of unreason is to be in perfect compatibility with the stability of appearances and the scientific representation of nature.

Meillassoux wants to challenge modern philosophy’s appropriation of facticity as a limit to revealing knowledge of the absolute. Facticity tells us about the nature of the absolute. If all we can know is the contingency of facticity, then there is no reason for things to remain so rather than otherwise. Yet saying ‘everything is equally possible’ is an absolute claim, thus metaphysical. The only claim that can be made is based upon our facticity, not as limit but as absolute: the absolute is the absolute impossibility of a necessary being. This is the absolute truth of the principle of unreason: this is an hypothetical principle, which is a proposition that could bot be deduced from another proposition, but could be proved by argument.

As against Kant’s dictum of the contingency of the laws of nature implying a frequency of transformation that render the impossibility of representation, Meillassoux concludes that the absolute contingency of the world’s physical structure is in perfect compatibility with the stability of the phenomena and thus the possibility of representation. Brassier discovers a fundamental flaw in Meillassoux’s invoking the anti-frequentialist argument. The flaw is in terms of leaving the ontological status of this stability unattended, despite the latter showing that that the ‘frequentialist implication’ argument unable to prove the reality as totalizable and that contingency is not necessarily incompatible with the appearance of stability, as the former thinks the ontological status of stability to be a cardinal issue in latter’s project of accounting for the ancestral claims to the conditions of possibility of science. Meillassoux is quite aware of this fact that reality in-itself is a non-totalizable multiplicity and as he says:

“We have not established the effectivity of this un-totalization – we have merely supposed it and drawn the consequences of the fact that such a supposition is possible.”

Thus he concedes to the fact of speculative argument, although subtle in his discourse, that would found the stability of appearances upon non-totalizability of absolute time.


One thought on “Brassier/Meillassoux and the Problematic of Representation

  1. […] Brassier takes the continental tradition to task for unchallengingly accepting the liquidation of epistemology and in the process launching a counter-scientific ontology and metaphysics of nature, where the latter is treated not just as an antidote to scientific reductionism, but at the same time taken as a corrective to the ‘positivistic’ naturalization of the analysis of mind, with the emergence of cognitive science as the most obvious consequence. Brassier is seen to be championing for science in relation to neurology and ‘Correlationism’ that somehow justifies the scientific way of thinking, but the question that remains unformulated is the difference he shares with Meillassoux’s formalism and his notion of philosophical access to it. It seems that Brassier is seduced by the existence of the world and tends to ignore the importance of image by avoiding realities of image[s].  These still are images, because of the ways in which our nervous system works. Thus science may pose a threat to a certain kinds of commonsense and certain types of folk metaphysics, but at the same time, it could replace the ones threatened with a set of others. In a way, a complete theoretical/epistemological suspension is untenable. This is also a claim of ‘Correlationism’ as all our access to the world is mediated through the day-to-day phenomenological world of lived experiences or what Heidegger referred to as the world of ‘everydayness’. But, this is not doing justice to his thought, as he explicitly maintains in his Alien Theory that in order to attain an adequate conceptual grasp of the unitary nature of physical reality, it is necessary to achieve a complete theoretical suspension of the image of the world derived from perceptual intuition. In other words, physical theory has to effect a rigorously mathematical circumvention of those imaginative limitations inherent in the physiologically rooted cognitive apparatus with which an aleatory evolutionary history has saddled us. Thus, the chief obstacle standing in the way of a proper scientific understanding of the physical world would seem to be that of our species’ inbuilt tendency to process information via epistemic mechanisms which invariably involve an operation of subtraction from the imperceptible physical whole. The case of neurology is, a bit more difficult. One of the things that the neuroscientist will wish to explain is the neurological base of this phenomenological lived experience. If we begin from the premise that one form of science seeks to discover the causal mechanisms or agencies that underlie phenomena or effects, then the phenomenon in question for the neurologist will be this lived experience or image of the world. As a result, this image of the world cannot be dispensed with without neurology becoming unintelligible. However, even here we find stark departures from our image of the world. For example, I experience myself as a centralized agency making decisions and choices based on a transparency to myself. Yet neurology reveals that in fact “I” am a non-linear network of neurons without transparency, unity, or center. Likewise, these scientists reveal that the reasons we give for doing things are often wildly at odds with the mechanisms behind these things. Here, one gets a feeling that ‘correlationists’ would not give any credence to such thoughts for they are at odds with the structure of the ordinary lived experience. As Husserl rightly points out in his Ideas I: […]

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