Žižek’s Dialectical Coincidentia Oppositorium. Thought of the 98.0


Without doubt, the cogent interlacing of Lacanian theorization with Hegelianism manifests Žižek’s prowess in articulating a highly pertinent critique of ideology for our epoch, but whether this comes from a position of Marxist orthodoxy or a position of a Lacanian doctrinaire who monitors Marxist politics is an open question.

Through this Lacanian prism, Žižek sees subjectivity as fragmented and decentred, considering its subordinate status to the unsurpassable realm of the signifiers. The acquisition of a consummate identity dwells in impossibility, in as much as it is bound to desire, provoked by a lacuna which is impossible to fill up. Thus, for Žižek, socio-political relations evolve from states of lack, linguistic fluidity, and contingency. What temporarily arrests this fluid state of the subject’s slithering in the realm of the signifiers, giving rise to her self-identity, is what Lacan calls point de capiton. The term refers to certain fundamental “anchoring” points in the signifying chain where the signifier is tied to the signified, providing an illusionary stability in signification. Laclau and Mouffe (Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics) were the first to make use of the idea of the point de capiton in relation to hegemony and the formation of identities. In this context, ideology is conceptualized as a terrain of firm meanings, determined and comprised by numerous points de capiton (Zizek The Sublime Object of Ideology).

The real is the central Lacanian concept that Žižek implements in his rhetoric. He associates the real with antagonism (e.g., class conflict) as the unsymbolizable and irreducible gap that lies in the heart of the socio-symbolic order and around which society is formed. As Žižek argues, “class struggle designates the very antagonism that prevents the objective (social) reality from constituting itself as a self-enclosed whole” (Renata Salecl, Slavoj Zizek-Gaze and Voice As Love Objects). This logic is indebted to Laclau and Mouffe, who were the first to postulate that social antagonism is what impedes the closure of society, marking thus its impossibility. Žižek expanded this view and associated antagonism with the notion of the real.

Functioning as a hegemonic fantasmatic veil, ideology covers the lacuna of the symbolic, in the form of a fantasy, so that it protracts desire and hence subjectivity. On the imaginary level, ideology functions as the “mirror” that reflects antagonisms, that is to say, the real unrepresentable kernel that undermines the political. Around this emptiness of representation, the fictional narrative of ideology, its meaning, is to unfurl. The role of socio-ideological fantasy is to provide consistency to the symbolic order by veiling its void, and to foster the illusion of a coherent social unity.

Nevertheless, fantasy has both unifying and disjunctive features, as its role is to fill the void of the symbolic, but also to circumscribe this void. According to Žižek, “the notion of fantasy offers an exemplary case of the dialectical coincidentia oppositorium”. On the one side, it provides a “hallucinatory realisation of desire” and on the other side, it evokes disturbing images about the Other’s jouissance to which the subject has no (symbolic or imaginary) access. In so reasoning, ideology promises unity and, at the same time, creates another fantasy, where the failure of acquiring the anticipated ideological unity is ascribed.

Pertaining to Jacques Derrida’s work Specters of Marx (Specters of Marx The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning; the New International), where the typical ontological conception of the living is seen to be incomplete and inseparable from the spectre, namely, a ghostly embodiment that haunts the living present (Derrida introduces the notion of hauntology to refer to this pseudo-material incarnation of the spirit that haunts and challenges ontological present), Žižek elaborates the spectral apparitions of the real in the politico–ideological domain. He makes a distinction between this “spectre” and “symbolic fiction”, that is, reality per se. Both have a common fantasmatic hypostasis, yet they perform antithetical functions. Symbolic fiction forecloses the real antagonism at the crux of reality, only to return as a spectre, as another fantasy.

Whitehead and Peirce’s Synchronicity with Hegel’s Capital Error. Thought of the Day 97.0


The focus on experience ensures that Whitehead’s metaphysics is grounded. Otherwise the narrowness of approach would only culminate in sterile measurement. This becomes especially evident with regard to the science of history. Whitehead gives a lucid example of such ‘sterile measurement’ lacking the immediacy of experience.

Consider, for example, the scientific notion of measurement. Can we elucidate the turmoil of Europe by weighing its dictators, its prime ministers, and its editors of newspapers? The idea is absurd, although some relevant information might be obtained. (Alfred North Whitehead – Modes of Thought)

The wealth of experience leaves us with the problem of how to cope with it. Selection of data is required. This selection is done by a value judgment – the judgment of importance. Although Whitehead opposes the dichotomy of the two notions ‘importance’ and ‘matter of fact’, it is still necessary to distinguish grades and types of importance, which enables us to structure our experience, to focus it. This is very similar to hermeneutical theories in Schleiermacher, Gadamer and Habermas: the horizon of understanding structures the data. Therefore, we not only need judgment but the process of concrescence implicitly requires an aim. Whitehead explains that

By this term ‘aim’ is meant the exclusion of the boundless wealth of alternative potentiality and the inclusion of that definite factor of novelty which constitutes the selected way of entertaining those data in that process of unification.

The other idea that underlies experience is “matter of fact.”

There are two contrasted ideas which seem inevitably to underlie all width of experience, one of them is the notion of importance, the sense of importance, the presupposition of importance. The other is the notion of matter of fact. There is no escape from sheer matter of fact. It is the basis of importance; and importance is important because of the inescapable character of matter of fact.

By stressing the “alien character” of feeling that enters into the privately felt feeling of an occasion, Whitehead is able to distinguish the responsive and the supplemental stages of concrescence. The responsive stage being a purely receptive phase, the latter integrating the former ‘alien elements’ into a unity of feeling. The alien factor in the experiencing subjects saves Whitehead’s concept from being pure Spirit (Geist) in a Hegelian sense. There are more similarities between Hegelian thinking and Whitehead’s thought than his own comments on Hegel may suggest. But, his major criticism could probably be stated with Peirce, who wrote that

The capital error of Hegel which permeates his whole system in every part of it is that he almost altogether ignores the Outward clash. (The Essential Peirce 1)

Whitehead refers to that clash as matter of fact. Although, even there, one has to keep in mind that matter-of-fact is an abstraction. 

Matter of fact is an abstraction, arrived at by confining thought to purely formal relations which then masquerade as the final reality. This is why science, in its perfection, relapses into the study of differential equations. The concrete world has slipped through the meshes of the scientific net.

Whitehead clearly keeps the notion of prehension in his late writings as developed in Process and Reality. Just to give one example, 

I have, in my recent writings, used the word ‘prehension’ to express this process of appropriation. Also I have termed each individual act of immediate self-enjoyment an ‘occasion of experience’. I hold that these unities of existence, these occasions of experience, are the really real things which in their collective unity compose the evolving universe, ever plunging into the creative advance. 

Process needs an aim in Process and Reality as much as in Modes of Thought:

We must add yet another character to our description of life. This missing characteristic is ‘aim’. By this term ‘aim’ is meant the exclusion of the boundless wealth of alternative potentiality, and the inclusion of that definite factor of novelty which constitutes the selected way of entertaining those data in that process of unification. The aim is at that complex of feeling which is the enjoyment of those data in that way. ‘That way of enjoyment’ is selected from the boundless wealth of alternatives. It has been aimed at for actualization in that process.

Where Hegel Was, There Deconstruction Shall Be: The Dialectical Calculus Between Lukács and Laclau & Mouffe. Thought of the Day 81.0


Lukács would be the condensation of everything that is deemed politically regressive about the social theory of “the rationalist ‘dictatorship’ of Enlightenment” (Ernesto Laclau New Reflections on the Revolution of Our Time), of just about everything that the new social logic of postmodern culture brings into crisis. In this context – which is theoretically and politically hostile to the concept of totality – Laclau and Mouffe’s recasting of the Gramscian concept of hegemony is designed to avoid the Lukácsian conception of society as an “expressive totality”. For Lukács, a single principle is “expressed” in all social phenomena, so that every aspect of the social formation is integrated into a closed system that connects the forces and social relations of production to politics and the juridical apparatus, cultural forms and class-consciousness. By contrast, Laclau and Mouffe insist that the social field is an incomplete totality consisting of a multitude of transitory hegemonic “epicentres” and characterised by a plurality of competing discourses. The proliferation of democratic forms of struggle by the new social movements is thereby integrated into a pluralistic conception of the social field that emphasises the negativity and dispersion underlying all social identities. “Radical and plural democracy,” Laclau and Mouffe contend, represents a translation of socialist strategy into the detotalising paradigm of postmodern culture.

For Lukács, the objective of a new conception of praxis is to establish the dialectical unity of theory and practice, so as to demonstrate that the proletariat, as the operator of a transparent praxis, is the identical subject-object of the historical process. The subject of history is therefore the creator of the contents of the social totality, and to the extent that this subject attains self-reflexivity, it is also the conscious generator of social forms. This enables Lukács to emphasise the revolutionary character of class conscious as coextensive with revolutionary action. Laclau and Mouffe’s concept of discursive practice has the same effect – with this difference, that Laclau and Mouffe deny that discursive practices can become wholly transparent to social agents (Ernesto Laclau, Chantal Mouffe Hegemony and Socialist Strategy Towards a Radical Democratic Politics). By reinscribing the concept of praxis within a deconstruction of Marxism, Laclau and Mouffe theorise a new concept of discursive practice that “must pierce the entire material density of the multifarious institutions” upon which it operates, since it has as its objective a decisive break with the material/mental dichotomy. “Rejection of the thought/reality dichotomy,” they propose, “must go together with a re-thinking and interpenetration of the categories which have up until now been considered exclusive of one another”.

Critically, this means a fusion of the hitherto distinct categories of (subjective) discourse and (objective) structure in the concept of “hegemonic articulation”. This theoretical intervention is simultaneously a decisive political advance, because it now becomes clear that, for instance, “the equivalence constituted through communist enumeration [of the alliance partners within a bid for political hegemony] is not the discursive expression of a real movement constituted outside of discourse; on the contrary, this enumerative discourse is a real force which contributes to the moulding and constitution of social relations”. In other words, the opposition between theory and practice, discursive practice and structural conditions, is resolved by the new theory of hegemonic articulation. The operator of these discursive practices – the new agent of social transformation – is at once the instigator of social relations and the formulator of discourses on the social.

The most significant difference between Lukács and Laclau and Mouffe is their respective evaluations of Hegelian dialectics. Where, for Lukács, a return to dialectical philosophy held out the prospect of a renewal of Marxian social theory, for Laclau and Mouffe it is “dialectical necessity” that constitutes the major obstacle to a radical postmodern politics. Laclau and Mouffe’s fundamental objection to dialectics is to the substitution of a logically necessary sequence for the contingency of the historical process. They applaud the dialectical dissolution of fixity but deplore the supposed inversion of contingency into necessity and the imposition of a teleology of reconciliation. Hegel’s work, therefore, “appears as located in a watershed between two epochs” and is evaluated as “ambiguous” rather than simply pernicious. On the one hand, Laclau and Mouffe reject the Hegelian notion that “history and society … have a rational and intelligible structure”. This is regarded as an Enlightenment conception fundamentally incompatible with the postmodern emphasis on contingency, finitude and historicity. On the other hand, however, “this synthesis contains all the seeds of its own dissolution, as the rationality of history can only be affirmed at the price of introducing contradiction into the field of reason”. Once the impossibility of including contradiction within rationality is asserted, it then becomes clear that the “logical” transitions between historical “stages” are secured contingently:

It is precisely here that Hegel’s modernity lies: for him, identity is never positive and closed in itself but is constituted as transition, relation, difference. If, however, Hegel’s logical relations become contingent transitions, the connections between them cannot be fixed as moments of an underlying or sutured totality. This means that they are articulations.

This is not a rejection of Hegel but a re-interpretation. Interpreted in this light, Hegel’s “logical” relations are the language games that frame social practices – rather than formally rational structures deducible a priori – and their “transitions” are only the contingent connections created by political articulations. In opposition to the logically necessary sequence of closed totalities, Laclau and Mouffe insist on a historically contingent series of open discursive formations. Resolutely contesting the category of the totality, Laclau and Mouffe declare that:

The incomplete character of every totality leads us to abandon, as a terrain of analysis, the premise of “society” as a sutured and self-defined totality. “Society” is not a valid object of discourse.

So where Lukács once declared that “the category of the totality is the bearer of the principle of revolution in science”, Laclau and Mouffe now announce, by contrast, that totality is an illusion because “‘society’ as a unitary and intelligible object which grounds its own partial processes is an impossibility”. Where Hegel was, there deconstruction shall be – or so it would seem.

Leibniz’s Compossibility and Compatibility


Leibniz believed in discovering a suitable logical calculus of concepts enabling its user to solve any rational question. Assuming that it is done he was in power to sketch the full ontological system – from monads and qualities to the real world.

Thus let some logical calculus of concepts (names?, predicates?) be given. Cn is its connected consequence operator, whereas – for any x – Th(x) is the Cn-theory generated by x.

Leibniz defined modal concepts by the following metalogical conditions:

M(x) :↔ ⊥ ∉ Th(x)

x is possible (its theory is consistent)

L(x) :↔ ⊥ ∈ Th(¬x)

x is necessary (its negation is impossible)

C(x,y) :↔ ⊥ ∉ Cn(Th(x) ∪ Th(y))

x and y are compossible (their common theory is consistent).

Immediately we obtain Leibnizian ”soundness” conditions:

C(x, y) ↔ C(y, x) Compossibility relation is symmetric.

M(x) ↔ C(x, x) Possibility means self-compossibility.

C(x, y) → M(x)∧M(y) Compossibility implies possibility.

When can the above implication be reversed?

Onto\logical construction

Observe that in the framework of combination ontology we have already defined M(x) in a way respecting M(x) ↔ C(x, x).

On the other hand, between MP( , ) and C( , ) there is another relation, more fundamental than compossibility. It is so-called compatibility relation. Indeed, putting

CP(x, y) :↔ MP(x, y) ∧ MP(y, x) – for compatibility, and C(x,y) :↔ M(x) ∧ M(y) ∧ CP(x,y) – for compossibility

we obtain a manageable compossibility relation obeying the above Leibniz’s ”soundness” conditions.

Wholes are combinations of compossible collections, whereas possible worlds are obtained by maximalization of wholes.

Observe that we start with one basic ontological making: MP(x, y) – modality more fundamental than Leibnizian compossibility, for it is definable in two steps. Observe also that the above construction can be done for making impossible and to both basic ontological modalities as well (producing quite Hegelian output in this case!).

The Concern for Historical Materialism. Thought of the Day 53.0


The concern for historical materialism, in spite of Marx’s differentiation between history and pre-history, is that totalisation might not be historically groundable after all, and must instead be constituted in other ways: whether logically, transcendentally or naturally. The ‘Consciousness’ chapter of the Phenomenology, a blend of all three, becomes a transcendent(al) logic of phenomena – individual, universal, particular – and ceases to provide any genuine phenomenology of ‘the experience of consciousness’. Natural consciousness is not strictly speaking a standpoint (no real opposition), so it can offer no critical grounds of itself to confer synthetic unity upon the universal, that which is taken to a higher level in ‘Self-Consciousness’ (only to be retrospectively confirmed). Yet Hegel does just this from the outset. In ‘Perception’, we read that, ‘[o]n account of the universality [Allgemeinheit] of the property, I must … take the objective essence to be on the whole a community [Gemeinschaft]’. Universality always sides with community, the Allgemeine with the Gemeinschaft, as if the synthetic operation had taken place prior to its very operability. Unfortunately for Hegel, the ‘free matters’ of all possible properties paves the way for the ‘interchange of forces’ in ‘Force and the Understanding’, and hence infinity, life and – spirit. In the midst of the master-slave dialectic, Hegel admits that, ‘[i]n this movement we see repeated the process which represented itself as the play of forces, but repeated now in consciousness [sic].

Iain Hamilton Grant’s Schelling in Opposition to Fichte. Note Quote.


The stated villain of Philosophies of Nature is not Hegelianism but rather ‘neo-Fichteanism’. It is Grant’s ‘Philosophies of Nature After Schelling‘, which takes up the issue of graduating Schelling to escape the accoutrements of Kantian and Fichtean narrow transcendentalism. Grant frees Schelling from the grips of narrow minded inertness and mechanicality in nature that Kant and Fichte had presented nature with. This idea is the Deleuzean influence on Grant. Manuel De Landa makes a vociferous case in this regard. According to De Landa, the inertness of matter was rubbished by Deleuze in the way that Deleuze sought for a morphogenesis of form thereby launching a new kind of materialism. This is the anti-essentialist position of Deleuze. Essentialism says that matter and energy are inert, they do not have any morphogenetic capabilities. They cannot give rise to new forms on their own. Disciplines like complexity theory, non-linear dynamics do give matter its autonomy over inertness, its capabilities in terms of charge. But its account of the relationship between Fichte and Schelling actually obscures the rich meaning of speculation in Hegel and after. Grant quite accurately recalls that Schelling confronted Fichte’s identification of the ‘not I’ with passive nature – the consequence of identifying all free activity with the ‘I’ alone. For Grant, that which Jacobi termed ‘speculative egotism’ becomes the nightmare of modern philosophy and of technological modernity at large. The ecological concern is never quite made explicit in Philosophies of Nature. Yet Grant’s introduction to Schelling’s On the World Soul helps to contextualise the meaning of his ‘geology of morals’.

What we miss from Grant’s critique of Fichte is the manner by which the corrective, positive characterisation of nature proceeds from Schelling’s confirmation of Fichte’s rendering of the fact of consciousness (Tatsache) into the act of consciousness (Tathandlung). Schelling, as a consequence, becomes singularly critical of contemplative speculation, since activity now implies working on nature and thereby changing it – along with it, we might say – rather than either simply observing it or even experimenting upon it.

In fact, Grant reads Schelling only in opposition to Fichte, with drastic consequences for his speculative realism: the post-Fichtean element of Schelling’s naturephilosophy allows for the new sense of speculation he will share with Hegel – even though they will indeed turn this against Kant and Fichte. Without this account, we are left with the older, contemplative understanding of metaphysical speculation, which leads to a certain methodologism in Grant’s study. Hence, ‘the principle method of naturephilosophy consists in “unconditioning” the phenomena’. Relatedly, Meillassoux defines the ‘speculative’ as ‘every type of thinking’ – not acting, – ‘that claims to be able to access some form of absolute’.

In direct contrast to this approach, the collective ‘system programme’ of Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin was not a programme for thinking alone. Their revolutionised sense of speculation, from contemplation of the stars to reform of the worldly, is overlooked by today’s speculative realism – a philosophy that, ‘refuses to interrogate reality through human (linguistic, cultural or political) mediations of it’. We recall that Kant similarly could not extend his Critique to speculative reason precisely on account of his contemplative determination of pure reason (in terms of the hierarchical gap between reason and the understanding). Grant’s ‘geology of morals’ does not oppose ‘Kanto-Fichtean philosophy’, as he has it, but rather remains structurally within the sphere of Kant’s pre-political metaphysics.

Hegel and Topos Theory. Thought of the Day 46.0


The intellectual feat of Lawvere is as important as Gödel’s formal undecidability theorem, perhaps even more. But there is a difference between both results: whereas Gödel led to a blind alley, Lawvere has displayed a new and fascinating panorama to be explored by mathematicians and philosophers. Referring to the positive results of topos theory, Lawvere says:

A science student naively enrolling in a course styled “Foundations of Mathematics” is more likely to receive sermons about unknowability… than to receive the needed philosophical guide to a systematic understanding of the concrete richness of pure and applied mathematics as it has been and will be developed. (Categories of space and quantity)

One of the major philosophical results of elementary topos theory, is that the way Hegel looked at logic was, after all, in the good track. According to Hegel, formal mathematical logic was but a superficial tautologous script. True logic was dialectical, and this logic ruled the gigantic process of the development of the Idea. Inasmuch as the Idea was autorealizing itself through the opposition of theses and antitheses, logic was changing but not in an arbitrary change of inferential rules. Briefly, in the dialectical system of Hegel logic was content-dependent.

Now, the fact that every topos has a corresponding internal logic shows that logic is, in quite a precise way, content-dependent; it depends on the structure of the topos. Every topos has its own internal logic, and this logic is materially dependent on the characterization of the topos. This correspondence throws new light on the relation of logic to ontology. Classically, logic was considered as ontologically aseptic. There could be a multitude of different ontologies, but there was only one logic: the classical. Of course, there were some mathematicians that proposed a different logic: the intuitionists. But this proposal was due to not very clear speculative epistemic reasons: they said they could not understand the meaning of the attributive expression “actual infinite”. These mathematicians integrated a minority within the professional mathematical community. They were seen as outsiders that had queer ideas about the exact sciences. However, as soon as intuitionistic logic was recognized as the universal internal logic of topoi, its importance became astronomical. Because it provided, for the first time, a new vision of the interplay of logic with mathematics. Something had definitively changed in the philosophical panorama.

Infinitesimal and Differential Philosophy. Note Quote.


If difference is the ground of being qua becoming, it is not difference as contradiction (Hegel), but as infinitesimal difference (Leibniz). Accordingly, the world is an ideal continuum or transfinite totality (Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque) of compossibilities and incompossibilities analyzable into an infinity of differential relations (Desert Islands and Other Texts). As the physical world is merely composed of contiguous parts that actually divide until infinity, it finds its sufficient reason in the reciprocal determination of evanescent differences (dy/dx, i.e. the perfectly determinable ratio or intensive magnitude between indeterminate and unassignable differences that relate virtually but never actually). But what is an evanescent difference if not a speculation or fiction? Leibniz refuses to make a distinction between the ontological nature and the practical effectiveness of infinitesimals. For even if they have no actuality of their own, they are nonetheless the genetic requisites of actual things.

Moreover, infinitesimals are precisely those paradoxical means through which the finite understanding is capable of probing into the infinite. They are the elements of a logic of sense, that great logical dream of a combinatory or calculus of problems (Difference and Repetition). On the one hand, intensive magnitudes are entities that cannot be determined logically, i.e. in extension, even if they appear or are determined in sensation only in connection with already extended physical bodies. This is because in themselves they are determined at infinite speed. Is not the differential precisely this problematic entity at the limit of sensibility that exists only virtually, formally, in the realm of thought? Isn’t the differential precisely a minimum of time, which refers only to the swiftness of its fictional apprehension in thought, since it is synthesized in Aion, i.e. in a time smaller than the minimum of continuous time and hence in the interstitial realm where time takes thought instead of thought taking time?

Contrary to the Kantian critique that seeks to eliminate the duality between finite understanding and infinite understanding in order to avoid the contradictions of reason, Deleuze thus agrees with Maïmon that we shouldn’t speak of differentials as mere fictions unless they require the status of a fully actual reality in that infinite understanding. The alternative between mere fictions and actual reality is a false problem that hides the paradoxical reality of the virtual as such: real but not actual, ideal but not abstract. If Deleuze is interested in the esoteric history of differential philosophy, this is as a speculative alternative to the exoteric history of the extensional science of actual differences and to Kantian critical philosophy. It is precisely through conceptualizing intensive, differential relations that finite thought is capable of acquiring consistency without losing the infinite in which it plunges. This brings us back to Leibniz and Spinoza. As Deleuze writes about the former: no one has gone further than Leibniz in the exploration of sufficient reason [and] the element of difference and therefore [o]nly Leibniz approached the conditions of a logic of thought. Or as he argues of the latter, fictional abstractions are only a preliminary stage for thought to become more real, i.e. to produce an expressive or progressive synthesis: The introduction of a fiction may indeed help us to reach the idea of God as quickly as possible without falling into the traps of infinite regression. In Maïmon’s reinvention of the Kantian schematism as well as in the Deleuzian system of nature, the differentials are the immanent noumena that are dramatized by reciprocal determination in the complete determination of the phenomenal. Even the Kantian concept of the straight line, Deleuze emphasizes, is a dramatic synthesis or integration of an infinity of differential relations. In this way, infinitesimals constitute the distinct but obscure grounds enveloped by clear but confused effects. They are not empirical objects but objects of thought. Even if they are only known as already developed within the extensional becomings of the sensible and covered over by representational qualities, as differences they are problems that do not resemble their solutions and as such continue to insist in an enveloped, quasi-causal state.

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Meillassoux’s Principle of Unreason Towards an Intuition of the Absolute In-itself. Note Quote.


The principle of reason such as it appears in philosophy is a principle of contingent reason: not only how philosophical reason concerns difference instead of identity, we but also why the Principle of Sufficient Reason can no longer be understood in terms of absolute necessity. In other words, Deleuze disconnects the Principle of Sufficient Reason from the ontotheological tradition no less than from its Heideggerian deconstruction. What remains then of Meillassoux’s criticism in After finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contigency that Deleuze no less than Hegel hypostatizes or absolutizes the correlation between thinking and being and thus brings back a vitalist version of speculative idealism through the back door?

At stake in Meillassoux’s criticism of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is a double problem: the conditions of possibility of thinking and knowing an absolute and subsequently the conditions of possibility of rational ideology critique. The first problem is primarily epistemological: how can philosophy justify scientific knowledge claims about a reality that is anterior to our relation to it and that is hence not given in the transcendental object of possible experience (the arche-fossil )? This is a problem for all post-Kantian epistemologies that hold that we can only ever know the correlate of being and thought. Instead of confronting this weak correlationist position head on, however, Meillassoux seeks a solution in the even stronger correlationist position that denies not only the knowability of the in itself, but also its very thinkability or imaginability. Simplified: if strong correlationists such as Heidegger or Wittgenstein insist on the historicity or facticity (non-necessity) of the correlation of reason and ground in order to demonstrate the impossibility of thought’s self-absolutization, then the very force of their argument, if it is not to contradict itself, implies more than they are willing to accept: the necessity of the contingency of the transcendental structure of the for itself. As a consequence, correlationism is incapable of demonstrating itself to be necessary. This is what Meillassoux calls the principle of factiality or the principle of unreason. It says that it is possible to think of two things that exist independently of thought’s relation to it: contingency as such and the principle of non-contradiction. The principle of unreason thus enables the intellectual intuition of something that is absolutely in itself, namely the absolute impossibility of a necessary being. And this in turn implies the real possibility of the completely random and unpredictable transformation of all things from one moment to the next. Logically speaking, the absolute is thus a hyperchaos or something akin to Time in which nothing is impossible, except it be necessary beings or necessary temporal experiences such as the laws of physics.

There is, moreover, nothing mysterious about this chaos. Contingency, and Meillassoux consistently refers to this as Hume’s discovery, is a purely logical and rational necessity, since without the principle of non-contradiction not even the principle of factiality would be absolute. It is thus a rational necessity that puts the Principle of Sufficient Reason out of action, since it would be irrational to claim that it is a real necessity as everything that is is devoid of any reason to be as it is. This leads Meillassoux to the surprising conclusion that [t]he Principle of Sufficient Reason is thus another name for the irrational… The refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason is not the refusal of reason, but the discovery of the power of chaos harboured by its fundamental principle (non-contradiction). (Meillassoux 2007: 61) The principle of factiality thus legitimates or founds the rationalist requirement that reality be perfectly amenable to conceptual comprehension at the same time that it opens up [a] world emancipated from the Principle of Sufficient Reason (Meillassoux) but founded only on that of non-contradiction.

This emancipation brings us to the practical problem Meillassoux tries to solve, namely the possibility of ideology critique. Correlationism is essentially a discourse on the limits of thought for which the deabsolutization of the Principle of Sufficient Reason marks reason’s discovery of its own essential inability to uncover an absolute. Thus if the Galilean-Copernican revolution of modern science meant the paradoxical unveiling of thought’s capacity to think what there is regardless of whether thought exists or not, then Kant’s correlationist version of the Copernican revolution was in fact a Ptolemaic counterrevolution. Since Kant and even more since Heidegger, philosophy has been adverse precisely to the speculative import of modern science as a formal, mathematical knowledge of nature. Its unintended consequence is therefore that questions of ultimate reasons have been dislocated from the domain of metaphysics into that of non-rational, fideist discourse. Philosophy has thus made the contemporary end of metaphysics complicit with the religious belief in the Principle of Sufficient Reason beyond its very thinkability. Whence Meillassoux’s counter-intuitive conclusion that the refusal of the Principle of Sufficient Reason furnishes the minimal condition for every critique of ideology, insofar as ideology cannot be identified with just any variety of deceptive representation, but is rather any form of pseudo-rationality whose aim is to establish that what exists as a matter of fact exists necessarily. In this way a speculative critique pushes skeptical rationalism’s relinquishment of the Principle of Sufficient Reason to the point where it affirms that there is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given nothing, but the limitless and lawless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence. Such an absolutizing even though no longer absolutist approach would be the minimal condition for every critique of ideology: to reject dogmatic metaphysics means to reject all real necessity, and a fortiori to reject the Principle of Sufficient Reason, as well as the ontological argument.

On the one hand, Deleuze’s criticism of Heidegger bears many similarities to that of Meillassoux when he redefines the Principle of Sufficient Reason in terms of contingent reason or with Nietzsche and Mallarmé: nothing rather than something such that whatever exists is a fiat in itself. His Principle of Sufficient Reason is the plastic, anarchic and nomadic principle of a superior or transcendental empiricism that teaches us a strange reason, that of the multiple, chaos and difference. On the other hand, however, the fact that Deleuze still speaks of reason should make us wary. For whereas Deleuze seeks to reunite chaotic being with systematic thought, Meillassoux revives the classical opposition between empiricism and rationalism precisely in order to attack the pre-Kantian, absolute validity of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. His argument implies a return to a non-correlationist version of Kantianism insofar as it relies on the gap between being and thought and thus upon a logic of representation that renders Deleuze’s Principle of Sufficient Reason unrecognizable, either through a concept of time, or through materialism.

Organic and the Orgiastic. Cartography of Ground and Groundlessness in Deleuze and Heidegger. Thought of the Day 43.0


In his last hermeneutical Erörterung of Leibniz, The Principle of Ground, Heidegger traces back metaphysics to its epochal destiny in the twofold or duplicity (Zwiefalt) of Being and Thought and thus follows the ground in its self-ungrounding (zugrundegehen). Since the foundation of thought is also the foundation of Being, reason and ground are not equal but belong together (zusammenhören) in the Same as the ungrounded yet historical horizon of the metaphysical destiny of Being: On the one hand we say: Being and ground: the Same. On the other hand we say: Being: the abyss (Ab-Grund). What is important is to think the univocity (Einsinnigkeit) of both Sätze, those Sätze that are no longer Sätze. In Difference and Repetition, similarly, Deleuze tells us that sufficient reason is twisted into the groundless. He confirms that the Fold (Pli) is the differenciator of difference engulfed in groundlessness, always folding, unfolding, refolding: to ground is always to bend, to curve and recurve. He thus concludes:

Sufficient reason or ground is strangely bent: on the one hand, it leans towards what it grounds, towards the forms of representation; on the other hand, it turns and plunges into a groundless beyond the ground which resists all forms and cannot be represented.

Despite the fundamental similarity of their conclusions, however, our short overview of Deleuze’s transformation of the Principle of Sufficient Reason has already indicated that his argumentation is very different from Heideggerian hermeneutics. To ground, Deleuze agrees, is always to ground representation. But we should distinguish between two kinds of representation: organic or finite representation and orgiastic or infinite representation. What unites the classicisms of Kant, Descartes and Aristotle is that representation retains organic form as its principle and the finite as its element. Here the logical principle of identity always precedes ontology, such that the ground as element of difference remains undetermined and in itself. It is only with Hegel and Leibniz that representation discovers the ground as its principle and the infinite as its element. It is precisely the Principle of Sufficient Reason that enables thought to determine difference in itself. The ground is like a single and unique total moment, simultaneously the moment of the evanescence and production of difference, of disappearance and appearance. What the attempts at rendering representation infinite reveal, therefore, is that the ground has not only an Apollinian, orderly side, but also a hidden Dionysian, orgiastic side. Representation discovers within itself the limits of the organized; tumult, restlessness and passion underneath apparent calm. It rediscovers monstrosity.

The question then is how to evaluate this ambiguity that is essential to the ground. For Heidegger, the Zwiefalt is either naively interpreted from the perspective of its concave side, following the path of the history of Western thought as the belonging together of Being and thought in a common ground; or it is meditated from its convex side, excavating it from the history of the forgetting of Being the decline of the Fold (Wegfall der Zwiefalt, Vorenthalt der Zwiefalt) as the pivotal point of the Open in its unfolding and following the path that leads from the ground to the abyss. Instead of this all or nothing approach, Deleuze takes up the question in a Nietzschean, i.e. genealogical fashion. The attempt to represent difference in itself cannot be disconnected from its malediction, i.e. the moral representation of groundlessness as a completely undifferentiated abyss. As Bergson already observed, representational reason poses the problem of the ground in terms of the alternative between order and chaos. This goes in particular for the kind of representational reason that seeks to represent the irrepresentable: Representation, especially when it becomes infinite, is imbued with a presentiment of groundlessness. Because it has become infinite in order to include difference within itself, however, it represents groundlessness as a completely undifferentiated abyss, a universal lack of difference, an indifferent black nothingness. Indeed, if Deleuze is so hostile to Hegel, it is because the latter embodies like no other the ultimate illusion inseparable from the Principle of Sufficient Reason insofar as it grounds representation, namely that groundlessness should lack differences, when in fact it swarms with them.

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