The End of Metaphysics = The Return of the Religious

Ideology is contingent upon a particular social situation. The critique of metaphysics knows this much is true. In fact, the refusal of dogmatic metaphysics is “the minimal condition for every critique of ideology, insofar as an 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” (Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, pp. 33-4).

The way “radical finitude” or “postmodernity” came to reject absolutism was an acknowledgment of how thinking pertains to a particular a time and place. The corollary to this pre-critical or naïve realism was a kind of pretentious dogmatism that took every existing political, social, religious institution as a necessary given; a reality that must be the way it is. The wisdom of critical philosophy, and Kant in particular, was an understanding that the in-itself of a given object could never be grasped in its purity but was always mediated by the subject’s experience of the object. In other words, there would always be a correlation between objects and subjects, never an independence of either. Correlationism maintains that it is illegitimate to think the thing-in-itself by itself because the in-itself is unknowable apart from the subject’s apprehension of the object. But post-critical philosophy went one step further and questioned whether the in-itself even existed beyond our representations. They asked: Is there something independent of thought? Is there something beyond our representations? Is there anything outside of phenomena? By abolishing the in-itself because it is unthinkable and radically inaccessible to thought “strong correlationism” was left only with the relation between the subject and object. In a sense, this correlation has become absolutized itself. Objectivity is ruled out. Subjectivity is ruled out. The correlation between the two is all that remains. The concluding argument of contemporary philosophy regarding the de-absolutization model is as follows:

One could maintain that phenomena have no basis in things-in-themselves, and that all that exists are ‘phenomenal realms’, which is to way, transcendental subjects, coordinated between themselves but unfolding and ‘floating’ in the midst of an absolute nothingness into which everything could dissolve once more were human species to disappear….As far as we know, no one has ever come back form a voyage into the in-itself with a guarantee that meaning is absolute (p. 35-6)

The remarkable consequence of disqualifying rational argumentation is that anything now goes; what is popularly termed relativism. More accurately stated, “it becomes rationally illegitimate to disqualify irrational discourses about the absolute on the pretext of their irrationality” (p. 41). So even while discourses, particularly religious belief, may be scientifically and logically meaningless, they continue to be meaningful for people who are looking for some absolutes in the vacuum left by the critique of metaphysics.

Yet correlationism itself does not maintain any irrational position, whether religious or poetic; it makes no positive pronouncements whatsoever about the absolute; rather it confines itself to thinking the limits of thought, these functioning for language like a frontier only one side of which can be grasped. Thus, correlationism provides no positive ground for any specific variety of religious belief, but it undermines reason’s claim to be able to disqualify a belief on the grounds that its content is unthinkable (p. 41)

To put it in other words, since it is now conceptually illegitimate to refute any sort of religious belief then it follows that no possibility can be ruled out by philosophy. All discourses become legitimate and validly justified. Meillassoux summarizes the situation as such:

…by forbidding reason any claim to the absolute, the end of metaphysics has taken the form of an exacerbated return of the religious. Or again, the end of ideologies has taken the form of the unqualified victory of religiosity….Consequently, by destroying metaphysics, one has effectively rendered it impossible for a particular religion to use a pseudo-rational argumentation against every other religion. But in doing so – and this is the decisive point – one has inadvertently justified belief’s claim to be the only means of access to the absolute….Faith is pitched against faith, since what determines our fundamental choices cannot be rationally proved (pp. 45-6)

The end of pretentious metaphysics invariably leads to the victory of fideism. Piety is now esteemed equal to thought and ultimate truth. Every form of fideistic belief whatsoever is legitimate. All professions of faith are justified, even the worst forms of violence that are divinely sanctioned for an elect few.

Accordingly, the contemporary devolution towards the wholly-other (the otherwise empty object of the profession of faith) is the strict and inevitable obverse of interpreting the obsolescence of the principle of sufficient reason as reason’s discovery of its own essential inability to uncover and absolute – thus, fideism is merely the other name for strong correlationism (p. 48)

The contemporary paradox is as follows: we do not want to regress to ideological dogmatism, but we also must defend ourselves against skeptical fanaticism. Rather than bury belief further in the past, it seems as though the victorious critique of ideologies has led to a “renewed argument for blind faith” (p. 49). Meillassoux’s speculative solution is to refute dogmatic metaphysics but maintain the absolute. “In other words, we must think an absolute necessity without thinking anything that is absolutely necessary” (p. 34). He thinks we can do this by thinking objects before correlations were even a possibility; for instance in ancestral statements, such as the origin of the universe.

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