On Starting to Read After Finitude

I just finished page 34 where Meillassoux has concluded his demolition of the ontological proof, but where he still wants to find an “absolute that is not an absolute entity” which can be the condition of possibility of what he calls ancestrality (a world logically prior to the intentional structure of consciousness, logically prior to the for us).   I’m obsessed with the importance of the Kantian pre-critical text On the One possible demonstration of the existence of God. Kant there looks for exactly this absolute, and it turns out not be an entity, but sheer self-positing will. 

It’s pretty well known that Friedrich Jacobi picked this idea up and used it to interpret Spinoza’s God,  and to show that Spinoza’s God was utterly unfree, pure necessary willing without any correlation to humanity. It’s also pretty well known that Schelling, largely responding to Jacobi,  takes up Kant’s self-positing will and shows how this necessary but non-determinate self-positing will must, for it to become an actually existing determinate entity, overcome itself as willing-not-to-exist-as-an-entity. And that this overcoming is an absolutely free act, undetermined and unconditioned, otherwise it would not escape the absolute necessity of the self-positing will.

So, at the heart of Being we have, according to Schelling,  (1) an absolute that is necessary but not an existing entity and also (2) a radical break with necessity through an unconditioned freedom that brings God into actual being, but not a fully formed God (not yet the God who overcomes and redeems the (evil) will-not-to-exist). That is the Schellingian move that takes seriously the metaphysics of the ontological argument without embracing God as perfect necessary existent, but God as emergent freedom in constant struggle with necessity.

So, my question is this: Why doesn’t Meillassoux say he is making a Schellingian move? It was ok for Heidegger (in his 1937 lectures on Schelling) and Zizek (in his essays on Schelling) to say they were doing it, why not Meillassoux? And why does Meillassoux only once mention Schelling, on page 37 (I just looked at the Index), the Schelling of the early philosophy of nature, who is, admittedly, a “correlationist,” and not give credit to Schelling’s own overcoming of correlationism? Or am I being too hard on Meillassoux?

My current though is this: Schelling himself made the move in order, finally, to be able to offer a “philosophy of revelation” in which the idea of the birth of an incarnate God would make sense again. Schelling didn’t spell this out when he first broke with his early philosophy of nature, but in his lectures he would spring it on folks, suspecting that they would run screaming from the room if he told them this up front (which they did eventually anyway). So, perhaps Meillassoux doesn’t want to identify himself with Schelling because, unlike Heidegger and Zizek, he actually wants to go all the way down the line with Schelling and offer a philosophy of revelation, of what Schelling called the “not-yet God.” If so, Meillassoux’s in good company. Returning to systematic metaphysics in order to offer a philosophy of revelation is exactly what Franz Rosenzweig wanted to do, and, like Meillassoux, he also doesn’t mention Schelling in Star of Redemption (although it’s more obvious that he’s drawing from him, because he uses the mathematical A = A etc. stuff that Schelling does, too.)

I come to Meillassoux after first reading the selections from Divine Inexistence, which I liked immensely precisely because it has the courage to attempt a philosophical rehabilitation of the notion of the resurrection of the dead. Does the coyness of After Finitude make me like Meillassoux less? No. It makes me want to read Divine Inexistence in its entirety.

4 thoughts on “On Starting to Read After Finitude

  1. Having now read a few more pages, I see that Meillassoux might respond to me this way: When Schelling takes up sheer willing-not-to-be-an-entity as his necessary absolute, he is still working in the correlationist metaphysical paradigm because willing is intentional. It’s not like the Epicurean atoms that are will-less.arewill-less matter. But doesn’t Meilassoux’s own highly touted science call into question the idea that matter just inertly occupies space, but that it rather takes place, it is active? For sure, you are not going to get life as an emergent property of inert matter. I still think Schelling is making a “speculative” move that is not trapped, or does not want to be trapped, in correlationism.

  2. Thanks for this Bruce: you’re surely right! In fact, I would conjecture that Schelling’s early philosophy of nature (which, following Grant, I’d have thought he never really breaks with) isn’t correlationist either: knowledge of nature is premised on the destitution of the subject (or in Schelling’s language, to know the objective subject-object one needs to posit the I as non-I or unconscious). To me, what Schelling does here looks remarkably similar to Brassier’s moves at the end of Nihil Unbound.

  3. And if you’re looking for a mathematicization of Schelling’s absolute, something that perhaps Meillassoux is after, one can look at Lorenz Oken’s Grundriss der Naturphilosophie (1810), which one can read in the translation, authorized by Oken, entitled Elements of Physio-philosophy, on Google books.

    And, now having read a little more, it is quite interesting that Meillassoux, exactly like Schelling in his attempt to distance himself from the “fanaticism” of Jacobi, is looking for a way to escape from the “salto mortale” into blind faith. . . .

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