On After Finitude: A Response to Peter Hallward

Courtesy of Nathan Brown’s generosity, we’re pleased to offer his detailed response to Peter Hallward’s recent critical review of After Finitude (published in Radical Philosophy 152). The response ranges over the metaphysical, mathematical and socio-political aspects of Meillassoux’s work and comes highly recommended!

Undoubtedly one of the great benefits of Meillassoux’s clarity of prose and his rigorous thought is precisely its ability to spur debates such as this one (although perhaps that’s my naive faith in reason showing…). Too often continental philosophy has avoided direct debates like this (unlike analytic philosophy), but here’s hoping it continues into the future.

A PDF of the response is available here.

[UPDATE:]

One courteous reader has scanned and uploaded Hallward’s review for those who are interested. You can download it here.

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12 thoughts on “On After Finitude: A Response to Peter Hallward

  1. Pingback: Speculative Heresy Responds to Hallwards Critique of Meillassoux « Larval Subjects .

  2. I think Hallward’s critique of Meillassoux makes the most sense read alongside his recent critique (from New Left Review) of Badiou’s ‘Logics of Worlds’; especially pertinent is what Brown notes as Hallward’s third critique, that of the conflation of pure and applied mathematics, which seems to be Hallward’s most serious critique of both Badiou and Meillassoux

    Although Brown brings up some interesting points, I find myself mostly in agreement with Hallward on this one. In some senses, it feels if Brown has some personal ‘stake’ in Meillassoux’s position and fights a little too hard against what is a well thought out critique. At one point Brown seems to accuse Hallward of expecting too much in regards to Meillassoux’s use of mathematics, but as one who was in attendance during the lecture last spring in which Hallward asked Meillassoux about his problematic reliance on mathematics, Meillassoux’s response (as I saw it at least) still left much to be answered. Thus, it seems a bit odd that Brown defends Meillassoux ‘against’ Hallward more intensely than Meillassoux defended himself to Hallward!

    Re: Debates in continental philosophy, clearly this is interesting, but it would be much more interesting to have Meillassoux himself reply to Hallward’s critique; as it as this point one can only assume for the most part what Meillassoux’s defenses of his own work would be.

    Thanks for posting this though. I think this Hallward v. Badiou/Meillassoux debate will be an interesting point of discussion for the new few months or so.

  3. Pingback: meillassoux vs. hallward vs. brown « Daily Humiliation

  4. Michael, I think – as you and Nathan both point out – the argument Hallward makes about applied/pure mathematics is the most significant one. (And the other 3 criticisms, I think Nathan gets right.) I do, however, think that it’s Meillassoux’s intention to bridge that gap in some way. It seems to me that the last 3 pages of AF are key here.

    Meillassoux says he wants to absolutize math in 2 ways: an ontical and ontological way. The ontical is that “every mathematical statement describes an entity which is essentially contingent, yet capable of existing in a world devoid of humanity”. The ontological is “the absolutization of the Cantorian non-All [which asserts] that the possible as such, rather than this or that possible entity, must necessarily be un-totalizable.”

    Now for the ontological aspect, to me this just seems like Meillassoux is (at least implicitly) working on a mathematical ontology in the exact same way as Badiou. That’s subject to all the problem of Badiou’s ontology then (e.g. disconnected from any concrete situation). And the ontical aspect has its own problems – namely to what extent are certain phenomena mathematizable? Can we include social phenomena as mathematical entities? Or is it solely natural phenomena that can fall under this category? And then there’s the deeper problem of the relation between these two, i.e. between applied and pure math, about which I don’t think Meillassoux says anything.

    It’s possible, I believe, to accept the ontological aspect – math is the discourse of being qua being. Fair enough – we’re all Badiouians now. But two things seem problematic: (1) the relation between that and ontical mathematical statements, and (2) the ontical mathematical statements themselves. Even if we can draw up a relation between the two (which I think Nathan attempts in saying that scientific statements “index” primary qualities, and that these statements can have relative chronological relations), there’s still the problem of what’s mathematizable. Is everything reducible to physics?

    Anyways, just some rambling thoughts. I’m open to any criticisms of this – I’m more curious to figure out the exact outlines and scope of Meillassoux’s argument than anything else.

  5. Sorry for asking you to send me these files, Nick. Now I see they were here all along. I was traveling throughout November and lost track of blog for awhile.

    You write: “Too often continental philosophy has avoided direct debates like this (unlike analytic philosophy), but here’s hoping it continues into the future.”

    Yes, that’s exactly it. Hallward vs. Brown actually got down to *issues*. They weren’t just trapped in their own little textual bubbles, but were trying to falsify the claims made by another. That’s what made the exchange so unusually refreshing.

    I ended up agreeing with pretty much everything Brown said, though Hallward undeniably brings a certain clarity and spice to every topic he touches.

    But let’s all pressure him to sit down and write his “Ontology of Relations”. He keeps delaying it in favor of other projects, but we need it as a key landmark in the coming philosophical debates, along with a couple of other long-delayed works… Dan Smith’s slowly cooking Deleuze book and Meillassoux’s withheld “L’Inexistence divine”. Life is short, people. Chop, chop. ;-)

    A prediction… The two great philosophical debates of the “Generation X” ex-continental philosophers will eventually turn out to be:

    1. relationality vs. non-relationality (Hallward sees this more clearly than anyone, though in my view he is on the “reactionary” side of the question and mistaking it for cutting-edge)

    2. contingency vs. sufficient reason (Meillassoux has driven the key wedge here)

  6. Haha, I agree – maybe we should start a petition to get these philosophers to finish their books! I’ve been waiting for all 3 of those since I first heard about them.

    I admit I tend to fall on the relationality side of the equation you posit – but I don’t have a response to your points for non-relationality yet. My fear is that non-relationality can too easily begin to license a conscious ignorance of the actual empirical systems of the world – which is why I think Hallward and his insistence on relationality lets him shift from writing books about Badiou, to books about Haiti. But the relation between metaphysics and empirical politics is pretty obscure to me at the moment – it’s something I’ll need to spend years thinking about.

  7. Also, the reason for my wink was that I’m just as guilty as those guys. The OOP manuscript (which I’m now calling “Orpheus” instead) is 1-2 years behind schedule. It happens.

    There’s no reason to think that one needs a relational metaphysics to account for empirical conditions. Even the old metaphysics of substance did not imply a contempt for the empirical realm– did Aristotle really despise the empirical? Case closed!

  8. “I think Hallward’s critique of Meillassoux makes the most sense read alongside his recent critique (from New Left Review) of Badiou’s ‘Logics of Worlds’…”

    …any chance of anyone making the pdf of that one available?!!

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