books book reviews

Books by Quentin Meillassoux

reviewed by T. Nelson


Science Fiction and
Extro-Science Fiction

Quentin Meillassoux
Univocal, 2015 / 2013, 93 pages
Transl. by A. Edlebi

Reviewed by T. Nelson

Philosophy of science has been around for many years. In this little teeny-weeny book we have something new: philosophy of science fiction. Following Hume, Meillassoux asks whether we can really be sure that the world will continue to follow the rules that we have always observed up till now. He defines three possible ways, or types of worlds, in which deviations from this principle could happen: Type 1 = worlds with rare, unexplained causeless events, or miracles; Type 2 = worlds where acausal disorder is pervasive enough to screw up science but not consciousness; and Type 3 = worlds so incredibly messed up that it is impossible even for consciousness to exist in them.

The second type he abbreviates as a XSF-2 worlds, and says there is some great sci-fi there. One could be like the novel Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson, where Europe and all its inhabitants suddenly disappear. In this novel, it turns out that neither the old nor the new Earth was actually real. Another could be sci-fi comedy, like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with its infinite improbability drive. And a third could be like in Ravage by René Barjavel, where electricity suddenly ceases to exist.

The philosophizing takes only 57 pages. To fill up the remainder, the author includes a copy of the short story The Billiard Ball by Isaac Asimov, a story about an improbable scientific invention, which sort of, but not really, fits in with his hypothesis.

apr 08, 2017


After Finitude
An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency

Quentin Meillassoux
Bloomsbury, 2008, 148 pages

Reviewed by T. Nelson

The philosopher David Hume concluded that the laws of nature are derived from empirical observation, which is to say they are ‘contingent.’ Kant said the laws of nature were ‘necessary,’ which in philosopher lingo means they could not have failed to exist. Kant's idea, which has generated a lot of discussion, was that the source of the laws of nature was what he called the ‘transcendental subject.’ In this book Quentin Meillassoux says they were both right: the only thing that is necessary is that the laws of nature are contingent.

Resolving this issue is a big deal for philosophers, and Meillassoux's thinking is remarkably clear and logical. Unfortunately, the writing starts out screechingly politically correct—the unmistakable sign of a third-rate thinker. This isn't necessarily a reflection on Meillassoux: much of French philosophy available in English has suffered from abominably bad translations with the apparent goal of undermining their credibility, Badiou being a prime example, and this could be another example. The writing improves slightly later on, but by then my patience and my confidence in Meillassoux had already been worn out. Life is too short. Or maybe, not short enough.

apr 09, 2017