The False Dichotomy of Theism/Deism and Atheism in Meillassoux’s “Spectral Dilemma”

One of the salient features of ideas I like to discuss is originality.  That is an attribute that I see in much of Meillassoux’s work, the primary reason for my continued fascination with him.  The idea discussed below is no different.  One item that I have to get out of the way before continuing is that the following post has to do with religion, and I have said in the past that I will not touch on religion or politics because of the degree to which humanity has turned them into ideological battlegrounds.  Therefore, in proceeding, one should be reminded of my epistemological stance (click here), before getting upset about anything I write.  It should also be noted that some understanding of virtuality (non-static ontology) is necessary to understand this blog post, so clicking here will provide the necessary primer. 

Meillassoux has proposed that dichotomy theist/deist and atheist is a false dilemma (see fallacy of black and white, etc.).  He calls this dilemma the “spectral dilemma.”  (For Meillassoux’s full paper, “Spectral Dilemma,” click here.)  The idea of the dilemma presents the conditions of despair, which is so well known to the existentialists, and, particularly in this context, especially harkens back Kierkegaard.  The source of the dilemma is the apparent aporetic nature of life, that it seems to end abruptly without any final disclosure of what is the case, no exfoliation and explanation of Nature’s underlying nature.  Without further ado, the dilemma is this: On the one hand, the atheist sees a world without justice and cannot accept a God without justice; on the other, the vanity of having lived this life with no reprieve, simply ending aporetically.  Meillassoux’s philosophical framework does not permit either of these views in their totality: what has historically been the case does not permit the atheist’s conclusion, and the theist’s/deist’s position cannot be honored accepted, because it says something about metaphysics.  For Meillassoux, what is availed to the mind and the senses, in an immanent sense, is all that is the case.[1]  Without going into the full details, simply put, Meillassoux rejects metaphysics, in the sense of “metaphysics” as “what it is really like” and “that which does not avail the mind and sense but serves, nonetheless, as the underpinnings.”  This makes it manifestly obvious that the existing dichotomy, for Meillassoux, is a false one, as neither option is viable.

Meillassoux, casting the dilemma in the existentialist’s mood, says of the theist/deist and atheist, “Thus the dilemma is as follows: either to despair of another life for the dead, or to despair of a God who has let such deaths take place…[i.e.,] despairing at the belief in justice for the dead, or believing despairingly in a God without justice” (Meillassoux pg. 265-266).  So put, this is a fascinating reformulation of the positions, and done in a way that sympathetically captures the essence of each.  The need to reject this dichotomy within Meillassoux’s framework is interesting, because there is a natural solution to it that comes from within the framework.  He makes the entirety of the situation plain, when he says, “From this point on, our path is clear: resolving the dilemma comes down to making thinkable the statement conjugating the possible resurrection of the dead —the religious condition of the resolution— and the inexistence of God —the atheistic condition of the resolution” (Meillassoux pg. 268).  If this doesn’t strike the mind like a sledgehammer, then the reader may not be seeing what is at stake: two positions, irreconcilable within the current —and what has been historically been— understanding of metaphysics as epistemology of an ontology that extends beyond epistemology itself (i.e., the “unknown” ontology), which have been apparently at odds since time immemorial.  Ontological considerations are essential to the discussion, because, as far as I know, nobody has really ever developed a complete system that involves a non-static ontology and no permissibility to creatio ex nihilo, so Meillassoux’s proposal is a unique one.  After all, as the expression goes, ex nihilo nihil fit.[2] In so saying, the reader may have an idea of what Meillassoux’s radical solution to the dilemma is, parsimoniously stated: That god is virtual.  That is, Meillassoux thinks it reasonable to think that god is not yet, but may, in the future, be.  This is a remarkably odd line of thought, but wholly worthy of consideration.  In the paper, he gives further grounds for this line of argument, expanding a bit on what he has previously said in other works about Hume’s problem of causation.  (For more on this, see chapter 4 of After Finitude and “Potentiality and Virtuality” in the journal Collapse II.)  I mention this for the sake of mitigating any possible confusion that arises when Meillassoux introduces the word “chaos,” when he concludes: “God must be though as the contingent, but eternal possible, effect of a Chaos unsubordinated to any law” (Meillassoux pg. 274).

There is another reason, beyond the creativity of the thought, for presenting the idea in my blog.  The idea presents a radically different route for hope, one that, in some ways, presents a similar hopefulness as the Buddhist variety.  This appeals to the humanist in me.  Meillassoux leaves the reader with a true existentialist’s hope, in the sense that this is not an object-oriented hope.  He says, leaving it to the reader, “What am I permitted to hope for, now that I can hope?” (Meillassoux pg. 275).  The amorphous nature of what is to be hoped for and its lack of definite eventual existence has an aesthetically appealing quality to it, as it far surpasses the wonder[3] and mystery of aporeticity entailed by one’s ownmost-not-to-be-outstippedness.

Anyway, I think this is all very interesting; and please leave intelligent comments and opinions, if you have any.

[1] It’s absolutely necessary to read After Finitude (Aprés la finitude) to understand, completely, what is meant by this.

[2] My thinking is that the break from our genetic intellectual heritage of ancient Greek and Roman thought has much to do with the idea that new phenomenological things are not much removed from common experience and that material creation from nothing (e.g., quantum mechanical pair production) has come to the fore of scientific thought.  To further the former point, consider the first detonation of the atomic bomb, whose phenomenological manifestation was not known a priori; and the new phenomenon that supposedly arise through evolution by natural selection, which was without a doubt an inspiration for Henri Bergson’s inchoate formulation of the retroactively termed “virtuality,” pervasive in Creative Evolution.

[3] “Wonder” for lack of a better word.  We wonder about something, and do not have a word for non-object-oriented wonder, as far as I know.  Perhaps, one could replace “wonder” with “subliminal awe,” but I think you get the point of what I am trying to convey.


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Filed under Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Pure Philosophy

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