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On Finitude and the Ground of Hope: A Kantian Horizon Radicalized by Meillassoux

1 Introduction

The aim of this chapter is to examine the notion of hope in its relation to our finitude by questioning the grounds on which we can think philosophically the possibility of hope. By addressing this question, I shall also evaluate the nature of a philosophical horizon that can give place to hope. This chapter proceeds in three sections. I consider, in the first section, Immanuel Kant’s critical philosophy by focusing on the ways in which Kant questions the possibility of speculative knowledge. In the second section, I claim that the Kantian horizon of finitude discloses the prospect of hope for the achievement of the highest good (summum bonum), that is, the unity of virtue and happiness. Here, our finite human standpoint turns out to be the enabling condition for hope which is internally related not only to the morally grounded faith (Glaube) in immortality and in God, but also to the rational requirement of thinking nature reflectively as purposive and as in harmony with our moral purposes. I particularly focus on the epistemic and modal status of hope which I take to be central in understanding the Kantian account. I move, in the third section, to a more recent proposal by Quentin Meillassoux. I consider his proposal as opening up a new horizon in the contemporary philosophy by radicalizing the Kantian horizon of finitude. As we shall see, what is at stake in Meillassoux’s novel proposal is the rational comprehension of the absolute, i.e., the necessity of contingency, which could allow a non-metaphysical ground for hope. In this way, Meillassoux leads us to a way of thinking hope otherwise than through the horizon of finitude.

2 The Kantian limits of speculative knowledge

Kant’s critical philosophy consists in the self-examination of pure reason with respect to its claims to theoretical (speculative) and practical knowledge. Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, states the fundamental interests of reason as follows; “1. What can I know?”, “2. What ought I do?” and “3. What may I hope?” (Kant, 1965: A805/B833). While the first question reflects the speculative interest, the second one points to the practical interest of reason. The question of ←39 | 40→hope, however, is neither solely speculative nor practical. Rather it turns out to be a matter of unifying the speculative and the practical interests of reason. It is a matter of a rational desire for a possible concord between the domain of nature and of moral freedom. In this regard, the Kantian question of hope assumes the inevitable limits of our knowledge, and hence the horizon of finitude.

First, let us understand what is at stake in the Kantian horizon of finitude. The Kantian critique can be conceived as a turning point in the history of philosophy which Kant himself named as his Copernican Revolution. What Kant achieves with this revolution is to point to the necessary and the central role of the subject in the constitution of the objective empirical knowledge. The Kantian critique is a transcendental inquiry into the a priori conditions of knowledge that find their seat in the subject. This amounts to the prospect of knowledge from the human standpoint. Thus, we can only know things insofar as they appear to us, and they can be known in an objective fashion only through the universal and necessary structural features of our mind. For Kant, the thought of an object is never sufficient by itself to demonstrate its existence. The existence of an object is a matter of its actuality in experience, i.e., its being given to a subject, that is, in its being an appearance (Kant, 1965: A493/B521). Given that to be an object of knowledge consists necessarily in its being for us, that is, in its being determined by the universal and necessary forms provided by our sensibility and understanding, we cannot know a thing as it is in itself, i.e., in an absolute manner, but only as it is given to us. Therefore, this results with the Kantian view that the speculative knowledge of reason can never be absolute, but is always finite. Thus, it is the phenomenal realm – the conditional objective reality of things in relation to us – that forms the horizon of our knowledge. In Kant’s words, “all possible speculative knowledge of reason is limited to mere objects of experience” (Kant, 1965: Bxxvi).

However, for Kant, the limits regarding our knowledge do not imply the limits of our thought. For one thing, the Kantian criticism of metaphysics which is intended not only to exhibit the limits of our theoretical certainty but also to open up the possibility of morality and religion, hinges on the ways in which he draws a distinction between knowing and thinking (ibid.). Although the limits of speculative knowledge consist in the a priori conditions that find their source in the cognitive capacities of the subject and, with this limitation, our knowledge is restricted to the possible objects of experience, Kant does not rule out the possibility of thinking things as they are in themselves, i.e., as the ways in which things are independent of the epistemic conditions that find their source in our cognitive capacities. As Kant states, “we must yet be in position at least to think them as things in themselves, otherwise we should be landed in the absurd ←40 | 41→conclusion that there can be appearance without anything that appears” (Kant, 1965: xxvi–xxvii).

For one thing, this reveals not only the “logical possibility” of a reality independent of our cognition, but also of a different cognition, i.e., an intellectual intuition, which could know this reality immediately as a whole in the absolute sense (Kant, 1987: 289–294/405–410). What appears to our understanding as contingent can be quite necessary for an understanding that is other than ours. Kant states the crux of the matter in the Critique of Judgment as follows:

But in fact it is at least possible to consider the material world as mere appearance, and to think something as [its] substrate, as thing in itself (which is not appearance), and to regard this thing in itself as based on a corresponding intellectual intuition (even though not ours). In that way there would be for nature, which includes us as well, a supersensible basis of its reality, though we could not cognize this basis. (Kant, 1987: 293/409)

Here, Kant maintains that the distinction between possibility and actuality is peculiar to our understanding which is not intuitive at all, but necessarily discursive. Moreover, this distinction fundamentally depends on the way in which our understanding is conditioned by the sensible, since our human cognition consists of heterogeneous components, namely universal concepts and sensible intuitions (Kant, 1987: 284/401). While human understanding, as the spontaneous power of thought, can think only the mere possibility of an object under a universal conceptual representation, intuitions which are sensible and thus receptive present an individual representation of an object by giving us something actual (ibid.). Given that our intuitions are always sensible but never intellectual, we can never intuit the whole as totality; hence, the intuition of the whole constitution and connection of parts as a totality is impossible for us. Furthermore, the particularity in nature’s diversity is contingent for our understanding given that our understanding always assumes particular intuitions as the bases of its knowledge. As Kant claims, an understanding to which the distinction between actuality and possibility did not apply would be an intellectus archetypus: “Such a being could have no presentation whatever of the possibility that some objects might not exist after all, i.e., of the contingency of those that do exist, nor, consequently, of the necessity to be distinguished from that contingency” (Kant, 1987: 286/403). This implies the collapse of modalities for an intellectus archetypus that “would present originals (things in themselves)” and hence their sufficient and necessary reasons (Kant, 1987: 293 fn. 27). However, from the human standpoint, the collapse of modalities – that is, to conceive what is possible as actual, and therefore as necessary – is impossible. This is, as I shall argue, the logical ground of hope. Besides, Kant states that the distinction ←41 | 42→between modalities holds only for us, but does not hold for things in themselves (Kant, 1987: 285/402). Thus the principles of modality are objectively valid only as postulates of empirical thought, i.e., as indicating the manner in which we judge the objects as possible, as actual and as necessary in relation to our faculty of knowledge (Kant, 1965: A219/B266). As Jeffrey Tlumak clearly states, “[t]‌hey represent how the mind knows, not what it knows” (Tlumak, 2007: 275). Above all, what is logically possible for pure reason can never be demonstrated as actual and, therefore, as necessary. The limits of our cognition consist in the impossibility for us to infer actuality from the mere concept of a thing, that is, from mere possibility (Kant, 1965: A225/B273). However, while pure reason can never comprehend objectively the unconditional or the absolute ground of the phenomena, it can still think it by avoiding self-contradiction. Thus the principle of non-contradiction as the principle of all thoughts is operative here to show at least the logical possibility that things, in the absolute sense, can be wholly different from the ways in which they must be cognized by us.

In the Critique of Pure Reason, pure reason thinks the immortality of the soul, the freedom of the will and the God as the objects of its speculative interest, that is, as intelligible objects (noumena). However, we can never trust reason as regards to its natural desire to hypostatize the necessity of its thinking into necessary objects. We must remain agnostic with regards to the existence of these intelligible objects. Although pure reason can never satisfy its natural desire in its speculative employment, it can find a ground for this satisfaction in its practical employment through which it practically realizes freedom by acting for the sake of the moral law which it gives to itself. Thus, practical freedom is a real possibility that can be realized on moral grounds. In this way, Kant points to that which is really possible through freedom. Thus, the practical sense of freedom is the necessary presupposition of morality under the legislation of the practical employment of pure reason (Kant, 1965: A800/B828). This is the reason why the objective necessity of the moral action, i.e., duty, is different from the necessity of a mere event with its basis in natural causality, and why it instead takes the form of a moral law as what “ought to be” with its basis in freedom (Kant, 1987: 286/403). The phenomenal world, i.e., nature understood mechanically, as defining the limits of our knowledge, is not a moral world, but it ought to be. This implies the inevitable and unsurpassable gap between the ideal and the actual which is obviously a scandal for the highest aspirations of pure reason. Yet, this scandal can be evaded by opening a place for hope. Accordingly, the possible harmony between the ideal and the actual turns out to be the speculative object of hope. Therefore, Kant’s philosophy lays down the ground for hope on the basis of this gap between the ideal and the actual.←42 | 43→

Morality does not, indeed, require that freedom should be understood, but only that it should not contradict itself, and so should at least allow of being thought […] The doctrine of morality and the doctrine of nature may each, therefore, make good its position. This, however, is only possible in so far as criticism has previously established our unavoidable ignorance of things in themselves, and has limited all that we can theoretically know to mere appearances. (Kant, 1965: Bxxix)

This key quotation states that morality is possible on the ground of the logical possibility of freedom which, at least, should not contradict what is really possible within the range of phenomena. This, in turn, indicates that from the human standpoint, the domains of moral value and of phenomenal facts should be conceived as separate. Moreover, if hope for the attainment of the final purpose commanded by the moral law (summum bonum, i.e., the achievement of happiness in proportion to our moral virtue) is to be realistic, a rationally grounded faith in immortality and in God is required. Above all, the rational ground of hope and faith assumes the following conditions. The first one is “our unavoidable ignorance of things in themselves”. The second one is the logical possibility that the human standpoint is not itself absolute and final, but the nature of human cognitive ability is a special kind, and that there may be a different kind of cognition (Kant, 1987: 284/401). While the first one discloses our horizon of finitude, i.e., the limits of our knowledge, the second one reflectively judges, by means of a contrast with human cognition, what cognition could be like over and beyond this horizon (Kant, 1987: 286/403).

How can we conceive a standpoint that enables us to transcend the speculative limits of our knowledge set within the terms of the horizon of finitude? Would this transcendence beyond the limits indicate the abolishment of our finite horizon? As Kant states in the Critique of Practical Reason, this transcendence can only be made possible by the idea of freedom which is the ratio essendi of morality (Kant, 1956: 4). And, only on the basis of morality, hope can be a matter of transcending to what is possible beyond the limits of our knowledge.

3 The speculative horizon of hope

Kant holds that the object of hope is the achievement of the good in its highest sense. The highest good has two components: one is the ultimate natural end that is conditional upon natural causes, i.e., happiness; the other is unconditional intelligible purpose realizable through freedom, i.e., moral virtue. Furthermore, it is a requirement of reason that these two senses of good are internally connected, given that our worthiness to be happy entails their possible harmony. Although “hope” is an attitude that assumes a certain kind of limitation, it contests these ←43 | 44→limits and what they determine with a modest attitude of belief and desire in what is objectively uncertain. The notion of hope is philosophically challenging due to its calling into question of its own horizon, i.e., its condition of possibility, by believing in and desiring a possibility that ought to be and yet can never be actual within our finite life and cognition. This is why it requires the postulates of immortality and of God. Thus the structure of hope, on the one hand, consists of affirming and a desiring a possibility that is necessary on moral grounds, i.e., the achievement of the final purpose which is “the highest good in the world that we can achieve through freedom” (Kant, 1987: 339/450). On the other hand, it ventures in an ambiguous sense beyond its own horizon through the postulates of immortality and of God. The reason for this ambiguity resides in the fact that the real possibility of the achievement of the highest good is partly in our power on the condition that we lead a morally virtuous life that is worthy of happiness, and partly in a power over and beyond us (Kant, 1956: 124).

The object of hope, i.e., the achievement of the highest good, which is the final purpose commanded by the unconditional moral law, and the thought of nature that is purposive and in harmony with what morality ordains, require the postulation of an absolutely spontaneous power that is over and beyond what we can theoretically or practically cognize. In other words, the object of hope can be accomplished neither by the principle of causality operative in nature nor by the principle of freedom operative in morality. The realization of hope requires, instead, the possibility of thinking of “the exact harmony of the realm of nature with the realm of morality as the condition of the possibility of the highest good”; and this, as Kant maintains, is “decisive for the assumption of a wise Author of the world” (Kant, 1956: 151/146). Therefore, the object of hope, i.e., the achievement of the final purpose, not only assumes the unconditional moral necessity of the “ought”, but also requires a faithful prospect regarding its accomplishment.

Above all, I argue that the crux of the matter resides in the modal status of the moral “ought” which operates in Kant’s philosophy as the “hidden” absolute, i.e., the unconditional reason. I claim that the unconditional moral necessity of “what ought to be” becomes the placeholder of the absolute that is speculatively incomprehensible within the Kantian horizon of finitude. In Kantian terms, respect for the moral law “allows us a view into the realm of the super sensuous, though only a glimpse” (Kant, 1956: 153). Thus while our mere “glimpse” implies the finitude inherent in our attitudes of hope and faith, what can be glimpsed can never be an actual finite sensuous object given in space and time. The moral “ought” becomes the placeholder of an otherwise incomprehensible absolute by providing a moral ground both for the rational hope to achieve the highest good, i.e., to realize the final purpose of practical reason, and for the rational faith in an ←44 | 45→absolute being, i.e., God, who can be thought as absolutely active in objectively recognizing the moral worth of our actions and in giving, with supreme justice, what morally virtuous life deserves. Overall, the Kantian philosophy would have no moral import if the absolute were unthinkable. Nonetheless, it would have no moral import, if we can know the absolute in a speculative manner. If it had no moral import, then its critical attitude with regard to the matters of hope and faith would not constitute a practical difference from the dogmatism of belief.

4 Meillassoux’s radicalization of Kant

Alain Badiou, in his preface to After Finitude, claims as follows: ‘It would be no exaggeration to say that Quentin Meillassoux has opened up a new path in the history of philosophy […] a path that circumvents Kant’s canonical distinction between “dogmatism”, “scepticism” and “critique”’ (Meillassoux, 2008: vii). Meillassoux’s After Finitude calls for a new horizon in the contemporary philosophy by abandoning the Kantian horizon of finitude. He does so first by tracing its afterlife in the post-Kantian trends of thought in order to reinstate the knowledge of the absolute i.e., the absolute necessity of contingency. Meillassoux discovers a way of converting the horizon of finitude in Kant and its absolutization in the post-Kantian philosophies into a horizon of contingency from which he could demonstrate its absolute necessity. He formulates the absolute necessity of contingency as his fundamental principle of factuality (factualité): “only facticity is not factual – viz., only the contingency of what is, is not itself contingent” (Meillassoux, 2008: 80). To understand his philosophical motivations better, let us ask the following question. In the face of prevalent contemporary declarations of the end of metaphysics and hence of the unintelligibility of the absolute, why does Meillassoux reclaim the speculative (philosophical) knowledge of the absolute from within the horizon of contingency?

I identify two arguments for the speculative knowledge of the absolute in Meillassoux works. While the first one aims to give a philosophical account of the realism of scientific discourse, the second one aims to open a horizon for a speculative prospect for hope that is non-theological and non-metaphysical. Meillassoux’s first argument for speculative materialism is basically intended to give an account of “the meaning of the scientific statements bearing explicitly upon world that is posited anterior as to the emergence of thought and even of life – posited, that is, as anterior to every form of human relation to the world” (ibid., 9–10). His speculative materialism is a way of facing and resolving the above challenge by maintaining the following: “All those aspects of the object that can give rise to a mathematical thought […] rather than to ←45 | 46→a perception or sensation can be meaningfully turned into properties of the thing not only as it is with me, but also as without me” (ibid., 3). Thus the realist core of his argument involves the thesis that mathematizable properties of the object are independently real. However, he is quite aware that holding this thesis should not represent a regression to the pre-Kantian dogmatic metaphysics. Instead, it requires a return to the Kantian criticism of metaphysics in order to radicalize it from within. The crux of the Kantian criticism resides in the following: “we cannot know anything that would be beyond our relation to the world”, that is, the possibility of knowledge assumes as its condition the correlation of subject and object (ibid., 4). Hence, for Kant, anything independently existing out of this correlation is beyond the limits of our cognitive access. In this regard, Meillassoux names the Kantian turning point in philosophy as “correlationism” (Meillassoux, 2008: 5). In Meillassoux’s terms, “[t]‌o be is to be a correlate, a term of a correlation […] That is why it is impossible to conceive an absolute X, i.e., an X which would be essentially separate from a subject” (Meillassoux et al., 2007: 409). Meillassoux’s radicalization of Kant involves first the inspection of correlationism. From there he argues that correlationism in the Kantian or in the post-Kantian philosophies “must itself posit the facticity of the correlation”, and then he demonstrates that “this facticity is absolute contingency” where we can finally accede to “an independent Real” (ibid., 433).

Furthermore, Meillassoux’s philosophical motivation is to provide a speculative ground not only for science but also for ethics and politics. In this way, they can be released from the threats of dogmatism and fanaticism. As Meillassoux’s argues, the current of thought in contemporary philosophy that holds “correlationism” as absolute and hence makes a shift from the unknowability of the thing-in-itself to its unintelligibility becomes paradoxically more defenseless before fanaticism (Meillassoux, 2008: 48). Thus, Meillassoux claims that “by forbidding reason any claim to the absolute, the end of metaphysics has taken the form of an exacerbated return of the religious” (ibid., 45). As against dogmatism, fanaticism and nihilism, Meillassoux’s philosophical project has two objectives. The first one is to emancipate reason from the principle of reason and its assumption of self-sufficient existence, that is, from its confidence that there is an ultimate reason for everything. The second one is to avoid the irrationalism of postmodern discourses while still holding that there is absolutely no necessary reason for what there is. He sets his task as follows; “we must uncover an absolute necessity that does not reinstate any form of absolutely necessary entity” (ibid., 34). This is the way in which the speculative form of the rational can be set free for “the idea of a non-metaphysical and non-religious discourse on the absolute” (ibid., 77).←46 | 47→

Let us now briefly examine how Meillassoux radicalizes the Kantian horizon of finitude from within by introducing the horizon of contingency. Thus, Meillassoux argues from the contingency of empirical objects to the facticity of their conditions of possibility, i.e., the Kantian correlational structure. As he claims, “[f]‌or if contingency consists in knowing that worldly things could be otherwise, facticity just consists in not knowing why the correlational structure has to be thus” (ibid., 39). In Kant, the correlational structure indicates the a priori conditions of the possibility of objective empirical knowledge of the world which find their seat in the cognitive capacities of the subject. Kant maintains that although the empirical diversity of the objects and their empirical laws are all contingent, there are universal and necessary structural principles, like causality, which constitute the regularity and the uniformity of the phenomenal world. However, as Meillassoux points out, Kant could not provide an account of the unconditional necessity of these conditions of knowledge for the reason that these conditions themselves cannot be further deduced from a higher principle or from a “system capable of endowing them with absolute necessity” (ibid., 28). This is why, for Kant, speculative knowledge is always tainted with our essential finitude.

Above all, what is at stake here is a matter of circumventing the Kantian horizon of finitude within which what we know is only relative to our human standpoint. Meillassoux does so by reflectively focusing on the facticity of the Kantian correlational structure which cannot be due to our finite horizon, since this structure renders our knowledge finite, or limited. Furthermore, the facticity of the structure of knowledge is itself not an empirical fact. We cannot demonstrate its possibility of being otherwise in experience for the reason that it is the condition of the possibility of experience. Moreover, we cannot also demonstrate why it must be so by appealing to a further necessary condition, and therefore know its absolute necessity, for the reason that it is the condition of knowledge. Thus the invariant structure of our knowledge neither has a further condition, reason, or ground, nor is unconditional, or absolute – given that it consists in being the condition of the phenomena, i.e. of the things insofar as they are for us. This is the way in which Meillassoux leads us to the facticity of the cognitive correlational structure. He claims that this facticity lays bare the unsurpassable limits of objectivity that renders our finitude possible given that we are “confronted with the fact that there is a world; a world that is describable and perceptible, and structured by determinate invariants” (ibid., 40). Meillassoux asks us to focus on the fact “that there is a world given with no absolute reason” and to conceive the contingency immanent in this facticity as absolutely necessary. Hence he claims that “[f]‌acticity is the un-reason (the absence of reason) of the given as well of its ←47 | 48→invariants” (ibid., 41). Here the horizon of contingency operates as to make manifest the facticity of our cognitive apparatus. Thus, Meillassoux claims that the finitude of our knowledge can only be due to the necessity of contingency. Our inability to know an absolute being as the unconditional condition of all existence is due to the radical contingency of what there is, which is not only a necessity for us, but also a necessity in itself. Therefore, the absolute necessity of contingency is not an index of our ignorance. On the contrary, contingency is the horizon of the manifestation of its own absolute necessity and hence an index of its speculative knowledge. As Graham Harman points out, “[h]is strategy is to transform our supposed ignorance of thingsinthemselves into an absolute knowledge that they exist without reason, and that the laws of nature can change at any time for no reason at all” (Harman, 2011: 81). Here is the maxim of Meillassoux’s radicalization of Kant. We have to stop construing our perspective on the absence of reason as the form of our deficient grasp of the world, and must instead project it into things themselves (Meillassoux, 2008: 82).

Given that Kant allows the logical possibility of an absolutely necessary being and moreover requires a belief in its existence for the practical purposes of reason, Meillassoux’s radicalization of Kant would then hinge on showing how our ignorance of the necessity of an absolute being can be transformed into the speculative knowledge regarding its impossibility. Thus, he begins by taking the Kantian horizon of finitude seriously in order to show what it really discloses. For Meillassoux our finite knowledge does not manifest the limits beyond which we can merely think. Rather our ignorance is an indicator of the absolute impossibility of a necessary entity, and hence an indicator of the speculative knowledge of the absolute contingency of what there is. However, Meillassoux can claim for the speculative knowledge only if he finds a way of showing the collapse of the Kantian distinction between real possibility and logical possibility. In other words, he has to show how logical possibility and real possibility do fall on the same ground. For one thing, as Meillassoux points out, Kant just posited but not demonstrated the principle of non-contradiction as necessary. Meillassoux takes a further step and, unlike Kant, demonstrates the necessity of this principle from the absolute necessity of contingency. Thus, this principle necessarily holds not only for all thoughts but also for all things that are independent of thought. Meillassoux states that the principle of non-contradiction is an absolute ontological truth (ibid., 71).

Moreover, I would like to point out that Meillassoux carries the Kantian modalities of thought back onto an ontological plane by releasing them from the horizon of finitude, that is, from our limited human standpoint. Unlike Kant, for Meillassoux, modalities are not relative or limited to the manner of our thought, ←48 | 49→namely to the modes of our judgments. Rather, while the modal term “contingency” indicates the contingent manner of there being something, “necessity” indicates that “the contingency alone is necessary”, that is, “only the contingency of what is, is not itself contingent” (ibid., 80). Contingency alone is necessary because there is no way of being otherwise than being contingent. To be is to be necessarily contingent. As he further claims, “[t]‌here is nothing beneath or beyond the manifest gratuitousness of the given – nothing but the limitless power of its destruction, emergence, or persistence” (ibid.).

Meillassoux’s horizon of contingency makes manifest the way through which “thought is able to exit from itself” and to have an access to an absolute that is non-relative to it (ibid.). The critical question then resides in the speculative possibility of hope in the face of the absolute necessity of contingency and in the face of an absolute uncertainty with regards to the realization of its object. How can a philosophical discourse allow a place for hope, if there is no “hidden reason, an unfathomable purpose underlying the origin of our world” (ibid.)? What are the prospects for hope in Meillassoux’s horizon of contingency?

For one thing, there is a great deal of difference between Meillassoux and Kant as regards to what their speculative notion of hope must assume for its realization. For Kant, the realization of hope must assume providential finality because the commitment to acting morally within a causally ordered world demands that our moral purposes are realizable. For Meillassoux, however, this accord between our moral aspirations and the world cannot be “the mark of a providential finality, not even of one that is simply possible” (Meillassoux, 2011: 219). This issue recalls the famous Spinoza passage in the Critique of Judgment, where Kant refers to Spinoza as an example of a righteous man “who actively reveres the moral law” but “who remains firmly persuaded that there is no God and […] that there is also no future life” (Kant, 1987: 342/452). Kant, with a tremendous imagery, draws the picture in this case as follows: “For while he can expect that nature will now and then cooperate contingently with the purpose of his that he feels so obligated and impelled to achieve, he can never expect nature to harmonize with it in a way governed by laws and permanent rules” (ibid.). From the Kantian perspective, “the righteous man”, Spinoza, and all others like him would definitely encounter limits in a mechanistic realm of nature. Thus as Kant points out:

no matter how worthy of happiness they may be, nature, which pays no attention to that, will still subject them to all the evils of deprivation, disease, and untimely death, just like all the other animals on the earth. And they will stay subjected to these evils always, until one vast tomb engulfs them one and all (honest or not, that makes no difference here) and hurls them […] back into the abyss of the purposeless chaos of matter from which they were taken (ibid.).←49 | 50→

I would like to claim that the whole spirit of Meillassoux’s speculative materialism can be read as a radicalization of this passage. From Meillassoux’s perspective, the radical contingency expressed in the above passage could be even more radical and, perhaps, more hopeful than it first seems. Since Meillassoux asserts that the Kantian mechanical laws of nature are also necessarily contingent, it is really possible for them not to be in the future by falling back, like all contingent beings, into the same “abyss of the purposeless chaos of matter” (ibid.). For Meillassoux, hope for the commencement of a novel world that fully bears the worth of our humanity, i.e., hope for a world of universal justice, can assume only the radical possibilities immanent in the horizon of contingency. The accord between our moral aspirations and the world is an intermundane contingent affair, but not an incomprehensible necessity.

Meillassoux, in The Divine Inexistence, defends an immanent ethics, that is, “an ethics that posits this life as the only desirable life […] that it wishes this life to be immortal” (Meillassoux, 2011: 187–188). Our commitment to acting morally and politically turns out to be a matter of effectively hoping for universal justice on the ground of the absolute knowledge of the necessity of contingency. Unlike Kant, for Meillassoux, the speculative ground of hope would not then reside in the limits of our cognition and in the possibility of divine cognition. Accordingly, the realization of hope would not then require faith in immortality and in the existence of God. For Meillassoux, the immanent form of hope consists of “believing in God because he does not exist” (ibid., 238). He regards this belief to be rational because it has its ground in the speculative knowledge that everything is possible within the horizon of contingency, except an absolutely necessary being – for the reason that it would be a contradictory being. Moreover, it is stated to be non-religious because it is not a belief in God’s necessary existence, but in God’s virtuality. Finally, it is authentic because the source of this belief resides in our hoping for justice in a strenuous and committed manner as if our desire for justice, without any guarantee and comfort, were the womb of the advent of a novel world (ibid., 220). I take the “virtual God” of Meillassoux as the placeholder of the possibility of a novel world of universal justice both for the dead and the living, within which the work of mourning can be accomplished by “enduring together”, beyond the grave, here on earth eternally in justice (ibid., 232). As Meillassoux states, “of all […] injustices the most extreme is still death, early death, death inflicted by those unconcerned with equality” (ibid., 191). For Meillassoux, the ultimate ambition of philosophy, which is the conceptual apprehension of our immortality, should constitute the ground of hope.←50 | 51→

There can be many objections to Meillassoux’s bizarre prospect for hope. Yet, he opens a new horizon that focuses not on what is likely to happen, or what must rationally happen, but “on the most important things that could happen” (Harman, 2011: 85). Thus, Meillassoux claims this to be the immortality of this life for all and with no elsewhere. This could take place in a perfect order of justice where its universality would not allow any exceptions. Moreover, the object of hope – justice – is at the same time an actual ethical, social and political duty that we owe universally to all others – dead or alive. As Meillassoux maintains, “[i]‌t is the existence of a present hope that offers the order of justice a new but non-objective determination (one that is not presented simply in the world, but in our connection with the world)” (Meillassoux, 2011: 220). Hope is then directed at “the establishment of a link of fidelity between the living and the dead, in the midst of a world whose knowledge is able to maintain our waiting” (ibid., 232).

5 Conclusion

In this paper, I claim that while for Kant that which opens the prospect of hope is the horizon of finitude, for Meillassoux it is the horizon of contingency. In this regard, I investigate the ways in which these horizons make different philosophical accounts of hope possible. Hence, while hope, for Kant, is intimately related to what is rationally incomprehensible from our human standpoint, for Meillassoux, hope is originating from the knowledge of the way the world is, that is, from the sense of its absolute contingency. I apply the notion of horizon, in Kant’s case, both to the enabling conditions of all human thought, action and meaning and, at the same time, to what is intimately in connection with our finitude as ruling out the possibility of absolute vision. The Kantian horizon implies the limits of what we can know within our human standpoint, and also discloses a sense of transcendence by letting us to think what lies over and beyond our human standpoint. Yet, this sense of transcendence still assumes a way of being which we ourselves are, i.e., our finitude, and this indicates the fact that our human standpoint is not like a possible God-like vision which would not require a horizon to see and to grasp. For Kant, thinking the absolute must be a matter of faith, that is, a matter of what can be believed within the horizon of finitude as over and beyond it. Its implication for the issue of hope is that while our attitude of hope is grounded in our finitude, the attainment of its object requires the postulates of God and immortality which are over and beyond our finite horizon.←51 | 52→

In Meillassoux’s case, however, thinking the absolute is a matter of knowledge, i.e., of the absolute necessity of contingency, i.e., the absoluteness of the horizon itself. Here, unlike Kant, the notion of horizon functions ontologically, as regards to the modality of the being of things themselves. Thus, it does not operate as the limit of our making sense of things but reveals their being contingent as necessary and as without reason. Therefore, unlike the Kantian horizon, it does not function as a limit and hence point beyond itself. Meillassoux also argues that it is impossible to think anything beyond the horizon of contingency given that there is nothing to limit it. This is to claim that a non-contingent entity is impossible, and this is the way in which everything logically possible becomes really possible (Meillassoux, 2011: 189). This is what speculative realism can offer us as the philosophical ground of hope without invoking any necessary prospect for transcendence. Given that “hope is our torment with respect to a possibility that nothing necessitates” (ibid., 233), Meillassoux states as follows:

Hope is less a comfort than a difficult requirement. For certainly, only renunciation of hope is soothing; it is the renunciation of which knows how to build me a carcass, soft as a coffin, which assures me till the moment of death of not thinking of death (ibid., 232).

Above all, we can draw the conclusion that, for Kant, the horizon of finitude is not itself absolute; rather it indicates the relative sense of things for us. However, the horizon of contingency, for Meillassoux, is not itself contingent but absolutely necessary. Nevertheless, we can understand their horizons of finitude and of contingency as ways of shaking the fundamental principles of dogmatic metaphysics and, as I argue, this common critical attitude allows a place for hope in their philosophical accounts. Although viewed from different horizons, their accounts of hope display our fundamental desire and belief in what is worthy in our humanity, that is, our ethically oriented life is not a futile striving.


Harman, Graham. (2011). Meillassoux’s Virtual Future. Continent 1. 2, 78–91. (Access: 28.08.2017).

Kant, Immanuel. (1987). Critique of Judgment, (trans.) Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company.

Kant, Immanuel. (1965). Critique of Pure Reason, (trans.) Norman Kemp Smith. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Kant, Immanuel. (1956). Critique of Practical Reason, (trans.) Lewis White Beck. London and New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.←52 | 53→

Meillassoux, Quentin. (2011). The Divine Inexistence. In Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making (pp. 175–238). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Meillassoux, Quentin. (2008). After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, (trans.) Ray Brassier. London and New York: Continuum.

Meillassoux, Quentin, Brassier, Ray, Grant, Iain Hamilton & Harman, Graham. (2007). Speculative Realism. Collapse III, November, 306–449.

Tlumak, Jeffrey (2007). Classical Modern Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction. Routledge: London and New York.←53 | 54→←54 | 55→