Time, therefore, appears as the destiny and necessity of Spirit that is not yet complete within itself.

—G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit

Temporality is the primordial “outside of itself” In and for Itself.

—Martin Heidegger, Being and Time

The principle of non-contradiction says the same thing twice: the object cannot cease to be contingent, time can not abolish itself in time.

—Quentin Meillassoux, “Divine Inexistence”


Hegel’s Apprentice: From Speculative Idealism to Speculative Materialism

We have seen how Hegel’s understanding of contingency as “necessity’s own becoming” is related to his methodological rejection of the opposition between the a priori and the a posteriori: immanent critique pursues what must be said (necessity) of what happens in thought (contingency). The encounter of reason with its own determinations is its becoming, and this becoming is the experience of thought informing itself as to its own imperatives. For Hegel, there is no a priori shortcut. Hegel’s critical metaphysics is a rationalist empiricism insofar as the movement and the labor of the concept is an ungrounded alternation between the contingency and necessity of thinking, through which each exfoliates the consequences of the other. The becoming of the concept is this movement, the rationality of its experience and the experience of its rationality.

But if Hegel’s dialectical method in the Science of Logic thus carries out a speculative critique of Kant’s transcendental philosophy through a practice of rationalist empiricism, why not then affirm the program of absolute idealism as the early accomplishment of a methodological trajectory we are following into the twenty-first century? That is, if Hegel (1) reactivates the ontological scope of speculative thinking while (2) absorbing Kant’s critical lessons and (3) displacing the subjective dogmatism of the transcendental, why must we move from speculative idealism to speculative materialism? I will argue that a materialist displacement of Hegel’s speculative method is required in order preserve the movement of immanent critique it had levied against the transcendental, and that this requirement devolves from Hegel’s treatment of time. In a word: speculative materialism rescues the ontological primacy of becoming from the annulment of time that absolute idealism requires, and it does so through its unprecedented thinking of the relationship between necessity and contingency. We may thus trace a development of rationalist empiricism at two removes from Kant. With Hegel, we retain the displacement of transcendental critique by speculative critique, affirming the movement between the a priori and the a posteriori requisite for the ungrounding of critical epistemology. With Meillassoux, we grasp the import of a materialist position for sustaining the project of “true critique,” displacing the idealism that ultimately leads Hegel’s speculative thinking to annul the very condition of its epistemological rigor.


We have argued that the epistemology of the Science of Logic relies upon a perpetual alternation between the contingency and necessity of thinking, but the processual unfolding of immanent critique does arrive at a destination. To traverse and finally comprehend the movement of the concept is indeed to gather its restlessness into resolution. The Idea—“the pure concept conceptually comprehending itself”1—is the “fulfilled concept,” for which “there is no transition that takes place” since “the simple being to which the idea determines itself remains perfectly transparent to it.”2 This perfect transparency is the obsolescence of the a posteriori: the experience of thought is now so replete with determination that it is complete. Rather than proceeding through its determinations, it now is determinate. The formidable paradox of Hegel’s thought (which should not be obviated through the familiarity of reference to “sublation”) is that we arrive at the a priori by way of the a posteriori. This is the implicit logic of Hegel’s notorious claim that the science of logic is “the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and of finite spirit.”3 In the Phenomenology of Spirit, we move from finite consciousness to absolute knowing, and thus pure thought. In the Logic, we set out from the point at which the content of science is “thought in so far as this thought is equally the fact as it is in itself; or the fact in itself in so far as this is equally pure thought.”4 Taken as fact, the investigation of pure thought is a posteriori; but insofar as the fact in itself is equally pure thought, it is a priori. This is the contradiction driving the rational experience of pure thought: the movement of the contradiction—its movement from one contradiction into another—is thought’s process. Having been experienced, however, at the end of the Logic this movement becomes entirely rational and without movement: “absolutely certain of itself and internally at rest.”5 One could say that this final moment of the Logic is thus entirely a posteriori, except Hegel stipulates that “the pure idea into which the determinateness of the reality of the concept is raised” is “nothing that has become, is not a transition.”6 The concept clears its own genesis, the facticity of its movement, through its self-seizure and absolute auto-inclusion. If its becoming did not previously obey the opposition between the a priori and the a posteriori, it now becomes a priori and thus no longer becomes.

This does not mean, however, that Hegel’s system is teleological, since it does indeed encounter the contingency of history and of thought. In order to be critical—rather than either arbitrary or teleological—the movement of the concept requires a self-propelling alternation between contingency and necessity, theorized in the previous chapter as the rationalist empiricism of immanent critique. In order to be absolute, the whole cannot be teleological, because it must include contingency. Yet the whole, as such, cannot be contingent. Both contingency and necessity are folded into absolute necessity in a retroactive constitution of the a priori. Hegel’s thought is both non-teleological and absolute because the concept is not a priori at the beginning, but it becomes so at the end.

That this methodological paradox is constitutive of the absolute is the point of the Hegel’s post-Kantian enterprise, as well as the point of its impasse: taken as a point of departure, the a priori is insufficiently determinate to constitute its own ground. Yet, as we find in the Logic of Essence, the movement of the a posteriori is also groundless. Thus, the unfolding of thought’s experience must be folded into reason in a retroactive constitution of ground—the movement of recollection.7 In order to constitute its ground, the result of this recollection must not dissolve back into the chain of its determinations; it must be truly new. The mark of this absolute novelty—of the paradoxical absorption of the a posteriori into the a priori—is a new name, the Idea.

The question of how such a retroactive constitution of the absolute is to be understood bears upon the problem of time. In the Phenomenology, Hegel tells us that “Spirit necessarily appears in time, and it appears in time as long as it does not grasp its pure concept, which is to say, as long as it does not annul time…. Time thus appears as the destiny and necessity of the spirit that is not yet completed within itself.”8 We could say: it is necessary that Spirit undergo contingency, that reason traverse experience, until this experience completes itself in the rational annulment of time, which is absolute knowing. In the Science of Logic, this trajectory repeats itself within the order of pure thought. Despite having attained the presupposition of absolute knowledge (at the end of the Phenomenology), pure thought now has to undergo, within itself, the becoming of its determinations (the beginning of the Logic). Spirit falls into time, then ascends to absolute knowing, but now absolute knowing falls once more from the immediacy of being into becoming before completing itself as the absolute idea. This structure—in which a doubling of the absolute is determined by a double movement through the time of intuition and the becoming of pure thought—is required by the problem of the beginning. “Every beginning must be made with the absolute,” writes Hegel,

But because the absolute exists at first only implicitly, in itself, it equally is not the absolute nor the posited concept, and also not the idea, for the in-itself is only an abstract, one-sided moment, and this is what they are. The advance is not, therefore, a kind of superfluity; this is what it would be if that which is at the beginning were already absolute; the advance consists rather in this, that the universal determines itself and is the universal for itself, that is, equally a singular [sic] and a subject. Only in its consummation is it the absolute.9

Setting out from mere sense certainty, Spirit becomes absolute knowing, and the Phenomenology unfolds this movement. But this absolute must take itself up upon its own ground, within the determinations of pure thinking (the Science of Logic), so as to know the determinations of absolute knowing. Hegel requires two manifestations of the absolute in order to move from one to the other, a movement through which the absolute comes to know its own knowing. In order that absolute knowing may come to be known as absolute idea, the annulment of time must itself be annulled and then repeated.


At the center of the Science of Logic, the Doctrine of Essence thus lies at the midpoint between two annulments of time and between two absolutes—between the absolute in itself (absolute knowing) and the absolute for itself (the idea). And it is at the center of the Doctrine of Essence, in the chapter on “Ground,” that we encounter an analysis of the fact—what we might call Hegel’s analytic of facticity. Here we think the condition of the fact in relation to the problem of its ground. Customarily, Hegel says, to trace the conditions of a fact is to follow “a progression ad infinitum from condition to condition”10 and thus to find the fact ultimately unconditioned. On the other hand, we must therefore think the self-positing of the fact which negates this indeterminate totality, thus determining the ground-connection as the specificity of being-there. Hegel writes, “the existence that constitutes the conditions, therefore, is in truth not determined as a condition by an other and is not used by it as material; on the contrary, it itself makes itself, through itself, into the moment of an other.”11 The fact posits its ground in its coming into existence, thus breaking from and negating the infinite sequence of conditioning determinations in the very instance of emerging from them.

Between two poles of the absolute, we thus encounter “the truly unconditioned; the fact in itself.”12 It is “truly unconditioned” in a double sense: (1) the chain of its conditions leads into the absolutely unconditioned ground of being itself; (2) in breaking with this chain of conditions by coming into existence as that which it is, the fact is unconditioned in that it posits its own ground.13 Hegel concludes that “the fact is thus the unconditioned and, as such, equally so the groundless; it arises from the ground only insofar as the latter has foundered and is no longer ground: it rises up from the groundless, that is, from its own essential negativity or pure form.”14 What is at stake, again, is the intervention of the absolute upon the progressive unfolding of determination. But in this case, what is at issue is not the absolute being of the absolute itself; rather, it is the “absolute becoming” of the determinate moment, “the absolutely unconditioned” self-positing of the specific fact that is the unity of its contingency and its necessity. This is the very unity, understood as the structure of transition, that will be folded into the pure necessity of the idea by the cessation of transition at the end of the Logic.

We thus have three absolutes, rather than two: Absolute Knowing (end of the Phenomenology), Absolute Becoming (center of the Logic), and Absolute Idea (end of the Logic). Let us interpret the relation of these absolutes in terms of their relation to time.

We are led, from the end of the Phenomenology through the movement of the Logic and the cessation of that movement, across the following itinerary:

1. As we move from the end of the Phenomenology to the beginning of the Logic, Absolute Knowing produces the thought of pure, indeterminate being. This pure indetermination, through its identity with nothingness, gives way, through the negative transition of this identity, to the movement of becoming. Thus, the relation of Absolute Knowledge to time is that it first annuls its temporal becoming and then, through the pure indetermination of this annulment (thought of pure Being) transitions into the determinate becoming of pure thought. Absolute Knowing is the point of transition through which the time of history (Phenomenology of Spirit) becomes the time of pure thought (Science of Logic).

2. The movement of pure thought encounters the nullity of its ground—its un-grounding—through the problem of becoming’s conditions: the pure fact expresses, in the ultimate groundlessness of its determinations, the absolute contingency of its being thus and so. Yet the fact is thus and so: its self-positing, upon the foundering of ground, is grasped as absolute becoming, since the conditioning chain of its determinations is itself indeterminate, unconditional. The fact stands forth as the necessary result of just those determinations upon which it is posited, at once negating and emerging from the contingent accumulation and combination of just these conditions. At the intersection of contingency and necessity, Absolute Becoming is the instantiation of time as fact: the pure determination of becoming as an instance. Here becoming becomes itself: the production of determinate being, in time, from the indetermination of temporal regress to the origin. Absolute becoming is the factical synthesis of temporal indeterminacy and temporal determinacy: the determinate becoming of beings, of facts.

3. The determination of being (becoming) completes itself as the Idea—the self-transparency of the Concept and the achievement, through the restlessness of the negative, of internal rest.

To summarize: (1) time becomes; (2) time determines; (3) time negates itself through the saturation of determination. This is the movement of time from Absolute Knowing to Absolute Becoming to Absolute Idea. The problem of time in Hegel—and of its double annulment—thus rests upon the relation between the being of becoming (negation), the becoming of beings (fact), and the becoming of being (the Whole).

The impasse of Hegel’s system is how the double annulment of time, from Absolute Spirit to Absolute Idea, is to be thought, given that thought relies upon the movement of negation. To seal the Absolute as the negation of the very movement of negation does not suffice to solve the problem, since it merely declares, by fiat, that the restlessness of the negative which is the becoming of the concept can grasp itself without the very means of its self-comprehension. The problem of time, in Hegel, relays again the inextricability of epistemology and ontology in his thought, but here with untenable consequences. Since the epistemological coherence of “true critique” relies upon the movement between what happens in thought and what it must think, this dialectical coherence annuls itself along with the ontological annulment of time. At the very moment that it seeks to ground its coherence, Hegel’s rationalist empiricism abandons that which it would ground.

Finally, we must note that this annulment of the critical dimension of specula tive idealism, in both the Phenomenology and the Logic, is accompanied by the concept’s concluding assumption of the form of the “I.” As we saw in Chapter 3, the Science of Logic sets out by shedding the finite determinateness of the “I” as consciousness in order to cognize the infinite form of thought, subjecting the categories to immanent critique “apart from their abstract relation to the ‘I.’”15 This rejection of the “I” as a finite form of thinking is an essential element of Hegel’s critique of the transcendental. But at the conclusion of the Logic, as the concept annuls the temporality of its movement and comprehends itself as Absolute Idea, the “I” returns in the infinite form of “pure self-consciousness.”16 Here the unity of the concept, having traversed the “immanent deduction which contains its genesis,” attains an “objective unity” that is “the unity of the ‘I’ with itself.”17

In order to grasp the relationship between this genesis of the unity of the “I” and the annulment of time, we must consider the following passage from the introduction to the Subjective Logic:

True, I have concepts, that is, determinate concepts; but the “I” is the pure concept itself, the concept that has come into determinate existence. It is fair to suppose, therefore, when we think of the fundamental determinations which constitute the nature of the “I,” that we are referring to something familiar, that is, a commonplace of ordinary thinking. But the “I” is in the first place purely self-referring unity, and is this not immediately but by abstracting from all determinateness and content and withdrawing into the freedom of unrestricted equality with itself. As such it is universality, a unity that is unity with itself only by virtue of its negative relating, which appears as abstraction, and because of it contains all determinateness within itself as dissolved. In second place, the “I” is just as immediately self-referring negativity, singularity, absolute de-terminateness that stands opposed to anything other and excludes it—individual personality. This absolute universality which is just as immediately absolute singulariza-tion—a being-in-and-for-itself which is absolute positedness and being-in-and-for-itself only by virtue of its unity with the positedness—this universality constitutes the nature of the “I” and of the concept; neither the one nor the other can be comprehended unless these two just given moments are grasped at the same time, both in their abstraction and their perfect unity.18

Let us work through the key moments of this passage. The “I” is distinguished, as a “purely self-referring unity,” from “a commonplace of ordinary thinking.” The universality of the “I,” considered thus, requires abstraction from determinateness and content through withdrawal into “the freedom of unrestricted equality with itself.” This freedom involves a negativity that dissolves determinateness. But since the “I” is self-referring negativity, it is thus singularity or absolute determinateness, such that absolute universality is identical to absolute singularization. This is the being-in-and-for-itself which constitutes the nature of the I and the concept, their “perfect unity,” which will be comprehended as Absolute Idea. And in the Phenomenology of Spirit, as well, Absolute Knowing is attained as “the pure being-for-itself of self-consciousness.” “It is the ‘I,’” Hegel stipulates, “which is this I and no other, and it is just as much the immediately mediated, or the sublated, universal I” understood as “pure negativity.”19 Again, the particularity of the “I” is sublated by its universal singularity. Conceptually comprehended, the I “is nothing but the very movement” by which this “pure negativity” comes to be, but it is this movement as complete: the existence of the concept as “I” “does not even exist anywhere at all until after it has completed the labor of compelling its incomplete shapes to provide for consciousness the shape of its essence.”20 From the Phenomenology to the Logic, the double annulment of time is accompanied by a double genesis of the unity of the “I,” as the unity of self-consciousness. This pure unity, its being-in-and-for-itself, requires the annulment of the movement by which it is generated.

We see clearly that if we want to retain the movement of speculative critique—the exteriority of its movement to its ground (an exteriority upon which its epistemological power is predicated)—we must reject both the annulment of time and the unity of the “I” that accompanies it. Speculative critique encounters a double condition: we must destroy the unity of the “I” by preserving the movement of time, and we must prevent the annulment of time by preserving the movement of thought against its subsumption by self-consciousness. We must think time as that which displaces the form of the “I.” And we must attain a thinking of time as the impossibility of its annulment through a mode of reflection that neither relies upon nor generates the absolute unity of self-consciousness, its freedom in-and-for-itself. Indeed, we must think time, rather than the “I,” as pure being: that which is in-and-for-itself. Between Absolute Knowing and the Absolute Idea, the movement of thought was the negation of the “I” through which Hegel had arrived at a thinking of Absolute Becoming. We must preserve this negation of the “I” against the I’s negation of the negation, its realization as Idea, as the truth of being. This will be the criterion of a materialist displacement of absolute idealism. Materialism affirms the truth of being that Hegel rejects: “Spirit that were not idea, not the unity of the concept with itself, not the concept that has the concept itself as its reality, would be dead spirit, spiritless spirit, a material object.”21 Speculative materialism affirms thought’s capacity to think its negation through to the end; it affirms that to think the outside of thought, to know the death of spirit, is spirit’s ontological vocation.


Because the reception of his thought has been dominated by the reception of After Finitude, Quentin Meillassoux’s work is primarily understood through his relation to Kant. It is the critique of transcendental critique from which the broader critique of correlationism sets out in After Finitude. There, Meillassoux defended a Kantian thesis (the facticity of the correlational forms that govern our relationship to nature) against a Hegelian thesis (the absolutization of the correlation itself). But he showed why, in order to sustain this Kantian thesis, the Kantian himself would have to absolutize the facticity of the correlation to defend his assertion of its modality (the correlation is just a fact) against its subsumption into the absolute idea by the Hegelian. But even if the systematic relation between transcendental and absolute idealism plays an important role in After Finitude, Hegel himself, when mentioned at all, is mentioned only briefly.

But in his unpublished doctoral dissertation, “L’inexistence divine,” Meillassoux’s project begins with and sustains a conceptual priority that sets it directly against Hegel’s thinking of the whole: to think absolute becoming as the insubordination of contingency to any law. I note immediately that this conceptual priority—to think absolute becoming as unsubordinated contingency—implies a thinking of time. The identity of absolute becoming with unsubordinated contingency would be understood as the ontological identity of both with time, since the movement of becoming, in order to remain unsubordinated, could not be understood within the synthetic determinations or the physical laws of any ontic regime of temporality. The distinction of such an absolute time from physical or phenomenological time would be grasped as the very concept of the ontological difference, and as the subtraction of becoming from any law of becoming. In reconstructing the relation of “L’inexistence divine” to Hegel’s speculative idealism, I will argue that by displacing the annulment of time, Meillassoux carries through Heidegger’s critique of Hegel’s failure to think being as time. However, he does so in a manner that rejects Heidegger’s own alignment of time with finitude. This is the fundamental sense in which Meillassoux’s thought situates us “after finitude” and also sets itself against the Hegelian alignment of the infinite with the whole: a double imperative that he inherits from Alain Badiou, yet which he must also sustain against the atemporal ontology of Being and Event.

How to undertake such an ontological project? How to begin to think an absolute scope of time that preserves absolute becoming from atemporal being by aligning it with unsubordinated contingency? Here, Meillassoux’s method is crucial to our account of speculative critique: (1) he begins by thinking the relation between empiricism and rationalism, and (2) in asking how reason can orient itself toward necessity amid the contingency of experience, he begins with experience. This commitment to setting out from the empirical, rather than positing axioms or rational principles, is at the core of the critical dimension of Meillassoux’s speculative materialism.

In Chapter 2 we discussed the anhypothetical demonstration of the principle of factiality in After Finitude, noting that it models a conjunctural method of philosophical argumentation—a method attuned to the historically concatenated determination of thought by relationships among philosophical positions that force certain conceptual commitments. “Established ‘refutationally’ rather than deductively,” Meillassoux’s anhypothetical argument functions “by demonstrating that anyone who contests it can do so only by presupposing it to be true, thereby refuting himself.”22 In “L’inexistence divine” the demonstration of the necessity of contingency operates differently. Here we set out from the facts of the world in which we find ourselves, within which “nothing seems to be necessary, since beings, in their determinate and empirical existence, given in their radical contingency, make up our world in its entirety.” Amid the empirical givenness of this world, “I cannot, it seems, give any ultimate reason for the existence not only of this or that thing (every reason requires another reason, all equally contingent, and so on to infinity), but even for the existence of the world in general (the world appears to me as a pure fact).”23 Setting out from the empirical contingency of what exists—of beings and of the world in general—the problem for philosophical rationality is how to establish any necessity at all, anything that is not just a fact, with which the necessary discursivity of reason could begin to think.

Confronted with the contingency of the given, what is it that may not be contingent? Meillassoux answers that we cannot think contingency itself as contingent. The contingency of beings cannot be considered one of their contingent predicates, since it is the contingency of their determinations. We cannot, that is, treat contingency as a fact, addressing it as “something” which is contingent. To say that “contingency is contingent” adds nothing to the original attribution; it merely spirals into a reaffirmation of contingency itself, a mise en abyme of contingency all the way down—an absolute contingency.

If I affirm, against the principle of factiality, that contingency itself is contingent, I base this argument upon the idea of an irreducible contingency: in the occurrence of the contingency of contingency. But this contingency “squared” is no different than what I tried to refute: it is absolute, ultimate, irreducible.24

If we say it is contingent that a being exists, we mean it could be otherwise: the being may either exist or not exist. If we say it is contingent that a being is red, we mean it may either be red or not red (the same leaf might also be green). But the contingency of a being is this “may either be”; it is this “or not.” Thus if we say the contingency of beings may itself be contingent, that they may either be contingent or not contingent, we are saying they are contingent: they may be either this or that, they may be thus or not thus. We cannot “redouble” the sense of contingency itself in the same way we can attribute contingency to the predicates of a being. To say contingency is not contingent is to say it is necessary. But to say that contingency is contingent is to say the same thing: the redoubling of contingency merely returns us to the necessity of contingency. Thus Meillassoux claims that, confronted with the manifest contingency of the world and its beings, it is contingency alone that must be thought as necessary:

Necessity is not a mysterious property of beings, alongside other properties that are, themselves, contingent. Necessity designates the very contingency of all determinations of beings, contingency as such. Or more precisely, necessity resides in the impossibility of speaking of the contingency of beings as if this contingency were itself a contingent being, i.e., a being at all, since all beings are contingent. Necessity thus consists in the impossible auto-attribution of contingency, the impossibility of qualifying the contingency of contingency, the fact of the factual—what we have called the impossibility of redoubling the factual. This non-redoubling reveals the origin of every necessary statement: a necessary statement has as its object not a being, but the contingency of beings.25

We see how thinking the distinction between contingency and necessity in this way (only contingency is necessary) bears upon an understanding of the ontological difference: contingency pertains to beings; the necessity of contingency pertains to being-qua-being.

But what if we were to reject the contingency of beings in the first instance and set out from the counter-position, the strongest version of which would be Spinozist? We could say: It is simply a matter of ignorance, the limitations of our knowledge, that leads us to understand beings as contingent in the first place. The groundlessness of an infinite chain of causal determinations that we encounter in reflecting upon experience is simply the result of our finitude. Since an omniscient being would know all causes, and thus the necessary determination of what is the case, the contingency of what happens, of the predicates of beings and of their existence, is a figment of the imagination. By setting out from what seems to be the contingency of beings, this demonstration merely pretends to be anhypothetical. It pretends to set out from a “fact” that is actually a presupposition; it has presupposed from the beginning what it cannot justify: that beings are contingent.

But in order to undermine, as a presupposition, the presuppositionless situation of empirical presentation from which Meillassoux sets out, what must such a counter-argument itself presuppose? Insofar as the claim is merely that the worldly contingency with which we seem to be presented is in fact an artifact of our ignorance, then we are returned to the reasoning that Meillassoux blocks. We are presented with beings that seem to be contingent, and to say we do not know whether they really are contingent is to assert the contingency of contingency: it could be otherwise. The primacy of contingency is thus reasserted, canceling its relativization. Thus, one would have to take a further step to block this regress: it is necessary that beings are as they are, that what is the case is the case. This is precisely the step that Spinoza takes, more rigorously than any other thinker in the history of philosophy. Substance is eternal, univocal, fully determinate, causa sui. The empirical fact of the contingency of beings is merely an ontic illusion, a figment of the imagination, an error of the first kind of knowledge from which no rational principle could possibly be derived.

However, in order to justify his ontological determinations—in all the glory of their internal consistency—Spinoza must set out by positing definitions and axioms that must themselves be understood as necessary. But are they necessary? Consider Definition 1, Book 1, of the Ethics: “By cause of itself [causa sui] I understand that whose essence involves existence, or that whose nature cannot be conceived except as existing.” What if pure becoming, sheer change, were thought as causa sui, as that alone which is conceived only through itself? Would its “essence involve existence?” Or would its essence be neither existence nor inexistence, but the passage between existence and inexistence? Or consider Definition 3, Book 1: “By substance I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself, that is, that whose concept does not require the concept of another thing, from which it must be formed.” But could this definition apply precisely to that which is not substance? Could we not conceive pure becoming in a manner that does not conceive it as a being (something that exists), nor conceive it through another thing which does exist, but rather conceives it through itself, rather than as subordinated to the laws of what exists? For example (an example to which we shall return), Heidegger conceives of temporality as “the primordial ‘outside of itself’ in and for itself.”26 Such a conception of time would de-substantialize that which is in itself and conceived through itself, through an ek-statical modality of thinking that does not ground the thought of the in-itself in another thing, but rather thinks being as other than a being (as time). According to Heidegger, “temporality temporalizes, and it temporalizes possible ways of itself. These make possible the multiplicity of the modes of being of Dasein.” I.e. temporality itself makes possible the modes of understanding through which it may be thought (the ek-stasies) and is thus thought through itself.

This is just to say that the philosophical presuppositions from which one would set out to secure the necessity of all that exists would themselves be contingent. In fact, Spinoza’s definitions are historical, canonical—they are not necessary determinations of thinking. We can see this, for example, in the work of Alain Badiou, who sets out from a different set of definitions and axioms to demonstrate a counter-Spinozist proposition: that the infinite cannot be thought as one-all, that being is not substance but inconsistent multiplicity. Badiou knows the axioms from which he sets out are contingent (he could have used others) which is why he grants that his enterprise begins with a decision. For his part, Meillassoux does not set out from axioms. He shows that the proper use of Cantorian mathematics, the thinking of the inconsistency of the infinite, is to show us what we do not have to think, rather than what must be thought. So he asks (implicitly): What is it that we must think, given that we do not have to think the infinite as one, or the multiple as consistent, or being as substance? From whence could we derive a necessity of reason, given the contingency of our ontological axioms (Badiou’s or Spinoza’s) and of the empirical facts that surround us?

We cannot derive the necessity of beings from our experience, and to simply posit their necessity will require us to set out from rational principles that will themselves prove contingent. Such positing would set out on a hypothetical basis, thus implicitly beginning with contingency itself. Meillassoux acknowledges this implicit contingency (i.e., the dogmatism of axioms), and thus sets out on an anhypothetical basis: if we cannot set out by positing the necessity of beings without relying upon the contingency of our positing, then our positing is itself contingent, just another fact. But is this contingency itself contingent, or necessary? If I say that contingency itself is contingent, I would be saying that it is either contingent or necessary, which simply returns us to the initial question. There is contingency, but the impossibility of thinking contingency itself as contingent requires me to think the non-contingency of contingency: not that contingency could be necessary (which returns us again to the initial question), but that it is necessary. And here I accede to a necessity of rational reflection: the fact that beings are contingent cannot be thought as a fact; “only the facticity of what is cannot itself be a fact.”27 The rationality of what has to be thought (that beings must be contingent) is derived from the empirical fact of what is the case (that beings are contingent). I have gleaned from an empiricist beginning a rationalist principle.

In order for the principle of factiality to be “anhypothetical” (in order for it not to presuppose the hypothetical positing of another principle) rationalism must intersect with empiricism. But it must do so precisely in order to distinguish itself from it: to reason about the ontological scope of the absolute, in a manner derived from and consistent with the ontic predicates of empirical existence. To think the absolute scope of contingency, its insubordination to any law, is to think its “auto-limitation.” The non-contingency of contingency gives us to think the necessity of contingency itself: that there cannot be a necessary being. And this requires a mode of speculation that is immanently critical. Far from merely positing the absolute, it returns all dogmatic principles to the contingency of their positing, and it draws from contingency itself both the necessity of its own rationality and the rationality of necessity.


Meillassoux notes a curious relationship between the thought of absolute contingency and the finitude of thought itself (i.e., the contingency of finite thinking). I may assert “that the thought of contingency is merely a contingent thought—a category that only applies for us, not in itself.” Such an assertion of the contingent finitude of thought “always rests upon the postulate that thought can only attain those thoughts which have no meaning considered independently of the thought that thinks them.” Thus, I can assert that “the world to which I have access only exists in these determinations for as long as I am (there is no time, no qualities, no space, etc., without subjective consciousness of time, of qualities, of space).” In this way, I assert the contingency of these determinations, which are restricted to the finitude of my existence and my phenomenal experience. But Meillassoux claims that “this reasoning falters, however, upon one thought, which is precisely that of contingency.” When I think the “contingency of all things, including and above all of myself as subjective thought of all things”— that is, when I think my own contingency as a thinking being—I think the eventual inexistence of my thought. Meillassoux thus holds that “Contingency, including my own as a thinking being, is thus the only object of thought that is given as necessarily independent of the thought that thinks it. The contingency of thought cannot depend upon the thought of contingency.”28

The argument is that when we think the contingency of all that exists, including our own thinking, we must think it as exterior to the condition of our own existence as a thinking being. This is a non-transcendental necessity of the thought of contingency. Speculation, setting out from the empirical contingency of the given, and drawing from it the necessity—for thought—of that contingency which is given, now informs us of the manner in which this necessity must be thought: it cannot be thought as restricted to the finitude of my own thinking (since it is the very thought of the negation of that thinking); the necessity of contingency must be thought as exterior to the thinking that touches upon it, that draws its concept from the given. We must note here that Meillassoux does not claim to be able to think anything like the appearance of the world as it would be without the phenomenal determinations of thinking and sensing beings. He claims that thinking the non-contingency of contingency forces a determination of the in-itself with no bearing whatsoever upon the appearance of the world or our existence within it: the very contingency of our own thought must be conceived as a determination of being and not only a determination of thinking. We cannot restrict the thought of contingency to the contingent finitude of our thinking, since to think the contingent finitude of our thinking is to think its disappearance.

This is an epistemological rationale for a thinking of the ontological difference. When I recognize that I cannot think contingency as dependent on the contingency of my thought, I think at once the adequation of thinking to being and the separation of being from thinking: “thought is thus presented at once, and for the same reason, as adequate to being and as different than being.”29 The necessary contingency of being can only be thought as including the contingency of thinking, and thus it involves the necessary separability of being from thinking:

Thought thus thinks itself as contingent at the same time that it thinks the non-contingency of contingency: that is to say, thought thinks that it may disappear, but that the contingency that it thinks will not disappear with it…. That the essence of beings be thinkable as contingency thus excludes that thought be the essence of being: because if that which is must be thought as contingent, thought must be a contingent being among others.30

The specificity of what Meillassoux terms the principle of factiality (“only the facticity of what is cannot itself be a fact”) thus consists in three determinations:

1. It delivers an anhypothetical principle of reason, which involves both an immanent critique and speculative extrapolation from the contingency of hypothetical reasoning (i.e. reasoning from posited principles).

2. It enables us to think “at one stroke, and for the same reason”31 the epistemological adequacy of thinking to being and the ontological distinction between being and thinking.

3. It delivers a concept of the ontological difference, wherein the contingency of beings is the starting point from which the being of beings, the necessity of contingency, is grasped.

The principle of factiality delivers an anhypothetical, epistemologically necessary concept of the ontological difference that is formulated in both a Heideggerian and non-Heideggerian manner. It thinks the finitude of thinking, insofar as thinking will cease to exist (is contingent); but it also thinks the absolute remit of thinking, since the contingency of thought itself is one aspect of the necessity of contingency which exceeds the finitude of thinking—is thought as an absolute. To think the necessity of contingency detaches the thinking of being from the finitude of thinking. But would it be possible to view this speculative extrapolation of ontology beyond finite thinking as an extension of certain unrealized possibilities in Heidegger’s approach to fundamental ontology? To properly understand how Meillassoux at once extends, radicalizes, and critically delimits Heidegger’s thinking of being, we must first see how the concept of the necessity of contingency deconstructs Hegel’s annulment of time and how it thus participates in a Heideggerian project.


In the Science of Logic, the annulment of time by the absolute depends upon an identification of contingency and necessity, which is first grasped as “absolute necessity” and then sublated by the freedom of the concept: the identity of the Idea with the “I” of self-consciousness.

Hegel considers the becoming of beings in terms of the determinacy constitutive of their concrete existence—the determinations according to which beings come to be as they are. Typically, he notes, one follows the conditions of such determinacy through a regress of becoming that gives way onto a “progression ad infinitum from condition to condition.”32 In seeking the ground of concrete determinacy through a sequence of conditions, such reflection thus arrives at the whole as the ultimate ground of any particular being, or fact, and thus at the unconditioned whole of being itself. Yet Hegel notes that this regress of conditions requires us to think the particularity of a being as pure positedness, as its own condition and ground, as the immediacy through which it exists as that which it is, rather than that which it is not, and thus repels reduction into a chain of determinations. The unconditioned fact itself comes to constitute its own condition and ground, and thus to be the condition of both: “the condition which is itself absolute.”33 Thus, we think at once the manner in which the conditions of particularity lead us to the whole as unconditioned ground, and the manner in which particular beings must repel this ground-connection, as negative determination, in order to be particular, and thus constitute their own ground. “It is the fact’s own doing that it conditions itself and places itself as ground over against its conditions; but in connecting conditions and ground, the fact is a reflective shining in itself; its relation to them is a rejoining itself.”34 The relation of condition and ground is sublated (raised and negated) into the instantiation of the whole in the particular, and the constitution of the whole by the particular. This sublation is the mediated unity of being and existence.

Hegel’s approach to the determination of the particular involves thinking the identity of necessity and contingency. Yet this unity is precisely what will be determined by Hegel as “absolute necessity,” and absolute necessity is “equally simple immediacy or pure being and simple immanent reflection or pure essence; it is this, that the two are one and the same.”35 The culmination of the Doctrine of Essence is its unity with the Doctrine of Being, grasped through the culmination of the dialectic of necessity and contingency in the concept of absolute necessity: “Absolute necessity is thus the reflection or form of the absolute, the unity of being and essence, simple immediacy and absolute negativity.”36 Now, when this unity of being and essence is grasped as the unity of self-consciousness—when it is taken up as the identity of the “I” with the idea in the Objective Logic—absolute necessity is sublated by absolute freedom. Why? Because the idea is the self-determination of the concept apprehending itself in its unity. When the concept grasps itself as the whole, “in the relation of divine cognition to nature”—when it realizes itself as “the pure concept conceptually comprehending itself”—the determinations of the particular that unified contingency and necessity as “absolute necessity” (as the determinacy of the whole in the particular) are folded into the universality of “the pure concept that only relates to itself … the simple self-reference which is being.” This concept of being, which is the very concept of the concept (the idea), is “simple self-reference” insofar it has gone beyond the dialectic of the universal and the particular into pure universality, at which level there is no restriction, no constraint upon its self-apprehension. We can recapitulate in three points: (1) contingency gives way to the identity of contingency and necessity; (2) this identity is conceptualized as absolute necessity, the determinacy of the universal in the particular; (3) this determinacy of the universal in the particular is sublated by pure universality, which is the apprehension of the unity of being and essence as freedom, the simple self-reference of the concept as the unity of the “I,” shorn of exteriority.

Through this dialectic, contingency is incorporated into the whole (as a moment) and subordinated to the whole (the unity of all moments), conceptualized as the freedom of substance expressed as subject. We see why this involves and requires the annulment of time: because exteriority is the very essence of time, because time is the decompletion of the whole, because time is the deconstitution of the unity of the subject, because time conceived as being-qua-being is not a being and thus defies the unity of being and beings that Hegel folds into the absolute through the subsumption of the identity of contingency and necessity into freedom. Time is that which destroys the unity of the “I” as the simple self-reference of being.

If Hegel arrives at the sublation of contingency into absolute necessity through an identification of contingency and necessity, Meillassoux sustains the concept of absolute contingency against any such sublation through an irrevocable distinction between contingency and necessity: every fact, every being, every property of beings is contingent; but contingency may not be contingent (la contingence ne peut pas être contingente),37 and this negation, which is not a being, is the only necessity. The distinction between contingency and necessity distinguishes beings (which are contingent) from the being of beings (non-contingency of contingency), and this double distinction can be understood as an immanent differentiation of contingency itself: the differentiation of contingency as such from contingency as a qualification of beings. Meillassoux writes that “necessity declares itself as the negation whereby contingency is characterized by its relation to itself as that alone which may not be contingent (ne peut être contingent).” This negation (non-contingency of contingency) thus defines necessity as “the difference between the contingency of beings and contingent beings: as the auto-differentiation of contingency from itself.”38 We note that this is also a distinction between the particular and the universal: what is particular is the contingency of beings; what is universal is the non-contingency of contingency itself.

This differentiation of contingency from itself, which produces a distinction between contingency and necessity, between the particular and the universal, as well as a between beings (contingency) and the being of beings (necessity of contingency), also involves a crucial distinction between two forms of negation, which Meillassoux finds Hegel to have conflated in a manner leading to his eventual identification of contingency and necessity. This is the distinction between nothingness (néant) and nothing (rien).


What Meillassoux terms nothingness (néant) is the auto-negation of facticity: the non-contingency of contingency, whereby necessity emerges through the recognition that contingency alone may not be contingent. If the necessity of contingency is thought as the being of beings, it is also thought as nothingness, insofar as it is not a being (there cannot be a necessary being), but rather the possible being otherwise of all that exists. Néant is thus an order of negation proper to the ontological scope of the principle of factiality, which subtracts necessity from the ontic order of beings. The ontic is thought through another negation—nothing (rien)—which pertains precisely to the possibility of being otherwise attendant upon the order of existence. Since no determination is necessary, it is contingent (just a fact) that there be this determination rather than some other determination. This “other” determination, which is not a fact, is the “nothing” of that which is; this “factual” negation involves the possible being a fact of what is not a fact, and the possible not being a fact of what is a fact.39 Understood in terms of the absolute, unsubordinated scope of contingency, the level of factual negation signifies that “whatever exists may not exist and whatever does not exist may exist” (que ce qui existe peut ne pas exister et que ce qui n’existe pas peut exister).40 The possible negation of either existence or inexistence is thought as nothing, because it is neither existence nor inexistence, but the pure possibility of the passage between them. It pertains to the order of the ontic (of beings) without itself being part of it: a particular determination can pass between inexistence and existence, but the possibility of this passage cannot itself pass away (i.e., it is impossible that the possibility of this passage could cease to be). Thus, we see that the intricate link between these two orders of negation expresses the distinction between necessity (nothingness) and contingency (nothing): contingency means that whatever exists may not exist and whatever does not exist may exist; necessity means that contingency neither exists nor inexists, since it cannot pass into or out of existence. Contingency is nothing but the passage between existence and inexistence, the possible being otherwise of all determinations. Necessity is nothingness since it is only the non-contingency of contingency, the impossibility that contingency should cease to condition the field of the possible.41 Contingency is not a being but is said of beings. Necessity is said of the being of beings (contingency). Nothing is ontic. Nothingness is ontological.

Meillassoux thus argues that Hegel legitimately identifies being and nothingness (néant) at the beginning of the Science of Logic. Here, the dialectical identity of being and nothingness correctly posits nothingness “as the essence of necessitating negation (négation nécessitante): necessitating negation in that it indicates the ‘cannot be’ of being itself.”42 For Hegel, this “cannot be” is the pure indetermination of being-qua-being, which cannot be any determinate being. For Meillassoux, contingency itself cannot be contingent, such that the being of beings is thought as a negation of that which determines all beings (contingency). Like Hegel, Meillassoux affirms the non-being of being as a speculative necessity: the non-contingency of contingency itself. And for both Hegel and Meillassoux, this identity of being and nothingness involves the necessity of becoming.

However, Hegel fails to distinguish this ontological level of negation (nothingness) from the negation involved in the next moment of the dialectic, which is “engaged with the becoming of being there: that is to say, the negation proper to the passage of a determination of a being to an other determination which it is not.”43 According to Meillassoux,

Hegel constructs the negation nothing by setting out from the identity being-nothingness. In effect, he conceives the identity of being and nothingness as the passage, the becoming of being within nothingness and nothingness within being, stabilizing within being-there, the being-there which is the being that exists and is struck with the negativity of nothingness. This being-there is thus revealed as determinate being, thus limited, contingent, and submitted to becoming: becoming which makes the being-there of a determination pass into an other determination, also limited and contingent. The negativity of nothingness is thus identified by the dialectic with the negativity of nothing, that is to say, with the determination of a being that carries within it the non-being of another determination.44

Because the finitude of being-there—the particularity of determination, its contingency and limitation—is thought as determined by the ontological negativity proper to nothingness, Hegel fails to distinguish and thus properly link ontological and ontic negativity. For Meillassoux, “nothing marks the contingency of a determinate becoming, nothingness the necessity that all becoming be contingent.” This distinction breaks down in Hegel’s conflation of nothingness with nothing, whereby “the necessity of a contingent becoming of all determination becomes the necessity of a determinate becoming of a being (of being-there).”45 Meillassoux distinguishes the contingency of becoming from the becoming of contingency: contingency is that which does not become (does not change, is necessary), which is why all becoming is necessarily contingent. Contingency is irrevocably distinguished from necessity, since necessity applies only to contingency, while contingency cannot apply to itself, and this distinction grounds the ontological difference. But for Hegel, the determinacy of particular beings draws together contingency and necessity, since their becoming at once distinguishes them from and includes them within the whole. This distinction and inclusion is another version of the identity of being and nothingness from which Hegel begins the movement of the dialectic, such that the identity of necessity and contingency replicates the identity of being and nothingness: this is the identity of Being and Essence (substance) that inaugurates the Subjective Logic.

Crucially, Meillassoux attributes this conflation of two distinct negations to a methodological error: because he begins with nothingness—with the identity of being and nothingness—in order to construct the negation proper to determinate being, or being-there, the contingency of nothing is absorbed into the necessity of nothingness. Against this order of reasons, Meillassoux asserts that we must begin with the inverse. One must begin with factual negation (nothing)—what is a fact may not be, what is not a fact may be—in order to obtain a necessary negation (nothingness), which stipulates that the contingency of beings is not a fact. It is because he begins with the empirical (contingency) in order to find therein the rational (necessity of contingency) that Meillassoux is able to sustain the compatibility of the contingency of what happens with the necessity of what has to be thought, whereas in Hegel’s logic, the contingency of becoming is folded into the becoming of necessity: what has to be thought is the identity of contingency and necessary within the whole, and the whole subordinates the contingency of becoming through the annulment of time.


Meillassoux credits Hegel with thinking the necessary correlation between a rigorous conceptualization of the whole and the affirmation of real contradiction. Only that which has no outside, and thus includes all contradictions—all of that which is and all of that which is not—can truly be thought as the whole. This speculative concept of the whole, the concept of that which is absolutely contradictory, is realized through the Hegelian dialectic as the affirmation of metaphysical necessity: the whole cannot be other than it is, since it is already the absolute totality of what is and what is not.46

For Meillassoux, the impossibility of the whole is a simple consequence of the principle of factiality, deduced in syllogistic form:

—If the Whole is, it must be that which it is not, and thus may not be other than it is: if it is, it can only be necessary.

—According to the principle of factiality, nothing that is can be necessary.

—Therefore the Whole cannot be.47

The incompatibility of the dialectical concept of the whole with the principle of factiality makes clear the necessary compatibility of the latter with the principle of non-contradiction: if a being were truly contradictory (if it were that which it is not) it could not become otherwise, since the other determination it could become would already determine its being. The non-being of the whole is the rational consequence of the rational derivation of the principle of factiality from the empirical contingency of the actual.

We note the paradoxical system of conceptual subordinations attendant upon the attainment of the Hegelian concept of the whole: the identity of contingency and necessity is subordinated to absolute necessity, and this becomes the very concept of subjective freedom, the unity of the I as absolute idea; the identity of time and eternity—the becoming of the whole—becomes the absolute eternity that annuls the becoming of time. The whole must include the identity of contingency and necessity, but this identity is subordinated to the necessity of the whole; the whole must include the identity of time and eternity, but this identity is subordinated to the timelessness of the whole. These paradoxical conceptual subordinations index the epistemological incoherence of the whole: the condition of its conceptual coherence is the incoherence of its subordinations, which implicitly violate the absolute contradiction that it must be. And we can thus understand the condition upon which the dialectic sustains its epistemological coherence prior to the annulment of time: the becoming of the process of thinking involves the movement of contradiction, but these contradictions move. That is, contradiction necessitates the non-contradictory transitionfrom one determination to another. This movement of the dialectic means that it does not really violate the principle of non-contradiction until it is completed. Real contradiction is the existence of the whole as the paradoxical subordination of time to eternity and contingency to necessity. These subordinations are the condition of possibility for the absolute existence of a contradictory being: the whole itself.

It is the insubordination of contingency and of time that delivers a concept of becoming as that which cannot cease to become. Contingency is absolute because nothing is necessary other than contingency itself. Time is absolute because contingency is absolute: because everything that exists may cease to exist and anything that does not exist may exist; because no necessary being, no law of becoming, can delimit the necessary contingency of becoming itself. Thus it is the absolute distinction of contingency and necessity, rather than their identification, that preserves becoming against the annulment of time by the being of whole: necessity is that which only applies to contingency, while contingency applies to everything except itself—every being is necessarily contingent, while only contingency itself is non-contingent. To think becoming as the necessity of contingency is to think time as the non-being of the whole, rather than the whole as the annulment of time. Time, grasped as the necessity of contingency, is the eternal impossibility of a contradictory being that would not be contingent, that could not pass away, that would not be subject to the possibility of alteration. The necessity of contingency is “the necessity of time as such,” such that only time evades the irrevocable finitude of determinate beings. Thus, “the principle of non-contradiction says the same thing twice: the object cannot cease to be contingent, time cannot be abolished in time.”48

Such a theory of absolute becoming requires a speculative concept of time, subtracted from the determinations of both science and intuition. Since what Meillassoux calls “factial time” is a time that nothing escapes—neither facts nor laws—it involves a thinking of becoming “that would not be contained by any law of experience (the time of physics), nor by any structure of consciousness (phenomenological or transcendental time).”49 Because absolute time submits the laws of becoming to the becoming of laws, it cannot be grasped phenomeno-logically or experimentally, since both of these approaches submit the becoming of laws to the laws of becoming. It must be grasped by rational speculation, but note that the philosophical necessity of such speculative rationality devolves from a double critique: (1) a critique of the subordination of science to philosophy; (2) a critique of the subordination of philosophy by science. Speculative critique must be adequate to the findings of scientific practice (rather than science being determined by adequation to philosophy) while also recognizing its own responsibility to think that which is beyond the purview of scientific practice. Speculative critique is that approach to philosophy which recognizes that it neither grounds nor is grounded by science. It coordinates its philosophical concepts with the history of science, without delimiting what can be thought according to scientific history.

The critique of correlationism mounted by Meillassoux in After Finitude (though the term is never mentioned in “L’inexistence divine”) is a critique of the subordination of science to philosophy. It insists that the time given us to think by the physical sciences—a time extending prior to the givenness of consciousness, and posterior to the extinction of consciousness—cannot be coherently thought in accordance with the time of transcendental or phenomenological reflection. For science presses philosophy to conceptualize a time (not to experience a time) that does not accord with the time of consciousness. Kant tells us in the Critique of Pure Reason:

Thus one can say: The real things of past time are given in the transcendental object of experience, but for me they are objects and real in past time only insofar as I represent to myself that, in accordance with empirical laws, or in other words, the course of the world, a regressive series of possible perceptions (whether under the guidance of history or in the footsteps of causes and effects) leads to a time-series that has elapsed as the condition of the present time, which is then represented as real only in connection with a possible experience and not in itself; so that all those events which have elapsed from an inconceivably past time prior to my own existence signify nothing but the possibility of prolonging the chain of experience, starting with the present perception, upward to the conditions that determine it in time.50

The time series that has elapsed as a condition of present time is to be represented as real “only in connection with a possible experience and not in itself.” That is, according to Kant, “the real things of past time” and “all those events” of a time prior to our existence “signify nothing but the possibility of prolonging the chain of experience.” But do they not also signify the impossibility of prolonging the chain of experience in a manner that would be adequate to the time in which those events took place? Meillassoux’s simple (though symptomatically controversial) argument is that we cannot only conceive of the events of past time in such a manner that they signify nothing but the extension of a chain of experience, since it is the exteriority of past time to experience that must be conceptualized. Kant tells us that we cannot conceptualize past time as exterior to experience. But is that really the case?

Perhaps it is true that if I speak of the age of the known universe in years, I represent it to myself in terms of a vast extension of my experience of temporal duration, correlated to the orbit of the earth around the sun. But what if I convert a determination of that duration to seconds, and determine the second unit in terms of the periodicity of radiation cycles in a cesium atom? Science can then inform me of an empirically determined duration in a manner that signifies something other than the possibility of prolonging a chain of possible experience. And though I cannot grasp such a time through either the inner or outer sense—through the synthesis of concepts with intuition—I do know something about it. Science subordinates what I know through inner and outer sense to the technical determinations of apparatuses that do not rely upon intuition, and these inform my knowledge in a manner that need not be synthesized with the time of intuition (even if my imagination strains after such a synthesis). Of course, the science of cosmological dating did not, when Kant was writing, deliver any determinate knowledge of such time spans, nor definitions of temporal units capable of bypassing the time of intuition. One could only then “represent” to oneself “an inconceivably past time” through the synthesis of the imagination. Yet science informs us this is no longer the case, and the events of past time no longer signify “nothing but” an extension of a chain of experience. Kant demands the subordination of science to transcendental philosophy, but science informs us of its insubordination to that demand. It is perfectly reason able (rather than conceptually naïve or philosophical risible) to glean from the physical science a critique of the subordination of physics to transcendental or phenomenological time consciousness.

If we say that the physical sciences demand a conceptualization of time as exterior to transcendental or phenomenological time consciousness, then we register within the philosophical problem of time a critique of the subordination of science to philosophy. That is the critique of correlationism mounted by Meillassoux. One might make the argument differently than he does, but that is the nub of the argument. In my view, it is an important contribution to speculative critique. But speculative critique also requires a complementary critique—not of science—but of the subordination of philosophy to science. Philosophical speculation must not only allow science to push philosophy beyond transcendental critique or phenomenological correlation; it must also go beyond the findings of empirical science without thereby contradicting them. In this respect, rationalism must function as a critique of the delimitation of philosophy by empiricism, even as empiricism functions as a delimitation of certain forms of philosophical critique (“correlationism”). Again, it is the problem of time that suggests the import of such speculative reasoning. For if Kant subordinated science to philosophy precisely through the subordination of time to intuition, Hegel also subordinated science to philosophy through the subordination of time to the eternity of the whole. Ultimately, both subordinated time to the form of the “I”: to the unity of self-consciousness or to the whole of the concept. This operation is the core of the philosophical subordination of science.

Heidegger, on the other hand, subordinated the unity of the “I” to temporalization, to the exteriority of ek-stasis, and this is the crux of his critique of both Kant and Hegel. Indeed, in a key passage we have already cited, Heidegger went so far as to think temporality not only as exteriority, but as “the primordial Outside of itself’ in and for itself.”51 This is a thinking of time as pure exteriority: not only as exteriority to the unity of conscious but also as that which is exterior to itself (the “outside of itself”), in and for itself. This conceptual determination is both the core of Heidegger’s thought and its impasse; given its difficulty, it is not surprising that he had difficulty sustaining it. For how is one to grasp, phe-nomenologically, such a conceptual determination? Existential phenomenology does indeed lead us, through its finite thinking, to the threshold of a concept of time as pure exteriority. Heidegger tells us that “the ontological condition of the possibility of the understanding of being is temporality itself.”52 But because temporality itself “constitutes the horizon for the understanding of being that belongs essentially to the Dasein,” temporality must be thought both within and beyond this horizon. “The horizon” is the concept that delimits the thinking of time as pure exteriority by positing it as such while also containing that positing within phenomenological reflection. This delimiting is enabled and necessitated by the concept of ground, the assertion that “the constitution of Dasein’s being is grounded in temporality.” It is because that which is beyond the horizon (the primordial outside of itself in and for itself) is also the ground of that being that thinks the horizon that we both must and cannot think the pure exteriority of time: horizon determines exteriority as ground. Temporality is absolutely without ground (“outside of itself”), but it is the ground of our conceptualization of temporality as such.

Thus Heidegger, while critiquing Kant and Hegel by thinking time as exteriority, also subordinates the time of science to the time of philosophy. The exteriority of scientific time must be thought on the basis of the exteriority of philosophical time (temporality), and because temporality is the ground of philosophical understanding its exteriority is conditioned as horizonal. Thus temporality is to be thought both as pure exteriority “in and for itself” and as the exteriority of Dasein to itself. This conceptual paradox is a methodological paradox: “fundamental ontology” conducted as phenomenology demands a thinking of being as time in itself and for itself that it cannot deliver, since it can only think time as the horizon of being.53

In my view the paradox and the potential of Heidegger’s work is that it is conceptually speculative (he thinks the in-itself) while it is methodologically correlationist (it blocks the possibility of thinking the in-itself). For speculative critique, the problem it bequeaths is how to think its ontological concept—being qua time as the primordial outside of itself, in and for itself—without thinking it phenomenologically. It is fascinating in this respect that Meillassoux, like Heidegger, begins with facticity. But how does he treat facticity as beginning, as that which may constitute a beginning insofar as it is simply given? Rather than a hermeneutics of facticity, Meillassoux offers an analytic of facticity. The question is: What is there, amid the facticity of the given, that proves irreducible—that cannot give way to another fact? The answer is: the facticity of the given itself. If what is not a fact (if what is not contingent) is facticity, then I have a ground (a necessity) from which to begin thinking: the non-contingency of contingency. And the power of this methodological inauguration is that it produces a concept of facticity which implies a concept of time; it indirectly produces a concept of time that is not gleaned from the phenomenology of time consciousness. Thus, it is the anhypothetical character of the argument for the necessity of contingency, its indirect method of reasoning, that installs it at once in the element of exteriority: beginning with the given (contingency), that which is not given (the necessity of contingency) produces a thinking of time that cannot be subsumed by the given, that cannot be subsumed by phenomenology. Because the time I am given to think by the principle of the necessity of contingency is derived by reasoning about phenomenal presentation, but not directly from phenomenal presentation, it not only can but must be thought non-phenomenologically. The time of the necessity of contingency is given to reason as a time exterior to the presentation of the given, as the exterior condition of possibility (not transcendental, not phenomenological) for the laws of givenness. Its concept is simple but consequential: there must be a time of becoming ungoverned by all laws of becoming, because it includes the becoming of all laws. This sole necessity is the necessity of contingency.

A particularity of this concept (and the method of its construction) is that it in no way subordinates the time of science to the time of philosophy, nor the time of philosophy to the time of science. The time of science is that of the laws of becoming: science informs us as to its determinations, and philosophy is required to coordinate itself with that information. Philosophy does not ground the scientific determination of temporal structures. But nor is philosophy restricted in its thinking of time by the time of science. Philosophy may think time phenomenologically or transcendentally, so long as it does not impose phenomenological or transcendental criterion for the scientific investigation of non-subjective time. And philosophy may also think a time that is neither phenomenological, nor transcendental, nor scientific: the time of the becoming of physical laws themselves. Since science investigates the laws of becoming, but not the becoming of laws of becoming, the speculative and scientific treatment of time are accorded separate, though complementary, areas of investigation. Moreover, the speculative scope of philosophical rationality in no way suggests that the activities of phenomenology, neurophilosophy, the philosophy of language, or the philosophy of science should surrender the scope of their own investigations; it merely insists that they not pretend to delimit the speculative scope of philosophy on correlational grounds. Philosophy exists to think both with and beyond the determinations of science, and a critique of the subordination of science to philosophy need not entail the subordination of philosophy to science.

The time of the necessity of contingency is conceived by Meillassoux as the “eternal temporarity [temporarité] of determinate beings, and not as temporality conditioned in its being by the existence of those beings that we ourselves are.”54 Whereas “temporality” is the temporal determination of determinate beings, insofar as they are what they are, “temporarity” is the indetermination of the being of beings, the necessary contingency of being qua being. Moreover, temporarity is the concept of “the non-temporality of time,” of the impossibility of time’s abolition.55 Temporarity is thought as the relay between the nothingness (néant) of being qua being (the being of beings is not a being) and the nothing (rien) of beings themselves, the indeterminate possibility of being otherwise that their contingent determinacy implies. Conceptualized as the distinction and relationship between these two negations, the necessity (néant) of contingency (rien) stipulates that what is not may be, and that what is may not be. And this “temporarity” of determinate being (whether existent or inexistent) is thought through, yet detached from, the finitude of my temporality. It is not the phenomenology of my finitude (the hermeneutics of facticity) that yields a thinking of time beyond the determinations of my finite existence; it is the concept of the finitude of all determinate being (the analytic of facticity) that yields a thinking of the necessity of contingency, that forces me to think that the very temporal determinations by which I know my determinate being could be otherwise, could themselves pass away, but that the time of becoming in which they could change would not pass away with them. The concept of the necessity of such a time of absolute becoming is the ontological concept of time sought, but not delivered, by existential phenomenology: a concept of time as the being of beings that is not itself a being, as the nothingness (néant) in which everything that is may be what it is not (rien). This is not an existential concept of finitude, but the ontological concept of finitude as the non-being of the whole.

For Meillassoux, it is Anaximander who inaugurates (as the inauguration of philosophy) this concept of time, not as the infinity of becoming but as the necessity of its eternal indefiniteness. Meillassoux holds that Heraclitus is the thinker of the eternal laws of becoming, but not of the eternal becoming of laws: “Becoming is for Heraclitus Diké, that is to say the harmonious law of becoming, thus that which remains inaccessible to becoming, the contrary itself of be-coming.”56 For Heraclitus becoming eternally oscillates between determinations that are themselves eternal, and this oscillation between eternal determinations subordinates the contingency of becoming to the stable laws of its determinate possibilities. But if becoming must be addressed not by setting out from one or another determination, but rather from the indeterminate contingency of all determination, then a properly ontological concept of becoming will have to conceive it as without determinate laws. According to Meillassoux, Anaximander, and not Heraclitus, is “the veritable master of becoming” because he thinks its concept as “without law,” as “an adikia from which nothing that is escapes.”57 He refers here to Anaximander’s fragment, of which I offer the fol lowing translation: “Wherefrom things have their genesis there also they must perish according to necessity; for they render justice and forfeiture to one another for their injustice, according to the order of time.” Following Nietzsche’s interpretation, Meillassoux reads Anaximander’s fragment in conjunction with his concept of the apeiron, linking the indefinite with “injustice,” the adikia of that which comes to be, and with the necessity of a time barring the existence of any necessary being. Thus, he positions the distinction between Anaximander and Heraclitus as follows:

It is against the adikia of Anaximander that Heraclitus establishes the harmonious Dike of contraries. Anaximander alone grasped that the indefinite, the apeiron as impossible totalization, devoid of all determination because necessarily in excess of it, was the veritable principle of becoming—that alone which cannot become. This indefinite exceeding all form, all finite series, closure, completion, determination in short, is in effect the very principle of the excess of becoming above its determinations, laws, regularities. Even if Anaximander seems to reify the indefinite, by making it once more a being, rather than the being of beings which is not a being; even if he does not seem, in light of the texts that we have, to clarify precisely the nature of this apeiron and its relation to beings, the Milesian has left us no less grand a Greek version of anti-Heraclitean becoming, of becoming in its chaotic and eternal excess beyond the harmony of law.

The legacy of Anaximander’s thinking of becoming thus requires us to detach it, as well, from Heideggerian temporality, and to align it with a concept of the indefinite adequate to a becoming of laws in excess of the laws of becoming.58


For Hegel, the indefinite is merely the bad infinite of repetitious succession, the one-thing-after-another of an indeterminate endlessness. The whole is then the true infinity of the absolute, the one-all of complete determination. The factial concept of time, aligned with the indefinite, requires a detachment of its relation to the infinite considered as either endless succession or as the whole. If the whole is not, if determinacy cannot be absolutely totalized, if time cannot be annulled, and if the time of the necessity of contingency is not the determinate time of temporality, is it possible to think an indefinite time that would not be the time of the bad infinite? What is again required, as in the case of necessity/contingency, being/beings, néant/rien, is a distinction between the indefinite and the infinite that enables us to think both the rupturing of succession and the non-being of the whole.

Meillassoux finds the concept of this distinction in the set theoretical axiom of infinity. The operator of succession enables the construction, beginning with the void set, of an infinite series of ordinals. This series is indefinite insofar as, setting out from the operator of succession, there is no possibility of finding an ordinal which no other ordinal would succeed.59 The infinite, in this set theoretical situation, is not conceived as identical to the indefinite, but rather by an axiomatic affirmation of the existence of a non-successor ordinal: of an ordinal that cannot be obtained by setting out from the operator of succession, which succeeds nothing, and which is thus in excess of every order.60 The suite of alephs that follows from this rupture with the previous order of succession is now constructed on the basis of a new operator of succession; this suite is itself indefinite, insofar as one can define an infinite ordinal which no other would succeed.

The infinite is thus conceived not as an indefinite series, nor as the whole of such series, but as the punctual, a-successive rupture breaking with the existing order of succession, with the previous rule of succession. The indefinite is now not simply an unending series of finite ordinals, but an indefinite suite of indefinite infinities—an unclosable proliferation of differentially regulated series, perpetually open to a-successive rupture. Meillassoux finds here a properly ontological concept of the difference between the indefinite and the infinite: “the mathematical formulation of insurgence ex nihilo,”61 whereby the infinite is the punctual insurgence of a new series, and the indefinite is the unclosable proliferation of such insurgences. The ontological concept of time thinkable on the basis of this distinction is that of the indefinite yet necessary possibility of a new insurgence of constants, the necessary possibility that every constant order may be “transpierced” by another constant, incommensurable with that which precedes it. “The Cantorian axiom of the infinite is the mathematically defined mark of the insurgence ex nihilo of a new constant—a constant which is not potentially contained by either the preceding constants nor by any Whole whatever.”62

It is crucial to understand that while Meillassoux conceptualizes the punctual immanence of becoming within the proliferation of incommensurable orders through axiomatic set theory, he does not ground the necessity of contingency (the principle of factiality) on these axioms. On the contrary, it is the anhypo-thetical demonstration of the necessity of contingency which indicates that we must be able to think the non-being of the whole, that we require a concept of the not-all, that we have to think the indefinite as the possibility of ruptural change, that we cannot think the infinite as a set of all sets. The hypotheses of set theory (the axioms) are thus necessitated by the anhypothetical demonstration, as requisites of conceptual coherence. In this way Meillassoux breaks with Badiou as he follows him, not only by developing an anhypothetical ontology, but also (and from that starting point) by elaborating an ontological concept of time through the hypotheses of set theory. Meillassoux thinks time “after finitude” by subtracting the ek-statical structure of Heideggerian time from temporality and installing its non-phenomenological exteriority in the set theoretical axiomatics of the infinite. Whereas Badiou thinks the event as that which is not being,63 Meillassoux thinks being-qua-being as time, and time as the insurgence of an indefinite proliferation of incommensurable laws of becoming.

Speculative idealism is that form of thought which thinks as necessary that which is in fact contingent: thought itself. And it thinks thought as necessary through an annulment of time concurrent with the establishment of the absolute as the whole. I have tried to show how resisting the annulment of time by the whole is possible through Meillassoux’s thinking of the necessity of contingency, and that this thinking is also a matter of time. The materialist content of this concept of time is that it forces us to think not only a time within which thought comes to be, but also to think the being of time as exterior to our laws of reflection and experience. For to think time (thus, to think being) only in terms of the time of science, the time of phenomena, the time of thought, is to think it ontically. This entails a covert idealism, whereby the ontic determinations of existence that we experience, whether scientifically or phenomenally, foreclose the exteriority of the ontological. The time of science forces us to think beyond phenomenality (and in this respect Heidegger was wrong), yet it is also an ontic form of knowledge (and in this respect Heidegger was right). To move beyond both the submission of science to philosophy and the submission of philosophy to science is a materialist project, because it requires us to think at once the adequation of thought to being and the difference of thought from being. If materialists leave aside ontological problems in order to render philosophy an ontic accompaniment to science, we leave aside the problem of contesting idealism (rather than just rejecting it), since it will always claim the speculative scope of rationality that a merely empiricist materialism will have left aside. This is why a rationalist empiricist approach to ontology should be part of a broader materialist orientation.

Meillassoux’s speculative rationality asks us to think a time unforeclosed by either thought or experience, yet derived from an analytic of facticity—setting out from the work of reason upon experience—and it develops a complex system of philosophical distinctions and conceptual tools to render such a thinking coherent. Some may find that thinking implausible. Their criteria of plausibility are question begging. But if Meillassoux’s thought is implausible, that is because it is indeed infrequent to find so fundamental and delicate a system of conceptual determinations coordinated with such precision and coherence. The criteria by which that system might be rejected cannot be empirical, since precisely what is at issue is the capacity of speculative thought to go beyond empirical laws by thinking ontologically. For Heidegger was correct when he reminded us that the being of beings is not itself a being. It has remained for Quentin Meillassoux to think that stipulation through a non-phenomenological transformation of speculative idealism into speculative materialism, and to do so at the juncture of being and time.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.org. Thank you!