Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Open Philosophy

Editor-in-Chief: Harman, Graham

Covered by:
DOAJ - Directory of Open Access Journals

Open Access
See all formats and pricing
More options …

What Laws? Which Past?: Meillassoux’s Hyper-Chaos and the Epistemological Limitations of Retro-Causation

Michael J. Ardoline
Published Online: 2018-10-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opphil-2018-0017


The question of the metaphysical status of the laws of physics has received increased attention in recent years. Perhaps most well-known among this work are David Lewis’s Humean supervenience and Nancy Cartwright’s dispositionalism, both of which reject the classical conception of the laws of physics as necessary and real independent of the objects they govern, arguing instead that what we call laws are shorthand for the regularities of local states of affairs (on Lewis’s account) or the dispositions of objects (on Cartwright’s). The properties of necessity and reality are generally taken to go hand-in-hand when physical laws are concerned; however, this leaves aside the possibility that the laws of physics are independently real (i.e. not just a description of regularities of objects) yet contingent. This paper will explore this third option which is found in the work of Quentin Meillassoux. We will ask: if laws both exist independent of their objects and are contingent, what happens when laws change? Specifically, the possibility of metaphysical retro-causation becomes a live option. This raises both questions of the ontological status of the past as well as our epistemic access to the past after a change in physical laws. Meillassoux’s ontology of hyper-chaos weathers this challenge with its consistency intact; however, it is an open question of whether or not saving the reality of physical laws by sacrificing their necessity is worth the epistemic limits and metaphysical strangeness that it implies.

Keywords: Quentin Meillassoux; Laws of Nature; Scientific Realism; Epistemology of Science; Retrocausation


  • Brassier, Ray. “Correlation, Speculation, and the Modal Kant-Sellars Thesis.” The Legacy of Kant in Sellars and Meillassoux. New York: Routledge, 2018.Google Scholar

  • Cartwright, Nancy. The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Google Scholar

  • Hägglund, Martin. “Radical Atheist Materialism: A Critique of Meillassoux.” The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, ed. Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman. Melbourne: Re.Press. (2011), 114-129.Google Scholar

  • Hallward, Peter. “Anything is Possible: A Reading of Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude.” The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. ed. Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman. Melbourne: Re.Press, (2011), 130-141.Google Scholar

  • Hempel, Carl G. “Tranfinite Concepts and Empiricism.” Synthese 3:12. (1938), 9-12.Google Scholar

  • Harman, Graham. Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.Google Scholar

  • Heller, Joshua and Jon Cogburn. “Meillassoux’s Dilemma: Paradox of Totality After the Speculative Turn.” New Perspectives on Realism. edited Luca Taddio. Mimesis International, 2017.Google Scholar

  • Livingston, Paul M. “Realism and the Infinite.” Speculations. 4 (2013), 99-107.Google Scholar

  • Lewis, David. “Humean Supervenience Debugged.” Mind. 103. (1994), 473-490.Web of ScienceGoogle Scholar

  • Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude: an essay on the necessity of contingency. Trans. by Ray Brassier. London and New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008.Google Scholar

  • Meillassoux, Quentin. “The Spectral Dilemma.” Trans. by Robin Mackay. Collapse. 4. (2008), 261-276.Google Scholar

  • Meillassoux, Quentin. “Potentiality and Virtuality,” Trans. by Robin Mackay. The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, ed. Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman. Melbourne: Re.Press. (2011), 224-236.Google Scholar

  • Miéville, China. “Syllabus.” Three Moments of an Explosion. New York: Del Ray. (2016), 153-5.Google Scholar

  • Oksanen, Mika. “The Russell-Kaplan Paradox and Other Modal Paradoxes: A New Solution.” Nordic Journal of Philosophical Logic. 4:1. (1999), 73-93.Google Scholar

  • Price, Huw. “Does Time Symmetry Imply Retrocausality? The Quantum World Says ‘Maybe.’” Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. 43. (2012), 75-83.Google Scholar

  • Wiltsche, Harald A. “Science, Realism and Correlationism. A Phenomenological Critique of Meillassoux’ Argument from Ancestrality.” European Journal for Philosophy. 25:3. (2016), 808-832.Google Scholar

About the article

Received: 2018-06-09

Accepted: 2018-09-07

Published Online: 2018-10-02

Published in Print: 2018-09-01

Citation Information: Open Philosophy, Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 235–244, ISSN (Online) 2543-8875, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opphil-2018-0017.

Export Citation

© by Michael J. Ardoline, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 License. BY-NC-ND 4.0

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in