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.
If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.
Brassier, Ray. “Correlation, Speculation, and the Modal Kant-Sellars Thesis.” The Legacy of Kant in Sellars and Meillassoux. New York: Routledge, 2018.
Cartwright, Nancy. The Dappled World: A Study of the Boundaries of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
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.
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.
Hempel, Carl G. “Tranfinite Concepts and Empiricism.” Synthese 3:12. (1938), 9-12.
Harman, Graham. Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.
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.
Livingston, Paul M. “Realism and the Infinite.” Speculations. 4 (2013), 99-107.
Meillassoux, Quentin. After Finitude: an essay on the necessity of contingency. Trans. by Ray Brassier. London and New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008.
Meillassoux, Quentin. “The Spectral Dilemma.” Trans. by Robin Mackay. Collapse. 4. (2008), 261-276.
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.
Miéville, China. “Syllabus.” Three Moments of an Explosion. New York: Del Ray. (2016), 153-5.
Oksanen, Mika. “The Russell-Kaplan Paradox and Other Modal Paradoxes: A New Solution.” Nordic Journal of Philosophical Logic. 4:1. (1999), 73-93.
Price, Huw. “Does Time Symmetry Imply Retrocausality? The Quantum World Says ‘Maybe.’” Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics. 43. (2012), 75-83.
Wiltsche, Harald A. “Science, Realism and Correlationism. A Phenomenological Critique of Meillassoux’ Argument from Ancestrality.” European Journal for Philosophy. 25:3. (2016), 808-832.
Open Philosophy is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all areas of philosophy. The objective of Open Philosophy is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to the broadest philosophical spectrum.