In the early 2000s, after many decades of the emergence of post-Kantian continental philosophy, realism had a renaissance.  In 2007, at a conference at Goldsmith’s, University of London, Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Graham Harman and Iain Hamilton Grant gave birth to a new variant on an old theme: speculative realism.  Although, the thinking of this group subsequently diverged in terms of how they developed the concept of speculative realism, Meillassoux’s attack on what he referred to as ‘correlationism’, represented a major challenge to Kant and Kantian post-structuralism and all its variants.  Following the conference, this new realism was supported by a significant and ongoing internet presence that was to open this debate to a wide audience and serve to develop speculative realism as a philosophical brand.

According to Meillassoux, in After Finitude – An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (2008), Kant blurred the distinction between being and beings.  He argued that we cannot, as human beings, think about a thing, without thinking of it in relation to us.  Thus, for Kant, objects exist behind a veil of perception or presence and the noumena is not directly accessible.   Kant’s philosophy, according to Meillassoux, therefore focused on secondary qualities, those derived from the result of interactions with another object, where speculative realism recognises and returns to the concept of ‘the thing in itself’ – ‘the thing without me, the primary qualities (2008)In other words, things the object has independent of the way we perceive them.   Meillassoux, believed that the consideration of primary qualities, and the distinction between primary and secondary qualities, should be resuscitated.  He argued that we should not fall into the relativist ontological trap that is correlationism. 

While these ideas of different qualities had been developed in part by John Locke and Descartes, they had largely been forgotten by the dominance of continental philosophy, until the conference in 2007.  Meillassoux developed his ideas in After Finitude that the primary quality of a thing might be contingent – contingency into the being of things.  He argued that everything is fundamentally contingent, and that contingency is a quality of all things.  Whereas Kant considered everything changes when we think about it.  We cannot know how things are in themselves, although he did believe that things exist in themselves – but as humans we are not able to access them.  Meillassoux argues that thought has finite qualities and that we can know more about things in themselves.

In making this statement, Meillassoux argues that we should finitise what thinking can think rather than attempting to rewrite or disregard Kantian thought.  We should emancipate thinking and allow and endorse a realist position and consider how things are in themselves.  Brassier, on the other hand, argues that Meillassoux’s position in relation to the past is flawed and that in being realist, we should consider what happened in the past.

Quentin Meillassoux has been the topic of our first lecture in the Philosophy module New Materialisms and Realisms.  While we have a further discussion about Meillassoux and his doctoral supervisor Alain Badiou, and then another lecture about Ray Brassier, I have found the exposition of Meillassoux’s thinking very helpful.  In terms of my doctoral research, it is useful background to the emergence of speculative realism.  My thesis is not intended to critique speculative realism or object-oriented ontology.  I intend to use this ontology as a starting point and basis for an exploration of its implications in terms of underpinning and developing my photographic practice through the use of various strategies and techniques, and also as a basis for informing my research methodology and methods.  It appears to me that the debates that consume philosophers never achieve closure, so to make use of the insights the discipline offers requires a ‘leap in the dark’ and acceptance of a position.  That position for me, for better or worse, is Object Oriented Ontology.



Meillassoux, Q. (2008). After Finitude:  An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. London, Bloomsbury.


Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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