Meillassoux's readiness to abandon the principle of sufficient reason is not, er, sufficiently remarked. I noted earlier that this step is what validates his argument that "for no reason" is a sufficient response to the "question of being," "why is there anything and not nothing?" I observed then that it is hard to imagine Socrates being satisfied by such a response. To consider this "answer" sufficient requires a revision of the concept of sufficiency. This is what one calls in some circles "re-defining success."
Barfield, to whom I have already contrasted Meillassoux, was (again) here first. He is speaking here of Darwinian evolution, but the point is more broadly applicable:
It was found that the appearances on earth [i.e., of biological life] so much lack the regularity of the appearances in the sky that no systematic hypothesis will fit them. But astronomy and physics had taught men that the business of science is to find hypotheses to save the appearances. By a hypothesis, then, these earthly appearances must be saved, and saved they were by the hypothesis of—chance variation. Now the concept of chance is precisely what a hypothesis is designed to save us from. Chance, in fact, = no hypothesis…. The impressive vocabulary of technological investigation was actually being used to denote its [own] breakdown; as though, because it is something we can do with ourselves in water, drowning should be included as one of the different ways of swimming. (Saving the Appearances p 64)It would take me far afield to differentiate what is sound and what mistaken in Barfield’s account of evolutionary biology (even if I were assured of my competence). But I am juxtaposing him again to Meillassoux not merely because of his having anticipated the latter’s argument about ancestrality by fifty years (this really is remarkable enough to deserve some comment by bigger enthusiasts of Meillassoux than myself), but also because Meillassoux’s readiness to throw over the principle of sufficient reason is the mirror image and answer to the alleged ease with which, Lévy-Bruhl claims, primitive humanity (rich in the participatory consciousness Barfield unpacks) dispenses with the law of non-contradiction. This, in turn, is the one logical principle upon which Meillassoux builds his edifice, the one he is prepared to stake everything upon.
As is well known, it is these two that Leibniz declared essential to philosophy in the Monadology §§31–32: “Our reasonings are based on two great principles, that of contradiction… [and] that of sufficient reason.”
When I am in an especially Hegelian mood, I find myself thinking that the history of thought unfolds between these two “laws.” In such moments, it takes a considerable effort for me not to construe Meillassoux’s thinking as a kind of dialectical bookend to Barfield’s notion of “original participation.” As if the human race started with a weltanschauung that knew nothing of contradiction, and has ended up apparently ready--at least in speculative realism--to throw over the principle of sufficient reason. Whether this philosophy can be expanded into an entire world-view is another question of course. But hold these two philosophies up and look at them together, especially bearing in mind Meillassoux's campaign against "superstition" (a.k.a. fideism), and it really is as if something has come full-circle. I find myself muttering, "surely some revelation is at hand." However much I remind myself that Meillassoux isn't actually the culmination of any inevitable process (cutting-edge though he may look right now), I am still given pause by this.