Meillassoux on Signs and Contingency

Fabio over at Hypertiling has put up a translation of part of one Meillassoux’s papers (here), and it is most interesting. The aim of the section Fabio has translated is to sketch out a strategy for demonstrating that mathematical thought can grasp absolute contingency, which for Meillassoux is the Real itself. The way he goes about this is fascinating, but, I think, potentially flawed. I won’t go over the piece in too much detail, but explain just enough to show where I think it goes wrong.

Meillassoux’s basic idea is that the condition under which anything like mathematical thought functions is the ability to grasp and deploy empty signs (such as the letters (P, Q, R, etc.) traditionally used to denote propositions in propositional calculus, or the letters (a, b, c, etc.)  traditionally used to denote sets in set theory), and that our grasp of such empty signs consists in nothing but our grasp of them qua sign, as opposed to our grasp of ordinary signs, in which our grasp of what the sign stands for obscures this pure signifying character. Now, he thinks that he can show that mathematical thought grasps absolute contingency insofar as this grasp of a sign qua sign upon which it is founded itself consists in a grasp of pure contingency. This is an interesting argument, and I can certainly see where he is going.

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