Latour and the “Arche-Fossil”

Over the past many weeks I’ve been doing research into Speculative Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology (SR/OOO) by reading the works of Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, Bruno Latour, and Levi Bryant. As I’m finishing up my research and writing my paper summarizing SR/OOO which will serve as a compendium of sorts, I’ve had various new ideas cross my mind (many of which I will write about here) but there is one that I thought of very recently and want to try to solve now. The issue I’m currently thinking about is the relationship between Meillassoux’s claim about “arche-fossils” and Latour’s fabrication of fact.

Before diving into an analysis that I hope will spark some conversation (as I am not entirely sure of my answer), a brief bit of context is required. In answering the problem of correlationism — that is “the idea [that] we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other” and thus renders impossible any attempts to view “subjectivity and objectivity independently of one another”1)Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (London: Bloomsbury Books, 2008), 5. — Meillassoux, in After Finitude, invokes the concept of the “arche-fossil” which is an object that indicates “the existence of an ancestral reality or event; one that is anterior to terrestrial life.”2)Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency10 In other words, the arche-fossil is, as I say in my paper, “evidence that exists independently of humans.”

Latour, in We Have Never Been Modernargues that scientific facts are fabricated in the laboratory and, from my understanding (please correct me if I’m wrong), cannot be independent of humans. His argument for this resides in section 2.2 wherein he argues that the uncovering of scientific truths that are supposedly independent of humans and culture actually require humans and culture to produce. Laboratory equipment must be socially constructed, the norms of science must be universalized, a testing method — that is to say, the scientific method — must be utilized, and the truth of the findings must be shared inter-subjectively. All these features of the laboratory space lead Latour to agree with Gaston Bachelard’s claim that “facts are fabricated.”3)Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 18.

The worry that is currently on my mind is how to reconcile the claims by these two anti-correlationists. Specifically, I want to reconcile Meillassoux’s claim that evidence (in this case it’s scientific phenomena) can exist independently of humans with Latour’s claim that scientific facts are fabricated.

Before continuing, I must take an aside (lest I get slapped in case Graham Harman is reading this) to quote Harman in an attempt to clear up any potential misunderstanding about Latour. Harman warns us, in an essay in Towards Speculative Realism, to “never believe anyone who tells you that Latour holds that ‘all reality is socially constructed’.”4)Graham Harman, “Bruno Latour, King of Networks,” in Towards Speculative Realism (Washington: Zero Books, 2010), 71. Latour recognizes the objective nature of objects, he just thinks that you can’t separate nature and culture and that explanations of one are necessarily bound together with explanations of the other; his ‘hybridization.’

It seems to me that the way to synthesize the views of Latour and Meillassoux would be to embrace potentiality. More specifically, Latour and Meillassoux are both realists insofar as they both seem to accept the existence of objects independent of, and unaffected by, the human mind. This means that both recognize the objective existence of, say, a certain amount of radioactive decay from a Uranium-238 atom over 5 billion years. Meillassoux claims this as a fact, but I believe he is incorrect in doing so. X amount of Uranium-238 that decayed over 5 billion years, under a Latourian view, is not in-and-of-itself a fact but has the potential to be one. Once in the laboratory where scientists measure the amount of decay of the atom, the objective amount becomes a fact based solely on the the scientists’ construction of it as such. The amount decay still existed anterior to givenness, but the knowledge of that decay — and subsequently the scientific fact that X amount of Uranium-238 decayed over a given time period (and thus a given amount exists still) — is a product of fabrication within the laboratory space.

In other words, it seems like factuality is necessarily correlated with thought — as facts are products of thought and experimentation — while potential factuality is independent.

References   [ + ]

1. Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency (London: Bloomsbury Books, 2008), 5.
2. Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency10
3. Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 18.
4. Graham Harman, “Bruno Latour, King of Networks,” in Towards Speculative Realism (Washington: Zero Books, 2010), 71.


  1. …when one has a political agenda like “Applied Marxism”, data, facts and even history are irrelevant ..
    all that matters is the cause, and fucking humans over in the name of regression and conservatism and a barbaric fraudulent 19th century religion.
    PS reality exists independently of your measurements at the macro level.. your thoughts are friggin’ worthless, as is your metaphysics

    1. Erin, what on Earth are you talking about? I don’t think I’ve ever stated my political agenda (much less called it “Applied Marxism”) and even if I had, I’m unsure what that would have to do with the analysis of Latour and Meillassoux.

      I’m unsure what you’re rambling about and what barbaric religion you’re trying to apply here, but if you would like to clear it up, now is the chance.

      To response to you post-script: I am a realist and thus I agree that reality exists independently of my measurements. I fear, however, that you have mistaken an attempt to reconcile two realists as an attempt to form a metaphysics. Regardless, your “critique” isn’t all that damaging anyway.

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