More about objects

Discussing object-oriented philosophy, Voyou Desoeuvré suggests:

It’s worth disentangling a number of different ways in which objects could be thought to be “real.” First would be to maintain that objects cannot be reduced to their components, either physical or sensory (that is, there really is a chair over there, not just an aggregate of atoms or sense-perceptions). Second would be maintain that these objects exist independently of human minds, knowledge or perception. Third, this could be expanded to get away from a human/object binary, and so maintain that objects are independent of other objects: that in each interaction of an object with something else, there is something in that object over and above what is involved in that interaction. Fourth, one could universalize this position, saying that, not only is an object never completely involved in any particular relation, but that objects are withdrawn from all relations, that their core being is not involved in any relations at all.

And he goes on to question whether the fourth of these steps is necessary. I find this clarifying. I too go along with Harman on steps 1-3, but I reject step 4. My reason for doing so is not quite the same as Voyou’s, but it is obviously this that I need to work out more fully.

Harman argues, I think, that step 4 is necessary in order not to reduce objects merely to the sum of their qualities. In fact, I am even willing to accept this provision, but still without moving on to step 4. Here is where Harman would probably find my position contradictory or impossible; if I agree to steps 1-3, and if I also agree that an object is not to be identified with the sum of its qualities (which means that it cannot be grasped even as the sum of all the possible encounters other objects could have with it), then am I not forced to accept the object’s independence of relations, as posited in step 4? Otherwise, I am evidently in danger of falling into the infinite regress of Lewis Carroll’s logicist version of Achilles and the Tortoise. Nonetheless, I still find myself resisting at this particular point.

Unsurprisingly, I think that Whitehead successfully pulls off the balancing act that is necessary in order to accept object independence without denying relationality. It has to do with the way that an entity’s prehensions are always partial (or negative as well as positive), and that this bundle of prehensions is only unified (and therefore only generated) by a process of selection among eternal objects.

(God makes the eternal objects available, but he doesn’t have any influence over what selection is made — and this is why I don’t think Harman is entirely right to lump Whitehead with Leibniz as a theological occasionalist. Whitehead’s occasionalism — if that is what it is — may not be as fully secular as Latour’s, but the peculiar marginality of his concept of God is explicitly presented as a critique of Leibniz’s God; it moves precisely in the direction of “secularizing God,” instead of in the much more familiar direction of altogether abolishing him. I think — as I wrote in my book — that there is more to be said for this strategy, even for an atheist such as myself. It may even be a better way to resolve certain problems, such as the infinite regress of mediators, that Harman has with Latour’s own version of secular occasionalism).

More generally, I resist Harman’s move to Voyou’s step 4 because (as I already say in my article on Harman coming out later this year in The Speculative Turn — I think this move omits, or renders inessential, all considerations about an object’s becoming and perishing. That is to say, it doesn’t take the radical temporality of objects or (or of what Simondon calls individuals, or of what Whitehead calls actual entities) seriously enough. Harman resists all talk of potentialities (or of Deleuze’s virtual), and of processes of becoming, as undermining (or of “overmining”) the reality of objects. But I don’t think this need be the case. I would urge the question of potentials and becomings as as a better reason than the one Voyou gives (he interestingly cites Hegel and Berkeley) for staying with steps 1-3 without going on to step 4. What this comes down to, in “speculative realist” terms, is to read Harman together with Iain Hamilton Grant.

Harman is always saying that Whitehead does not at all belong with Bergson, Deleuze, and Grant, because they dissolve objects into flux, whereas Whitehead (despite his relationalism) insists on precisely delimited individual entities. But the whole point is to specify how we flip from one of these situations into the other; and that is something Whitehead, with his dual aspect notion of entities (public/private, mental/physical, etc.), does better (I think) than either Harman (who emphasizes only the closed-off entity) or Deleuze (who emphasizes mostly the flux) is able to do by himself.

What I have here is not (yet) an argument, but only a note to myself about the sort of argument that I want to make. I hope to work this through better by the time of the Object-Oriented Ontology conference coming up at Georgia Tech this spring. I think the differences between Harman, Deleuze, Whitehead, etc, need to be grasped as aesthetic oness (agreeing with Harman — and also, I think, less explicitly, both Deleuze and Whitehead — that aesthetics is indeed “first philosophy.” I am also trying to think more about how neo-vitalism and panpsychism intersect with “speculative realism,” and in particular with those branches of it that do retain (even in what might seem to some to be the vitiated form I am advocating here) object-orientation of some sort.

8 thoughts on “More about objects”

  1. Hi Steve

    I thought Whitehead’s notion of becoming (or perishing) had to do with the ‘closed off’ nature of the occasion, with its being limited in actual space and time, whereas the potentiality was that of the continuum, the extensive connections as potentials for being cut.

  2. Well, i think before we can start talking about an object as an object, we have to know that the object as it is for the most of us has to be learned. If a native from some isolated island came and saw a car. they would see, since they had sense system within the same species, the various parts, the illuminating composition of the car. they would probably be able to make several connections, like they saw a horse, that had 4 legs, or when they get on their knees. also, the front of the car almost looks like a face, something they painted, or their reflection in the water. so we have to notice that the complete composition of objects, our detection of them, might be extractions of pieces from previously seen objects, then recomposed into what the object has in kind of a meta-spatial location. the value of the hood, the value of the antenna, of the glass that we inscribe into our vision. the car exists to a plant as shades, or maybe even a primitive sensation of force upon it if its close enough. since, the neumena is closed off, the object is always subjective, its almost impossible to talk about objects at all. we have to make a detached induction that the object is there as it is, with whatever qualities it might have. objects are even subjective from moment to moment to a particular self, for physicists, objects, or our reality isnt colored, ironically, OOO helps out humans the most, even though an atom might be able to detect an object, they don’t need to know anything about the composition of an object as one for their job. maybe they do.

  3. so i think my argument culminated to:

    1. experience of a previous part is necessary for the saturation of the composition of an object as one
    2. memory of the part is required to build the object, the taking of the past into the present moment. this definition of memory can also be the rod/cone system that the eye has, neuronal memory for itself.
    3. going from the composition of an object as one backwards into peices, requires us to breach experience.
    4. causality designates that all of the pieces of the world are interconnected, what is in view means that there is nothing covering from the object to object. if there is memory of it, the connection from the past to the present moment is connected.
    5. if the designation of the object qua object doesn’t exist as a relation in the world, it is only a relation in the world that exists by extrapolating an object for eternity. otherwise, the object would be breached by another relation.

  4. The part of Harman I’m repelled by in the withdrawal of objects (part 4), is also in a related point about cinematic ontologies being like a sequence of snapshots, most obvious in the argument that Latour is anti-Bergsonian from Prince of Networks (but also related points about Heidegger from Tool Being).

    This seems to be a distinction based on temporality – Harman is more interested in establishing an ontology of being than becoming, so events must be fixed or frozen sequentially into moments – so becoming is submerged into obscurity. I don’t really understand the insistence on this point, some kind of gesture to an absolute ontology that I find unnecessary (maybe slightly arrogant).

    There also seems to be some clarification of potential and possibility, and time and temporality, required in Harman in his critique of ‘best of both worlds’ philosophies (Deleuze, Simondon). Individuation at least explains change in a manner far more convincingly than those discussions of metaphor in Guerrilla Metaphysics, for instance.

    Anyway, be interested to read what you come up with Steven.

  5. Steve, your reference to that Carroll dialog made my day. Seriously.

    I have a hard time following this OOP stuff so I apologize if I’m off base here. I’d like to know if and how people distinguish perception from relation, or distinguish philosophical speculation about something from having a relationship with it, or distinguish the ascription of qualities from a relationship. Because it seems to me that in having the thought “objects are withdrawn” one has a relationship with the set of objects. Following from that, I don’t see how one could think “objects are withdrawn from all relations” without contradicting one’s self – insofar as the quoted bit is accurate, it’s a relationship with that very thing which is supposed to not be relatable-with.

    That aside, even if OOP is right, I don’t see why the stuff it points out as mistakes should matter. If we reduce objects to their qualities, why is that a problem? and whose problem is it? Not the object’s (since we can’t know what, if any, the object’s standards for evaluation would be), but ours. In that case, I wonder if OOP still has a human centered normative framework tied to it, underwriting the prescriptive elements.


  6. Not to be cranky, but I think the entire argument is reducible to neuroscience. It’s how the brain works. The “philosophy” behind it is of no consequence to the question it poses an can be dispensed with.

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