Object-Oriented Philosophy (Updated)

[UPDATE: Graham Harman has decided to step into the blogging world at the appropriately titled, Object-Oriented Philosophy blog. He’s already started at a blistering pace, so let’s hope he can keep it up!]

In line with his enthusiasm for open-access publishing, Graham Harman has been kind enough to provide us with 13 (!) unpublished articles of his, dating from as early as 1997. These documents shed a lot of light on the emergence of speculative realism and Graham’s own particular variant in ‘object-oriented philosophy’, and come highly recommended. The topics range from Whitehead to Lingis to Latour to Heidegger to aesthetics and nature, revealing some of the development in Graham’s thought as it came to fruition in his exceptional Tool-Being and Guerrilla Metaphysics (and forthcoming Prince of Networks).

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54 thoughts on “Object-Oriented Philosophy (Updated)

  1. Pingback: ANTHEM » Blog Archive » The genealogy of weird realism

  2. Pingback: Graham Harman and Object-Oriented Philosophy « Struggleswithphilosophy.wordpress

  3. I’ve read two papers by Harman now and I’m struck first of all by the snappy prose. It’s as if I’m reading fiction, which seems like an apt choice for the realm of the speculative. I find the style quite inspirational.

    When I was in grad school (psychology), J.J. Gibson was pretty much the only realist on offer, and reading his Ecological Perception was a decidedly weird experience. Gibson certainly operates within The Correlation, where objects present “affordances” signaling their potential usefulness to animals; e.g., a flat solid horizontal surface “affords” standing-on, a vertical surface “affords” hiding-behind. It’s easy to read Gibson as a pragmatist, but he describes objects as if they were active transmitters of affordance-information, even if no creatures exist that can receive these transmissions. Affordances in effect draw attention to themselves.

    For Gibson the relationship between an environment and an animal, mediated by the transmission and reception of affordances, takes place on surfaces: the surface of the object generates the affordances, the surface sensory-perceptual apparatus of the animal picks up on the affordances. But Harman seems to talk not about the surfaces of objects but rather their interiors. As I understand this idea, the affordance transmission-reception takes place inside a newly assembled object comprised of the animal and the object generating affordances. What Gibson describes in terms of transmission and reception between two objects, Harman treats as something like a metabolic process inside the new composite object. This composite object comes together temporarily, it would seem, lasting as long as the metabolic interaction between its component parts continues. Afterward the components split and drift apart, like atoms temporarily fused into an unstable molecule with a very short half-life.

    Is this your understanding of what Harman is saying, Nick? What do you think of the idea?

  4. I read the one on Heidegger and Leibniz this morning with coffee, I think I very much enjoyed it vis-a-vis style and ideas. I’m very new to the discussions, of course, but I thought this sentence was very insightful, at least for me:

    It is responsible for the paralyzing Kantian impasse of contemporary
    philosophy, with its endless critical maneuvering around the supposedly unique gap between humans and world, whether this gap be expressed in analytic or continental terms. [8]

    Now whether I agree with the whole idea of “vicarious causation” or whether anyone would care if I did not, I think it is sort of an interesting way of looking at the Kantian gap – is there any use for Kantian analysis at all for Harman? It’s certain making me want to read more – maybe there’ll a discussion of some of the essays here and I can lurk?

    Of course I did get to this part:

    What if a surprising new turn in philosophy suddenly makes Kant’s revolution
    look hopelessly dated, to such an extent that we in the younger generation will barely be able to communicate with our former dissertation directors? I am not only saying that this could happen – I am saying that it should happen. All of our energy should be devoted to making this happen in our own lifetimes. One good definition of philosophy is this: try to determine the dominant ideas of today that bore you the most, and then discover a way to make them obsolete. The philosophy of human access ought to bore everyone by now; by the same token, the philosophy of objects ought to inspire us all. [11]

    I take that “philosophy of human access” is Kant and it is boring and therefore our task is to make it obsolete. As much as I enjoy all types of excitement, I’m not sure I’d agree that boring necessarily means wrong, but still I sort of sympathize wit the sentiment – sorry, I feel as if I am already writing a post and thus am in violation of blog hospitality etiquette. Thanks for posting these essays, that was my basic intention in commenting…

  5. Ktismatics,

    I think you’re right (although Graham is free to correct me here), in that the major distinction between his own work and Gibson’s would be that Graham is more interested in the part of the object that recedes from it’s relation to an other. The part that escapes falling into a relational system. Moreover, Graham speaks of objects themselves providing ‘affordances’ for each other, rather than limiting these affordances to merely something that requires animal or human perception. In that way, he avoids the correlationist circle, and begins to articulate how objects interact with each other – hence the need for vicarious causation that Mikhail raises. If you haven’t already, check out Tool-Being for a really clear (and more thorough) presentation of these ideas.

    As for the coming together part, yes – but it doesn’t negate the inner characteristics of the ‘object’. Those relations internal to the new object still exist. So there’s a type of emergence here, which is partly why I think Graham has been writing a lot about assemblages lately.

    Lastly, I completely agree with the prose – Graham has a real knack for it, and there’s a ton of interesting turns of phrase in his work.

    Mikhail,

    I’m not sure precisely how the relation between Graham and Kant might be characterized – it’s an interesting question though. I do know, however, that Graham has written that the burden of proof is on those who think the world can be reduced to our experience of it, to explain why this must be so. Considering it contradicts basic scientific claims, the correlationist position is a difficult one to ultimately agree with. The default position should be realism (although not necessarily a naive realism). And I think that claim on his part accords perfectly with the call to “forget Kant” – something I’d largely support!

    Cheers,
    -Nick

  6. I generally don’t think that “forget philosopher X” is ever such a good idea, but I see your point. Of course the burden of proof would be on the one proposing a kind of view that Kant proposes, but then wouldn’t that apply basically to any sort of philosophical system/view? I think Kant a decent job explaining why “it must be so” and does have a coherent “empirical realist” view. As for “basic scientific claims” I am not sure I quite know what that is, but in many cases, it seems, it is a sort of pre-reflective naive realism that Kant dealt with as well vis-a-vis early reactions to his critical philosophy and especially the early accusations of resembling Berkley…

  7. Right, justification is necessary for any philosophical position. I suppose what I was getting at was simply that the correlationist position (or some close variant) has been taken as the default for a long time now. Kant certainly provides a lot of great arguments for his system – (he’s actually one of my favourite philosophers, so ‘forgetting’ him doesn’t mean a complete banishment) – but I was trying to suggest that it’s become so naturally obvious to us to deny the ability to talk of a world independent of some correlation. It’s accepted without justification now, when really, it’s a rather bizarre position – for common sense and science. So Graham’s point, for me at least, is that correlationism needs to provide much more arguments for it’s claims to be sustainable. And in the absence of that, it’s much more likely that some form of realism is correct.

    As for ‘basic scientific claims’, I was trying to suggest along the lines of what Meillassoux says – that in order to take scientific claims literally, as referring to a time before the very possibility of phenomenality, then we need to take a realist position. Which, considering the pragmatic success of science, make correlationism look even more out-dated since it seems to deny this possibility.

    Hopefully that clarifies my hasty comments a bit.

  8. Kant was always one of my heroes, so it’s not a question of forgetting or “bashing” Kant. Nor is my critique of him original– Whitehead has effectively already done the job, followed by Latour, and it doesn’t take hundreds or even dozens of pages to do it, just a quick shift of attitude.

    The central point: *all relations are on the same footing.* The human/world interplay is not special, it’s simply the one we care about the most. Any relation between one thing and another is a translation, distortion, caricature, whatever you want to call it. This is true whether we are talking about human perception of cotton, a fire’s encounter with cotton, an insect’s encounter with it, or any other case.

    What I love about Meillassoux’s term “correlationism” is that it exposes the usual dodge. “There is no gap between human and world, but only a primordial interplay between them.” Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, etc. But the problem with Kant was never the *gap* between us and things-in-themselves. The problem was that the human-world relation becomes the sole locus of philosophy, while the cotton-fire gap is abandoned to the natural sciences.

    This is why Whitehead/Latour were so important in blowing apart the Heideggerian framework for me and turning me into a real metaphysician (I was doing the “tool” reading of Heidegger since 1991/92 but had remained agnostic about the realism/anti-realism question).

    But there’s a problem with Whitehead/Latour… they define entities in terms of their *relations*. They turn their backs on any hidden residue in the things that is unexpressed in any relation. I think Heidegger’s tool-analysis makes this attitude impossible, though I won’t repeat here an argument I’ve made dozens of times elsewhere.

    One last point… though I love Meillassoux’s critique of correlationism, what distinguishes him from me, Brassier, and Grant is that Meillassoux thinks correlationism is a powerful argument. He basically thinks it’s true that there is no way to think fire-in-itself without thinking it, and thereby turning it into a correlate of thought. That’s why Meillassoux is the only speculative realist who tries to end correlationism from within, through an “inside job”, radicalizing it through mathematization to make it absolute.

    I think this concedes too much to correlationism, and I do not agree with Meillassoux that it’s a powerful argument (I admit its historical importance, of course). He makes his best case for this in his Fichte/Laruelle article in Collapse III. I won’t fight with it here, but it’s ultimately unconvincing.

    Incidentally, I think Meillassoux also needs to distinguish between two elements in correlationism: (1) the primal human-world rapport, (2) the total exhaustion of world by human. Meillassoux seems to think that these two points automatically go together, but they don’t….

    For instance, it’s obviously true that Heidegger is a correlationist in the sense of the human-world rapport. No Sein without Dasein and vice versa. But it *does not follow* that “Heidegger thinks there is nothing more to being than whatever is historically manifest to Dasein” (as Lee Braver wrongly says in his excellent book on continental anti-realism). That point needs further argument, because it’s a different point than the first one, and ultimately it fails as a reading of Heidegger. The fact that Sein only appears in company with Dasein DOES NOT MEAN that Sein is nothing over and above its manifestation to Dasein… If a pair of lovers is always seen together without exception, that does mean that they are nothing more than their relationship.

    I should also point out that the argument “we can’t think the noumena without THINKING them, and thereby turning them into phenomena” is sometimes known as “Stove’s Gem,” which the analytic philosopher David Stove called the worst philosophical argument ever made. (Ray Brassier will soon be writing something about this.) But realism has never been a genuine option in continental philosophy (unlike in analytic thought) and everyone basically assumes that Fichte’s point is correct.

    One healthy effect of dropping Kant’s privileging of he human world-relation is that philosophy is able to escape its human-centered ghetto. The natural sciences no longer hold a monopoly on object-object interactions outside the human sphere.

    The lesson: it’s really not that hard to escape the Kantian framework once you see the problem with privileging one kind of relation. It’s retained mostly through habit and lack of imagination and the assumption that it must obviously be true. You don’t need a 380-page treatise with lots of footnotes and citations from Kant. That’s never how anything important happens in philosophy anyway. If you find yourself having to make a long, complicated, scholarly argument, then you may be on the verge of an important contribution to scholarship, but the chances are nil that you’re getting to the bottom of an ontological problem. Those moments have always been swift and clean and needing only a few paragraphs to pull off, even in Kant’s own writings.

  9. ” If a pair of lovers is always seen together without exception, that does mean that they are nothing more than their relationship.”

    I meant “does NOT mean” they are nothing more than their relationship. Even if they literally couldn’t survive without the other, there are still aspects of them that are not expressed in the relationship.

  10. “Graham speaks of objects themselves providing ‘affordances’ for each other, rather than limiting these affordances to merely something that requires animal or human perception.”

    I think Gibson would have supported this idea. I mentioned that solid horizontal surfaces afford standing-on. Gibson explicitly extends this affordance to the inanimate world: “Animals, no less than other bodies, are pulled downward by the force of gravity. They fall unless supported… the animal must have a substantial surface below if it is not to become a Newtonian falling body.” A flat horizontal solid surface affords standing-on by rocks and bookcases just as surely as it affords standing-on by animals. The intentionality of wanting-to-stand-on I’d think would apply only to animals, and maybe to plants. However, now that I’ve read Harmon’s paper “Intentional Objects for Non-Humans” I guess I’ll have to reconsider. Is it plausible to say that gravity wants to pull objects toward the center of the earth and that flat solid surfaces somewhat heroically want to offer objects a place to resist gravity’s obsession? At least it’s clear that gravity exerts a force independent of the animal’s intentions to be pulled by it or not, and the flat horizontal surface offers its support without the animal ever giving it a thought.

    “the major distinction between his own work and Gibson’s would be that Graham is more interested in the part of the object that recedes from its relation to an other.”

    Yes, I see. Surely I’d have an easier time of it if I’d already read Tool Being per your recommendation. Last night I scored a copy of Guerrilla Metaphysics via interlibrary loan, so I’ll have to work backward to the Tool Being.

  11. “The problem [with Kant] was that the human-world relation becomes the sole locus of philosophy, while the cotton-fire gap is abandoned to the natural sciences.”

    “One healthy effect of dropping Kant’s privileging of he human world-relation is that philosophy is able to escape its human-centered ghetto. The natural sciences no longer hold a monopoly on object-object interactions outside the human sphere.”

    I’m not sure I understand your use of the phrases like “privileging of the human-world relation” – doesn’t “privileging” here implies a choice? If I remember Kant well enough, that’s the whole point of his system, i.e. that there is no choice but to be in this very limited relation to the world. In other words, how do you think this privileging takes place? It seems to me that this way of putting things is only possible once one already rejected Kant’s vision.

    As for “abandoning to natural sciences” I would say that this is a misreading of Kant or at least it’s a rather interesting way of looking at Kant whose system always included natural sciences even if he somewhat struggled with its precise place until the very end as it seen in that weird stuff about ether in Opus Postumum. I think there’s something to be said for the observation that human-world gap is one of many gaps, however, for Kant it’s the only gap we can deal with, all others being outside of possible experience. If one does not like that sort of limitation, one doesn’t have to accept it, however, “not liking” a philosophical position and “disagreeing” with a philosophical position seem to be different things. I wonder if you have any thoughts on Hegel’s critique of Kant?

    In any case, it doesn’t take much to reject philosophical positions, as is clear from this thread, indeed one can usually easily get away with a quick change of attitude or a simple “So-and-so is wrong” and move on.

  12. Just a quick comment while I’m at work – I’m a bit confused because your comments, Mikhail, began by supporting Graham’s call to move beyond Kant. But now it seems that you first want some thorough and in-depth critique of Kant before you accept that idea. Which is fine, but it’s hardly the role of a comments thread to definitively answer those types of questions (and I’m sure you’re well aware of that!) So I guess I’m just confused about what you expect from this discussion? I’m sure none of us here believe we can just get away with saying ‘so and so is wrong’ and then proceeding – but it is a comments thread and it is limited in that aspect. (Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, though?) Anyways, I’ll have a response to the more substantive issues later…

  13. Kant gives serious reasons for the choice, and he certainly feels compelled to make it, but there are other alternatives. Sometimes, simply being reminded that there are other options can have an explosive effect on one’s imagination; that’s a large part of what philosophy does, I’d say. Philosophy is in large part the art of noticing the obvious. (This isn’t as boring as it sounds. Much of the obvious is weird, and Kant’s philosophy is one of the weirdest ever devised, to his lasting credit.)

    As for the natural sciences, of course Kant includes them. But post-Kant it is natural science that has all the fun with inanimate things, whereas for Leibniz it was still possible to have a general theory of monads that held good for all natural substances, not just humans. Whether or not philosophy “includes” the sciences, it is not the philosopher in us who discusses fire or avalanches anymore, but always the scientist in us. I find this regrettable.

    As for Hegel’s critique of Kant, it may be a big one, but it’s of fairly minimal importance for the issue now under discussion. Whether one accepts an unbridgeable gap between noumena and phenomena, or dissolves this very distinction, it’s still always the same damn two ingredients, and humans are always somewhere in the picture. That’s what needs to be gotten rid of via a general metaphysics of relations.

    “In any case, it doesn’t take much to reject philosophical positions, as is clear from this thread, indeed one can usually easily get away with a quick change of attitude or a simple ‘So-and-so is wrong’ and move on.”

    If only it were that easy. We are probably trapped in hundreds of assumptions about how philosophy must be done, and this is why the history of philosophy isn’t over yet, and why philosophy isn’t just a matter of commenting on books already written. A handful of authors will still appear from nowhere and shock the hell out of us. I can think of a few living authors who have performed that service for me already, and there will be others, or the profession will die.

    You seem to be implying that a 700-page point-by-point refutation of Kant is the only way to go. I disagree. It is possible to adopt a different option rather quickly, if with a great deal of preparation time, and at the end of the day one gets judged primarily by how well the alternative works. Whitehead put it best: “past systems of philosophy are not refuted, they are abandoned.”

    It probably boils down to a question of how claustrophobic one feels within the available analytic/continental models. When I open my eyes and look at the landscape, I see a basically dismal series of permutations concerning the human/world gap, the overcoming of this gap, or the denial of this gap. But always, it’s the same stupid human/world pair– the same Dual Monarchy. The fact that Kant gives profound reasons in favor of this model does not mean that the human race is obliged to follow him for the next 30,000 years.

  14. Nick, you are of course correct – I suppose I was mostly thinking aloud and commenting without really expecting anything but what one might expect from a comment thread. I apologize if I came across as attempting to demand any sort of systematic engagement here – I think this is very difficult to do indeed. I think I stated earlier that I found the call to challenge Kant’s privileging of human-world gap among many other gaps to be an interesting way of looking at things, a way I never really thought of. Then I thought about it, read the reactions, and realized that I’m not sure I understand the idea of “privileging” as such as it means an implicit choice to privilege some gap and ignore another, which would be problematic way of reading Kant, but it would work if one was already “beyond Kant,” however than one cannot accuse Kant of this “privileging.” Then I was a bit taken aback with the swiftness of “getting over Kant” move, that is, I’m not expecting any sort of justification or deep analysis, of course, I mean people criticized Kant and moved beyond him during his lifetime (I mean not only Fichte, but folks like Reinhold who was very enthusiastic about preaching Kant to anyone who would listen), so there are more then enough critiques of Kant out there. I don’t think saying “so-and-so is wrong” is such a bad thing, it moves the argument along and allows one to present a larger view as opposed to being bogged down with particular points, I think this one of the main reasons I enjoyed Harman’s essay on Leibniz and Heidegger, even if I could go back and raise questions (for myself, mainly)… Again, I really am just enjoying this exchange and I don’t expect anything more than a lively back and forth on some issues. I am intrigued by some of the things we’ve already covered and certainly would hope to continue.

  15. Thanks, Graham – your comment somehow got between Nick’s and my response to him. I don’t expect a 700 refutation by any means. You still are not quite answering my question concerning “privileging”:

    “Kant gives serious reasons for the choice, and he certainly feels compelled to make it, but there are other alternatives.”

    Do you mean the choice between human-world gap and other gaps? Again, I would argue that one cannot really make that choice, according to Kant, unless it is a choice between sticking to the realm of possible experience and attempting to discuss things outside of that experience and be wrong. I do however see your point concerning Kant’s view and the possibility to overcome it – I don’t quite sense the urgency though and I’m sure you have your reasons. Btw, as I am not very familiar with your work, if you have already discussed the issues at hand in some detail, feel free to refer me to those discussions and I will gladly read up…

    “As for the natural sciences, of course Kant includes them. But post-Kant it is natural science that has all the fun with inanimate things…”

    So it’s not really Kant’s fault then? Is there then something that Kant did that caused this particular development? I think one might make the case for such an interpretation, but it would be more or less historical sort of discussion and not really philosophical…

    “When I open my eyes and look at the landscape, I see a basically dismal series of permutations concerning the human/world gap, the overcoming of this gap, or the denial of this gap.”

    I suppose an annoyingly Kantian response would be to emphasize that it is you indeed who opens yours eyes and sees what you are seeing, that is, you are limited by your very own observation tools, if I may put it this way. I find realist discussion to be quite refreshing in terms of forgoing Kant’s problems, but again I would say that simply feeling the need to overcome or saying that one must overcome does not in itself produce the overcoming. I like that you boldly state what philosophy does and does not need to concern itself with, but I find that majority of those doing philosophy in all of its present various forms can probably state their agendas in similar ways of necessity and urgency – how should I, a humble reader, make my decision?

  16. “You still are not quite answering my question concerning “privileging”:”

    I think you’re getting too hung up on the word “privileging”. For Kant it is always the human/world relation with which philosophy deals, or the relation between phenomena according to the categories. He would find it meaningless to speak philosophically about the relation between cotton and fire apart from all human access to them (indeed, somewhere he says we can’t even be sure whether the Ding-an-sich is one or many). That’s the whole point of critical philosophy.

    Kant give the human/world relation a privileged status over all others, to such an extent that he excludes the others from the sphere of philosophy. And again, he offers reasons for this. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s privileging them. And this has become such an automatic reflex among contemporary philosophers that they forget any alternative is possible. You yourself admit that you never thought of it before! And I myself remember what a shock Whitehead was when coming from my Heideggerian background, for the same reason.

    “Again, I would argue that one cannot really make that choice, according to Kant, unless it is a choice between sticking to the realm of possible experience and attempting to discuss things outside of that experience and be wrong.”

    You’re the one begging the question here. You’re basically saying “but it’s not privileging one thing over another, because according to Kant the second one isn’t even possible”.

    To risk a dangerous metaphor, that’s sort of like saying: “Bush didn’t privilege evidence of Saddam having WMD over evidence of Saddam having no WMD, because for Bush it was unthinkable that Saddam didn’t have any.” Well, yeah. But that doesn’t prove that Bush was right in his initial biases. And at a much higher level, the fact that Kant felt compelled by the evidence to place the human/world gap at the center of his philosophy does not prove that there are no other options.

    I must confess, I have trouble seeing why you’re not getting this particular point. Perhaps you thought I meant more by “privileging” than I did. If that’s the issue, then choose another word that’s less loaded for you; I have no objection.

    “I like that you boldly state what philosophy does and does not need to concern itself with, but I find that majority of those doing philosophy in all of its present various forms can probably state their agendas in similar ways of necessity and urgency – how should I, a humble reader, make my decision?”

    If only it were the case that it was always stated with necessity and urgency. But that’s not how most human thinking works. Most of the time we are stuck in ruts left by others (as you and I both were before we considered the possibility that maybe all relations should be placed philosophically on the same footing). The opposite is usually just assumed, not urgently stated. That’s the difference between Kant and Kantians, of course.

    As for how you, the humble reader, should make your choice, I suppose it’s in the usual manner: one looks for authors displaying basically solid argument, adequacy to the facts of experience, a robust imagination, and whatever other factors one light find important.

    In my own case, for instance, why did I not remain the happy Kantian that I briefly was at age 21 or so? For precisely the reason under discussion in this thread. After reading Whitehead, it suddenly struck me as stunningly arbitrary to erect a human/world horizon in the middle of philosophy and insist that everything else be reducible to it. The universe is so vast, and humans such a tiny part of it. There may be biographical factors when people make such distinctions, too. (I’m sure I would have been more favorable toward Derrida if I had grown up with my student spirit crushed by reactionary Husserlians instead of having it crushed by lukewarm late deconstructionists. Perhaps I would have been more repulsed by Heidegger if I had been in a concentration camp, or more repulsed by Badiou’s Maoism if I were from Taiwan or Japan. And so forth.)

    I wish you good luck in your search. And if you stick with Kant, then I at least hope your reasons for doing so are strengthened by confronting the doubters like me.

  17. “And at a much higher level, the fact that Kant felt compelled by the evidence to place the human/world gap at the center of his philosophy does not prove that there are no other options.”

    I think I agree with this way of putting the issue, maybe I did just give too much attention to the word “privileging” indeed.

    “After reading Whitehead, it suddenly struck me as stunningly arbitrary to erect a human/world horizon in the middle of philosophy and insist that everything else be reducible to it. The universe is so vast, and humans such a tiny part of it.”

    Indeed, yet according to Kant we cannot know much about anything that is not within the specific conditions of our experience. Sad? Indeed. But I find the arguments to be quite strong, especially concerning the “interest of reason” to both unify and structure, and to reach beyond its capabilities and constantly get itself into “trouble.” I am by no means a Kantian, and I think his observations on the limitations of our knowledge can and should be challenged, but I’m yet to see the kind of challenge that would give me the kind of pause you mention vis-a-vis your discovery of Whitehead.

    Thanks for detailed response. Possibly because I find Kant’s arguments to be more persuasive vis-a-vis our limitations, I find it difficult to just yet abandon them, but as you correctly point out maybe it’s simply a matter of accidentally formed allegiances and chance-guided encounters in one’s philosophical life, if I were to get all existential and deep for a second, I am looking forward to reading some of the other essays posted above.

  18. “Indeed, yet according to Kant we cannot know much about anything that is not within the specific conditions of our experience. Sad? Indeed.”

    The best recent defense of what you’re saying can be found in Meillassoux’s article in Collapse III. He’s defending Fichte’s position there, not Kant’s, but for the discussion at hand it amounts to the same thing, since Meillassoux’s point is that the human-world correlate is overwhelmingly persuasive and can only be radicalized from within.

    The best challenge to this, in my opinion, comes from Heidegger. While it’s true that Heidegger thinks Sein and Dasein must always come as a pair, he *does not* hold (as some believe) that this means Sein is exhausted by its appearance to Dasein. The force of Heidegger’s being is that it has a depth irreducible to any manifestation.

    The idealist counter-move is to say, “but by even *talking* about being, you are manifesting it and thereby performatively contradicting your claim that it’s deeper than manifestation.” For reasons I won’t go into in this thread, I think this is sophistry, albeit clever sophistry that will need decades to disappear.

  19. More importantly, this thread is the sort of thing I have in mind when I say that continental philosophy is capable of real disputes over genuine issues, not just the endless textual hermeneutics into which it has degenerated. The analytics are right on this point. (Not that we need to copy their poor historical sense or their transformation of philosophy into a Kuhnian “normal science” focused on trendy micro-puzzles and a misplaced faith that knowledge advances through thousands of incremental gains. I may sound harsh about my own tribe the continentals, but I still deeply appreciate that we have broad appeal to numerous disciplines whereas the analytics are read by no one but themselves. When was the last time an architect was inspired by Davidson or Quine? That’s a stunning indictment of their field, as I see it.)

  20. You guys are so modest. I was enjoying this thread more than anything, and there you had to go kill it like something you love too much…

    But don’t stop because you somehow conceive that readers are annoyed in some way….if they’re like me, they’ve enjoyed this as much as the most concrete and specific posts out there.

  21. Well, I don’t have too much to add to the excellent stuff that’s already been said here, but Mikhail you pick up on one of my own remaining ties to some form of idealism:

    “Indeed, yet according to Kant we cannot know much about anything that is not within the specific conditions of our experience. Sad? Indeed. But I find the arguments to be quite strong, especially concerning the “interest of reason” to both unify and structure, and to reach beyond its capabilities and constantly get itself into “trouble.”

    This, to me, is a really powerful argument, and one I’m not convinced I’ve fully overcome.

    On the other hand, I completely agree with Graham when he says,

    “I should also point out that the argument “we can’t think the noumena without THINKING them, and thereby turning them into phenomena” is sometimes known as “Stove’s Gem,” which the analytic philosopher David Stove called the worst philosophical argument ever made.”

    So the quandary I find myself in is that on one hand, I am certain that ontology is not reducible to its manifestation, or to any necessary correlation. I am a realist. But I’m uncertain about precisely how we can gain knowledge (whatever that might mean exactly) about this, particularly considering Kant’s critique of pure reason. (In that line, an interesting experiment might be to show that something like Meillassoux’s argument for necessary contingency is really only one side of an antinomy.)

    I think speculative realism’s major contribution (as a movement) is to have re-opened these questions about realism, though. I just have personal hesitations about committing to any particular version of it so far. (My guess, Mikhail, is that we’re not too far apart in this sentiment.)

    Let me add my voice to Taylor’s, too – by all means continue the debate if you want to! I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have been enjoying it.

  22. OK, glad to hear it. If two people are going it alone, there’s a natural tendency for them (if they are reasonably polite) to start worrying that they’re boring everyone else, even if it’s a blog thread rather than a dinner conversation. And personally I am always mortified by group dinner conversations for precisely this reason– either others are hogging the conversation, or I feel like I am. Glad to hear someone was enjoying it, though.

    Nick, I agree that the antinomy is more important than the solution. I’m always reminded of Aristotle’s point that substance is that which can have opposite qualities at different times. By analogy, a “substantial” idea is one that has different consequences at different times. An example of this would be that the greatest thinkers can be used by both sides of the political spectrum. You can have both right-wing and left-wing Nietzscheans, Heideggerians, Hegelians, Freudians, and you’ll even find right-wing admirers of Marx now and then. The more a thinker begins to serve some particular *content*, the less deep that thinker probably is.

    This goes way beyond politics, of course. A philosophical generation or movement is probably best defined, not by its shared explicit or implicit *agreement* about this or that issue, but by the key points on which it *disagrees*.

    In the case of my own generation (b. 1968), which is probably the older one than some of you are in, I’ve suggested that there are a couple of key disagreements taking shape:

    1. relationism vs. non-relationism (where Hallward is my clearest opposite)

    2. contingency vs. sufficient reason (where Meillassoux is my clearest opposite)

    And one thing I notice while reading these guys is that, strangely enough, I don’t *want* to convince them that they’re wrong. It would not feel like a triumph to me if Meillassoux gave up contingency and came on board with sufficient reason; it would feel like an impoverishment. Somehow, every deep philosophical problem automatically generates an antinomy, just like a river can be seen from two sides, and it would be an impoverishment if one side of the river were forbidden.

    Somehow, the thing itself generates the antinomy by being deeper than all possible descriptions of it.

    I want to make another post in a moment, a long citation from José Ortega y Gasset, my favorite forgotten philosopher.

  23. Many of my best thoughts about human affairs can be traced in some way to Ortega, whom I read intensively before I ever read a word of Heidegger. Ortega lived from 1883 to 1955. He studied in the neo-Kantian school under Cohen in Marburg, before reacting heavily against neo-Kantianism. He saw himself as an ally and rival of the slightly younger Heidegger. Heidegger wrote a brief obituary notice for Ortega, thanking him for defending him once… When Heidegger gave the lecture “Building Dwelling Thinking” in Darmstadt, someone in the audience said: “Heidegger did not address the problem, but just thought it into pieces.” At which point Ortega interrupted and said “Our dear God needs those who think things to pieces, so that the other animals don’t sleep!” Heidegger was moved by this. Though his other recollection of Ortega sitting sadly in a garden at a party is told in somewhat catty fashion. (He was apparently sick of Ortega claiming to have had some of Heidegger’s ideas before Heidegger did.)

    Ortega was a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and deservedly so. He’s every bit as good a writer as Bergson, and his style is well worth emulating in some respects. In his weakest moments there are slight swerves toward the corny, but at all other times his style is a knife cutting through cliché and making contact with a reality whose existence we never suspected. It’s been criticized for being a “highly masculine” style, but I would call it instead a “highly personal” style, and in so far as Ortega was male, it’s a masculine one. He was certainly no feminist, and there are admittedly moments of condescending gallantry about lovely young Spanish girls on streetcars, etc.

    The Spanish current in 20th century philosophy has largely vanished from Anglo-American continental thought, but plenty of traces abound. I went on a serious philosophy kick at age 16, and my parents gave me the Julian Marias History of Philosophy as a Christmas gift that year (still handsomely published by Dover). It’s a pretty damn good one-volume history of philosophy, filled with historical riches despite a few excessively short chapters (Nietzsche, the Arabs) and a few excessively long ones (the whole part on Ortega and the School of Madrid is sheer personal bias, of course). But from the Marias history I started reading Ortega and later Zubiri. There is a realist flavor to all of this Spanish stuff, and in Ortega’s case as vivid a historical sense as you could ever ask for. Ortega is one of the few authors where I cannot imagine my life without having read him; I read him young, and at that age a favorite author can really seep down into your bones and affect how you view everything.

    OK, that was a much longer preamble than expected, so I will now make a completely different post about the generations theme…

  24. Ortega views philosophy, and everything else, in generational terms. Somewhat arbitrarily, he says that a generation lasts 15 years. A person in the first year of the generation will somehow feel more things in common with someone 14 years younger than with someone a single year older.

    Another interesting claim he makes is that the male and female generations are slightly asynchronized due to the generally faster maturity of women. He says there’s a 2-4 year difference, if I’m remembering correctly.

    The basic generational view makes a lot of sense to me. Knowledge, as I see it, is not a matter of true content. If I reject what the older generation has taught me, it is not so much because it is “false,” as because it is not my own. For the older generation that knowledge was born through a struggle with its own conditions. But I myself was not there. Hence, there will be certain portions of the older generation’s knowledge that ring hollow for me.

    My favorite philosophical example is Derrida, not that everyone has to agree with me about this. People 10 or 15 years older than I am are often *really excited* by Derrida, seeing him as a liberating hero. Personally, I never had much time for Derrida, and see him instead as a self-indulgent wanker adrift in a sea of signs and boring high-culture collage. But I become more sympathetic if I remember that the generation ahead of me in continental philosophy was oppressed by an army of crusty Husserlian technicians. If I had grown up under those circumstances, I might have welcomed Derrida too. Instead, Derrida *WAS THE RULING POWER* for people of my age, not a risky outsider. My reason for disliking Derrida was not rebellion against the ruling power, but simply because he wasn’t liberating me from anything. For people of my age group, it was already taken for granted that traditional values were shattered and everything had already been disassembled. It was no longer a liberating thrill to hear people call for this, unlike people like my hippie parents who grew up in the Eisenhower Era. For me it was a fait accompli that everything was already destroyed, and when we choose a philosophy, in some ways we are choosing a counter-environment to free us from the hollow things imposed on us that do not answer to our own needs. Derrida did nothing for me. Nor did Foucault. (Admittedly, there are friends in my own age group who disagree on both counts. But there’s still a big difference between being a Derridean born in 1950 and a Derridean born in 1975. The situations are fundamentally different for these two people, and the interest in Derrida has a different meaning in the two cases.)

    All right, it’s Taylor and Nick’s fault for egging me on to hog the dinner conversation. I still need one more post to quote Ortega.

  25. This comes from the magnificent “Preface for Germans”, found in English in the Ortega collection _Phenomenology and Art_. I will jump around and give a long citation, because it’s fascinating stuff. I’m starting on page 37.

    ***

    “Around 1870, then, there was no philosophy; far less did anyone pretend to have a philosophy of their own…

    As we will see later, I hold that a generation spans approximately 15 years, but, for reasons I will give later, the exact placing of this span of years is a very difficult problem. However, allowing for the moment an approximate value to the idea of a generation, I would suggest that the two generations of neo-Kantians were born between 1840-1855 and 1855-1870. But before then comes a much more interesting generation in German philosophy. Cohen (1842), Riehl (1844), Windelband (1848), Natorp (1854) and Rickert (1863), will find the terrain less dangerous, the catastrophe less immanent. On the other hand, the generation preceding them was born to a period of utter desolation. They entered a world where only one magister and one survivor of high caliber remained. The latter was Lotze (1817), an extraordinarily perspicacious man with the keen scent of a pointer for new problems, yet a weak man, unable to withstand the triumph of antiphilosophy. For this reason his life was one of progress within a retreat. He was unable to inspire the younger men; quite the contrary. The magister was Trendelenburg (1802), a man who knew a good deal but whose Logische Untersuchungen show he lacked philosophical inspiration.

    This generation, then born around 1830, was probably the most unfortunate generation in the whole history of European philosophy. Who were its members? They are Sigwart (1830), Teichmueller (1832), Wundt (1832), Brentano (1838), and… no less a figure than Dilthey (1833). They are men of the Deluge, born in a ship-wrecked era…

    It is important to notice, as a clear example of what a generation is, that these five men, so different in rank and quality –one of them, Wundt, was especially hamfisted– and SO DISSIMILAR IN THE IDEOLOGICAL TERRAIN TRAVERSED, had nevertheless A COMMON REPERTOITE OF INTELLECTUAL CONCERNS that can be detailed as follows:

    1. Unlike the following generation, they are rabidly anti-Kantian.

    2. They tend to maintain that the whole exists before the parts.

    3. That activity is before the thing.

    4. That the whole and dynamism or activity are nevertheless something given, a fact and not a hypothesis. This is why they are anti-Kantian. Thus for them the categorial is ‘empirical,’ a fact.

    5. That it is necessary to go beyond intellectualism.

    6. They see the mental as the preferred reality upon which the world is to be constructed.

    7. Therefore they will base all philosophy on psychology.

    8. But on a psychology understood as a fundamental science and therefore viewed with an eye to its benefits for philosophy.

    That there should be room for a similarity of INTERESTS with respect to these themes, within an area of such breadth as that marked by the extremes of Dilthey and Wundt, is the clearest possible illustration of the reality of the concept ‘generation.’ These two fought SPECIFICALLY over these themes and felt themselves at opposite poles. There was no way to settle the dispute between Dilthey and Wundt on the question of the priority of the whole and the parts. And in spite of this, Dilthey’s basic idea, and the ‘law of the schoepferische Synthese’ and Wundt’s apperception or ‘voluntarism’ were simply two different ways of grasping an idea that was entirely new in the history of thought. Its newness lay above all in that the totality, the synthesis, the Zusammenhang, was a simple fact, while for Kant it was the very sign of what was not a fact, but an act on the subject’s part, somethign subjective added to what was given as a fact….

    (Later,) when the young men who between 1907 and 1911 learned their manual of arms in the fortress of Kantianism reached their twenty-sixth year –an age usually decisive in the career of a thinker– they were no longer Kantians. We had not, however, completely wasted our time. We had studied Kant in depth, which is no small thing. More often than one would believe, even philosophers of a certain standing go through life dragging an insufficient knowledge of Kant behind them like a ball and chain. There is no making up for this lack because with Kant European thought swings a hundred and eighty degrees and takes its stand against the past in the form of a daring paradox. It is difficult for anyone well along in life to fill this lacuna in his education. In order to penetrate Kantian philosophy one needs the good will of those early years when good will is all one has….

    The point is that in 1911 we were all near twenty-six, a decisive age in one’s intellectual development, as I suggested above, but without giving reasons. This is the time when a person –for the moment I speak of the philosopher– ceases merely being receptive as to major concerns and starts to show his originality. An examination of philosophers’ biographies will show that with surprising frequency in their twenty-sixth year intellectual motifs that will later be seen as original contributions first show themselves. The essential or even the important thing is not that the specific ideas we later defend and develop occur to us then. SPECIFIC IDEAS ARE REALLY NOTHING BUT THE PROGENY OF CERTAIN GENERIC POSITIONS THAT ARE LIKE THE FERTILE WOMBS OF THESE AND OTHER IDEAS. This is why at age 26 certain ideas do not OCCUR to us, but rather we suddenly discover within ourselves, without knowing the origin, a certain desire or disposition that the truth possess a certain particular meaning and a certain composition. This disposition, which we are not aware of having formed but find within as a kind of intellectual terrain where we will have to live, is the human level that each generation IS in the evolutionary process of human history. This is why it is not something that OCCURS to us but something that we ARE.”

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anything more insightful as to how the history of philosophy works.

  26. This is a really fascinating quote. Thank you for sharing this with us Graham. I didn’t know you were a fan of Ortega! A year ago, when I was posting on Ortega for Fractal Ontology, I had a fear that people would find the discussion either untimely or uninteresting…

    But I wasn’t the only one to find his voice intriguing. Joe, apart from my interest, delved into some of his books, particularly the one about revolution…I forget the title…

    I also never got a chance to read Marias…though I’ve seen the Dover edition you refer to…Instead, I had to settle for Unamuno…..I think I was lead to him at 16 because I had heard he was a Spanish existentialist, and so I mistakenly thought he must have had affinities with Nietzsche (because at that time, for some reason, I had always heard the latter was an existentialist….!).

    Anyway, let’s say that my disappointment made me want to find Ortega, whom I knew was much more concretely situated in the history of philosophy, though by no means a simple commentator. It’s strange, but you speak of his deserving the Nobel prize in lit, and I’d have to agree: from Ortega’s pen, the history of philosophy is no longer a textbook, but a sort of epic adventure. I remember reading his description of the dialectic (which is not standard Hegelian jargon), and I would think: “Really, this is how the dialectic sounds when it’s actually intelligible to me? He’s going to convert me to a Hegelian at this rate!”

    Happily not, though maybe that’s because I never read more Ortega than I should have.

  27. Oh, and don’t think of it as a dinner party….think of it more as the after-party, where people don’t mind when there’s that one friend, whom everyone loves, who captivates the audience with their incredible story-telling capacity…and of course everyone is too caught up in the spectacle to add in their two cents!

  28. I think this is very insightful indeed and it’s a rather rare topic among the philosophers it seems, it’s as if somehow they were always already philosophical and concerned with a number defined issues. For me this question always presented itself along the parallel (and admittedly silly) lines of professorial fashion choices, i.e. the question of how did I arrive at these conclusions or aligned myself along these lines or posed for myself these problems is sort of the same stock as questions like when did I stop wearing jeans and sport coats to class and started teaching in some strange professorial slacks, buttoned up shirts, and generally started looking all “official and teachery” – clearly, I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision, there was no “Queer Eye For Freshly-Minted Prof Guy,” yet somehow slowly but surely I went from jeans-jackets to slacks-shirts-ties. I’m sure that thinking about it now I can “think it all into pieces” and say that it was probably everything from getting older to trying to look more official to compensating for something etc… So philosophically speaking, one can try to go back and analyze when and why one gets interested in what philosopher and so on, but I seriously doubt that it is possible to describe one’s philosophical development as a series of intentional steps, or that intentionality or decisiveness is imposed retrospectively. I think it would all depend on the available discussions and interests of others, problems that are urgent and at hand, books one encounters and so on. To quote Oscar Wilde here: “Most people are other people Their thoughts are someone elses opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” However, what always surprised me about my own development was how truly accidental some of the most important ideas were and still are – everything from picking up a book by Nietzsche when I was a teenager because an older and cooler kid had it laying around, or taking a class on Kierkegaard in college because there was nothing else that looked even remotely interesting, or even reading several unrelated books at the same time as often happens these days and finding strange thematic connections. I suppose to put it shortly, and I do want to address some of the issues that were raised in Nick/Graham’s reactions later, I personally always thought my own ideas were formed purely by accident and I have settled on some of them as “mine” simply out of convenience and laziness, and maybe because I still find them interesting…

  29. All right, so I’m like the drunk after-dinner friend on a storytelling roll. Fair enough, and very warmly put.

    Had no idea that Taylor was an Ortega fan! Ortega is a marvel. If I had to take my 100 most inspiring philosophy passages to the proverbial desert island, maybe 70 to 80 would be from Ortega.

    Yeah, I’m a big fan. In fact, there’s a sense in which every idea I’ve ever had comes from that “Essay in Esthetics By Way of a Preface” chapter in Phenomenology in Art, which I dealt with specifically in Guerrilla Metaphysics.

    When Ortega talks about the “executant reality” of a thing as being completely inconvertible into any outward perception, I felt that sense of shock go off in my gut. I was just 19, and wasn’t able to do that passage justice in writing until I was 35, which is a good long gap.

    Oddly, Ortega never did too much with that idea. It sort of vanishes after that Esthetics essay, which he wrote in his early thirties. After that he kept emphasizing “I am myself and my circumstances”– i.e. correlationism. And that’s too bad, because the problem with Kantianism was never the GAP between human and world, it was the fact that human and world were the two terms to begin with.

    Ultimately, the difference between a Kant who accepts the Ding an Sich and a Fichte who denounces it is a lot smaller than people think. In both cases, human and world are the two terms under discussion, and neither Kant nor Fichte has any time for fire burning cotton when no humans are observing. That’s their hidden agreement, and by comparison their dispute is fairly trivial once we see the philosophical havoc that correlationism has wrought.

  30. Nick: “This [Kant's argument], to me, is a really powerful argument, and one I’m not convinced I’ve fully overcome.”

    Graham: “Somehow, the thing itself generates the antinomy by being deeper than all possible descriptions of it.”

    I think these observations are very similar for me: if what one takes away from Kant and less a system and more an attitude, a rather negative attitude, I admit, then what comes as a result is a realization that our philosophical pursuits are limited in ways we don’t even know, that whatever philosophical approach one chooses (if “choice” is really a good word to use), I think it is possible to remember that Kantian lesson without being necessarily Kantian.

    I think that I would certainly be interested in reading more of Graham’s work, but I think I would still be very cautious vis-a-vis any discussion that leaves out this Kantian humility, if we still are talking about “going beyond Kant” then I think that “beyond” still has to have an explanation of how our capacity to observe the objects is justified in its claims to truth. I mean even if we leave Kant out and take Descartes and his Meditations and all the following objections and relies, all of that “thinking thing” discussion and mind/body dualism stuff is still very relevant, even if as Graham puts it in the article that I’ve mentioned in the very opening of this endless thread in addition we can also raise the body/body problem and even seemingly awkward talk of occasionalism. I think the problem with Kant for many is that he is read as a part of the historical development with its necessary stages and problems emerging and, having been resolved, disappearing, a sort of very Hegelian view of the history of philosophy, but if we read Kant as a contemporary figure, as someone cautiously warning or annoying insisting one provide an explanation of how it is possible to know what one claims to know. I also think that a lot of “new metaphysics” discussions could benefit from Kant’s discussion of “transcendental method” from the first critique, especially architectonic section which I always felt was under-appreciated.

  31. The problem is… I don’t think Kant is humble enough. He takes a very clear stand about the *human* relation with the world as being primary. A much humbler position is to see that humans really aren’t all that special. The relation between the dinosaur-killing asteroid and the Yucatan should be given as much importance as my own relation with a mailbox, I think.

    “I think the problem with Kant for many is that he is read as a part of the historical development with its necessary stages and problems emerging and, having been resolved, disappearing, a sort of very Hegelian view of the history of philosophy”

    Here I’m not sure I agree. Whenever I sit on a job search committee, *everyone* these days seems to be writing a Ph.D. about Kant, and not just as a historical figure– they all seem to think he’s basically right. It’s the immediately pre-Kantian people who get treated as quaint throwbacks of a more innocent metaphysical age.

  32. You know, as I’m revising my translation of the Machinic Unconscious, there are a lot of places where I’ve been tempted to quote Guattari for this little thread because his statements about the refrain, for example, are in some ways related to this attempt at breaking the fundamental pair between humans and world.

    For example, he writes “What kind of scandals would arise in affirming that a finality, that an abstract machinism, that a “thought,” if you will, governs the evolution of each branch of the animal phylum? Admittedly, not an individually aranged thought, but a thought with “n” dimensions where everything starts to think at the same time, individuals as well as groups, the “chemical” as well as the “chormosomal” or the biosphere…Nothing is played out in advance! The general laws that appear to arise from universal causalities never reign at the local, regional level where their incidence always remains partial and delimited. An intelligence and even a sort of cosmic consciousness can thus preside over the choices that orient the developments of a species. Conversely, a blind and catastrophic fear can seize the most developed human society and lead it to set up systems of subjection and enslavement bringing it closer to societies of hymenoptera (production for production’s sake, systematic segregation, generalized gulags…).”

    Ok, so it’s not necessarily the same thing, but I think that this question of bridging the ethological and the sociological/biological leads a similar struggle insofar as it attempts to show that the anthropological does not have a monopoly on all things related to thought and even aesthetic reception/perception/affection/reflection.

  33. I like the passage. In fact, I’m always surprised at how much I like Guattari, even though most philosophy types are in the habit of blaming Guattari’s nefarious influence for anything Deleuze does wrong. As a classically minded philosopher myself, I’d be a perfect candidate for the same attitude, but… I generally feel sympathetic to Guattari’s philosophical utterances, including the one you cite here.

  34. “Here I’m not sure I agree. Whenever I sit on a job search committee, *everyone* these days seems to be writing a Ph.D. about Kant, and not just as a historical figure– they all seem to think he’s basically right.”

    I guess I don’t get out much so you might be right – I think it’s a good trend, but then I have my reasons, of course, I don’t think that being read as a historical figure necessary means one is read as being wrong… I do think that you’re right about Leibniz – I think the issue in the English-speaking world is mainly the availability of his writings – Yale volumes are super-expensive, Monadology is short and without context is pretty inaccessible, I think, and Theodicy doesn’t have a good edition, as far as I can tell and is difficult to use as an introductory text (I tried). I mean unlike the other figures we’ve mentioned so far, Leibniz seems the type that it always impossible to introduce someone to – why do you think there isn’t that much excitement about him?

  35. His sort of wild metaphysical speculation is really out of fashion these days, and it’s too bad.

    But hey Mikhail, congratulations on guessing Rasputin correctly! I won’t disqualify Russians from answering, because no else dared to guess.

  36. This has been a very interesting discussion (though a bit hard to keep up with!) – I think Nick’s comment about a companion to the necessity of contingency – a contingent necessity or a contingent real. And it seems this contingent real is the weirdness of a weird realism – the ridiculousness of pushing the realism beyond Kantian limits – I think Graham says something about this in regards to Leibniz.

    I am tempted to talk about Lacan (he is my original master or what have you) because I feel like psychoanalysis is the most self-critical materialism, that it’s a materialism that is aware of what falls outside of discourse – but whether or not that outside (the Real) is matter or not is a big issue.

    And it’s good to see discussion of Ortega – I was introduced to him via his Quixote book and thought he was an interesting thinker who was very hard to place in terms of the history of philosophy – other than a modernist.

  37. Ah, the Quixote book. It’s been 20 years since I read that one, but now might be a good time for a reread. (That’s one of the odd phenomena of aging… There start to be lots of things you vividly remember doing without vividly remembering what it was like, something impossible when you’re young and it’s all-or-nothing.)

  38. Thanks, Graham – since we’re confusedly cross-blogging, I don’t know if anyone answered your question concerning special characters and keyboards: on WordPress you can insert a “custom character” by pressing a button with Omega-looking sign, it has all the necessary (and unnecessary) characters…

  39. Thanks, though I was actually more worried about being able to insert the special characters into Word documents. A reader named Anton did post a comment explaining how to do it, and his tip worked.

  40. Pingback: overlooked philosopher: Ortega « Object-Oriented Philosophy

  41. Graham wrote: ‘The problem was that the human-world relation becomes the sole locus of philosophy, while the cotton-fire gap is abandoned to the natural sciences.’

    Why do you say ‘abandoned’? Has it ever occurred to you that, if we want to obtain objective knowledge about (i.e. rather than merely poetize about) the real nature of ‘the human-world relation’, or the interaction of fire and cotton, or anything else, it’s actually to the sciences that we ought to be looking? I really don’t see what philosophy, understood as first-order discourse about the nature of the world (as you seem to be arguing we should understand it), might have to contribute to such things that would be of any cognitive significance. Are you suggesting that the armchair philosopher, sitting at his desk and contriving to come up with newfangled ways to express what the world seems like to him, while relying upon nothing more than the resources of ordinary language, is able to make contributions to the cognitive enterprise of finding out about the objective nature of the world which might compete with or even somehow surpass those of the sciences? What exactly is it which so disappoints you about scientific descriptions and explanations of the world if not that they deprive you of some kind of qualitative relation to it which you enjoy in everyday phenomenological experience? In other words, what is it which you think gets lost when the explanation of things is ‘abandoned to the natural sciences’? I can well imagine that it might be disappointing for some people to learn that the scientific account of light in terms electromagnetic radiation makes no mention of its phenomenal ‘luminance’. However, unless you want to elevate an extremely peripheral feature of light (i.e. its capacity to stimulate the rods and cones of terrestrial animals) into one of its intrinsic features, I’m afraid that the only rational thing to do is to accept that light just is precisely what science tells us it is. Thus, if what you want is a non-human-centred realism, isn’t that precisely what the natural sciences provide (or, at least, provide us with the best approximation to)? A metaphysics which attributes to mind-independent nature such anthropomorphic notions as ‘intentionality’, ‘allure’, ‘sincerity’, ‘touching’ and the ability to ‘hide’ from one another; and moreover which holds that ‘the only place in the cosmos where interactions occur is in the sensual, phenomenal realm’; this certainly doesn’t sound like a viable programme for such a metaphysical realism to me, at least. Perhaps you could set me straight on some of this?

  42. Pingback: Eclipse as Object « Ktismatics

  43. Graham, re my above comment: In retrospect, it comes across a lot more confrontationally that I’d intended it to. It was written in a hurry and while I was suffering from a few days of lost sleep, so please accept my apologies for the somewhat aggressive tone ;-). Still, anything you might have to say in reply, if or when you get the time, would be greatly appreciated …

  44. I doubt Graham is soft Damian, so I wouldn’t worry about the tone. Besides, being confrontational and being aggressive are two different things. The latter may be more positive insofar as it stirs people to define their limits and come forth and speak concretely, which is nothing to apologize for. Being polemical has its place when their is substance to back it up (and I would say you ask a fundamental, and not frivolous, question).

  45. Yes, agreed — I think a bit of polemic can help sharpen the dialectic, as it were. It’s just that there are ways of putting things which don’t run the risk of alienating one’s interlocutor from the outset — thus the apology.

  46. Well put, and I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’m not sure if he’s seen the comment yet since he’s just begun his own blog and is going to be running around Paris…I’ll make sure he knows so he can get back to you. If I had to put in my two cents, I do not think Graham’s comment about “abandon” to the natural sciences was meant to be negative toward the latter…I think he meant something stronger like…if we confine ourselves to the same type of anthropocentric/correlationist limitations, then there’s no way the natural scientist and philosopher can even participate within the same discursive coordinates…it would seem that, in my view, instead of cotton or fire having to be abandoned, the philosopher alienates him/herself qua his/her discourse, etc.

  47. Pingback: Object-oriented philosophy | The Row Boat by Nathan Schneider

  48. Most of the links are dead, would it be possible to re-up these articles?
    As a french art student I’m curious to know what Harman says in “aesthetics as cosmology” but can’t find it on the web.

    • Hi Y.D. – unfortunately most of the essays had to be taken down as they’ll be appearing in Harman’s new book. My suggestion is to try contacting Graham himself (gharman[at]aucegypt.edu) and I’m sure he’ll be happy to send it over.

      Cheers,
      -Nick

  49. Y.D. did contact me, and I did send him the essay he wanted. (Ironically, it was one of those that *will not* be appearing in the collection, since I deemed it too similar to parts of Guerrilla Metaphysics.)

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