In WORD AND OBJECT the philosopher and logician Willard Van Orman Quine proposes a technique called « semantic ascent » to resolve certain problems in philosophy. This technique invites us to formulate our philosophical problems no longer in material terms, as questions concerning the components of the world (« objects »), but rather in formal terms, as questions concerning the correct usage and the correct analysis of our linguistic expressions (« words »). The idea was to find common ground for discussing the competing claims of conflicting or incommensurable points of view. This was Quine’s version of the « linguistic turn » and he had high hopes for it. The history of analytic philosophy has shown that this method is insufficient and in practice totally ineffective, for the important disputes concern just as much the terms to be employed and the interpretation to be given them as soon as we begin to discusss any interesting philosophical problem.
Graham Harman in THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, and in his other works devoted to his « object-oriented philosophy » (in particular those expounding his « object-oriented ontology »), proposes the mirror image of Quine’s technique. He advocates and tries to practice a form of semantic descent to overthrow the linguistic turn shared by many 20th century philosophies, and to replace it with an ontological turn. According to Harman the fundamental problems of ontology must be reformulated in terms of objects (which must be further subdivided into real and sensual objects) and of their qualities (real and sensual). Real objects are not the objects of our familiar world nor those of science (such objects are for Harman mere simulacra, « utter shams », cf. THE THIRD TABLE, p6). Harman’s real objects are philosophical objects which withdraw behind their external effects. We cannot touch Harman’s real objects, we cannot know them, but they and their relations are the real components of the world. The world is reduced to a composition of objects, and this objectal reduction is Harman’s proposed solution to the problems of philosophy.