HARMAN’S OBJECTATION (1): Semantic Descent and Objectal Reduction

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.

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8 commentaires pour HARMAN’S OBJECTATION (1): Semantic Descent and Objectal Reduction

  1. Bill Benzon dit :

    Have you seen my old post on objects in Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Harman’s Quadruple O?


    Of course, Wittgenstein discussed objects in that way as preparation for introducing formal logic as a mirror of the world (and as a proxy for natural language).


  2. terenceblake dit :

    Yes, your post points out some sort of kinship. The problem is that for Wittgenstein, the world is composed of facts, i.e. objects in relation: « The world is the totality of facts, not of things », « The world divides into facts ». Harman’s ontology compared to this is a veritable objectal reduction.


  3. Bill Benzon dit :

    Oh, of course, W & H are up to very different things. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

    But I’m not sure what you mean by ‘objectal reduction.’ Harman certainly isn’t a reductionist in the sense of wanting reduce the phenomena of, say, biology, to those of physics and chemistry. He would certainly say that biology has its objects of study as physics and chemistry have theirs and the objects of biology cannot be reduced to those of physics and chemistry nor can the laws (relations?) of biology be reduced to those of physics and chemistry. Biological objects, however, can perfectly well have chemical or physics entities as parts.

    When you say ‘objectal reduction’ you seem to be talking about the conceptual equipment Harman deploys, that he’s swept everything away but objects (and their qualities and relations).


  4. terenceblake dit :

    Hello Bill, here you are « channelling » Harman , saying what he « would » say, without a single quotation. I have written a lot to show that among the various possibilities Harman chooses to see the world as composed of objects and their relations (as your quotation of his SR/OOO tutorial shows). This is a reduction of all the other modes of knowing (« types of prehension », says Kacem) and of the world to the objects posited by his philosophical mode of intellection. This is outside of his view of the relations between the sciences, which you presume to « channel » and to tell me what Harman « would » say. You do him too much honour. Harman is a bogus philosopher and he is incapable of expounding a coherent doctrine. You cannot save him, nor can you save the time you spent on him. Neither can I.
    UPDATE: I tried to suppress this but it still remained visible in Google Reader, so I have decided to restore it. Bill has given a quote (see his comment below) which shows he knows what he is saying, and not « channeling » as I accused him. So I was out of line. But even before seeing his quote I had decided that my tone was all wrong in his case. Given that he replied to this comment, I have decided to let it stand with this disclaimer and apology.


  5. Bill Benzon dit :

    From The Quadruple Object, p. 10: « Our goal is not just to say that the humanities are irreducible to physics, but that geology and chemistry are irreducible to physics as well. Each domain has its realities, which are not reducible to where they came from. Object-oriented philosophy does not reduce… »

    As for « saving » the time I have spent on him, that’s not an issue. I didn’t spend that time with the intention of perhaps signing on to his system, or a kindred one. I’m not looking for a philsophical system. For whatever reason I’m interested in the fact that some people seem to find this family of ideas to be attractive and I want to get a sense of why. To do that I’ve got to get in there and work with them. Which I’ve been doing. In various ways.

    On the whole I find Latour more interesting.


  6. Ping : LATOUR DE-TEMPORALISED: Graham Harman’s synchronic travesty of Latour’s experimental metaphysics | AGENT SWARM

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