HARMAN’S CONFUSIONISM: ambiguous terminology and conceptual conflation

1) HARMAN CONFLATES KNOWLEDGE AND ACCESS

Harman argues against “philosophies of access”, but this is just to redo, only much more sloppily, the critical work done by Popper and Sellars, Quine and Kuhn, Bachelard and Feyerabend, Lacan and Althusser, Wittgenstein and Rorty refuting and dismantling the dogmas of empiricism. Far from going beyond the post-structuralists Harman has not even caught up with the structuralists. No important philosophy of the 20th Century has been a philosophy of access, and Harman’s OOO is a regression on most of the preceding philosophy that he claims to critique and surpass.Knowledge is not “access”.

2) HARMAN CONFLATES RELATIONS AND INTERACTIONS

Knowledge is neither access nor contact. Propositional relations are not access. An interaction is not in general access, either. More importantly, a relation is not the same thing as an interaction. Harman conflates all this to obtain some blurry straw-man that even a 10 year old child would have no trouble refuting. So the whole picture of relations as not “exhausting” the qualities of the object accessed is erroneous. Thus “withdrawal” has no sense as a general concept. These terms “access”, “exhaust” “withdrawal” are normally part of a temporal, dynamic vocabulary. They are used illegitimately in Harman’s system and serve to give an allure of temporality to what is in fact an ontology of stasis.

3 ) HARMAN DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE PLURALIST CRITIQUES OF MONISM

Harman is so concentrated on criticising the privilege given to human access and to anthropocentric assumptions in general, a rearguard action if ever there was one, that he has no understanding at all for the recent and contemporary pluralist philosophies that attempt to track down and dissolve the privilege given to reified categories and to monist assumptions in general. Harman’s ontology falls under the pluralist critiques of the post-structuralists and the post-empiricists.

4) HARMAN’S CONTRADICTIONS ARE DISGUISED BY AMBIGUOUS TERMINOLOGY AND CONCEPTUAL CONFLATION

Harman’s OOO relies on a systematic ambiguity in his key terms (object, withdrawal) between their use as meta-categories and their use as categories. We can never see or touch or know an object (meta-category) but he constantly gives examples from different domains (category). Withdrawal means ultimate abstraction from sensual qualities and relations, absolutely no direct contact or relation (meta-category), or it just means the sensual richness of objects, always more than our immediate experience of them. We get a contradictory synthesis between a Northern asceticism and a Mediterranean sensualism. But in the last instance this concrete abundance, this aesthetic sensualism is declared to be an “utter sham”.

5) HARMAN’S SYSTEM IS BASED ON HOMOLOGICAL CONFLATION

It is at the level of his ontology as rudimentary set of meta-categories that the homology of Harman’s OOO with speculative capitalism can be affirmed. Badiou accepts the existence of this homology for his own ontology, and takes it very seriously as a problem. Hence his repeated engagement with the concepts of the event and change, requiring him to complete his synchronic ontology with a diachronic supplement. Harman’s response is just incomprehension and denialism, as with all the other critiques that his system has received. Nevertheless it is the internal homology between meta-categories and the categories that instantiate them (which makes of Harman’s system an elaborate play on words) that makes possible the external homologies between Harman’s system and various concrete domains, including the economy.

6) OOO’S PHILOSOPHICAL INTELLECTION HAS PRIMACY: all else is illusion

The question of primacy remains moot in contemporary philosophy. Despite repeated allusions to the collapse of foundations and the attempt to construct a post-foundationalist philosophy, contemporary thinkers still grapple with this question. One must ask of each philosophy: to what does it give primacy – to philosophy, science, art, religion, or common sense (or to none)? Badiou and Harman give primacy to (transcendental, meta-level) philosophy. Laruelle is more ambiguous, giving primacy to science, yet including non-standard philosophy on the same level as the sciences.Deleuze and Guattari in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? are somewhere between the two positions, and so seem to avoid the pitfalls of primacy: they situate philosophy on the same level as the sciences (and the arts) but make philosophy capable of meta-operations that take “functions” in physics (and affects and percepts in the arts) as objects of its own philosophical concepts.

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