Argument: Graham Harman, contrary to the legend he has tried to accredit, did not have to confront a philosophical world dominated by anti-realism and the epistemology of access.
Let us recall a few well-known facts in the history of philosophy prior to the birth of OOO. Harman was born in 1968, so he was one year old when Althusser’s FOR MARX was published in English and two years old when READING CAPITAL was published. These books contain a critic of the « problematic of the subject » and a fully worked out alternative account of the difference between the sensual, or ideological, object and the real object. They also give an explanation of how knowledge of the real object is possible, one which does not have any recourse to a knowing subject. No hegemony of access there
Harman was 4 years old when Karl Popper’s article « Epistemology without a knowing subject », originally given as a talk in 1968, was published in a collection of Popper’s talks and articles called OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE (1972). The main theme of this book is that knowledge is not a matter of subjective belief or access but of objectively formulated and testable speculation.
Foucault’s THE ARCHEOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE also came out in English in 1972, it contains a definitive liquidation of all « philosophies of access ».
Bruno Latour’s LABORATORY LIFE came out in 1979 (Harman was eleven). This book is based on a similar rejection of the presupposition that knowledge is access, which Latour replaces with the thesis that knowledge is objective construction.
Harman’s phantasmatic history of philosophy effaces all the pro-realist anti-subjectivist advances of the 1960s and 1970s. Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Althusser, Foucault, Badiou, Deleuze, Dagognet, Latour, Laruelle, Michel Serres – all these disappear in Harman’s phantasmatic narrative. One would be entitled to think that all Harman knows about recent philosophy of science, science studies, and French philosophy is contained in Sokal and Bricmont’s books. This is no chance resemblance: Harman profits from the dogmatic regression that was one of the effects of the Science Wars in some quarters, and uses the resulting wave of intolerance to provoke the « Object War ».
The Object War is a purely illusory battle where Harman reassures people that he is defending their common sense intuitions about a world of objects, when in fact his philosophy is based on the assumption that all that these people think, and believe, and experience is pure illusion. But this battle itself is pure illusion.
The real battle, the Realism War, was won by the realists long before Harman set pen to paper.