Graham Harman has replied to Edward Hackett’s critical post, and has insisted that his philosophy is not materialist but realist. In doing so he shows a basic incomprehension of these terms as usually employed in Continental Philosophy, and introduces much confusion into the understanding of his own philosophy.
It is not an error to say that Harman’s OOO is a form of materialism, and we have every right to maintain the accepted definition of materialism, as against Harman’s Pickwickian revisionary sense. In his own terms Harman may not be a “materialist” but this atypical usage cannot dictate how we describe him in our own terms. A very simple standard definition of materialism in Continental Philosophy is:
(1) it poses the existence of real objects and relations
(2) these real objects and relations are not dependent on the individual or collective mind for their existence.
No mention need be made of some material stuff for a position to be counted materialist in this sense.
The only nuance I would propose is to distinguish between the manifest and the latent content of Harman’s OOO. In the manifest content, Harman accepts these two postulates of materialism, and is effectively a materialist. Whatever he may claim in terms of his own revised definitions, he is merely in denial of the obvious. However, at the latent level of his own method (insofar as he has one) he abstracts from all real and imagined experience to posit his real objects outside all time. These real objects are pure idealities, artefacts of his own spirit, and so Harman is an idealist.
I think Harman is in bad faith, or more precisely under the anxiety of influence, when he claims not to see why the axiom “the whole is not” is materialist. To affirm that the whole is not is one way of saying that objects can never exhaust each other, neither individually nor collectively. It signifies that objects withdraw from any whole that we can propose or construct. So, contrary to Harman’s claim, this axiom is the opposite of overmining, and it is the refusal of the omnipotence of the mind. “The whole is not” means that objects are real and independent (of each other, and of the mind).
The axiom “the whole is not” must be understood in terms of the refusal of the notion of expressive totlaity and of its basis in internal relations. Althusser, who was a far better object oriented ontologist than Harman, already said all this with his critique of expressive totalities and his distinction between real objects and theoretical objects.
All that Harman can justifiably say is that his OOO is not a scientific materialism, but even here we must be prudent as his portrait of science as essentially “undermining” is a grotesque caricature. For some remarks on this last point see my critical review of Harman’s book THE THIRD TABLE.