SHORT DEFINITION OF OBJECT-ORIENTED ONTOLOGY (OOO)

Object-oriented ontology is a self-contradictory philosophy that purports to put objects at the center of its study. However, one of its central tenets is that objects are “withdrawn”, and thus they cannot be studied.

OOO also makes nonsensical claims such as “all objects exist equally”, despite its positing a radical difference between sensual objects and relations (the objects and relations of all sense-experience, imagination, knowledge, and thought) and “real” objects and relations (the objects and relations of an esoteric indirect intellectual intuition).

Note: OOO, in the form proposed by its inventor Graham Harman, denies the reality of time.

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14 Responses to SHORT DEFINITION OF OBJECT-ORIENTED ONTOLOGY (OOO)

  1. JH says:

    Terrence, I’m afraid that you sometimes resort to the same exact moves you criticize for OOO to have employed, which is to caricature a set of arguments without much rigor. I do not think Harman says that the withdrawn objects cannot be studied. They cannot be studied directly, but can be approached through indirect ways.

    Also, an object has both sensual and real qualities, no matter what particular object it is. As all objects share this faculty, they can be said to be equal in this matter. I am not sure where you find a problem here.

    About the notion of time, Harman certainly does not subscribe to the usual idea of what time is – it as a linear, externally grounded thing. I do not see much problem in this. However, if you see certain problems, please argue them first and then declare attacks on OOO. I am far from being a proponent of OOO, but I do not think your hostile tone invites fair discussions.

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  2. terenceblake says:

    I think OOO relies on an impression of concreteness that it does not live up to. Harman says that real objects cannot be sensed, imagined, or cognized. So I draw the obvious conclusion that they cannot be studied. Harman tries to get around this difficulty by his talk of “indirect” relations, but real objects withdraw from relations, and “indirect” here has no conceptual content, only rhetorical. In almost all places where he considers the distinction between real and sensual, Harman talks about real objects and sensual objects. He does not talk about real and sensual aspects of the same object.

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  3. terenceblake says:

    I have argued my position at length on this blog and in articles on my academia.edu page, eg: PLURALIST THOUGHTS ON GRAHAM HARMAN’S MONIST IDEALISM.

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  4. terenceblake says:

    On the question of time Harman has always been very unclear in his explanations of his thesis that time is unreal. I see no way he can make coherent sense of that claim.

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  5. terenceblake says:

    I am willing to make an effort on the “hostile tone”, but I remain more than ever hostile to what I believe is an intellectual fraud.

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    • JH says:

      I think the difference lies on the fact that you think positing a table “unthinkable for us” is an incoherent, ideal task, whereas I see it as a justifiable and a worthy effort.

      To revive an old issue, if you think OOO is an intellectual fraud, I think there are better ways to approach the issue. I don’t think your IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? is clear enough, maybe touching on too many issues at once and attacking OOO polemically with the rhetoric of “there are better things out there, no need for OOO”. With such a presentation, I think there is a reason that Harman does not read you carefully, since you are too quick to judge, especially with a dramatic, but very one-sided term like “Monist Idealism”. Sometimes, I wonder why you are still writing about OOO, if you don’t think it is any useful.

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      • terenceblake says:

        The table is not “unthinkable for us”, but unthinkable (in Harman’s system). It cannot be refered to, as reference is a relation. Harman uses terms very loosely and sloppily, often conflating relation and interaction, for example. My IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? needs to be supplemented by my analysis of THE THIRD TABLE, which makes the discussion more specific. I do not polemicise that “there are better things out there”, I take Harman at his word and argue that it is incoherent. Then to highlight his incoherence I take one alternative philosophy, Feyerabend’s pluralistic ontology. I also situate OOO in a historical narrative going back to Althusser’s structuralism and extending to Deleuze and beyond. In other articles I extend that narrative, and the comparison, by considering the philosophies of Badiou, Latour, and Laruelle.

        On terminology, Harman’s OOO is monist, because it rules out all the other tables than his own posited table as “unreal”. A second reason is that there is no way of counting or even differentiating “real” objects on his account, as all qualities and relations, sensed or known, have been subtracted ex hypothesi. It is idealist because its only method is intellectual intuition, its objects are pure noetic correlates of that intuition, and all material qualities, including countability and temporal relations, have been subtracted.

        Why do I still write about OOO? Because it is still there, and it is still leading people into error by dishonest presentations of itself and of recent philosophical history. Further, it has tried to publicise itself by all means and at the same time to stifle, or at least to travest, all opposition. A typical argument it uses, when it cannot ignore the existence of objections, is what I have called “tonal criticism”. All arguments are reduced to their “tone”, and surprisingly enough, the tone is declared “hostile”. Another argument, which Pete Wolfendale was subjected to as well, is: if OOO is so unimportant, why are you talking about it? OOO does not merit much discussion in itself, but principally because of the misplaced importance it has received.

        I am aware that for many people who admire a philosophy it is painful when someone comes along and argues that the philosophy is incoherent and that they have been misled by the propaganda about it or by not thinking through the implications. The temptation is strong to blame the messenger. However, this is all part of what philosophy is all about.

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    • JH says:

      I’ve mentioned your “hostile tone” not because I saw it as a sort of supplement to your writings, but since I saw it as hindering your reasoning and clarity. I am critical of OOO as well, but even when I am reading something very misguided by Harman like his lectures on William James and Whitehead (these do tend to show how narrow-minded Harman can be, with his ‘correlation/non-correlation’ logic), I wish to start out what Harman really wants to achieve and see where he gets things wrong, how he can be credited with certain things though he certainly gets many details wrong.

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  6. Sounds like Harman doesn’t believe in the Theory of Relativity much …

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    • terenceblake says:

      I think Harman’s vision of science, insofar as it is contained in his definition of “undermining” is pre-quantum and pre-relativity, and even pre-Maxwellian wave mechanics.

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      • Oh, okay. I honestly haven’t done much research on Harman. But based on your post, I had a fleeting thought about Relativity and how if, according to Harman, objects can’t be directly studied and there is no concept of time, then it would seem like in Harman’s perspective that Einstein had wasted some brain cells. I am going to read some more about Harman though. He seems to be interesting.

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      • JH says:

        Again, I think that is caricaturing Harman. It still stands that a scientific view of an object is an analytical perspective of an object, though it does not always have to be “atomic”. I also plead that we not throw around terms and theories in quantum mechanics as if they can do anything for us. What Harman proposes is a table which resists being completely understood by any particular theory or discourse, even if that means quantum physics which does not represent “undermining” in its graphic sense. He would agree that a table can be studied, analyzed, used in any way by us, but he also wants to preserve a certain aspect of the table which is not touched by any particular way of thinking about it. Terence, I still cannot see how then this is idealistic.

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  7. terenceblake says:

    Your answer is typical of someone who forms a vague idea of what Harman “must” mean, and who neglects the texts. I advise you to read and to quote from THE THIRD TABLE and most of what you say here will just disappear. Harman’s definition of “undermining” involves decomposing an object into smaller parts, and this is inadequate to modern science. I do not “throw around”terms in quantum science, I just appeal to the fact that it is a form of wave mechanics, and not atomistic in Harman’s sense. Harman proposes a third “real table” and calls the table of common sense and that of science “unreal”, “shams”. He really does that in the book, I am not making this up, his philosophy is that bad. It is not at all a question of an object not being “completely understood”, whatever that may mean, but of not being understandable by common sense or the humanities or science. The idealism comes in when he posits an unsenseable, unknowable “real” table seized only by his intellectual intuition and “indirectly” (once again a word that does no work, but that suggests intermediaries when none are proposed and when they are forbidden by his basic ontology). Harman subtracts all sensory and cognized qualities, so he preserves nothing.

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    • JH says:

      I am doing a charitable reading of Harman, seeing what can be use and what cannot be, whereas you seem to only look for what can be most severely criticized. I of course do not agree with much of how Harman arrives at his concept of ‘dormant objects’, but I do think that something can be preserved even when all sensory and cognized qualities are taken away. I do not even think this is strictly against Feyerabendian pluralism. In fact, my view is that there have to be ‘objects’ which do not touch each other and stay in their own terms, like Leibniz’s monads, for there to be true pluralism.

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