HARMAN’S CARTOGRAPHY OF REDUCTIONISM: the problem of external relations

Graham Harman’s little book, THE THIRD TABLE, gives a very clear presentation of his views on reductionism, as exemplified in the sciences and the humanities, but also in the commonsense view of the world. However his vision of science as based on the downwards reduction of everything to atomistic multiplicities and of the humanities as based on the upwards reduction of everything to expressive totalities is profoundly anachronistic. Harman’s analysis of commonsense as merely a variant of the humanistic upward reduction is even more lacunary, unfounded and unsatisfying.

The book makes it clear that Harman’s posit of the real object is based on a concept of “emergence” that is in fundamental contradiction with his concept of “withdrawal”. He attempts to hide this contradiction by propounding a doctrine based on a half-hearted combination of both concepts in the notion of the object as “autonomous unity”. This notion of autonomous unity is derived from the watering down of “withdrawal” into autonomy, and of expressive totality (block universe) into a plurality of “unities”.

Harman’s system cannot deal with relations. He constantly confronts his reader with the choice between reduction to unrelated atoms or absorption into an omni-related totality. His critique of undermining and overmining presupposes that all relations are internal, i.e. Harman has no concept of external relations. Thus Harman’s cartography of reductionism has no application to the thought of the last 150 years, and constitutes a radical conceptual regression.

For more details see my review here.

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