PROBLEMS OF WITHDRAWAL-ORIENTED ONTOLOGY (1): « examples » and self-contradiction

Harman’s version of withdrawal-oriented ontology, OOP, is conceptually incoherent and terminolgically confused. In his object-oriented philosophy words do not mean what they seem to. Harman equivocates with the familiar connotations and associations of the word “object” to give the impression that he is a concrete thinker. Unfortunately he cannot give any examples of real objects, as this is expressly forbidden by the basic postulates of his system.

Far from embodying an excitingand salutary return to the concrete world after the abstract philosophies of structuralism, deconstruction, post-modernism and post-structuralism, OOP attains even greater  heights of abstraction. It proposes what amounts to a new form of negative theology, postulating the existence of an invisible, untouchable, unknowable, ineffable object that « withdraws« .

No concrete example of a « real » object can be given, without self-contradiction, as it would be taken from what Harman calls the « sensual », i.e. sham, realm. Yet in his books and articles Harman repeatedly gives examples, which in terms of his own philosophy embodies the very category mistake that philosophy is designed to prevent.

Real objects supposedly withdraw from all relation, but Harman systematically conflates access, contact, relation, and interaction. His often repeated argument to establish the inability of relational ontologies to explain change exhibits rather his own inability to understand relations and to make simple conceptual distinctions. Harman argues that if everything were related nothing would change. However, this ignores kinetic relations (differences of speed and of acceleration) and dynamical relations (forces exerted by one object on another).

« Withdrawal-oriented ontology » would be the best description of Harman’s philosophy if he were able to avoid the self-contradiction of postulating both that the real is withdrawn (i.e. unknown, and unknowable even in principle) and that he knows it is made of objects.

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