sábado, 15 de enero de 2011

Some Problems With Object Oriented Ontology: Reality, Relation, Knowledge


Some Problems With Object Oriented Ontology:

- Reality, Relation, Knowledge -


I – Withdrawal and Relation, Reality and Sensation
I was just thinking about some of my lingering preoccupations and questions about Object Oriented Ontology, which have in some ways remained even after my series of exchanges and conversations with Graham and Levi, through e-mails, at last year’s OOO conference, and in the blogs. I think in the past I might have been a bit too obscure when formulating  these, so I want to reformulate some of my concerns, this time aided by a few diagrams which help illustrate where the problem lies as I see it.

Concretely, my questions arise with respect to the thesis of withdrawal, i.e. the thesis that real objects recede when entering relations to other objects. The latter is supplemented with the thesis that two objects only enter in relation inside a third object, in which the first two become mediated. This third object is endowed with a unity and provides a reductive buffer zone where the two initial objects meet. The real objects underlying the relation, for their part, remain ontologically subsistent even if the relation and thus the mediating object under which it enters with another object is destroyed.

 For clarity’s sake, I will use in what follows the example proposed by Joseph Goodson about myself and my computer. First, we run the hypothetical thesis that there exist two real objects with a subsistent, endogenous structure, myself and my computer. Let us say at one point I am in class, away from my computer, and no seeming relation between the two occurs then. We simply have two isolated substances of the following form:

  That is coarse enough for a diagram! It must be noted that Graham's The Quadruple Object delivers a much more rich and contrived set of diagrams that the embarrassing ones presented here. Hopefully, these modest attempts will suffice for the points I seek to advance provisionally. In any case, things get more interesting in the next step.

  Provided I have understood Graham correctly, the next stage would describe how these two real objects enter into relation. As described above, this involves the appearance of a third object which buffers the two. Expanding Heidegger’s thesis that theory distorts or reduces its intentional object in relation, Graham argues that all relations between objects must perform this occlusion/reduction. Thus, the third object which constitutes the intentional relation between the two hosts is an emergent new object also called real, insofar as it is an entity ontologically irreducible to its parts, and which only obtains when two or more real objects enter in relation. The real objects corresponding to this relation would nevertheless remain thereby withdrawn from what would be communicated/transmitted and given inside the unified buffer of this third and emergent real object.

  One might thereby question whether we should include within this third real object the 'real objects' that constitute their hosts. This is a fairly interesting point in its own right, but has no bearing for my argument here. In what follows I capture the withdrawal thesis by excluding the real objects from the new real object qua emergent intentional relation, insofar as the aspects buffered therein do not comprise the totality of the entities which enter into the relation. So, to run with our basic example, let us imagine that I return home after class, and sit down with to my computer and start typing a blog post in it. The next diagram expresses the relation which obtains thus:

APPENDIX - January 28th / 2011
I know the arrows for 'translation' indicated here are debatable for the reasons which follow from those outlined above, but I don't think their placing affects the argument I shall offer below in any case. Also, this diagram seems to contradict Graham's claim that relations are always asymmetrical, i.e. a real object only ever interacts with a sensual one, and vice versa. No two real objects ever touch, just as no sensual objects touch. This, however, is problematic as I see it, and warrants a different reconstruction. The reason is that at the very least a considerable number of relations produce a bilateral distortion of their objects: when I type in my computer the latter distorts me and apprehends only a sensual correlate relative to its capabilities, reducing me to some relation specific construction (the fingers pressing it...). But by the same token, my fingers likewise reduce the computer qua whole to a series of partial sensual counterparts, i.e. the keys which I press, the feel they produce, the screen I watch. This being said, this creates an issue if we want to say that the intentional relation is a single real object, paired with the thesis of asymmetry. This is because if the real me is inside the relation paired to its sensual related term, we would surely also need, at the side, the complementary couple of the real computer with its sensual me. But this seems awkward, since, what we get in that case is rather TWO relations whose unity is far from obvious. This would seem to imply that such cases imply two different emergent real relations obtain, which I do not think is what Graham advocates. If one constructs this bilateral distortion in a single emergent relation, then we have two unrelated halves within the same emergent object, in which case there seems nothing to justify their intrinsic unity.

For these reasons, I believe the thesis of asymmetry fails to capture the essential problem of withdrawal and relation: all an object ever encounters is an aspect of another, and by the same token, no object as a whole ever encounters another fully. Objects distort each other bilaterally.  When I type in my computer I surely am distorted by the computer and only part of me becomes invested in this relation; just as only part of the computer ever interacts with this part. The real totalities presumed as causing these sensual counterparts which encounter each other are never given to any of the terms. Likewise, unless all objects or some objects (cognitively endowed systems, i.e. humans) can epistemically access their total being in every occasion of relation by some form of privileged access, beings withdraw from themselves in every case, and not just from others. In any case, the crucial point is that in every relation, what is given to each of the terms is never the real object in its totality, but only a translation/distortion. This raises interesting questions about how self-relation works in OOO, but i'll leave that aside for now. With this in place, we can proceed to review the main qualms and quarrels with Graham's account.

II - The Qualms and Quarrels 
The crucial aspect about the second moment is that in my relating to my computer there is a) a third real object constituted as the real Daniel-PC unity, and b) that the real Daniel and the real PC withdraw from what is given to each term within this relation qua unified object. What this means is that what is given to a term in the relation is never strictly speaking another real object as such, but some aspect(s) of it which gets translated, and which becomes relative to the particular network proper to the objects as emergent, unified reality. I know that the jargon of ‘translation’ is really Levi’s, but it is useful here to indicate that what the Daniel-PC unity unifies is not the real objects of their hosts as such, but the sensual doubles to which they become reduced upon encounter.

   Thus when I type in my computer the keyboard relates to a reduced aspect of my whole (the fingers touching it) while most of me remains withdrawn from what this relation relates. By the same token, the keys themselves as registered by my fingers whilst typing only constitute a small part of the whole contrived circuitry, processes and parts which surely make up the computer as a whole. No matter how apparently exhaustive the relation may be between two objects, in their relating their substantive realities withdraw, and only sensual images appear to each of the terms. Distortions are given to distortions; aspects are given to aspects. Or to use Graham's phrase: real objects never touch each other directly. The function of the third real object is therefore to create a 'linked complex space' wherein specific aspects of each real object get translated by its counterpart, given as a new (also emergent) sensual object. It should also be noted that in Graham's dualism of sensual/real entities one may also distinguish between substances/parts. Therefore just as much as the real-PC withdraws from my mediation in relation to the sensual keys parts and sensed PC whole as I distort it, there (may be) real key-parts and a real PC whole that withdraws from my distortion. The same obviously applies to the computer's/keys distortion of my own substantive unity and parts. The withdrawal of entities thus applies in the case human relations as much in practice as it does in theorizing. Extending the Lacanian thesis of the non-sexual rapport, or the Heideggerean thesis of ontological 'forgetfulness', OOO advances a thesis about the non-rapport between any real objects.

Here is where I find that some very rudimentary questions can be raised, in spite of Levi's recent proclamations about how OOO has been circumspect in providing support for their claims. The first obvious observation concerns the status of real objects. Since every time I think about, type in, or generally relate to my computer, either in practice or theory, the real object in relation to me withdraws, how do I know that it is, in fact, one real PC that is withdrawing and not a multitude of PC-Parts, or of qualitatively different real objects altogether? More specifically, since every time I think/act towards my PC this will be towards a sensual distortion of the object, how can I ever know anything about the structure of real objects as such?

Graham’s answer to this crude objection is simply that we cannot know anything with certainty about the structure of particular real objects. In our first correspondence, as elsewhere, he claims that we nevertheless could bear standards 'for better or worse' at a loss for such certainty, and given the fallibility of knowledge. But this is dodging the issue; since given the irreductionist thesis advanced by OOO, no set of descriptions and no ontic register is said to gain privileged traction before the real.   Just like science keeps revising its stock of phenomena and forces over history, we must accept the overwhelming possibility that those entities and forces to which we endow unity in our relatings might turn out to be in reality totally different from the way they appear to us right now. It is important to notice, however, that this limitation in fact follows in principle from Graham’s thesis of withdrawal, since the real object can never coincide or be exhausted with its sensual double under relation. Thus I never know if there is in fact a ‘real PC’ underlying the sensual-PC given to me within the Daniel-PC unity, or if there rather is a variety of subsistent/independent "PC-parts" as proper ontological wholes, much like Quine’s famous butchered rabbits. No field of discourse or individuating description in fact escapes withdrawal; no activity or approach from one object to another can reduce the abyss that separates them. The 'real qualities' which determine the real object are forever precluded from knowledge, and they remain qualitatively foreclosed from whatever our grasp of sensual qualities may bring, i.e. which means that they couldn't ever coincide in the form of representational adequation. Here is where the theory of 'allure' through metaphor is supposed to do some work for Graham, insofar as it tilts the tension between objects given their irreducibility. But I won't address this here (**there's a comment below which very rapidly runs through this issue).

   The inevitable consequence of this position of agnosticism about the real seems to be that I have to admit that withdrawing from my distortion of the PC given to me as a sensual double there might be no real PC after all. Instead, there might be  anything akin one can  conjure or individuate in the imagination or outside of it. Thus what I take to be a PC might turn out to be a semblance produced by the Cartesian Evil Genius, Roger Rabbit smoking a blunt, a used napkin, Nixon, an Eastern Airlines ticket reservation booth from 1982 still awaiting passengers, a Chinese dumpling filled with a mixture of gun powder and paprika, eleven trillion bottles of expired baldness lotion, etc. Even if the 'real objects' and qualities remain withdrawn due to a qualitative difference from their sensual counterparts, nothing guarantees that they should be given one way rather than another to support the peculiar brand of sensual double. And by the same token, metaphysical description does no better in speaking of trees and beetles when attempting to allude to the real trees and beetles underlying our sensual distortions, than if it chose to speak about Roger Rabbit instead.

This is because even if there are merely sensual objects, as those entities conjured in our imaginings, with respect to the real no term/action/thought is ontologically closer to the real than any other, since the gap is qualitative and global rather than a matter of degree or local. Harman can thereby distinguish between purely sensual and real objects on the basis of ostentation, insofar as the latter anchors our acts of reference on some real correlate(s), but he cannot specify which of our singular terms target correspondent realities behind their sensual appearance, since they all remain qualitatively different from the unspecified real object(s) which withdraw, and which never touch.  Just like Graham states that he would need to 'be God' to know what is the underlying real object withdrawing from my construction of the sun as an astral phenomenon and that of the Incas as a light-weaving God, all the phenomena withdrawing from by our multiple descriptions and comportments remain spectral hosts, anonymous noumena lurking behind the veil of appearances. Without any epistemological criteria to gauge the adequacy of relational terms to resemble or adequately represent their real counterparts, all sensual objects stand in the same  epistemic footing. Of course, Graham knows very well that there are purely sensual objects in my imaginings, fictions and the like; but this doesn't need to occupy us now, albeit it raises its own stock of questions. To forecast a Fregean example: would we say that there is a 'real man' underlying Clark Kent and Superman qua identities attributed to them within our distorting and reductive culture? Or would we say that there are two disjoint realities there, a true schizophrenic split of the real rather than a mere sensual split? If we say that there is one reality behind these two sensual objects, then we must ask what provides us with the knowledge about this unity. And if Graham's answer is that we simply do not know what or how many realities underly each identity, we must accept that the world in-itself remains shrouded mystery, and that we lurk among, after all, mere phenomena, like Husserl anticipated.

Although this position is perfectly consistent with Graham's rejection of 'certainty' as something that can be reasonably obtained, it must be said that it displays a striking resemblance to the correlationist hypothesis according to which the real is thinkable but is unknowable. This is what I have called elsewhere the problem of virulent noumena, i.e. the potential proliferation of real entities as subsistent outside relation, given the lack of epistemological criteria to measure degrees of adequacy between thinking and being, concept and object. It is important to note that this "cognitive barrier" does not merely apply to human comportments or relations, but that any entity will be destined to perform its own proper brand of reduction/distortion, and thus ontological occlusion. Except, of course, the hypothetical God alluded to by Graham in his initial response.

But if real objects withdraw in such a radical way, then one must ask what solicits the thesis of their existence at all? That is, given that all I know are sensual objects, how do I know in fact that there are such things as withdrawing real substances, gaining  access to their general structures, and not the infamous Deleuzean flux of morphogenetic production in actualization, the formless apeiron from Anaximander, the Heideggerean 'being of beings' which is not a being, and such. Everytime I think about 'my PC' all I get is my sensual reduction of whatever realities withdraw from it; but the latter remain utterly intractable to thought. Graham’s answer here, as formulated in the OOO conference here at UCLA, was that confronted with the choice between accepting that there is a single, formless apeiron, or a multiplicity of objects, he advocates the latter. As construed, this seems to indicate that Graham thinks that it is a matter of ‘axiomatic decision’ or perhaps phenomenological clairvoyance that there exist many things rather than one. Thus, my impression is that he would resist a characterization of OOO as dogmatic on the grounds that he simply has chosen to affirm the subsistence of objects; not any more than Badiou’s endorsement of the axiom of the void set is dogmatic to found and launch set-theoretical ontology. Incidentally, I know Graham believes Badiou’s construal of consistency as an effect of the count already constitutes an anthropocentric reduction of objects to some form of bundle of qualities ala Hume, in Badiou’s ontology, and I think Graham critically misreads the latter by conflating consistency with human/subjective-constitution (the former is rather native to structure, which is perfectly objective). But let us obviate this for the time being.

However, the problem of virulent noumena outlined above becomes a further problem for Graham’s theory of relation qua an extension of phenomenological intentionality, outside the human eidetic-cohort. This is because it is not just real objects that remain veiled in mystery from my comportments with the world, but the relatings between these objects themselves. Just as I cannot know what real object(s) underlies the Daniel-PC unity, I also do not know what sensual doubles obtain when two real objects foreign to me meet. This is because every time I consider or interact with an object, this will be through the sensual construal of my own activity, and thus relative to my knowledge and the sensual correlates within the unities obtained by my relatings. How do we even know thus that other objects relate, and that they also individuate their objects by mediating them through sensual buffers? If all I ever know are the sensual objects of my  own comportments, and my own ways of translating objects, then it we are delivered right back to Husserl for whom the intentional object of experience was finally that endowed to with eidetic unity by consciousness. What epistemic warrant would thereby ever allow us to identify how objects relate outside this consciousness in a way that suddenly corresponds to the entities-processes we postulate through our singular terms?

   So when I speak of the beetle crawling up the tree, how can I ever presume to describe this relation without surreptitiously anthropomorphizing it in terms of the sensual objects given to me? This occluding violence of non-human relations follows since I cannot but help myself to the vocabulary correspondent to sensual reductions within my restricted phenomenological sphere. But then it becomes impossible to specify
what relates to what outside of me or indeed how it does so; which real objects and relations are adequate to my singular terms and which remain merely sensual fictions without a positive real objective anchor.  Let us here shift in example and imagine me walking back from class and seeing a lizard climb up a tree. This third completed diagram displays coarsely what I take to happen in this third moment of our construing non-human relations:

    Of course, strictly speaking, I couldn't even say I know there to be a 'real me' underlying my own sensual relations, let there be a story of privileged access here which I have missed. But the point is simply here that whatever I construe as a relation between the beetle and the tree can only take the form of a sensual correlate given for me, within a relation to myself, while their real counterparts and their substantive quality identity or numeric quantitative extension,  must remain occluded. Even though the diagram posits two anonymous terms (x,y), there could be in theory an infinity of such realities, of which we know nothing, within our relatings.

he presumed de-anthropomorphizing role OOO would play in speaking about non-human relations between objects seems thereby vitiated, given the inevitable gap between real objects and qualities on the one hand, and their sensual counterparts on the other. The entirety of the world as specified by our singular terms becomes swallowed by the realm of the sensual, since the real object which withdraws is necessarily qualitatively distinct from what gets transmitted in the relation. It is thus not just that we could be wrong (i.e. that knowledge is fallible), but that we cannot but be wrong given the qualitative gap that obtains due to withdrawal. Knowledge thus seems confined to the realm of the sensual, much like for Kant it remained a category of the phenomenal. The point, in a nutshell, is that even when speaking for relations for other entities, these can only be specified as sensual entities in relation to us. Thus the agnosticism about the real objects can be extended to an agnosticism about non-human relations more generally.

As a result, OOO seems forced to oscillate between 
correlationist agnosticism, insofar as it affirms the withdrawal of the real in every occasion of relation and thus of knowledge, and a descriptive metaphysics in which the problematic of access to the world as it is in-itself becomes obviated as we deploy our terms and descriptions to match general features of reality. The in-itself thus becomes thinkable but unknowable in its particularity, even if we know it to be there and how it is there generally. There seems to be thus something of a regression implicit here to the pre-critical endorsement of an in-itself separate from the for-us, without grounds to base how in spite of their independence we have access to its general features through metaphysical description. Only metaphysics can tell us anything about real objects, their general ontological features, while the reality of particulars seems proscribed from thought.

    Indeed something akin to this seems to underlie Graham’s Whiteheadean pragmatic deflation of Meillassoux’s circle of correlation, when he simply considers human-world relation as one kind among many. Graham has (or had) a story to tell here about the role ostentation plays in anchoring our sensings to real objects, in fixing the reference of the relating into a real entity. But the problem pertaining to OOO is ultimately unsalvageable through this glossing appeal to ostentation and Kripke. For the latter, it is physical knowledge of spacetime in the natural sciences which determines the endogenous structure of the objects of reference, and saves him from the ontological indeterminacy of Quine; while for OOO no such privileged locus or principle of individuation exists to bridge our knowledge to the real, concept and object. The latter inevitably withdraws from us, as from all descriptive registers, except in their general features known to us through object-oriented metaphysics. How we ever gain access to this general knowledge follows from the axiomatic assumption about the existence of real objects, along with the theory of vicarious causation and withdrawal.

The problem here is finally that in denying that access to the in-itself can ever obtain, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish in what way Graham’s OOO constitutes a realism differently than the correlationist who claims reality is out there but remains unknowable (as a limit concept, as it is for Kant; as the 'being of beings' as it is for Heidegger, or whatever else). That Graham is able to describe how real objects are endowed with a general structure and claim that they actually ‘are out there’ seems justified by way of an appeal to the real outside our mediation, in unexplained congruence with the terms of his metaphysical theory. But the question remains: how can we ever know that real things exist and relate, if all I ever grasp is the sensual counterpart of some unavoidably withdrawn reality? In any case, I hope this very crude presentation of my position makes some headway into clarifying why I remain skeptical about the status of OOO’s putative realism.

23 comentarios:

Earthwizard dijo...

You ask: "More specifically, since every time I think/act towards my PC this will be towards a sensual object, how can I ever know anything about the structure of real objects as such?"

At the heart of Harman's theory of objects is a speculative theory of aesthetics that entails his concept of "allure". Talking of allure Harman reiterates that the "separation between a sensual object and its quality can be termed ‘allure.’ This term pinpoints the bewitching emotional effect that often accompanies this event for humans, and also suggests the related term ‘allusion,’ since allure merely alludes to the object without making its inner life directly present' (VC: 215). Again we reach into, burrow down the sensual grooves of his discourse toward those dark cavities where he tells us "we need an experience in which the sensual object is severed from its joint unified quality, since this will point for the first time to a real object lying beneath the single quality on the surface. For humans, metaphor is one such experience" (VC: 215). He gives us an example of what he means, saying, "When the poet writes ‘my heart is a furnace,’ the sensual object known as a heart captures vaguely defined furnace qualities and draws them haltingly into its orbit. The inability of the heart to fuse easily with furnace-traits (in contrast with literal statements such as ‘my heart is the strongest muscle in my body’) achieves allusion to a ghostly heart-object lying beneath the overly familiar sensual heart of everyday acquaintance" (VC: 215-216). Harman gives several more examples and then comes to the conclusion that "aesthetics has generally served as the impoverished dancing-girl of philosophy–admired for her charms, but no gentleman would marry her. Yet given the apparently overwhelming scope of allure, aesthetics may deserve a rather vast role in ontology" (VC: 216).

He brings us back to the Greek traditon of myth and rhetoric, rather than the abstract theoretical underpinnings of most Analytic or Continental traditions. I think a lot of people have a hard time with Harman only because they are so tied to the purist forms of philosophy, rather than opening out to those other handmaidens of the tetradic and trivium of the earlier learning traditions. We have cut ourselves off from so many interesting aspects of both philosophy, science, literature, history, etc. during the past two hundred years that learning has become specialist rather than generalist. E.R. Curtius was probably one of the last of the great encyclopedic scholars, and even though a humanist and correlationist because of being within that power discourse of which Foucault subtly and forcefully exposed, Curtius broadened learning to the extent that our younger proteges hardly know what it was to be a scholar of that magnitude.

Harman is a philospher that brings us back to those stranger worlds of scholarship that have for too long been ousted from the humanities. Rhetoric, tropisms, the whole gamut of etymological traces that hide within his discourse that need to be unravelled. To understand Harman is to breach the simplified idea of objects and enter into the subtle worlds of his discourse on objects. To reduce it to some simplfied diagrams or even one set of his terms is to do an injustice not only to yourself, but to his discourse as a whole.

I, too, am still working through many issues and concerns... but I do see that he is dealing with something essential, and doing it in a way that no other philosopher(s) out there is doing it. The others are all traditionalists, even in their basic attacks against tradition. With Harman something new is evolving...

Vicarious Causation, Collapse II

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

Thank you for your comments. The problem of knowledge about real objects as I see it is not assuaged by Graham's theory of allusion, at least on the basis of what is invoked here. This is because unfortunately the role of metaphor remains circumscribed to our current singular terms, i.e. heart, furnace; and Graham has expressly said that the presumed reality attributed to these unities is open to revision given the fallibility of discourse and the impossibility of certainty. It thus becomes impossible to determine whether in fact that strange allure in the tension between the furnace and the heart can epistemically target a 'real heart' qua substantive unity, or a plurality of heart parts. One can easily imagine different languages, cognitive registers in distinct cultures, in which the singular terms placed in contrast through metaphor would presumably allude to a different set of realities, which are not by necessity (at least) numerically identical to those of our common terms. Thus when I speak of the earth as a substantive unity whose irreducibility can be allured to through metaphor, the Incan lyricist describes a tension between a fourfold division of the 'Earth' without substantive unity, and which can just as easily be felt in their underlying irreducibility.

Thus the 'inability to fuse easily' unfortunately is unhelpful here, because it still can apply through allusion to an indiscriminate number of singular terms and descriptions, even putatively incompatible ones (nothing in our science coins anything like a 'fourfold' division like that of the Incas). We are thus delivered into the same problem of ontological indeterminacy alluded to earlier, at a loss for epistemological criteria for discrimination.

And just to be clear, I have great admiration and respect for Harman's work, as for all the other OOOists. I think theirs is a great think tank, and they are wonderful people too. There's many great lessons to be learnt from their philosophy, even if I think at bottom their metaphysics suffers from shortcomings which vitiate its force. Indeed I tend to enjoy OOO more as a series of allusive lyrical descriptions with metaphysical insights, than a properly philosophical theory. I think Graham's best moments appear precisely at the points where he discusses things like metaphor and the like, and not so much in the core metaphysics. But I reiterate my support and cordiality towards them!

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

Also, I do not think it is fair to say that providing simple diagrams is an ill way to make a philosophical point. We constantly simplify and condense the thoughts of others, while trying to do them justice. Thus Graham himself often speaks about Deleuze's destitution of objects in favor of 'formless stuff' without addressing the contrivances of Deleuze's theory of individuation and actualization through the three syntheses of space-time, for instance.

This is a blog, and not an academic publication, and is a tentative medium to propose experimental observations, and remain open to criticism. I think in what concerns the issues in question, my diagramatic reconstructions can be illustrative even if they do not capture the entirety of the metaphysical theory (the point is in this case it doesn't have to).

For example i'm still unsure whether I should have placed the markers for 'translation' at all there, and whether I should have also made 'Real Daniel' rather a 'Real X' given what I expressed before. But these are details to be worked out in conversation.


rakis dijo...

Dear Daniel,

Is there someone who can compromise two contradictory theses, for example an object in relation to man has colour but non relative to human colour does not exist.
That means that at the same time colour exists and don't exist. Is there an answer for this? Do you have an answer?


Earthwizard dijo...

Yes, I agree with what your saying: "This is a blog, and not an academic publication, and is a tentative medium to propose experimental observations, and remain open to criticism. I think in what concerns the issues in question, my diagramatic reconstructions can be illustrative even if they do not capture the entirety of the metaphysical theory (the point is in this case it doesn't have to).

For me, being and working outside the academy is a mute point, having been for a long time a practioner of Object-Oriented programming I understand the need for diagramming and objectification of systems as teaching guides.

I didn't mean to ridicule their use, just to make the subtle point that the simplification into diagram is not the argument just its illustration, and that we should always clarify that point.

I think you have done an excellent job of typifying the underlying system, although leaving out many of the necessary components.

To make my main point again, he tells us in, at the end of his essay, Vicarious Causation:

"Relations between all real objects, including mindless chunks of dirt, occur only by means of some form of allusion. But insofar as we have identified allure with an aesthetic effect, this means that aesthetics becomes first philosophy."

His is a Speculative Aesthetics, which for him follows that tradition within Greek Philosophy that was for them "first philosophy" or Metaphysics.

Earthwizard dijo...

Daniel this is the missing parts you would need to add to your illustration to show the main aspects of OOO:

from Vicarious Casuation:

"We now have five kinds of objects (real intention, real I, real tree, sensual tree, sensual noise) and five different types of relations (containment, contiguity, sincerity, connection, and none). Furthermore, we also have three adjectives for what unfolds inside an object (vicarious, asymmetrical, buffered) and three different kinds of noise surrounding a sensual object (qualities, accidents, relations). While this may not be an exhaustive census of reality,and mayeventually need polishing or expansion, it offers a good initial model whose very strictness will help smoke out those elements it might have overlooked."

I agree that a good composite diagramming of these components would be worth the effort. I need to dabble in this too. :)


Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

My diagrams obviate only the different kinds of relation and the first two kinds of noise (accidents and qualities) from the list enumerated there.

I have added the 'sensual I' to the list, since it seems clear to me from conversation and reading that both objects reduce each other in relation. The intentional relation, which remains real, might be said to 'include' the 'real I', but as I see it, the reduction performed by relation is bilateral, so the entirety of the real object couldn't relate. However, nothing in the argument would change if I were to include the Real I within the intentional relation, i.e. the unified real. In my initial example, one would still need to add a term to explain the sensual reduction performed by the computer, i.e. when I type the fingers reduce the computer and keys, but the keys likewise reduce me to the inputing motion of my fingers, and so on. In the end what relates is never the real object as a whole, but some part of it distorted by the object with which it enters relation. If Graham wants to say that there is no 'sensual Daniel' in that relation, but that there is truly a unilateral relation between the Real Daniel and the sensual PC, he needs to explain the corresponding reduction made by the 'real PC' separately, which would give us two conjoint diagrams instead of one, each with its corresponding intentional real unity, but with different components. The first one would be the bundle of the 'real me' and the 'sensual computer', and the second construing the bundle of the 'real PC' and the 'sensual Daniel'. But this seems awkward, since it would imply that every relation between two real objects forms TWO additional real objects qua real intentions. I don't think this is what Graham wants, so I have construed relation around a single real intention, which is composed of the bilateral distortion each of the terms performs. Thus the arrows of withdrawal exclude the real objects from the touching implied by the line of relation within the real intention. Real objects do not touch each other directly, and what each object apprehends of the other is a (sensual) reduction of the same. I think this was captured in the diagrams.

There are segments and allusions in my argument which are not represented in the diagrams, i.e. the latter are only meant as illustrations and are not really the most important thing. I think the argument remains unaffected by considerations of allure as well, for the reasons I mentioned.


Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

I think you answered the question already. If color is a relational property, then it only exists as long as the relation obtains. If it is defined as a non-relational property, intrinsic to things themselves, then it may exist independent of perception. It depends on what you consider color to be.


rakis dijo...

Yes but ontologically they cannot co-exist. One of two has to withdraw to a kind of instrumentalism.
Don't you think?

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

I don't understand what you're saying. What cannot coexist ontologically? It is perfectly possible to say color exists relatively to perception at one point in time but that it doesn't exist independently of such perception.

There is no contradiction in that anymore than in saying water exists relatively to its molecular composition but doesn't independently of it.

Joseph C Goodson dijo...

Daniel, you write:

"But this seems awkward, since it would imply that every relation between two real objects forms TWO additional real objects qua real intentions."

Not necessarily -- the real object I am experiencing might not experience me at all. So, I might go completely unnoticed. Contrariwise, I might be experienced by another object, but not experience that object itself. Only if both real objects are locked in an experience of each other do you have two real relation-objects emerge -- these two real objects might be reinforcing in some way or completely oblivious to the other's perception.

Say what you will, this ontology is anything but commonsensical or ordinary. New objects are born and die at a dizzying rate.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

I mentioned the emergence of two real intentional relations in the example of me typing in my computer, under the hypothesis that there is a unilateral determination from real to sensual per each real object in the relation. The possibility of a single unilateral relation might be indeed possible, but it remains utterly mysterious in your explanation, i.e. what would an example of it be?

A good candidate case might be imaginings: I think about my real computer in class, even though this computer does no corresponding approach towards me. But does this really help? In such a case, I am presented to a sensual PC in relation. What grounds the anchor of this sensual object to a real counterpart somewhere? Is it a primitive, prior act of ostentation? If so, then we still don't have an explanation with regards to the congruence between the numerical equality between my singular sensual object and the hypothetical real correspondent which serves as its anchor. The problem of ontological indeterminacy thus remains, insofar as it is seemingly impossible for me to specify what it is in my sensual correlation that corresponds to a causing real withdrawn object. Levi admits this much in his later post. Cases of perception, such as the one I exemplified, are tricker. When I touch there seems to be the bilateral reduction I referred to, lest we want to multiply the emergent objects.

This is all in perfect congruence with the thesis that emergent real intentional relations, qua conglomerate of objects, are ontologically dependent upon the occasion of relation and that they vanish just as fleetingly.

Thank you for your comments and all the best!


PS - Did you get a chance to formulate an answer to my questions to your last comment's in Levi's blog, or indicate the references?

Joseph C Goodson dijo...


I might glance at my computer as I walk into the room -- the computer is not encountering me, or certainly not at any level to create change or effect in the computer. This is a relation that includes both the computer, myself and a sensual computer, but does not include a sensual encounter for the computer of myself. I would think the computer is perfectly untouched by such a glance, and does not encounter my encounter of it at all.

I haven't seen your response on Levi's blog yet as he hasn't posted it. I will surely read it when he does, though.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

I think I understand now how this might complicate my claim that relations only obtain between sensual aspects, since in a unilateral relation of, say, perception there wouldn't be a sensual I. If there is a relation, it seems the real me would have to enter it! So how would the diagram look then?

I think I am inclined to say now that even cases of perception involve the bilateral reduction illustrated by my diagrams. Consider your example of me looking a my computer. Certainly the computer's constitution, qua the aspects it shows sensually and locally, are captured by an aspect of me, i.e. they enact my visual powers of color and depth, and eyes, and so on. But not the entirety of me for sure! I can't imagine any relation between me and another object which wouldn't involve such a distortion. Even imaginings, under this schema would only conjure a part of me. Say I imagine a computer: I must think of certain geometrical properties and shapes, and colors, but these don't exhaust my entire cognitive powers. So there might also be the reduction I illustrated in place here! Again, this, as pertains to the diagrams, is of secondary importance with respect to the arguments.

Also, I'm not sure I follow your argument about how I must have included the real objects in the relations below. As I construe it, what relates in the sense of what constitutes the intentional relation are the sensual aspects which get reduced in relation, while the real self withdraws. I think you followed this in your comments here, but not in Levi's blog. So I am confused!

All the best,

Joseph C Goodson dijo...


This is all, of course, very complex and tentative and my responses are being made on the fly here, as they say.

I would think that, first, genuine causal relations must include two real objects and not just be between their sensual or manifested dimensions. Otherwise, how would these objects, in fact, change or alter themselves or the object they relate to? The relation is a new, emergent object which has both real and sensual dimensions. When you encounter the computer, the real you and the real computer are both elements of this new object -- though you only directly experience a diminished or translated computer. But the real computer is also part of the relation, especially in the context of allure, as it is, as Levi would say, out of phase or out of step with its own qualities.

The reason why we can say that the real me is involved and not just a "part" of me is that it isn't just a disembodied part, but a component that the real organization that is myself is using in this translation of a real object. Remember, my "self" is itself an object made up of relations composed of real and sensual dimensions, such that those parts, say, my nervous system, are themselves emergent objects which are organizing and using *its* parts in a very particular, distinctive way, and so on. At each level -- my nervous system and my body, my body and my consciousness, my consciousness and the computer, (and then, other even larger emergent systems, like publishing houses, universities or covert government branches) are each being organized at a higher or emergent level which only makes use of very particular aspects of its own pieces -- the rest, for the emergent object, is noise: it produces no differences or information or sensual objects (all of which I think are similar enough to say they are analogous). You are right that in any particular experience, one's cognitive, physical, emotional, etc, powers are not used exhaustively -- but precisely because, one, you're a unified system that is, itself, out of phase with both its environment and its own pieces and, two, under certain conditions, certain objects will conjure very particular sensual manifestations of you, yourself, not laying bare the conditions of such manifestations. This is how I look at knowledge as well: it isn't something taken or extracted from an entity, alone, it is produced by an interaction between entities, such that knowledge is as much a local-manifestation of the knower as the known, I think. (And there is no reason why a local manifestation cannot itself also be an object, I don't think.)

The way I understand what you are saying is that the relation requires both a sensual me and a sensual computer, but a sensual object is precisely that which is not independent of a real one -- it is really a kind of phantasm inside of the relation. If it is a genuine relation between two real objects, then both of those realities must enter into relation, the caveat being that they do so indirectly or through a medium. The relation couldn't be composed of just these sensual mediums, as this would lead to the very problem of a pure perspectivism, with nothing but perceptions. That's how I interpret all of this, anyway...

Joseph C Goodson dijo...


I had posted on this last night, but apparently the email didn't go through, as I don't see it here now. So briefly:

You write:

"I'm not sure I follow your argument about how I must have included the real objects in the relations below. As I construe it, what relates in the sense of what constitutes the intentional relation are the sensual aspects which get reduced in relation, while the real self withdraws."

Not exactly. The relation of me to the PC (let's leave aside the question of the PC's side of the encounter) includes the real me, the real PC and a phantasmal PC, the last of which I directly encounter. The real me is not mediated via a sensual me to a sensual PC -- this would not really solve the occasionalist problem, since it would mean that all that comes into direct contact are phantasms (sensual objects). Rather, my relation to the PC includes two real objects and a sensual one, not two sensual objects. That, admittedly, would be problematic. But there's nothing disastrous about two real objects touching via a third, which is Harman's whole point. When you draw your diagram, it should be more like this:

[Real me --- Sensual PC --- Real PC]

...and not...

[Sensual me --- Sensual PC]

Those sensual objects never touch at all, in fact, as they are part of completely different relations (hence, for objects, "there is no sexual relationship.")

Joseph C Goodson dijo...


Here is an excellent post that helped me when I first read it, as it clarifies Graham's view of this very well:


The absolutely essential point for me is that I do have a relation with a real PC -- the relation or experience is real, and must contain real pieces (myself and the PC). The decisive moment is when we say, and I'm paraphrasing from Graham's post above, is that the me-PC perception is not identical to my perception of the PC. I only perceive and encounter a phantasmal, relational PC directly, and cannot experience the experience itself, which is being generated by two real objects. This is why I don't see anything lacking in terms of "the real might as well not be there," no. If the real PC wasn't there, it would be a pure hallucination. Now, the hallucinated PC would still be a sensual object, but then it would be a completely different experience altogether, with completely different parts (say, myself and a horrible, fever-inducing virus which makes me see a Dell notebook when I don't own one). You can't identify the reality of the relation with the object's own take on that relation. And we then have many ways, I think, to deduce whether we are dealing with a real object or an hallucination, though our answers will always be, in principle, revisable (many of those ways would be experimentation, reflection on counterfactuals, simulation, surprise and discovery of accidents, etc.) Here is a very nice summary of Graham's talk of how to discern real objects at work:


Joseph C Goodson dijo...

Check out, also, pp 210-211 of Prince of Networks.

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

Thank you for the explanation! This is all very good. I must emphasize, however, that I am aware that Graham's argument is that the two real objects meet within a third, but never directly.

The reason why I nevertheless didn't include the real object within the relation, however, is associated to my understanding of how withdrawal is supposed to work in Graham's account.

Specifically, I tried to capture the thesis that occasions of perception apparently involve a bilateral distortion of objects. Even in the case of vision, which you think is unilateral, Graham must say the computer's real presence in the world only captures a part of me in the relation, not the whole of it. This must be the case, since for him when the beetle touches the tree both reduce each other. So unless there's a crucial difference between the ways in which vision and touching involve the distortion and thus withdrawal of their real counterparts, I just don't see how Harman can say that in those occasions there is something like the Real me or the Real PC; since what gets to one another is in every case an aspect(s), i.e. the sensual object.

I am also aware that without the inclusion of the real object he wouldn't have solved the occassionalist problem. But that is precisely the issue! What solicits the warrant that it is in fact a REAL unified ME, and a Real unified COMPUTER, if the relation invariably gives me to sensual appearances? Even if one stipulates that the sensual appearance ENTAILS the existence of the real counterpart because of the withdrawal thesis, the question I raise concerns the individuation of these realities and how we come to know they correspond to the usage of our singular terms we use to identify sensual objects and qualities. Since there is a qualitative, ontological gap between sensual and real qualities, and since an object must always withdraw, it is always an aspect which I get to know from the real object, but never itself as a totality. Thus the claim that he would have to be God to know what real object underlies the Inti Sun God of the Incas, and the Astral Phenomenon investigated by science.
Therefore, on pains of epistemological agnosticism about the correlates of sensual objects, my diagram is meant to show that these ultimately remain withdrawn qua totalities from what strictly speaking is given in the relation, even if it is STIPULATED that these sensual objects must be caused by real ones. This is also why I left the Real objects as finally designated with variables, since their identities remain, as Graham admit, withdrawn. The diagram does not represent, however, my further contention against the quantitative link between sensual objects/parts and their real anchors.

So it is not that I am unaware of what Harman WANTS his metaphysics to do, but what it effectively does given his premises. I repeat: if the real objects/parts are included in the relation but are epistemically inaccesible with respect to their individuation, since the latter pertains to our distortion and therefore sensual distortion of the object, then one can at most say that the real object(s) and parts CAUSE the relation, but that WHAT they are, and HOW MANY realities they are is NEVER given to its terms. Graham gets this from Husserl for whom the partial adumbrations never exhaust the reality of the intentional object given as a totality. But because for Harman, unlike Husserl, the real object is NOT a function of a constituing consciousness it cannot be said to be internally given in the constitutive intentional relation. The real object is not a mere formal principle, but it always WITHDRAWS insofar as it is also endowed with an endogenous structure, which remains irreducible to whatever gives itself to the other term. But by same token, the other term is also never given as a totality but only in part.


Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

I also know that one does not experience the experience as such, i.e. the intentional relation does not belong to itself, and is therefore not given as a correlate to any of its terms. From this you go on to say that the experiences of hallucinations and perceptions must be qualitatively different, and that this anchors their difference, where we should understand experience as the emergent, real intentional relation. This would follow trivially if we say that a hallucination by definition lacks a real object, while an occasion of perception, say, doesn't.

But if what I am saying is correct, and the real object is indeed never given within the relation, then we simply cannot know whether in fact we are hallucinating or not, unless we construe the distinction between hallucination and non-hallucination on the basis of sensual objects! That is, because what qualitatively individuated particular real objects remains withdrawn, we only ever observe/perceive/think sensual objects/parts. We cannot on pains of contradiction say we encounter the 'real object' on pains of violating withdrawal. So when you claim that there are "many ways to determine whether we are hallucinating or not" this is trivial, since for Harman's irreductionist position every discursive register, every perceptual or cognitive act by which I relate to objects, gives me a distorted version. No discursive register does better in discerning which experiences describe realitiesadequate to the real, since the latter is qualitatively separated from ANY description insofar as the latter already constitutes a relation, and therefore a distortion. All these methods tell us that the way we individuate sensual objects is open to revision. For all we know, hallucination obtains purely within the realm of sensual realities, completely constituted by subjective faculties. No description provides warrant for the claim of a structured real outside the relation in Graham's account, albeit Levi here jumps in with Bhaskar to explain his case. One can at best say there 'are real counterparts' to the sensual experiences if these experiences exhibit certain features (in experimental conditions like the ones you mentioned). It remains utterly unstated in Harman's discourse which practices do allow for such a principle. Yet none of these experience/discourses can gain warrant when determining the individuation of the real presumed beneath: one can never say 'So there is a SINGLE real TIGER, causing this TIGER SENSUAL PERCEPTION!" Science, religion, common speech, perception, all remain refractory to the reality of the object which withdraws, none of them has any putative authority by method insofar as it distorts. I think that Levi's attempt to use Bhaskar's scientific realism, while seems vibrant with possibilities, doesn't work either, to potentiate even a thesis about real, objectified reality, let alone the individuation of real objects.

And by the way, I was at the UCLA conference! I've also read all the posts you mentioned. We must distinguish what Graham wants to claim to how he argues for it, and what really follows from his claims however. Much like Meillassoux hijacks the correlationist appeal to facticity to unearth a real absolute in the form of possibility, I hijack Graham's realist appeal to withdrawal to unearth a merely sensual domain in the form of given relations. Real objects are thereby allotted to the realm of what I call 'annonymous noumena'.

All the best,

Joseph C Goodson dijo...


What criteria would satisfy you that objects exist? It seems to me that you are implying that unless the object's totality appears or is directly accessible and does not withdraw at all, such that there is no difference between my experience and the object itself, only then will it be possible to say that objects exist.

Secondly, where are you coming from? What is your ontological alternative? It would help in this discussion if I had a sense of your working hypothesis...

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

I think the problem is to explain the congruence between the qualitative appearance which individuates the object (the 'concept') and the object itself; and not simply fold the former into aspects-parts. This is NOT to say that there is no distinction between the concept and the object, but only to render the latter epistemically accessible as such; and not just as a fragment. I think the accounts advanced by Brassier's most recent work and Peter Wolfendale's excellent Essay on Transcendental Realism are very promising forays into how a resolutely non-ontological (that is to say, epistemological) account of ontological independence may be mapped. But I remain tentative in this territory as well, given that I am also trying to see how the 'materialist' conceptions of Deleuze and Badiou through mathematical concepts of multiplicity may allow for realism. I think that at the level of metaphysics there is little Graham's account can do that is not done in much thicker terms by Badiou, in spite of his refutations for this. To explain this would require a very extended post of my own, but I can send you some preliminaries if you give me an e-email, which I have communicated to Graham at some point. You'd just need to give me a little time to polish some of the explanation. In any case, Graham has also announced he's working on an article against Badiou, so I'm also attentive to that. I reiterate that I'm not trying to oppose OOO by any means possible, simply indicate where I see problems, just like I have done recently with Brassier and which I shortly intend to do with Meillassoux.

There's three aforementioned escapes from the circle of correlation: Graham's pragmatic reduction of it to one kind of prehension via Whitehead, Brassier's deflation of it via Stove's Gem, and Meillassoux's absolutization of facticity. I believe the three attempts, as attempted by each author, fail to do this for reasons that also merit their own, respective expositions. Badiou doesn't have to run this gaunlet since he identifies materiality with mathematical expressibility (which is why he champions physics as science, and mathematics as ontology); but the price is a completely abstract ontology in which thought and being converge in a formalist manner (rather than through intensive psychic organic contractions, or representational consciousness, say). I have to say in spite of Ray's defense of scientific realism, I am still unpersuaded by his rehabilitation of the cog of representation, and his naturalist bent through Ladyman/Ross, Churchland, Sellars, Brandom, Metzinger, among others. But I remain captivated by his account, and by its extreme rigor.

I obviously cannot give the conditions under which objects would exist without having myself developed those conditions! I think Levi's attempts to make headway into this issue through Bhaskar are very promising however, so I await their elaboration in his forthcoming The Democracy of Objects. As far as his provisional presentation of how such individuation occurs, I am still left wanting and unsatisfied, for reasons I outline in my reply to him.

All the best,

Daniel Sacilotto dijo...

Apparently one of your comments went into my spam box for no reason.

Anyway, i'd be happy to continue discussing these interesting issues with you in a civilized manner, even if Graham's inexcusable personal assault has resulted in me refusing to engage with him directly anymore. Guess you'll have to be the sensual buffer for the time being!

I think that the reasons you propose in favor of the inclusion of the real in relation don't really target my concerns. I understand that the theory of asymmetry stipulates the real intentional relation must always include a real object within it, and a sensual counterpart. Since relation is indirect, there couldn't be real change without sensual objects coming to interact with real objects. It's the next part of your argument that I think is problematic:

"The reason why we can say that the real me is involved and not just a "part" of me is that it isn't just a disembodied part, but a component that the real organization that is myself is using in this translation of a real object. Remember, my "self" is itself an object made up of relations composed of real and sensual dimensions, such that those parts, say, my nervous system, are themselves emergent objects which are organizing and using *its* parts in a very particular, distinctive way, and so on."

This answer is obviously circular. If the question is how we know that the host real object is in fact a unified real object, with parts and so on, then appealing to the fact that there must be such a unity underlying the translation process doesn't help. That because, even if we buy into the withdrawal thesis, my real quarrel was with respect to individuation and epistemic access, not ontological independence. Here is where the theses of allure, and the testsfor inquiry come in Graham's account, i.e. hyperbole, counterfactual reasoning, etc. Levi for his part appropriates Bhaskar's theory of 'resistant' real objects in scientific experimentation, drawing some criteria for their determination: out-of-phasing, difference, hierarchy, and the excess of powers in objects with respect to their manifestations. I believe these two routes, do not assuage the problems for reasons I developed in my post to Levi, and in the comments section to Graham.

The question is how to epistemically specify the ontological consistency of the real object and its real parts, if what appears to us is only a sensual object. Moreover, how can I characterize myself as a real object potentially individuated by any singular terms. Furthermore, how can one characterize the intentional relations of other objects, if one can never, strictly speaking observe anything but through the distortion proper to our own relatings. Thus when you state that...

"...precisely because, one, you're a unified system that is, itself, out of phase with both its environment and its own pieces and, two, under certain conditions, certain objects will conjure very particular sensual manifestations of you, yourself, not laying bare the conditions of such manifestations"

This continues to beg the question: WHICH and HOW many are the unified systems neath the relatings? Which terms corresponds to the real object qualitatively, and quantitatively? Graham's appeals to hyperbole and counterfactuality are not transparently helpful in solving this. And although he claims his position is one of fallibilism rather than agnosticism about the real, this appears incoherent with the thesis that there is a wholesale ontological gap between real objects/qualities and sensual ones, since there strictly speaking can be no qualitative continuity between the two. Peter Wolfendale highlights this in his latest post.


Anyhow, hope all is well!