Oops: Speculative Realism

(Via the wikipedia entry, which isn’t bad, and Graham Harman’s brief tutorial . . .)

Speculative Realism relies on two key principles, the Principles of Correlationism and Factiality. The first characterizes the mainstream of “Western philosophy” since Kant (Kant → the Idealists → phenomenology/analytic philosophy); the second, Speculative Realism.

The Principle of Correlationism

We can know only the correlate of thought and being; what lies outside that correlate is unknowable.

(The term was coined by Meillassoux in After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency [2006; Continuum, 2008].)

  • We can “know” things only insofar as we can think them (Kant, for example, posits a set of categories that serve as our cognitive operating system).
  • We cannot “know” things-in-themselves — tho we can imagine them (Schopenhauer, for example, imagines the thing-in-itself by analogy with “will”).

I.e., philosophy is based in the interplay of human and world (it is anthropic).

As a result, most Kantians concern themselves primarily with “access,” namely, how humans come to interpret things and the world — thus, epistemology, language analysis and critique. Ontology, inasmuch as it is done at all, is political: it represents a conflict over what exists. (See Meillassoux on correlationism.)

The Principle of Factiality

Things could be other than they are.

(See Meillassoux on factiality.)

Cf. what Levi Bryant calls the Ontic Principle: there is no difference that does not make a difference (a.k.a. Latour’s Principle: there is no transportation [relation between two “actors” or objects] without translation [a labour that produces something new in the process]). Everything counts. Thus,

  • no object is simply the bearer or vehicle of another object;
  • humans contribute only one difference among others.

Speculative Realism takes factiality as its starting point.

A Speculative Realist Genealogy

As against naïve realism (the world is as it seems) and transcendental idealism (the world is not as it seems), Speculative Realism holds that the world is — or, rather, can be — not as it seems.

Harman constructs a genealogy of post-Enlightenment philosophy in these terms:

  • Kant and Husserl are weak Correlationists (sceptics).
  • Hegel, Wittgenstein and Heidegger are strong Correlationists (idealists) and reject the Principle of Factiality.
  • Meillassoux, Harman, Grant and Brassier et al. are strong Factialists (speculative realists/materialists, a term coined by Brassier in 2007) and reject the Principle of Correlation.

Speculative realists thus return to Hume: they reject the necessity not only of all physical laws of nature, but all logical laws, including the Principle of Sufficient Reason — with the exception of the Principle of Non-Contradiction, upon which the Principle of Factiality relies.

Object-Oriented Philosophy

Yet, against what Harman calls anti-realist “radical philosophy,” which either

  • “undermines” objects (objects are the surfaces of the Real [cf. Schopenhauer, etc.]) or
  • “overmines” them (objects are bundles of qualities [cf. Hume, etc.] or relations [cf. Latour, Whitehead, etc.]),

and against most of the other Speculative Realists, he returns to objects: hence, the term Object-Oriented Philosophy (OOP, a term coined by Harman in 1999; cf. Tool Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects [Open Court, 2002] and Guerilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things [Open Court, 2007]).

All things, whether physical or fictional, are equally objects.

  • When objects combine, they create new objects; objects can both come to be and pass away.
  • An object is an infinite recess; there is no “bottom” to the series of objects.
  • There are two types of objects: real objects (everyday things, e.g., cotton) and sensual objects, which can interact (caricatures of things, e.g., the cotton that burns).

So, for Speculative Realism, philosophy is based on one world, made up of objects (it is Copernican — or, to put it simply, realist).

Furthermore, ontology is independent of politics: it cannot be validated in terms of its political effects or be used to serve political ends, for example, to determine a political program or to ontologise political arguments; nonetheless, ontology can enable us to understand how to leverage power, i.e. to translate political thinking into action (see Nina Power). (See Harmon on “Object-Oriented Philosophy.”)

Further Reading


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