Revising "Realism and Philosophy's Future," Part 1, Composing, 24/10/2013

I got a rejection notice from a journal today, regarding an essay I had written earlier this year. It was with a very critical peer reviewer’s report, but I can actually answer the critiques with a little effort, so I started working on those revisions today. I expect them to be finished by Monday at the latest, at which point my only problem is working out what kind of journal would accept the essay. If any of my regular readers (or anyone with a perspective and the reasons to back it up) have any recommendations for journals that might make a good venue, please leave a comment on the post, message me on facebook, or tweet at me.

The essay itself is “Realism and Philosophy’s Future: Can Object-Oriented Ontology Progress the Discipline of Philosophy?” and like most of my projects, it has a bit of a history. I first became aware of a group of philosophers called speculative realists when I was finishing up my doctoral dissertation from my friend B. I had actually read a book by a member of this group when it first came out in 2009, long before I knew about his affiliation: Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude. I found it a very interesting book, and incorporated some of his ideas about the nature of contingency into my ecophilosophy project. But when I looked into the rest of the group, I became a little disappointed.

B first spoke about them as if they were a fairly unified group of philosophers working on creating a new approach to metaphysical realism, the idea that we don’t encounter representations of the world, but the actual objects of the world themselves. To a degree, that’s true. But their measure of success in achieving this goal isn’t quite up to where I think it can be. “Realism and Philosophy’s Future” focusses on the group’s (possibly now formerly) de facto leader Graham Harman, and critiques some of the problems of his philosophy. 

What I find ironic about Heidegger. He frequently discussed
how the next generation of philosophers should move
past him, because he only diagnosed the problems of
philosophy as it was at the time. Yet his followers seem
incapable of moving beyond his ideas.
In short form, Harman sees speculative realism as his own project, Object-Oriented Ontology. You might think this is some kind of scientifically-inspired realism, which I did when I first heard the term. But it’s actually an extension of Heidegger’s ontology, an affiliation that Harman embraces, calling Heidegger among the greatest philosophers who ever lived, and dismissing as utterly irrelevant every other tradition of philosophy that arose in the 20th century. He and I were already off to a bad start.

Essentially, he interprets Heidegger as distinguishing the object as it exists in relation with other objects, including perceivers (the sensual object), from the object as it truly is (the real object), which is utterly inaccessible to perception, experience, and thought. Yet the real object is the necessary foundation of objects in relations. But we’re unable to say anything about such real objects, precisely because they withdraw from any relations with us or anything else. Knowledge of sensual objects isn’t real knowledge, because it’s only the knowledge of an object as it is in relations, not as it is in itself. His books over the last few years have been increasingly desperate attempts to move his philosophy past this impasse. But they all fail. “Realism and Philosophy’s Future” calls him on this, and basically says that following Harman’s ideas leads to dead ends not only for speculative realism, but for philosophy more generally.

To be continued on Friday . . . 

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