The Democracy of Objects: Something New

It turns out that life is not a competition. It’s not a test. Or, if life is a test, treating it like a test is one surefire way to fail it.

Philosophy is no contest either. You are welcome to try, but philosophy is a piss-poor way to slay the primal father.

When it comes to doing philosophy, I think Emerson is right when he suggests in Self-Reliance that, “familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we can ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought.”

If we have any hope of writing something our children or grandchildren might find worth reading, we must hew to line of our time. We must attend to our questions, to our problems. The fathers’ problems are their own. We will find no redemption in besting or burying them.

The irony, Emerson argues, is that only by addressing the singularity of our own problems will there be any hope of saying something others may find worth repeating. “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genuis. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost, and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment.”

I love Emerson. He puts me in the mood for philosophy.

In The Democracy of Objects (free PDF), Bryant makes a similar argument. Though Bryant will offer what I think are compelling arguments for adopting an “object-oriented” approach to philosophy that refuses to treat objects as constructions or correlates of mind/subject/culture/etc. (and I’ll get to these arguments shortly),  he recognizes, as Emerson does, that no philosophical approach worth reading begins by exorcising once and for all the paternal ghost. Rather, something else happens: time.

It is unlikely that object-oriented ontologists are going to persuade epistemological realists or anti-realists that they have found a way of surmounting epistemological problems that arise out of the two-world model of being any time soon.

Quoting Max Planck, Marshall and Eric McLuhan write, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up famliar with it.”

This appears to be how it is in philosophy as well. New innovations in philosophy do not so much refute their opponents as simply cease being preoccupied by certain questions and problems. In many respects, object-oriented ontology, following the advice of Richard Rorty, simply tries to step out of the debate altogether.

Object-oriented ontologists have grown weary of a debate that has gone on for over two centuries, believe that the possibile variations of these positions have exhausted themselves, and want to move on to talking about other things.

If this is not good enough for the epistemology police, we are more than happy to confess our guilt and embrace our alleged lack of rigor and continue in harboring our illusions that we can speak of a reality independent of humans.

However, such a move of simply moving on is not unheard of in philosophy. No one has yet refuted the solipsist, nor the Berkeleyian subjective idealist, yet neither solipsism nor the extremes of Berkeleyian idealism have ever been central and ongoing debates in philosophy.

Philosophers largely just ignore these positions or use them as cautionary examples to be avoided. Why not the same in the endless debates over access? (29, paragraph breaks mine)

You will need to write your dissertation to please the father. But that doesn’t mean you are not also free to do philosophy.

Begin from where you are, get a feel for its line, and pursue it.

  • Blake

    I’m very excited about this new speculative realism movement in philosophy and it’s possibilities for theological and historical work. I follow Graham Harman’s blog and have many of his books.

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