I'm a philosophy student that tends to post about really serious things unseriously and about really unserious things seriously.
I was once described as a "beautiful, intelligent iguana".
I may be missing something here, but how does positing an object ontologically not already presume knowledge of it as an object present to consciousness epistemologically?
Maybe I’m missing something here, but Graham Harman is always railing against what he calls “Philosophies of Access” for denying reality to anything outside the human mind, which, sure….? That’s a thing some people do? But it seems so obvious to me that what he should be…
Well, before I begin, let me just reiterate that this is one of the ideas in OOO that most boggles me, and is the one that I most continuously try to grapple with and understand. I don’t fully ‘get’ it, and you may want to ask Daniel Joseph for further clarification, because he seems to know a lot more about OOO and stuff than I do.
Also, I’m going to be putting this under a cut, because it’s pretty long, and I don’t want to take up dash-space. Let me know what you think if you get through it though. I’m honestly curious what your reaction is to all this (same goes for becoming-wave - or anyone really; I’m grappling with these ideas as much as anyone else).
That said, I know the way that Bryant tries to escape this problem is by referring to Bhaskar’s “transcendental realism”. The argument goes something like this: first, to avoid the epistemological fallacy described above, we need to begin our metaphysical investigation with a specific transcendental question - that is: “What must the world be like for science to be possible?”. Here, Bryant is careful to distinguish between transcendent propositions, and transcendental ones:
The question here is not, “how do we have access to the world?” or, “how do we know the world?” but rather what must be presupposed about the nature of the world in order for our scientific practices to be possible. As Deleuze reminds us, the transcendental is not to be confused with the transcendent. The transcendent refers to that which is above or beyond something else. For example, God, if it exists, is perhaps transcendent to the world. The transcendental, by contrast, refers to that which is a condition for some other practice, form of cognition, or activity.
[The Deleuze referred to there is cited as: “Cf. Gilles Deleuze, “Immanence: A Life…” trans. Nick Millet, Theory, Culture & Society – Explorations in Critical Social Science 14.2 (1995).” by the way. Also, this is from p. 42 of “Democracy of Objects”.]
Bryant goes on to contend that we need to have a fundamentally realist conception of the world for science to be possible (though, the reasons for that aren’t really important here). And Bryant goes on to take this question further, saying that the conclusions that Bhaskar reaches can be applied to “objects” in a much wider sense. The point is that Bhaskar’s “transcendental realist” question, though, is able to ask an ontological question about the status of the world’s ‘being’ without taking recourse into the problem of our epistemological access to this ‘being’ or to any objects themselves. It unwinds the fabric that’s binded those two disciplines together for so long.
[This isn’t to say that they’re not related, or that specifically ontological claims can’t have epistemological consequences, or vice-versa. The point is that there’s no reason that every ontological claim has to be tied to the question of our access to being - and, in fact, separating the two leads toward a new way of thinking about philosophy, allows us to think metaphysical questions about the an object’s “givenness prior to any conscious givenness”, as Meillassoux would put it].
Bryant later on in that chapter talks about how the general argument goes against the existence of objects outside of givenness for consciousness. It starts off with the idea that how I experience a tree may be different than how an amoeba experiences that same tree (both ‘tree’ and ‘amoeba’ are Bryant’s examples). The problem with this correlationist argument, he contends, is that it presupposed the existence of at least one object outside of consciousness - that is, the amoeba:
In short, the correlationist’s argument can only get off the ground through the presupposition of at least one entity. And this is a central reason that arguments about how observers constitute objects are unconvincing: these arguments always forget that the observer is an object.
(p. 63). This is just the sort of problem that Bryant says metaphysics has been burdened with due to the epistemic fallacy: non-problems that obscure honest metaphysical inquiry.
Bryant goes on to make a bunch of similar arguments with increasing subtlety, and I recommend you look at them if you get the chance, but that first part is all that’s really necessary here. The point is that, although neither amoeba, nor the human observer, has access to the tree qua tree (an epistemological claim), the very act of trying to question this access has to rest on the ontological presupposition that there are objects existing outside of consciousness. This is what’s so important about trying to consistently stray away from the epistemic fallacy: it helps overcome a lot of psuedo-problems that have appeared in it’s wake.
And this is one of the things I like so much about OOO: it doesn’t discard with the notion of human finitude. We can’t totally know an object (heck, for Harman, two objects can’t even really, fully, encounter one another) - the epistemological problem of “access” is still totally there, and every object-oriented theorist I know would say that we don’t have such access toward objects - but we can create a robust, realist ontological framework in which we can start talking about objects sans consciousness. I find that to be a really exciting distinction, personally.