‘An anti-idealist view of reality’: Object-Oriented Ontology by Graham Harman

Recently, a whole new generation of Pelican books has been published, and among them stands Graham Harman’s Object-Orientated Ontology, abbreviated to OOO. Unless one is intimately invested in philosophy, such a title conveys very little, but OOO is a burgeoning new field in philosophy that takes an anti-idealist view of reality, and values aesthetics as the root of all philosophy.

Harman is a professor of philosophy at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles, and his primary aim in this text is to bring to light the central ideas of this philosophy. Unlike many philosophical texts, this book is a rather easy read. Harman doesn’t deploy seemingly endless sentences filled with unfamiliar jargon. Instead, his diction conveys the ideas clearly, and it’s easily understandable even to those who don’t read philosophy. Therefore, Harman succeeds with one of the tasks he sets himself: to communicate what Object-Orientated Ontology is, both to an audience which has an initial grasp of philosophy and to those who don’t.

The book is also interesting for those not actively engaged in philosophy – one of the points that Harman makes is the influence of OOO is spreading into fields such as architecture, where ideas such as the distinction between the real (objects and qualities that exist in their own right) and the sensual (objects and qualities that rely on, or are a part of, another object/quality to exist) allow for designs to hint at some ‘hidden reality’ in the appearance of the building itself. Now, this is quite a hazy statement. It seems difficult to conceptualise without any diagrams what such a building with a ‘hidden reality’ might look like. Even a quick look on google images doesn’t really seem to clarify things, so we only really have the word of Harman himself and some architects to go on – who, incidentally, also work at SCI-Arc.

One of the plausibly more controversial positions Object-Orientated Ontology takes is its placing of value on aesthetics, which it claims is the foundation of all philosophy. To take one example, Harman values the concept of metaphor as one of the most important routes to understanding the nature of reality.  Harman’s understanding of what a metaphor is and what it does borrows heavily from another philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset. To both of these thinkers, metaphor acts as an instrument which allows us to view a thing almost as if it were the thing-in-itself. Naturally, this is a drastic oversimplification of one part of the book, but nonetheless this is one of the most important ideas in OOO. This idea stands as a cornerstone through which Harman rejects a literalist view of the world, condemning literalism as being unable at all times to convey the whole meaning or understanding of a thing. Hence the reasoning behind why poetry can be said to convey as much meaning as a statement of fact, although such a statement remains contestable.

But as with so many philosophical ideas, texts and voices, there’s always opposition. Although Harman undoubtably thinks OOO is the best theory to describe everything, the bent of history tends to throw up newer theories that improve on their predecessors. So granted, OOO is one of the latest theories to explain everything, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and think it’s the theory of everything.

 

Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything by Graham Harman

Pelican (2018)

 

Image: TeroVesalainen via Pixabay.

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