Object Orientated Philosophy and the History of Ideas

Graham has kindly responded to my previous post on this in some comments here.

I should say right up front – and Graham seems to realise this – that I’m trying to understand the positions in relation to own concerns, rather than offer these thoughts as a critique. It’s an attempt to get some things straight in my head.

I’m prepared to retract the previous comment that the spectrum was a kind of compartmentalism, and probably the ‘1.8’ position should have better indicated to me that it is more of a continuum. Although it does still appear rather linear.

I said that the position I’d feel closest to was 3B. I more boldly said that I “find that to be the only plausible position for someone who takes the history of ideas seriously; not to mention geography”.

Graham comments

 I’m not entirely sure why Stuart thinks 3B (very strong correlationism) is the only plausible position for someone who takes the history of ideas seriously. But I would guess that his thinking is that the history of ideas would be rendered less serious by a full-blown realist ontology, since that history would reduced to a series of blunders falling short of the truth in comparison with more recent true discoveries.

But at most, this would only be true of realism interpreted in conjunction with the correspondence theory of truth. For obvious reasons the two are often linked (even Lee Braver’s excellent book pretty much just assumes that correspondence is the “realist” model of truth). But that’s not the OOO version of realism. For us (and it’s truly plural now), the fact that reality is only accessible by way of translation opens up a rich field for the history of ideas without reading those ideas as the dusty prehistoric period of today’s more rigorous truth.

Graham’s ‘guess’ is pretty much what I meant. And yes, I think I too easily saw the position of realism as working alongside a correspondence theory of truth. The difficulty of such an approach to the history of ideas is indeed that it tends to see truth as being discovered where previous ages lived in various kinds of falsehoods. It’s not good at recognising how previous, different, geographically-divergent ways of thinking actually operated, with a sense of internal consistency, and it obviously works from a privileged position of the present.

But Graham is saying that OOO generally, and not just his work (a fair point worth underlining), doesn’t work that way, since it works with this principle of translation, which can presumably be understood to have been different in different times and places, without a privileged point from which things are measured. Unless it is the position of reality itself. Then my previous comment on there being “some understanding of how our knowledge of anything at a historical (or I suppose geographical) distance is mediated through texts, of various kinds, meaning that there is some mediation before we have any means of addressing them” doesn’t seem to apply in quite the same way. Indeed mediation may not be far from what is meant by translation. (I began to realise where I was going wrong through the post here at Larval Subjects). Graham continues…

In fact, it tends to imply the more “continental” of the two versions of truth cited in Brentano’s essay on the phases of philosophy: truth as successive phases of flourishing and decadence (but in a realist sense, not a relativist one) rather than truth as the cumulative piecemeal amassing of correct propositions about the world. Unfortunately, it is often assumed that relativism is the only alternative to the latter model of truth. See for instance Rorty, who thinks that anti-realism is the only position that will save paradigm-shifting genius from the tedious work of the underlaborers (that’s Rorty’s language, not mine). But you need not be a relativist or a strong correlationist to think that the history of ideas is worth studying. But it’s possible that I misunderstood Stuart’s point anyway.

This is really interesting, because the idea of a realist reading of truth along those lines is certainly a very intriguing alternative. My point about ‘taking the history of ideas seriously’ wasn’t meant to imply that people weren’t thinking it was worth studying, but that studying it forced certain considerations in the way we thought about any relation from the past in the present.

This has left me a little clearer on OOO, and a little less clear on the distinctiveness of 3B option of the spectrum. In a sense it means that the spectrum is more complicated if the object-object relation isn’t the key issue (it isn’t for me). What Graham calls there OOO’s ‘wild variation’ on Kant is the human-world couple becomes ‘any couple whatever’. But for me the break Heidegger makes with Kant is historical, at least the later Heidegger, which is why I think that moves the position above 2, and towards 3. Whereas for Graham it moves him below 2, to his ‘1.8’. This brings me to the other questions I asked in the previous post, and came up with in response to Jane Bennett’s book, about how we can gain any insight into such relations at a historical distance. I think this has helped clarified the stakes, even if not all the answers, and I may remain confused. But I’m genuinely intrigued by such a possibility of how OOO would actually undertake the history of ideas.

Thanks Graham – this has been very helpful.

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1 Response to Object Orientated Philosophy and the History of Ideas

  1. Pingback: Object-oriented ontology « Foucault blog

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