July 23, 2010

Onticology: Some notes about objects

As mentioned previously, I'm reading through a draft manuscript of Levi Bryant's forthcoming
The Democracy of Objects. A little over fifty pages in, and I'm really enjoying the clarity of this text. For those of you interested in SR/OOO, there is almost too much information in the blogosphere to keep up with. To be sure, this is a good thing. If you want to follow up on these points or flesh out your own understanding, the best resource is the Speculative Realism Pathfinder. I encourage you to take a look, as this emerging field seems to be drawing people into its orbit at such a rate that it will surely take hold as more than a fad. In fact, established field have been incorporated into this broad area retroactively. Both actor-network theory and eliminative materialism are considered to fall under the umbrella of speculative realism.

At the heart of onticology, Bryant's particular version of object-oriented ontology, is a peculiar conception of objects. In some sense, the object takes the place of "substance" in classical metaphysics. I'll outline a few points about objects to give you a sense for what he thinks of them.
  • Objects are not defined by their qualities (or occasions thereof, termed "events"), but by their "powers" or capacities. So, an object can be without it's qualities, but not without its powers.
  • Likewise (for reasons too complicated to get into here, and to save something of the secret for those who get the book), objects are not defined by their external relations.
  • Object relations come in two forms, internal or "endo-" and external or "exo-". The former comprise the structure of an object (much more will be said of this in the coming chapters me thinks), and the latter the relations objects enter into with other objects.
  • Since objects have the power to created events in the world (keep in mind the notion of event mentioned above), objects apart from their qualities are called "difference engines", insofar as the production of an event makes a difference in the world. This looks like a trace of what used to be a central principle for Bryant, namely "the ontic principle", that he has since dropped: there is no difference that does not make a difference (which implied that objects were, in some sense, the difference they made in the world).
  • He also introduces a very cool-sounding bit of terminology, that I'm not sure is necessary: "virtual proper being". Objects are not their qualities, yet they endure, the substantial portion (object apart from quality) is called virtual proper being. I here the word "monad" ringing somewhere in the distance here, if ever so softly. I'm looking forward to more on this concept.
  • The term "quality" is dropped (though event is still maintained as synonym) in favor of "Local Manifestation". Events occur in a number of ways, always under particular conditions. So each event is a local manifestation. There is a cautionary note, however. Manifestations are not manifest to any subject. Instead they are "actualizations" in the world, witnessing subject or no.
  • Since objects are at the core difference engines, whose qualities are events or manifestations, we should not say that the object "has" qualities, but rather "does" qualities.
  • The picture of objects we are left with, where the core object and it's manifestations/qualities are separate but connected in some kind of endo-relation, is one of a split-object. The "core" or virtual proper being of an object is always, in some sense, withdrawn (to borrow the term from Graham Harman) behind its qualities, and thus withdrawn from other objects.
More to come as I read more from Bryant, but also from others in this field. On the suggestion of Graham Harman, I will be reading some Leibniz to better ground my understanding of classical metaphysics. That should make for a couple interesting posts!

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