Over at Mormon Metaphysics, Clark has an interesting post up arguing that Peirce already said all that OOP argues (Harman responds here). As Clark writes,

Which brings me to my biggest point. I just don’t see anything new in OOO. This isn’t an issue over “who got there first.” Nor is it to ignore the very real metaphysical differences between the various parties. It’s just that by and large this concern with objects especially as so broadly defined is part and parcel of pragmatism in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Relations in particular I think are handled a little better than OOO in pragmatism, if only because it pays closer attention to the kinds of relations there are. (Those in a 3rd person observer versus those which are “real” in a sense)

In response to Harman’s point that OOP begins from the ontological thesis that objects are independent of their relations, Clark, in comments, remarks that,

Objects are irreducible to any relations to other objects. Now let me temporarily lay aside the issue of whether a relation can be an object. (i.e. is “brother” in abstract an object) I think that both Derrida (as I read him, which I recognize isn’t the anti-realist way many read him in lit departments) and Peirce wouldn’t object to this. As Michael put it once, Deconstruction can’t be taken as a reduction. For Peirce this definitely is the case since Firstness can be an object for a sign. But firstness is inherently a matter just of itself. So by definition it is irreducible.

Where Peirce might object to Graham is that he allows a sign to be an object. A sign can have as its object either a matter of firstness (pure feeling or pure potential) or secondness (pure force or a pure relation) or an other sign. Now to answer Graham’s statement is a bit complex precisely because signs end up being complex in that way. I think Graham wants to say any object has an irreducible “part” that isn’t relations. But the question then might be whether this irreducible “part” can be identical with some other object’s irreducible “part.” My sense from Prince of Networks is that it can’t. But I’m not prepared to argue that just yet. (See 2)

A few points here. First, I think Clark somewhat misses the point in his suggestion that objects can be signs. Let’s recall a few things about Peirce’s semiotics. In defining signs, Peirce says that a sign is something that stands for something in some respect or capacity. Peirce further distinguishes three components of signs: 1) Sign-vehicles or that which conveys the sign (for example, smoke or the signifier “tree”), 2) the semiotic object or that which the sign stands for (for example, fire in the case of smoke, and an actual tree in the case of the signifier “tree”), and 3) the interpretant or that which links the two to one another.

read on!

Now, the point to note here is that within the framework of OOO, an object does not stand for anything. An object is an individual substance that exists in its own right. It is not something that stands for something else. In this regard, suggesting that an object can be a sign simply misses the point. The point is that objects are not relations. Were an object a sign it would have to stand for something else. Minimally this puts OOO radically at odds with Peirce’s ontology. Does this mean that OOO has to reject the existence of signs? No. It just means that signs cannot be ontologically fundamental.

In challenging Graham’s thesis about objects independent of relations, Clark comes up with the clever example of brothers. Is a brother, Clark asks, an object? If this example is challenging, then this is because predicates like “brother” seem inherently relational in character, i.e., you can’t be a brother without having siblings. Graham might disagree with me here, but I am strongly inclined to argue that brothers, indeed, are not objects. Rather, responding to a question that Jacob Russell asked me a week or so ago, I would argue that brothers are elements of an object. What’s the difference between an element and an object? An object is that which has independent existence or which is a substance in its own right. An element is that which can only exist in another object. In what object is “brother” an element? Well, a family of course. In other words, entities like brothers are parts of a larger scale object. In this regard, we should not confuse persons with brothers.

Clark appeals to Peirce’s category of “firstness” to defend the thesis that Peirce had already done the work of OOO. In my view, this doesn’t work. Peirce’s categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness describe degrees of relation. Firstness is absolute non-relation or the absence of all relation. Secondness consists of dyadic relations, the introduction of the first distinction in the world. Thirdness consists of triadic relations, e.g., the structure of every sign. First, Peirce tends to describe firstness as a mythological posit that thought has to posit but that does not exist. Clearly OOO is not making such a claim about objects. Second, in his discussions of firstness, Peirce speaks of firstness as quality without distinction. For example, he asks us to imagine a universe that consisted of a single musical note, unwavering, unchanging, for all eternity. Firstness would be pure quality without difference. Clearly OOO’s objects cannot be equated with such a thing as they are individuals and therefore distinct, whereas firstness is absolutely without distinction.

Now Clark might rejoin that Peirce argues that signs such as icons are characterized by firstness by virtue of the fact that they signify through quality or a resemblance to what they stand for. Yes, this is true. However, this would ignore the fact that these signs are forms of firstness that contain thirdness within them, i.e., they stand for something in some respect or capacity. Yet this is exactly what objects do not do. Objects don’t stand for anything. Clark might then argue that objects must fall under the category of secondness because, insofar as they are individuals, they must be distinguished from other objects. That is, they must be based on a dyadic relation between themselves and everything else. However, this doesn’t work either because OOO’s objects are independent of every context and are irreducible to context (my arguments for this will become clearer with the release of The Democracy of Objects).

One final point. Clark argues that Graham has an inadequate account of time. I agree that there’s a lot more work to do in discussions of time and space, but it simply is not true that Graham treats time as a milieu or container in which objects exist. For Graham, time and space arises from objects, objects are not in time. Clark rejects Graham’s account of time because, he says, he is sympathetic to Einstein. However, it is difficult for me to see how Graham’s account of time isn’t perfectly consistent with Einstein’s account of time. Einstein says exactly the same thing: that time and space are produces of objects and how they bend space-time as a result of their mass and velocity. Now I am hesitant to say that Einstein gives the one true account of time and space. This is because I don’t think there is one account of space and time. Rather, time and space will take a variety of different forms depending on the types of objects we’re talking about, e.g., psychological time is different than social time and evolutionary time and physical time and so on. However, the point remains that OOO does not treat space and time as containers in which objects exist. Exactly the reverse.

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