A few have objected to my generalization as to what constitutes idealism, quoting a passage from my last post where I remark that,

If you find yourself immediately talking about language, signs, subjects, co-constitution, power, the nature of inquiry, etc., then you are an idealist. There is no ambiguity here. The implicit thesis in all these moves that the being of being cannot be even entertained independent of the human. …All philosophical questions do not revolve around the human. Nor is there any conflation of questions of access in Whitehead with questions of ontology. The question of how we have access to such and such a being, say a rose, is irrelevant to the question of what constitutes the being of beings. I find myself utterly baffled as to why philosophers seem to have such a difficult time distinguishing these two issues…

The important point to make here is that the issue is not with whether or not one talks about signs or language or power, but with whether or not one believes that being can only be discussed in relation to some human related phenomena. If you endorse this thesis, then you are an idealist. It’s as simple as that. This doesn’t mean that you’re a Kantian idealist, a Schellingian, a Berkeleynian, or a Hegelian. Idealism is a genus with many species. You can be a linguistic idealist like Wittgenstein or Derrida. You can be an idealist of the sort that Foucault or Bourdieu is with respect to power. The distinguishing feature here lies in whether or not beings can only be thought in relation to the human.

read on!

However, it’s important to trod carefully here. Insofar as onticology is a flat ontology or an ontology that places all objects on equal footing in the sense that if they produce differences, then they are real, the issue is not one of claiming that signs, language, and power are not real. What onticology opposes with its flat ontology is eliminativism of any sort. Thus, on one side, we have eliminative materialism or eliminative physicalism that argues that only material things like quarks, atoms, electrons, and neurons are “really real”. In response to eliminative materialism, onticology says “no, cities, texts, political movements, armies, signs, signifiers, and so on are also real and are not mere epiphenomena of brains or particles.”

On the other side you have eliminative idealism, where it is said that language or concepts or power or signs or minds are the “really real” and things like quarks, stars, black holes, solar systems, rocks, rabbits, zebras, and trees are mere epiphenomena of how humans form the world or an amorphous “one-all” that is not itself inhabited by these things. Against the eliminative idealists the onticologist says “no, rocks, solar systems, galaxies, stars, zebras, and so on are real and not mere epiphenomena of language, concepts, minds, or power.”

Latour likes to say that the aim of philosophy is not to make things less real, but more real. Where eliminative materialism and idealism set about striving to make one region of the world less real than another, OOO rejects this whole game from the outset. Paraphrasing the old expression, OOO allows you to have your neurology and your semiotics too. Both a sign and a neuron belong to the order of the real. It is in this respect that the ontology of onticology is “flat”. Flat does not mean equal. There are all sorts of differences in strength among objects. Rather, “flat” signifies that the relative difference in strength between one object and another object is irrelevant to whether that object is an object or whether it is real.

From an onticological perspective, therefore, we can talk all we like about signs, signifiers, powers, and so on, so long as we treat these things as objects in an assemblage, rather than as exhaustive of being as such. All of this, of course, requires a new mereology or theory of part-whole relations. Onticology is not making the absurd claim that kings, as distinct objects, do not require neurons. The claim is far more subtle. The point is that neurons do not explain the proper being of the king or that the kingness of the king as a distinct object cannot be reduced to neurons. Parts, yes. But the parts do not make an object what it is. Indeed, the parts are themselves distinct objects that are autonomous and independent in their own right. At any rate, far from diminishing the scope of what we can talk about or theorize, in my view OOO opens things up tremendously, enabling us to theorize assemblages composed of heterogeneous objects interacting at a variety of different levels.

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