Just a quick post working through ideas here, so take this with a grain of salt. I confess that I’m uncomfortable with the thesis that every relation generates a new object. It is not enough to simply ask what an object is, but we need an account of when an object is. It seems to me that there are relations that are external in the traditional ontological sense where no new objects are formed, and that there are relations that are genuinely generative of new objects. My last post on attractors, I think, goes part of the way towards resolving these questions of individuation. If it is conceded that the proper being of an object consists in its virtual attractors, then the metaphysical condition for the possibility of the genesis of a new object will spin on whether or not new attractors emerge as a result of the relation. Where two objects relate without generating new powers or attractors we get no new object. Where new powers or attractors emerge as a result of the relation, we get a new object. Objects, then, are individuated by their powers or attractors.

Setting aside my own proposal here, I’d be interested to hear what Harman has to say on this issue. In Guerilla Metaphysics he often speaks of genuine relations as the condition under which a new object is produced. This suggests that he holds that there are relations where no new objects are produced. What, for Harman, distinguishes object-generative relations and relations that generate no new objects?

read on!

I also hasten to add that it is important to keep in mind the mereology presupposed by the ontological nominalist wing of object-oriented ontology (I think Ian, Graham, and I are pretty much on the same page with these mereological considerations). Restricting ourselves to those relations that do generate new objects (and setting aside specific theories of how these objects are individuated), when we have what Harman calls a genuine relation between two objects, A and B, we get a new object C. The crucial point here is that we do not have one object here, but three. A is an autonomous object, B is an autonomous object, and C is an autonomous object. C is a new object because– at least under the thesis I’m toying with –it is characterized by new powers or attractors. But this emergent object doesn’t entail the disappearance of object A or object B. These objects persist as distinct and autonomous objects, and this, I think, because the respective attractors of these two sub-sets are in excess of their local manifestations in ArB.

Now clearly this thesis raises all sorts of intriguing questions about personal identity and ethics and politics. When I say I what the hell am I referring to? Levi sitting at the computer would, under this thesis, be a different object than Levi lying on his love-seat moaning as a consequence of his cold. Here metaphysics or how the world is outstrips language (there are more objects than we have words for). Clearly between Levi-Computer and Levi-Love-Seat there is an object that persists as in both of these mereologies Levi-being, whatever that might be, is an element in these respective objects. Yet, Levi-Computer and Levi-Love-Seat are distinct objects because they have distinct powers or attractors. The former can do things the other cannot do. This is also why we can say, with the Marx of the Manifesto that the peasant and the factory worker are distinct entities. Metaphysically they are not the same thing. And this would be, in part, why humanism is an ideology that masks all sorts of things.

Such a thesis fundamentally undermines neo-liberal politics and ethics, because both presuppose the sameness of the subject across which these ethical principles and political laws range. Yet by virtue of object-generative relations, two entities with different object-generative relations are not the same entity if beings are being individuated in terms of their higher level relations. This would give lie, for example, to the thesis that a person living in abject poverty is an entity equivalent to a person belonging to an assemblage or set of relations that gives them access to certain technologies, institutions, wealth, and so on. And this, in turn, would give lie to the thesis that rights are apportioned equally in these cases. While we’re at it, perhaps we should throw out the category of subject altogether. Subject implicitly suggests not only a passive observational stance with respect to the world and subjectivity, but also sameness for beings of a certain sort. Rather than speaking of subjects we should speak of agents. The concept of agent and agency at least suggests that of power or capacity which gets us a little closer to the ontology at stake, always outstripped as it is by language.