I haven’t been paying much attention to the blogosphere lately as I’m busily writing The Democracy of Objects. At any rate, Graham has a nice post up describing his position vis a vis Meillassoux. Paul has a post up announcing the first issue of Speculations. Over at Critical Animal, Scu has a post up riffing on my earlier post on the new scholasticism. At the risk of having caused confusion, I hope I didn’t there give the impression that I don’t believe we should engage with other philosophers. The Democracy of Objects is replete with detailed discussions of Bhaskar, Badiou, DeLanda, Deleuze, Harman, Lacan, Zizek, Aristotle, Kant, Locke, Hume, Luhmann, Maturana, Varela, and a host of others. The point is not that we shouldn’t engage with other philosophers, but that we shouldn’t allow this to place us in the position where we find ourselves forcing these figures to say what we wish for them to say, and that we shouldn’t deny ourselves the authorization to freely assume responsibility for our own positions.

Over at Networkologies, Chris Vitale has a post up raising questions about OOO. Unfortunately I can’t respond to Vitale’s post in detail right now because I’m busily working away on The Democracy of Objects, but I did want to address one point. Vitale writes:

All of which brings us back to the issue of ‘who gets to decide’ if an object is a cane toad or a froggie. Obviously, the toad itself does not know whether or not it is one or the other, because it doesn’t have language. The ideas we call ‘froggie’ and ‘cane toad’ are in fact ‘objects’ that were invented by humans. A toad does not know if it is a cane or not. Yes, there is a real amphibian there in front of us, but humans decide whether or not the objects ‘cane toad’ or ‘froggie’ apply in a given case. They can be mistaken, obviously, and this is what Graham means when he discusses the lamp-post example in Prince of Networks. But what is the toad in itself, beyond the ideas we give of it?

A Whiteheadian approach would be that it’s all a matter of perspective (not that there is something there, but what type of something), and this is where Levi accuses me of the ‘epistemic fallacy’. I think the toad IS a cane toad for the expert, and a froggie for my nephew, and these are both equally ok from their points of reference. But is this the dreaded correlationism?! So it might seem at first. But in the post in question, I gave an additional example, namely, the perspective of my nephew, the expert, AND THAT OF AN ELECTRON, which Levi doesn’t mention when he goes at me in that last post for being correlationist.

But this addition is crucial. To an electron, the cane toad is most certainly NOT a froggie or cane toad, but simply a pattern of sub-atomic particles, some more dense or differently composed than others. That is, the electron has a perspective, and makes decisions, but this is NOT old-fashioned correlationism simply because Whitehead uses the terms ‘perspective’ and ‘decision’. Whitehead is trying to radically rework what these terms mean. This is why Whitehead uses the term ‘prehension’ rather than ‘perception,’ because he doesn’t think that entities like electrons are conscious, even though they do have a form of proto-perception, called ‘prehension.’ Its correlationism, but not quite, in fact, it really deconstructs the correlationism/non-correlationism binary as a false one. That is why at times I’ve referred to this as what Meillassoux has called ‘absolutizing the correlation’ – but with a multiplicitous twist. Just saying this is an example of the epistemic fallacy doesn’t really say much more than we disagree on the border between epistemology and ontology. My sense is it shifts the terrain of the question.

I get the sense that Chris is getting frustrated with my protestations that he’s not “getting it”, but Chris, you’re not getting it! Before explaining why, first let me say that the object-oriented ontologists more or less agree with Chris. We share the thesis that the nephew, the expert, and the electron grasp the frog differently. As Graham put it in his post yesterday,

Some critics have accused OOO of 1, naive realism. But that’s clearly not the case. Position 1 on Meillassoux’s Spectrum doesn’t just entail belief in a world outside human access. It also entails a correspondence theory of truth, since it holds that the world not only exists outside of us, but that we can know it.

But the core of Object-Oriented Ontology is that we can only translate it, not know it. And translation is a feature of Kant as much as of Latour and Whitehead (Shaviro will be pleased by that remark, and possibly Cogburn as well).

Here’s where I think Vitale is going wrong. If I am following his questions correctly, Vitale hears the word “realism” and immediately jumps to the conclusion of representationalism. Representationalism, crudely construed, is the thesis that we can represent the world as it is. Thus representationalism is both an epistemological thesis (a thesis about the nature of our knowledge) and a naive realism (the thesis that the world is like the manner in which we perceive it). This is the only way I can understand Vitale’s questions: Vitale seems to be working on the premise that OOO is a representational realism that argues that we can represent objects as they are. Working on this premise, he then points out that different persons (his nephew and the expert) and different objects (the electron) perceive the frog differently and that therefore OOO must be mistaken.

What Vitale is missing, I believe, are the two core claims of OOO: First, OOO claims that objects are radically withdrawn from one another. Insofar as objects are radically withdrawn from one another it is impossible to represent an object. In this respect, OOO entertains a polemical stance against naive realism to the same degree that it entertains a polemical stance against correlationism. OOO vigorously rejects the thesis that other objects are anything like they are perceived by us or any other object; and this for the precise reason that objects are withdrawn.

Second, and more importantly in this context, OOO argues that objects relate to one another through translation. Translation is a radically different relation than representation. If this is the case, then this is because there is no translation without transformation. Where representation is based on metaphors of mirroring where there is purported to be a resemblance between the reflection and the reflected, translation is a relation of difference. A translation is not a faithful representation of an original, but is rather a transformation of the original in terms of the system specific structure of the entity doing the translation. Here we get all the perspectivism that Vitale might like. Vitale’s nephew translates the frog in one way, a snake translates the frog in another way, the expert in yet another way, and the electron in yet another way. These are all ways in which one entity grasps another entity, the frog.

There are thus two claims that OOO rejects in this context. First, OOO rejects the correlationist claim that somehow there’s something special about the human-object relation and the way in which the mind “distorts” the thing-in-itself. OOO does not reject the thesis that the mind distorts the thing-in-itself in particular ways precisely because OOO endorses the thesis that all objects relate to other objects through translation. What OOO rejects is the thesis that this is somehow unique to humans. Rather, OOO holds this is true of all objects in their relation to other objects. In this respect, OOO can claim that all objects have a unique perspective on other objects.

Second, however, OOO rejects the thesis that objects can be dissolved in these perspectives or reduced to these perspectives. This is what OOO is objecting to in Vitale’s formulation. Vitale appears to be claiming that the object is the other object’s perspective on that object. If this is indeed what he’s claiming, he is rejecting the autonomous existence of the object being perceived. As such, he falls into Berkeleyian idealism which holds that esse est percipe or that being is perception. OOO is more than happy to endorse the thesis that different objects grasp other objects differently and therefore have perspectives on different objects. However, OOO also holds that each object is an autonomous withdrawn existence of its own and that no object can be reduced to another object’s perception of it. Were this the case we would fall into the game of hot potato Graham is talking about because there would be no instigator of these different perspectives in the first place, nor would there be perceivers because they too would be but effects of being perceived by other objects.