Ivakhiv has a post up on the attractions of process philosophy. I wanted to draw attention to a particular passage in Ivakhiv’s post. Adrian writes:
But the point I want to make is a point of style. When an object-oriented philosopher makes the case for a description of the universe that is made up of objects, things that are never fully related and that are always somewhat withdrawn from other things, he (or, in theory, she) is making the case for describing the universe as a universe of things that do certain things, that act in certain ways, and that maintain themselves over time, like Tim’s mouse, unless something happens to change them from the outside. While this may not be equivalent to a Newtonian world-picture — of objects in space moving around and bumping into each other, setting off or redistributing lawful causal effects as they do that — it is, in its overall contours, highly consonant with such a world-picture (minus perhaps the space, and plus a kind of space-time curvature at each node for indicating where the objects might be withdrawing to). [my emphasis]
I don’t wish to sound grumpy, but I find it very difficult to have discussions with people who make remarks about OOO such as this as I believe that rhetorically they are unfair and that they are reflective of a failure to attend to the actual claims made by theorists such as Graham and myself. Newton’s particles are indivisible and without division. Moreover, they don’t do anything. They are merely acted upon, rather than acting in any way. They are purely passive.
Why should we bow to Newton’s concept of objects as purely passive points that are only acted upon without acting? Certainly we get a very different picture of substances in Aristotle’s De Anima and Generation of Animals. However, that aside, nothing in either my account of objects or Graham’s remotely resembles the Newtonian universe. Graham objects are both capable of acting (rather than merely being acted upon) and are infinite multiplicities of objects wrapped in objects wrapped in objects wrapped in objects. My objects are actors that perpetually face the problem of entropy or disintegration, thereby having to produce themselves from moment to moment to endure in time. Indeed, as I argued in my Claremont talk, The Time of the Object, the structure of objects is to be understood in a manner akin to Derrida’s differance, where the substantiality of substance is essentially a temporal structure that produces itself in the order of time. As a consequence, the identity of an object is not an intrinsic feature of an object, but rather is a process through which substances produce themselves. As Hegel joked, if identity were identical it would not have to be said twice (A = A). In other words, repetition is essential to identity.
Where, I wonder, is there anything resembling a Newtonian universe in these sorts of claims? Nonetheless, if the term substance is to be retained, if substance is a better way of thinking entities than events or processes, if event and process is subordinate to substance, then this is because 1) entities are nonetheless patterned or structured despite their becoming, 2) they are unities, and 3) they cannot be submerged in or exhausted by their relations. Relations can always be detached. Objects can always enter into new relations. It is these features that constitute the substantiality of substance, not existing as some sort of indivisible point or particle in space bumping into other things. Any characterization otherwise portrays the concept of substance as a strawman in the history of philosophy. And indeed, Ivakhiv has repeatedly emphasized that he sees the differences between OOO and process philosophy as a difference between terminologies. Yet this suggests that the debate is something akin to a German and American arguing over whether we should say “es regnet” or “it rains”. However, I do believe that the differences are more substantial than that, for if you hold that entities are constituted by their relations then you lose that excess by which it is possible to account for how anything new can enter the world. This excess can only be maintained through the thesis of withdrawn substances that are in excess of any of their relations and that can shift in and out of their relations. All of that aside, so long as process philosophers insist on completely mischaracterizing OOO based on the suggestion that it is some sort of Newtonianism or a mere difference in vocabulary, it’s difficult to see how there can be any dialog.