Graham has a post up briefly outlining some of our differences. The first difference he outlines is, I think, genuine. I conceive of objects as dynamic systems that endure through time whether existing for the briefest of instances or millions of years, while Graham seems to hold that each instant is an entirely new entity. This, for example, each stroke of the finger while writing this post would be a distinct and new entity, whereas I hold that these are activities are activities of one and the same entity (me).
The second difference Graham outlines, however, misrepresents my position. Graham writes,
2. Levi tends to hold that anything that has an effect is real. By contrast, I hold both that many real things may have no current effects (Levi is somewhat open to this concept of “dormant objects”) and that many things have effects that are not real (here Levi would disagree, I think). For example, all of the objects of experience have some sort of trace emotional or intellectual effect upon us, but for me this not the same thing as reality. Reality and causal efficacy are two separate things for me.
Neither of these claims represent my position. First, I do not hold that whatever is real produces an effect. There are real entities, in my view, that produce no effects whatsoever. I call these entities “dark objects”. Indeed, in The Democracy of Objects I even evoke the existence of such objects as the very reason that we engage in experiment in the sciences. Were objects constantly producing effects there would be no point in experiment because there would be no circumstances in which an object fails to manifest its powers. The whole point of experiment lies in creating controlled conditions to discover non-apparent properties of entities. This wouldn’t be necessary if entities were always producing their effects. My point about effects is thus epistemological not Ontological. Ontologically an entity can exist just fine without producing effects. But epistemologically we can only know whether a type of object exists if it produces an effect.
Likewise, I do not hold that whatever produces effects is real. I take it that in order for something to qualify as robustly real it has to be characterized by independence or an ability to exist in its own right without depending on the existence of another. Yet there are plenty of things that produce effects that do not exist in their own right. Tye other night I had a nightmare about cockroaches crawling all over me. This dream left quite an impression on me, leaving me disquieted for the rest of the following day. As such, it produced a number of effects. Yet the dream doesn’t qualify as robustly real because the entities and events of the dream do not exist in their own right, but depend for their existence on me as an entity.
A general criteria for whether or not an entity is a real entity or what Graham would call a “sensual object” might be whether the entity in question is relational or not. I borrow this distinction from Okrent’s Rational Animals, recommended to me by Jon Cogburn. My dream doesn’t exist as an entity in its own right because it exists only as a relation to another entity. Likewise, it might be parents, children, and siblings don’t exist because they only exist relationally. While the people that hold these relations exist independently, those place holders exist only in and rough a higher level object: a family. Here families would be entities, perhaps, that exist in their own right, while being-a-parent or being-a-child exists only in and through the existence of a family. Obama exists, yet presidents aren’t real objects. Rather, presidents only exist in and through a higher level object: a government. Adopting Graham’s language, it could then be said that relational entities are entities that exist only on the interior of a higher order real entity. I’m still toying with this thesis, so go easy on me here.