I have been glad to see that both Levi and Bogost have replied to my post about Object-Oriented Empiricism. Both Levi and Bogost have correctly raised some concerns about using the word empiricism. I admit that I share some of their concerns and there are certain problems about using the label empiricism. Maybe it would have been better to classify Object-Oriented Empiricism as Object-Oriented Philosophy in Action, which would represent the praxis dimension of Object-Oriented Philosophy. However, there is something that I find invaluable about empiricism, which I will attempt to express in this post.

The caricature of the empiricist is the researcher that goes out to observe facts from the external world, and uses their senses within experience to observe the world. The empiricist is then a dry observer, passively gazing upon the world. Another problem of the empiricist is they tend to focus on the human-world gap, making (traditional) empiricism a form of correlationism. The result is that the empiricist concentrates on how ideas come from our impressions of the world, which are derived from our human experiences. For example, I have an idea of a cake because I previously smelt, tasted, touched, and seen the cake. Therefore, for the empiricist, we never experience the world directly.

However, there is something invaluable about empiricism that I would claim is connected to Object-Oriented Philosophy. A lot of Object-Oriented Philosophy is indebted to correlationist philosophy, which puts the correlate of human and world at the centre of their concerns. For example, Shaviro’s Whiteheadian/Deleuzian realism is indebted to Kant, and Harman’s  OOP is indebted to Heidegger, and it seems unproblematic to claim that both Kant and Heidegger are correlationists. The interesting move that both Shaviro and Harman make is that they radicalize Kant and Heidegger, suggesting what they claim about the human-world correlate is also relevant for the relations between objects. I would also like to propose that it is possible to radicalize empiricism, and suggest what (traditional) empiricism says about the human-world correlate is also relevant for conceptualising object-object relations.

At one level, empiricism is critical of representational realism, suggesting that we experience secondary qualities (i.e. sound, taste, smell…) and not the actual object. In addition, the secondary qualities experienced do not resemble the object. For example, the sweetness of a cake is a secondary quality that I would experience through my senses, and not a quality of the cake in-itself. However, empiricism makes a key proposition here that is relevant for object-oriented philosophy. Empiricism suggests that objects have the capacity to affect humans, even if the objects remain a mystery. In other words, the encounter with objects is a productive encounter with difference that produces the subject. The result is that the ‘outside’ world has objects that have the capacity to affect humans, even if humans do not represent those experiences.

Yet, at this level empiricism remains ‘human, all too human’ and needs to be radicalized in order for empiricism to be relevant for OOP. What if we suggest that what empiricism claims about the human-world gap is also ‘true’ about other relations, which do not need to include the human-world relation. If empiricism claims that we need to account for how a human is formed from experience, then OOP needs to account how objects are formed from experience. Therefore, we cannot think of experience as experience of some subject and need to consider the inhuman, impersonal, or anonymous plane of experience. In addition, empiricism can inform us that encounters of experience are productive and non-representational. For example, the sunlight that encounters the plant has the capacity to affect the plant, but it would seem strange to suggest the plant is representing the sunlight. Instead, it would be more accurate to claim that different objects have the capacity to affect other objects, and the multiple relations between objects are productive, which have the capacity to produce emergent properties.

Hopefully, OOP has some potential to be empiricist, and can illustrate how experience is not an exclusive plane reducible to human experience, which can help to produce a non-anthropocentric empiricism. Therefore, there is a rich field of experience, where objects act upon other objects, and humans are only one node within this plane.

Advertisements