Tag Archive: Obect-Oriented Empiricism

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.

As I have noted, my recent attention has been concerned with the relevance of Object-Oriented Philosophy (herein after OOP) for political analysis (here). It recently struck me that OOP needs to put forward a program of what I will term Object-Oriented Empiricism (herein after OOE), which is  the actual practice of Object-Oriented Studies in action.

At one level I want to differentiate between the theory (or philosophy) of OOP and the praxis of OOP, which will be designated as OOE. The former (OOP) will primarily be engaged in the philosophical discussion and theoretical debates of an object-orient approach, and the main role of OOP will be to produce Object-Oriented Ontologies. The latter (OOE) will primarily be concerned with illustrating the benefits (and limitations) of Object-Oriented Ontologies for the analysis of the experiences of the ‘real’ world, aiming to research particular objects(or events) and how these objects act and relate to other objects. In other words, the Object-Oriented Empiricist will use (or steal) the ontologies produced in OOP and design  their research projects in accordance with what object-oriented ontology they adopt.

I feel there seems a need for OOP to move towards the stage of OOE. The rich work of Byrant, Harman, and Shaviro has reached a stage where there is enough theoretical discussion to move towards the empirical analysis of objects. Of course, OOE will have to be familiar with the different ontologies of OOP, the debates within OOP, and the consequences of adopting one ontology of OOP over another. For example, a debate within OOP is if an Object-Oriented Ontology needs a virtual dimension, or if Object-Oriented Ontology is purely actual. However, it is time for OOP to develop into OOE, which can show the praxis of OOP.

At present, I envision that OOE will adopt two principles from OOP (and speculative realism)

  1. Critical of Correlationism
  2. Against the Hegemonic Fallacy (and here)

In terms of the first principle, OOE will have to illustrate why research methods that concentrate on the correlate (or relation) between the humans and the world is in itself a limitation. The second principle will critique any research that argues that one difference makes all the difference. The result of the second principle is that OOE research will be unable to claim that analysis is reducible to one phenomenon (e.g. language or atoms). Therefore, OOE will argue against all forms of reductionism that are evident in a lot of other paradigmatic approaches. I envision that it is the second principle where OOE will have to empirically challenge a lot of other engrained approaches. The (hopeful) result of OOE will be that the research it produces will demonstrate that the ‘real’ is not reducible to social norms (social constructivism), pursuits of self-interest (political realism), discursive fields (discourse analysis), autonomous individuals (liberal individualism), and so on. The benefit is that OOE will be able to expose the limitations of other approaches from illustrating how they pertain to the hegemonic fallacy and reduce the ‘real’ to one phenomenon.