On Harmon’s objects (of the mind)

Here are some key quotes on “object” from Harman’s Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. All bold highlights of object are mine.

Even my close colleague Manuel Delanda, and ardent realist philosopher in his own right, blows the whistle on me here: ‘I am not sure why Harman wants to stick to objects. I do not deny that objects exist … It is just that a full realist ontology must possess objects and events, with a process being a series of events.’


More importantly, my discussion of objects is motivated less motivated by Heidegger than by Austrian and Polish philosophers immediately preceding him, who use the term ‘object‘ in nearly as broad a sense as OOO: Franz Brentano … Edmund Husserl …


This brings us back to my friend DeLanda’s objection that he is not sure why Harmon wants to stick to objects while ignoring events, a claim DeLanda has partially revoked in a newly published dialogue. In recent philosophy the term ‘event’ refers to a highly specific incident, with the frequent implication that the ingredients in an event do not have a strong independent existence outside that event. For example, the case could be made that the Beatles were an ‘event’, and that it is not really possible to speak of John, Paul, George and Ringo as independent entities proceeding the group, given how dramatically their lives were changed by it. But according to the OOO way of looking at things, this is absurd. Instead, each of the four members of the band was an object before joining, and the group as a whole is also an object (one that was able to endure the loss of at least two members prior to the addition of Ringo). […] More generally, for OOO every real event is also a real object. It hardly matters that every event has a large number of ingredients, since the same holds for every object as well: many things happen in a hurricane, but many things also transpire in an unmoving grain of sand. Nor events inherently shorter-lived than objects. There are long-lasting physical objects such as pulsars and granite, but also short-lived ones such as mayflies or the artificial elements high on the periodical table; by the same token, there are short lived events such as a 100 metre – or two people catching each other’s glances, but also long-lasting events such as the rain of the British monarchs Victoria and Elizabeth II or the stelleriferous era of the universe.


OOO uses this term [flat ontology] in the same sense as DeLanda, referring to an ontology that initially treats all objects in the same way, rather than assuming in advance that different types of objects require a completely different ontologies. […] … OOO uses ‘flat ontology’ in DeLanda’s sense, as a positive term, though it should also be noted that OOO does not see flat ontology as an absolute good.


As I have said before (here), it is not clear what object means. It comes down to whether Harman is talking about 1) objects of the mind or 2) objects of reality. The conclusion I have drawn is (correct me if I am wrong again) he is talking about objects of the mind and only of the mind.

Previously where we had discussed unicorns. And that whether unicorns exist or not. I had taken the common sense view that no one has seen a real physical unicorn before, so they exist only in idea (in the mind) and not reality. I was challenged that if we both have the idea ability to talk of unicorn then it exists.

If this is what exists is defined as then I accept the that unicorns “exist” in the mind, insofar as being only a concept. To use the word “exist” is to stretch the meaning of exist beyond conventional use. Of course, one is allowed to stretch meaning, but one must also say so, particularly if the usage is unconventional and marked (not the usual usage).

I do not dispute this usage, only that it was not clear. Of the conventional usages list from Oxford only last (computer language) is close to the meaning Harmon uses in the sense that it is not about physical objects but data.

Harmon maintains that OOO is not a philosophy of materialism. This makes sense if objects means objects of the mind. The fact is he never clearly says this, that is, he only says “objects” but never qualifies it to mean “objects of the mind”. I would assume also then remind myself that Harmon would read those dictionary definitions using the words things as “things (of the mind)”.

Briefly returning to the text even if Harmon is talking about physical objects (52-3) he always seems to mean physical objects of/in the mind. That is, as long as I append “(of the mind)” after the word object every time it makes sense or becomes clear.

It makes complete sense now that I understand that objects are objects of the mind (Brentano’s intentional inexistence), the concept of intentionality (but not the term intention as used in relevance theory or literary criticism), Husserl’s phenomena. But until this realisation, it had been unclear to me. Again, it is a specific reading, a reading which needs to kept in mind during reading in order not to get confused. But, also, whether I agree with it or not is a different matter.