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.

Why using voice recognition software is an act of language philosophy

I use voice recognition software on a daily basis. I turn to it when I am too lazy to type up on my computer or when I am busy driving but want get the smartphone to do something.

On the computer I use dictation mainly when I am copying text for students’ handouts or online quizzes. This act of requires me to look at a text and type at the same time. Although I am a touch typist, I still quite clumsy at it, especially when the text is not the text I am typing.

Now the mic on the computer is like a mic on any recording like my PCM recorder. It picks up sound. But, while my PCM recorder records the sound as pure audio data and does nothing with it, my computer, when I am dictating to it, does at least one extra step – it transforms that sound into written text. This extra step is like thinking; it needs to recognise the sounds to convert them into the text. In other words, sound and text are not one but two things.

When I dictate to my computer the computer does not initially “know” the meaning of the words. It only recognises the sound patterns then transforms them into corresponding written patterns. From experience, I know that I must pronounce the sounds clearly for the computer to be able to do its job – to transform the sounds into text. But even when I being most careful the computer cannot accurately do this and returns what it thinks the sound patterns it heard. The problem could be

  • my pronunciation,
  • the mic’s inability to pick up the sound because of incidental noise,
  • low level of the sound because I was too far away from them,
  • the quality of the mic,
  • the inability to distinguish similar sounds.

Most of the time I am required spend time to go through the text and edit it. (But, in the end, it still saves me a lot of time.)

Most days, too, I would say to my smartphone things like, “Hey Siri, play music,” or “Hey Siri, what’s my schedule for today?” And it (it isn’t a “she” or “he”, for we can choose and change the voice we desire to hear) would play some songs it thinks I like or maybe tell me I have a doctor’s appoint at 9pm.

Like my computer my smartphone also has a mic. Unlike my computer it is constantly “listening”. Until it hears a sound pattern that is Hey Siri it does nothing (it isn’t converting the sound pattern to the text Hey Siri every time, for that would use too much power). But once it does, it is instructed to

  • listen for new sound patterns,
  • transform the sound patterns into text,
  • decide on the meaning of the text, and then
  • do something (like play music or find and read out the day’s schedule).

What my computer or smartphone isn’t first doing is recognising meaning. It is listening for sound patterns. And before the advent of voice recognition it was looking for written text patterns.

The Hey Siri process is essentially no different than the text conversion process, except it is not converting to text but another action directly – the act of listening for what to convert into text.

As I sit here my wife is doing things like carrying laundry, washing the cups, turning on and off taps, removing plates from dishwashers. But none of these are sounds that I need to convert to text (except for me to translate that for here as to what is physically happening here). These are sound patterns of non-words. But nonetheless they all “translate” to have meaning (that I should feel guilty and start to help her with the day’s work) because I am processing them.

Sound or text patterns as received form (sensation) are undoubtedly separate from meaning (perception). They are clear as the difference between ear and nerve, and brain. The failure of the ear or nerve necessarily means the brain will not receive form from the outside. A person given the gift of sound for the first time with a prosthetic ear will likely break down in tears especially when sound matches vision. The world is a richer place with sensation. It has more meaning.

Subject and object

PH: Because we know that the subject of reason rejects contradiction, we know one parameter of the modern subject.

Me: What is the definition of subject? I honestly do not know the meaning of subject in this context.

— you are not wanting to paint yourself into a corner, is what is happening.  You know exactly what I mean by the subject.  Again, if you need another authority, check the multitude of philosophers, or psychologists, or even the dictionary.  But if you need a definition: a subject is a subject of discourse.  

I honestly don’t know which definition you are using.

Here are the noun definitions (including philosophical definitions) from the Oxford Dictionary. I have put in bold the definitions which could well fit into your statement.

  1. A matter, scene, etc to be discussed, described, represented, dealt with, etc
  2. A person, circumstance, etc, giving rise to specified feeling, action, etc
  3. Department or field of study
  4. Grammar. a noun or it’s equivalent about which sentence is predicated and with which the verb agrees
  5. Any person except a monarch living under a monarchy or any form of government
  6. Any person owing obedience to another
  7. Philosophy. Are thinking or feeling entity; the conscious mind; the ego, especially as opposed to anything external to the mind
  8. The central substance or core of a thing as opposed to its attributes
  9. Music. The theme of a fugue or sonata; a leading phrase or motif
  10. a person of specified mental or physical tendencies
  11. the part of a proposition about which a statement is made
  12. (as in subject for dissection) a dead body

As you can see six of the twelve definitions here can be meant. It is especially problematic when definitions 7 and 10 have complete opposite meanings for philosophy and psychology (areas which I must almost taken into consideration when looking at polysemy in your discourse). I did not include grammar subject in bold either, since you are not a language teacher.

And here are the definitions for object.

  1. A material thing that can be seen or touched
  2. A person or thing to which action was feeling is directed
  3. a thing sought or aimed at; a purpose
  4. Grammar. A noun or its equivalent governed by an active transitive verb or by a preposition
  5. Philosophy. a thing external to the thinking mind or subject
  6. Derogatory. A person or thing of especially pathetic or ridiculous appearance
  7. Computering. A package of information and a description of its manipulation

And the Oxford Dictionary does not include the second grammatical definition either.

Interesting that definition 1 (of normal usage) is different to the philosophical one (definition 5). Also, since the name OOO is (loosely) derived from object-oriented programming languages I cannot discount this usage (definition 7) by you either.

Do you see where my problem stems from?

You keep on assuming I am being uncooperative (obstinate is the word you keep on using). I do not have all of your definitions in my head as you keep on assuming (I have not even gotten to modern yet). I can only assume from this characteristic that you are also (I am including myself in here) fallible to other assumptions as well, and that I have to be weary of what they may be. It is the way I do my philosophy.

Reply: routes

In reply to this post.

A route is a path. There are two routes in philosophy.

What are the two routes? I read to the end. lol. Good read, by the way.

A route, is also a retreat. 

By “retreat” you mean a route of escaping from what? This is a metaphor that assumes something to escape from. I am not sure what yet.

One either has faith, or one doubts. But often enough, people think they are not having faith when they are doubting. But most often through their doubting they are really just upholding faith.

“… faith … doubt” Let us be clear here. Are we assuming just the Christian faith and Christian doubt? Or are we talk about all faiths, Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Jainism and the other thousands of religions out there and therefore all doubts?

Faith is that which is already informing one to what they can possibly know.

Is it only Faith that informs? Can another faith inform? Can a non-faith inform?

‘…know …’ I am assuming Faith also means all that is to be Known in the widest possible sense, inside and outside the reality.

The operation of faith is based in offense. In our modern times, the basic offense of what we can call conventional philosophy is known as contradiction. 

What is the non-conventional philosophy that we are hinting at here?

In this way, the modern religion is based in A foundational theological tenant that we call reason.

You are not talking of any religion other than Christianity, are you?

Reason upholds the modern faith in reality by rejecting contradiction. Modern identity is founded in moving the other direction once contradiction is found. Contradiction defines the limit of subjectivity.

We need to define reason and contradiction clearer here. I don’t know if we are holding on to the same definitions for these.

We call a known thing which has parameters, and object. 

I will go with this. But I am not sure again, if your ‘know’ is the same notion as my ‘know’.

If we can define one parameter, we have found the beginning of an object, …

An object has not begun, then, until it is defined by a parameter. Until that moment the object does not exist.

… because all we need is one fact of an object and that necessarily leads to all the facts which constitute an object.

Fact equals truth? What is a fact?

All of the facts are what is knowable.

Because we know that the subject of reason rejects contradiction, we know one parameter of the modern subject.

What is the definition of subject? I honestly do not know the meaning of subject in this context.

Because we know one parameter, one fact of subjectivity, one true thing which establishes the modern subject in the real world, we likewise know that subjectivity is an object that we can know.

The difficulty in understanding this kind of knowledge is founded in a theological tenant that we know as philosophical phenomenalism, or what we could call the phenomenal subject. The modern subject becomes fully defined once the postmodern Version of phenomenalism arises.

When we see that the postmodern subject is really the completion of the modern theological subject, then we have all the information we need to begin to understand the object of the subject.

You have lost me here. But I may be lost because I do not have a theological tenant s my starting point. And also our uses of modernism/postmodernism is likely different, both idiosyncratic in their own ways.

The two routes is the way that we understand a subject, as an object.

Again, are the two routes taken by one person or taken by two people.

It doesn’t matter what one believes about a situation. …

I am glad to hear that … but it seems to me that you are continually projecting a faith and doubt onto me that I do not have, a kind of “Poor fella. He doesn’t know it but God will Save him.” You may feel the same of me, that I am projecting an emptiness or a nihilism that you do not want.

… What we find of the subject, by its parameters, is true, despite subjective knowledge. Because only subjectivity concerns belief, and belief is that by which subjectivity is upheld in faith. 

Language, or an orientation upon discourse in particular, is the means by which the theology of the subject Upholds the modern religious faith. Faith is that which grants reality, because it is operating to inform us what we are able to think and know.

I don’t know if we have the same notion of language also. For in the beginning wasn’t the word. It wasn’t with God. and it certainly wasn’t God.

I am not misquoting this because I want to poke fun at Christianity, but because I feel that language like this misleads. By Word=God we have no escape (retreat, if you will) from the narrative, the discourse.

Philosophy arises in simultaneity as a thrust forward, and as a retreat. The view which sees a choice in how to proceed, is always a move forward, a real move. Hence the reason which finds truth is retreating.

I highly recommend Metaphors We Live By as a route to understand how metaphors like this work. Lakoff would label this an [X IS WAR.] conceptual metaphor.

From concepts to Kierkegaard: a reply

A reply to preliminary-comments-on-the-existence-of-concepts

First, a delineation. The idea that philosophy must be about finding or asserting what is more true of a situation is but one manner of philosophy

So the issue, really, for the existence of concepts, in answering the question of their existence, one should first address: what is being attempted in answering the question? What is Being done? 

“… but one manner of philosophy.” Agreed. One manner.

Before we attempt to do any sort of philosophy. We should notice what is occurring, and come to terms with it somehow. Like Kierkegaard says, philosophy generally likes to start in the middle and then say a bunch of things about beginnings. I feel that a more significant issue for philosophy has to do with beginning at the beginning. 

“… Kierkegaard …” Another manner … leading to God, leap of faith, Existentialism.

“… beginning at the beginning …” I am happy with the beginning. But what I find at the beginning is not God. That is an assumption, a leap of faith. Even if you are not suggesting that, Kieregaard is. Let me clear on that.

Now, to say that none of us can actually start at the beginning, is to assert that there is only a middle. And not only that, but that everyone must adhere to the middle-ness.

As I said, I am happy with the beginning and I will say I happy with the end. The entirety of the reality is things, space and time. While there is a middle, I do not adhere to the middle-ness steadfastly. But neither do I go beyond reality.

It is a definition that goes into what is philosophically given, and then asserted on to every other category that begins with the term “human”. While real, I do not see such faux beginnings as addressing what is actually true of reality. 

Yes, what is given with a little ‘g’. Another manner is defining it by what is Given with a big ‘G’, to which I do not agree. Again, addressing Kierkegaard.


There is no arguing against that approach, though, And I call that approach, I call that method, I call that implicit assumption that supports method,conventional.

And I will call all approaches convictional. I am not trying to be clever. The point is that no position is value-free.

[…] Now, identifying that particular method as conventional is not implicating an insult or that something is wrong with it. It is merely identifying it. It could be a concept, it could be an idea, it could be a subjective opinion, it could arise in relativity, it could do and be represented in an infinite number ofmanners.

I do not take offence. And neither is saying convictional meant to be offensive. We all have positions. I am going to be transparent about mine.

It is to this kind of truth that I am involved with when I do philosophy. The recognizing of the reality of things, of what is occurring by the involvement with the universe. 

” … truth …” We must define that term. For me, truth is a concept of reason not of reality. Things are not “true” or “false”. Things (are, period). (Just) things.

For example: when I walk up to a computer, I first have to turn it on. And then usually I would have to login to my account. There is no feasible amount of argument about whether or not that occurs. It is a particular method or it identifies a particular method of how to get onto the computer. Sure, we could call it any number of things. We could use a whole variety of different languages and words and gestures to indicate the same thing. I first have to turn it on, though. The computer then has to come on. Then I have to log into my account. Etc. It doesn’t matter what we call that operation. It doesn’t matter, so far as I’m trying to do some thing, to have some thing Being done. What series of events I call into it has no has no barring: it doesn’t matter whether the computer is made up of invisible molecules or if it’s made up of pure consciousness that arises inside of my mind somehow. Ultimately I have to do those exact procedures. And if you were at work and someone said to log into the computer, and then you spent the next three hours discussing with them about the actual truth, the actual metaphysical truth of how these are only concepts or how Youre actually not doing anything here by logging onto the computer, that it’s a bunch of empty space, etc. You would be fired. 

Agreed. When I am hungry I eat. When I am tired I sleep.

Similarly, to take the approach that there really is no computer, or that logging in is a process having no real substance, is itself a method of coming upon real things. This is to say, that real things have no actual substance, so to speak. 

Denis Maurice wrote this of art: “Remember that a picture, before being a battle horse, a nude, an anecdote or whatnot, is essentially a flat surface covered with colors assembled in a certain order.”

The illusion is that a painting is a scene of battle horses, nudes, Anecdotes (capital ‘A’ deliberate) or whatever. Ultimately, we are working with things, and the processes and qualities of things.

So, It is with this kind of truth that I am involved with when I undertake philosophy. I am not being involved with discovering what is an underlying true about the situation, because I already know what is absolutely true about it: I have to go to the computer And turn it on and logon to my account etc. and that there is another kind of method which would argue that the computer and the act are different things, themselves having, again, no real substance. 

“… I already know what is absolutely true about it. …” Is it that you know or Know. Again, I am not being clever, rude, or obstinate. But rather are you doing a leap of faith without Knowing it, or is it Kierkegaard?

I’m not sure why this situation wouldn’t be true. That is, unless I demand that everyone must adhere to one method of doing things in philosophy, maybe. 

I am not demanding anything. I am giving one manner. You are giving another manner.

So I’m involved with wondering what value it holds for me to have a philosophy that argues that everything is concepts, and that there are no true objects, that there are existing things and then there are not existing things that there are processes, that there are abstractions… i’m not sure why that has anything to do with me going into the computer and turning it on and logging on — and yet, somehow it does. It doesn’t mean there is no value in it— surely, there is value in asserting that everything has relative substance. But I merely ask into what that value is, and attempt to shed might on why that might be the case. 

I didn’t say no value. But I am saying there is no absolute Value. And also in the reality everything has equal value. It is in this being that things have different values. This is not a choice but a process and quality of this being.

So back to the question of whether a concept exists. I am not sure when I come and I use a concept whether or not it exists only in language and that really this language has nothing to do with any actual objects out in the universe. Such philosophy seems to me only useful to idealists and people that don’t want to admit that they are involved with a true reality of things. They would rather set in their own ideas of philosophical fantasy, and avoid the truth that is right in front of them.

Interesting that you are mis-taking my position for an idealist one (or at least suggesting that this is an idealist one). I am thoroughly a materialist and a modern realist (not a scholastic realist). These are my convictions.

A Zen story

A Zen student came to Bankei and complained: ‘Master, I have an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?’

‘You have something very strange,’ replied Bankei. ‘ Let me see what you have.’

‘Just now I cannot show it to you,’ replied the other.

‘When can you show it to me?’ asked Bankei.

‘It arises unexpectedly,’ replied the student.

‘Then,’ concluded Bankei, ‘ it must not be your own true nature. If it were, you could show it to me at any time. When you were born you did not have it, and your parents did not give it to you. Think that over.’

A serious “concept”

I am utterly serious when I say I do not believe concepts as things.

I am not trying to be clever, only to point out that language fools us into believing that concepts exist as things.

The self referential aspect of “concept” is what I am talking about.

We can never escape concept-as-thing because this is the only way we can deal with it. It is a kind of metaphor.