Monday, January 16, 2012

OOO and Materialism

This is a recap of prior conversation and a response to Levi's Bryant's recent post.  First, the recap and setup....

The blogosphere has been talking about object-oriented ontology and materialism lately.  As I suspected, it appears that there's a wide range of what writers mean by the term.  See Adam Robert at Knowledge Ecology; Hilan Bensusan at No Borders Metaphysics has 1, 2 , and 3; Matt Segall at Footnotes to Plato has 1 and 2; my own which is a response to Leon at After Nature; and the most recent by Levi Harman at Larval Subjects.  Apologies for those I've left out, and for some of the older posts concerning Jussi Parikka's provocative post, see Been Woodard's links at Naught Thought and a belated response to Jussi by Ian Bogost.

Now my thoughts.  First, the "materialisms" that are gettting thrown around what I expected, and I should have known better.  I now realize that I was thinking of materialism from the viewpoint of analytic philosophy, which they are more likely to call "physicalism."  Thus my own contribution above may not be on target, and will now speak to that in the context of my prior post.

Leon argued against the "pure immanentism" of materialism.  Part of my response wherein I disagreed with him includes:

"I am not certain that pure immanentism is a problem.  It depends on what that means, and my first  hypothesis is materialism.  If all reality is material, then transcendent identity is impossible.  That is, if identity has no fixity other than momentary configurations, then we are at best in a materialist version of Heraclitean flux." 

This addresses the differences between Harman and Bryant that the latter mentions, and the difference appears to be the necessity (or not) of transcendent identity:

"Harman seems to argue that for the materialist, if the parts change then the entity is no longer the same entity. Yet this would only hold if the being of the entity were individuated solely by the parts of which the entity is composed. If, by contrast, entities are individuated by both their parts and organization, then so long as that organization is maintained, the entity persists. All that’s required is that that organization be embodied in some way."

Bryant has not completely addressed the issue.  If individuation occurs through 1) parts and 2) parts-whole relationships or organization, then 1) plus 2) equals 3) an individuated unity that is greater than the sum of its parts.  If it were anything less, then it would be reducible, and we would have an infinite regression of objects.  The usual problems of regression ensue, and this also threatens the irreducibility of objects.  If individuation is more than 1) and 2), then what is it?  Bryant mentioned emergentism, and that would be my solution to that kind of problem; "there’s no inconsistency between materialism and theories of emergence."  

The unity that is an individual is more than either the parts or organization since, as implied above, it constitutes a third thing.  Hence, contra Bryant, it's possible that "if the parts change then the entity is no longer the same entity" because any change to a part also changes the whole.  Changes to a part may not be significant to the whole, however, as it is possible for multiple changes in parts to recreate a virtually identical whole.  E.g., moving the chairs on the deck of the Titanic doesn't change the fact that it is sinking.  This is how an emergent phenomenon is not reducible eitehr from a metaphysical or epistemic perspective.  

The ultimate issue to be addressed is an old one, what is identity? 

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