A good theory must ultimately draw distinctions between different kinds of beings. However, it must earn these distinctions rather than smuggling them in beforehand, as occurs frequently in the a priori modern split between human beings on one side and everything else on the other (see Latour 1993 [We Have Never Been Modern]). This answers the question of why an object-oriented approach is desirable: a good philosophical theory should begin by excluding nothing. And as for those social theories that claim to avoid philosophy altogether, they invariably offer mediocre philosophies shrouded in the alibi of neutral empirical fieldwork. (Harman, Immaterialism, p. 4)
In Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory (Polity Press, 2016), Graham Harman applies his object-oriented philosophy to social objects. The book functions as “a compact list of the first principles of object-oriented social theory, which I have also called ‘immaterialism’” (126). This presentation of an object-oriented social theory includes a detailed analysis of one particular social object, the Dutch East India Company. Someone might think that this is just another book of object-oriented philosophy, tracing out the same principles that Harman articulates elsewhere. In some sense that’s true, but there’s much more going on than that. In what follows, I briefly sketch some key contributions that this book makes to the ongoing development of object-oriented philosophy. Continue reading
I recently stumbled upon this 2007 Philosophy Now article by Colin Wilson, “Whitehead as Existentialist,” thanks to a retweet from Matt Segall—a Whitehead expert and the brilliant blogger (and soon-to-be PhD!) behind Footnotes to Plato. There’s never been any secure border separating who is in and out of existentialism, so why not? If someone wants to include Alfred North Whitehead, it’s fine with me. In our time of radical uncertainty and uncanniness, existentialist ways of thinking and being are perhaps more relevant than ever, so I don’t see any reason to close the door on Whitehead’s participation in any movement related to existentialism. In some sense, all you need to do to be an existentialist is exist, so including Whitehead seems pretty easy. Right? Not really. Although I appreciate Whiteheadian alliances and solidarities, it is more accurate to say that Whitehead is not an existentialist. Whitehead is in fact not an existentialist, not a representative, exemplar, or example of existentialism. Continue reading
HERE is a pdf of a recently published review that I wrote on Nature and Logos: A Whiteheadian Key to Merleau-Ponty’s Fundamental Thought, by William Hamrick and Jan Van Der Veken (SUNY, 2011). This is one of multiple reviews I’ve written for one of my favorite journals, Worldviews: Global Religions, Culture, and Ecology (published through Brill).
I’m in the process of reviewing an excellent book, Nature and Logos: A Whiteheadian Key to Merleau-Ponty’s Fundamental Thought, by William Hamrick and Jan van der Veken. It’s so thorough in its research and references, you can get a lot out of the book even if you don’t pay attention to the overall argument that the authors are presenting. If you do pay attention to that overall argument, you’ll find a clear and constructive articulation of Merleau-Ponty’s “fundamental thought,” that is, his “new ontology,” which he was developing in the years before his untimely death at the age of 53.
A lot of books talk about Merleau-Ponty’s new ontology and speculate about what his unfinished ontology would look like if he would have had a chance to finish it. What’s interesting about Nature and Logos is that it supplements that new ontology with a Whiteheadian key, building on Merleau-Ponty’s similarity to and explicit interest in Whitehead’s philosophy of Nature as process. To support the connection between Merleau-Ponty and process philosophy, the book draws attention to the influence of the evolutionary philosophies of Schelling and Bergson for Merleau-Ponty’s concepts of Nature, time, space, consciousness, body, perception, humanity, etc. There’s also a chapter on the Stoic logos endiathetos, which parallels Merleau-Ponty’s understanding of Nature as a sensible logos.
The only thing I’ve been disappointed in is the lack of Whitehead in the book. There’s a good amount of Whitehead in there, good in quality and quantity, but the title made me think that there would be a lot more. Two names in the title, Merleau-Ponty and Whitehead, yet the Whitehead references are far fewer than the Merleau-Ponty references. Overall, it’s a book about Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of the flesh, and Whitehead along with Stoicism, Schelling, and Bergson are shown to be keys to that ontology. Nature and Logos has prepared the ground for the development of an even more Whiteheadian Merleau-Ponty and, hopefully, a more phenomenological process philosophy.