"Revisiting Brassier's Deleveling of Object-Oriented Ontology:
A Problem for Object-oriented Ontology (that is Not a Problem for Ordinal Naturalism)"
Ray Brassier’s critique of object-oriented ontology is devastating. His primary purpose is to re-level the function of raized generality within immanence and hence re-invigorate a naturalized form of transcendence which is independent of perceiving transcendent consciousness and its horizon of apprehension. It is thus a form of scientific realism, pragmatism, and what I am currently referring to as “transcendental naturalism” in my own angle of vision which follows this part of Brassier’s thinking. One might think of this as a vector, an intersection, of Brassier’s work with that of Iain Hamilton Grant as transcendental naturalism is also, simultaneously, a transcendental materialism that admits the reality of the vital negative, that among other organic yet immanent features of the Hegelian and Schellingean systems.
As Brassier correctly points out, the sort of “flat ontology” merely posited by object-oriented ontology fails not only because it is simply posited, but because it lacks what Justus Buchler has articulated as “ontological ordinality.” In Buchler’s famous Metaphysics of Natural Complexes he identifies two necessary pillars required for any ontology that purports to be a naturalism as well. One is “ontological parity” – the idea that no object of nature is more real, nor any less real, than any other object of nature. (This idea sounds remarkably similar to the “ontological flatness” posited by the object-oriented ontologists despite Buchler having articulated it thirty five years earlier.) The other pillar is “ontological ordinality” – the idea that whatever is, is naturally complex. Meaning, there are no metaphysical simples. And further, as such, ordinality means that no object can be entirely unrelated to anything else and still be considered a singular, simple individual (thus it follows that to be is to be related). Thus Buchler provides us with a picture of nature that is more capacious and robust than the “flatness” posited by the object-oriented ontologists as for Buchler nature is “whatever is, in whatever way it is.” Buchler does not reduce any items of nature to assumed grounds independent of the traits which relate hem, nor does he reduce objects simply to the relations among and between objects themselves. This is important because Buchler’s ordinal ontology contains parity, successfully, in a way which object-oriented ontology fails to do. And thus Buchler’s ordinal naturalism and its twin principles of ontological parity and ontological ordinality is immune to the sorts of criticisms leveled against object-oriented ontology and its failure to provide for an adequate rendering of nature.
There are four theses of object-oriented ontology that Brassier identifies which fail (quite miserably) specifically within the scope of ontology, and more generally within speculative and realist metaphysics. They are as follows:
- There is no transcendence. No one sort of entity is the origin or ground of explanation of all others.
- There is no generality (universality). No one sort of entity (or presumably method or discipline) accounts for (or explains) any possibility of unity or commonness to be had among all others.
- There are no internal relations among entities. All relations are external and involve sensuous qualities only.
- There is not ontological “dignity.” No entity can be asserted to rank higher or lower within an ontological continuum and thus all entities are ontologically univocal. (All “is.” Nothing is not.)
Aside from the fact that at least two of these are mutually contradictory, it is Brassier’s calling out as fatal one of these theses alone that I find to be relevant here, for even though it but one point of contention Brassier demonstrates quite clearly why the failure of this thesis as posited fails on several fronts at once and collapses the whole project. In a future post I shall double-back to Buchler’s ordinal naturalism avoids these criticisms and thus survives what is rightly a death-blow to a quasi-naturalistic ontology as well as charlatan metaphysics that has no right to claim any kind of systematicity whatsoever (let alone rationalistic rigor).
1. Brassier points out that the denial of transcendence (at least as its denial is posited here) denies forms, species and genera, natural kinds (and thus also natural difference; that is, an internal principle of differentiation), abstracta, and law.
2. He also points out that the second thesis denies the possibility of totality, whether universe or One-All. This would also deny the Absolute.
3. The third denies subjectivity. This thus denies not only epistemological relevance to any and all objects, but also any re-presentation (repetition) required for any meaningful notion of ontological difference.
4. And finally, the fourth thesis inadvertently denies ontological integrity as it denies ontological “dignity.” The vital negative is lost as is difference sui generis, also by theses one and three.
Following Brassier, I only wish to address one of these theses. It is the same thesis Brassier addresses and then identifies as being fatal for the very ontology operating within “object-oriented” ontology.
As the objects of nature are claimed to be immanent to themselves, the essential nature of (and relevant relations to) objects collapse upon themselves. Correlationism is still present, although it is merely shifted from subject-object relation to object-object relation. As an aside, this move accomplishes nothing other than illegitimately attempting to save essential natures (“quiddity”) and internal relations without calling those relations as such.
As Brassier points out, fatal problems result. As transcendental naturalists believe (as do transcendental materialists), it is impossible to specify the ground or principle of object-individuation. Moreover, if we add the loss of generality (universality) to the loss of transcendence (or the “transcendental,” the conditions for the possibility of x, to follow Kant) then we cannot precisely identify what objects are in general – it becomes vacuously empty – nor can we say what objects are in particular, for we have lost quiddity. Objects cannot enter into relations for there is no internal nature to be related. If there are only sensuous qualities that could interact or be related then those relations proliferate to the extent that they cannot refer (intend) any essence. Brassier writes, “…the immediate consequence of adopting this full-blown object-oriented immanence is that we cannot say what anything really is.”
The pluralism so fondly cherished by the object-oriented ontologists suddenly collapses as well. As it does it finds itself ruthlessly subjected to its own second thesis. No internal principle of difference, no ground of differentiation, no internal relations, and suddenly All is One. Again, Brassier: “…if we cannot specify the essential qualities that distinguish one real object from another how can we be sure that the discrete multiplicity of sensual objects does not mask an underlying continuity…?” Object-oriented ontology has “undermined” (as compared to “over-ming”) itself. Further, without real difference we are left with nominalism. Or better even, psychological nominalism. Bundles of perceptions that cannot be explained without a correlational observer and philosopher of access to impart upon the perceptions a unity. As such there is no rational way to determine the nature of identity. No logical way to render the supposed pluralism found within the univocal sense of being posited. Hegel’s critique of Hume using the sugar cube example in The Phenomenology of Spirit is an excellent illustration of this fatal foundational flaw in the object ontologists metaphysics.
To conclude, I find it extremely interesting, but also perplexing, frankly, the object-oriented ontology finds Deleuze or Manuel De Landa to be an influence. They appear to mimic the commitment to individuals yet in throwing out the ground of difference at all cost deny the functional components required for any object to be an individual from the start. Thus the ultimate failure of object-ontology is not just a failure of transcendence, it is one of immanence as well.