One of the most puzzling things I come across when I read philosophers is the tendency for some of them to want to use objects as a fundamental building block of thought. The idea of resurrecting objects seems to be flowing from a recent, quite flawed, set of arguments put forward by Quentin Meillassoux; while this language works well for certain ways of thinking about the world, it’s not a natural way of talking about quantum mechanics, for example, and while they explicitly include the fact that objects could be said to translate signals they receive (which allows for variation in ways of viewing the world) the approach doesn’t sufficiently account for the fact that the definition of the object itself may be dependent crucially on observation. It’s an attempt to reintroduce a stable view of a world filled with objects that can be spoken about as separate from the subject. But why think in terms of objects, per se, at all? Why not just think of the world as a flux of some kind, where differences are flowing through this world, and decomposing this flux into objects is merely a convenient way of talking about the world, rather than a fundamental ontological basis of discourse? (This notion of a flux is the basis of Brian Cantwell Smith’s excellent book, On the Origin of Objects, which I highly recommend.)
There is, however, a reason to think about aspects of the world which go beyond the subjective — thinking primarily in terms of the subjective, one can focus overly on narratives about the world which center on the ways we take the world, rather than forces that are outside, in some sense, the control of the subject or of subjectivity in general. However, that’s already implicit the moment one allows oneself to talk about a ground of Being that precedes subjectivity. One cannot know for certain the structure or properties of this ground of Being; only that there is something that is not entirely random (at least it seems reasonable to think this) about the operation of the world, and the world seems to have properties which are outside of merely the way in which we take the world in a subjective sense. All this is obvious, however, and doesn’t at all require the introduction of objects as fundamental elements of discourse. One can see that our models or paradigms may have some relationship to to the flux, or the ground of Being, but only in terms of our models as a whole being related to the flux as a whole, in a way in which the objects of our discourse are seen merely as approximate conventions for the purpose of conceptualization and discussion. Any given decomposition of the world into objects could well be fundamentally (not only conventionally) dependent upon subjects (again, a la quantum mechanics), so it seems more straightforward to simply acknowledge this fact explicitly, rather than trying to insist upon thinking of an “object” as entirely independent of subjectivity.
A lot of this reminds me of the famous studies which show that Asians tend to view the world in holistic, context-sensitive terms, and Westerners tend to like to think of the world as decomposed into independent objects:
Psychological research has established that American culture, which values the individual, emphasizes the independence of objects from their contexts, while East Asian societies emphasize the collective and the contextual interdependence of objects. Behavioral studies have shown that these cultural differences can influence memory and even perception.
This desire to formulate a philosophical picture of the world in which one can think in terms of objects which are separated from their contexts is, I think, rooted in some deep cultural predilections. Interestingly, Western philosophy, particularly in Europe, in the last couple hundred years, has moved away from this, but it appears the desire to reformulate things in terms of independent “objects” remains a strong cultural force.permalink | 8 comments