“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Process, Relationality, and Individuality: Graham Harman and Alfred Norht Whitehead (response to Jonathan Cobb)

Relevant links to the argument between me, Levi Bryant, and Graham Harman:

Levi Bryant Mis-reading Whitehead?

Harman’s response to me

Whitehead’s Process Atomism (Response to Graham Harman)

Object as subject-superject, or why Harman is wrong about Whitehead

Occasionalism in Whitehead and Harman

Harman’s Crucified Objects and Whitehead’s God: More on Withdrawal





6 responses to “Process, Relationality, and Individuality: Graham Harman and Alfred Norht Whitehead (response to Jonathan Cobb)”

  1. Leon Avatar

    Hi Matt,
    To your readers, it might be worth looking through the comments sections of your posts that you linked in this current post. While many are about two years old I did notice that Jason Hills, Terry Blake, and myself commented rather frequently and in a productive and engaging way. In other words, maybe collecting/re-posting those comments could further contribute to the conversation (I could do this or you could); but I mention this because alot of the points brought up then still seem to apply now. I don’t think the comments have ever been addressed, but they were never brought to light above the sub-post (comment level).

    Jason Hills certainly has some gold of comments to be mined, and it’d be interesting to see what your video blogger colleagues make of those ideas. Some of it (again while somewhat dated) is fairly good and food for thought.

    Thanks, and keep up the excellent work!

  2. milliern Avatar

    Matt, I wish I were a little more tuned in to Harman’s reading of Whitehead, as far as his understanding goes; and I wish I had more experience with Whitehead, because I think there is something wrong with the tension that is developing between OOO and Whitehead. Here is my intuition: On the one hand, Whitehead gives a rather exorbitant nod to Pragmatism, by virtue of the fact that he acknowledges only two primary inspirations, James being one of them; on the other, it seems that much of OOO has to do with Heidegger and Latour, which has led Harman to do some work in trying to get Latour to confess a metaphysics that is somewhat Heideggerian, and, in reality, centered in Heidegger’s more pragmatic portions of his philosophy. On the point regarding Harman, I don’t really see what problem Harman would have with Whitehead’s process philosophy (or in what way there is a misunderstanding), because Latour espouses a process philosophy, and Heidegger’s philosophy is very, very easily —by my lights— repackaged as a process philosophy, supposing that one would assert “repackaging” is necessary.

    So I really wish I knew more about the issue and the ideas involved, because my intuition is screaming to me that there isn’t much of a ground for dispute. I will have to dig more into the issue at some point, I suppose.

    Thanks for another thought-stimulating post.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      I must also confess that I don’t understand Harman’s critique of Whitehead. I don’t think I’m alone, as when Harman spoke at the Process Studies Center at Claremont, CA for the “Metaphysics and Things” conference several years ago, he had all the prominent Whiteheadians scratching their heads, too (especially Roland Faber). I think part of what he is trying to do is say, “hey, Whitehead is great for being one of the few 20th century philosophers to put questions of human access aside and take speculative philosophy seriously, but for all that he is not sufficiently ‘object-oriented,’ so scrap his elaborate process-relational system and come have a look at what I’ve done over here!” I am a big fan of Harman’s writing style, but I haven’t found much use for his object-oriented ontology, other than as a foil for articulating some of the more complex aspects of Whitehead’s ontology of organism.

      1. milliern Avatar

        The thing that is particularly odd to me is that Harman’s OOO isn’t even necessarily incompatible with process philosophy, but maybe he wants it to be? I don’t know. Process at different scales give objects at another. For example, the buzzing about of electrons and bound dances of quarks essential yield objects-taken-to-be-fixed at the phenomenological level. His way around reduction is not threatened by this, i.e., his flat ontology, because different “level” processes can well be considered to be mutually affectatious, à la van Fraassen. Eh…

        I have quite a bit of use for Harman’s philosophy, but I just don’t think he is ever able to get his ideas together properly. Among living philosophers, he probably has the best intuition, a large percent of the time. The rest of the time, not so much, I guess. It seems like he hits upon associations that are brilliant and true, like pushing Latour toward Heidegger, but he doesn’t go all the way with it, or he takes it in the wrong direction. Nonetheless, I think he’s a lot of fun, and his philosophy is well worth (my) time. I just don’t think he thinks things clearly through at crucial junctures, which isn’t a devastating flaw to have amidst this profession/pursuit, especially with the glorious amount of imagination he’s working with; whole philosophy departments haven’t a modicum of the creativity that he has.

  3. Speculative Realism, Dead or Alive. | Footnotes 2 Plato Avatar

    […] Shaviro, I have certain conceptual qualms with Harman’s substance ontology, as well as with what I believe to be his misreading of Whitehead’s process ontology. But I am fundamentally in agreement with the spirit in which he engages philosophy. His call for […]

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