Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Graham Harman on the qualities of objects.
The final point to be made is that Heidegger’s withdrawn, sub-phenomenal world of tool-beings must be made up of individual things. This apparently runs counter to the spirit of Being and Time, where all tools seem to melt together into a single system: “there is no such thing as ‘an’ equipment,”5 as Heidegger puts it. This even seems true in his later writings on “the thing,” where the concealed portion of individual entities is called “earth,” and the earth is generally treated as a monolithic lump rather than a set of fully articulated individuals. It might seem as though the subterranean world of being were a rumbling, unified chunk broken into pieces only by human consciousness, a conclusion drawn by Emmanuel Levinas during his ardently Heideggerian phase in the 1940’s. But this is impossible. Hammers break in different ways from drills, which break in different ways from hearts, kidneys, and lungs. The shocks and surprises generated by failing equipment are not random. The world is not a single lump broken into pieces by consciousness, but consists of individual pieces from the start.

To summarize, we can definitely say that for Heidegger there is a real sub-phenomenal world in a way that is not true for Husserl. By pushing Heidegger a bit beyond what he wanted to say, we can also conclude that this real world is made up of individual objects that are withdrawn from all theoretical, practical, and even causal access. And furthermore, each of these real objects must have specific real qualities. For as Leibniz observed, even the simple unified monads must have diverse qualities: otherwise they would be interchangeable, with hammers equally able to function as drills, kidneys, dolphins, or monkeys depending on the whim of the observer. But this is ridiculous.

When considering Husserl, we found that the sensual realm was broken into both objects and qualities. By pushing Heidegger’s tool-analysis just slightly, we find an analogous distinction between real objects and their real qualities. We thus have a world made of four terms: real objects, real qualities, sensual objects, sensual qualities. I have often made the case that this is what Heidegger was aiming at with his mysterious theory of das Geviert (“the fourfold”) and will not repeat that case here. What is more important is that we now have a model to play with that points to a number of puzzles and to possible gaps in our understanding, much like any scientific model.
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