This is what comes of being on Twitter. Through Mark Thwaite and his wonderful literary website ReadySteadyBook, I’ve started tracking the very interesting American philosopher/metaphysician Graham Harman who does something called object-oriented philosophy. Object-oriented philosophy is just what it sounds like; it tries to deal with real objects instead of only paying attention to our human relationship with these objects, what we call phenomenology. Phenomenology became the standard philosophical gambit after Husserl, in the early 20th century, proved that the Kantian thing-in-itself (what we naively call the real) was completely beyond our abilities to discover, perceive and reveal. Philosophy then turned to descriptions of consciousness, how we seem to be aware of the world around us, whatever that it. People like Harman and others in the school of Speculative Realism are trying to revive the thing-in-itself (Kant’s term) as a going concern, something we really can discuss in reasonable terms. (Wittgenstein famously said there were things about which we just had to remain “silent.”) Here’s a lively and fascinating Graham Harman lecture, which I first saw on ReadySteadyBook. He is vastly more easily understood than a lot of philosophers these days — like me, he used to be a sports columnist, which helps in describing the philosophical play-by-play.
For a history of ideas backgrounder, read me essay “Mappa Mundi: The Structure of Western Thought” in The Brooklyn Rail.