Recently I was speaking to a writer about my recent work. She’s doing a feature for a local magazine on creativity research and design practice in the region. I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of press over the years, and it’s become increasingly important to me to find ways to make my work comprehensible and applicable to a general audience.
We talked about a number of projects, from games at the studio to my recent Atari work to my forthcoming book on newsgames. But this was the first time I’d tried to talk to a journalist about my new work in object-oriented ontology. It was challenging, and I didn’t do a good job. I was unprepared. I don’t yet have an elevator pitch for OOO. But then again, OOO doesn’t have one for itself either.
But wait, you might say, there’s a section about OOO in the Wikipedia entry for Speculative Realism. True, but it’s not really meant for public consumption. When speaking to a general audience, 500 words is too much. When speaking to the general public, terms like a priori, Heidegger, correlationism and anti-realism ought to be avoided.
But wait, you might say, why would a discipline of philosophy need or want to explain itself to a general population? This is the domain of specialists, and some will hold that we cannot or should not “simplify” our nuanced positions for the unwashed masses. This is wrongheaded. I’m of the general belief that academia has a responsibility to the public interest, but more than any other philosophical movememt in recent memory, OOO stands to benefit from the deep engagement of ordinary people, since it returns the attention of philosophy to the real, everyday world.
So, I thought I’d try to work on a simple, short, comprehensible explanation of object-oriented ontology so I don’t find myself in this bind in the future. My goal is to assume zero knowledge whatsoever about the history of philosophy or its current trends, even if that means massive oversimplifcation. I’ve also hoped to offer a characterization of the overall approach of OOO rather than any one position within it. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
Ontology is the philosophical study of existence. Object-oriented ontology (“OOO” for short) puts things at the center of this study. Its proponents contend that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally—plumbers, DVD players, cotton, bonobos, sandstone, and Harry Potter, for example. In particular, OOO rejects the claims that human experience rests at the center of philosophy, and that things can be understood by how they appear to us. In place of science alone, OOO uses speculation to characterize how objects exist and interact.
This is tentative, and I’m posting it here to seek feedback and discussion, not to declare myself victorious. So, have at it.
Update: Here’s an alternate version, crafted based on some of the excellent discussion below. I’m sure I’ll go through a few of these before finding the right one.
Ontology is the philosophical study of existence. Object-oriented ontology (“OOO” for short) puts things at the center of this study. Its proponents contend that nothing has special status, but that everything exists equally–plumbers, cotton, bonobos, DVD players, and sandstone, for example. In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales (from atoms to alpacas, bits to blinis), and pondering their nature and relations with one another as much with ourselves.