How complex is a lemon?

Stephen Mulhall

  • Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything by Graham Harman
    Pelican, 295 pp, £8.99, March 2018, ISBN 978 0 241 26915 2

Early on in his Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein imagines an interlocutor who claims that every word in language signifies something – where ‘signifies’ means something like ‘names an object’. Wittgenstein gives an indirect assessment of that claim by discussing a second, analogous one. He imagines someone saying: ‘All tools modify something.’ Sounds plausible: a hammer patently modifies the position of a nail, and a saw the shape of a board. But what is modified by a glue pot or a ruler? Well, with a bit of imagination and a lot of intellectual charity, we could find something they might be said to modify – the temperature of the glue perhaps, or our knowledge of a thing’s length? But, Wittgenstein asks, what would be gained by this assimilation of expressions?

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[1] This topic is pursued at much greater length in Harman’s Immaterialism (2016).

[2] Much more detail can be found in Harman’s The Quadruple Object (2011).

[3] Harman’s first book, Tool-Being (2002), addresses this topic in richer though no less controversial detail.