Notes for Graham Harman “On Vicarious Causation”

Reviving causation by rejecting Kantian rift between people and everything else without rejecting the vicarious aspect; note Bogost is largely made up of Harman and Latour.

(188-189) To revive causation in philosophy means to reject the dominance of Kant's Copernican Revolution and its single lonely rift between people and everything else. . . . Along with causation there is also the 'vicarious' part of the phrase, which indicates that relations never directly encounter the autonomous reality of their components. . . . Along with substance, the term 'objects' will be used to refer to autonomous realities of any kind, with the added advantage that this term also makes room for the temporary and artificial objects too often excluded from the ranks of substance.

Relationality, mediation, formal cause best approach to ontology: either Harman is speaking nonsense, questioning ridiculously, or this conception is well instantiated by considering virtual realities.

(189-190) For as I will contend, objects hide from one another endlessly, and inflict their mutual blows only through some vicar or intermediary. . . . Vicarious causation, of which science so far knows nothing, is closer to what is called formal cause. . . . My claim is that two entities influence one another only by meeting on the interior of a third, where they exist side-by-side until something happens that allows them to interact. In this sense, the theory of vicarious causation is a theory of the molten inner core of objects – a sort of plate tectonics of ontology.


By affording epistemological transparency the subterranean depths enabling control activity whose meaning, whose causal factor, only makes sense as approaching formal cause.

(192-193) Our primary relationship with objects lies not in perceiving or theorizing about them, but simply in relying on them for some ulterior purpose. . . . It is not human consciousness that distorts the reality of things, but relationality per se. . . . To be 'ready-to-hand' does not mean to be userful in a narrow sense, but to withdraw into subterranean depths that other objects rely on despite never fully probing or sounding them.

Phenomenology by necessity, but entails vicarious filter on everything.

(194-195) Although some specific visual or conceptual profile of the zebra is needed for us to experience it, the unified sensual zebra lies at a deeper level of perception than these transient, mutable images. . . . But sensual objects, far from being withdrawn, exist side by side in the same perceptual space from the outset, since we encounter numerous phenomena simultaneously.
(195) In other words, the only place in the cosmos where interactions occur is the sensual, phemonenal realm.


Berry will explore this new philosophy in his conception of unreadiness-to-hand phenomena.

(197) It is not widely known that Husserl also stumbles across the fateful paradox that intentionality is both one and two. For in a first sense, my encounter with a pine tree is a unified relation; we can speak of the encounter as a whole, and this whole resists exhaustive description. But in another sense, I clearly do not fuse with the tree in a single massive lump; it remains distinct from me in the perception. This gives the strange result that in my intention of the tree, we both inhabit the interior of the total intentional relation. This seemingly dry observation by Husserl has not sparked much interest in his readers. Even so, if combined with Heidegger's insight into the withdrawal of real objects behind all relations, it provides all the pieces of a new philosophy.

Structured black noise of phenomenal field like picture of dirt with leaves and twigs rather than amorphous mush, which itself obeys strict structuring laws itself; Bogost picks up on this.

(198) To summarize, we have a real intention whose core is inhabited by a real me and a sensual pine tree. In addition, there is also a withdrawn real tree (or something that we mistake for one) lying outside the intention, but able to affect it along avenues still unknown. Finally, the sensual tree never appears in the form of a naked essence, but is always encrusted with various sorts of noise. Elsewhere I have called it 'black noise', to emphasize that it is highly structured, not the sort of formless chaos suggested by the 'white noise' of television and radio.

Relations between objects: containment, contiguity, sincerity, connection, no relation at all.

(199) We should also note five distinct sorts of relations between all these objects.

Completely different from silly guerrilla ontology trumpeted by low road philosophers Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary.

(200) The objects populating the world always stand to each other in one of these five relations. In Guerrilla Metaphysics, I suggested that causation is always vicarious, asymmetrical, and buffered.

Arrival at problems for object-oriented philosophy feel like clever unraveling of hidden history like The Day the Universe Changed.

(201-202) We now have five kinds of objects (real intention, real I, real tree, sensual tree, sensual noise) and five different types of relations (containment, contiguity, sincerity, connection, and none). Furthermore, we also have three adjectives for what unfolds inside an object (vicarious, asymmetrical, buffered) and three different kinds of noise surrounding a sensual object (qualities, accidents, relations). . . . What remains to be seen is how these elements interact, how one type of relation transforms into another, how new real objects paradoxically arise from the interaction between real objects and sensual ones, and even how sensual objects manage to couple and uncouple like spectral rail cars. These sorts of problems are the subject matter of object-oriented philosophy: the inevitable mutant offspring of Husserl's intentional objects and Heidegger's real ones. In turn, these are only the present-day heirs of Hume's contiguous impressions and ideas (Husserl) and the disconnected objects of Malebranche and his Ash'arite predecessors (Heidegger).

(205-206) This confinement of sensuality to the human kingdom must be refuted. Intentionality is not a special human property at all, but an ontological feature of objects in general. For our purposes, intentionality means sincerity. . . . The question for us is not the panpsychist query of whether these marbles have some sort of rudimentary thinking and feeling capacities, but whether they as real objects encounter the table-surface as a sensual one.

Internal space of relation has a reality.

(207) the slogan must be reworded as follows: 'every connection is itself an object.' . . . But two vicariously linked real objects do form a new object, since they generate a new internal space.
(208) To repeat, my relation with the sensual pine tree is not a full-blown connection, but only a sincerity. This sincerity can indeed by converted into an object, as happens in the analysis of our own intentions or someone else's.

A metaphysical leveling upon which Bogost grounds Alien Phenomenology.

(210-211) To say that every object is located on the sensual molten core of another object undermines some of the key assumptions of Heidegger. . . . There is neither finitude nor negativity in the heart of objects. And each case of human mortality is just one tragic event among trillions of others, including the deaths of house pets, insects, stars, civilizations, and poorly managed shops or universities. The Heidegger-Blanchot death cult must be expelled from ontology, and perhaps even from metaphysics.


Allure equals position of will in philosophy today promoted by Harman and leveraged by Bogost and my thought; intentional structure of physical relations evident in built environment; dirt like electronic computers instantiating virtual realities enjoyed by humans and machines.

Critical analysis of issues includes applying to electronic computing machinery as phenomena; thus machined circuitry of the built environment holds together mysteriously like dirt, leaves and twigs in Harman picture as if that mattered in solar being, thinking of Lyotard: whereas the recorded madness of Schreber, Lacans seminar, and other extreme cases signify the operation of computation at a certain level, runnings software does better and its analysis is more fruitful, engaging learning programming and how the physical systems integrations work. Stretching into extremes of high speed machine operations and not running for a huge expanse (until after all copyright expire) is a threshold of cognition that can be folded into the encoding in order to simulate in a virtual reality of the expanse prior to its computation happening.

(211) There seems to be no need for such a weird vision of reality, since it is easy enough to think of the world as made of brute pieces of inescapable solid matter: 'primary qualities' supporting a series of more dashing volatile human projections. In my view, however, Heidegger has rendered this picture of the world obsolete. Though his tool analysis aims to describe only the withdrawal of objects behind explicit human awareness, practical activity is equally unable to exhaust the depth of objects, and even causal relations fail to let them encounter one another in full.

Harman, Graham. “On Vicarious Causation.” Collapse 2 (March 2007): 187-221. Web. 1 Jul. 2012.