Graham Harman
Graham Harman
Born (1968-05-09) May 9, 1968 (age 55)
Alma materDePaul University (PhD, 1999)[1]
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolContinental philosophy
Speculative realism
object-oriented ontology
InstitutionsAmerican University in Cairo
Southern California Institute of Architecture
ThesisTool-being: Elements in a Theory of Objects (1999)
Doctoral advisorWilliam McNeill
Main interests
Notable ideas
Object-oriented ontology, vicarious causation

Graham Harman (born May 9, 1968) is an American philosopher. He is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles.[3] His work on the metaphysics of objects led to the development of object-oriented ontology. He is a central figure in the speculative realism trend in contemporary philosophy.[4]


Harman was born in Iowa City and raised in Mount Vernon, Iowa. His maternal grandparents were of Luxembourgian and Czech descent.[5][6][7] He received a B.A. from St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland in 1990 and went on to graduate school at Penn State University to earn a master's degree, studying under philosopher Alphonso Lingis, in 1991. While pursuing a Ph.D. at DePaul University, Harman worked as an online sports reporter, an experience which he credits for developing his writing style and productivity. After finishing his degree in 1999 he joined the Department of Philosophy at the American University in Cairo, where he taught from 2000-2016, leaving at the rank of Distinguished University Professor.[8][9] He has also been a visiting faculty member at the University of Amsterdam, University of Innsbruck, University of Turin, and Yale University. Since 2013 he has been a faculty member at the European Graduate School.[10]

Philosophical work

Harman starts the development of his work with Martin Heidegger's concept of "tool-analysis" from Being and Time. To Harman, tool-analysis was a key discovery which establishes the groundwork for taking seriously the autonomous existence of objects and, in doing so, highlights deficiencies in phenomenology due to its subordination of objects to their use by or relationship with humans.

Harman is considered part of the speculative realism trend, a nebulous grouping of philosophers united by two perspectives: a rejection of anthropocentric "philosophies of access" which privilege the perspective of humans in relation to objects, and a support of metaphysical realism via rejection of "correlationism", an assumption in Post-Kantian philosophy that fellow speculative realist Quentin Meillassoux defines as "the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other."[11] Harman's object-oriented approach considers the life of objects to be fertile ground for a metaphysics that works to overcome anthropocentrism and correlationism.

According to Harman, everything is an object, whether it be a mailbox, a shadow, spacetime, a fictional character, or the Commonwealth of Nations. However, drawing on phenomenology, he does distinguish between two categories of objects: real objects and sensual objects (or intentional objects), which sets his philosophy apart from the flat ontology of Bruno Latour.[12]

Harman defines real objects as inaccessible and infinitely withdrawn from all relations and then puzzles over how such objects can be accessed or enter into relations: "by definition, there is no direct access to real objects. Real objects are incommensurable with our knowledge, untranslatable into any relational access of any sort, cognitive or otherwise. Objects can only be known indirectly. And this is not just the fate of humans — it’s the fate of everything."[13]

Central to Harman's philosophy is the idea that real objects are inexhaustible: "A police officer eating a banana reduces this fruit to a present-at-hand profile of its elusive depth, as do a monkey eating the same banana, a parasite infecting it, or a gust of wind blowing it from a tree. Banana-being is a genuine reality in the world, a reality never exhausted by any relation to it by humans or other entities." (Harman 2005: 74). Because of this inexhaustibility, claims Harman, there is a metaphysical problem regarding how two objects can ever interact. His solution is to introduce the notion of "vicarious causation", according to which objects can only ever interact on the inside of an "intention" (which is also an object).[14]

Cutting across the phenomenological tradition, and especially its linguistic turn, Harman deploys a brand of metaphysical realism that attempts to extricate objects from their human captivity and metaphorically allude to a strange subterranean world of "vacuum-sealed" objects-in-themselves: "The comet itself, the monkey itself, Coca-Cola itself, resonate in cellars of being where no relation reaches."[15]

Strongly sympathetic to panpsychism, Harman proposes a new philosophical discipline called "speculative psychology" dedicated to investigating the "cosmic layers of psyche" and "ferreting out the specific psychic reality of earthworms, dust, armies, chalk, and stone."[16] Harman does not, however, unreservedly endorse an all-encompassing panpsychism and instead proposes a sort of 'polypsychism' that nonetheless must "balloon beyond all previous limits, but without quite extending to all entities".[17] He continues by stating that "perceiving" and "non-perceiving" are not different kinds of objects, but can be found in the same entity at different times: "The important point is that objects do not perceive insofar as they exist, as panpsychism proclaims. Instead they perceive insofar as they relate."[17]

Harman rejects scientism on account of its anthropocentrism: "For them, raindrops know nothing and lizards know very little, and some humans are more knowledgeable than others."[18]


Authored works

Edited works

See also


  1. ^ "Graham – The American University in Cairo". Archived from the original on 2016-04-26. Retrieved 2016-04-05.
  2. ^ Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, Graham Harman (eds.), The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, repress, 2011, p. 279.
  3. ^ "Philosopher Graham Harman to Join SCI-Arc - SCI-Arc".
  4. ^ Brassier, Ray, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux. 2007. "Speculative Realism" in Collapse III: Unknown Deleuze. London: Urbanomic. Archived 2011-05-19 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "The Gazette from Cedar Rapids, Iowa". 2006-12-29. Retrieved 2023-06-26.
  6. ^ Feiereisen (1920). "United States Census, 1920". FamilySearch.
  7. ^ Zitek (1930). "United States Census, 1930". FamilySearch.
  8. ^ Paul J. Ennis (2009-07-21). "ahb: Interview with Graham Harman". Retrieved 2011-09-21.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-12-23. Retrieved 2010-12-23.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ "Graham Harman".
  11. ^ Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude, 5.
  12. ^ Harman, G. (2009) Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. Melbourne:
  13. ^ El Mono Liso (1 June 2012). "Marginalia on Radical Thinking: An Interview with Graham Harman". The (Dis)Loyal Opposition to Modernity. Archived from the original on 2014-07-16.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  14. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2012-03-07.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "Harm an Graham". Archived from the original on 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2017-09-09.
  16. ^ Graham Harman, Prince of Networks, 213.
  17. ^ a b Graham Harman 2011, The Quadruple Object
  18. ^ "ECOLOGY WITHOUT NATURE: Harman on Anthropocentrism". 17 October 2011.