I am reading Graham Harman's "Quadruple Object", but having difficulties in following the connection he makes between the Real Object and the Sensual Qualities.

He starts forming his quadruple object by referring to Husserl and first draws the following connections: Sensual Object to Sensual Qualities, and Sensual Object to Real Qualities. The 'profiles' of an object that we perceive it, in other words, each instance of our perception of an object (Sensual Qualities) do not provide us the full idea of it (Sensual Object), but we form it as we create it from these experiences. The seconds connection, Sensual Object to Real Qualities, cannot be made through perceptual experiences, but only through approaches such as the scientific method, because real qualities are not available to our perceptions. So far this makes sense to me.

This is as much as he can go on with Husserl and in order to make connections that include the Real Object, he starts referring to his re-interpretation of Heidegger's Vorhandenheit (presence-at-hand) and Zuhandenheit (readiness-to-hand).

References to philosophers in Harman's Quadruple Object

According to him, the reality of an object is withdrawn and we have no access to it, however he claims that certain situations gives a glimpse of it, and the tension resulting from this temporary hint of reality is called allure. He relies on Heidegger's tool-analysis for this conclusion. Regarding the presence-at-hand, he gives the example of Heidegger's broken hammer where we are sudddenly faced with a different reality when the hammer gets broken and when can no longer use it, similar to being aware of our heartbeat only when there is an anomaly with it. He adds that ready-to-hand also plays a role in this, so it not only presence-at-hand that reveals reality to human consciousness, but also readiness-to-hand that reveals reality to human praxis. So both play a role in creating "allure". They certainly play a role in something, but why does this something necessarily have to do with the Real Object?

Following are some questions to clarify what confuses me:

  • In Harman's (and Heidegger's) examples, although we are not accessing something at a certain moment, we still have potential access to it. Isn't this similar to having a key to a locked door in our pocket, but currently not being concerned about opening it, because we have other business to take care of at that moment?
  • Floor Example: When we are walking on the floor, we do not feel the floor when we are concentrated in only reaching our destination, but how does that mean that the floor is inaccessible or hidden from us? Isn't there a confusion here between "not accessible" vs. "not being accessed at the moment"?
  • Hammer example: Whether a hammer is broken or not, we still sense it. We might not sense certain properties of it when we are using it as a tool, in order to use our brain resources more efficiently, or we may not interact with it physically when we are thinking about it from a distance, but how does this make it inaccessible to us?

Maybe I have misunderstood something, maybe I am missing some points. But any clarification on how Heidegger's tool analysis (or Harman's interpretation of it) really gives us a hint of the inaccessible world, and does not merely focus our attention to yet another part of the accessible world, would be appreciated.

  • Welcome to Philosophy! These are really good questions, but maybe consider asking them individually? It's going to be hard for an answer of a few paragraphs to really address them well. In passing, I'm really enjoying Wolfendale's Object-Oriented Philosophy which starts out with a very lucid reading of the fourfold.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 17:08
  • Thank you Joseph, I'll look into Wolfendale. These questions might look plenty, but they are really part of one question, namely, how this RO-SQ connection can be explained in a convincing way, and the questions themselves are in a way to clarify why I am not convinced (or possibly what I misunderstood), so it would be difficult to ask them separately...
    – ali
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 17:16
  • I did some editing for clarification and removed one of the questions that could possibly be asked individually...
    – ali
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 18:07
  • One thing that's nice is to have the question title actually be framed as a question -- this also can help focus the problem a little bit, so people know exactly what you need an explanation about (maybe a gloss here could be: "how do harman's withdrawn objects work?")
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 19:10
  • changed the title to a question, hopefully this didn't make it more confusing :)
    – ali
    Commented Sep 10, 2016 at 22:21

1 Answer 1


the reality of an object is withdrawn and we have no access to it,

Harman gets this from Kant (consciousness can never have access to real things, only mental representations), but it's not Heidegger's problem, who is more interested in getting Aristotle right. Heidegger does have a response to Kant, but it's: you're asking the wrong questions; albeit in several book length elaborations, and responses to Kant's texts.

For Heidegger, what withdraws when we apprehend things, is beyng, not reality.

Whether using a hammer (ready-to-hand) or examining a broken hammer (present-at-hand), we a dealing with a real hammer, we just have different understandings of the hammer.

Physical objects are always withdrawn from each other. Two billiard balls are withdrawn from each other, then there's an event where they exchange momentum, and then they're withdrawn again. We have temporality, granting us an understanding of the past and making us anticipate the future, so when we walk, our body has an understanding of walking and our foot anticipates the exchange of momentum with the floor, so the floor is real for us, and we can use our understanding floors to move from one location to the next.

  • so, would heidegger be opposed to harman's concept of real objects?
    – ali
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 11:47
  • I don't know where Harman gives us the compete explanation or real objects, but using Quadruple Object, p. 48,:
    – Enowning
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 5:09
  • 1
    This wacky stackexchange needs work, does let me edit my own comments. How do I add a carriage return if Enter submits the comment. Anyway, continuing, Harman: "First, the real object is autonomous", I think Heidegger would go along with a real physical object, independent of a sentient being grasping it. But, "Second, ...real objects must always hide.", Heidegger, following Heraclitus, says its beyng (that which makes things possible) that likes to hide. I don't read Harman's difference between sensual and real objects in Heidegger, but I'm ready to be directed to such a passage!
    – Enowning
    Commented Dec 16, 2016 at 5:33

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