What does object oriented philosophy say about commodity fetishism?

I thought the essence of fetishism was how, in his alienation from the means of production, what we are and make seems to become an object or thing, rather than something made by a man in relation to others, which is what it really is. Wikipedia has a section on it titled "the domination of things". The most famous quote from Das Kapital is

It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. I call this the fetishism

But I thought OOP's, for who only object exist, could be Marxists. Isn't something wrong there?


2 Answers 2


Value is certainly social in some sense, for Marx. He seems to have thought that that the general form of value, which expresses the value of all commodities, must be "socially recognized", just as that becomes restricted to gold by "social custom". Yet value "certainly exists outside human consciousness".

Harman claims that OOO does not conflict with Marx, and can (and does) say that "human beings are i n g r e d i e n t s in the production of coats... every object has a relational back-story that tells us how it came to exist" (emphasis mine). This covers at least some of value's social existence. But the idea of value being mind independent yet finding its expression (in money) via social custom, may seem anti OOO.

Does OOO say nothing real is expressed via social relations, or merely that everything real is independent of social relations?

Incidentally, Harman's reference to a passage in Marx that seems to be straight from a 'OOO manifesto" is, I think, a misreading.

  • Harman says that they do not care what social relations express, be it real or not. OOO only cares about a particular aspect of reality, not all of it, and social relations aren't included. Just as astronomers have nothing to say about plants.
    – Conifold
    Aug 25, 2019 at 9:05
  • i assumed, perhaps too niavely, that OOO says the "reality" they are concerned with is the only reality there is? @Conifold
    – user38026
    Aug 26, 2019 at 17:25
  • The only reality has many aspects, and chasing after them all at once is a fool's errand. That's why we have many sciences instead of one and only Science.
    – Conifold
    Aug 26, 2019 at 22:44
  • if we take the phenomenology of marx seriously (expression as Being) then i think 'value' is ontically independent and ontologically dependent. and, it seems about right to claim that many social qualities are. is that contra Harman? the question would be whether real things can be how they are -- rather than exist -- because of subjects. can't see him, or OOO in general, agreeing. if everything is an object, then one would assume their ontic properties are likewise objects, and their Being not constituted by correlation. just guesswork
    – user38026
    Aug 27, 2019 at 15:26
  • that doesn't say much.
    – user38026
    Aug 27, 2019 at 15:38

I doubt that speculative realists have much to say about commodity fetishism at all, apart from the cited Harman essay, which has a defensive feel and a very restricted scope, for good reason.

I suppose there is nothing to keep OOP folks from leaving ontology at the office deciding to be Marxists, just as a post-Heideggerean like Sartre could adopt it in the political realm, though not out of any philosophical necessity. But from a Marxist standpoint I think Harman himself would come in for the sort of Marxist "scorn" he cites, as the kind of metaphysical wool-gatherer to which Marx said good riddance.

Unless one fences off commodity fetishism as a purely socio-economic concept, as Harman does, it seems to me that the two views are fundamentally incompatible. Or at least ships passing in the night and sinking out of view, beyond mutual rescue. Marx never, to my limited knowledge, spent much time on ontology and his "materialism" is a vexed and much-debated premise, in a way that wouldn't have much concerned Marx.

Yet despite his own denials or shrugs, I think Marx stands in the general penumbra of post-Kantian German Idealism, in which man is a self creating, unified subject-object, and in which knowledge itself is a compounding material creation. Just as we speak today of a "marketplace of ideas" one could expand the concept of "commodity fetishism" to the social production of ideas and philosophies.

In this sense, Newton's concept of gravity, for example, does not spring from the head of Newton but is the production of a given set of social relations. As is "object oriented philosophy," with the added epistemological absurdity that in this case minds produce "concepts" proclaiming their objective independence of all minds, a virgin nativity.

No matter what one makes of this, it is so far removed from the post-Kantian milieux Marx inhabited, even in his sweeping, unexamined "materialism," that it almost makes no difference. But I do think there is some justice to the charge of a species of "commodity fetishism" in OOP itself that Harmon tries to reject by narrowing the discussion.

I don't know a lot about speculative realism, and do find it somewhat interesting, but I think any claim to knowledge of unconditional noumena is patently incompatible with a view of knowledge itself as a social production, even a fetishised commodity of the linguistic exchange. So I think questioner is correct in suggesting this.

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