The Quadruple Object

Graham Harman’s quadruple object model offers a robust framework for understanding the complexities of objects and their interactions, emphasizing the distinction between their independent existence and the way they are perceived.

By distinguishing between real and sensual aspects of objects and their qualities, Harman provides a framework that accommodates the complexity of interactions between objects and their environments. This model aims to provide a comprehensive account of objects and their interactions, challenging traditional approaches in philosophy. Harman’s model breaks down objects into four components: Real Object, Real Qualities, Sensual Object, and Sensual Qualities.

The Fourfold Structure of Objects #

Real Object #

The Real Object refers to the object in itself, independent of perception. Real objects exist independently of any relations or perceptions. They possess a substantial core that cannot be entirely grasped or exhausted by any interaction or description. For example, a tree, as a real object, has an existence and qualities beyond what we can perceive or understand. Harman emphasizes that “everything both inside and outside the mind is an object that both has and does not have qualities” (Harman, 2011, p. 9).

Real objects are characterized by their withdrawal from direct interaction, meaning that their true nature is always partly hidden. This withdrawal indicates that any encounter with an object only reveals a fraction of its full reality. Harman explains that “real objects withdraw into themselves, and we only ever experience their sensual emanations” (Harman, 2017, p. 13).

Real Qualities #

Real Qualities are the inherent properties or characteristics of real objects, which exist independently of any observer or interaction. Real qualities contribute to the object’s identity and essence. For instance, the molecular structure of a tree or its genetic makeup are real qualities. Harman suggests that “the reality of a thing is its internal reality, which is nothing but a carnival or kaleidoscope of elements” (Harman, 2011, p. 3).

Real qualities are those aspects of an object that contribute to its being but are not directly accessible through perception. They exist in the same realm as real objects, providing the object with its fundamental characteristics. Harman notes that real qualities are “withdrawn into the depths of objects, never fully graspable” (Harman, 2011, p. 5).

Sensual Object #

The Sensual Object is the object as it appears to us or other entities. These are the phenomena or experiences we encounter, which are always partial and incomplete representations of real objects. For example, the image of a tree we see or the concept of a tree we think about are sensual objects. Harman notes that “sensual objects are perceived in spatial contexts through their sensual qualities” (Harman, 2017, p. 7).

Sensual objects are those that exist in the realm of perception and experience. They are how real objects manifest to other entities, including humans. Harman describes these as “the objects we interact with in daily life, which always conceal their deeper reality” (Harman, 2011, p. 9).

Sensual Qualities #

Sensual Qualities are the perceived attributes of an object as experienced by another. These qualities are dependent on the encounter and can vary depending on the observer’s perspective, context, etc. For example, the green color of a tree’s leaves as seen by an observer is a sensual quality. Harman explains that “aesthetic phenomena result whenever a wedge is driven between an object and its qualities” (Harman, 2011, p. 10).

Sensual qualities are those characteristics that are immediately apparent to us through our senses. They form the interface through which we interact with objects, but they are always just a surface level of the object’s full reality. Harman states that “sensual qualities are the attributes that appear in our perception, influenced by various factors” (Harman, 2017, p. 12).

The Interplay of the Fourfold Structure #

Harman further elaborates on the interplay between these four components through four specific relations: time, space, eidos, and hybris.

Time #

Time is the relationship between real objects and real qualities. Over time, real objects persist while their real qualities may change. Harman indicates that this tension involves a “rift never made explicit in the normal course of everyday experience” (Harman, 2017, p. 15).

The relationship between real objects and their qualities over time suggests that while objects themselves endure, the specific characteristics they exhibit may evolve. This dynamic interaction highlights the constancy of the object amid the flux of its properties. Harman notes, “Real qualities of an object might alter, but the object itself retains its core identity” (Harman, 2011, p. 17).

Space #

Space refers to the interaction between sensual objects and sensual qualities. Sensual objects are perceived in spatial contexts through their sensual qualities. Harman points out that “space and time do not just emerge arbitrarily from nowhere, but result from two kinds of object–quality tension” (Harman, 2017, p. 18).

This interaction is spatial because it involves the way objects present themselves within a given environment. Sensual qualities help to locate objects within a perceptual field, making the concept of space inherently tied to the way we perceive objects and their attributes. Harman asserts, “Sensual objects and their qualities are intertwined in the spatial arena of perception” (Harman, 2005, p. 19).

Eidos #

Eidos represents the connection between real objects and sensual objects. This interaction captures the essence of an object as it transitions from being perceived to existing independently. Harman borrows from Husserl, noting that “sensual objects do not just have shifting sensual qualities, but indispensable real qualities as well” (Harman, 2017, p. 12).

Eidos, or essence, refers to the way in which the true nature of an object influences its perception. It bridges the gap between the object as it is in itself and the object as it appears to others. Harman explains, “The essence of an object is a mix of its withdrawn reality and its perceptible qualities” (Harman, 2017, p. 23).

Hybris #

Hybris describes the relationship between real qualities and sensual qualities, referring to the tension and interplay between the inherent properties of an object and the way these properties are perceived. Harman asserts that “vicarious causation occurs in the molten core of an object” (Harman, 2011, p. 16).

Hybris, or the mixture of qualities, reflects the tension between what an object is and how it is perceived. This tension can lead to new understandings and interactions, as the perceived qualities of an object can influence its real qualities. Harman discusses how “the interplay between real and sensual qualities can lead to unexpected outcomes and new forms of interaction” (Harman, 2017, p. 26).

References #

  • Harman, Graham. The Quadruple Object. Zero Books, 2011.
  • Harman, Graham. Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. Penguin Random House, 2017.
  • Harman, Graham. Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Open Court Publishing, 2005.