If Peter Wolfendale’s Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon’s New Clothes (Urbanomic, 2014) — henceforth TNNC — were to be summarized by a single adjective, my recommendation would be titanic. It is a work conceived on a vast scale, shocking in scope, and glacially irresistible in its momentum. It even describes a ship-wreck (although not its own).
The mismatch — in philosophical seriousness — between the book and its principal object has led, unavoidably, to confusion. Wolfendale’s preface acknowledges this directly, noting that the book “undertakes a long and detailed discussion of a single philosopher’s work, and yet aims to show that his work does not warrant such serious attention.” Perhaps the most convincing explanation, more hinted at than stated, is that a reciprocal mismatch of social and institutional authority counter-balances the strictly philosophical engagement. The “pathology” decried by Wolfendale is, in the end, a sociological one.
There is considerable irony here. Wolfendale’s intellectual position is remarkably conservative (with a very small ‘c’, of course). TNNC is a defense of the philosophical establishment, apprehended in profundity, and thus at a level susceptible to institutional betrayal. TNNC is, to a truly magnificent extent, an insider tome, providing a meticulous apology for the mainstream currents of academic philosophical thought in the Anglophone world and the European Continent. Its author, however, is positioned as an outsider, working — and now published — in the wilderness. The copious references supporting the book’s tightly-interlocking arguments are relentlessly deferential to academic credentials, yet the driving affect is reminiscent of nothing so much as Schopenhauer’s ‘On University Philosophy’ — an outraged denunciation of misallocated philosophical prestige.
It would be very unfortunate if the architectural achievement of TNNC were to be lost in what its own devastating arguments threaten to reduce, eventually, to a petty squabble. The dispatch of OOP is little more than a pretext for the book’s greater undertaking, which is to make intellectual and historical sense of the ‘Anglo-Continental’ philosophical phylum, by embedding its enduring problems within a carefully explicated account of its entwining, twin traditions. The discussion, in the second half of the book, of the development of analytical philosophy as a disciplined ontological inquiry is especially masterful. Beyond the excuse of Object-Oriented Philosophy, the deeper ambition of TNNC is to explain where the most fundamental open problems of Western philosophy have come from, how they fit together, and how the philosophical establishment might properly justify itself, by addressing them rigorously. In this the book is an astounding success. It deserves to be absorbed in very different terms to those it superficially invites.
ADDED: Wolfendale discusses his book.