Speculative Realism

Speculative Realism (Concepts & Beliefs)

Welcome to a comprehensive exploration of Speculative Realism, an intriguing movement in contemporary philosophy. In this article, we will delve into the core ideas, key figures, and different variations within this philosophical discourse. Speculative Realism challenges the dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy by advocating metaphysical realism and critiquing correlationism and anthropocentrism.

Key Takeaways:

  • Speculative Realism is a movement in contemporary philosophy that advocates metaphysical realism and challenges dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy.
  • It critiques correlationism and philosophies that prioritize the human being, emphasizing the importance of objects and their role in shaping reality.
  • Key figures within Speculative Realism include Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux.
  • Variations within the movement include Speculative Materialism, Object-Oriented Ontology, and Transcendental Materialism, each offering unique perspectives on reality and metaphysics.
  • Speculative Realism seeks to expand the boundaries of philosophy and explore alternative frameworks of thought beyond the human-centered perspective.

The Origins of Speculative Realism

Speculative realism, a significant movement in post-continental philosophy, traces its origins back to a conference held at Goldsmiths College in 2007. This conference served as a platform for prominent thinkers including Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux to present their groundbreaking ideas. The primary objective of the conference was to challenge the prevailing post-Kantian philosophies, particularly correlationism, which emphasizes the correlation between human cognition and the world.

At Goldsmiths College, the speakers sharply critiqued correlationism and advocated for a radical departure from its principles. Their collective voices laid the foundation for speculative realism, a philosophical stance centered on metaphysical realism and a rejection of anthropocentrism.

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From this conference emerged the term “speculative realism,” which is most commonly associated with Ray Brassier. However, it is worth noting that Quentin Meillassoux had already introduced the term “speculative materialism” to describe his own position, further enriching the diversity and complexity within the movement.

To gain a deeper understanding of the origins and significance of speculative realism, let’s explore the contributions of the key figures:

Ray Brassier:

Brassier, a philosopher known for his work in post-analytic philosophy and the philosophy of science, played a pivotal role in the development of speculative realism. His significant contributions include dismantling correlationism by emphasizing the importance of embracing metaphysical realism.

Iain Hamilton Grant:

Grant, a philosopher heavily influenced by German Idealism, introduced the concept of transcendental materialism, challenging traditional views on materiality and embracing alternative frameworks of thought. His ideas push boundaries and aim to redefine our understanding of matter.

Graham Harman:

Harman, known for his influential work on object-oriented ontology, highlighted the existence and significance of objects in philosophy. His approach seeks to counter the human-centered perspective prevalent in traditional philosophy, emphasizing the interactions between objects and the notion of vicarious causality.

Quentin Meillassoux:

Meillassoux, a prominent figure in speculative realism, presented the concept of speculative materialism, an essential component of the movement. His rejection of correlationism and the principle of factiality challenged prevailing philosophical notions and provided a novel perspective on reality and knowledge.

To see the contributions of these influential thinkers visually, let’s explore a table showcasing their key ideas and concepts:

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Thinker Contributions
Ray Brassier Dismantling correlationism, advocating for metaphysical realism
Iain Hamilton Grant Introducing transcendental materialism, redefining our understanding of matter
Graham Harman Emphasizing object-oriented ontology, highlighting the interactions between objects
Quentin Meillassoux Presenting speculative materialism, challenging prevailing philosophical notions

Through their collective efforts, these thinkers paved the way for the emergence of speculative realism, challenging longstanding philosophical assumptions and offering new avenues for exploring reality, metaphysics, and our place within the world.

Critique of Correlationism

Speculative realists offer a critical perspective on correlationism, a concept central to contemporary Continental philosophy. Correlationism posits that we can only access the correlation between thinking and being, and not the individual terms independently. Speculative realists challenge this limitation and seek to explore alternative philosophical frameworks.

One of the key criticisms raised by speculative realists is directed towards philosophies of access that privilege the human being over other entities. Anthropocentrism, the belief that human beings are the central focus and measure of reality, is also under scrutiny. Speculative realists argue that these anthropocentric perspectives limit our understanding of existence and overlook the agency and significance of non-human entities.

The core thinkers within speculative realism aim to overturn these philosophical frameworks and advocate for distinct forms of realism. By challenging dominant forms of idealism, speculative realists propose alternative ways of approaching the nature of reality, bypassing the limitations of the correlationist perspective.

To better understand the critique of correlationism within speculative realism, let’s explore the core arguments and ideas put forth by some prominent figures in the movement.

Ray Brassier: The Absence of Essence

Ray Brassier, a philosopher associated with speculative realism, questions the assumption that there is an essential connection between human language and reality. Brassier argues that we should abandon the notion that language or thought can fully grasp the essence of the world. Instead, he advocates for a radical form of philosophical materialism that confronts the limitations of human finitude.

Graham Harman: Objects and Withdrawal

Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology challenges anthropocentrism by emphasizing the existence and agency of objects. Harman suggests that objects, whether physical or conceptual, possess their own reality and can only be approached through indirect interaction. This idea of withdrawal, where objects hide their inner essence, encourages a shift away from human-focused analysis and invites a more inclusive understanding of the world.

In summary, speculative realists critique correlationism and expose its limitations in understanding reality. By challenging anthropocentrism and privileging the agency of objects, speculative realists propose alternative philosophical frameworks that allow for a deeper exploration of existence.

Variations within Speculative Realism

Speculative realism encompasses various philosophical perspectives, each providing unique insights into the nature of reality and metaphysics. In this section, we explore three notable variations within the speculative realist movement: speculative materialism, object-oriented ontology, and transcendental materialism.

Speculative Materialism

Quentin Meillassoux, a prominent figure in speculative realism, is known for his groundbreaking concept of speculative materialism. Unlike correlationism, which posits that we can only know reality through our access to it, Meillassoux rejects this principle and instead advocates for a principle of factiality. This idea suggests that reality exists independently of our perception, allowing for the possibility of absolute knowledge beyond subjective limitations.

Object-Oriented Ontology

Graham Harman, another influential speculative realist thinker, explores object-oriented ontology. Harman argues that objects, both physical and abstract, play a fundamental role in shaping reality. He proposes that objects exist independently from our interpretations of them, and interactions between objects occur through vicarious causality. This ontological framework challenges human-centric perspectives, highlighting the significance of the non-human world.

Transcendental Materialism

Iain Hamilton Grant offers a distinct variation within speculative realism called transcendental materialism. Grant’s approach seeks to move beyond anthropocentric thinking by rethinking the nature of matter. Grant revisits the Platonic notion of matter as the foundational essence of reality, exploring its relationship with forces and powers that govern the universe. By incorporating ideas from systems theory, Grant’s transcendental materialism provides a fresh perspective on the interconnectedness and dynamics of the physical world.

Variation Notable Thinker Key Concepts
Speculative Materialism Quentin Meillassoux Rejection of correlationism
Principle of factiality
Absolute knowledge
Object-Oriented Ontology Graham Harman Focus on objects
Vicarious causality
Non-human centric perspective
Transcendental Materialism Iain Hamilton Grant Reinterpretation of matter
Incorporation of systems theory
Interconnectedness of the physical world

By exploring these variations within the speculative realist movement, we gain a richer understanding of different approaches to contemplating reality, objects, and metaphysics. Each perspective offers unique insights into the nature of existence, challenging traditional philosophical frameworks and expanding the boundaries of thought.

Object-Oriented Ontology

Graham Harman’s object-oriented ontology is a central tenet of speculative realism. It emphasizes the existence of objects and their importance in philosophy. Harman argues that objects have been neglected in favor of a more human-centered perspective. He proposes that all things, whether physical or fictional, are equally objects and that interactions between objects occur through a process called vicarious causality.

In Harman’s view, reality is not solely determined by human perception and experience. Objects have their own reality and agency, independent of human consciousness. This challenges the dominant anthropocentric paradigm that focuses on human subjectivity as the primary source of knowledge and meaning.

Object-oriented ontology highlights the significance of objects in shaping reality and calls for a reorientation of philosophical inquiry towards a more inclusive understanding of being.

Key Concepts of Object-Oriented Ontology

In object-oriented ontology, objects are not confined to physical entities but extend to fictional and abstract entities as well. Harman argues that all objects have a similar ontological status, regardless of their materiality or existence.

The concept of vicarious causality is crucial in object-oriented ontology. It refers to the indirect interactions between objects that occur through the mediation of other objects. Instead of direct causal relations between objects, the relations are mediated by other entities, creating a complex network of interactions.

Key Concepts Description
Objects All things, physical or abstract, are considered objects with their own reality and agency.
Vicarious Causality Interactions between objects occur indirectly through the mediation of other objects.

Object-oriented ontology challenges traditional philosophical frameworks by emphasizing the equal significance of all objects and the complex web of interactions that shape reality.

The image above visually represents the interconnectedness and multiplicity of objects within object-oriented ontology.

Transcendental Materialism

In the realm of speculative realism, Iain Hamilton Grant introduces the concept of transcendental materialism as a variation within the philosophical movement. Grant’s approach challenges the traditional focus on bodies and materiality in both philosophy and physics, offering an alternative perspective on the nature of matter, metaphysics, and systems theory.

Grant advocates for a return to the Platonic notion of matter as the fundamental building blocks of reality. According to transcendental materialism, matter encompasses not only physical substances but also the forces and powers that govern the intricate web of existence. By shifting the focus to matter and its dynamic interaction, Grant aims to overcome traditional conceptions of matter and explore new frameworks of thought.

One key element of Grant’s metaphysical approach is the incorporation of systems theory. This theoretical framework recognizes the interconnectedness and interdependence of various elements within a system. Grant emphasizes the importance of understanding both the hierarchy of inclusion and the hierarchy of abstraction to gain a comprehensive understanding of reality and its underlying structures.

Transcendental materialism encompasses a departure from conventional conceptions of matter and a journey towards a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of the metaphysical landscape. By embracing systems theory and placing matter at the core of philosophical inquiry, Grant expands the horizons of speculative realism and invites scholars to explore alternative pathways of thought.


Speculative realism, as a philosophical movement, challenges the dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy and advocates for metaphysical realism. By critiquing correlationism and philosophies that prioritize the human being, speculative realism offers alternative perspectives on the nature of reality, objects, and metaphysics.

The variations within speculative realism, including speculative materialism, object-oriented ontology, and transcendental materialism, contribute diverse frameworks of thought that push the boundaries of philosophy beyond a human-centered perspective. Each approach examines different aspects of existence and invites us to rethink our understanding of the world.

Through the exploration of these different perspectives, speculative realism invites us to reconsider the limits of our knowledge and challenge conventional ways of thinking. By focusing on metaphysical realism and object-oriented metaphysics, speculative realism sheds light on the complex relationships between human beings, objects, and the larger material world.


What is speculative realism?

Speculative realism is a movement in contemporary Continental-inspired philosophy that advocates for metaphysical realism and critiques dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy.

When did speculative realism originate?

Speculative realism originated from a conference held at Goldsmiths College in 2007, which featured presentations by Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, and Quentin Meillassoux.

What is the critique of correlationism?

Speculative realists share a critique of correlationism, the idea that we only have access to the correlation between thinking and being and never to either term considered apart from the other. They also critique philosophies that privilege the human being and anthropocentrism.

What are the variations within speculative realism?

Variations within speculative realism include speculative materialism, object-oriented ontology, and transcendental materialism.

What is object-oriented ontology?

Object-oriented ontology, advocated by Graham Harman, is a tenet of speculative realism that emphasizes the existence of objects and their importance in philosophy. It seeks to overturn the dominant focus on human beings and highlights the significance of objects in shaping reality.

What is transcendental materialism?

Transcendental materialism, defended by Iain Hamilton Grant, is another variation within speculative realism that challenges the focus on bodies and materiality in traditional philosophy and physics. It aims to move beyond somatism and rethinks the nature of matter.

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