Fields of Sense and Formal Things: The Ontologies of Tristan Garcia and Markus Gabriel

Arjen Kleinherenbrink 1
  • 1 Radboud University,, Nijmegen, Netherlands


A striking feature of the relatively new philosophical genre of speculative realism is that it includes theories that explicitly seek to bridge or overcome the divide between analytic and continental philosophy. Two such theories are Markus Gabriel’s ontology of fields of sense and Tristan Garcia’s ontology of formal things. Both theories hold that all entities - be they physical, mental, fictional, technical, or otherwise - are equally and irreducibly real. This article first describes the core features of these ontologies. This provides insight into these theories themselves and also gives us a glimpse of what philosophy ‘beyond the divide’ might look like. In addition, both theories are shown to be examples of what I will call ‘relational’ philosophy, or philosophy that exhaustively defines entities in terms of how they appear to or feature in other entities. I argue that all such philosophies are haunted by the ‘infinite deferral of specification,’ a specific problem that I argue renders them inconsistent. Finally, I oppose such ‘relationist’ philosophies to ‘substantialist’ ones, and suggest that this distinction might one day succeed the division between analytic and continental philosophy.

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Open Philosophy is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all areas of philosophy. The objective of Open Philosophy is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to the broadest philosophical spectrum.