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Jacques Derrida

Hegelian method: Attempting to bring conditions and processes of which we are ordinarily unconscious or unaware to a conscious level for understanding and critique. Derrida's prose is often difficult because he is aware of the problem of metalanguage the vocabulary, terms, phrases, and metaphors used in describing philosophy and culture as expressed in words , and the twists and turns of metaphor and rhetoric we necessarily buy into when writing and making arguments.

Critique of linguistics and main traditions of Western "Realist" philosophy: Language is a tissue of metaphors which creates a series of metaphysical illusions that certain philosophies and ideologies have exploited religions, totalitarian governments and used metaphor-based-illusions into unquestioned, permanent, natural categories. Derrida thus begins with a critique of realism and foundationalism : dismantling the assumption that language can or does naturally represent, reflect, or correspond to real things outside of language and the human mind.

Derrida pointed out that our inherited theory of signs from de Saussure also entails an unacknowledged metaphysics: "presence": things, ideas, concepts are thought to be somehow "present" in thought or in some objective transcendental realm and reflected in words. Always being in language, we must acknowledge the structure of presences and absences that constitute signs and meanings: in speaking and writing, we always have something perceived as present signifiers [sign vehicles] in verbal sounds, marks and letters, images and something absent meanings, beliefs, values not present in signs but supplied by our knowledge of the system of relationships in which they appear.

Derrida decenters the idea of structure and sign system. No secure, transcendental signified God, truth, being, etc. Totalizing systems are thus related to totalitarianism and imperialisms a political move within deconstructive theory Signs set up play of significations in chains of supplements and deferrals.

Always, Derrida tries to show that auto-affection is hetero-affection; the experience of the same I am thinking about myself is the experience of the other insofar as I think about myself I am thinking of someone or something else at the same time. In Voice and Phenomenon Derrida recognizes that perception, for Husserl, is that of adumbrations, with an intentional meaning unifying the different profiles. However, Derrida sees in the principle of all principles and in Husserl's introduction of an Idea in the Kantian sense Husserl , —, paragraph the imposition of a telos for perception towards a pure intuition, pure presence or givenness, uncontaminated by signification.

More specifically, Derrida argues that, when Husserl describes lived-experience Erlebnis , even absolute subjectivity, he is speaking of an interior monologue, auto-affection as hearing-oneself-speak. It is unique because there seems to be no external detour from the hearing to the speaking; in hearing-oneself-speak there is self-proximity.

It seems therefore that I hear myself speak immediately in the very moment that I am speaking. As is well known, Derrida focuses on the status of retention in Voice and Phenomenon. Retention in Husserl has a strange status since Husserl wants to include it in the present as a kind of perception and at the same time he recognizes that it is different from the present as a kind of non-perception. In other words, in the very moment, when silently I speak to myself, it must be the case that there is a miniscule hiatus differentiating me into the speaker and into the hearer.

There must be a hiatus that differentiates me from myself, a hiatus or gap without which I would not be a hearer as well as a speaker. This hiatus also defines the trace, a minimal repeatability. And this hiatus, this fold of repetition, is found in the very moment of hearing-myself-speak. I must be distanced from myself so that I am able to be both seer and seen.

The space between, however, remains obstinately invisible. Remaining invisible, the space gouges out the eye, blinds it. I see myself over there in the mirror and yet, that self over there is other than me; so, I am not able to see myself as such. In short, and this is what Derrida is most interested in, psychoanalysis has isolated a negation which is in fact an affirmation. The fundamental question then for negative theology, but also for psychoanalysis, and for Derrida is how to deny and yet also not deny. This duality between not telling and telling is why Derrida takes up the idea of the secret.

The secret as such , as secret, separates and already institutes a negativity; it is a negation that denies itself. Here Derrida speaks of a secret as such. Here we can see the relation of hearing-oneself-speak that we just saw in Voice and Phenomenon. Keeping a secret includes necessarily auto-affection: I must speak to myself of the secret.

We might however say more, we might even say that I am too weak for this speaking of the secret to myself not to happen. I must have a conceptual grasp of it; I have to frame a representation of the secret. With the idea of a re-presentation I must present the secret to myself again in order to possess it really , we also see retention, repetition, and the trace or a name.

A trace of the secret must be formed, in which case, the secret is in principle shareable. If the secret must be necessarily shareable, it is always already shared. In other words, in order to frame the representation of the secret, I must negate the first negation, in which I promised not to tell the secret: I must tell the secret to myself as if I were someone else. In order to keep the secret or the promise , I must necessarily not keep the secret I must violate the promise. So, I possess the secret and do not possess it. This structure has the consequence of there being no secret as such.

A secret is necessarily shared. There Derrida is discussing the United Nations, which he says combines the two principles of Western political thought: sovereignty and democracy. Democracy and sovereignty contradict one another in the following way. On the one hand, in order to be sovereign, one must wield power oneself, take responsibility for its use by oneself, which means that the use of power, if it is to be sovereign, must be silent; the sovereign does not have to give reasons; the sovereign must exercise power in secret.

In other words, sovereignty attempts to possess power indivisibly, it tries not to share, and not sharing means contracting power into an instant—the instant of action, of an event, of a singularity. On the other hand, democracy calls for the sovereign to share power, to give reasons, to universalize.


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In democracy the use of power therefore is always an abuse of power see Haddad , pp. Derrida can also say that sovereignty and democracy are inseparable from one another the contradiction makes them heterogeneous to one another because democracy even though it calls for universalization giving reasons in an assembly also requires force, freedom, a decision, sovereign power. For Derrida, in democracy, a decision the use of power is always urgent; and yet here is the contradiction , democracy takes time, democracy makes one wait so that the use of power can be discussed.

There must be sovereignty, and yet, there can be no use of power without the sharing of it through repetition. It can only tend toward imperial hegemony. Throughout his career, Derrida elaborates on the basic argumentation in many ways. On the other hand, it means that there is a lot more of one, only one, the most one. And, it is not only a repetition; this self-divergence is also violence, a rending of oneself, an incision. It is this complete exclusion or this extermination of the most — there is no limit to this violence—that makes this violence the worst violence.

The worst is a relation that makes of more than one simply one, that makes, out of a division, an indivisible sovereignty. But the structure, for Derrida, can always happen as an event. Agencies such as the International Criminal Court, the demand for universal human rights encroach on nation-state sovereignty. This violence no longer has to do with world war or even with war , even less with some right to wage war.

To be more suicidal is to kill oneself more. The Politics of Friendship , p. This innumerable rejection resembles a genocide or what is worse an absolute threat. The absolute threat can no longer be contained when it comes neither from an already constituted state nor even from a potential state that might be treated as a rogue state Rogues , p. What Derrida is saying here is that the worst is possible, here and now, more possible than ever. As I said, Derrida always uses the basic argumentation that we have laid out against the idea of the worst; today the tendency towards the worst is greater than ever.

The purpose in the application — this purpose defines deconstruction—is to move us towards, not the worst violence, not the most violence, but the least violence Writing and Difference , p. How does the application of the argumentation against the worst work? We can see in this etymology the inseparable dualities we examined above: singular event and machine-like repeatability; auto-affection as hetero-affection. What we can see in this attempt to conceive the link as it is prior to its determination in terms of man and God is an attempt to make the link be as open as possible.

Throughout his career, Derrida is always interested in the status of animality since it determines the limit between man and others. Here despite the immense influence they have had on his thought, Derrida breaks with both Heidegger and Levinas both of whom did not open the link this wide see Points , p. All are to be treated not as enemies who must be expelled or exterminated, but as friends. Nevertheless, as Derrida constantly stresses, we cannot really identify the friend as such. Unconditional hospitality is dangerous. This danger explains why unconditional openness of the borders is not the best as opposed to what we were calling the worst above ; it is only the less bad or less evil, the less violence.

Indeed, it looks as though the unconditional opening is not possible. There always seems to be factual conditions. Among all the others we must decide, we must assign them papers, which means that there is always, still, necessarily violence at the borders. At once, in hospitality, there is the force that moves towards to the other to welcome and the force to remain unscathed and pulled back from the other, trying to keep the door closed.

We must make one more point. The impossibility of unconditional hospitality means that any attempt to open the globe completely is insufficient.

Derrida - The Father of Deconstruction

But this deconstruction would be a deconstruction that recognizes its own insufficiency. Deconstruction, to which we now turn, never therefore results in good conscience, in the good conscience that comes with thinking we have done enough to render justice. There Descartes says that for a long time he has been making mistakes.

Derrida has provided many definitions of deconstruction. But three definitions are classical. Simply, deconstruction is a criticism of Platonism, which is defined by the belief that existence is structured in terms of oppositions separate substances or forms and that the oppositions are hierarchical, with one side of the opposition being more valuable than the other.

Prior to Derrida, Nietzsche had also criticized this opposition, and it is criticized in a lot of Twentieth Century philosophy. So, in Platonism, essence is more valuable than appearance. In deconstruction however, we reverse this, making appearance more valuable than essence. Here we could resort to empiricist arguments in Hume for example that show that all knowledge of what we call essence depends on the experience of what appears.

But then, this argumentation would imply that essence and appearance are not related to one another as separate oppositional poles.

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The argumentation in other words would show us that essence can be reduced down to a variation of appearances involving the roles of memory and anticipation. Now, we can back track a bit in the history of Western metaphysics. On the basis of the reversal of the essence-appearance hierarchy and on the basis of the reduction to immanence, we can see that something like a decision a perhaps impossible decision must have been made at the beginning of the metaphysical tradition, a decision that instituted the hierarchy of essence-appearance and separated essence from appearance.

How would this re-inscription or redefinition of appearance work? Here we would have to return to the idea that every appearance or every experience is temporal. In the experience of the present, there is always a small difference between the moment of now-ness and the past and the future. It is perhaps possible that Hume had already discovered this small difference when, in the Treatise , he speaks of the idea of relation.

This second definition is less metaphysical and more political. On the one hand, there is the genealogical style of deconstruction, which recalls the history of a concept or theme. Earlier in his career, in Of Grammatology , Derrida had laid out, for example, the history of the concept of writing. But now what is at issue is the history of justice. On the other hand, there is the more formalistic or structural style of deconstruction, which examines a-historical paradoxes or aporias.

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Here Derrida in effect is asking: what is freedom. In the s, it typically took the form of either logical positivism or ordinary-language philosophy, each of which involved commitment to a specific mode of analysis roughly, following either Carnap or Wittgenstein as well as substantive philosophical views. These views involved a rejection of much traditional philosophy especially metaphysics and ethics as essentially meaningless. There was, in particular, no room for religious belief or objective ethical norms.

Today, analytic philosophers use a much wider range of methods including quasi-scientific inference to the best explanation and their own versions of phenomenological description. Also, there are analytic cases being made for the full range of traditional philosophical positions, including the existence of God, mind-body dualism, and objective ethical norms.


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Various forms of empiricism and naturalism are still majority views, but any philosophical position can be profitably developed using the tools of analytic philosophy. There are Thomists and Hegelians who are analytic philosophers, and there is even a significant literature devoted to expositions of major continental philosophers in analytic terms.

Now, however, even though many analytic philosophers still have little interest in history, many of the best current historians of philosophy employ the conceptual and argumentative methods of analytic philosophy.

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Some continental approaches claim to access a privileged domain of experience. I agree with much of what Leiter says, but think there are still important general philosophical differences between analytic philosophy and continental philosophy, in all their current varieties.

These differences concern their conceptions of experience and of reason as standards of evaluation. Typically, analytic philosophy appeals to experience understood as common-sense intuitions as well as their developments and transformations by science and to reason understood as the standard rules of logical inference. A number of continental approaches claim to access a privileged domain of experience that penetrates beneath the veneer of common sense and science experience.

Other versions of continental thought regard the essential activity of reason not as the logical regimentation of thought but as the creative exercise of intellectual imagination. This view is characteristic of most important French philosophers since the s, beginning with Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze. They maintain that the standard logic analytic philosophers use can merely explicate what is implicit in the concepts with which we happen to begin; such logic is useless for the essential philosophical task, which they maintain is learning to think beyond these concepts.