Monday, January 21, 2008

Derridian Backgrond ot the TS Argument: Part 1

Jasque Derrida about mid life

This is a summary of Derrida on the Transcendental Signifier and why it "proves" the existence of God (in my special sense of "proof" that I use as "for practical purposes").

Derrida was from French North Africa, 1930-2004. here are two articles on him that will give you a basic run down:

Derrida on Wiki

Derrida in Philosophical Encyclopedia

Derrida was a student of Martin Heidegger. Derrida is the best known philosopher of recent times. Heidegger was an existentialist, then dropped that and began to call himself a "phenomenologist." Everything Derrida says came from Heidegger. Every move of decontracution is found in Heidegger, but Derrida put it together in a different package than Heidegger's.

"Deconstruction" was Derrida's babby. He invented it although one can find it's roots all over Western letters. He's plugging in elements from Heidegger, Sartre, Brintano, Nicholas of Cuza, Charles Sanders Pierce and all over the place.This is the run down on [B][I]Deconstruction.[/I][/B] I was taught Derrida by someone who had been his student in Paris in the late 60s before he moved to Yale.

Phenomenology is an attempt to place the observer at the center of awareness to allow sense data to be understood in ways that are not predetermined by preconceived categories. The idea is that the data will form its own categories. Attempts to gather sense data and heard it all into pre selected categories biases reality. In vernacular one might say "don't pigeon hole but remain open to possibilities for everything no matter how familiar or or obvious we think it might be. This attempt to pre select categories of knowledge is what Heidegger calls "Metaphysics." In this sense even science is metaphysics!

Derrida wants to explicate the end of western metaphysics,(his phrase). What does this mean? It means he, and most postmoderns, believe that the paths along which western metaphics have led us are dead ends. We have run out of metaphysics. We haven't run out of science, in the sense that there plenty of facts to look at, but in a way we have because reductionism has lowered our expectations about what we will find. But Derrida's beef is not with science. A Major segment of of postmodernists tried to attack modern science, but they were swept aside with the Alan Sokal stuff. Derrida was never one of them.

Derrida argues that Western metaphysics has always been predicated upon an organizing principal that orders reality and organizes sense data. William James Sums it up well in his Gilford Lectures:

"Plato gave so brilliant and impressive a defense of this common human feeling, that the doctrine of the reality of abstract objects has been known as the platonic theory of ideas ever since. Abstract Beauty, for example, is for Plato a perfectly definite individual being, of which the intellect is aware as of something additional to all the perishing beauties of the earth. "The true order of going," he says, in the often quoted passage in his 'Banquet,' "is to use the beauties of earth as steps along which one mounts upwards for the sake of that other Beauty, going from one to two, and from two to all fair forms, and from fair forms to fair actions, and from fair actions to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute Beauty, and at last knows what the essence of Beauty is." 2 In our last lecture we had a glimpse of the way in which a platonizing writer like Emerson may treat the abstract divineness of things, the moral structure of the universe, as a fact worthy of worship. In those various churches without a God which to-day are spreading through the world under the name of ethical societies, we have a similar worship of the abstract divine, the moral law believed in as an ultimate object."

Derrida begins with Plato's theory of knowledge, this is the basis of Western metaphysics. Plato says that prior to birth we are in contact with the forms, thus knowledge is a matter of remembering, no learning for the first time. But then the question arises is speech closer to what we remember, or is writing? Socrates says the spoken word is closer to the ideas inside us, the memory of the forms, thus spoken word is better (more true, closer to reality) than written word. As he puts it "a writer dies his written words are like orphans since he is not there to defend them." This supremacy of the spoken word sets up a hierarchy of meaning and importance in western culture. We have come to value reason as the organizing principle of truth, as the "natural light" because it's an extension of the concept of this true Platonic knowledge. Reason becomes this overarching truth regime (Faucault's word) that organizes all reality. Everything is paired up into hierarchies, little hierarchies that fit into the big over all hierarchy, these are called "binary opossitions." They they take the form of couplets, consisting of the "true" or "correct" term and it's supplement; the false term or the unimportant addition to the "real thing." Examples are: up/down, black/white/ true/false/ male/female. Reason is construed as male and this resutls in "phalologocentrism."

Derrida's goal is to destroy hierarchies, to show that there is no truth, there is no meaning. We can't know anything. Derridian postmodernism is like archaeologists who try to piece together fragments of a broken vase. Some say "there is a vase here, we just have to fin out how the peices fit." Another says "there may be two vases." The postmodernist says "we don't have all the pieces, they may not have been a vase, it may be 16 vases, we can't know, there is no final answer, it's always going to be a jumble. The Deridian position is a good philosophical justification for nihilism. The difference being a nihilism takes too much effort.. The logical conclusion of Derridianism if one were consist would be to sit in a chair and say nothing until one starves to death. Of course Derrida himself was not consistent. He was one of the most prolific writers. His overall project was to tear down hierarchy and destroy the concept of the TS. Here is his argument against reason:

He asks "does reason ground itself?" Can we use reason to prove reason?

"Are we obeying the principle of reason when we ask what grounds this principle [reason] which is itself a principle of grounding? We are not--which does not mean that we are disobeying it either. Are we dealing here with a circle or with an abyss? The circle would consist in seeking to account for reason by reason, to reason to the principle of reason, appealing to the principle to make it speak of itself at the very point where, according to Heidegger, the prinicple of reason says nothing about reason itself. The abyss, the hole, ..., the empty gorge would be the impossibility for a principle of grounding to ground itself...Are we to use reason to account for the principle of reason? Is the reason for reason rational?"(Derrida in Criticism and Culture, Robert Con Davis and Ronald Schlefflier, Longman 1991, 20.)

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