Postmodern philosophy

What world facts inform postmodernism?

The term "postmodern" came from the field of architecture. Meaning "after modern," it is a phrase that connotes, sometimes ironically, borrowing from the past in irreverent ways. Postmodern philosophy arose after major historical changes: the different scientific world views represented by Albert Einstein's theories of relativity and sub-atomic physics; the enormous destructive power of twentieth century warfare; the liberation of former colonies, as well as women and nonwhites in Europe and the United States; the economic, political, and social conditions of "post-colonialism"; and a breakdown in traditional social institutions such as the nuclear family, changes in women's roles, global capitalism, new economic inequalities, and environmental crises.

What are the distinctive methods of postmodern philosophy?

Building on the work of structuralists, particularly Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) and Jacques Lacan (1901-1981), most postmodern philosophers take social systems of language and symbols as their primary subject matter. More than that, they view the entire human world as existence within and through language. Their methods of analysis are variably hermeneutic, critical, and genealogical.

More specifically, deconstructionism proceeds by identifying aporia, or contradictions in Western thought that rested on theological principles insofar as they were ultimately inaccessible to consciousness. Typically, modern aporia required binary pairs, such as "right and wrong," or "being and non-being," each member of which was falsely defined in opposition to the other.

Jacques Derrida and Deconstructionism

Who was Jacques Derrida?

The Algerian-born French intellectual theorist, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), is widely considered to be the founder of deconstructionism, which he presented in his introduction to a 1962 translation of Edmund Husserl's (1859-1938) The Origin of Geometry. In a later interview, Derrida said of this work, using his distinctive terminology that has made so many Anglo-American philosophers dismissive of deconstruction:

In this essay the problematic of writing was already in place as such, bound to the irreducible structure of "deferral" in its relationships to consciousness, presence, science, history and the history of science, the disappearance or delay of the origin, etc. ... this essay can be read as the other side (recto or verso, as you wish) of Speech and Phenomena.

Using Husserl's standard that for something to be known it must be known by human consciousness, Derrida developed a critique of the "metaphysics of presence," the tradition that imagined knowledge as a thing known to God or the Absolute Consciousness. He called the whole history of Western philosophy "a search for a transcendental being that serves as the origin or guarantor of meaning."

His principle books include "Speech and Phenomena" and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs (1973), Of Grammatology (1976), Writing and Difference (1978), Spurs: Nietzsche's Styles (1979), The Archeology of the Frivolous: Reading Condillac (1980), Margins of Philosophy (1982), The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond (1987), Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry: An Introduction (1962, 1989), Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question (1989), and The Gift of Death (1995). Derrida is most famous for Of Grammatology (1972).

What is deconstructionism?

Deconstructionism is a method for interpreting "texts" (the term for written works used by deconstructionists) that is based on the premise that the meaning of texts depends as much on the writer's background historical conditions and those of the reader, as it does on what is in the text itself.

How did Derrida explain deconstructionism in his Of Grammatology?

Derrida's Of Grammatology (1972) is about the instability of texts, due to the fact that all writing depends on the meanings readers bring to it, which may change, so that it cannot be claimed that a given piece of writing has a specific and stable meaning. All signs depend on other signs for their meanings, so there is never an ultimate meaning—meaning is always "deferred."

Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) speaks of "arche-writing" in this regard, which refers to gaps in the meaning of what is sacrosanct. All writing is split between its intention and how a reader understands it, and there is a gap between the writer and the reader.

Derrida's description of the reality of writing is meant to be an accurate account of the nature of intellectual life. The imagined presence of a being before whom the intentions and meaning of the philosopher is grasped, is the illusion under which philosophers and others have labored for so long.

Derrida thought that there was an ambiguity in the spoken word, which made the written word necessary, and he introduced the term "differance" to write about this difference. If one says "differance" and "difference" aloud there is no audible difference between them. The relevant difference can only be expressed in writing, although we have already seen how meanings are inconclusive in writing.

It is this insight about the dynamic nature of meaning—against Ferdinand

Jacques Derrida was the founder of deconstructionism (AP).

Jacques Derrida was the founder of deconstructionism (AP).

How has Jacques Derrida's poststructuralism been received?

Derrida's contemporary Michel Foucault (1926-1984), who many have regarded as a structuralist, accused him of practicing a terrorism of obscurantism. Foucault meant that those who could not understand Derrida (that is, most of his philosophical contemporaries) were attacked by Derrida as idiots. American philosophers such as Noam Chomsky (1929-), John Searle (1932-), and Richard Rorty (1931-2007) have mocked and dismissed Derrida. Searle referred to "the deliberate obscurantism of the prose, the wildly exaggerated claims, and the constant striving to give the appearance of profundity by making claims that seem paradoxical, but under analysis often turn out to be silly or trivial."

Chomsky thought that Derrida's work was typical of the local eccentric tradition of Parisian intellectuals. Without it being an explicit issue for them, Chomsky and Searle assume that meaning itself is stable and their theoretical work proceeds on that basis. However, Rorty, who has claimed that it might be impossible to understand Derrida's metaphysics, has a view similar to Derrida's about the false pretensions to truth that philosophers entertain.

de Saussure's (1857-1913) structuralist view that there is a system of meaning constituted by speech, for which the written word is somewhat secondary, if not unnecessary—that earned Derrida the label "poststructuralist," beginning in 1968. Derrida criticized the structuralist tradition as "moving from center to center in futility."

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