Monday, January 10, 2011

Derrida, Hegel, the unity and the overcoming

It's interesting that most of what Derrida, in essence, says in his philosophy, Hegel says in paragraphs 90-118 of his book "The Phenomenology of Spirit", which is part of the first real section after the Introduction. The section starts at paragraph 90, so in essence we're dealing with the first 28 paragraphs of the book.

A lot of what Derrida's philosophy is about is realizing inherent and received biases in perception, and finding ways of viewing the world that get beyond them and beyond the possibility of the types of biases he's talking about in general. The goal is to get a de-centered perspective, where the particular features of the perceiver as an 'I' does not color the object perceived. Of course, since the tendency is to perceive things in a biased way, the de-centered perspective is sort of like a negative image, or like a subtractive piece of art, where the meaning is gotten through removing rather than adding. A de-centered perspective sees the qualities of things as they are without imposing added meaning that comes from the characteristics of consciousness itself. In practice, this means a sort of jelly of qualities floating around, just being there.

Hegel recognizes basically the same thing, the necessity to view qualities as they are removed from the structures of perception that our minds place on them, as best we can, but although he comes to what really resembles, if not duplicates the de-centered perspective of Derrida he doesn't stop there.

The question is now what are you going to do with these qualities now that you have them? For Hegel, in order to actually make use of anything you've gotten from getting a de-centered perspective, you have to create an artificial model of it in your head, or on paper, based on an exhaustive enumeration of the qualities that it does have. This bowl in front of me: it's round, it's red, it's light, it's made of plastic, it has a rim, the plastic has little specks in it, it's cold, it feels smooth. All of these things are non-biased opinions. To make some meaning out of the bowl Hegel posits a hypothetical bowl that shares all these qualities, to which more qualities can be added. You can then try to find the underlying unity in the model, as modified by actual observation of the bowl, if you're aware that you're working with trying to find an underlying meaning that explains limited perceptions, that in itself is destined to be limited and by definition not the real or whole meaning of why the bowl is definitively how it is.

This can be somewhat mitigated by making the description as thorough and exhaustive as you can get it, but it will always be relative. Yet, just because it's relative doesn't mean you can't do anything with it. By interrogating relative models you can launch yourself on the way to discovering empirically verifiable facts and tentative explanations of what you see before you.

After deprogramming ones self of whatever -centrism or bias your talking about you have to examine what actually exists and create some sort of tentative model without being afraid that in creating said model you're going to fall into whatever trap it was you're trying to get out of. If you can't do that, then what you've arrived at is meaningless because you'll never be able to relate it practically to any objective reality, or even to explain it satisfactorily to anyone else.

The model is not the territory, and truth is always positive and not negative. If you can't come up with something that has positive content, you don't have anything. Examining the positive content is the next step, the coagula after the solve, without which everything stays in a semi-solid flux.

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