Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Metaphysics of Presence?

Derrida regarded Husserl's phenomenology to be the culmination of everything that is wrong with the metaphysics from the Greeks onward. Simply put, for Husserl, all phenomena are constituted by consciousness. Meaning is enduring beyond describing how consciousness constitutes a phenomena, and the meaning of the phenomena persist through time. Anyone else engaged in phenomenological description of the same phenomena would achieve the same result. The tendency for both the subject, or ego, to persist through time as well as objects of consciousness undergird all of metaphysics. Both Heidegger and Derrida see this tendency played out in historical examples of metaphysics. As such, the question of presence ultimately becomes one resulting in skepticism that the subject exists.

Now, I don't want to get into the reasons for why Heidegger and Derrida are skeptical about the subject's existence (As I go into my Husserl and Derrida Seminar this Fall, I will no doubt have much more to say on this issue), but I do want to be skeptical of their initial skepticism. I want to rethink why such a bias of presence should be avoided. I may be a herald of tradition and nothing more at this point, but I think a metaphysics of presence should be encouraged, not avoided. Like Gadamer, biases are not something to be avoided as in the concept of bias in the Enlightenment. Instead, our biases are productive; they form the basis of my encounter with the world in a tradition.

I think a metaphysics of presence is right in some regard. Consider two cases of wonder where philosophy is said to have started. First, the wonder of philosophy begins by curiosity of a world whose mystery endures through time. If it is the world, it's mystery escapes me, outstripping my ability to know wholly the status of its reality. Next, the fact that I have a sense of continuity of my habits, dispositions and very self while not proof in itself, certainly adds some intuitions to the fact that I am in a world. I have a sense of my own being that likes, hates, shutters, fears and shivers. Thus, in both the mystery of the self and the nature of the world, I find wonder persists. It is a phenomenological fact that when I am mystified by the world or my own subjectivity, it persists through time.

Finally, maybe Derrida is right in a limited sense. Some system builders in metaphysics maintain a concept of the self that is devoid of sociality, history and intersubjectivity. Even contemporary moral philosophers that want to find how it is that agent's exhibit practical reason as such, ahistoricize the agent, and speak about agency in terms of some impersonal conceptual scheme. Perhaps, this is the quagmire. We cannot conceive of our selves as either wholly phenomenological or natural. Our conception of our selves may be mediated between a conception that preserves presence, eschewing Heidegger and Derrida, while preserving a more healthier understanding of humban beings as connected with a time, place and understanding.


mark said...

lovely blog here...found thru "letters from a librarian"...re this post: yes! by all means be a herald!..and not just of tradition, but maybe of something new. a "philosopher" after all, is not just someone who studies the works of other people...in your wonderment at the world, you are a philospher already, and have been for some time i think

Pre-Carbondale Philosopher said...

Dear Mark,

I have been training to be a philosopher for a long time, and yes, consider myself one. I think that wonderment is the starting place, but there must be a significant move beyond wonder. That's just where it begins.

Khadimir said...

Heidegger does not entirely eschew a metaphysics of presence. It is one of dyad of presence/ready-at-handedness espoused in Being and Time. Presence is irreducible and fundamental, he claims, and is essentially bound to the ready-at-hand. Alternatively, one could describe them as "substance" and "activity." The problem, then, is when presence is taken as dominant.

I have a suspicion that overcoming substance metaphysics is part of the holdup in quantum mechanics. Amateur observation.

pradip said...

why presence is attacked leaving everything esle? pls explain.

Carbondale Chasmite said...


I don't know what your question means. I don't know the "what else" you have in mind here.

If I were to give a short answer, Derrida and Heidegger think that presence is an uncritical assumption of the Western tradition of philosophy as a whole.