Citation
Wittgenstein, Derrida, and the indeterminacy of language

Material Information

Title:
Wittgenstein, Derrida, and the indeterminacy of language
Creator:
Knight, Craig Anthony
Place of Publication:
Denver, Colo.
Publisher:
University of Colorado Denver
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
131 leaves : ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Master's ( Master of Humanities)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Humanities
Committee Chair:
Tanzer, Mark
Committee Members:
Aboulafia, Mitchell
Bookman, Myra

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Language and languages -- Philosophy ( lcsh )
Language and languages -- Philosophy ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 129-131).
Thesis:
Humanities
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Craig Anthony Knight.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
47814117 ( OCLC )
ocm47814117
Classification:
LD1190.L58 2001m .K54 ( lcc )

Downloads

This item has the following downloads:


Full Text
WITTGENSTEIN, DERRIDA,
AND THE INDETERMINACY OF LANGUAGE
by
Craig Anthony Knight
B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1991
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
2001


This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Craig Anthony Knight
has been approved
by
Myra Bookman


Knight, Craig Anthony (Master of Humanities)
Wittgenstein, Derrida, and the Indeterminacy of Language
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Mark Tanzer
ABSTRACT
This thesis explores the similarities between Ludwig Wittgenstein and
Jacques Denida in regard to their arguments against the notion that language
articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents, concepts, or
signifieds. First, Wittgenstein and Derrida both focus their arguments against a
similar notion of language. Secondly, Wittgenstein and Derrida both undermine five
particular assumptions that support this disputed notion of language. Finally, both
lines of argument hinge on the idea that the fundamental indeterminacy of language
precludes the possibility that language could be used to articulate determinate units
of conceptual content. Although Wittgenstein and Derrida support their conclusions
in different ways, they both defend their views by demonstrating that language is
fundamentally indeterminate.
ui


This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Signed
IV


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my wife, Susan, for her unfaltering understanding and
support while I was writing it.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I would like to thank my thesis committee Mark Tanzer, Mitchell Aboulafia, and
Myra Bookman for their kind patience during the course of this project. In
particular, I would like to thank my director, Professor Tanzer, for his keen insight
and unflagging devotion over the last nine months. I also wish to thank the staff of
the Graduate School for their support and understanding.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION....................................1
2. WITTGENSTEIN AGAINST THE 1* AND 2nd
ASSUMPTIONS....................................12
1* Assumption................................12
2nd Assumption...............................22
3. SAUSSURES THEORY OF STRUCTURAL
LINGUISTICS....................................28
4. DERRIDA AGAINST THE 1st AND 2nd ASSUMPTIONS....45
1st Assumption...............................45
2nd Assumption...............................52
5. WITTGENSTEIN AGAINST THE 3rd, 4, AND 5th
ASSUMPTIONS....................................61
3rd Assumption...............................63
4th Assumption...............................70
5th Assumption...............................76
6. DERRIDA AGAINST THE 3rd, 4, AND 5th
ASSUMPTIONS................................... 85
3rd Assumption...............................85
4th Assumption...............................96
vii


5th Assumption...........................102
7. CONCLUSIONS................................Ill
BIBLIOGRAPHY........................................129
viii


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Both Jacques Derrida and Ludwig Wittgenstein argue against a
certain conception of language. They both argue against the notion that language
articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents, concepts, or
signifieds. This contested conception of language does not necessarily imply a
correspondence between words and physical objects, but a correspondence between
words and determinate referents of some sort. In other words, language shows us
where one predefined concept ends, and where the next determinate concept begins.
The concepts or signifieds that language articulates are assumed to be fully self-
contained and determinate, or completely independent of any form of linguistic or
social mediation. This disputed conception presupposes that there is a proper way of
categorizing or classifying distinct types of referents, and that language is designed
to articulate such a proper classification. To do so, each proper word or signifier
must articulate one determinate type of thing. Words or signifiers should never
overlap in their conceptual reference, and the same word should never articulate
more than one determinate meaning. Both Wittgenstein and Derrida disagree with
this notion that meaningful language must articulate predefined units of conceptual
content. They both claim that language is fundamentally indeterminate, and this
1


basic indeterminacy precludes the possibility that words or signifiers can be used to
articulate determinate referents, concepts, or signifieds.
Wittgenstein and Derrida parallel each other in their disagreement with this
particular conception of language, and so they both attempt to undermine the
tenability of such a conception. Although both thinkers agree that words or
signifiers do not articulate determinate concepts, or distinct signifieds, Wittgenstein
did once subscribe to such a view before later abandoning it. He came to realize that
language could not be accurately described by appealing to such a model of
correspondence between words and their determinate referents. Wittgenstein never
retracts his basic belief that language does refer to the world, but he does later deny
that such reference involves a logical correspondence between words or signifiers
and distinct concepts, or signifieds. Derrida, on the other hand, is often attacked for
his supposed belief that language does not refer to the world at all. Against such
attacks, I will argue that Wittgenstein and Derrida agree that language does refer to
the world. However, this reference of language to the world can not be accurately
described in terms of a determinate or logical correspondence between words or
signifiers and their objective or conceptual correlates.
Although the connections between Wittgenstein and Denida are not often
considered, I believe that there are at least two striking similarities between these
two thinkers. They are connected with each other in the sense that both argue
against a certain conception of language, and also, both critique this conception of
2


language in a similar way. Both thinkers focus their arguments against the same five
crucial assumptions, which underlie or support the basic conception that the proper
meaning of a word or signifier corresponds with the determinate referent for which it
stands. Although the arguments employed by Wittgenstein and Derrida do differ in
some ways, both thinkers still attack the same five underlying assumptions. Also,
they both demonstrate that the possibility of a correspondence between words or
signifiers and their determinate referents is necessarily undermined once these five
assumptions have been successfully challenged.
The five crucial assumptions that both Wittgenstein and Derrida challenge
are as follows:
1) An unchanging foundation grounds or stabilizes the proper or determinate
signifieds that should be articulated by words or signifiers.
2) There is a natural or non-arbitrary connection between each word or
signifier and the proper or determinate signified that each word or
signifier articulates.
3) Each human subject inherently possesses a private, self-enclosed,
autonomous consciousness.
4) Each human subject has the ability to engage in inner mental processes,
and this ability allows the subject to grasp the proper or determinate
signified that corresponds with each word or signifier.


5) There is a firm ontological and epistemological division between an inner
subject and an outer objective world or reality.
In order to explain the way in which these five assumptions are inextricably
linked, and how they support the conception of language that Wittgenstein and
Denida contest, it is necessary to examine each assumption in more detail The first
assumption, that a permanent foundation grounds or stabilizes signifieds, is the
condition for the possibility of a consistent correspondence between words or
signifiers and their proper meanings. It is assumed that any language is founded
upon its inherent potential to articulate the logos of the world, or the logical,
rational order of the world. The logical or rational order of the world is believed to
be the foundation that stabilizes the proper meanings that should be articulated by
words or signifiers. If words or signifiers do have determinate meanings, then
language must refer to a foundation that determines the amount of conceptual
content that should correspond with each unique word or signifies It is assumed that
the logical or rational order of the world provides a perfect formula for determining
the proper way in which language ought to function. In order to be meaningful, the
logic of language must correspond with the inherent logic of the world.
The second assumption, that there is a natural or non-arbitrary connection
between each word or signifier and its proper or determinate signified, is closely
related to the first assumption. The connection between each word and its associated
meaning, or the proper scope of conceptual content that is taken up by a word, is
4


assumed to be natural in the sense that the connection is not merely arbitrary. This
belief in a natural or non-arbitrary connection between each word and its proper
meaning supports the assumption that language is naturally designed to point to a
predefined articulation of conceptual content. A non-arbitrary connection between
each word and each determinate meaning grounds the possibility that language can
be perfectly coherent and unambiguous, at least in principle. A foundation of
language is required to ground the possibility of a perfect correspondence between
each word or signifier and its proper or determinate meaning. This view assumes
that language is fundamentally logical and rational, or that it is naturally ordered in a
coherent maimer. This inherent logical coherence of language is assumed in order to
explain the possibility that language can clearly refer to the logical order of the
world. If language naturally possesses a logical coherence, then each word or
signifier at least has the potential to point to a single determinate signified. Such a
perfectly coherent language would not be ambiguous because more than one word
should never refer to the same meaning.
Also, in such a perfectly coherent language, the scope of each word or
signifier should never encompass more than one determinate meaning. A natural or
non-arbitrary connection between each word or signifier and its proper meaning
precludes the possibility that a single signifier can properly articulate more than one
meaning. Such a perfectly logical language that determines the appropriate
connections between each word or signifier and each determinate meaning seems to
5


ground the possibility that language can refer to the world in an unambiguous
manner. Each word or signifier ought to be connected to only a single determinate
referent if language is to fulfill its full potential for logical coherence. It is important
to note that this second assumption only implies that such a perfectly logical or
coherent language is, in principle, possible. This assumption does not imply that
every language is in fact unambiguous, but only that language itself has an inherent
logic that grounds the possibility that it can articulate the logical order of the world.
The third assumption is that each human subject inherently possesses a
private, self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. The private consciousness that is
assumed to exist within each human subject has the ability to properly recognize the
non-arbitrary correspondence that exists between each word or signifier and its
proper or determinate meaning. It is possible, at least in principle, for any rational
being to fully grasp the logical coherence that is naturally inherent within any
language. It is assumed that each human subject is self-enclosed, because the
process by which a person understands the meaning of a word is apparently
inaccessible to other people. It is assumed that one human subject cannot get into
another persons mind in an effort to actually experience the thoughts of that other
person. Each person is capable of grasping the same determinate meaning for each
word or signifier. However, this process of grasping determinate meanings occurs
within the self-enclosed consciousness of each distinct person.
6


The fourth assumption is closely related to the third, for it implies that
understanding and meaning are actually inner mental processes, which occur
within the private, self-enclosed consciousness of each distinct person. It is assumed
that understanding and meaning are inner mental processes that accompany the
proper use of language. Under this assumption, true understanding involves an
explicit grasp of the determinate meaning articulated by each word or signifier. In
order for a person to mean what he/she says, an inner mental process of pointing at a
determinate meaning must precede or coincide with actual communication. A
person who uses words without understanding their meaning does not properly
execute this preceding or coincident mental process. This assumption of the
existence of inner mental processes of understanding and meaning is believed to
ground the possibility that human beings can communicate with each other regarding
the proper meanings of words or signifiers.
The fifth assumption, winch is closely related to the third and fourth
assumptions, is that there is a firm ontological and epistemological division between
each inner subject and the outer objective world or reality. A firm ontological
division between subjects and objects implies that subjects and objects are
fundamentally different types of things. This division creates the epistemological
problem of how a human subject is able to gain knowledge of objects that are not
itself or objects that are distinctly separate from itself The assumption of a private,
self-enclosed consciousness within each subject, in which inner mental processes
7


occur, implies that each human consciousness is distinctly separate from the outside
world. It is important to note that these problems only arise if one accepts the idea
that there is a firm distinction between an inner subject and an outer world or reality.
If Wittgenstein and Derrida can successfully undermine these five
assumptions, then they can also challenge the notion that language articulates a
predefined categorization of determinate referents. Their purpose is not only to
refute a theory of correspondence between words and their determinate referents, but
also to expose some of the hidden assumptions that are closely related to such a
theory. The first two assumptions directly support a correspondence theory, but the
last three assumptions are often accepted despite the untenability of such a theory. If
Wittgenstein and Derrida are successful in their refutation of these assumptions, then
they must offer an alternative description for the way in which language can be used
to refer to the world. Such a description must include an examination of what each
thinker means by the terms language, world, and reference. I will argue that
both Wittgenstein and Derrida do believe that language does, in some sense, refer to
the world. However, they both believe that the way in which language refers to the
world cannot be properly described by assuming that there is only one paradigm
model by which to depict such reference.
The paradigm model against which Wittgenstein and Denida argue is the
belief that each word or signifier functions primarily as a name, and that each proper
name of language articulates the determinate referent for which it stands. This
8


model privileges the meaning of a word over the word itself for a word or signifier
is thought to simply articulate the determinate meaning for which it stands.
Wittgenstein and Derrida focus their arguments especially against this model of the
reference of language to the world because it is deeply rooted within the tradition of
Western philosophy. However, it is important to note that both thinkers would argue
against the possibility of describing the reference of language to the world by
appealing to any determinate formula or paradigm model. They both argue that the
fundamental indeterminacy of language precludes the possibility of reducing all
instances of reference to a single paradigm model, or to any determinate set of
models.
The thesis I will defend is that Wittgenstein and Derrida both focus their
arguments against the notion that language articulates a predefined categorization of
determinate referents. Moreover, they both contest this particular conception of
language in an analogous manner, for they both critique the same five crucial
assumptions that support this disputed conception of language. Both thinkers claim
that words or signifiers could not possibly articulate determinate units of conceptual
content, even in principle. They argue that language is necessarily indeterminate.
Therefore, the notion of a correspondence between words or signifiers and their
proper or determinate meanings is incompatible with this fundamental indeterminacy
of language. It is not the case that every language has the potential to become
perfectly coherent, for perfect coherence implies perfect determinacy, and every
9


language is fundamentally indeterminate. This indeterminacy of language is not a
lack or an inadequacy that can be remedied by constructing a perfect language. Such
a perfectly coherent language is necessarily inconceivable, because a folly
determinate language would not even qualify as a language. Any attempt to
eradicate the fundamental indeterminacy of language is equivalent to an attempt to
transform language into something that it cannot be.
My argument in support of this thesis is structured in the following maimer.
Chapter two focuses on Wittgensteins arguments against the first and second
assumptions that support the notion that language articulates a predefined
categorization of determinate referents. The first two assumptions are discussed
together because they both relate to the way in which language ought to function.
Chapter three provides necessary background for a proper understanding of
Derridas arguments against these first two assumptions. This background consists
of an examination of Ferdinand de Saussures theory of structural linguistics.
Chapter four presents Derridas arguments against the first two assumptions.
Chapter five describes Wittgensteins arguments against the third, fourth, and fifth
assumptions. These last three assumptions are discussed together because all of
them relate to the belief that each autonomous consciousness is capable of
understanding the logical or rational order of the world by grasping the proper
meanings of words or signifiers. Chapter six describes Derridas arguments against
these last three assumptions. Chapter seven evaluates the overall effectiveness of the
10


arguments presented by Wittgenstein and by Derrida. This final chapter also
examines the similarities and the differences between the two lines of argument.
11


CHAPTER 2
WITTGENSTEIN AGAINST THE
1st AND 2nd assumptions
1st Assumption
The first assumption is that language requires an unchanging foundation that
grounds or stabilizes the proper or determinate signifieds that should be articulated
by words or signifiers. Wittgenstein argues that a careful examination of the use of
ordinary language reveals that language has no permanent foundation. Moreover,
language is complete and useful as it is, without a metaphysical foundation that
stabilizes the proper meanings that language is meant to articulate. G. P. Baker
(1980) and P. M. S. Hacker note that Language, far from resting on metaphysical
foundations, is autonomous and self-contained (p. 203). Language does not need a
foundation, for it is an independent, self-governing phenomenon. Philosophers
commonly assume that language requires a foundation that fixes the way in which
language properly imparts or communicates meaning. Wittgenstein argues that
words or signifiers do not have proper or determinate meanings. Therefore, there is
no determinate formula or set of criteria by which to judge whether or not language
communicates meaning properly.
12


Wittgenstein contends that philosophy cannot impose restrictions upon
language that limit the ways in which language can be used properly. Since
language is a fully independent, self-contained phenomenon, philosophy can do
nothing more than describe language as it ordinarily appears within everyday
experience. Any attempt to restrict or limit language by insisting on a single,
determinate way in which language ought to function is equivalent to a refusal to
describe the way in which language is ordinarily used. If language is naturally
complete, and unnatural restrictions are applied to it, then such restrictions only alter
language by forcing it into an unnatural theoretical framework. Wittgenstein
(1958b) argues, Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of
language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundation
either. It leaves everything as it is (note 124). Wittgenstein believes that the proper
task of philosophy is to describe the multifarious uses of ordinary language, but such
a description is not as simple and straightforward as it might seem at first. There are
many pitfalls within language that can lead to a great deal of conceptual confusion.
Therefore, this confusion can only be resolved by carefully examining the way in
which language is ordinarily used.
In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein argues against the
Augustinian conception of language. St. Augustines conception of language is a
good example of the view that language functions correctly in a single, proper
manner. Wittgenstein (1958b) describes the Augustinian picture of language in this
13


way: the individual words in language name objects sentences are combinations
of such names.... Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the
word. It is the object for which the word stands (note 1). Wittgenstein argues that
words do not primarily function as names or as labels for the signifieds to which they
refer. There are rare cases in which a word can be used to point to a specific object,
but this is mainly a way of differentiating one object from another. For example, I
might explain to a young child that this object here is a table, but that object over
there is a chair. However, this use of language to point to a specific object
presupposes that the child already understands language well enough to ask for such
an explanation or to express confusion about the difference between tables and
chairs. Wittgenstein argues that using language in an ostensive way presupposes the
existence of a specific social and cultural context in which language occurs. Since
ostensive definition is a derivative rather than a primary mode of using language,
ostensive definition cannot provide a foundation for language.
In order to explain the claim that ostensive definition presupposes a
background social or cultural context, it is necessary to introduce Wittgensteins
notion oflanguage-games. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains that the term
language-game is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of
language is part of an activity, or of a form of life (note 23). Wittgenstein appeals
to an analogy between language and a game, because he hopes to eradicate the
assumption that the meaning of language can be accessed apart from the background
14


social and cultural context in which language occurs. He argues that the original or
primordial factor that constitutes the meaning of language is the form of life into
which a person is bom. A child leams language by playing the various language-
games within his/her culture or society. As a child plays various language-games,
that child leams to think in certain ways, or to conceptualize the world in certain
ways, hi this manner, language constitutes reality in a sense, because the activity of
language creates the conceptual frameworks through which human beings learn to
think about reality, or about the world. However, such language-games always
presuppose a common form of life, or a common background or cultural context in
which language occurs.
One example of a language-game or a set of language-games is mathematics.
Wittgenstein asks us to recall the way in which we teach our children to play this
particular language-game. Normally, a child leams arithmetic by doing arithmetic,
and the ability to do arithmetic does not presuppose a comprehensive understanding
of all of the rules and definitions associated with arithmetic. Wittgenstein (1967)
asks, Does a child learn to talk, or also to think? Does it learn the sense of
multiplication before or after it leams multiplication? (note 324). The child is not
taught a meaning or definition of arithmetic that is separate from the language-game
itself In fact, children normally learn arithmetic long before they understand the
sense or logic of arithmetic. They do not have an explicit understanding of all of the
rules of arithmetic operation before they are able to use such operations. In fact, the
15


very idea of a determinate set of rules for mathematics is challenged by the fact that
the field of mathematics is constantly changing and growing. The discovery of
irrational numbers is one example of an unexpected change in this field.
Just as a child does not learn operations such as addition and subtraction by
understanding the logical proofs for the possibility of employing such operations, a
child does not learn a language by explicitly comprehending a set of rules that is
implicit within language. Also, a child does not learn a language by associating each
word with a specific definition as a person might learn a foreign language. Rather, a
child learns language by playing the language-games into which he or she is bom.
The sense or meaning of the words within each language-game is learned by playing
each type of game.
Wittgenstein argues that there is not a determinate, predefined articulation of
possible language-games, because language-games develop contingently within the
context of the specific form of life into which a person is bom. G. P. Baker (1980)
and P. M. S. Hacker explain:
A wide range of discriminatory abilities, recognitional reactions,
imitative propensities, and behavioural patterns are part of the natural
history of mankind. Were these different in certain imaginable ways
we would have a radically different language, or none at alL
Philosophers often forget that a language is part of the history of a
form of life. (pp. 71-2)
The practices, activities, customs, and non-linguistic behaviors of a specific
culture or community all contribute to the language-games that are recognized within
16


that form of life. For example, many Americans keep dogs and cats as pets, so the
idea of using dogs and cats for food is reprehensible. However, there are other
cultures that do use dogs and cats for food, so this practice is acceptable within
certain forms of life. Such differences in practices or customs can lead to differences
in the language-games that are used within various forms of life. In most American
cultures, dogs and cats are treated as being almost human, for Americans often
attribute specific personalities and anthropomorphic intelligence to their pets. The
way in which Americans learn to think and to talk about dogs and cats is inextricably
linked to a specific form of life. Moreover, multiple variations can be discerned
even within the same culture. For example, a rabbit is an unusual pet, but for those
who keep rabbits as pets, the idea of eating rabbits is just as reprehensible as the idea
of eating cats and dogs. For a rabbit owner, rabbits may also seem to be unusually
intelligent.
The accepted practices and activities within a particular form of life
arbitrarily constitute the types of language-games that are used within that form of
life. Also, the language-games within a specific form of life continually alter the
practices and customs that are recognized within that form of life. A form of life is
not like a foundation of language, because the language-games that arise from a
specific form of life in turn after the practices and customs within that form of life.
For example, modem culture increasingly relies upon the Internet in order to
communicate via electronic mail The language-game of electronic mail in turn
17


alters the common practices of our culture. Perhaps we find ourselves leaving the
house less often, and we are no longer accustomed to face-to-face interactions. We
worry about our children using the Internet because it is not easy to verify the true
identities and intentions of chat room and electronic mail correspondents. Thus, this
new language-game has arisen arbitrarily as a result of new technology, but this
arbitrarily constituted language-game also affects our common practices and customs
in unexpected ways. Therefore, the indeterminacy of language arises from the
contingency inherent in various forms of life, but forms of life are also arbitrarily
constituted by the language-games that we play.
It is impossible to formulate or to explicate a determinate list of possible
forms of life, for forms of life develop contingently according to the practices and
customs of specific groups of people. However, even specific groups of people do
not necessarily share determinate sets of practices or customs in common. For
example only a limited number of people communicate via the Internet, and only a
limited number of people keep rabbits as pets. In fact, the very use of oral or written
language as a communicative tool is a contingent development that is attributable to
the customs and activities that many human beings share in common. In certain
contexts, non-linguistic behavior can be just as effective as oral or written
communication. Most animals do not even use language. For instance, when a
mountain lion growls and bares its teeth, most animals recognize this as a sign that a
swift departure is advisable. Human beings are simply bom into forms of life in
18


which language is used, so language usage is part of the natural history of human
beings.
Although various cultures do develop contingently, Wittgenstein does not
necessarily claim that the indeterminacy of language is directly attributable to
cultural relativism. Such a claim would be misleading, for it implies that cultural
relativism is the source or origin of the indeterminacy of language. This implication
is equivalent to the claim that cultural relativism is a foundation of language, and the
idea of an indeterminate, contingent foundation seems self-contradictory. Rather
than making such a self-contradictory claim, Wittgenstein suggests that language is
necessarily indeterminate, because any specific language-game or set of language-
games is based upon arbitrary agreement in definitions and judgments. Wittgenstein
(1958b) explains that If language is to be a means of communication there must be
agreement not only in definitions but also (queer as this may sound) in judgments
(note 242). Since each human being must simply accept his/her form of life, each
individual must accept the definitions and judgments that are part of that form of life.
The practices or customs of a specific culture or community develop contingently
because no person or force is in a position to direct the course of cultural
development.
Also, it is not the case that any language-game or set of possible language-
games inherently possesses a comprehensive set of rules that encompass every
possible contingency. Moreover, the fact that the rules of each language-game do
19


not cover every possible situation does not imply that language is necessarily
ineffective. Wittgenstein (1958b) asks If I tell someone Stand roughly here may
not this explanation work perfectly? And cannot every other one fail too? (note 88).
This is one example of a judgment that is simply accepted as part of the form of life
into which a person is bom. If the instruction stand roughly here is accepted
within a specific form of life, then such an instruction is generally considered to be
exact and useful within that form of life. However, even if such an instruction does
have a place within a specific language-game, it is still possible that a person might
not follow the instruction correctly. Moreover, it is not possible to formulate any
form of instruction that guarantees proper understanding. Nonetheless, the inability
of a particular individual to properly comply with a specific instruction does not
necessarily imply that the instruction is useless. The terms exact, inexact,
useful, and useless, only have meanings within the context of the specific
language-games in which these terms are used. Wittgenstein recognizes that a
specific language is a product of a specific society or culture in which certain ideas
or concepts are emphasized over others, and a certain meaning may be useful in one
society or culture but not in another. The sigmfieds that are articulated by a specific
language vary according to what is accentuated and what is excluded by that culture.
Wittgenstein (1958b) explains that:
There are countless kinds: countless different kinds of use of what we
call symbols, words, sentences. And this multiplicity is not
something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new
20


language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others
become obsolete and get forgotten, (note 23)
Wittgenstein argues that the number of ways in which language can be
effectively used is indeterminate. Therefore, it does not make sense to claim that a
foundation must stabilize the proper or determinate meanings that should be
articulated by words or signifiers. Since words or signifiers are undetermined or
indeterminate, it does not make sense to claim that language requires a foundation to
ground or stabilize its proper or determinate meanings. Also, it is not even
conceivable that words or signifiers could be fully determinate, because language
develops contingently as part of the background social or cultural context in which it
arises. The background social or cultural context is also contingent because no force
or individual is able to control the arbitrary historical changes that constitute various
forms of life. The meaning of language is inextricably linked to its use, and any
attempt to examine language independently of its specific use and context is not an
examination of something that can properly be called a language. Since words or
signifiers can not possibly articulate determinate units of conceptual content, it is not
necessary to posit a foundation that grounds the possibility of a correspondence
between each word or signifier and its proper or determinate meaning. Since a
foundation is only required in order to support the possibility of such a
correspondence, the assumption that language requires a permanent foundation is
unwarranted.
21


2nd Assumption
The second assumption is that there is a natural or non-arbitrary connection
between each word or signifier and the proper or determinate signified that each
word or signifier articulates. This is closely related to the first assumption, for a
foundation of language is the predefined categorization of determinate referents that
ought to be articulated by words or signifiers. Wittgenstein (1958a) pleads Lets
not imagine the meaning as an occult connection the mind makes between a word
and a thing, and that this connection contains the whole usage of a word as the seed
might he said to contain a tree (pp. 73-4). The seed to which Wittgenstein refers
seems to contain the proper or determinate definition of a tree, for the seed of a tree
has a predetermined potential to fully actualize itself by becoming a particular type
of tree. The seed points to a trajectory by which the seed can properly actualize its
full potential In a similar manner, it is assumed that each word or signifier non-
arbitrarily corresponds with a proper or determinate meaning. Each word or signifier
can fully actualize its potential by articulating a single, proper, determinate meaning
that is not associated with any other word or signifier.
The second assumption is equivalent to the claim that each word or signifier
only has a single proper meaning, or a single proper range of uses. The proper
meaning of each word is defined by its unique connection to a specific, determinate
22


referent. Wittgenstein argues that the possible uses of words or signifiers are
multifarious and unlimited, so the possible signifieds that can be articulated by words
or signifiers are also unlimited. A single word can be used in a number of different
ways depending on the context in which the word is used. There are not a
predetermined number of ways in which a certain word can be used. Since the
meaning of a word is inextricably linked to its use within a specific social or cultural
context, the meaning of a word is as indeterminate as the unlimited variations that
exist, and can potentially exist, within various societies and cultures.
Since the elements of language (Le. words, sentences, etc.) do not point to
eternal, ahistorical meanings, Wittgenstein argues that meaning can only be
investigated by describing the various ways in which language is actually used. The
actual uses of language do not define the limits of the ways in which language can be
used, but only provide examples of the ways in which language is, in feet, used. He
draws an analogy between the elements of language and tools or instruments that can
be used in an unlimited number of ways. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains, Language
is an instrument. Its concepts are instruments (note 569). There is not a single,
determinate meaning that is linked to each word or signifier, for words or signifiers
can be used in a limitless number of ways. Therefore, the meaning of a word can
only be properly investigated within the specific context in which it occurs. One
must play the language-game in which the word occurs. Language-games vary
23


greatly, and so the meaning of a word, or the conceptual content taken up by a word,
also varies according to the specific language-game that is being played.
One of the reasons that Wittgenstein argues so vehemently against the
assumption that there is a non-arbhrary connection between words or signifiers and
their determinate referents is because this is exactly the type of assumption to which
he subscribed in his early thinking. In his early work, the Tractatus-Logico
Philosophies, Wittgenstein asserts that certain simple, atomic propositions that
accurately picture the world can be combined in a perfectly coherent language in
order to form meaningful statements. This is referred to as Wittgensteins Picture
Theory of Meaning, because he assumes that a true proposition is one whose logical
form corresponds with a state of affairs in the world. Wittgenstein believes that
inconsistency and a lack of rigor plague language, and he wishes to impose a logical
structure on to language so that h will be possible to clearly differentiate between
true and false propositions. This is the type of thinking that Derrida refers to as
logocentrism, because it assumes that meaningful language is essentially logical.
Logocentric thinking assumes that it is possible to disambiguate language by
ensuring that each word or signifier clearly points to a single referent or meaning.
According to Wittgensteins early view, true propositions are ones that
accurately depict how things stand in the world, and false propositions are ones that
do not provide such an accurate description. A. M. Quinton (Pitcher, ed., 1966)
encapsulates this early view by stating:
24


That there must be such simple, unanalyzable propositions if any
propositions are to have a definite sense and not merely stand in
internal logical relations to one another, is the cardinal axiom of
Wittgensteins philosophy, (p. 4)
In his early thinking, Wittgenstein insists that there must be such simple
propositions, because he thinks that he must ground the possibility of a perfect
correspondence between the elements of language and their determinate referents.
Otherwise, it seems that language could not possibly refer to the world in a
meaningful way. It is important to note that Wittgenstein was never able to give an
example of a simple proposition or a simple object, and this is one of the reasons that
he revises his later thought on the reference of language to the world. He never
contradicts his basic assertion that language does refer to the world. However, he
does later recognize that the reference of language to the world is not founded upon a
simple correspondence between words or signifiers and their determinate referents.
Wittgenstein denies that the elements of language all share one thing in
common that prompts us to use the term language to characterize the elements of
any and every language. Also, a word or signifier of a particular language does not
have the same determinate meaning in every context in which that word is used.
Wittgenstein (1958b) explains, 1 am saying that these phenomena have no one thing
in common which makes us use the same word for all, but that they are related to
one another in many different ways (note 65). He recognizes that multiple
instances of a particular word such as game are not linked together by a common
25


characteristic or set of characteristics. Some games such as football or basketball
require certain physical skills, but other games require strategic or mental skills.
Some games, such as roulette, do not require skill as much as hick. Every game does
not include wanning and losing, for playing house is also a type of game. Also,
every game does not include competition between opponents, for there are games
such as solitaire. It is impossible to cite a determinate set of properties or
characteristics that all games have in common.
Wittgenstein (1958b) argues: 1 can think of no better expression to
characterize the similarities than family resemblances; for the various resemblances
between members of a family: build, features, color of eyes, gait, temperament...
(note 67). Family resemblance is not necessarily based upon a determinate feature or
set of features that is possessed by every member of a family. There is not a
common thread of resemblance that grounds the similarities between members of a
family. In fact, one or more members of a family can have strikingly different
features as compared with the other members of the family. In a similar manner,
there is not a common thread that connects all of the uses or applications of the same
word within a language. Since the same word within a particular language need not
be applied in the same way every time, it does not make sense to claim that a proper
or determinate meaning is non-arbitrarily connected to each word or signifier.
If each word or signifier can be used in a wide variety of ways even within
the same language, then it is contradictory to claim that each word or signifier
26


articulates a specific, determinate meaning. Wittgenstein argues that an examination
of the way in which language is ordinarily used contradicts the assumption that each
word or signifier articulates a proper or determinate meaning. The notion of a
perfect one-to-one correspondence between each word or signifier and its proper
meaning directly conflicts with the fundamental indeterminacy that is evident in
ordinary language. Wittgenstein does not believe that words or signifiers can
articulate certain predefined determinate meanings, because such a belief is not
supported by the way in which language actually functions. He suggests that there is
no such thing as a distinction between the way in which language, in fact, functions
and the way in which language ought to function. If the words or signifiers of
ordinary language do not in fact refer to determinate meanings, then it does not make
sense to assume that they ought to refer to determinate meanings. If words or
signifiers do not refer to proper or determinate meanings, then it does not make sense
to claim that language requires a foundation to ground or stabilize its proper or
determinate meanings.
27


CHAPTER 3
SAUSSURES THEORY OF
STRUCTURAL LINGUISTICS
As noted in the introduction, this chapter provides necessary background for
a proper examination of Derridas arguments against the first and second
assumptions that support the notion that words or signifiers articulate a predefined
categorization of determinate referents. This chapter explores Ferdinand de
Saussures theory of structural linguistics. It is not divided into sections that
specifically address the first two assumptions, because Derridas arguments against
these assumptions are discussed in the next chapter. Nevertheless, this discussion of
Saussure directly relates to Derridas arguments in the next chapter, for Derrida
expands upon some of the key insights that are presented in this chapter. Although
Saussure would not necessarily agree with all of Derrida's conclusions, Derrida
claims that his position can be derived from the implications that are inherent in
some of Saussures basic insights. Of course, Saussure was not the only influence on
Derrida, and Derridas conclusions are not all attributable to expansions of
Saussurean insights. Nevertheless, Derridas arguments are inextricably linked to
Saussures work.
28


Before examining Saussures theory in detail, it is first necessary to explain
some of the similarities and differences between Saussure and Derrida. Although
both Saussure and Derrida would agree that a predefined articulation of signifieds
does not act as a permanent foundation for language, Saussure does believe that all
languages do share certain universal or necessary features. Saussure believes that
every language must possess certain underlying structural features, while Derrida
thinks it is impossible to explicitly determine the features that every language must
possess. Saussure (1959) sets himself the goal of determining the forces that are
permanently and universally at work in all languages, and to deduce the general laws
to which all specific historical phenomena can be reduced... (p. 6). Derrida
objects to the idea of attempting to explicate certain universal or general laws to
which all languages must conform, for this idea implies that such laws are actually
antecedent to the various languages that they govern. The possibility that certain
general laws determine the features of any and every language implies that those
laws are independent of or outside of the contingent historical development of
language. So Derrida objects to the possibility of conceiving of an origin of
language that determines the proper ways in which language ought to function.
Derridas arguments against the possibility of locating such a determinate point of
origin for language are discussed in more detail in the next chapter.
These specific features of language, which Saussure deems to be universal or
necessary, are described within this chapter. They include the union of a concept
29


and sound-image in each linguistic sign, the arbitrary and differential character of
linguistic signs, and the fact that a particular language can be examined as a fixed
system of oppositions at a specific historical moment in time. This last point, that a
given language can be examined as a fixed system of oppositions, may seem unlikely
given the arbitrary historical changes to which various languages are continually
subjected. However, Saussure believes that it is possible to examine a particular
language as a closed or fixed system, because arbitrary historical changes progress
slowly enough so as to allow for such a rigorous examination.
Saussure refers to the study of such a fixed linguistic system as synchronic
linguistics, and this category of study must be distinguished from evolutionary or
diachronic linguistics, which studies the arbitrary historical changes that affect
various languages. Saussure (1959) explains: Synchronic linguistics will be
concerned with the logical and psychological relations that bind together coexisting
terms and form a system in the collective mind of speakers (pp. 99-100). However,
Derrida objects to the possibility of examining any particular language as a fixed
system of oppositional differences between linguistic signs. Derrida argues that the
continual play of language necessarily excludes the possibility that any language
can be a fixed system of oppositions even in a synchronic linguistic moment.
Derridas notion of play is discussed in more detail in the next chapter. For now,
play can be defined as the constant shifts between signifiers and signifieds within a
30


particular language. Derrida argues that signifiers are not detenninately connected to
certain signifieds even within a synchronic linguistic moment.
In one sense, Derrida does approve of Saussures model of linguistic
structuralism, because Saussure emphasizes the fact that language does not directly
refer to the world or reality. This impossibility of direct referentiality between
language and the world is described below. However, on the other hand, Derrida
objects to the temporal and spatial fixity that is implied by the idea of a linguistic
synchrony. Derrida denies that it is possible to actually fix a moment in time,
because each moment in time is not distinct or discrete. Each moment is necessarily
constituted by what has happened in the past and by what will come about in the
future. Also, a linguistic synchrony is not a fixed or closed system, because it is
impossible to fix the connections between signifiers and signifieds even within the
confines of a specific moment in time. Derridas objections to the possibility of a
linguistic synchrony are discussed in more detail at the end of this chapter, and also
in the next chapter.
Now, it is possible to examine Saussures theory in more detail. Ferdinand
de Saussure was one of the first thinkers to observe that language does not directly
refer to reality, for concepts or ideas mediate between language and reality. He
revolutionized linguistics by recognizing that concepts stand in between words or
signifiers and their ostensible referents. He argues that there is not a natural or non-
arbitrary connection between each word or signifier and each determinate referent or
31


signified. Saussure (1959) explains that, The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and
a name, but a concept and a sound-image (p. 66). He claims that language is not
isomorphic with the world, because words or signifiers do not articulate determinate
objects, but concepts. In other words, concepts intervene between words or
signifiers and their ostensive objective correlates in the world. Moreover, Saussure
emphasizes the psychological aspect of concepts, for a linguistic community elects to
signify certain aspects of the conceptual array, and not others. Different languages
set up the conceptual array in different ways, and the concepts that are part of the
array of a specific linguistic community do not necessarily correspond to the
concepts of another linguistic community. Also, the conceptual array of any specific
linguistic community does not necessarily correspond with the objective world.
This conceptual mediation between language and reality is evident both on
the manifest or surface layer of language, and also on the latent or hidden layer of
language. Saussures theory can be referred to as structural linguistics, because he
recognizes both a manifest and a latent layer within every language. On the manifest
layer of language, it is clearly evident that the orthography of a word does not
necessarily correspond with its pronunciation. Saussure (1959) notes that language
is constantly evolving, whereas writing tends to remain stable. The result is that a
point is reached where writing no longer corresponds to what it is supposed to
record (p. 27). He goes on to use the French word, roi, or king, as an example
32


of the progressive divergence that often develops between the spelling of a word and
its accepted pronunciation.
Saussure describes the progressive changes that the word roi has undergone
from the eleventh century to the nineteenth century. Although both the written and
pronounced forms of the word were rei during the eleventh century, the written
form had become roi, and the pronounced form had become rwa by the
nineteenth century. The French linguistic community was, in a sense, responsible for
this progressive change, hut a specific individual or group of individuals was not
responsible for it. Saussure emphasizes that linguistic changes such as this are really
arbitrary, because a specific group of individuals is unable to fully monitor or control
such changes. Such a progressive change produces a kind of gap between language
and reality, because the spelling of a word no longer provides a guideline for its
proper pronunciation.
Once the manifest or surface layer of language is penetrated, it is also evident
that a word or signifier does not have a natural or non-arbitrary connection to the
signified for which it stands. For example, there is no logical reason that the word
cow must he used to represent a bovine creature. It could just as easily he used to
represent a triangle or a door. The word cow could be used as a sign for any
concept, idea, or signified. This view, that words or signifiers articulate their
referents in an arbitrary fashion, is further supported by the fact that different words
are used to represent similar concepts in different languages. For example, as noted
33


above, the French word is roi but the English word is king. Neither roi nor
king has a natural or non-arbitrary connection to the concept of a royal sovereign,
for each word is chosen arbitrarily. However, the word king need not refer to a
royal sovereign, for it can also be used to refer to one of the four kings in a deck of
cards. This means that a word such as king does not have a clear reference outside
of the specific context and linguistic background in which it is used. If I simply say
or write the word king, it is not clear whether I am referring to a royal sovereign,
to one of four cards in a deck, or to something else.
Despite the fact that words are arbitrarily chosen to refer to certain concepts,
Saussure notes that the connections between words and their associated concepts are
tenacious once they are accepted within a specific linguistic community. Saussure
(1959) explains:
The word arbitrary also calls for comment. The term should not
imply that the choice of the signifier is left entirely to the speaker...
I mean that it is unmotivated, Le. arbitrary in that it actually has no
natural connection with the signified, (pp. 68-9)
Although words and concepts are chosen arbitrarily, this does not necessarily imply
that any member of a linguistic community can choose to begin using a new
language consisting of a brand new, autonomously constructed vocabulary. Such a
person would not actually be creating a language, because that person could not be
understood within his/her linguistic community. This refutes the belief that a person
can assign and understand meaning privately, or independently of a social or cultural
34


context. Saussure argues that ideas do not pre-exist language, but that language
constitutes concepts or ideas. However, the concepts or ideas that are chosen by a
specific linguistic community are also outside of that communitys control in a
strong sense. This is because no member or collection of members within a
linguistic community has the power to control the changes that language naturally
endures over the course of history.
Saussure (1959) explains that No individual, even if he willed it, could
modify in any way at all the choice that has been made; and what is more, the
community itself cannot control so much as a single word; it is bound to the existing
language (p. 71). This notion that a person is bound to his/her native language is
very similar to Wittgensteins notion of a specific form of life into which a person
is bom, which was discussed in the last chapter. In one sense, a linguistic
community chooses the conceptual array that will be articulated by the words or
signifiers of their language. The linguistic community chooses which signifiers will
be associated with which concepts or ideas. However, this choice is not attributable
to any particular community member or to any collection of members. Each member
of a linguistic community is really forced to accept his/her native linguistic system.
This system includes arbitrary connections between words or signifiers, and
associated concepts or signifieds, and each person must accept his/her overall
differential system as it has already been constituted.
35


In a strong sense, the differential system of language is not attributable to any
person or to any particular point of origin. This is because contingent historical
changes continually affect language, and such contingent changes ground the
necessary indeterminacy of language. There is no positive or proper meaning of any
word, or signifier, of language. A language is never absolutely permanent or static,
because it is constantly subjected to arbitrary historical changes. These changes
affect linguistic signifiers, signifieds, and the connections between the two. These
constant shifts in the underlying structure of language reveal the fact that language
also has a latent or hidden layer, in addition to its manifest or surface layer.
The latent or hidden layer of language suggests itself when one realizes that
the meaning that is associated with a specific word or signifier is actually dependent
upon an underlying structure of differences or oppositions between the terms of
language. This underlying differential structure is a fundamental or basic feature of
any language. It defines not only the relationship between the words or signifiers of
language, but also between the signifieds or concepts of language. Saussure (1959)
explains:
... in language there are only differences. Even more important: a
difference generally implies positive terms between which the
difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without
positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier,
language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the
linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that
have issued from the system (p. 120)
36


Saussure argues that words or signifiers do not have positive or determinate
meanings that are independent of the differential linguistic system to which those
words or signifiers belong. The relations between words or signifiers within a
specific differential linguistic system define the meanings of the terms within that
system. The meaning of each term is not fixed or determinate, because the
differential system shifts and changes over the course of time. Each specific word or
signifier does not have any proper or determinate content that necessarily belongs to
it, for its content is defined by the amount of conceptual content that is taken up by
other words within the overall linguistic system.
The conceptual content that is taken up by a specific word or signifier is not a
function of its positive or proper meaning, but a function of its relations to other
signs within the differential system. For example, the pronoun he only has a
meaning or sense in so far as it can be contrasted with other pronouns like she,
them, and it. The word he does not have any positive meaning outside of a
specific differential linguistic system. The amount of conceptual content that is
taken up by other pronouns, such as she and it, actually defines the conceptual
content that is taken up by the pronoun he. Also, Saussure argues that the
conceptual content taken up by specific words, or the accepted meaning of specific
words, often shifts and changes over time. For example, if a specific word is
dropped from a particular linguistic system, other closely related words often absorb
the conceptual content that had been associated with the ancillary term. Such
37


arbitrary changes cause contingent shifts in the conceptual content taken up by words
or signifiers. This precludes the possibility of maintaining a stable, determinate
connection between each word or signifier and each concept or signified.
Saussures claim that words or signifiers do not have any positive meaning in
and of themselves is significant for the structuralist movement as a whole. The
proponents of structuralism claim that natural science is incapable of accurately
describing social and cultural phenomena. Natural science studies nature assuming
that the world consists of a collection of discrete units, or positivities. These discrete
units are believed to have positive, determinate content that is independent of the
overall system of relations in the natural world. Structuralists assert that society and
culture cannot be understood in an atomistic, positivistic way, because a society does
not simply consist of a collection of discrete individuals. The whole of society is
more than the sum of its parts, or a social system is not equivalent to the sum of its
individual members. The relations between members of a social system are often
more important than the members themselves, considered individually. For
structuralists, the system is primary, and things are what they are only by virtue of
the system Saussure breaks with the positivistic model of the natural sciences,
because he does not view language as a collection of words and sounds that have
meaning in and of themselves. Language is a system of differential signs, and each
sign within the system only has a meaning by virtue of its opposition to other signs
within the system
38


These differences that are part of any linguistic system include differences
between letters, phonemes or sounds, words or signifiers, and also concepts or
signifieds. Each letter of an alphabet is not necessarily configured in a way that
clearly indicates proper pronunciation. For example, there is no logical reason that
the letter t could not be used to represent a different sound altogether. Saussure
(1959) argues that The signs used in writing are arbitrary; there is no connection,
for example, between the letter t and the sound that it designates (p. 119). It is only
necessary that each letter of an alphabet is different from every other letter within
that alphabet. Saussure (1959) explains that The value of letters is purely negative
and differential (p. 119). For example, the manner in which different people write
the letter t varies widely, but there is only confusion when the letter t is
indistinguishable from other letters such as 1 or h. A letter must be exact only to
the extent that it must be distinguishable from other letters of the alphabet.
Similarly, the sounds or phonemes of a particular language need only be
distinguishable from one another. Phonemes are the distinct sounds of language that
are deemed to be meaningful. There are about two hundred possible phones that
can be vocalized by a human being, but only about forty-five phones are actually
used in English. Robert E. Owens, Jr. (1996) notes that English has approximately
fort-five phonemes, give or take a few for dialectal variations... (p. 21). In
English, it is necessary to recognize the phonational differences between words such
as cat, bat, and 39


ability to recognize the difference between such sounds. In fact, it is significant that
a foreign speaker of a new language must often ask a native speaker to speak more
slowly. Such a foreign speaker often has trouble understanding the differences or the
breaks between words if the new language is spoken too quickly. This is further
evidence of the fact that an underlying differential structure within language is what
permits the possibility of linguistic communication.
The necessity of differences between terms in a linguistic system is also
evident in the connections between words or signifiers, and their associated
meanings. A word such as boat must not only be differentiated from similar
sounding words such as rote, and vote, but it must also be differentiated from
conceptually similar words such as ship, and canoe. The fret that the terms
boat, ship, and canoe are all used within the same language implies that the
conceptual content articulated by each term is distinct. However, this is not
necessarily the case. A canoe could also be called a boat so it seems that the
conceptual content taken up by the term canoe at least partially overlaps the
conceptual content encompassed by the term boat.
However, the word canoe can be used rather than the word boat in order
to be as specific as possible when referring to a canoe. The terms boat, and ship,
are also closely related, although the word ship evokes the idea of a very large
boat. Thus, the conceptual content that is taken up by each one of these terms is
defined by the conceptual content that is taken up by other closely related terms.
40


Each term does not have a positive value that is independent of the overall linguistic
system, because the meaning of each term is inextricably linked to its difference
from other, absent terms within the linguistic system. Therefore, the value of each
linguistic term is really negative, because each term only has a meaning insofar as it
can he differentiated from other terms within the overall system.
Linguistic terms do not have value in and of themselves, or they do not have
any value that is independent of the specific differential linguistic system to which
they belong. This is because the signified that is associated with a specific word or
signifier is assigned arbitrarily, and such an association is tenacious but not static
once it is in place. Also, the conceptual array to which a specific linguistic system
refers is constituted arbitrarily. The delimitation of a certain amount of conceptual
content for a particular word or signifier is an arbitrary function of the conceptual
differences that exist between the terms of a specific differential linguistic system.
There are not any natural or non-arbitrary connections between words or signifiers
and concepts or signifieds. Since both signifiers and signifieds are fundamentally
arbitrary and differential, it does not make sense to speak of the proper or
determinate content of a specific word or signifier.
The assertion that any differential, linguistic term is fundamentally arbitrary
is equivalent to the assertion that any linguistic term has no proper content, or that it
is necessarily indeterminate. A differential linguistic term is not only indeterminate
in the sense of having an inadequacy that can be corrected or supplemented, it is
41


necessarily indeterminate. This is because there is no such thing as the positive or
proper meaning of a differential linguistic term. By definition, a differential
linguistic term has no proper or determinate content, because its conceptual content
is assigned arbitrarily as a function of its place in an overall differential linguistic
system. This point is further discussed in the next chapter, for it provides a starting
point for Derridas arguments against the second assumption.
Although Saussure admits that both signifiers and signifieds are
fundamentally arbitrary and differential, he still believes it is possible to study the
existing connections between signifiers and signifieds, or to study the linguistic signs
that are part of a particular language. Saussure (1959) claims that Although both
the signified and the signifier are purely differential and negative when considered
separately, their combination is a positive fact; it is even the sole type of facts that
language has... (pp. 120-1). Although language undergoes a number of arbitrary
changes over time, Saussure believes it is possible to isolate a specific linguistic
moment in order to study the underlying differential structure of a particular
language. He believes that such a rigorous examination can yield an accurate
description of the mapping of concepts or signifieds on to the specific range of words
or signifiers that are part of a particular linguistic system. Although Saussure does
argue that the connections between signifiers and their associated meanings are
arbitrary, he also explains that these connections are tenacious once they are in place
within a specific linguistic community. He believes it is possible to study relatively
42


static linguistic moments, because the arbitrary changes of time occur slowly enough
so as to allow for the possibility of studying such moments.
Saussure argues that it is possible to rigorously study linguistics in the form
of two distinct disciplines. Saussure (1959) explains that synchrony and diachrony
designate respectively a language-state and evolutionary changes (p. 81). Thus,
Saussure believes that synchronic linguistics, or the discipline that studies language-
states, is clearly distinct from diachronic linguistics, or the discipline that studies
the arbitrary changes that afreet language over time. As noted above, Saussure
assumes that historical changes alter language so slowly that it is possible to isolate
synchronic linguistic moments in an effort to examine the underlying differential
structure of particular languages. This is one of the points on which Saussure and
Derrida disagree. Denida denies that it is possible to isolate even a synchronic
linguistic moment when the connections between words or signifiers and concepts or
signifieds are even relatively stable. He suggests that there is a continual fluidity
between signifiers and signifieds even within a synchronic linguistic moment. This
disagreement represents a fundamental difference between structuralist and post-
structuralist thought. While structuralists believe it is possible to access a fixed
differential structure underlying a synchronic linguistic moment, post-structuralists
argue that there is not a firm connection between signifiers and signifieds even in the
supposedly fixed system of a linguistic synchrony. Derridas argument in support of
43


this continual fluidity between signifiers and signifieds is discussed in the next
chapter.
44


CHAPTER 4
DERRIDA AGAINST THE
1st AND 2nd assumptions
1st Assumption
The first assumption is that language requires an unchanging foundation that
grounds or stabilizes the proper or determinate signifieds that should be articulated
by words or signifiers. In the last chapter, I discussed Saussures argument in
support of his claim that each arbitrary, differential linguistic term is negative rather
than positive in value. The meaning of each arbitrarily constituted term of language
is inextricably linked to its place within a larger system or framework of differences.
Since a word or signifier points to its associated meaning in an arbitrary fashion,
each word or signifier is not designed to point to a predefined amount of conceptual
content. There is not a natural or non-arbitrary connection between words or
signifiers and concepts or signifieds, because any signifier could be used to refer to
any signified or range of signifieds. Since each word or signifier is not essentially
related to a specific amount of determinate conceptual content, linguistic terms must
be fundamentally indeterminate, or they must not have any proper content. Since
linguistic terms are necessarily arbitrary and differential, or since they do not have
45


any proper content, it does not make sense to claim that language requires a
permanent foundation that grounds or fixes its proper meaning. Since the terms of
language do not have any proper meanings, it is not necessary to posit a permanent
foundation that grounds or stabilizes the proper meanings that should be articulated
by words or signifiers. The fact that words or signifiers are fundamentally
indeterminate directly conflicts with the belief that such a permanent foundation is
necessary.
Derrida agrees with Saussure that language is not a system of positivities, but
a system of differences. Each term of a linguistic system only has a meaning by
virtue of the fact that contrasting conceptual content is taken up by other, absent
terms within the linguistic system. Such a system does not require any foundation,
because no term within the system can possibly have a determinate, positive, self-
contained, conceptual reference, or a meaning that is independent of the overall
system of differences. A single differential linguistic term has no conceptual content
in and of itself because its conceptual content is a function of the conceptual content
that has already been assigned to other terms within the linguistic system In a
strong sense, the difference between a particular concept and other absent concepts is
more important than the individual concept itself. The differential system is more
important than the individual terms within the system, because meaning issues from
the system itself rather than issuing from the terms within the system
46


One of the ways in which Derrida critiques the traditional belief in a
foundation that grounds or fixes the proper meaning of language is by appealing to
his notion of a transcendental signified. Christopher Norris (1987) explains
Derridas criticism of the notion that books exist as self-enclosed systems of
meaning and reference, their signifiers all pointing back toward some transcendental
signified or source of authentic and unitary truth (p. 63). It is commonly assumed
that the author of a book has a firm, controlling grasp on the meaning of his/her
story, or the truth that he/she is attempting to communicate to the reader. In this
sense, the author of a story is thought to act as a transcendental signified, because the
author delimits the correct or authentic meaning of the story as a whole.
So, a transcendental signified is thought to stand outride of a system of
meaning, and to properly control or to fix that system of meaning. The desire to
discover a transcendental signified, that grounds or determines the meaning of
language, seems more pressing in the face of Saussures revelation. Saussure
emphasizes the fact that linguistic meaning is linked to the differential or negative
value of its terms, rather than being linked to their positive, or determinate value. If
the terms of language only have meaning by virtue of the underlying differential
structure within language, then the assumption that language has a proper or
authentic meaning is unwarranted. The search for a transcendental signified, or an
original source that authenticates the proper meaning of language, represents an
attempt to mitigate or to eradicate the fundamental indeterminacy of language.
47


The search for a transcendental signified is equivalent to the search for a
proper center or foundation of language that somehow limits or controls the shifts
between words or signifiers and their associated meanings. Since every word or
signifier is arbitrarily chosen, any particular word or signifier could refer to any
signified, or to any range of signifieds. It is traditionally assumed that a
transcendental signified would fix the proper connections between each word or
signifier and each concept or signified. Derrida (1978c) explains that The function
of this center was not only to orient, balance, and organize the structure... but
above all to make sure that the organizing principle of the structure would limit what
we might call the play of the structure (p. 278). By the word play, Derrida means
the shifts in the connections between signifiers and signifieds, and also the changes
in the scope of conceptual content that is associated with each word or signifier.
As noted in the last chapter, several words can overlap in their conceptual
reference. The words boat, ship, and canoe are examples of words that are
different, but which also at least partially overlap each other conceptually. It is
assumed that a transcendental signified would limit the play within language by
ensuring that each word or signifier has a clear, determinate conceptual reference.
Transcendental determination of the signification of each word or signifier is
assumed in order to fix or establish the proper conceptual content that ought to be
associated with each unique word or signifier. A transcendental signified would
stabilize or control any shifts in the connections between words or signifiers and
48


discrete concepts or signifieds. The presence of a transcendental signified precludes
the possibility that more than one signifier can properly articulate the same signified,
and also the possibility that a single signifier can properly encompass more than one
signified.
Denida argues against the possibility of discovering a transcendental
signified that stabilizes language, or an original, authentic source of meaning for
language, because the very notion of such a transcendental signified is self-
contradictory. A center or foundation can Only limit the play of language if it is fully
determinate. In other words, the meaning of a transcendental signified must not
depend on the arbitrary and differential system that it determines. A center or
foundation could not be indeterminate, for then it would not have any positive or
determinate content in and of itself If the center were structured indeterminately,
like the words or signifiers within a differential system, then its meaning would also
be dependent upon the differences between it and other terms within the system.
However, it is traditionally assumed that a center or foundation of language must be
permanent or unchanging, because it determines the proper meanings that should be
articulated by words or signifiers. A center or foundation would not serve its
purpose if it did not have positive or determinate content in and of itself
This introduces an odd paradox, because a fully determinate center or
foundation is supposed to determine a radically indeterminate linguistic system.
However, the center must not be arbitrary and differential, like the terms within a
49


linguistic system, because its determinate structure is fundamentally different from
the indeterminacy of such a system. If the terms within a linguistic system are
necessarily negative and differential, but a center or foundation is supposed to be
positive or fully determinate, then a radically indeterminate system could not be
stabilized or determined by such a center or foundation. This leads Derrida to
conclude that the center of a linguistic system would not really be the center of that
system, because such a center would be fundamentally different from the arbitrary
and differential structure of the system. Derrida (1978c) notes that The center is at
the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is
not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the
center (p. 279). Although a center is supposed to provide stability for a linguistic
system by fixing the proper or authentic meanings that should be articulated by that
system, the very notion of such a center is paradoxical. The very definition of such a
determinate center or foundation of language directly conflicts with the
indeterminacy of the arbitrary and differential system that it is supposed to stabilize
or control
It could be argued that the notion of a center of language and the notion of a
foundation of language are fundamentally different metaphors. The idea of a center
is equivalent to the notion of something that is internal to something else, while a
foundation would exist outside of or independently of something else. Therefore, it
may seem unimportant that a determinate foundation of language can not be
50


conceived as being internal to an indeterminate linguistic system. However, the key
point is that a radically indeterminate phenomenon, like an arbitrary and differential
linguistic system, could not be determined or stabilized by a folly determinate center
or foundation. Since a center or foundation could not be indeterminate, but it would
have to be indeterminate in order to relate to an indeterminate system, the idea of a
center or foundation has a lack or an inadequacy that is already built into it. A folly
determinate center or foundation could not possibly determine a radically
indeterminate phenomenon. Moreover, the very idea of determinacy can only be
conceived on the basis of its difference or opposition to foe concept of
indeterminacy. Therefore, foe very idea of determinacy is not folly positive or
determinate because the signified that it articulates is inextricably linked to at least
one other differential signified.
If foe terms of language are fundamentally indeterminate, and foe very notion
of a determinate foundation or center of language is paradoxical, then it does not
make sense to claim that language requires a permanent foundation to fix the proper
or authentic signifieds that it articulates. The meaning of language is directly linked
to its indeterminate, or arbitrary and differential terms. Therefore, there is no need to
attempt to discover another source of meaning for language. Also, since foe terms of
language are fundamentally arbitrary and differential, this precludes the possibility of
grounding or fixing foe play of such terms by appealing to foe notion of a
determinate center or foundation. A determinate center or foundation could not
51


stabilize or control the play of language, because such determinacy conflicts with the
fundamental indeterminacy of a differential system
2nd Assumption
The second assumption is that there is a natural or non-arbitrary connection
between each word or signifier and the proper or determinate signified that each
word or signifier articulates. In his argument against this second assumption,
Derrida emphasizes some of the implications that can be drawn from Saussures
basic insight that the terms of language are fundamentally arbitrary and differential
In his essay, Dijferance (1982b), Derrida begins by describing the characteristics
that are normally associated with the idea of a sign. Traditionally, a sign is assumed
to be a thing that stands for, or represents, an object or idea that is not immediately
present. Denida (1982b) explains: When we cannot grasp or show the thing, state
the present, the being-present, when the present cannot be presented, we signify, we
go through the detour of the sign (p. 9). The basic structure of any sign is to
represent, or to point to, a referent that is currently absent. It is traditionally assumed
that the absent referent, that is thus represented, does in fact have the ability to
present itself This is the traditional assumption that Derrida attacks. He argues that
a determinate referent can never present itself^ because a differential sign does not
articulate a proper or determinate signified.
52


Derrida claims that, by definition, a sign is necessarily secondary and
provisional Derrida (1982b) explains that:
... the substitution of the sign for the thing itself is both secondary
and provisional: secondary due to an original and lost presence from
which the sign thus derives; provisional as concerns this final and
missing presence toward which the sign in this sense is a movement
ofmediation. (p. 9)
A sign is secondary because it owes its existence to the referent the object or idea
to which the sign refers and the referent is therefore primary. A sign is also
provisional because it defers the referent or idea that has the ability to present itself.
A sign defers the absent referent, and it is traditionally thought that the referent, that
a sign defers, at least has the ability to present itself
For example, it is traditionally assumed that written words, as signs, refer to
the proper or authentic meaning that was intended by a specific speaker or author.
Spoken words are assumed to be more real or true than written words, because they
are grounded in the intended meaning of a speaker who is immediately present.
Therefore, it is thought that a written sign is dead or empty, because it is not filled
with the life of a present speaker. A written sign, or any sign, can only fulfill its
purpose by disappearing and allowing the referent to which it refers to present itself
The very structure of a sign implies a kind of unachievability, because it can only
fulfill its purpose by ceasing to be and allowing the presence to which it refers to
present itself A sign must sacrifice itself so that the absent referent to which it refers
can become present.
53


However, according to Saussure, a sign is arbitrary, or a sign has no proper
content. This means that the content of a sign is undetermined or indeterminate. The
content of a sign is arbitrarily determined by its relations within an overall
differential system, rather than by its positive or determinate value. Therefore, there
is no proper content or positive meaning that can present itself so that a differential
sign can fulfill its traditional purpose. A differential phenomenon has no determinate
content that can be presented. The very nature of a differential sign is such that it
does not have any determinate meaning or proper content. A differential sign is
essentially absent or negative, because the very idea that it could refer to proper or
determinate content is inconceivable. Denida points out that since both signifiers
and signifieds are indeterminate, and since the connections between the two are also
indeterminate, words or signifiers can never present their proper or determinate
content.
The indeterminate structure of both signifier and signified directly implies
that both are without determinate content, or both are purely negative, so neither one
can ever present its self because neither one has a proper self Since signifiers
and signifieds are both arbitrary and indeterminate, signifiers must actually defer to
further deferrals, or they must defer to equally indeterminate phenomena. A
differential sign does not really defer to a presence, but to an absence. A differential
sign is pure deferral, because it points to an infinite series of negative, differential
phenomena. This infinite series does not end in a presence, because a differential
54


system consists of an endless series of arbitrary, and therefore, indeterminate terms.
A differential sign is pure deferral, and also pure difference, because it is necessarily
different from itself. If a differential sign has no proper self then it must be
different.from its self. Since a differential sign is pure deferral and pure
difference, it can never achieve Ml presence, or it can never achieve itself by
presenting its proper or determinate content. Since a differential sign has no proper
content or self it can never achieve itself. Derrida creates the neologism
difference" to refer to this combination of pure difference and pure deferral that is
exhibited by all differential phenomena. The term, difference, means both to differ
in space, and to defer in time, but it can not be limited to any determinate meaning,
or to any range of meanings. Difference is the movement or play that produces
differences, but it should not be treated as a substantial thing, because it does not
have any proper or determinate content.
In a sense, difference makes the presentation of differential terms possible,
but Derrida dislikes using terms such as origin or foundation in connection with his
neologism, difference. Derrida (1982b) explains: Differance is the non-full, non-
simple, structured and differentiating origin of differences. Thus, the name origin
no longer suits it (p. 11). Derrida dislikes using the word, origin, for it implies a
thing or a substance that can be defined as possessing certain defining characteristics
at a specific point of origin. The possession of certain defining characteristics
implies that a thing has a proper course by which it can achieve its purpose, or by
55


which it can fulfill its potential Such a thing must have a determinate point of
origin, and also, a predetermined goal or end-point. There must be a definitive or
original point at which a substantial thing acquired the defining characteristics that
qualify it as a certain type of thing.
Since differance does not have any proper or determinate meaning, it can
never present any proper or determinate content. Therefore, differance is not an
origin, or an original source of meaning, because it is impossible to locate any
definitive point at which it acquired certain defining characteristics. Since differance
has no proper definition, it is impossible to locate a point in time at which it acquired
certain defining characteristics. As soon as one attempts to define differance, it slips
away because it can never be limited to any determinate or proper meaning. Derrida
denies that it is possible to locate an absolute point of origin for the differences
between linguistic terms or phenomena, because differance does not have a proper or
determinate definition. Since differance does not have a proper sel£ it can never
present its sel£ or it can never be limited to a determinate meaning.
Derrida breaks with the traditional presupposition that there is a proper way
of classifying or categorizing determinate types of things. Therefore, he also denies
that language performs such a proper classification by articulating the determinate
definitions of various types of things. If both signifiers and signifieds are arbitrary,
and therefore indeterminate, then the scope of words or signifiers is also
indeterminate. A single signifier need not refer to a single signified or concept.
56


There is no reason that a angle word, such as triangle, could not be used to
represent two or more concepts. The word triangle could simultaneously articulate
the concept of a triangle, and also the concept of a circle. This directly conflicts with
the Platonic view, which maintains that each word or signifier should properly
articulate only one, determinate signified. Derrida claims that signifieds are not
predetermined, so words or signifiers can not, even in principle, articulate
determinate signifieds.
This indeterminacy of content should not be interpreted as an inadequacy that
can be remedied, or as an absence that can be corrected with a presence. Since
indeterminacy is a necessary feature of any differential system, it is not possible,
even in principle, to remedy this indeterminacy. In opposition to Plato, Derrida
denies that the world can be fully defined or understood, because the differential
structure of the world means that the world is necessarily indeterminate. If language
constitutes human reality, and language is necessarily indeterminate, then the
reality constituted by language is also contingent or indeterminate, at least to a
certain extent.
Derrida defines a positive thing as that which possesses determinate content,
and a negative thing as that which is indeterminate, or as that which has no proper
content. Derrida (1982b) explains:
... the signified concept is never present in and of itself^ in a
sufficient presence that would refer only to itself. Essentially and
lawfully, every concept is inscribed in a chain or in a system within
57


which it refers to the other, to other concepts, by means of the
systematic play of differences, (p. 11).
If a differential system necessarily refers to absence, and the presentation of any type
of hilly determinate content is impossible, even in principle, then it does not make
sense to privilege the presence of a term or a meaning, over its absence. This does
not mean that Derrida only wishes to emphasize the centrality of absence, or the
impossibility of ever achieving full presence within a differential system. Derrida
argues that an absence or a lack should not necessarily be interpreted as a potential
presence.
If the achievement of full presence within a differential system is impossible,
even in principle, then Derrida wishes to eliminate the use of the entire binary
opposition presence/absence in discussions about differential phenomena. He
asserts that even accepting the notions of presence and absence as points of
definition is equivalent to a mistaken assumption. The acceptance of presence and
absence as binary points of opposition obscures the full continuum of possible
meanings that lies both within and outside of the conceptual range of these two
terms. It obscures the middle area between the two extremes, and also the possible
meanings that lie beyond this arbitrarily constituted range of conceptual content.
Derridas argument against the possibility that any differential sign can ever
present its proper or determinate content implies that each word or signifier is
connected with its associated meaning in a completely irrational or arbitrary way. If
58


each word or signifier were non-arbitrarily connected with a predefined range of
conceptual content, then each word or signifier would have a positive or determinate
meaning even when considered independently of a specific linguistic system.
However, each word or signifier does not have any positive meaning, or any
meaning that is independent of a specific differential system. The signifieds that
language articulates are continuously deferred, or necessarily absent, because a
proper or determinate meaning can not be presented for any differential sign. The
presence to which a sign refers, or the presence that it defers, is necessarily
absent, because it is impossible, even in principle, to identify a proper or determinate
meaning for any differential sign. Since each word or signifier is arbitrarily
constituted, and purely differential or negative in value, each word or signifier is
fundamentally indeterminate or necessarily without any proper content.
The next chapter, and chapter five, describe the arguments of Wittgenstein
and of Denida respectively, against the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions that
support the notion that language articulates a predefined categorization of
determinate referents. The arguments from this chapter, and also from chapter two,
combine to present a serious challenge to this notion. To this point, Wittgenstein and
Derrida have argued that language is fundamentally arbitrary and indeterminate. If
language is fundamentally indeterminate, then it is contradictory to assert that a
determinate, unchanging, center or foundation inhabits an otherwise arbitrary, and
indeterminate phenomenon. Although this argument is convincing, the tendency to
59


believe in the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions, which are discussed in next two
chapters, is still tenacious. Against this tenacious tendency, Wittgenstein and
Derrida argue that these last three assumptions are just as unwarranted as the first
two assumptions.
60


CHAPTER 5
WITTGENSTEIN AGAINST THE
3rd, 4th, AND 5th ASSUMPTIONS
As noted in the introduction, the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions are
closely related to each other. These three assumptions all relate to the belief that
each individual consciousness is capable of understanding the logical or rational
order of the world by autonomously grasping the proper meanings of words or
signifiers. The world, which words or signifiers are thought to represent, is not
necessarily the physical world, but a type of determinate ground or foundation that
underlies reality. Under the first assumption in chapter one, Wittgenstein argued
against the requirement that language must represent such a determinate ground in
order to be meaningful Despite the effectiveness of this argument, the belief that an
autonomous consciousness within each subject must have private access to such a
determinate ground is pervasive and tenacious. It is often assumed that each private,
autonomous consciousness has the ability to discern the proper or determinate
meanings that words or signifiers are designed to articulate. Wittgenstein argues that
it is impossible to privately recognize the proper or determinate meanings of words
or signifiers, because signifieds are constituted publicly rather than privately.
61


Signifieds can only be accessed publicly, because the ability to grasp or
understand certain signifieds presupposes that an individual is a member of a group
of people who share a common form of life. Wittgenstein does not believe that
thoughts, concepts, or ideas actually pre-exist language, for the very notion of ideas
or concepts only makes sense because human beings share a form of life in which we
find such notions to be useful. Since various forms of life develop contingently, and
since each person must simply accept the form of life into which he/she is bom, it is
impossible for any individual subject to intend or understand certain signifieds
independently of a specific social or cultural context.
The signifieds that are recognized by specific groups of people arise
contingently out of various forms of life, but the meanings of words or signifiers are
not dependent on the will of any specific individual or group of individuals.
Therefore, signifieds arise arbitrarily, and they are continually affected by contingent
historical and social changes, but they are not arbitrary in the sense that any
particular force or person can autonomously control the signifieds that are
recognized within a specific linguistic community. Brand new words, signifiers,
and/or signifieds that are introduced into a community by a particular individual
must be accepted back into the linguistic community of which the individual is a
member. An individual cannot construct signifieds independently of a linguistic
community, because a meaning is only a meaning if it is recognized by a group of
people. Therefore, Wittgenstein agrees with Saussure that the signifieds that are
62


recognized by a specific linguistic community are indeterminate, but tenacious once
they are in place. The indeterminacy of language necessarily implies that signifieds
are public rather than private, because no individual or force can independently
stabilize or control the signifieds that are recognized by a specific linguistic
community.
3rd Assumption
The third assumption is that each human subject inherently possesses a
private, self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. This assumption is made because
the process by which each human subject grasps or understands the proper meanings
of words or signifiers is apparently inaccessible to other people. Although the
consciousness within each subject is apparently inaccessible to other subjects, it is
commonly assumed that each subject must possess a similar type of autonomous
consciousness that is capable of grasping and communicating determinate signifieds
in a similar fashion. The process of grasping determinate signifieds can be called
understanding, and the process of communicating determinate signifieds to others
can be called intending.
In other words, each human subject is assumed to have a similar ability to
properly associate certain determinate signifieds, ideas, or concepts with the words
or signifiers that act as the vehicles for communication. A person who properly
63


understands the meaning of a word or signifier is able to translate the linguistic sign
into the idea or concept that it articulates. A person who properly intends a certain
meaning must have a determinate idea or concept firmly in mind before being able to
communicate that idea or concept to another person. The consciousness within each
subject is assumed to be autonomous in the sense that each person is capable of
executing such processes of understanding and intending independently of any
external influence, such as a specific society or culture. In fact, it is commonly
assumed that signifieds are actually separable from the words or signifiers that
articulate them, because consciousness is able to grasp determinate ideas or concepts
independently of any form of linguistic mediation.
This capacity to understand and to intend determinate signifieds privately is
not necessarily refuted by the empirical fact that each human subject is apparently
incapable of grasping all of the determinate meanings articulated by words or
signifiers. Since human beings are finite, it can be argued that human beings are
limited by their finite natures, but not by a fundamental inability to explicitly grasp a
complete predefined articulation of signifieds. If each human being did possess an
infinite mind, then it is assumed that each person would be able to fully grasp all of
the proper or determinate meanings that words or signifiers are designed to
articulate.
One example that Wittgenstein employs to refute this notion that each
subject has privileged access to his/her own private consciousness is the case of a
64


person who claims that he/she is in pain. Pain is a good example, because it seems
as though each person can have an idea or concept of pain that is completely
independent of a social or cultural context. Since pain is an immediate sensation
with which almost everyone is familiar, the idea of pain is not obviously linked to
any type of social or linguistic mediation. It is commonly assumed that each subject
has privileged or direct knowledge of his/her own pain. However, Wittgenstein asks
the reader to imagine a person who does not have a proper understanding of what the
word pain really means. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains:
Imagine a person whose memory could not retain what the word
pain meant so that he constantly called different things by that
name but nevertheless used the word in a way fitting in with the
usual symptoms and presuppositions of pain in short he uses it as
we all do. (note 271)
Wittgensteins point is that the proper meaning of each word or signifier is
not discerned or identified by virtue of a similar type of autonomous conscious act
that is performed by each individual subject. A word or signifier is only used
properly if it is used in a way that aligns with the accepted, public meaning of that
word. An individual cannot privately assign a random meaning to a word like pain
because the individual must use the word in a way that is consistent with accepted
usage. The meanings of words or signifiers are public rather than private, because a
word is only used properly when an individual exhibits outward behavior that is
consistent with the accepted practices of a specific society or culture. A person who
65


uses a word or signifier in a way that does not align with his/her linguistic
community is not using the word or signifier in a meaningful way.
Thus, the meanings of words or signifiers such as pain are not dependent
on similar autonomous conscious acts that are performed by each subject, but on the
acceptance of certain ideas or concepts within a specific linguistic community.
Wittgenstein (1958b) explains: Hence it is not possible to obey a rule privately:
otherwise thinking one was obeying a rule would be the same thing as obeying it
(note 202). Each person is not capable of using his/her own private language, for the
possibility of using a private language implies that language does not require any
validation or recognition by a specific society or culture. If each person could use a
private language, then the very purpose of language would be defeated because the
language of each person would be completely independent of every other person. It
would be impossible for human subjects to communicate with each other. Since
language presupposes the acceptance of certain common practices and customs, each
person within a linguistic community must obey those practices and customs if
he/she hopes to use language in a meaningful way. Therefore, an individual is not
able to privately articulate an idea or concept like pain until that person learns that
expressions of pain are meaningful within his/her linguistic community.
Wittgenstein (1958b) asks: Is it to be assumed that you invent the technique
of using the word; or that you found it ready-made? (note 262). A person can really
only have a pain because human beings have developed a way of using language
66


as a communicative tool to express their pain. A person can only mean something
by stating I have a pain if that expression has an accepted meaning within his/her
linguistic community. The idea of pain does not privately arise in each individual
independently of a specific linguistic community. If expressions of pain are not
meaningful within a certain linguistic community., then an individual is incapable of
privately articulating such an expression. This means that each individual is
incapable of privately or autonomously affixing certain meanings to specific ideas,
objects, or experiences. An expression is only meaningful if that expression has a
place within a certain form of life.
Even though words like pain cannot have private meanings assigned to
them, it can be argued that each individual privately experiences the sensation of
pain. It is commonly assumed that each person has privileged knowledge of his/her
own sensations and thoughts. In contrast to this view, Wittgenstein argues that an
individual who feels pain does not have privileged knowledge of his/her pain. When
a person claims, I am in pain, this assertion does not reveal private, infallible
knowledge because a claim of knowledge can be justified as true or false, correct or
incorrect. A person can attempt to deceive others by a claim of nonexistent pain, but
a person cannot actually be wrong about the fact that he/she is in pain. Although a
person cannot be mistaken about his/her sensation of pain, that person is also unable
to present conclusive evidence to support the fact that pain is being experienced.
Since it is impossible for a subject to gather evidence in order to prove or disprove a
67


sensation of pain, the statement I am in pain cannot possibly be a statement of
knowledge.
P. M. S. Hacker (1999) explains that Witnessing the suffering of another is
not acquisition of indirect knowledge, and the sufferer does not have direct
knowledge what he has is pain, not knowledge (p. 41). When I claim I am in
pain, I am merely stating the fact that I feel pain, but not that I have explicit
knowledge of the exact nature of the pain that I am experiencing. I do not
necessarily recognize the exact cause of my pain, or even the full extent of my
injury. Also, when I observe another person writhing in pain on the ground, it would
be absurd to ask that person whether or not pain is being experienced. Wittgenstein
(1958b) challenges the reader to Just try in a real case to doubt someone elses
fear or pain (note 303). I recognize right away that another person is in pain,
because that person is exhibiting the same type of behavior that I use when I am in
pain. Thus, the experience of pain is not really private, because human beings do
recognize the signs that indicate whether or not a person feels pain.
Wittgenstein argues that each subject is incapable of using a private or
autonomously constructed language, for each subject is unable to intend or to
understand signifieds, ideas, or concepts independently of a specific social or cultural
context. Each person does not have direct, infallible knowledge of his/her own
thoughts and sensations. In order for a thought to be meaningful, or in order for a
thought to really be a thought, it must have some type of significance within a
68


specific form of life. In fact, the word thought does not have any meaning unless a
person is bom into a certain form of life in which it is useful to talk about thoughts.
An individual would not be able to recognize his/her thoughts as thoughts unless that
person is a member of a linguistic community in which the idea or concept of a
thought is meaningful.
Also, each individual does not have direct, infallible knowledge of his/her
own sensations, because each person can not be right or wrong about the fact that a
certain sensation is being experienced. A claim of knowledge can be proven true or
false, but it is impossible for me to privately gather evidence to conclusively prove or
disprove my sensation of pain. Since my sensation of pain cannot be proven to be
false, it also cannot be characterized as true, for a true statement is one that would
be false under certain definable, verifiable conditions. Even if medical technology is
incapable of finding a cause for my pain, it is not possible to prove that I am really
not feeling pain. Many people suffer from migraine headaches despite the fact that it
is difficult to isolate the exact reasons that migraines cause so much pain. However,
my claim of pain can not be proven true by appealing to any type of absolute
evidence of which I am privately aware. It is impossible for me to privately gather
evidence to prove the truth of my pain. Moreover, other people recognize my pain
just as easily as I recognize my own pain, so my sensation of pain is not really
private. Human beings often choose to verbalize their pain rather than crying out,
but human beings are not usually in doubt of whether or not another person is in
69


pain. In order for the concept or idea of pain to be useful, it must be possible that I
can use the word pain to ask others for help or in order to explain my predicament.
4th Assumption
The fourth assumption is that each human subject has the ability to engage in
inner mental processes, which allow each subject to grasp the proper or determinate
signified that corresponds with each word or signifies Under the third assumption
Wittgenstein already argued against the possibility that each individual subject is
able to autonomously intend or understand signifieds independently of a background
social or cultural context. The argument against the fourth assumption focuses on
the presupposition that each person is able to intend and understand signifieds by
virtue of inner mental states or processes.
In order to understand what Wittgenstein means by the terms states and
processes, it is necessary to provide a few examples. Seeing a car or listening
to a song are examples of mental states or processes, because both of these
cognitive acts have measurable temporal duration. The process of seeing a car
begins when I explicitly notice the car, and I no longer see the car when I look away.
Alternatively, I begin listening to a song as soon as the song begins to play, and I am
no longer listening to the song when the music stops or when I turn my attention to
something else. Although my awareness of a car or a song can be either implicit or
70


explicit, it is still possible for me to identify a beginning, middle, and end to such
states or processes.
The examples of seeing and hearing can be contrasted with
understanding and intending. If I say that I understand what the composer
meant by a particular song, it is not possible for me to identify the exact moment at
which I actually understood the meaning that was intended by the composer. Also,
it is impossible for me to explicitly verify whether or not I do grasp the correct
meaning of a poem or a song. Even if a composer or a poet had a specific idea in
mind while preparing a work, that does not necessarily imply that my particular
interpretation or understanding of the work is incorrect. Perhaps, I actually
understand something that was implicit in the mind of the poet or composer, or I am
able to see the work from a novel perspective that is just as valid as the original
intention of the poet or composer. Especially in the case of works of art, it is not
necessarily the case that an artist has an explicit idea of what they are attempting to
communicate to their audience. If such an artist does not have an explicit idea or
concept in mind, then it does not make sense to expect that an art lover should be
able to grasp the specific, determinate idea that the artist meant to express.
Wittgenstein maintains that understanding and meaning are not states or
processes, because states and processes have measurable temporal duration.
Wittgenstein (1967) explains:
71


Really one hardly ever says that one has believed, understood or
intended something uninterruptedly since yesterday. An
interruption of belief would be a period of unbelief not e.g. the
withdrawal of attention from what one believes e.g. sleep, (note 85)
Understanding is not an uninterrupted activity, for a person normally understands the
meaning of a particular word or signifier even when that person is not currently
focused on the word or signifier. Also, it is not possible to absolutely isolate the
moment in time at which the understanding or intending of a certain meaning has
been fully achieved. This is not only because words or signifiers do not have
absolutely proper meanings that are valid in all contexts, but also because
understanding and intending certain meanings are not processes that occur within
exact ranges of time. Understanding and meaning do not involve states or processes
that are reenacted each time that a certain word or signifier is encountered.
If understanding and meaning were processes, then such processes would
malfunction sometimes, and it would be possible to explicitly describe all of the
reasons that such processes can malfunction without referring to specific
circumstances. However, it is impossible to provide such an explicit description, and
it is not ordinary to understand a word like pain on one day and then to stop
understanding it on the very next day. One can get amnesia, but this is an unusual
circumstance and even an amnesiac does not usually completely lose the ability to
use his/her native language. At the very least, amnesia is a derivative rather than a
primary type of case, so such a case should not be used to describe ordinary
72


experience. Since it is not possible to isolate the specific period of time during
which understanding and intending occur, they must not be states or processes,
according to Wittgensteins understanding of these terms. A person can be mistaken
about their understanding of a certain word or signifier, but this does not imply that
the person once had a proper understanding that has since been lost. It is impossible
to explicitly describe the features or characteristics that necessarily accompany the
experience of properly understanding or intending a certain meaning.
If the abilities to understand and to intend certain meanings were autonomous
states or processes that occur within each subject, then it would be possible to
separate such states or processes from the language-games in which we learn to use
these terms. The idea that mental states or processes are autonomous implies that
such states or processes are separable from the background social or cultural context
in which each subject is immersed. Wittgenstein (1967) asks us to:
Think of putting your hand up in schooL Need you have rehearsed
the answer silently to yourself in order to have the right to put your
hand up? And what must have gone on inside you? Nothing need
have. But h is important that you usually know an answer when you
put your hand up; and that is the criterion for ones understanding of
putting ones hand up. (note 136)
Wittgenstein argues that understanding and intending certain meanings are
not autonomous processes, because they cannot be separated from the language-
games in which they occur. For Wittgenstein, learning a language is part of an
activity, and such an activity is based upon a certain form of life. The abilities to
73


understand and to intend certain meanings cannot be separated from the specific
social or cultural context in which such abilities are exhibited. Otherwise, each
individual subject would be able to create the truth at each moment, and one
persons idea of truth would be completely unrelated to the ideas of other people.
Although the signifieds of a specific linguistic community are arbitrarily constituted,
the arbitrary signifieds that are accepted by a specific linguistic community are
tenacious once they are in place. Therefore, the indeterminacy of language directly
implies that arbitrarily constituted public meanings resist autonomous constitutive
acts. Each individual is incapable of privately constituting or changing the signifieds
that are articulated by the words or signifiers of his/her language. Therefore, it is
impossible to claim that the abilities to understand and to intend certain meanings are
independent of the accepted practices and customs of a specific form of life.
Wittgenstein (1958b) notes: To understand a sentence means to understand
a language. To understand a language means to be master of a technique (note
199). When a person thinks that he/she properly understands a mathematical
formula, and that person unsuccessfully attempts to continue a series of numbers
using the formula, that person never really had a proper understanding of the
formula. However, it is not actually proper to claim that a person ever lias an
understanding of a formula because the verb to have implies a thing or a
substantive that has certain definitive characteristics. Understanding is not a
definitive substance or a determinate type of thing, for the meaning of the word
74


understanding varies according to the type of language-game that is being played.
The understanding of a formula is more like an ability to behave in a certain
prescribed manner.
The manner in which a person is supposed to use a formula is defined within
the rules of a particular language-game, and the rules of any particular language-
game do not cover every possible contingency. G. P. Baker (1980) and P. M. S.
Hacker explain that our language, as Wittgenstein came to see, does not lay down
rules which will dictate a result for every conceivable circumstance (p. 91). The
rules of a language-game are limited to the specific language-game that is being
played. Also, the rules of a particular language-game do not encompass every
possible situation. Learning multiplication is part of a specific language-game called
mathematics, and an understanding of multiplication is not a process or a state but a
specific type of ability that is inextricably linked to a specific form of life.
Since forms of life are multifarious and unlimited, the possible meanings of
the terms understanding and intending are also unlimited. Wittgenstein believes
that these words are actually family resemblance concepts. The meanings of such
family resemblance concepts can not be limited to explicit definitions that cover all
possible cases. If each subject were capable of executing similar autonomous
conscious acts of understanding and intending certain meanings, then such conscious
acts could be explicitly defined or articulated. However, Wittgenstein recognizes
that these abilities can not be validated within the confines of each individual
75


consciousness. Wittgenstein (1958b) notes that An inner process stands in need of
outward criteria (note 580). Since the meanings of the words understanding and
intending vary according to their specific use and context, it does not make sense
to claim that each individual subject is capable of executing the exact same type of
inner mental processes. Words or signifiers do not have proper or determinate
meanings that can he grasped in the exact same manner by each autonomous
consciousness.
5th Assumption
The fifth assumption is that there is a firm ontological and epistemological
division between each inner subject and the outer objective world or reality, hi his
argument against such a firm division, Wittgenstein focuses on grammatical analysis.
By the term grammar Wittgenstein does not only refer to the syntax or form of
linguistic expression, but also to the social or cultural context in which language is
used. In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein (1958b) emphasizes the fact
that words or signifiers have different meanings depending on the specific context in
which they are used. He emphasizes the importance of context because philosophers
often attempt to impose absolute, fixed meanings on to words or signifiers in an
effort to ensure the permanence and stability of language. Questions such as what
is a subject? and what is an object? presuppose that there are perfect, unchanging
76


definitions that articulate the proper meanings of these terms. Also, such questions
presuppose that subjects and objects are fundamentally different types of things
because each question is normally asked separately.
Wittgenstein (1958b) notes that Our investigation is therefore a grammatical
one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstanding
away (note 90). Wittgenstein claims that there is only a functional distinction
between subjects and objects, and that this distinction can only be described by
examining the way in which language is ordinarily used. The assumption that the
distinction between subjects and objects is based upon a fundamental ontological
difference is equivalent to a misunderstanding of language, for the meanings of these
tenns are not permanently fixed or absolute. Rather, the meanings of these terms can
only be properly described as part of the background social or cultural context in
which they are used. Since the meanings of the terms subject and object are
arbitrarily constituted according to the indeterminate rules of various language-
games, the meanings of these terms vary according to their specific use and context.
If the distinction between subjects and objects were ontological in nature, then it
would be possible to explicitly define these terms without any reference to the
background social or cultural context in which this distinction serves a purpose.
Also, it would be possible to define each of these terms without referring to its
conceptual opposite.
77


One common assumption of Western philosophy is that a private, self-
contained, autonomous consciousness resides within each subject. It is assumed that
each autonomous consciousness must be ontologically distinct from the culture,
society, or the external world into which each person is bom. In contrast to this
assumption, Wittgenstein asserts that each persons personality and conceptual
framework emerges as a result of a combination of intersubjective and objective
influences. Not only is each subject vitally related to other subjects, but also, each
subject is vitally connected to the world. Wittgenstein (1922) explains 1 am my
world. (The microcosm) (note 5.63). It can be argued that Wittgensteins claim
leads directly to solipsism, because an equivalence betweenT and my world
seems to imply that each individual subject can create his/her own world. However,
Wittgenstein does not claim thatT am my whole world, but only a microcosm of
the world. He does not mean that each person is a world in and of themselves, but
that each person sets limits on the world of which he/she is aware.
However, the limits of the world are not created autonomously by each
individual, for the form of life into which each person is bom is the indeterminate
ground from which the artificial limits of the world emerge. The limits of the world
are closely related to the limits of the language that is used within a specific society
or culture. Wittgenstein (1922) explains: That the world is my world shows itself
in the fact that the limits of the language (the language which I understand) mean the
limits of my world (note 5.62). Since the understanding of each subject is
78


inextricably linked to the language-games and form of life that has already been
constituted within his/her culture, my world is not distinctly subjective. However,
my world is also not simply intersubjective, because the world is already in
place when each specific form of life emerges. Various forms of life and language-
games contribute to the constitution of the world, so the world is not strictly
external or objective. Agreement on a specific form of life, including agreement on
the language-games that are part of that form of life, forms the basis for what a
specific linguistic community calls the world. This conception of a world is not
fully determinate, because the accepted meaning of the word world is arbitrarily
constituted according to the practices and customs of a specific culture. However,
this does not necessarily imply that the world is constituted merely subjectively or
even inter-subjectively. Certainly the world would be a very different type of world
without human forms of life and language-games, but this does not imply that the
world would not exist without human beings. The world would still exist without
human beings, but it would not be the world with which we are familiar.
The belief that anT or self emerges independently of the outside world
is mistaken. Wittgenstein (1958a) argues that the idea that the real I lives in my
body is connected with the peculiar grammar of the word I, and the
misunderstandings this grammar is liable to give rise to (p. 66). The distinction
between anT and an other serves only a functional purpose within a specific
social or cultural context. The fact that human beings use language to describe such
79


a distinction does not imply that there is a basic ontological distinction between
subjects and objects. In fact, Wittgenstein contends that the wordT can be used in
a subjective or in an objective way, so each human being is not distinctly subjective.
Human beings are immersed in the world or they are inextricably linked to the world
rather than being distinctly separate from the world.
In order to describe this functional distinction between an T and an other
or a not-I, Wittgenstein refers to the ways in which human beings use language to
distinguish between reports of pain. Wittgenstein suggests that one subject who
refers to the pain of another subject is treating the other subject in an objective way.
If a subject can be treated in a subjective or in an objective way, then this implies
that the subjective/objective distinction is simply a peculiar use of language rather
than being indicative of a fundamental difference between subjects and objects. If
subjects and objects were really fundamentally distinct, then it would not be possible
to effectively use language to refer to a subject in an objective way. If language can
be used effectively to refer to a subject in an objective way, then language can also
be used to refer to an object in a subjective way. Wittgenstein (1958a) explains:
The difference between the propositions I have pain and he has
pain is not that ofL. W. has pain and Smith has pain. Rather, it
corresponds to the difference between moaning and saying that
someone moans, (p. 68)
Such a use of language does not imply a firm distinction between individual
subjects, for the meaning of such an expression evaporates once the expression is
80


divorced from the specific context in which it is used. If a specific linguistic
community does not find it useful to distinguish between my own pain and my report
of his/her pain, then the words L, lie, and she do not have any meaning within
this specific type of language-game. If a linguistic community does not have any
language-games in which such distinctions serve a purpose, then the distinction
between subjects and other subjects is completely excluded from their language.
Wittgenstein (1958a) notes: We are inclined to forget that it is the particular use of
a word only which gives the word its meaning (p. 69). For Wittgenstein, the form,
use, and meaning of any expression are inextricably linked, for the meaning of any
expression presupposes a common form of life. If it is not useful to distinguish
between my own moan and my report of another persons moan, then the use of
distinguishing between subjects and other subjects loses its importance in this
particular situation.
Wittgenstein emphasizes that the wordT can be used just as effectively in a
subjective way as it can be used in an objective way. The key point is whether or not
the subjective and objective ways of using a word are both accepted within the rules
of the language-games of a specific society or culture. If a society or culture has no
use for such a distinction, then the distinction loses its meaning. If the
subjective/objective distinction were ontological in nature, then the distinction would
not lose its meaning once it is divorced from a specific social or cultural context.
Wittgenstein (1958a) remarks:
81


There are two different cases in the use of the word I (or my)
which I might call the use as object and the use as subject.
Examples of the first kind of use are these: My arm is broken, I
have grown six inches.... Examples of the second kind are: I see
so-and-so, I hear so-and-so.... (p. 66)
Wittgenstein goes on to describe the separate purposes that these two forms
of use actually serve within a specific language. Expressions that useT in the
objective sense serve to notify the listener that the person making the statement could
be mistaken. If I claim that my arm is broken, I could be mistaken for my arm could
simply be sprained or badly bruised. Also, after pain medication has been
administered, I might state that my arm is broken while looking down at another
persons arm rather than my own. On the other hand, expressions that useT in the
subjective sense serve to notify the listener that there is no possibility of error on the
part of the speaker. Although I could mistake a fence post for a small tree, I can not
be mistaken about the fact that I do think that I see a tree. More importantly, I can
not be mistaken about the fact thatT am the one who is seeing the tree.
Expressions of the first type admit the possibility of error, while expressions of the
second type do not. In order for each type of expression to be meaningful, each must
have a specific use within a particular linguistic community. The meaning of such
expressions can not be examined independently of their specific context, for then-
meanings are inextricably linked to the purposes that they serve within a particular
language. If a subject can be treated in a subjective or an objective sense depending
82


on the specific use and context of an expression, then there is nothing distinctly
internal or subjective about each subject.
One of the reasons that Wittgenstein accepts only a functional rather than an
ontological distinction between subjects and objects is because of the problems
inherent in the acceptance of a distinct dualism between the inner realm of each
subject and an outer world or reality. One of the most serious problems is the need
to explain the manner in which these inner and outer realms relate to each other.
Also, a firm division between subjects and objects does not properly describe the
way in which human beings use language. It does not properly account for the
functional use of the subject/object distinction in various language-games. There are
certain ways that human beings can use words to indicate a subjective or an objective
perspective, but this does not imply that there really is a firm division between each
subject and the objective world. This is simply a case in which traditional
philosophy has misinterpreted the grammar of language.
Wittgenstein suggests that subjects and objects are both elements within the
same world. If subjects were ontologically distinct from objects, then it would be
impossible for subjects to directly access objects. If the natures of subjects and
objects were fundamentally different, then objects would be completely inaccessible
to subjects. Since human subjects create language-games, and human beings are part
of the world, the meanings associated with certain language-games are also part of
the world. Newton Garver (1994) and Seung-Chong Lee explain that the dominant
83


view is naturalism, meaning being part of the natural world, the one world, within
which we must find both the criteria for meaning and the criteria for truth (p. 19). If
the meanings of words or signifiers are inextricably linked to their specific use and
context, then it does not make sense to claim that each subject can autonomously
access signifieds independently of a specific society or culture. There is not a firm
dualism between words or signifiers, and concepts or signifieds, because signifiers
and signifieds are not fundamentally different types of things. Also, subjects and
objects are not fundamentally different types of things, because these concepts are
both constituted by their specific functions within specific language-games. If
subjects and objects were ontologically distinct, then the categories of subjectivity
and objectivity could be conceived completely separately from any specific type of
language-game. However, it is impossible to conceive of the meanings of
subjectivity and objectivity except by examining the purposes that these terms serve
within language. It is impossible to conceive of subjectivity and objectivity without
appealing to some from of linguistic mediation or conceptual opposition. If these
terms are considered independently of the rules of specific language-games, then
their meanings are no longer clear.
84


CHAPTER 6
DERRIDA AGAINST THE
3rd, 4th, AND 5th ASSUMPTIONS
3rd Assumption
The third assumption is that each human subject inherently possesses a
private, self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. Derrida contests this assumption
mainly by critiquing what he refers to as the metaphysics of presence. The
metaphysics of presence is the presupposition that something exists only insofar as it
is capable of presenting itself In the case of subjectivity, it is assumed that a subject
exists only insofar as that subject is fully self-present in autonomous conscious acts.
David B. Allison (qtd. in Derrida, 1973) states that a subject (sub-jectum) or self in
general is only insofar as it is self-present, present to itself in the immediacy of a
conscious act (p. xxxii). This assumption of presence also underlies the concept of
objectivity. An object is assumed to exist only insofar as that object is capable of
presenting itself as a determinate object that is distinct from other objects. This first
section on the third assumption focuses on the concept of subjectivity, but the third
section of this chapter consists of an examination of the assumed distinction between
subjectivity and objectivity.
85


In Speech and Phenomena, Derrida deconstructs some of Husserls crucial
arguments from the Logical Investigations. The deconstruction that Derrida
undertakes involves an exposure of the metaphysical presuppositions that underlie
Husserls text. Although Husserl claims that his method of phenomenological
reduction requires a suspension of any dogmatic assumptions, Derrida contends that
some of Husserls basic distinctions reveal his implicit acceptance of the
metaphysics of presence, hi particular, Derrida focuses on Husserls distinction
between indication and expression.
Husserl describes indication and expression as two basic types of
signification. Indication is a way of pointing out something else that is meaningful,
like a finger that is pointing to a dog in order to indicate the idea of a dog. An act of
indication is not meaningful in and of itselfj but it is a way of referring to something
else that is meaningful. Any form of verbal, written, or physical signification must
be classified as indication, because any type of sign is meant to articulate the
signified for which it stands. It is commonly assumed that signs act as meaningless
vehicles for the communication of determinate ideas, concepts, or signifieds. Signs
are assumed to be meaningless in and of themselves because they only serve to
indicate the ideas or concepts for which they stand. If signs do refer to authentic or
fully determinate meanings, then the meanings to which signs refer must not depend
upon any type of social or cultural mediation. The signifieds to which signifiers
86


refer must be completely positive and self-contained, or completely independent of
any type of mediating process.
On the other hand, David B. Allison (qtd. in Derrida, 1973) explains that, for
Husserl, Expression alone, properly speaking, bears sense (p. xxxiv). Since
indication is a form of signification that is not meaningful in and of itself Husserl
suggests that indication must be founded upon a more genuine or authentic form of
signification. Since the very idea of signification implies the use of signs, which
simply refer to the meanings that they represent, expression must be a type of
signification that does not refer to anything outside of itself. The meaning or sense
that can be achieved through cognitive acts of expression must be positive and self-
contained, or expression must not depend upon any type of intermediary form of
signification. The determinate meanings to which signs refer must not depend upon
the type of signification that Husserl calls indication. If Husserl can prove that
expression is not dependent upon any type of indicative or mediating process of
signification, then he can prove that his distinction between indication and
expression is valid. However, if expression is necessarily dependent upon
indication, then it does not make sense to claim that pure cognitive acts of expression
are possible. That is, if expression, which is supposed to be a self-contained or
autonomous process, cannot even be conceived except on the basis of indication,
then it is not valid to claim that there is a firm distinction between expression and
indication.
87


Husserl assumes that a cognitive act of expression can only be achieved
within the confines of a self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. As soon as a
subject attempts to communicate the meaning or sense that was achieved through an
autonomous cognitive act of expression, the form of signification used by the subject
becomes indication rather than expression. Since any form of external
communication (e.g. verbal, written, or physical communication) necessarily
requires the use of mediating signs, it must be possible for a subject to successfully
execute a cognitive act of expression independently of any such mediating process.
A cognitive act of expression must produce a determinate meaning or sense that is
not dependent upon any type of indicative process. If each subject does possess a
private, autonomous realm of consciousness that is not dependent upon anything
beyond itself then cognitive acts of expression that are completely independent of
any form of indication must be possible. However, if cognitive acts of expression
are necessarily linked to some form of indication, then the subject does not possess a
truly private realm of consciousness in which autonomous cognitive acts of
expression occur. If Derrida can prove that expression is impossible without some
form of indication, then he can undermine Husserls contention that a private,
autonomous consciousness within each subject must be presupposed in order to
permit the possibility of cognitive acts of expression.
Husserl (1970) explains we think rather that an understanding, a peculiar
act-experience relating to the expression, is present, that it shines through the
88


expression, that it lends it meaning and thereby a relation to objects (p. 302).
Husserl believes that each individual subject is capable of properly recognizing the
ideal or universal meanings that correspond with the objects at which consciousness
is directed. Each subject associates ideal or universal meanings with intentional
objects by means of autonomous conscious acts. By the word intentional Husserl
means that consciousness is always aiming at something, or it is always directed at
some object of consciousness. Since consciousness is necessarily consciousness of
something, consciousness is necessarily intentional. Expression is assumed to be
the source of authentic meaning, because the private, conscious act of expression is
not dependent upon any type of intermediary form of signification. Husserl assumes
that each autonomous consciousness is capable of discerning the ideal or universal
meanings of intentional objects without utilizing the type of signification that he
refers to as indication. Since acts of indication are meaningless in and of themselves,
and ideal or universal meanings can only be discerned through autonomous cognitive
acts of expression, ideal or universal meanings are necessarily dependent upon
autonomous conscious acts that are performed by each individual subject.
In order to properly understand what Husserl means by Ideal or universal
meanings, it is necessary to provide an example. When consciousness is directed at
a table, consciousness does not only perceive the particular table. Consciousness
also categorizes the particular table under the general class Table because it
recognizes that the object has the necessary defining characteristics that any table
89


must possess. Even if a particular subject bas never seen a table before, that subject
automatically classifies the table as a type of object that is distinct from other types
of objects with which the subject is familiar. The next time that such a subject
encounters a table, the subject categorizes the new object together with the table that
was seen before. Husserl claims that each consciousness is capable of grasping the
essence of the table, for the subject recognizes the defining characteristics or
essential properties that an object must possess in order to qualify as a table. The
subject grasps the possible ways in which a table can appear to consciousness in the
future and also the possible ways in which the table could have appeared to
consciousness in the past. Thus, the subject knows the limit of possible changes that
a table can undergo, and still be a table. For example, if the color of a table is
changed from red to blue, the subject still recognizes it as a table. The subject also
knows that the table can not suddenly transform into a python. However, if the table
is smashed into small pieces, the subject recognizes that there is a certain point at
which the object is no longer a table.
Since the subject has knowledge of how the table can appear in the future and
how it could have appeared in the past, the subject must not simply passively
perceive a discrete piece of sense data. Even if the subjects view of the table is
limited to a particular side, the subject has an idea of how the table might appear
from other angles. Therefore, the subject must be at least partially active in the
constitution of the table, because the subject knows more about the table than what is
90


immediately present to consciousness. However, Husserl assumes that the subject
must be present to itself in a conscious act of expression in order to access the ideal
or universal meaning articulated by the word table. The subject must be capable of
accessing the ideal or universal meaning of the table in an autonomous cognitive act.
If the subject is unable to recognize the table without appealing to any type of
linguistic or social mediation, then the subject is not capable of executing cognitive
acts of expression that are independent of any form of mediation or indication. The
subject must be capable of autonomously distinguishing between the universal
features of a table and the universal features of other types of objects. This reveals
an underlying presupposition that only a self-present subject is capable of
recognizing the ideal or universal meanings that are associated with objects, words,
or signifiers.
In contrast to this view, Derrida argues that there is no such thing as an
autonomous conscious act of expression that is completely independent of the type
of signification that Husserl calls indication. Since the meanings of words,
signifiers, and objects are dependent upon conceptual differences, each individual
consciousness cannot access meaning outside of a specific differential linguistic
system. Moreover, each term within a linguistic system is arbitrary and differential,
so each term does not have any proper or determinate content in and of itself Since
indeterminate words or signifiers refer to equally indeterminate concepts or
signifieds, none of the terms within a differential linguistic system refer to positive
91


or fully determinate content. The indeterminate signifieds within such a differential
system can never be fully present to consciousness, because they do not have any
positive or determinate content in and of themselves. If words or signifiers, and
concepts or signifieds, are fundamentally differential, then it is not possible for
consciousness to discern the positive or fully determinate meaning of any particular
sign within a differential linguistic system. The relations or connections between
terms within a differential system do not ultimately end in determinate or proper
meanings, so consciousness can not grasp determinate meanings by utilizing such a
system.
Derrida argues that it is impossible to fix the meanings of words or signifiers
in any sense, because they do not have proper or determinate meanings. Each
subject is incapable of even temporarily fixing the meanings of words or signifiers
because an indeterminate differential system can not be fixed or stabilized by any
type of determinate or original source of meaning. Since arbitrary and indeterminate
signifiers refer to equally arbitrary and indeterminate signifieds, it is impossible to
fix or stabilize the connections between signifiers and signifieds. Other absent
signifiers constitute the value of each particular signifier, and other absent signifieds
constitute the conceptual content taken up by each particular signified. The absent
signifiers and signifieds are not only absent in the sense of not being immediately
present. They are necessarily absent, because they do not have any proper or
determinate content to present. Thus, both signifiers and signifieds are
92


Full Text

PAGE 1

WITTGENSTEIN, DERRIDA, AND THE INDETERMJNACY OF LANGUAGE by Craig Anthony Knight B.A, University ofNew Hampshire, 1991 A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado at Denver in partial fulfi11ment of the requirements for the degree of Master ofHumanities 2001

PAGE 2

This thesis for the Master of Humanities degree by Craig Anthony Knight has been approved by

PAGE 3

Knight, Craig Anthony (Master of Humanities) Wittgenstein, Derrida, and the Indeterminacy of Language Thesis directed by Associate Professor Mark Tanzer ABSTRACT This thesis explores the similarities between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jacques Derrida in regard to their arguments against the notion that language articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents, concepts, or signifieds. First, Wittgenstein and Derrida both focus their arguments against a similar notion oflanguage. Secondly, Wittgenstein and Derrida both undermine five particular assumptions that support this disputed notion oflanguage. Finally, both lines of argument hinge on the idea that the fundamental indeterminacy oflanguage precludes the possibility that language could be used to articulate determinate units of conceptual content. Although Wittgenstein and Derrida support their conclusions in different ways, they both defend their views by demonstrating that language is fundamentally indeterminate. iii

PAGE 4

This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication. iv

PAGE 5

DEDICATION I dedicate this thesis to my wife, for her unfahering understanding and support while I was writing it.

PAGE 6

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I would like to thank my thesis committee-Mark Tanzer, Mitchell Aboulafia, and Myra Bookman-for their kind patience during the course ofthis project. In particular, I would like to thank my director, Professor Tanzer, for his keen insight and unflagging devotion over the last nine months. I also wish to thank the staff of the Graduate School for their support and understanding.

PAGE 7

CONTENTS CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION ......................................................... 1 2. WITTGENSTEIN AGAINST THE 1st AND 2nd ASSUMP'fiONS .......................................................... 12 1 &t AsSU1Dption ......................................................... 12 J?ld AsSU1Dption ........................................................ 22 3. SAUSSURE'S THEORY OF STRUCTURAL LINGUISTICS ............................................................ 28 4. DERRIDA AGAINST THE 1 sr AND 2ND ASSUMPTIONS ..... .45 1 &t Assumption ......................................................... 4 5 J?ld AsSU1Dption ........................................................ 52 5. WITTGENSTEIN AGAINST THE 3RD, 4TH, AND 5TH ASSUMP'fiONS .......................................................... 61 3rd AsSUlllption ........................................................ 63 4th AsSU1Dption ........................................................ 70 5th Assumption ........................................................ 76 6. DERRIDA AGAINST THE 3RD, 4TH, AND 5TH ASSUMP'fiONS ........................................................... 85 3rd Assumption ......................................................... 85 4th Assumption ......................................................... 96 vii

PAGE 8

5th Assumption ........................................................ 102 7. CONCLUSIONS .......................................................... 111 BffiLIOGRAPIIY ...................................................................... 129 viii

PAGE 9

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Both Jacques Derrida and Ludwig Wittgenstein argue against a certain conception oflanguage. They both argue against the notion that language articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents, concepts, or signifieds. This contested conception of language does not necessarily imply a correspondence between words and physical objects, but a correspondence between words and determinate referents of some sort. In other words, language shows us where one predefined concept ends, and where the next determinate concept begins. The concepts or signifieds that language articulates are assumed to be fully self contained and determinate, or completely independent of any form of linguistic or social mediation. This disputed conception presupposes that there is a proper way of categorizing or classifying distinct types of referents, and that language is designed to articulate such a proper classification. To do so, each proper word or signifier must articulate one determinate type of thing. Words or signifiers should never overlap in their conceptual reference, and the same word should never articulate more than one determinate meaning. Both Wittgenstein and Derrida disagree with this notion that meaningful language must articulate predefined units of conceptual content. They both claim that language is fundamentally indeterminate, and this 1

PAGE 10

basic indeterminacy precludes the possibility that words or signifiers can be used to articulate determinate referents, concepts, or signifieds. Wittgenstein and Derrida parallel each other in their disagreement with this particular conception oflanguage, and so they both attempt to undermine the tenability of such a conception. Although both thinkers agree that words or sigDifiers do not articulate determinate concepts, or distinct signifieds, Wittgenstein did once subscribe to such a view before later abandoning it. He came to realize that language could not be accurately described by appealing to such a model of correspondence between words and their determinate referents. Wittgenstein never retracts his basic belief that language does refer to the world, but he does later deny that such reference involves a logical correspondence between words or signifiers and distinct concepts, or signifieds. Derrida, on the other hand, is often attacked for his supposed belief that language does not refer to the world at all. Against such attacks, I will argue that Wittgenstein and Derrida agree that language does refer to the world. However, this reference of language to the world can not be accurately described in tenns of a determinate or logical correspondence between words or signifiers and their objective or conceptual correlates. Ahhough the connections between Wittgenstein and Derrida are not often considered, I believe that there are at least two striking similarities between these two thinkers. They are connected with each other in the sense that both argue against a certain conception of language, and also, both critique this conception of 2

PAGE 11

language in a similar way. Both thinkers focus their arguments against the same five crucial assumptions, which underlie or support the basic conception that the proper meaning of a word or signifier corresponds with the determinate referent for which it stands. Although the arguments employed by Wittgenstein and Derrida do differ in some ways, both thinkers still attack the same five underlying assumptions. Also, they both demonstrate that the possibility of a correspondence between words or signifiers and their determinate referents is necessarily undermined once these five assumptions have been successfully challenged. The five crucial assumptions that both Wittgenstein and Derrida challenge are as follows: 1) An unchanging foundation grounds or stabilizes the proper or determinate signifieds that should be articulated by words or signifiers. 2) There is a natural or non-arbitrary connection between each word or signifier and the proper or determinate signified that each word or signifier articulates. 3) Each human subject inherently possesses a private, self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. 4) Each human subject has the ability to engage in inner mental processes, and this ability allows the subject to grasp the proper or determinate signified that corresponds with each word or signifier. 3

PAGE 12

5) There is a finn ontological and epistemological division between an inner subject and an outer objective world or reality. In order to explain the way in which these five assumptions are inextricably linked, and how they support the conception oflanguage that Wittgenstein and Denida contest, it is necessary to examine each assumption in more detail The first assUmption, that a permanent foundation grounds or stabilizes signifieds, is the condition for the poSSJ.oility of a consistent correspondence between words or signifiers and their proper meanings. It is assumed that any language is founded upon its inherent potential to articulate the ''logos" of the world, or the logical, rational order of the world. The logical or rational order of the world is believed to be the foundation that stabilizes the proper meanings that should be articulated by words or signifiers. If words or signifiers do have determinate meanings, then language must refer to a foundation that determines the amount of conceptual content that should correspond with each unique word or signifier. It is assumed that the logical or rational order of the world provides a perfect formula for determining the proper way in which language ought to function. In order to be meaningful, the logic oflanguage must correspond with the inherent logic oftheworld. The second assumption, that there is a natural or non-arbitrary connection between each word or signifier and its proper or determinate signified, is closely related to the first assumption. The connection between each word and its associated meaning, or the proper scope of conceptual content that is taken up by a word, is 4

PAGE 13

assumed to be "natural" in the sense that the connection is not merely arbitrary. This belief in a natural or non-arbitrary connection between each word and its proper meaning supports the assumption that language is naturally designed to point to a predefined articulation of conceptual content. A non-arbitrary connection between each word and each determinate meaning grounds the possibility that language can be perfectly coherent and unambiguous, at least in principle. A foundation of language is required to ground the possibility of a perfect correspondence between each word or signifier and its proper or determinate meaning. This view assumes that language is fundamentally logical and rational, or that it is naturally ordered in a coherent manner. This inherent logical coherence of language is assumed in order to explain the possibility that language can clearly refer to the logical order of the world. If language naturally possesses a logical coherence, then each word or signifier at least has the potential to point to a single determinate signified. Such a perfectly coherent language would not be ambiguous because more than one word should never refer to the same meaning. Also, in such a perfectly coherent language, the scope of each word or signifier should never encompass more than one determinate meaning. A natural or non-arbitrary connection between each word or signifier and its proper meaning precludes the possibility that a single signifier can properly articulate more than one meaning. Such a perfectly logical language that determines the appropriate connections between each word or signifier and each determinate meaning seems to 5

PAGE 14

ground the possibility that language can refer to the world in an unambiguous manner. Each word or signifier ought to be connected to only a single determinate referent if language is to fulfill its full potential for logical coherence. It is important to note that this second assumption only implies that such a perfectly logical or coherent language is, in principle, possible. This assumption does not imply that eveiy language is in fact unambiguous, but only that language itself has an inherent logic that grounds the possibility that it can articulate the logical order of the world. The third assumption is that each human subject inherently possesses a private, self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. The private consciousness that is assumed to exist within each human subject has the ability to properly recognize the non-arbitrary correspondence that exists between each word or signifier and its proper or determinate meaning. It is possible, at least in principle, for any rational being to fully grasp the logical coherence that is naturally inherent within any language. It is assumed that each human subject is self.enclosed, because the process by which a person understands the meaning of a word is apparently inaccessible to other people. It is assumed that one human subject cannot get into another person's mind in an effort to actually experience the thoughts of that other person. Each person is capable of grasping the same determinate meaning for each word or signifier. However, this process of grasping determinate meanings occurs within the self-enclosed consciousness of each distinct person. 6

PAGE 15

The fourth assumption is closely related to the for it implies that ''understanding" and ''meaning" are actually inner mental processes, which occur within the private, seU:.enclosed consciousness of each distinct person. It is assumed that understanding and meaning are inner mental processes that accompany the proper use of language. Under this assumption, true understanding involves an explicit grasp of the determinate meaning articulated by each word or signifier. In order for a person to mean what he/she says, an inner mental process of pointing at a determinate meaning must precede or coincide with actual communication. A person who uses words without understanding their meaning does not properly execute this preceding or coincident mental process. This assumption of the existence of inner mental processes of understanding and meaning is believed to ground the possibility that human beings can communicate with each other regarding the proper meanings of words or signifiers. The fifth assumption, which is closely related to the third and fourth assumptions, is that there is a firm ontological and epistemological division between each inner subject and the outer objective world or reality. A firm ontological division between subjects and objects implies that subjects and objects are fundamentally different types of things. This division creates the epistemological problem of how a human subject is able to gain knowledge of objects that are not itseU: or objects that are distinctly separate from itself The assumption of a private, self-enclosed consciousness within each subject, in which inner mental processes 7

PAGE 16

occur, implies that each human consciousness is distinctly separate from the outside world. It is important to note that these problems only arise if one accepts the idea that there is a finn distinction between an inner subject and an outer world or reality. IfWittgenstein and Derrida can successfully undermine these five assumptions, then they can also challenge the notion that language articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents. Their purpose is not only to refute a theory of correspondence between words and their determinate referents, but also to expose some of the hidden assumptions that are closely related to such a theory. The first two assumptions directly support a correspondence theory, but the last three assumptions are often accepted despite the untenability of such a theory. If Wittgenstein and Derrida are successful in their refutation of these assumptions, then they must offer an ahemative description for the way in which language can be used to refer to the world. Such a description must include an examination of what each thinker means by the terms "language," ''world," and ''reference." I will argue that both Wittgenstein and Derrida do believe that language does, in some sense, refer to the world. However, they both believe that the way in which language refers to the world cannot be properly descnoed by assuming that there is only one paradigm model by which to depict such reference. The paradigm model against which Wittgenstein and Derrida argue is the belief that each word or signifier functions primarily as a name, and that each proper name oflanguage articulates the determinate referent for which it stands. This 8

PAGE 17

model privileges the meaning of a word over the word itse:tt: for a word or signifier is thought to simply articulate the determinate meaning for which it stands. Wittgenstein and Derrida focus their arguments especially against this model of the reference oflanguage to the world because it is deeply rooted within the tradition of Western philosophy. However, it is important to note that both thinkers would argue against the possibility of describing the reference oflanguage to the world by appealing to any determinate formula or paradigm model They both argue that the fundamental indeterminacy of language precludes the possibility of reducing all instances of reference to a single paradigm model, or to any determinate set of models. The thesis I will defend is that Wittgenstein and Derrida both focus their arguments against the notion that language articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents. Moreover, they both contest this particular conception of language in an analogous manner, for they both critique the same five crucial assumptions that support this disputed conception of language. Both thinkers claim that words or signifiers could not possibly articulate determinate units of conceptual content, even in principle. They argue that language is necessarily indeterminate. Therefore, the notion of a correspondence between words or signifiers and their proper or determinate meanings is incompatible with this fundamental indeterminacy of language. It is not the case that every language has the potential to become perfectly coherent, for perfect coherence implies perfect determinacy, and every 9

PAGE 18

language is fundamentally indeterminate. This indeterminacy of language is not a lack or an inadequacy that can be remedied by constructing a perfect language. Such a perfectly coherent language is necessarily inconceivable, because a fully determinate language would not even qualify as a language. Any attempt to eradicate the fundamental indeterminacy of language is equivalent to an attempt to transform language into something that it cannot be. My argument in support of this thesis is structured in the following manner. Chapter two focuses on Wittgenstein' s arguments against the first and second assumptions that support the notion that language articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents. The first two assumptions are discussed together because they both relate to the way in which language ought to function. Chapter three provides necessary background for a proper understanding of Deni.da' s arguments against these first two assumptions. This background consists of an examination ofFerdinand de Saussure's theory of structural linguistics. Chapter four presents Deni.da' s arguments against the first two assumptions. Chapter five describes Wittgenstein 's arguments against the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions. These last three assumptions are discussed together because all of them relate to the belief that each autonomous consciousness is capable of understanding the logical or rational order of the world by grasping the proper meanings of words or signifiers. Chapter six describes Derrida's arguments against these last three assumptions. Chapter seven evaluates the overall effectiveness of the 10

PAGE 19

arguments presented by Wittgenstein and by Derrida. This final chapter also examines the similarities and the differences between the two lines of argument. 11

PAGE 20

CHAPTER2 WITTGENSTEIN AGAINST THE 1 sr AND 2ND ASSUMPTIONS 1st Assumption The .first assumption is that language requires an unchanging foundation that grounds or stabilizes the proper or determinate signifieds that should be articulated by words or signifiers. Wittgenstein argues that a careful examination of the use of ordinary language reveals that language has no permanent foundation. Moreover, language is complete and useful as it is, without a metaphysical foundation that stabilizes the proper meanings that language is meant to articulate. G. P. Baker (1980) and P.M. S. Hacker note that ''Language, far from resting on metaphysical foundations, is autonomous and self-contained" (p. 203). Language does not need a foundation, for it is an independent, self-governing phenomenon. Philosophers commonly assume that language requires a foundation that fixes the way in which language properly imparts or communicates meaning. Wittgenstein argues that words or signifiers do not have proper or determinate meanings. Therefore, there is no determinate formula or set of criteria by which to judge whether or not language communicates meaning properly. 12

PAGE 21

Wittgenstein contends that philosophy cannot impose restrictions upon language that limit the ways in which language can be used properly. Since language is a fully independent, self-contained phenomenon, philosophy can do nothing more than describe language as it ordinarily appears within everyday experience. Any attempt to restrict or limit language by insisting on a single, determinate way in which language ought to function is equivalent to a refusal to describe the way in which language is ordinarily used. If language is naturally complete, and unnatural restrictions are applied to it, then such restrictions only alter language by forcing it into an unnatural theoretical framework. Wittgenstein (1958b) argues, ''Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only descn"be it. For it cannot give it any foundation either. It leaves everything as it is" (note 124). Wittgenstein believes that the proper task of philosophy is to descn"be the multifarious uses of ordinary language, but such a description is not as simple and straightforward as it might seem at first. There are many pitfalls within language that can lead to a great deal of conceptual confusion. Therefore, this confusion can only be resolved by carefully examining the way in which language is ordinarily used. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein argues against the Augustinian conception oflanguage. St. Augustine's conception oflanguage is a good example of the view that language functions correctly in a single, proper manner. Wittgenstein ( 195 8b) describes the Augustinian picture of language in this 13

PAGE 22

way: "the individual words in language name objects sentences are combinations of such names . .. Every word has a meaning. This meaning is correlated with the word It is the object for which the word stands" (note 1 ). Wittgenstein argues that words do not primarily function as names or as labels for the signifieds to which they refer. There are rare cases in which a word can be used to point to a specific object, but this is mainly a way of differentiating one object from another. For example, I might explain to a young child that ''this object here is a table, but that object over there is a chair." However, this use oflanguage to point to a specific object presupposes that the child already understands language well enough to ask for such an explanation or to express confusion about the difference between tables and chairs. Wittgenstein argues that using language in an ostensive way presupposes the existence of a specific social and cultural context in which language occurs. Since ostensive definition is a derivative rather than a primary mode of using language, ostensive definition cannot provide a foundation for language. In order to explain the claim that ostensive definition presupposes a background social or cuhural context, it is necessary to introduce Wittgenstein' s notion of''language-games." Wittgenstein (1958b) explains that ''the term 'language-game' is meant to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life" (note 23). Wittgenstein appeals to an analogy between language and a game, because he hopes to eradicate the assumption that the meaning of language can be accessed apart from the background 14

PAGE 23

social and cultural context in which language occurs. He argues that the original or primordial factor that constitutes the meaning of language is the form of life into which a person is bom. A child learns language by playing the various language games within his/her culture or society. As a child plays various language-games, that child learns to think in certain ways, or to conceptualize the world in certain ways. In this manner, language constitutes reality in a sense, because the activity of language creates the conceptual frameworks through which human beings learn to think about reality, or about the world. However, such language-games always presuppose a common form of life, or a common background or cultural context in which language occurs. One example of a language-game or a set of language-games is mathematics. Wittgenstein asks us to recall the way in which we teach our children to play this particular language-game. Normally, a child learns arithmetic by doing arithmetic, and the ability to do arithmetic does not presuppose a comprehensive understanding of all ofthe rules and definitions associated with arithmetic. Wittgenstein (1967) asks, ''Does a child learn to talk, or also to think? Does it learn the sense of multiplication before-or after it learns multiplication?" (note 324). The child is not taught a meaning or definition of arithmetic that is separate from the language-game itself In fact, children normally learn arithmetic long before they understand the sense or logic of arithmetic. They do not have an explicit understanding of all of the rules of arithmetic operation before they are able to use such operations. In fact, the 15

PAGE 24

very idea of a determinate set of rules for mathematics is challenged by the fact that the field of mathematics is constantly changing and growing. The discovery of irrational numbers is one example of an unexpected change in this field. Just as a child does not learn operations such as addition and subtraction by understanding the logical proofs for the possibility of employing such operations, a child does not learn a language by explicitly comprehending a set of rules that is implicit within language. Also, a child does not learn a language by associating each word with a specific definition as a person might learn a foreign language. Rather, a child learns language by playing the language-games into which he or she is born. The sense or meaning of the words within each language-game is learned by playing each type of game. Wittgenstein argues that there is not a determinate, predefined articulation of possible language-games, because language-games develop contingently within the context of the specific form of life into which a person is born. G. P. Baker (1980) and P. M. S. Hacker explain: A wide range of discriminatory abilities, recognitional reactions, imitative propensities, and behavioural patterns are part of the natural history of mankind. Were these different in certain imaginable ways we would have a radically different language, or none at all Philosophers often forget that a language is part of the history of a form oflife. (pp. 71-2) The practices, activities, customs, and non-linguistic behaviors of a specific culture or community all contribute to the language-games that are recognized within 16

PAGE 25

that form oflife. For example, many Americans keep dogs and cats as pets, so the idea of using dogs and cats for food is reprehensible. However, there are other cuhures that do use dogs and cats for food, so this practice is acceptable within certain forms of life. Such differences in practices or customs can lead to differences iit the language-games that are used within various forms of life. In most American cultures, dogs and cats are treated as being almost human, for Americans often attnoute specific personalities and anthropomorphic intelligence to their pets. The way in which Americans learn to think and to talk about dogs and cats is inextricably linked to a specific form of life. Moreover, multiple variations can be discerned even within the same cuhure. For example, a rabbit is an unusual pet, but for those who keep rabbits as pets, the idea of eating rabbits is just as reprehensible as the idea of eating cats and dogs. For a rabbit owner, rabbits may also seem to be unusually intelligent. The accepted practices and activities within a particular form of life arbitrarily constitute the types oflanguage-games that are used within that form of life. Also, the language-games within a specific form of life continually alter the practices and customs that are recognized within that form of life. A form of life is not like a foundation oflanguage, because the language-games that arise from a specific form of life in turn alter the practices and customs within that form of life. For example, modem cuhure increasingly relies upon the Internet in order to communicate via electronic mail The ''language-game" of electronic mail in turn 17

PAGE 26

alters the common practices of our culture. Perhaps we find ourselves leaving the house less often, and we are no longer accustomed to face-to-face interactions. We worry about our children using the Internet because it is not easy to verify the true identities and intentions of chat room and electronic mail correspondents. Thus, this new language-game has arisen arbitrarily as a result of new technology, but this arbitrarily constituted language-game also affects our common practices and customs in unexpected ways. Therefore, the indeterminacy oflanguage arises from the contingency inherent in various forms of life, but forms of life are also arbitrarily constituted by the language-games that we play. It is impossible to formulate or to explicate a determinate list of possible forms of life, for forms of life develop contingently according to the practices and customs of specific groups of people. However, even specific groups of people do not necessarily share determinate sets of practices or customs in common. For example only a limited number of people communicate via the Internet, and only a limited number of people keep rabbits as pets. In fact, the very use of oral or written language as a communicative tool is a contingent development that is attributable to the customs and activities that many human beings share in common. In certain contexts, non-linguistic behavior can be just as effective as oral or written communication. Most animals do not even use language. For instance, when a mountain lion growls and bares its teeth, most animals recognize this as a sign that a swift departure is advisable. Human beings are simply born into forms of life in 18

PAGE 27

which language is so language usage is part of the ''natural history" ofhuman beings. Although various cultures do develop contingently, Wittgenstein does not necessarily claim that the indeterminacy oflanguage is directly attributable to cultural relativism. Such a claim would be misleading, for it implies that cultilral relitivism is the source or origin of the indeterminacy of language. This implication is equivalent to the claim that cultural relativism is a foundation oflanguage, and the idea of an indeterminate, contingent foundation seems seU:.contradictory. Rather than making such a self-contradictory claim, Wittgenstein suggests that language is necessarily indeterminate, because any specific language-game or set of language games is based upon arbitrary agreement in definitions and judgments. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains that ''If language is to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in definitions but also (queer as this may sound) in judgments" (note 242). Since each human being must simply accept his/her form of life, each individual must accept the definitions and judgments that are part of that form oflife. The practices or customs of a specific culture or community develop contingently because no person or force is in a position to direct the course of cultural development. Also, it is not the case that any language-game or set of possible language games inherently possesses a comprehensive set of rules that encompass every possible contingency. Moreover, the fact that the rules of each language-game do 19

PAGE 28

not cover every possible situation does not imply that language is necessarily ineffective. Wittgenstein (1958b) asks "If I tell someone 'Stand roughly here'-may not this explanation work perfectly? And cannot every other one fail too?" (note 88). This is one example of a judgment that is simply accepted as part of the fonn of life into which a person is hom. If the instruction "stand roughly here" is accepted within a specific fonn of life, then such an instruction is generally considered to be exact and useful within that form of life. However, even if such an instruction does have a place within a specific language-game, it is still possible that a person might not follow the instruction correctly. Moreover, it is not possible to fommlate any form of instruction that guarantees proper understanding. Nonetheless, the inability of a particular individual to properly comply with a specific instruction does not necessarily imply that the instruction is useless. The tenns "exact," "inexact," and ''useless," only have meanings within the context of the specific language-games in which these tenns are used. Wittgenstein recognizes that a specific language is a product of a specific society or culture in which certain ideas or concepts are emphasized over others, and a certain meaning may be useful in one society or culture but not in another. The signifieds that are articulated by a specific language vary according to what is accentuated and what is excluded by that culture. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains that: There are countless kinds: countless different kinds of use of what we call 'symbols', 'words', 'sentences'. And this multiplicity is not something fixed, given once for all; but new types of language, new 20

PAGE 29

language-games, as we may say, come into existence, and others become obsolete and get forgotten. (note 23) Wittgenstein argues that the number of ways in which language can be effectively used is indeterminate. Therefore, it does not make sense to claim that a foundation must stabilize the proper or determinate meanings that should be articulated by words or signifiers. Since words or signifiers are undetermined or indeterminate, it does not make sense to claim that language requires a foundation to ground or stabilize its proper or determinate meanings. Also, it is not even conceivable that words or signifiers could be fully determinate, because language develops contingently as part of the background social or cultural context in which it arises. The background social or cultural context is also contingent because no force or individual is able to control the arbitrary historical changes that constitute various forms of life. The meaning of language is inextricably linked to its use, and any attempt to examine language independently of its specific use and context is not an examination of something that can properly be called a language. Since words or signifiers can not possibly articulate determinate units of conceptual content, it is not necessary to posit a foundation that grounds the possibility of a correspondence between each word or signifier and its proper or determinate meaning. Since a foundation is only required in order to support the possibility of such a correspondence, the assumption that language requires a permanent foundation is unwarranted. 21

PAGE 30

'rd Assumption The second assumption is that there is a natural or non-arbitrary connection between each word or signifier and the proper or determinate signified that each word or signifier articulates. This is closely related to the first assumption, for a foundation of language is the predefined categorization of determinate referents that ought to be articulated by words or signifiers. Wittgenstein (1958a) pleads ''Let's not imagine the meaning as an occult connection the mind makes between a word and a thing, and that this connection contains the whole usage of a word as the seed might be said to contain a tree" (pp. 73-4 ). The seed to which Wittgenstein refers seems to contain the proper or determinate definition of a tree, for the seed of a tree has a predetermined potential to fully actualize itself by becoming a particular type of tree. The seed points to a trajectory by which the seed can properly actualize its full potential In a similar manner, it is assumed that each word or signifier non arbitrarily corresponds with a proper or determinate meaning. Each word or signifier can fully actualize its potential by articulating a single, proper, determinate meaning that is not associated with any other word or signifier. The second assumption is equivalent to the claim that each word or signifier only has a single proper meaning, or a single proper range of uses. The proper meaning of each word is defined by its unique connection to a specific, determinate 22

PAGE 31

referent. Wittgenstein argues that the possible uses of words or signifiers are multifarious and unlimited, so the possible signifieds that can be articulated by words or signifiers are also unlimited. A single word can be used in a number of different ways depending on the context in which the word is used. There are not a predetermined number of ways in which a certain word can be used. Since the meamng of a word is inextricably linked to its use within a specific social or cultural context, the meaning of a word is as indeterminate as the unlimited variations that exist, and can potentially exist, within various societies and cultures. Since the elements of language (ie. words, sentences, etc.) do not point to ahistorical meanings, Wittgenstein argues that meaning can only be investigated by descn"bing the various ways in which language is actually used. The actual uses of language do not define the limits of the ways in which language can be used, but only provide examples of the ways in which language is, in fact, used. He draws an analogy between the elements of language and tools or instruments that can be used in an unUmited number ofways. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains, ''Language is an instrument. Its concepts are instruments" (note 569). There is not a single, determinate meaning that is linked to each word or signifier, for words or signifiers can be used in a limitless number of ways. Therefore, the meaning of a word can only be properly investigated within the specific context in which it occurs. One must play the language-game in which the word occurs. Language-games vary 23

PAGE 32

greatly, and. so the meaning of a word, or the conceptual content taken up by a word, also varies according to the specific language-game that is being played. One of the reasons that Wittgenstein argues so vehemently against the assumption that there is a non-arbitrary connection between words or s_ignifiers and their determinate referents is because this is exactly the type of assumption to which he subscribed in his early thinking. In his early work, the Tractatus-Logico Phi/osophicus, Wittgenstein asserts that certain simple, atomic propositions that accurately picture the world can be combiiled in a perfectly coherent language in order to form meaningful statements. This is referred to as Wittgenstein' s Picture Theory of Meaning, because he assumes that a true proposition is one whose logical form corresponds with a state of affairs in the world. Wittgenstein believes that inconsistency and a lack of rigor plague language, and he wishes to impose a logical structure on to language so that it will be possible to clearly differentiate between true and false propositions. This is the type of thinking that Derrida refers to as logocentrism, because it assumes that meaningful language is essentially logical. Logocentric thinking assumes that it is possible to disambiguate language by ensuring that each word or signifier clearly points to a single referent or meaning. According to Wittgenstein' s early view, true propositions are ones that accurately depict how things stand in the world, and false propositions are ones that do not provide such an accurate description. AM. Quinton (Pitcher, ed., 1966) encapsulates this early view by stating: 24

PAGE 33

That there must be such simple, unanalyzable propositions if any propositions are to have a definite sense and not merely stand in internal logical relations to one another, is the cardinal axiom of Wittgenstein's philosophy. (p. 4) In his early thinking, Wittgenstein insists that there must be such simple propositions, because he thinks that he must ground the possibility of a perfect correspondence between the elements of language and their determinate referents. Otherwise, it seems that language could not possibly refer to the world in a meaningful way. It is important to note that Wittgenstein was never able to give an example of a simple proposition or a simple object, and this is one of the reasons that he revises his later thought on the reference of language to the world. He never contradicts his basic assertion that language does refer to the world. However, he does later recognize that the reference oflanguage to the world is not founded upon a simple correspondence between words or signifiers and their determinate referents. Wittgenstein denies that the elements oflanguage all share one thing in common that prompts us to use the term ''language" to characterize the elements of any and every language. Also, a word or signifier of a particular language does not have the same determinate meaning in every context in which that word is used. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains, ''I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for aR but that they are related to one another in many different ways" (note 65). He recognizes that muhiple instances of a particular word such as "game" are not linked together by a common 25

PAGE 34

characteristic or set of characteristics. Some games such as football or basketball require certain physical skills, but other games require strategic or mental skills. Some games, such as roulette, do not require skill as much as luck. Every game does not include winning and losing, for "playing house" is also a type of game. Also, eVery game does not include competition between opponents, for there are games such as solitaire. It is impossible to cite a determinate set of properties or characteristics that all games have in common. Wittgenstein (1958b) argues: ''I can think of no better expression to characterize the similarities than 'family resemblances'; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, color of eyes, gait, temperament ... (note 67). Family resemblance is not necessarily based upon a determinate feature or set of features that is possessed by every member of a family. There is not a common thread of resemblance that grounds the similarities between members of a family. In fact, one or more members of a family can have strikingly different features as compared with the other members of the family. In a similar manner, there is not a common thread that connects all of the uses or applications of the same word within a language. Since the same word within a particular language need not be applied in the same way every time, it does not make sense to claim that a proper or determinate meaning is non-arbitrarily connected to each word or signifier. If each word or signifier can be used in a wide variety of ways even within the same language, then it is contradictory to claim that each word or signifier 26

PAGE 35

articulates a specific, determinate meaning. Wittgenstein argues that an examination of the way in which language is ordinarily used contradicts the assumption that each word or signifier articulates a proper or determinate meaning. The notion of a perfect one-to-one correspondence between each word or signifier and its proper meaning directly conflicts with the fundamental indeterminacy that is evident in ordinary language. Wittgenstein does not believe that words or signifiers can articulate certain predefined determinate meanings, because such a belief is not supported by the way in which language actually functions. He suggests that there is no such thing as a distinction between the way in which language, in fact, functions and the way in which language ought to function. If the words or signifiers of ordinary language do not in fact refer to determinate meanings, then it does not make sense to assume that they ought to refer to determinate meanings. If words or signifiers do not refer to proper or determinate meanings, then it does not make sense to claim that language requires a foundation to ground or stabilize its proper or determinate meanings. 27

PAGE 36

CHAPTER3 SAUSSURE'S THEORY OF STRUCTURAL LINGUISTICS As noted in the introduction, this chapter provides necessary background for a proper examination ofDerrida's arguments against the first and second assumptions that support the notion that words or signifiers articulate a predefined categorization of determinate referents. This chapter explores Ferdinand de Saussure' s theory of structural linguistics. It is not divided into sections that specifically address the first two assumptions, because Derrida's arguments against these assumptions are discussed in the next chapter. Nevertheless, this discussion of Saussure directly relates to Derrida' s arguments in the next chapter, for Derrida expands upon some of the key insights that are presented in this chapter. Although Saussure would not necessarily agree with all ofDerrida's conclusions, Derrida claims that his position can be derived from the implications that are inherent in some of Saussure' s basic insights. Of course, Saussure was not the only influence on Derrida, and Derrida's conclusions are not all attn'butable to expansions of Saussurean insights. Nevertheless, Derrida's arguments are inextricably linked to Saussure's work. 28

PAGE 37

Before examining Saussure's theory in detail, it is first necessary to explain some of the similarities and differences between Saussure and Derrida. Ahhough both Saussure and Derrida would agree that a predefined articulation of signifieds does not act as a permanent foundation for language, Saussure does believe that all languages do share certain universal or necessary features. Saussure believes that every language must possess certain underlying structural features, while Derrida thinks it is impossible to explicitly determine the features that every language must possess. Saussure (1959) sets himself the goal of determining ''the forces that are permanently and universally at work in all languages, and to deduce the general laws to which all specific historical phenomena can be reduced ... (p. 6). Derrida objects to the idea of attempting to explicate certain universal or general laws to which all languages must conform, for this idea implies that such laws are actually antecedent to the various languages that they govern. The possibility that certain general laws determine the features of any and every language implies that those laws are independent of or outside of the contingent historical development of language. So Derrida objects to the possibility of conceiving of an origin of language that determines the proper ways in which language ought to function. Derrida' s arguments against the possibility of locating such a determinate point of origin for language are discussed in more detail in the next chapter. These specific features of language, which Saussure deems to be universal or necessary, are descn"bed within this chapter. They include the union of a concept 29

PAGE 38

and sound-image in each linguistic sign, the arbitrary and differential character of linguistic signs, and the fact that a particular language can be examined as a fixed system of oppositions at a specific historical moment in time. This last point, that a given language can be examined as a fixed system of oppositions, may seem unlikely given the arbitrary historical changes to which various languages are continually subjected. However, Saussure believes that it is possible to examine a particular language as a closed or fixed system, because arbitrary historical changes progress slowly enough so as to allow for such a rigorous examination. Saussure refers to the study of such a fixed linguistic system as "synchronic linguistics," and this category of study must be distinguished from "evolutionary or diachronic linguistics," which studies the arbitrary historical changes that affect various languages. Saussure (1959) explains: "Synchronic linguistics will be concerned with the logical and psychological relations that bind together coexisting terms and form a system in the collective mind of speakers" (pp. 99-100). However, Derrida objects to the possibility of examining any particular language as a fixed system of oppositional differences between linguistic signs. Derrida argues that the continual "play" oflanguage necessarily excludes the possibility that any language can be a fixed system of oppositions even in a synchronic linguistic moment. Derrida's notion of"play" is discussed in more detail in the next chapter. For now, ']>lay" can be defined as the constant shifts between signifiers and signifieds within a 30

PAGE 39

particular language. Derrida argues that signifiers are not detenninately connected to certain signifieds even within a synchronic linguistic moment. In one sense, Derrida does approve ofSaussure's model oflinguistic structuralism, because Saussure emphasizes the fact that language does not directly refer to the world or reality. This impossibility of direct referentiality between language and the world is described below. However, on the other hand, Derrida objects to the temporal and spatial fixity that is implied by the idea of a linguistic synchrony. Derrida denies that it is possible to actually fix a moment in time, because each moment in time is not distinct or discrete. Each moment is necessarily constituted by what has happened in the past and by what will come about in the future. Also, a linguistic synchrony is not a fixed or closed system, because it is impossible to fix the connections between signifiers and signifieds even within the confines of a specific moment in time. Derrida' s objections to the possibility of a linguistic synchrony are discussed in more detail at the end of this chapter, and also in the next chapter. Now, it is possible to examine Saussure's theory in more detail. Ferdinand de Saussure was one of the first thinkers to observe that language does not directly refer to reality, for concepts or ideas mediate between language and reality. He revolutionized linguistics by recognizing that concepts stand in between words or signi:fiers and their ostensible referents. He argues that there is not a natural or non arbitrary connection between each word or signifier and each determinate referent or 31

PAGE 40

signified. Saussure (1959) explains that, 'The linguistic sign unites, not a thing and a name, but a concept and a sound-image" (p. 66). He claims that language is not isomorphic with the world, because words or signifiers do not articulate determinate objects, but concepts. In other words, concepts intervene between words or signifiers and their ostensive objective correlates in the world. Moreover, Saussure erophasizes the psychological aspect of concepts, for a linguistic community elects to signify certain aspects of the conceptual array, and not others. Different languages set up the conceptual array in different ways, and the concepts that are part of the array of a specific linguistic community do not necessarily correspond to the concepts of another linguistic community. Also, the conceptual array of any specific linguistic community does not necessarily correspond with the objective world. This conceptual mediation between language and reality is evident both on the manifest or surface layer oflanguage, and also on the latent or hidden layer of language. Saussure's theory can be referred to as structural linguistics, because he recognizes both a manifest and a latent layer within every language. On the manifest layer oflanguage, it is clearly evident that the orthography of a word does not necessarily correspond with its pronunciation. Saussure (1959) notes that "language is constantly evolving, whereas writing tends to remain stable. The result is that a point is reached where writing no longer corresponds to what it is supposed to record" (p. 27). He goes on to use the French word, "roi," or "king," as an example 32

PAGE 41

ofthe progressive divergence that often develops between the spelling of a word and its accepted pronunciation. Saussure describes the progressive changes that the word '1-oi" has undergone from the eleventh century to the nineteenth century. Ahhough both the written and pronounced forms of the word were '1-ei" during the eleventh century, the written fonil had become '1-oi," and the pronounced form had become '1-wa" by the nineteenth century. The French linguistic community was, in a sense, responsible for this progressive change, but a specific individual or group of individuals was not responsible for it. Saussure emphasizes that linguistic changes such as this are really arbitrary, because a specific group of individuals is unable to fully monitor or control such changes. Such a progressive change produces a kind of gap between language and reality, because the spelling of a word no longer provides a guideline for its proper pronunciation. Once the manifest or surface layer of language is penetrated, it is also evident that a word or signifier does not have a natural or non-arbitrary connection to the signified for which it stands. For example, there is no logical reason that the word "cow'' must be used to represent a bovine creature. It could just as easily be used to represent a triangle or a door. The word "cow" could be used as a sign for any concept, idea, or signified. This view, that words or signifiers articulate their referents in an arbitrary fashion, is further supported by the fact that different words are used to represent similar concepts in different languages. For example, as noted 33

PAGE 42

above, the French word is "roi" but the English word is ''king." Neither 'l'oi" nor ''king" has a natural or non-arbitrary connection to the concept of a royal sovereign, for each word is chosen arbitrarily. However, the word ''king" need not refer to a royal sovereign, for it can also be used to refer to one of the four kings in a deck of cards. This means that a word such as ''king" does not have a clear reference outside of the specific context and linguistic background in which it is used. If I simply say or write the word ''king," it is not clear whether I am referring to a royal sovereign, to one of four cards in a deck, or to something else. Despite the fact that words are arbitrarily chosen to refer to certain concepts, Saussure notes that the connections between words and their associated concepts are tenacious once they are accepted within a specific linguistic community. Saussure (1959) explains: The word arbitrary also calls for comment. The term should not imply that the choice of the signifier is left entirely to the speaker ... I mean that it is unmotivated, ie. arbitrary in that it actually has no natural connection with the signified. (pp. 68-9) Although words and concepts are chosen arbitrarily, this does not necessarily imply that any member of a linguistic community can choose to begin using a new language consisting of a brand new, autonomously constructed vocabulary. Such a person would not actually be creating a language, because that person could not be understood within his/her linguistic community. This refutes the belief that a person can assign and understand meaning privately, or independently of a social or cultural 34

PAGE 43

context. Saussure argues that ideas do not pre-exist language, but that language constitutes concepts or ideas. However, the concepts or ideas that are chosen by a specific linguistic community are also outside of that community's control in a strong sense. This is because no member or collection of members within a liilguistic community has the power to control the changes that language naturally endmes over the course ofhistory. Saussure (1959) explains that ''No individual, even ifhe willed it, could modify in any way at all the choice that has been made; and what is more, the community itself cannot control so much as a single word; it is bound to the existing language" (p. 71 ). This notion that a person is bound to his/her native language is very similar to Wittgenstein' s notion of a specific ''form of life" into which a person is born, which was discussed in the last chapter. In one sense, a linguistic community chooses the conceptual array that will be articulated by the words or signifiers of their language. The linguistic community chooses which signifiers will be associated with which concepts or ideas. However, this choice is not attributable to any particular community member or to any collection of members. Each member of a linguistic community is really forced to accept his/her native linguistic system This system includes arbitrary connections between words or signifiers, and associated concepts or signifieds, and each person must accept his/her overall differential system as it has already been constituted. 35

PAGE 44

In a strong sense, the differential system of language is not attributable to any person or to any particular point of origin. This is because contingent historical changes continually affect language, and such contingent changes ground the necessary indeterminacy of language. There is no positive or proper meaning of any word, or signifier, oflanguage. A language is never absolutely permanent or static, because it is constantly subjected to arbitrary historical changes. These changes affect linguistic signifiers, signifieds, and the connections between the two. These constant shifts in the underlying structure oflanguage reveal the fact that language also has a latent or hidden layer, in addition to its manifest or surface layer. The latent or hidden layer of language suggests itself when one realizes that the meaning that is associated with a specific word or signifier is actually dependent upon an underlying structure of differences or oppositions between the terms of language. This underlying differential structure is a :fundamental or basic feature of any language. It defines not only the relationship between the words or signifiers of language, but also between the signifieds or concepts of language. Saussure (1959) explains: ... in language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system (p. 120) 36

PAGE 45

Saussure argues that words or signi:fiers do not have positive or determinate meanings that are independent ofthe differential linguistic system to which those words or signifiers belong. The relations between words or signifiers within a specific differential linguistic system define the meanings ofthe terms within that system The meaning of each term is not fixed or determinate, because the differential system shifts and changes over the course of time. Each specific word or signifier does not have any proper or determinate content that necessarily belongs to it, for its content is defined by the amount of conceptual content that is taken up by other words within the overall linguistic system The conceptual content that is taken up by a specific word or signifier is not a function of its positive or proper meaning, but a function of its relations to other signs within the differential system For example, the pronoun '1te" only has a meaning or sense in so far as it can be contrasted with other pronouns like "she," "them," and ''it." The word ''he" does not have any positive meaning outside of a specific differential linguistic system The amount of conceptual content that is taken up by other pronouns, such as "she" and ''it," actually defines the conceptual content that is taken up by the pronoun ''he." Also, Saussure argues that the conceptual content taken up by specific words, or the accepted meaning of specific words, often shifts and changes over time. For example, if a specific word is dropped from a particular linguistic system, other closely related words often absorb the conceptual content that had been associated with the ancillary term. Such 37

PAGE 46

arbitrary changes cause contingent shifts in the conceptual content taken up by words or signifiers. This precludes the possibility of maintaining a stable, determinate connection between each word or signifier and each concept or signified. Saussure's claim that words or signifiers do not have any positive meaning in aild of themselves is significant for the structuralist movement as a whole. The proponents of structuralism claim that natural science is incapable of accurately descn"bing social and cultural phenomena. Natural science studies nature assuming that the world consists of a collection of discrete units, or positivities. These discrete units are believed to have positive, determinate content that is independent of the overall system of relations in the natural world. Structuralists assert that society and culture cannot be understood in an atomistic, positivistic way, because a society does not simply consist of a collection of discrete individuals. The whole of society is more than the sum of its parts, or a social system is not equivalent to the sum of its individual members. The relations between members of a social system are often more important than the members themselves, considered individually. For structuralists, the system is primary, and things are what they are only by virtue of the system Saussure breaks with the positivistic model of the natural sciences, because he does not view language as a collection of words and sounds that have meaning in and ofthemselves. Language is a system of differential signs, and each sign within the system only has a meaning by virtue of its opposition to other signs within the system 38

PAGE 47

These differences that are part of any linguistic system include differences between letters, phonemes or sounds, words or signifiers, and also concepts or signifieds. Each letter of an alphabet is not necessarily configured in a way that clearly indicates proper pronunciation. For example, there is no logical reason that the letter ''t" could not be used to represent a different sound altogether. Saussure (1959) argues that 'The signs used in writing are arbitrary; there is no connection, for example, between the letter t and the sound that it designates" (p. 119). It is only necessary that each letter of an alphabet is different from every other letter within that alphabet. Saussure (1959) explains that 'The value ofletters is purely negative and differential" (p. 119). For example, the manner in which different people write the letter ''t" varies widely, but there is only confusion when the letter ''t" is indistinguishable from other letters such as "1" or "h." A letter must be exact only to the extent that it must be distinguishable from other letters of the alphabet. Similarly, the sounds or phonemes of a particular language need only be distinguishable from one another. Phonemes are the distinct sounds of language that are deemed to be meaningful. There are about two hundred possible ']>hones" that can be vocalized by a human being, but only about forty-five phones are actually used in English. Robert E. Owens, Jr. (1996) notes that ''English has approximately fort-five phonemes, give or take a few for dialectal variations ... (p. 21). In English, it is necessary to recognize the phonational differences between words such as "cat," ''bat," and ''hat." The ability to understand spoken English presupposes an 39

PAGE 48

ability to recognize the difference between such sounds. In fact, it is significant that a foreign speaker of a new language must often ask a native speaker to speak more slowly. Such a foreign speaker often has trouble understanding the differences or the breaks between words if the new language is spoken too quickly. This is further eVidence of the fact that an underlying differential structure within language is what penDits the possibility of linguistic communication. The necessity of differences between terms in a linguistic system is also evident in the connections between words or signifiers, and their associated meanings. A word such as ''boat" must not only be differentiated from similar sounding words such as "rote," and "vote," but it must also be differentiated from conceptually similar words such as "ship," and "canoe." The fact that the terms ''boat," "ship," and "canoe" are all used within the same language implies that the conceptual content articulated by each term is distinct. However, this is not necessarily the case. A "canoe" could also be called a ''boat" so it seems that the conceptual content taken up by the term "canoe" at least partially overlaps the conceptual content encompassed by the tenn ''boat." However, the word "canoe" can be used rather than the word ''boat" in order to be as specific as possible when referring to a canoe. The terms ''boat," and "ship," are also closely related, although the word "ship" evokes the idea of a very large boat. Thus, the conceptual content that is taken up by each one of these terms is definedby the conceptual content that is taken up by other closely related terms. 40

PAGE 49

Each term does not have a positive value that is independent of the overall linguistic system, because the meaning of each term is inextricably linked to its difference from other, absent terms within the linguistic system Therefore, the value of each linguistic term is really negative, because each term only has a meaning insofar as it can be differentiated from other terms within the overall system. Linguistic terms do not have value in and of themselves, or they do not have any value that is independent of the specific differential linguistic system to which they belong. This is because the signified that is associated with a specific word or signifier is assigned arbitrarily, and such an association is tenacious but not static once it is in place. Also, the conceptual array to which a specific linguistic system refers is constituted arbitrarily. The delimitation of a certain amount of conceptual content for a particular word or signifier is an arbitrary function of the conceptual differences that exist between the terms of a specific differential linguistic system There are not any natural or non-arbitrary connections between words or signifiers and concepts or signi.fieds. Since both signifiers and signifieds are fundamentally arbitrary and differential, it does not make sense to speak of the proper or determinate content of a specific word or signifier. The assertion that any differential, linguistic term is fundamentally arbitrary is equivalent to the assertion that any linguistic term has no proper content, or that it is necessarily indeterminate. A differential linguistic term is not only indeterminate in the sense of having an inadequacy that can be corrected or supplemented, it is 41

PAGE 50

necessarily indeterminate. This is because there is no such thing as the positive or proper meaning of a differential linguistic term. By definition, a differential linguistic term has no proper or determinate content, because its conceptual content is assigned arbitrarily as a function of its place in an overall differential linguistic s}'stem This point is further discussed in the next chapter, for it provides a starting poili.t for Derrida' s arguments against the second assumption. Although Saussure admits that both signifiers and signifieds are fundamentally arbitrary and he still believes it is possible to study the existing connections between signifiers and signifieds, or to study the linguistic signs that are part of a particular language. Saussure (1959) claims that "Although both the signified and the signifier are purely differential and negative when considered separately, their combination is a positive fact; it is even the sole type of facts that language has ... (pp. 120-1 ). Although language undergoes a number of arbitrary changes over time, Saussure believes it is possible to isolate a specific linguistic moment in order to study the underlying differential structure of a particular language. He believes that such a rigorous examination can yield an accurate description of the mapping of concepts or signifieds on to the specific range of words or signifiers that are part of a particular linguistic system. Although Saussure does argue that the connections between signifiers and their associated meanings are arbitrary, he also explains that these connections are tenacious once they are in place within a specific linguistic community. He believes it is possible to study relatively 42

PAGE 51

static linguistic moments, because the arbitrary changes of time occur slowly enough so as to allow for the possibility of studying such moments. Saussure argues that it is possible to rigorously study linguistics in the form of two distinct disciplines. Saussure (1959) explains that "synchrony and diachrony designate respectively a language-state and evolutionary changes" (p. 81). Thus, Saussure believes that synchronic linguistics, or the discipline that studies ''language states," is clearly distinct from diachronic linguistics, or the discipline that studies the arbitrary changes that affect language over time. As noted above, Saussure assumes that historical changes alter language so slowly that it is possible to isolate synchronic linguistic moments in an effort to examine the underlying differential structure of particular languages. This is one of the points on which Saussure and Derrida disagree. Derrida denies that it is possible to isolate even a synchronic linguistic moment when the connections between words or signifiers and concepts or signifieds are even relatively stable. He suggests that there is a continual fluidity between signifiers and signifieds eVen within a synchronic linguistic moment. This disagreement represents a fundamental difference between structuralist and post structuralist thought. While structuralists believe it is possible to access a fixed differential structure underlying a synchronic linguistic moment, post-structuralists argue that there is not a finn connection between signifiers and signifieds even in the supposedly fixed system of a linguistic synchrony. Derrida's argument in support of 43

PAGE 52

this continual fluidity between signifiers and signifieds is discussed in the next chapter. 44

PAGE 53

CHAPTER4 DERRIDA AGAINST THE 1ST AND 2ND ASSUMPTIONS 1st Assumption The first assumption is that language requires an unchanging foundation that grounds or stabilizes the proper or determinate signifieds that should be articulated by words or signifiers. In the last chapter, I discussed Saussure's argument in support ofhis claim that each arbitrary, differential linguistic term is negative rather than positive in value. The meaning of each arbitrarily constituted term of language is inextricably linked to its place within a larger system or ftamework of differences. Since a word or signifier points to its associated meaning in an arbitrary fashion, each word or signifier is not designed to point to a predefined amount of conceptual content. There is not a natural or non-arbitrary connection between words or signifiers and concepts or signifieds, because any signifier could be used to refer to any signified or range of signifieds. Since each word or signifier is not essentially related to a specific amount of determinate conceptual content, linguistic terms must be fundamentally indeterminate, or they must not have any proper content. Since linguistic terms are necessarily arbitrary and differential, or since they do not have 45

PAGE 54

any proper content, it does not make sense to claim that language requires a permanent foundation that grounds or fixes its proper meaning. Since the terms of language do not have any proper meanings, it is not necessary to posit a permanent foundation that grounds or stabilizes the proper meanings that should be articulated by words or signifiers. The fact that words or signifiers are fundamentally indeterminate directly conflicts with the belief that such a permanent foundation is necessary. Derrida agrees with Saussure that language is not a system of positivities, but a system of differences. Each term of a linguistic system only has a meaning by virtue of the fact that contrasting conceptual content is taken up by other, absent terms within the linguistic system Such a system does not require any foundation, because no term within the system can possibly have a determinate, positive, self:. contained, conceptual reference, or a meaning that is independent of the overall system of differences. A single differential linguistic term has no conceptual content in and of itself: because its conceptual content is a function of the conceptual content that has already been assigned to other terms within the linguistic system In a strong sense, the difference between a particular concept and other absent concepts is more important than the individual concept itself. The differential system is more important than the individual terms within the system, because meaning issues from the system itseU: rather than issuing from the terms within the system 46

PAGE 55

One of the ways in whlch Derrida -critiques the traditional belief in-a foondation that grounds or fixes the proper meaning of language is by appealing to his notion of a "transcendental signified." Christopher Norris ( 1987) explains Denida' s criticism of ''the notion that books exist as self-enclosed systems of meaning and reference, their signifiers all pointing back toward some 'transcendental signified' or source of authentic and unitary truth" (p. 63). It is commonly assumed that the author of a book has a firm, controlling grasp on the meaning of his/her story, or the truth that he/she is attempting to communicate to the reader. In this sense, the author of a story is thought to act as a transcendental signified, because the author delimits the correct or authentic meaning of the story as a whole. So, a transcendental signified is thought to stand outside of a system of meaning, and to properly control or to fix that system of meaning. The desire to discover a transcendental signified, that grounds or determines the meaning of language, seems more pressing in the face of Saussure's revelation. Saussure emphasizes the fact that linguistic meaning is linked to the differential or negative value of its terms, rather than being linked to their positive, or determinate value. If the terms of language only have meaning by virtue of the underlying differential structure within language, then the assumption that language has a proper or authentic meaning is unwarranted. The search for a transcendental signified, or an original source that authenticates the proper meaning of language, represents an attempt to mitigate or to eradicate the fundamental indeterminacy of language. 47

PAGE 56

The search for a transcendental signified is equivalent to the search for a proper center or foundation oflanguage that somehow limits or controls the shifts between words or signifiers and their associated meanings. Since every word or signifier is arbitrarily chosen, any particular word or signifier could refer to any signified, or to any range of signifieds. It is traditionally assumed that a transcendental signified would fix the proper connections between each word or signifier and each concept or signified. Derrida (1978c) explain.s that ''The function of this center was not only to orient, balance, and organize the structure ... but above all to make sure that the organizing principle of the structure would limit what we might call the play of the structure" (p. 278). By the word "play," Derrida means the shifts in the connections between signifiers and signifieds, and also the changes in the scope of conceptual content that is associated with each word or signifier. As noted in the last chapter, several words can overlap in their conceptual reference. The words ''boat," "ship," and "canoe" are examples of words that are different, but which also at least partially overlap each other conceptually. It is assumed that a transcendental signified would limit the play within language by ensuring that each word or signifier has a clear, determinate conceptual reference. Transcendental determination of the signification of each word or signifier is assumed in order to fix or establish the proper conceptual content that ought to be associated with each unique word or signifier. A transcendental signified would stabilize or control any shifts in the connections between words or signifiers and 48

PAGE 57

discrete concepts or signifieds. The presence of a transcendental signified precludes the possibility that more than one signifier can properly articulate the same signified, and also the possibility that a single signifier can properly encompass more than one signified. Derrida argues against the possibility of discovering a transcendental signified that stabilizes language, or an original, authentic source of meaning for language, because the very notion of such a transcendental signified is self contradictory. A center or foundation can only limit the play oflanguage if it is fully determinate. In other words, the meaning of a transcendental signified must not depend on the arbitrary and differential system that it determines. A center or foundation could not be indeterminate, for then it would not have any positive or determinate content in and ofitsel If the center were structured indeterminately, like the words or signifiers within a differential system, then its meaning would also be dependent upon the differences between it and other terms within the system However, it is traditionally assumed that a center or foundation oflanguage must be permanent or unchanging, because it determines the proper meanings that should be articulated by words or signifiers. A center or foundation would not serve its purpose if it did not have positive or determinate content in and of itself This introduces an odd paradox, because a fully determinate center or foundation is supposed to determine a radically indeterminate linguistic system However, the center must not be arbitrary and differential, like the terms within a 49

PAGE 58

linguistic system, because its determinate structure is fundamentally different from the indeterminacy of such a system If the terms within a linguistic system are necessarily negative and differential, but a center or foundation is supposed to be positive or fully determinate, then a radically indeterminate system could not be stabilized or determined by such a center or foundation. This leads Derrida to conclude that the center of a linguistic system would not really be the center of that system, because such a center would be fundamentally different from the arbitrary and differential structure of the system Derrida ( 1978c) notes that "The center is at the center of the totality, and yet, since the center does not belong to the totality (is not part of the totality), the totality has its center elsewhere. The center is not the center" (p. 279). Although a center is supposed to provide stability for a linguistic system by fixing the proper or authentic meanings that should be articulated by that system, the very notion of such a center is paradoxical The very definition of such a determinate center or foundation of language directly conflicts with the indeterminacy of the arbitrary and differential system that it is supposed to stabilize or control It could be argued that the notion of a center of language and the notion of a foundation of language are fundamentally different metaphors. The idea of a center is equivalent to the notion of something that is internal to something else, while a foundation would exist outside o:t: or independently o:t: something else. Therefore, it may seem unimportant that a determinate foundation oflanguage can not be so

PAGE 59

conceived as being internal to an indeterminate linguistic system However, the key point is that a radically indeterminate phenomenon, like an arbitrary and differential linguistic system, could not be determined or stabilized by a fully determinate center or foundation. Since a center or foundation could not be indeterminate, but it would have to be indeterminate in order to relate to an indeterminate system, the idea of a center or foundation has a lack or an inadequacy that is already buih into it. A fully determinate center or foundation could not possibly determine a radically indeterminate phenomenon. Moreover, the very idea of determinacy can only be conceived on the basis of its difference or opposition to the concept of indeterminacy. Therefore, the very idea of determinacy is not fully positive or determinate because the signified that it articulates is inextricably linked to at least one other differential signified. If the terms of language are fundamentally indeterminate, and the very notion of a determinate foundation or center of language is paradoxical, then it does not make sense to claim that language requires a permanent foundation to fix the proper or authentic signifieds that it articulates. The meaning of language is directly linked to its indeterminate, or arbitrary and differential terms. Therefore, there is no need to attempt to discover another source of meaning for language. Also, since the terms of language are fundamentally arbitrary and differential, this precludes the possibility of grounding or fixing the play of such terms by appealing to the notion of a determinate center or foundation. A determinate center or foundation could not 51

PAGE 60

stabilize or control the play oflanguage, because such detenninacy conflicts with the fundamental indeterminacy of a differential system znd Assumption The second assumption is that there is a natural or non-arbitrary connection between each word or signifier and the proper or detenninate signified that each word or signifier articulates. In his argument against this second assumption, Derrida emphasizes some of the implications that can be drawn from Saussure's basic insight that the terms oflanguage are fundamentally arbitrary and differential In his essay, "Differance" (1982b), Derrida begins by describing the characteristics that are normally associated with the idea of a sign. Traditionally, a sign is assumed to be a thing that stands for, or represents, an object or idea that is not immediately present. Derrida ( 1982b) explains: ''When we cannot grasp or show the thing, state the present, the being-present, when the present cannot be presented, we signify, we go through the detour of the sign" (p. 9). The basic structure of any sign is to represent, or to point to, a referent that is currently absent. It is traditionally assumed that the absent referent, that is thus represented, does in fact have the ability to present itse1f This is the traditional assumption that Derrida attacks. He argues that a determinate referent can never present itse:U: because a differential sign does not articulate a proper or determinate signified. 52

PAGE 61

Derrida claims that, by definition, a sign is necessarily secondary and provisional Derrida ( 1982b) explains that: ... the substitution of the sign for the thing itself is both secondary and provisional: secondary due to an original and lost presence from which the sign thus derives; provisional as concerns this final and missing presence toward which the sign in this sense is a movement ofmediation. (p. 9) A sign is secondary because it owes its existence to the referent the object or idea to which the sign refers and the referent is therefore primary. A sign is also provisional because it defers the referent or idea that has the ability to present itself. A sign defers the absent referent, and it is traditionally thought that the referent, that a sign defers, at least has the ability to present itself. For example, it is traditionally assumed that written words, as signs, refer to the proper or authentic meaning that was intended by a specific speaker or author. Spoken words are assumed to be more real or true than written words, because they are grounded in the intended meaning of a speaker who is immediately present. Therefore, it is thought that a written sign is dead or empty, because it is not filled with the life of a present speaker. A written sign, or any sign, can only :fu.lfi1l its purpose by disappearing and allowing the referent to which it refers to present itself The very structure of a sign implies a kind ofunachievability, because it can only fulfill its purpose by ceasing to be and allowing the presence to which it refers to present itself A sign must sacrifice itself so that the absent referent to which it refers can become present. 53

PAGE 62

However, according to Saussure, a sign is arbitrary, or a sign has no proper content. This means that the content of a sign is undetermined or indeterminate. The content of a sign is arbitrarily determined by its relations within an overall differential system, rather than by its positive or determinate value. Therefore, there is no proper content or positive meaning that can present itself so that a differential sign can fulfill its traditional purpose. A differential phenomenon has no determinate content that can be presented. The very nature of a differential sign is silch that it does not have any determinate meaning or proper content. A differential sign is essentially absent or negative, because the very idea that it could refer to proper or determinate content is inconceivable. Derrida points out that since both signifiers and signifieds are indeterminate, and since the connections between the two are also indeterminate, words or signifiers can never present their proper or determinate content. The indeterminate structure of both signifier and signified directly implies that both are without determinate content, or both are purely negative, so neither one can ever present its "self' because neither one has a ''proper self" Since signifiers and signifieds are both arbitrary and indeterminate, signifiers must actually defer to further deferrals, or they must defer to equally indeterminate phenomena. A differential sign does not really defer to a presence, but to an absence. A differential sign is pure because it points to an infinite series of negative, differential phenomena. This infinite series does not end in a presence, because a differential 54

PAGE 63

system consists of an endless series of arbitrary, and therefore, indeterminate terms. A differential sign is pure deferral, and also pure difference, because it is necessarily different from itself. If a differential sign has no ''proper sel(" then it must be different. from its "self." Since a differential sign is pure deferral and pure difference, it can never achieve full presence, or it can never achieve itself by presenting its proper or determinate content. Since a differential sign has no proper content or "sel(" it can never achieve itself. Derrida creates the neologism ''differance" to refer to this combination of pure difference and pure deferral that is exhibited by all differential phenomena. The term, differance, means both to differ in space, and to defer in time, but it can not be limited to any determinate meaning, or to any range of meanings. Differance is the movement or play that produces differences, but it should not be treated as a substantial thing, because it does not have any proper or determinate content. In a sense, differance makes the presentation of differential terms possible, but Derrida dislikes using terms such as origin or foundation in connection with his neologism, differance. Derrida ( 1982b) explains: ''Differance is the non-full, non simple, structured and differentiating origin of differences. Thus, the name 'origin' no longer suits it" (p. 11 ). Derrida dislikes using the word, "origin," for it implies a thing or a substance that can be defined as possessing certain defining characteristics at a specific point of origin. The possession of certain defining characteristics implies that a thing has a proper course by which it can achieve its purpose, or by 55

PAGE 64

which it can fulfill its potential Such a thing must have a determinate point of origin, and also, a predetermined goal or end-point. There must be a definitive or original point at which a substantial thing acquired the defining characteristics that qualify it as a certain type of thing. Since differance does not have any proper or determinate meaning, it can never present any proper or determinate content. Therefore, differance is not an origin, or an original source of meaning, because it is impossible to locate any definitive point at which it acquired certain defining characteristics. Since differance has no proper definition, it is impossible to locate a point in time at which it acquired certain defining characteristics. As soon as one attempts to define differance, it slips away because it can never be limited to any determinate or proper meaning. Derrida denies that it is possible to locate an absolute point of origin for the differences between linguistic terms or phenomena, because differance does not have a proper or determinate definition. Since di.fferance does not have a ']>roper it can never present its or it can never be limited to a determinate meaning. Derrida breaks with the traditional presupposition that there is a proper way of classifying or categorizing determinate types of things. Therefore, he also denies that language performs such a proper classification by articulating the determinate definitions of various types of things. Ifboth signifiers and signifieds are arbitrary, and therefore indeterminate, then the scope of words or signifiers is also indeterminate. A single signifier need not refer to a single signified or concept. 56

PAGE 65

There is no reason that a single word, such as "triangle," could not be used to represent two or more concepts. The word "triangle" could simultaneously articulate the concept of a triangle, and also the concept of a circle. This directly conflicts with the Platonic view, which maintains that each word or signifier should properly articulate only one, determinate signified. Derrida claims that signifieds are not predetermined, so words or signifiers can not, even in principle, articulate determinate signifieds. This indeterminacy of content should not be interpreted as an inadequacy that can be remedied, or as an absence that can be corrected with a presence. Since indeterminacy is a necessary feature of any differential system, it is not possible, even in principle, to remedy this indeterminacy. In opposition to Plato, Derrida denies that the world can be fully defined or understood, because the differential structure of the world means that the world is necessarily indeterminate. If language constitutes human reality, and language is necessarily indeterminate, then the ''reality" constituted by language is also contingent or indeterminate, at least to a certain extent. Derrida defines a positive thing as that which possesses determinate content, and a negative thing as that which is indeterminate, or as that which has no proper content. Derrida ( 1982b) explains: ... the signified concept is never present in and of itself: in a sufficient presence that would refer only to itself. Essentially and lawfully, every concept is inscribed in a chain or in a system within 51

PAGE 66

which it refers to the other, to other concepts, by means of the systematic play of differences. (p. 11 ). If a differential system necessarily refers to absence, and the presentation of any type of fully determinate content is impossible, even in principle, then it does not make sense to privilege the presence of a term or a meaning, over its absence. This does not that Derrida only wishes to emphasize the centrality of absence, or the impossibility of ever achieving full presence within a differential system Derrida argues that an absence or a lack should not necessarily be interpreted as a potential presence. If the achievement of :full presence within a differential system is impossible, even in principle, then Derrida wishes to eliminate the use of the entire binary opposition ''presence/absence" in discussions about differential phenomena. He asserts that even accepting the notions of ''presence" and "absence" as points of definition is equivalent to a mistaken assumption. The acceptance of presence and absence as binary points of opposition obscures the full continuum of possible meanings that lies both within and outside of the conceptual range of these two terms. It obscures the middle area between the two extremes, and also the possible meanings that lie beyond this arbitrarily constituted range of conceptual content. Derrida' s argument against the possibility that any differential sign can ever present its proper or determinate content implies that each word or signifier is connected with its associated meaning in a completely irrational or arbitrary way. If 58

PAGE 67

each word or signifier were non-arbitrarily connected with a predefined range of conceptual content, then each word or signifier would have a positive or determinate meaning even when considered independently of a specific linguistic system However, each word or signifier does not have any positive meaning, or any meaning that is independent of a specific differential system The signifieds that langtiage articulates are continuously deferred, or necessarily absent, because a proper or determinate meaning can not be presented for any differential sign. The to which a sign refers, or the that it defers, is necessarily absent, because it is impossible, even in principle, to identify a proper or determinate meaning for any differential sign. Since each word or signifier is arbitrarily constituted, and purely differential or negative in value, each word or signifier is fundamentally indeterminate or necessarily without any proper content. The next chapter, and chapter five, describe the arguments ofWittgenstein and of Derrida respectively, against the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions that support the notion that language articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents. The arguments from this chapter, and also from chapter two, combine to present a serious challenge to this notion. To this point, Wittgenstein and Derrida have argued that language is fundamentally arbitrary and indeterminate. If language is fundamentally indeterminate, then it is contradictory to assert that a determinate, unchanging, center or foundation inhabits an otherwise arbitrary, and indeterminate phenomenon. Ahhough this argument is convincing, the tendency to 59

PAGE 68

believe in the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions, which are discussed in next two chapters, is still tenacious. Against this tenacious tendency, Wittgenstein and Derrida argue that these last three assumptions are just as unwarranted as the first two assumptions. 60

PAGE 69

CHAPTERS WITTGENSTEIN AGAINST THE 3rd, 4th, AND 5th ASSUMPTIONS As noted in the introduction, the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions are closely related to each other. These three assumptions all relate to the belief that each individual consciousness is capable of understanding the logical or rational order of the world by autonomously grasping the proper meanings of words or signifiers. The world, which words or signifiers are thought to represent, is not necessarily the physical world, but a type of determinate ground or foundation that underlies reality. Under the first assumption in chapter one, Wittgenstein argued against the requirement that language must represent such a determinate ground in order to be meaningful Despite the effectiveness of this argument, the belief that an autonomous consciousness within each subject must have private access to such a determinate ground is pervasive and tenacious. It is often assumed that each private, autonomous consciousness has the ability to discern the proper or determinate meanings that words or signi:fiers are designed to articulate. Wittgenstein argues that it is impossible to privately recognize the proper or determinate meanings of words or signifiers, because signifieds are constituted publicly rather than privately. 61

PAGE 70

Signifieds can only be accessed publicly, because the ability to grasp or understand certain signifieds presupposes that an individual is a member of a group of people who share a common form of life. Wiugenstein does not believe that thoughts, concepts, or ideas actually pre-exist language, for the very notion of ideas or concepts only makes sense because human beings share a form of life in which we find Such notions to be useful. Since various forms of life develop contingently, and since each person must simply accept the form of life into which he/she is born, it is impossible for any individual subject to intend or understand certain signifieds independently of a specific social or cultural context. The signifieds that are recognized by specific groups of people arise contingently out of various forms of life, but the meanings of words or signifiers are not dependent on the will of any specific individual or group of individuals. Therefore, signifieds arise arbitrarily, and they are continually affected by contingent historical and social changes, but they are not arbitrary in the sense that any particular force or person can autonomously control the signifieds that are recognized within a specific linguistic community. Brand new words, signifiers, and/or signifieds that are introduced into a community by a particular individual must be accepted back into the linguistic community of which the individual is a member. An individual cannot construct signifieds independently of a linguistic community, because a meaning is only a meaning if it is recognized by a group of people. Therefore, Wittgenstein agrees with Saussure that the signifieds that are 62

PAGE 71

recognized by a specific linguistic community are indeterminate, but tenacious once they are in place. The indeterminacy oflanguage necessarily implies that signifieds are public rather than private, because no individual or force can independently stabilize or control the signifieds that are recognized by a specific linguistic cOmmunity. 3rd Assumption The third assumption is that each human subject inherently possesses a private, self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. This assumption is made because the process by which each human subject grasps or understands the proper meanings of words or signifiers is appat:ently inaccessible to other people. Although the consciousness within each subject is apparently inaccessible to other subjects, it is commonly assumed that each subject must possess a similar type of autonomous consciousness that is capable of grasping and communicating determinate signifieds in a similar fashion. The process of grasping determinate signifieds can be called ''understanding," and the process of communicating determinate signifieds to others can be called ''intending." In other words, each human subject is assumed to have a similar ability to properly associate certain determinate signifieds, ideas, or concepts with the words or signifiers that act as the vehicles for communication. A person who properly 63

PAGE 72

understands the meaning of a word or signifier is able to translate the linguistic sign into the idea or concept that it articulates. A person who properly intends a certain meaning must have a determinate idea or concept firmly in mind before being able to communicate that idea or concept to another person. The consciousness within each subject is assumed to be autonomous in the sense that each person is capable of executing such processes of understanding and intending independently of any external influence, such as a specific society or culture. In fact, it is commonly assumed that signifieds are actually separable from the words or signifiers that articulate them, because consciousness is able to grasp determinate ideas or concepts independently of any form of linguistic mediation. This capacity to understand and to intend determinate signifieds privately is not necessarily refuted by the empirical fact that each human subject is apparently incapable of grasping all of the determinate meanings articulated by words or signifiers. Since human beings are finite, it can be argued that human beings are limited by their finite natures, but not by a fundamental inability to explicitly grasp a complete predefined articulation of signifieds. If each human being did possess an infinite mind, then it is assumed that each person would be able to fully grasp all of the proper or determinate meanings that words or signifiers are designed to articulate. One example that Wittgenstein employs to refute this notion that each subject has privileged access to his/her own private consciousness is the case of a 64

PAGE 73

person who claims that he/she is in pain. Pain is a good example, because it seems as though each person can have an idea or concept of pain that is completely independent of a social or cultural context. Since pain is an immediate sensation with which almost everyone is familiar, the idea of pain is not obviously linked to any type of social or linguistic mediation. It is commonly assumed that each subject has privileged or direct knowledge ofhislher own pain. However, Wittgenstein asks the reader to imagine a person who does not have a proper understanding of what the word 'Jain" really means. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains: 'Imagine a person whose memory could not retain what the word 'pain' meant -so that he constantly called different things by that name but nevertheless used the word in a way fitting in with the usual symptoms and presuppositions of pain' in short he uses it as we all do. (note 271) Wittgenstein' s point is that the proper meaning of each word or signifier is not discerned or identified by virtue of a similar type of autonomous conscious act that is performed by each individual subject. A word or signifier is only used properly if it is used in a way that aligns with the accepted, public meaning of that word. An individual cannot privately assign a random meaning to a word like 'Jain" because the individual must use the word in a way that is consistent with accepted usage. The meanings of words or signifiers are public rather than private, because a word is only used properly when an individual exhibits outward behavior that is consistent with the accepted practices of a specific society or culture. A person who 65

PAGE 74

uses a word or signifier in a way that does not align with his/her linguistic community is not using the word or signifier in a meaningful way. Thus, the meanings of words or signifiers such as ''pain" are not dependent on similar autonomous conscious acts that are performed by each subject, but on the acceptance of certain ideas or concepts within a specific linguistic community. Wittgenstein (1958b) explains: "Hence it is not possible to obey a rule 'privately': otherwise thinking one was obeying a role would be the same thing as obeying it" (note 202). Each person is not capable of using hislher own private language, for the possibility of using a private language implies that language does not require any validation or recognition by a specific society or culture. If each person could use a private language, then the very purpose of language would be defeated because the language of each person would be completely independent of every other person. It would be impossible for human subjects to communicate with each other. Since language presupposes the acceptance of certain common practices and customs, each person within a linguistic community must obey those practices and customs if he/she hopes to use language in a meaningful way. Therefore, an individual is not able to privately articulate an idea or concept like ''pain" until that person learns that expressions of pain are meaningful within his/her linguistic community. Wittgenstein (1958b) asks: "Is it to be assumed that you invent the technique of using the word; or that you found it ready-made?" (note 262). A person can really only ''have" a pain because human beings have developed a way of using language 66

PAGE 75

as a communicative tool to express their pain. A person can only mean something by stating ''I have a pain" if that expression has an accepted meaning within his/her linguistic community. The idea of pain does not privately arise in each individual independently of a specific linguistic community. If expressions of pain are not meaningful within a certain linguistic community, then an individual is incapable of privately articulating such an expression. This means that each individual is incapable of privately or autonomously affixing certain meanings to specific ideas, objects, or experiences. An expression is only meaningful if that expression has a place within a certain form of life. Even though words like ''pain" cannot have private meanings assigned to them, it can be argued that each individual privately experiences the sensation of pain. It is commonly assumed that each person has privileged knowledge ofhislher own sensations and thoughts. In contrast to this view, Wittgenstein argues that an individual who feels pain does not have privileged knowledge of his/her pain. When a person claims, ''I am in pain," this assertion does not reveal private, infallible knowledge because a claim of knowledge can be justified as true or false, correct or incorrect. A person can attempt to deceive others by a claim of nonexistent pain, but a person cannot actually be wrong about the fact that he/she is in pain. Although a person cannot be mistaken about his/her sensation of pain, that person is also unable to present conclusive evidence to support the fact that pain is being experienced. Since it is impossible for a subject to gather evidence in order to prove or disprove a 67

PAGE 76

sensation of pain, the statement ''I am in pain" cannot possibly be a statement of knowledge. P.M. S. Hacker (1999) explains that ''Witnessing the suffering of another is not acquisition of indirect knowledge, and the sufferer does not have direct knowledge-what he has is pain, not knowledge" (p. 41 ). When I claim ''I am in pain," I am merely stating the fact that I feel pain, but not that I have explicit knowledge of the exact nature of the pain that I am experiencing. I do not necessarily recognize the exact cause of my pain, or even the full extent of my injury. Also, when I observe another person writhing in pain on the ground, it would be absurd to ask that person whether or not pain is being experienced. Wittgenstein (1958b) challenges the reader to "Just try-in a real case-to doubt someone else's fear or pain" (note 303). I recognize right away that another person is in pain, because that person is exhibiting the same type of behavior that I use when I am in pain. Thus, the experience of pain is not really private, because human beings do recognize the signs that indicate whether or not a person feels pain. Wittgenstein argues that each subject is incapable of using a private or autonomously constructed language, for each subject is unable to intend or to understand signifieds, ideas, or concepts independently of a specific social or cultural context. Each person does not have direct, infallible knowledge of his/her own thoughts and sensations. In order for a thought to be meaningful, or in order for a thought to really be a thought, it must have some type of significance within a 68

PAGE 77

specific form of life. In fact, the word "thought" does not have any meaning unless a person is born into a certain form of life in which it is useful to ta1k about thoughts. An individual would not be able to recognize his/her thoughts as thoughts unless that person is a member of a linguistic community in which the idea or concept of a thought is meaningful Also, each individual does noi have direct, infallible knowledge of his/her own sensations, because each person can not be right or wrong about the fact that a certain sensation is being experienced. A claim of knowledge can be proven true or false, but it is impossible for me to privately gather evidence to conclusively prove or disprove my sensation of pain. Since my sensation of pain cannot be proven to be false, it also cannot be characterized as ''true," for a true statement is one that would be false under certain definable, verifiable conditions. Even if medical technology is incapable of finding a cause for my it is not possible to prove that I am really not feeling pain. Many people suffer from migraine headaches despite the fact that it is difficult to isolate the exact reasons that migraines cause so much pain. However, my claim of pain can not be proven true by appealing to any type of absolute evidence of which I am privately aware. It is impossible for me to privately gather evidence to prove the truth of my pain. Moreover, other people recognize my pain just as easily as I recognize my own pain, so my sensation of pain is not really private. Human beings often choose to verbalize their pain rather than crying out, but human beings are not usually in doubt of whether or not another person is in 69

PAGE 78

pain. In order for the concept or idea of pain to be it must be possible that I can use the word "pain" to ask others for help or in order to explain my predicament. 4th Assumption The fourth assumption is that each human subject has the ability to engage in inner mental processes, which allow each subject to grasp the proper or determinate signified that corresponds with each word or signifier. Under the third assumption Wittgenstein already argued against the possibility that each individual subject is able to autonomously intend or understand signifieds independently of a background social or cuhural context. The argument against the fourth assumption focuses on the presupposition that each person is able to intend and understand signifieds by virtue of inner mental states or processes. In order to understand what Wittgenstein means by the terms "states'' and it is necessary to provide a few examples. "Seeing a car" or "listening to a song" are examples of mental states or processes, because both of these cognitive acts have measurable temporal duration. The process of seeing a car begins when I explicitly notice the car, and I no longer see the car when I look away. Alternatively, I begin listening to a song as soon as the song begins to play, and I am no longer listening to the song when the music stops or when I tum my attention to something else. Although my awareness of a car or a song can be either implicit or 70

PAGE 79

explicit, it is still possible for me to identify a beginning, middle, and end to such states or processes. The examples of "seeing" and ''hearing" can be contrasted with ''understanding" and "intending." If I say that I understand what the composer meant by a particular song, it is not possible for me to identify the exact moment at which I actually understood the '1neaning" that was intended by the composer. Also, it is impossible for me to explicitly verify whether or not I do grasp the correct meaning of a poem or a song. Even if a composer or a poet had a specific idea in mind while preparing a work, that does not necessarily imply that my particular interpretation or understanding of the work is incorrect. Perhaps, I actually understand something that was implicit in the mind of the poet or composer, or I am able to see the work from a novel perspective that is just as valid as the original intention of the poet or composer. Especially in the case of works of art, it is not necessarily the case that an artist has an explicit idea of what they are attempting to communicate to their audience. If such an artist does not have an explicit idea or concept in mind, then it does not make sense to expect that an art lover should be able to grasp the specific, determinate idea that the artist meant to express. Wittgenstein maintains that understanding and meaning are not states or processes, because states and processes have measurable temporal duration. Wittgenstein ( 1967) explains: 71

PAGE 80

Really one hardly ever says that one has believed, under_stood or intended something 'uninterruptedly' since yesterday. An interruption of belief would be a period of unbelief: not e.g. the withdrawal of attention from what one believes-e.g. sleep. (note 85) Understanding is not an uninterrupted activity, for a person normally understands the meaning of a particular word or signifier even when that person is not currently focused on the word or signifier. Also, it is not possible to absolutely isolate the moment in time at which the understanding or intending of a certain meaning has been fully achieved. This is not only because words or signi:fiers do not have absolutely proper meanings that are valid in all contexts, but also because understanding and intending certain meanings are not processes that occur within exact ranges of time. Understanding and meaning do not involve states or processes that are reenacted each time that a certain word or signifier is encountered. If understanding and meaning were processes, then such processes would malfunction sometimes, and it would be possible to explicitly descnoe all of the reasons that such processes can malfunction without referring to specific circumstances. However, it is impossible to provide such an explicit description, and it is not ordinary to understand a word like ''pain" on one day and then to stop understanding it on the very next day. One can get amnesia, but this is an unusual circumstance and even an amnesiac does not usually completely lose the ability to use his/her native language. At the very least, amnesia is a derivative rather than a primary type of case, so such a case should not be used to describe ordinary 72

PAGE 81

experience. Since it is not possible to isolate the specific period of time during which understanding and intending occur, they must not be states or processes, according to Wittgenstein' s understanding of these terms. A person can be mistaken about their understanding of a certain word or signifier, but this does not imply that the person once had a proper understanding that has since been lost. It is impossible to explicitly describe the features or characteristics that necessarily accompany the experience of properly understanding or intending a certain meaning. If the abilities to understand and to intend certain meanings were autonomous states or processes that occur within each subject, then it would be possible to separate such states or processes from the language-games in which we learn to use these terms. The idea that mental states or processes are autonomous implies that such states or processes are separable from the background social or context in which each subject is immersed. Wittgenstein (1967) asks us to: Think of putting your hand up in school Need you have rehearsed the answer silently to yourself: in order to have the right to put your hand up? And what must have gone on inside you?-Nothing need have. But it is important that you usually know an answer when you put your hand up; and that is the criterion for one's understanding of putting one's hand up. (note 136) Wittgenstein argues that understanding and intending certain meanings not autonomous processes, because they cannot be separated from the languagegames in which they occur. For Wittgenstein, learning a language is part of an activity, and such an activity is based upon a certain form of life. The abilities to 73

PAGE 82

understand and to intend certain meanings cannot be separated from the specific social or cultural context in which such abilities are exhibited. Otherwise, each individual subject would be able to create the ''truth" at each moment, and one person's idea of truth would be completely unrelated to the ideas of other people. Although the signifieds of a specific linguistic connnunity are arbitrarily constituted, the arbitrary signifieds that are accepted by a specific linguistic community are tenacious once they are in place. Therefore, the indeterminacy oflanguage directly implies that arbitr8rily constituted ''public" meanings resist autonomous constitutive acts. Each individual is incapable of privately constituting or changing the signifieds that are articulated by the words or signifiers ofhis/her language. Therefore, it is impossible to claim that the abilities to understand and to intend certain meanings are independent of the accepted practices and customs of a specific form of life. Wittgenstein ( 1958b) notes: ''To understand a sentence means to understand a language. To understand a language means to be master of a technique" (note 199). When a person thinks that he/she properly understands a mathematical formula, and that person unsuccessfully attempts to continue a series of numbers using the formula, that person never really had a proper understanding of the formula. However, it is not actually proper to claim that a person ever "has" an understanding of a formula because the verb ''to have" implies a thing or a substantive that has certain definitive characteristics. Understanding is not a definitive substance or a determinate type of thing, for the meaning of the word 74

PAGE 83

''understanding" varies according to the type of language--game that is being played. The understanding of a formula is more like an ability to behave in a certain prescribed manner. The manner in which a person is supposed to use a formula is defined within the rules of a particular language--game, and the rules of any particular languagegame do not cover every possible contingency. G. P. Baker (1980) and P. M. S. Hacker explain that "our language, as Wittgenstein came to see, does not lay down rules which will dictate a result for every conceivable circumstance" (p. 91). The rules of a language--game are limited to the specific language--game that is being played. Also, the rules of a particular language-game do not encompass every possible situation. Learning multiplication is part of a specific language--game called mathematics, and an understanding of multiplication is not a process or a state but a specific type of ability that is inextricably linked to a specific form of life. Since forms of life are muhifarious and unlimited, the possible meanings of the terms "understanding" and '1ntending" are also unlimited. Wittgenstein believes that these words are actually ''family resemblance" concepts. The meanings of such family resemblance concepts can not be limited to explicit definitions that cover all possible cases. If each subject were capable of executing similar autonomous conscious acts of understanding and intending certain meanings, then such conscious acts could be explicitly defined or articulated. However, Wittgenstein recognizes that these abilities can not be validated within the confines of each individual 75

PAGE 84

consciousness. Wittgenstein (1958b) notes that "An inner process stands in need of outward criteria" (note 580). Since the meanings of the words ''understanding" and ''intending" vary according to their specific use and context, it does not make sense to claim that each individual subject is capable of executing the exact same type of inner mental processes. Words or signi:fiers do not have proper or determinate meaDings that can be grasped in the exact same manner by each autonomous consciousness. 5th Assumption The fifth assumption is that there is a firm ontological and epistemological division between each inner subject and the outer objective world or reality. In his argument against such a firm division, Wittgenstein focuses on grammatical analysis. By the term "grammar" Wittgenstein does not only refer to the syntax or form of linguistic expression, but also to the social or cultural context in which language is used. In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein (1958b) emphasizes the fact that words or signifiers have different meanings depending on the specific context in which they are used. He emphasizes the importance of context because philosophers often attempt to impose absolute, fixed meanings on to words or signifiers in an effort to ensure the permanence and stability of language. Questions such as "what is a subject?" and ''what is an object?" presuppose that there are perfect, unchanging 76

PAGE 85

definitions that articulate the proper meanings of these terms. Also, such questions presuppose that subjects and objects are fimdamentally different types of things because each question is normally asked separately. Wittgenstein ( 1958b) notes that "Our investigation is therefore a grammatical one. Such an investigation sheds light on our problem by clearing misunderstanding away"' (note 90). Wittgenstein claims that there is only a fimctional distinction between subjects and objects, and that this distinction can only be described by examining the way in which language is ordinarily used. The assumption that the distinction between subjects and objects is based upon a fimdamental ontological difference is equivalent to a misunderstanding of language, for the meanings of these terms are not permanently fixed or absolute. Rather, the meanings of these terms can only be properly described as part of the background social or cultural context in which they are used. Since the meanings of the terms "subject" and "object" are arbitrarily constituted according to the indeterminate rules of various language games, the meanings of these terms vary according to their specific use and context. If the distinction between subjects and objects were ontological in nature, then it would be possible to explicitly define these terms without any reference to the background social or cultural context in which this distinction serves a pwpose. Also, it would be possible to define each of these terms without referring to its conceptual opposite. 77

PAGE 86

One common assumption ofWestem philosophy is that a private, sel:t: contained, autonomous consciousness resides within each subject. It is assumed that each autonomous consciousness must be ontologically distinct from the culture, society, or the external world into which each person is born. In contrast to this asSu.mption, Wittgenstein asserts that each person's personality and conceptual framework emerges as a result of a combination of intersubjective and "objective" influences. Not only is each subject vitally related to other subjects, but also, each subject is vitally connected to the world. Wittgenstein (1922) explains ''I am my world. (The microcosm)" (note 5.63). It can be argued that Wittgenstein's claim leads directly to solipsism, because an equivalence between 'T' and world" seems to imply that each individual subject can create his/her own world. However, Wittgenstein does not claim that 'T' am my whole world, but only a microcosm of the world. He does not mean that each person is a world in and of themselves, but that each person sets limits on the world of which he/she is aware. However, the limits of the world are not created autonomously by each individual, for the form of life into which each person is hom is the indeterminate ground from which the artificial limits of the world emerge. The limits of the world are closely related to the limits of the language that is used within a specific society or culture. Wittgenstein (1922) explains: "That the world is my world shows itself in the fact that the limits of the language (the language which I understand) mean the limits of my world" (note 5.62). Since the understanding of each subject is 78

PAGE 87

inextricably linked to the language-games and form of life that has already been constituted withln his/her culture, ''my world" is not distinctly subjective. However, ''my world" is also not simply intersubjective, because the "world" is already in place when each specific form of life emerges. Various forms of life and language games contribute to the constitution of the world, so the ''world" is not strictly external or objective. Agreement on a specific form of life, including agreement on the language-games that are part of that form of life, forms the basis for what a specific linguistic community calls the ''world." This conception of a world is not fully determinate, because the accepted meaning of the word ''world" is arbitrarily constituted according to the practices and customs of a specific culture. However, this does not necessarily imply that the world is constituted merely subjectively or even inter-subjectively. Certainly the world would be a very different type of world without human forms of life and language-games, but this does not imply that the world would not exist without human beings. The world would still exist without human beings, but it would not be the ''world" with which we are familiar. The belief that an 'T' or "self' emerges independently of the "outside" world is mistaken. Wittgenstein (1958a) argues that ''the idea that the real I lives in my body is connected with the peculiar grammar of the word '1', and the misunderstandings this grammar is liable to give rise to" (p. 66). The distinction between an 'T' and an "other" serves only a functional purpose withln a specific social or cultural context. The fact that human beings use language to describe such 79

PAGE 88

a distinction does not imply that there is a basic ontological distinction between subjects and objects. In fact, Wittgenstein contends that the word 'T' can be used in a subjective or in an objective way, so each human being is not distinctly subjective. Human beings are immersed in the world or they are inextricably linked to the world rather than being distinctly separate from the world. In order to describe this functional distinction between an 'T' and an "other" or a ''not-I," Wittgenstein refers to the ways in which human beings use language to distinguish between reports of pain. Wittgenstein suggests that one subject who refers to the pain of another subject is treating the other subject in an objective way. If a subject can be treated in a subjective or in an objective way, then this implies that the subjective/objective distinction is simply a peculiar use oflanguage rather than being indicative of a fundamental difference between subjects and objects. If subjects and objects were really fundamentally distinct, then it would not be possible to effectively use language to refer to a subject in an objective way. If language can be used effectively to refer to a subject in an objective way, then language can also be used to refer to an object in a subjective way. Wittgenstein (1958a) explains: The difference between the propositions 'I have pain' and 'he has pain' is not that of 'L. W. has pain' and 'Smith has pain'. Rather, it corresponds to the difference between moaning and saying that someone moans. (p. 68) Such a use oflanguage does not imply a firm distinction between individual subjects, for the meaning of such an expression evaporates once the expression is 80

PAGE 89

divorced from the specific context in which it is used. If a specific linguistic community does not find it useful to distinguish between my own pain and my report ofhis/her pain, then the words ''1," ''he," and "she" do not have any meaning within this specific type of language-game. If a linguistic community does not have any language-games in which such distinctions serve a purpose, then the distinction between subjects and other subjects is completely excluded from their language. Wittgenstein (1958a) notes: "We are inclined to forget that it is the particular use of a word only which gives the word its meaning" (p. 69). For Wittgenstein, the form, use, and meaning of any expression are inextricably linked, for the meaning of any expression presupposes a common form of life. If it is not useful to distinguish between my own moan and my report of another person's moan, then the use of distinguishing between subjects and other subjects loses its importance in this particular situation. Wittgenstein emphasizes that the word 'T' can be used just as effectively in a subjective way as it can be used in an objective way. The key point is whether or not the subjective and objective ways of using a word are both accepted within the rules of the language-games of a specific society or culture. If a society or culture has no use for such a distinction, then the distinction loses its meaning. If the subjective/objective distinction were ontological in nature, then the distinction would not lose its meaning once it is divorced from a specific social or cultural context. Wittgenstein (1958a) remarks: 81

PAGE 90

There are two different cases in the use of the word 'I' (or 'my') which I might call 'the use as object' and 'the use as subject'. Examples of the first kind of use are these: 'My arm is broken', 'I have grown six inches' .... Examples of the second kind are: 'I see so-and-so', 'I hear so-and-so' . . (p. 66) Wittgenstein goes on to descn"be the separate purposes that these two forms of use actually serve within a specific language. Expressions that use 'T' in the objeCtive sense serve to notify the listener that the person making the statement could be mistaken. If I claim that my arm is broken, I could be mistaken for my arm could simply be sprained or badly bruised. Also, after pain medication has been administered, I might state that my arm is broken while looking down at another person's arm rather than my own. On the other hand, expressions that use 'T' in the subjective sense serve to notify the listener that there is no possibility of error on the part of the speaker. Although I could mistake a fence post for a small tree, I can not be mistaken about the fact that I do think that I see a tree. More importantly, I can not be mistaken about the fact that 'T' am the one who is seeing the tree. Expressions of the first type admit the possibility of error, while expressions of the second type do not. In order for each type of expression to be meaningful, each must have a specific use within a particular linguistic community. The meaning of such expressions can not be examined independently oftheir specific context, for their meanings are inextricably linked to the purposes that they serve within a particular language. If a subject can be treated in a subjective or an.objective sense depending 82

PAGE 91

on the specific use and context of an expression, then there is nothing distinctly internal or subjective about each subject. One of the reasons that Wittgenstein accepts only a functional rather than an ontological distinction between subjects and objects is because of the problems inherent in the acceptance of a distinct dualism between the inner realm of each subject and an outer world or reality. One of the most serious problems is the need to explain the manner in which these inner and outer realms relate to each other. Also, a firm division between subjects and objects does not properly describe the way in which human beings use language. It does not properly account for the functional use of the subject/object distinction in various language-games. There are certain ways that human beings can use words to indicate a subjective or an objective perspective, but this does not imply that there really is a firm division between each subject and the objective world. This is simply a case in which traditional philosophy has misinterpreted the grammar of language. Wittgenstein suggests that subjects and objects are both elements within the same world. If subjects were ontologically distinct from objects, then it would be impossible for subjects to directly access objects. If the natures of subjects and objects were fundamentally different, then objects would be completely inaccessible to subjects. Since human subjects create language-games, and human beings are part of the world, the meanings associated with certain language-games are also part of the world. Newton Garver (1994) and Seung-Chong Lee explain that ''the dominant 83

PAGE 92

view is naturalism, meaning being part of the natural world, the one world, within which we must find both the criteria for meaning and the criteria for truth" (p. 19). If the meanings of words or signifiers are inextricably linked to their specific use and context, then it does not make sense to claim that each subject can autonomously access signifieds independently of a specific society or culture. There is not a firm dualism between words or signifiers, and concepts or signifieds, because signifiers and signifieds are not fundamentally different types of things. Also, subjects and objects are not fundamentally different types of things, because these concepts are both constituted by their specific functions within specific language-games. If subjects and objects were ontologically distinct, then the categories of subjectivity and objectivity could be conceived completely separately from any specific type of language-game. However, it is impossible to conceive of the meanings of subjectivity and objectivity except by examining the purposes that these terms serve within language. It is impossible to conceive of subjectivity and objectivity without appealing to some from of linguistic mediation or conceptual opposition. If these terms are considered independently ofthe rules of specific language-games, then their meanings are no longer clear. 84

PAGE 93

CHAPTER6 DERRIDA AGAINST THE 3rci, 4th, AND 5th ASSUMPTIONS 3rd Assumption The third assumption is that each human subject inherently possesses a private, self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. Derrida contests this assumption mainly by critiquing what he refers to as the '"metaphysics of presence." The metaphysics of presence is the presupposition that something exists only insofar as it is capable ofpresenting itself In the case of subjectivity, it is assumed that a subject exists only insofar as that subject is fully seif:.present in autonomous conscious acts. David B. Allison (qtd. in Derrida, 1973) states that "a subject (sub-jectum) or self in general is only insofar as it is seif:.present, present to itself in the immediacy of a conscious act" (p. xxxii). This assumption of presence also underlies the concept of objectivity. An object is assumed to exist only insofar as that object is capable of presenting itself as a determinate object that is distinct from other objects. This first section on the third assumption focuses on the concept of subjectivity, but the third section ofthis chapter consists of an examination of the assumed distinction between subjectivity and objectivity. 85

PAGE 94

In Speech and Phenomena, Derrida deconstructs some ofHusserl's crucial arguments from the Logical Investigations. The deconstruction that Derrida undertakes involves an exposure of the metaphysical presuppositions that underlie Husserl's text. Although Husserl claims that his method of phenomenological reduction requires a suspension of any dogmatic assumptions, Derrida contends that some ofHusserl's basic distinctions reveal his implicit acceptance ofthe metaphysics of presence. In particular, Derrida focuses on Husserl's distinction between "indication" and "expression." Husser! describes indication and expression as two basic types of signification. Indication is a way of pointing out something else that is meaningful, like a finger that is pointing to a dog in order to indicate the idea of a dog. An act of indication is not meaningful in and of itself: but it is a way of referring to something else that is meaningful. Any form of verbal, written, or physical signification must be classified as indication, because any type of sign is meant to articulate the signified for which it stands. It is commonly assumed that signs act as meaningless vehicles for the communication of determinate ideas, concepts, or signifieds. Signs are assumed to be meaningless in and of themselves because they only serve to indicate the ideas or concepts for which they stand. If signs do refer to authentic or fully determinate meanings, then the meanings to which signs refer must not depend upon any type of social or cultural mediation. The signifieds to which signifiers 86

PAGE 95

refer must be completely positive and self-contained, or completely independent of any type of mediating process. On the other hand, David B. Allison (qtd. in Derrida, 1973) explains that, for "Expression alone, properly speaking, bears sense" (p. xxxiv). Since iridication is a form of signification that is not meaningful in and of itself: Husser I suggests that indication must be founded upon a more genuine or authentic form of signification. Since the very idea of signification implies the use of signs, which simply refer to the meanings that they represent, expression must be a type of signification that does not refer to anything outside of itself. The meaning or sense that can be achieved through cognitive acts of expression must be positive and self contained, or expression must not depend upon any type of intermediary form of signification. The determinate meanings to which signs refer must not depend upon the type of signification that Husser! calls 'ln.dication." IfHusserl can prove that expression is not dependent upon any type of indicative or mediating process of signification, then he can prove that his distinction between indication and expression is valid. However, if expression is necessarily dependent upon indication, then it does not make sense to claim that pure cognitive acts of expression are possible. That is, if expression, which is supposed to be a self-contained or autonomous process, cannot even be conceived except on the basis of indication, then it is not valid to claim that there is a firm distinction between expression and indication. 87

PAGE 96

Husserl assumes that a cognitive act of expression can only be achieved within the confines of a self-enclosed, autonomous consciousness. As soon as a subject attempts to communicate the meaning or sense that was achieved through an autonomous cognitive act of expression, the form of signification used by the subject becomes indication rather than expression. Since any form of external communication (e.g. verbal, written, or physical commUnication) necessarily requires the use of mediating signs, it must be possible for a subject to successfully execute a cognitive act of expression independently of any such mediating process. A cognitive act of expression must produce a determinate meaning or sense that is not dependent upon any type of indicative process. If each subject does possess a private, autonomous realm of consciousness that is not dependent upon anything beyond itself: then cognitive acts of expression that are completely independent of any form of indication must be possible. However, if cognitive acts of expression are necessarily linked to some form of indication, then the subject does not possess a truly private realm of consciousness in which autonomous cognitive acts of expression occur. IfDerrida can prove that expression is impossible without some form of indication, then he can undermine Husserl's contention that a private, autonomous consciousness within each subject must be presupposed in order to permit the possibility of cognitive acts of expression. Husserl (1970) explains ''we think rather that an understanding, a peculiar act-experience relating to the expression, is present, that it shines through the 88

PAGE 97

expression, that it lends it meaning and thereby a relation to objects" (p. 302). Husserl believes that each individual subject is capable of properly recognizing the ideal or universal meanings that correspond with the objects at which consciousness is directed. Each subject associates ideal or universal meanings with intentional objects by means of autonomous conscious acts. By the word "intentional" Husserl means that consciousness is always aiming at something, or it is always directed at some object of consciousness. Since consciousness is necessarily consciousness "of something," consciousness is necessarily intentional. Expression is assumed to be the source of authentic meaning, because the private, conscious act of expression is not dependent upon any type of intermediary form of signification. Husserl assumes that each autonomous consciousness is capable of discerning the ideal or universal meanings of intentional objects without utilizing the type of signification that he refers to as indication. Since acts of indication are meaningless in and of themselves, and ideal or universal meanings can only be discerned through autonomous cognitive acts of expression, ideal or universal meanings are necessarily dependent upon autonomous conscious acts that are performed by each individual subject. In order to properly understand what Husserl means by "ideal" or ''universal" meanings, it is necessary to provide an example. When consciousness is directed at a table, consciousness does not only perceive the particular table. Consciousness also categorizes the particular table under the general class 'Table" because it recognizes that the object has the necessary defining characteristics that any table 89

PAGE 98

must possess. Even if a particular subject has never seen a table before, that subject automatically classifies the table as a type of object that is distinct from other types of objects with which the subject is familiar. The next time that such a subject encounters a table, the subject categorizes the new object together with the table that was seen before. Husser! claims that each consciousness is capable of grasping the "essence" of the table, for the subject recognizes the defining characteristics or essential properties that an object must possess in order to qualify as a table. The subject grasps the possible ways in which a table can appear to consciousness in the future and also the possible ways in which the table could have appeared to consciousness in the past. Thus, the subject knows the limit of possible changes that a table can undergo, and still be a table. For example, if the color of a table is changed from red to blue, the subject still recognizes it as a table. The subject also knows that the table can not suddenly transform into a python. However, if the table is smashed into small pieces, the subject recognizes that there is a certain point at which the object is no longer a table. Since the subject has knowledge ofhow the table can appear in the future and how it could have appeared in the past, the subject must not simply passively perceive a discrete piece of sense data. Even if the subject's view of the table is limited to a particular side, the subject has an idea ofhow the table might appear from other angles. Therefore, the subject must be at least partially active in the constitution of the table, because the subject knows more about the table than what is 90

PAGE 99

immediately present to consciousness. However, Husserl assumes that the subject must be present to itself in a conscious act of expression in order to access the ideal or universal meaning articulated by the word ''table." The subject must be capable of accessing the ideal or universal meaning of the table in an autonomous cognitive act. If the subject is unable to recognize the table without appealing to any type of linguistic or social mediation, then the subject is not capable of executing cognitive acts of expression that are independent of any form of mediation or indication. The subject must be capable of autonomously diStinguishing between the universal features of a table and the universal features of other types of objects. This reveals an underlying presupposition that only a self-present subject is capable of recognizing the ideal or universal meanings that are associated with objects, words, or signifiers. In contrast to this view, Derrida argues that there is no such thing as an autonomous conscious act of expression that is completely independent ofthe type of signification that Husserl calls indication. Since the meanings of words, signifiers, and objects are dependent upon conceptual differences, each individual consciousness cannot access meaning outside of a specific differential linguistic system Moreover, each term within a linguistic system is arbitrary and differential, so each term does not have any proper or determinate content in and of itself Since indeterminate words or signifiers refer to equally indeterminate concepts or signifieds, none of the terms within a differential linguistic system refer to positive 91

PAGE 100

or fully determinate content. The indeterminate signifieds within such a differential system can never be fully present to consciousness, because they do not have any positive or determinate content in and of themselves. If words or signifiers, and concepts or signifieds, are fundamentally then it is not possible for consciousness to discern the positive or fully determinate meaning of any particular sign Within a differential linguistic system The relations or connections between terms within a differential system do not ultimately end in determinate or proper meanings, so consciousness can not grasp determinate meanings by utilizing such a system Derrida argues that it is impossible to fix the meanings of words or signifiers in any sense, because they do not have proper or determinate meanings. Each subject is incapable of even temporarily fixing the meanings of words or signifiers because an indeterminate differential system can not be fixed or stabilized by any type of determinate or original source of meaning. Since arbitrary and indeterminate signifiers refer to equally arbitrary and indeterminate signifieds, it is impossible to fix or stabilize the connections between signifiers and signifieds. Other absent signifiers constitute the value of each particular signifier, and other absent signifieds constitute the conceptual content taken up by each particular signified. The absent signifiers and signifieds are not only absent in the sense of not being immediately present. They are necessarily absent, because they do not have any proper or determinate content to present. Thus, both signifiers and signifieds are 92

PAGE 101

fundamentally indeterminate, or they are without any proper or determinate content that necessarily belongs to them Neither signifiers nor signifieds can ever present their true or proper selves. If consciousness can only access concepts or signifieds by utilizing some type ofindeterminate differential system, then it is incapable of executing cognitive acts of exj>ression that are completely independent of any form of mediation or indication. Derrida (1973) states: ... although there is no expression and meaning without speech, not everything in speech is 'expressive.' Although discourse would not be possible without an expressive core, one could almost say that the totality of speech is caught up in an indicative web. (p. 31) Derrida contends that the privileging of speech over other forms of communication, especially writing, is evidence of an underlying assumption that what exists, or what is absolutely real, must be capable of presenting itself. Since a present speaker is thought to actively impart specific meanings to his/her spoken words, the spoken form of discourse is privileged over the written form of discourse. It is commonly assumed that a present speaker has the power or authority to ensure that his/her intended meanings are effectively communicated to his/her audience. However, the meanings that are intended by a speaker, or the meanings that are understood by his/her audience, are necessarily dependent upon conceptual differences within an overall linguistic system Each of the terms within the system is negative or differential, so none of the terms have any positive or proper content in 93

PAGE 102

and of themselves. Therefore, fully determinate or self:contained meanings are never really present to the speaker or to the audience. The meaning of each word or signifier is necessarily dependent upon the muhiplicity of continually shifting conceptual oppositions that are arbitrarily constituted within a linguistic system Therefore, a positive or fully determinate meaning is never truly present to the consciousness of a person who intends a certain meaning, or to the person who attempts to understand that meaning. If each subject were capable of autonomous cognitive acts of expression, then the expressive meanings that consciousness intends or understands would not be dependent upon anything beyond consciousness. Since each signified does not have a positive or self: contained meaning in and of itself; consciousness is incapable of autonomously grasping fully determinate meanings. A fully determinate meaning would not depend upon any type of mediation, but signifieds necessarily require the mediation of a system of conceptual differences for each signified does not have any value outside of its place within a system of differences. The value of each signified is negative and indeterminate, because it is constituted by an indeterminate number of possible conceptual contrasts with other signifieds within the system Derrida notices that it is impossible to separate expression from indication in any form of discourse because the signifieds within any differential system are negative or differential in value. A differential system can never present any positive or determinate conceptual content, because it is necessarily indeterminate or without 94

PAGE 103

any proper content. Since the recognition of any particular signified necessarily requires a process of mediation through an arbitrarily constituted system of conceptual differences, it is not possible for a subject to grasp any signified or concept that has a positive or fully determinate value in and of itself. If each subject did possess a truly private, autonomous realm of consciousness in which cognitive acts of expression occur, then such expressive acts would not depend upon any type of mediation or indication. However, since signifieds are fundamentally differential, it is impossible to conceive of expression without some form of indication. A cognitive act of expression is not meaningful in and of itself: because it requires reference to a differential system of concepts or signifieds, in which no term has a positive or fully determinate value. This necessity that cognitive acts of expression presuppose some type of reference to a differential system of indeterminate signifieds undermines the distinction between expression and indication, because it implies that any act of expression necessarily requires a type of indication. Therefore, expression and indication must always occur together. If the two forms of signification must always occur together, then the possibility of discerning ideal, universal meanings by means of private, autonomous acts of consciousness is refuted. It is impossible to access any type of meaning independently of a specific differential linguistic system Moreover, a differential linguistic system consists of terms that do not have any positive content in and of themselves. The value or meaning of each term within a 95

PAGE 104

differential system is dependent on the conceptual content that is taken up by other terms within the system Since the indeterminate words or signifiers within a differential system are arbitrarily related to equally indeterminate concepts or signifieds, consciousness is not capable of grasping the determinate meanings of words or signifiers. Human beings cannot access signifieds without referring to other arbitrary and indeterminate signifieds. None of the signifieds within a differential system can present its proper or determinate content, because signifieds are radically indeterminate or necessarily without any proper content. 4th Assumption The fourth assumption is that each human subject has the abilityto engage in inner mental processes, and this ability allows each person to grasp the proper or determinate signified that corresponds with each word or signifier. The above discussion seriously challenges this fourth assumption, but the belief in the existence of inner mental processes is still persistent. It is commonly believed that a present speaker is capable of executing inner mental processes, and that such processes ensure that each subject controls the proper meanings that he/she is attempting to express. Derrida (1973) notes that "What 'means,' ie., that which the meaning means to say the meaning, Bedeutung-is left up to whoever is speaking, insofar as he says what he wants to say, what he means to say-expressly, explicitly, and 96

PAGE 105

consciously" (p. 34 ). This conception presupposes that each subject is capable of fixing or determining the proper meanings of the words or signifiers that he/she uses. Since the subject is assumed to be self-present, the subject can ensure that his/her words or signifiers do articulate the proper meanings that he/she intends to communicate. Each subject is not only assumed to be immediately self-present in acts of speech, but also in acts of thought, or in other similar forms of communication. This assumption, that the consciousness of each subject is immediately present to itseJL is similar to the assertion that each subject is capable of acting as a transcendental signified. A transcendental signified, which was discussed in chapter three, stands outside of a system of signification and fixes or determines the proper meanings that are signified by that system It is assumed that a transcendental signified must be unlike the signifiers within a system, for a transcendental signified is fully determinate and unchanging while signifiers are indeterminate, or their values are determined only by their places within an overall differential system If consciousness were truly autonomous and fully determinate, then it would have the ability to fix or to determine the proper meanings of words or signifiers. A fully self present consciousness would be capable of internally monitoring and determining the specific ideas, concepts, or meanings that it attaches to words or signifiers. Derrida disagrees with this conception of consciousness for at least two basic reasons. First, since signifieds or concepts are just as arbitrary and differential as 97

PAGE 106

words or signifiers, signifieds are radically indeterminate, or they have no proper content in and of themselves. Signifieds are constituted arbitrarily, and this means that the value of each signified is dependent upon its place within an overall system of conceptual differences. Therefore, each signified does not have any proper or poSitive value, because its meaning is constituted by other differential meanings withiD a larger system of conceptual differences. Since signifieds are radically indeterminate, it does not make sense to claim that they can be determined by consciousness or by any other force. Secondly, Derrida argues that each consciousness is not self-present, because each consciousness is necessarily differential, or each consciousness is divided from itself Since signifieds are necessarily indeterminate or without any proper content, the signifieds that are accessed by each consciousness are never :fully present to consciousness. Each signified necessarily refers to other absent signifieds within an overall system of conceptual differences. Moreover, since the signifieds within the system are indeterminate, they have no proper or determinate content to present to consciousness. Therefore, consciousness is necessarily different from because consciousness does not have any proper or determinate content. Consciousness is unable to conceive of any concept, even the concept of without thinking of other differential concepts, which do not have any proper values in and of themselves. 98

PAGE 107

Derrida argues that consciousness is never present to itself: because even the concept of consciousness does not have a proper or determinate meaning. Consciousness is simply that which is different from concepts or ideas, because consciousness must be able to recognize the difference between itself and its thoughts. If consciousness confused itself with objects of consciousness, then consCiousness would not be conscious of itself as the one who is directed at concepts or ideas. Therefore, it is commonly assumed that each subject is capable of monitoring the signifieds that he/she intends to communicate, or the signifieds that he/she understands. This ability to monitor oneself can be manifested internally, or a person can physically hear the words that he/she is speaking. Derrida (1973) explains: '7o speak to someone is doubtless to hear oneself speak, to be heard by oneself ... (p. 80). This ability allows each person to monitor or control the proper meanings of the words or signifiers that he/she is using. However, Derrida notes that the very idea of a ''present" subject is inconceivable except on the basis of its contrast with the idea of an "absent" subject. Also, the very idea of an "inner" subject is only conceivable by virtue of its contrast with the idea of an "outer" world. Derrida (1973) maintains that: Even while repressing difference by assigning it to the exteriority of the signifiers, Husserl could not fail to recognize its work at the origin of sense and presence. Taking auto-affection as the exercise of the voice, auto-affection supposed that a pure difference comes to divide self-presence. In this pure difference is rooted the possibility of everything we think we can exclude from auto-affection: space, the outside, the world, the body, etc. (p. 82) 99

PAGE 108

Husserl assumes that auto-affection is the condition for the possibility of a self-present subject, because a truly self-present subject must not be divided from itself in any sense. A truly self-present subject that is capable of accessing ideal or universal meanings must be immediately aware of the authenticity of the meanings that it accesses through cognitive acts of expression. If cognitive acts of expression were dependent upon any type of mediating process, such as the necessity that consciousness must monitor and validate the authenticity of its expressive cognitive acts, then expressive cognitive acts would be dependent upon a form of indication. Since only expression is truly expressive cognitive acts must not depend upon any type of deferral or mediation of meaning. The ideal or universal meanings that are accessed by consciousness must be immediately self-present to consciousness. Otherwise, Husserl would be unable to clearly distinguish between acts of indication and acts of expression. However, ifHusserl asserts that auto-affection is the condition for the possibility of a self-present subject who is capable of autonomous conscious acts of expression, then he presupposes a difference between the one who "speaks" and the one who monitors the "speech." There must be a difference or a distinction between the conscious act of expression and the conscious act of''hearing" the expression. This conscious act ofhearing the expression should not be understood only in a physical sense, for it is often assumed that each person is able to monitor his/her own 100

PAGE 109

thoughts internally. At the very least, there must be a temporal deferment between the act of inner expression and the subject who monitors or understands the expression. Derrida (1973) claims that: This movement of difference is not something that happens to a transcendental subject; it produces a subject. Auto-affection is not a modality of experience that characterizes a being that would already be itself(autos). It produces sameness asself-relation within self difference; it produces sameness as the nonidentical. (p. 82) Since the very idea of subjectivity is only conceivable on the basis of its conceptual opposition to the idea of objectivity, this difference between subjectivity and objectivity is what permits the very idea of a subject. Also, the idea of self-presence is only conceivable on the basis of a subject that is both the same as, and different from, itself The subject who intends and understands certain meanings is at least temporally different from the subject who monitors such internal conscious acts. However, it is also believed that the expressive and monitoring roles are both assumed by the subject. The ideas of subjectivity, objectivity, and self-presence, are only conceivable on the basis of the conceptual differences between these terms. Also, the very ideas of presence and absence are only conceivable on the basis of similar conceptual differences. It is not the case that the idea of difference is only conceivable on the basis of conceptual oppositions such as the one that is created between "presence" and "absence," because the possibility of difference must be presupposed in order to allow for the possibility of such contrasts. Since the ideas of 101

PAGE 110

a ''present" and an '1nner" subject are only conceivable on the basis of their contrast with the ideas of"absence" and "outer," it is mistaken to claim that each subject is simply internal or fully self-present. Since each subject is not simply internal or fully self-present, it does not make sense to claim that each subject is capable of executing fully autonomous inner mental processes. 5th Assumption The fifth assumption is that there is a firm ontological and epistemological division between an inner subject and an outer objective world or reality. The immediately preceding discussion provides a strong basis for questioning the validity of an absolute distinction between subjectivity and objectivity. Each ofthese concepts only makes sense insofar as it can be contrasted with other differential concepts, so this challenges the belief that there is a fundamental ontological distinction between subjects and objects. Since concepts or signi:fieds are fundamentally arbitrary and differential, it is impossible to conceive of any particular concept or signified without at least implicitly thinking of other differential concepts or signi:fieds. If subjects and objects were fundamentally different categories, then each of these categories would stand by itself without the need to refer to any type of conceptual contrast. Since each of these concepts only makes sense insofar as it can be contrasted with other absent and differential concepts, it does not make sense to 102

PAGE 111

claim that each concept has a positive or detenninate meaning in and of itself If the difference between subjectivity and objectivity is the condition for the possibility of the meaning or sense of each of these terms, then each category must not be originally or fundamentally distinct. In his essay "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology," Derrida (1978b) examines Husserl' s attempts to reconcile the supposed internality of each human subject with the supposed externality of the objective world. Husserl argues against the common sense realist position, which maintains that subjects are distinctly separate from the objective world. A common sense realist position assumes that there is a firm separation between subjects and objects, and that each subject can only passively receive sense data from objects if that data is to remain untainted by merely subjective or relativistic interpretation .. Such a firm ontological separation between subjects and objects creates the problem of how each subject is able to gain knowledge of objects that are distinctly separate from subjectivity. Husserl attempts to undermine the validity of such a firm distinction, but Derrida still critiques Husserl because Husserl continues to operate within the confines of the binary opposition subjectivity/objectivity. It is necessary to briefly summarize Husserl's position before proceeding to Derrida' s critique. Husserl believes that intentional objects are constituted by consciousness, but that consciousness is both active and passive in this constitution. If consciousness were completely passive, then objects would be completely mind-independent, or 103

PAGE 112

objects would be what they are without consciousness. If consciousness were completely active, then objects would be completely mind-dependent, or objects would simply be creations of the mind. Husserl does not accept either of these two extremes, for he maintains that intentional objects are both internal and external to consciousness. An intentional object is internal to consciousness in the sense that intentional objects appear within the sphere of consciousness. Consciousness must be opened up to objects insofar as consciousness constitutes a region or field in which objects can appear. In this senSe, consciousness is active in the constitution of objects. On the other hand, intentional objects are external to consciousness in the sense that the intentional objects that appear to consciousness are not the same as consciousness. If intentional objects were exactly the same as consciousness, then consciousness would not be able to differentiate between itself and the objects that appear to it. Also, when intentional objects appear to consciousness, consciousness grasps more than what is immediately present to it. Consciousness is capable of grasping or intuiting the essence or universal meaning of an intentional object, for consciousness is able to understand what a certain type of object can do in the future, and what it could have done in the past. Consciousness is passive in this second sense, for it grasps intentional objects as they have already been constituted. In reference to Husserl' s project, Derrida ( 1978b) observes that: thus, ceaselessly attempts to reconcile the structuralist demand (which leads to the comprehensive description of a totality, of a form or a function organized according to an internal legality in 104

PAGE 113

which elements have meaning only in the solidarity of their correlation or their opposition), with the genetic demand (that is the search for the origin and foundation of the structure). One could show, perhaps, that the phenomenological project itself is born of an initial failure of this attempt. (p. 157) Husserl attempts to reconcile the need for objective certainty with the ability of each subject to grasp or intuit the same universal meanings that are associated with the different types of intentional objects that can appear to consciousness. On the one hand, if intentional objects were strictly subject-dependent, the knowledge that could be gained through intentional acts of consciousness would be purely contingent or relative. Knowledge would be inextricably linked to the variations within each subject. On the other hand, if intentional objects were strictly subject-independent, then human subjects would be unable to gain any real knowledge of the objective world. If the structure of objects were distinctly different from the structure of consciousness, then human subjects would not be able to access objects because the structure of objects would be completely unlike the structure of subjects. Derrida suggests that Husser} created the phenomenological method in order to resolve this apparent contradiction by attempting to show that intentional objects are neither strictly internal nor strictly external to consciousness. Husserl suggests that this contradiction is illusory because it is inextricably linked to the initial presupposition that subjects and objects are distinctly separate, or completely independent of each other. 105

PAGE 114

Ahhough Husserl presents a convincing argument against the tenability of a firm distinction between subjects and objects, Derrida contends that Husserl still accepts a modified form of the binary opposition subjectivity/objectivity. Although Husserl accepts this opposition in a very restricted sense, he still attempts to work within the confines of the opposition. Husserl (1999) notes that "even after the phen-omenological reduction the appearance and that which appears stand over against each other, and do so in the midst of pure givenness ... (p. 67). Husserl suggests that the intentional object that appears to consciousness is not the same as the object itself. Although each consciousness is capable of grasping the essence or the universal meaning of each intentional object that appears to it, Husserl does not imply that each subject actually knows everything about each object that appears to it. Rather, Husserl claims that a subject can often be surprised when he/she discovers certain unexpected aspects or characteristics of intentional objects. This suggests that objects do have complete sets of defining characteristics that are not fully accessible to each subject. Each object does inherently possess a fully present meaning or essence, even if the essences of objects can not be fully grasped by each subject. For example, a foreigner might encounter a table and assume that the table is something that is used for sitting down. That foreigner might be quite surprised when he/she discovers that chairs are actually used for sitting, and tables are used for activities such as eating meals, writing, etc. Ahematively, it could also be said that 106

PAGE 115

tables are objects that can be used for sitting down, but this particular aspect or characteristic of tables is not recognized often enough. Therefore, each intentional object that appears to consciousness does not necessarily articulate all of the characteristics of the actual object. Alternatively, it could be argued that each consciousness does not necessarily recognize all of the defining characteristics that are articulated by each intentional object. The important point is that there is a difference between the actual object, and the autonomous conscious act, which allows intentional objects to appear to consciousness. Husserl still accepts a restricted distinction between the object that appears to consciousness and the object itself The acceptance of the binary oppositions "subjectivity/objectivity" and "presence/absence" in any form imply a presupposition that what exists must be capable ofpresenting its true or proper "self' independently of anything outside of its proper "self." However, Denida maintains that such inadequate oppositions should not be used to descn"be differential phenomena, because differential phenomena cannot possibly have fully present or fully determinate meanings in and of themselves. If differential phenomena cannot have fully determinate or positive meanings, then one should not use the idea of ')Jresence" as a criterion upon which to base the validity of differential phenomena. Even when binary oppositions are accepted in a restricted sense, they betray a tendency to privilege what is present over what is absent. However, the very ideas of presence and absence only make 107

PAGE 116

sense within a larger system of conceptual differences or oppositions. The meaning or sense of any particular concept or conceptual opposition is inextricably linked to a larger system of conceptual oppositions. A conceptual opposition such as "presence/absence" does not have a positive or determinate meaning in and of itself: for it is dependent upon other similar conceptual oppositions such as "subject/object" and "inside/outside." Moreover, any particular conceptual opposition is not simply dependent upon other closely related oppositions. Since each conceptual opposition only has a meaning insofar as other conceptual oppositions are different from it, it is impossible to isolate even a set of closely related conceptual oppositions. The meaning of each conceptual opposition is just as dependent on seemingly unrelated conceptual oppositions, as it is dependent upon closely related conceptual oppositions. For example, the binary opposition ''presence/absence" is actually dependent upon the binary opposition ''up/down," because ''up/down" artificially excludes certain possible meanings that could be attn"buted to the binary opposition ''presence/absence." Since the meaning of each and every conceptual opposition is inextricably linked to its place within a larger framework of conceptual oppositions, no conceptual opposition or set of conceptual oppositions has a definite meaning or sense that is independent of the larger system Therefore, no conceptual opposition is truly "binary," because the two terms within a binary opposition do not have positive or determinate meanings that are independent of a larger system of conceptual oppositions. 108

PAGE 117

Derrida contends that any attempt to isolate such binary oppositions from the larger system of conceptual oppositions obscures the play of differance, which is the condition for the possibility of using such terms. Any attempt to isolate a particular concept or conceptual opposition :from the play of differance is impossible, because no term within a differential system has any meaning except insofar as it can be contrasted with all of the other terms within the system In order to think of any concept or conceptual opposition, a person must at least implicitly consider the overall system of conceptual differences. Derrida claims that the meanings of the terms within a differential system are not more primordial or original than the very possibility of differentiating between the terms within that system Since the meaning of each term within a differential system is fundamentally arbitrary and differential in character, the meaning of each term can only be conceived on the basis of differance. However, Derrida does not mean to imply that differance is the authentic or original source of meaning for a differential system Since differance does not have any specific defining characteristics, it does not make sense to speak of it as an origin. However, the possibility of producing differences must always be presupposed in order to account for the possibility of using any differential system Since the terms within any differential system only have meanings insofar as they can be contrasted with each other, the possibility of differentiating between the terms within the system must be presupposed in order to conceive of such a differential 109

PAGE 118

system Derrida emphasizes that such a differential system does not require any foundation or original source of meaning that stabilizes the proper manner in which the system ought to fimction. Moreover, the very idea of an unchanging center or foundation that grounds or stabilizes a differential system contradicts the fundamental indeterminacy of the terms within the system Since the acceptance of binai'y oppositions such as "subjectivity/objectivity'' and support the illusion that fully determinate or fully present meanings are possible; Derrida claims that such oppositions are inadequate because they obscure the fundamental indeterminacy of differential phenomena. 110

PAGE 119

CHAPTER7 CONCLUSIONS This final chapter examines some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the two lines of argument presented in the preceding chapters. First, I would like to draw attention to the fact that both Wittgenstein and Derrida critique the first two assumptions on similar grounds. Both thinkers contend that the fundamental indeterminacy oflanguage precludes the possibility that words or signifiers can be non-arbitrarily connected with determinate referents or signifieds. Both argue that this fundamental indeterminacy of language conflicts with the supposed need for a determinate foundation that fixes or stabilizes the logical or rational connections between words or signifiers and concepts or signifieds. Words or signifiers can not possibly articulate determinate meanings, because they are necessarily indeterminate, or without any proper content. The basic indeterminacy of words or signifiers suggests that language does not articulate a predefined categorization of determinate referents. Therefore, the notion that each word or signifier ought to be non arbitrarily connected to a distinct concept or signified is untenable. Ahhough Wittgenstein and Derrida both appeal to the indeterminacy of language in their arguments against the first two assumptions, the argument of each thinker is supported in a different way. Wittgenstein argues that a specific language 111

PAGE 120

must always presuppose a shared ''form of life." The practices, customs, activities, and non-linguistic behaviors of various groups of people all contribute to differences between forms of life. The very fact that human beings use language is inextricably linked to the practices and customs that many human beings share in common. The "language-games" that are recognized or accepted within various forms of life do not represent a static foundation upon which the meaning of language is based. The possible ways of using language are multifarious and unlimited, so the imaginable forms of life in which language can be used effectively are also unlimited. Also, the language-games that are played within a specific linguistic community in tum affect the practices and customs of that community. The indeterminacy oflanguage shapes and takes shape from the contingency of various forms of life. The array of possible language-games is indeterminate because language-games do not explicate determinate rules that govern every conceivable situation. However, this does not necessarily imply that such indeterminate language-games are impractical or ineffective. Our language-games are generally exact or determinate enough to serve human purposes and it is not common that human beings express doubt about the language-games that they learn to accept within various forms of life. Rather than linking the indeterminacy oflanguage to an unlimited number of imaginable forms of life, Derrida links the indeterminacy oflanguage to the fundamental arbitrary and differential character of linguistic terms. Although Derrida chooses to support his argument in a different manner, he agrees with 112

PAGE 121

Wittgenstein in his decision to focus his critique against the notion that language is based upon a determinate metaphysical foundation of signifieds. Both Wittgenstein and Derrida contest the idea of such a foundation by demonstrating the fundamental indeterminacy of language. Derrida argues that a determinate center or foundation of language could not possibly determine words or signifiers, because words or signifiers are radically indeterminate, or they have no proper content. Since the meaning of each word or signifier is determined only by its place within an overall differential system, each word or signifier does not have a positive or determinate meaning that necessarily belongs to it. Also, since each concept or signified within a differential system only has a meaning insofar as it can be contrasted with other absent concepts, the amount of conceptual content that is associated with a particular word or signifier is also radically arbitrary. A single word or signifier can encompass more than one concept and several words or signifiers can all articulate the same area of conceptual content. Since the conceptual scope of words or signifiers is arbitrary, it does not make sense to claim that words or signifiers can correspond with determinate units of conceptual content, even in principle. The connections between words or signifiers and concepts or signifieds are radically indeterminate. Therefore, it is not possible to determine such radically indeterminate phenomena by appealing to the notion of an original source of meaning or a determinate foundation. Although Wittgenstein and Derrida do employ different arguments against the notion of a determinate, 113

PAGE 122

metaphysical foundation oflanguage, they share a desire to dislodge such a notion by appealing to the radical indeterminacy of language. The common focus of the arguments employed by Wittgenstein and Derrida is also evident in their separate critiques of the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions. Both thinkers argue against the belief that each autonomous consciousness is capable of understanding the proper or determinate meanings that are articulated by words or signifiers. First, both critique the notion of a seU:present subject that is distinctly separate from the external world. Secondly, both contest the idea that ''understanding" and "meaning" are mental processes that occur within the consciousness of each private subject. Finally, they both question the validity of the notion that there is a firm ontological and epistemological division between each inner subject and the external or objective world. Again, the specific arguments employed by each thinker are different, but both still critique similar presuppositions. Wittgenstein argues that the meaning of a word or signifier can only be examined within the context of the specific language-game and form of life in which the word or signifier is used. Words or signifiers are only meaningful in a "public" rather than a ']>rivate" sense, because an individual can not properly mean anything by a word unless that word has an accepted meaning within a linguistic community. Each individual is born into a specific form of life, which must simply be accepted. The definitions and judgments that are commonly accepted within that form of life are not often doubted by individuals, for each member of a community is brought up 114

PAGE 123

to think and to act in certain ways that are consistent with local practices and customs. The meaning of a word or signifier is closely linked to its specific use and context, and so it does not make sense to say that and ''understanding" are private mental processes. Our very notions of subjectivity and objectivity are linked to the functional purpose that these terms serve in language. Since the ideas of "subjectivity" and "objectivity" only make sense within the language-games in which they are used, it does not make sense to claim that they refer to an ontological distinction that exists "outside" oflanguage. It is impossible for us to take an external or objective standpoint in relation to the language-games that we use. Derrida's critique of the third, fourth, and fifth assumptions focuses on his observation that the of presence" is invidious so that certain metaphysical presuppositions underlie many of our accepted conceptual oppositions. One example of such a conceptual opposition is the artificial distinction that is set up between the ideas of subjectivity and objectivity. Derrida first attacks the notion of an autonomous consciousness within each subject by observing that this very notion is dependent upon a difference between what is ''internal" or ''inside" as distinguished from what is "external" or "outside." If the meanings of ''internal," and are dependent upon the way in which these two terms contrast with each other, then it is impossible to clearly explicate the exact distinction between the two terms. The terms are mutually dependent on their conceptual opposition, so the idea of''internality" is really inside the idea of"externality," and vice versa. Since 115

PAGE 124

there is not a clear distinction between an ''inner" subject and an "outer" world, it does not make sense to claim that each subject has an immediate awareness of a present "self." The very idea of a "self:" presupposes a type of difference and deferral, for I ani. only aware of myself insofar as I am able look back on a "self' that was speaking or thinking a moment ago. Therefore, I am only aware of a "self' on the basis of a difference between my "present" self and my past "selves." However, my "self' is never really fully present, because I can only discern a self on the basis of my ability to contrast it with "other" past selves. In this manner, Derrida undermines the very distinction between subjectivity and objectivity, for it is impossible to locate or isolate a fully determinate subject or object that does not refer to other absent differential phenomena. The arguments that Wittgenstein and Derrida employ against these last three assumptions suggest an underlying similarity in the overall approach that each thinker takes. It has been noted that Wittgenstein takes a "deconstructive approach," especially in his arguments against the tenability of using or understanding language within the private space of each autonomous consciousness. Henry Staten ( 1984) claims that ''Wittgenstein is unique among Derrida' s predecessors in having achieved, in the period beginning with the Blue Book, a consistently deconstructive standpoint" (p. 1). The ''Blue Book" and the ''Brown Book" are two separate sets of lecture notes that Wittgenstein dictated to a few select pupils. Rush Rhees ( qtd. in 116

PAGE 125

Wittgenstein, 1958a) explains: "Wittgenstein dictated the 'Blue Book' (though he did not call it that) to his class in Cambridge during the session 1933-34 . .. He dictated the 'Brown Book' to two ofhis pupils ... during 1934-35" (p. vii). Many scholars consider these two notebooks to be an important preface to the Philosophical Investigations (1958b ), for the notebooks include detailed information . about some of the ideas in Wittgenstein' s later work. In the Blue and Brown Books (1958a), Wittgenstein introduces his notion of''language-games," and he critiques the idea of using a private language, or the possibility of understanding or intending determinate meanings within the confines of each autonomous consciousness. This critique of the tenability of using a private language can be characterized as a type of deconstruction, because Wittgenstein demonstrates that our concepts of "subjectivity" and "objectivity" are not based upon any type of determinate, ontological foundation. Before accepting this idea that both Derrida and Wittgenstein share a certain "deconstructive standpoint," it is first necessary to clarify what is meant by the term "deconstruction." Oddly enough, the very idea of fully explicating an idea or method of "deconstruction" conflicts with Derrida' s understanding of this term, for deconstruction is not a determinate method or formula by which to critique the metaphysical presuppositions that underlie various discourses and texts. Derrida would claim that deconstruction necessarily involves a close reading of separate texts, and a recognition of the ambiguities and idiosyncrasies within each text. If 117

PAGE 126

such close readings were done according to a preconceived methodology, then that methodology would necessarily alter the various texts or discourses being examined. Derrida emphasizes that there is no way to absolutely fix or stabilize the meaning of a text, because language consists of a series of arbitrary and differential linguistic signs. Christopher Norris (1987) explains: To think logocentrically is to dream of a 'transcendental signified', of a meaning outside and beyond the differential play of language that would finally put a stop to this unnerving predicament. Deconstruction defines its own project by contrast as a perpetual reminder that meaning is always the 'sign of a sign' ... and that writing is in at the origin oflanguage, since that origin cannot be conceived except by acknowledging the differential nature of signs. (pp. 85-6) Since concepts or signifieds are as indeterminate as words or signifiers, the idea that each word or signifier has a fully ']>resent" or authentic meaning is untenable. Arbitrary and differential words or signifiers refer to equally indeterminate signifieds, or they defer absent or indeterminate meanings. The idea that a radically determinate being or force could even relate to such radically indeterminate phenomena is contradictory. Therefore, deconstruction elucidates the fact that the belief that words or signifiers articulate determinate meanings is based upon an underlying metaphysical presupposition. This presupposition involves the assumption that a transcendental force or being did articulate certain determinate meanings at a definitive point of origin. Derrida contests the very idea of such a point of origin, because the very possibility of using differential signs to mean 118

PAGE 127

anything presupposes an ability to differentiate between differential phenomena.. The very idea of an "origin" cannot be conceived except on the basis of its contrast with the idea of a final purpose or "telos." Since the very possibility of producing and recognizing differences is not a substantial thing with determinate characteristics, di.flerance cannot possibly be located at a point of origin. Therefore, deconstruction does not simply destroy the erroneous belief in a transcendental signified, but it opens up artificial limits that have been presupposed according to this erroneous belief. Deconstruction is not simply destructive or negative, because it allows us to recognize the underlying metaphysical presuppositions that are ubiquitous in many of the texts that are part of the Western tradition. These texts are not limited to philosophy, but also include other disciplines such as literature, history, and anthropology. In fact, our accepted distinction between these disciplines is also linked to the "metaphysics of presence." Philosophical texts are commonly assumed to be more serious or rigorous than various forms of literature, because they attempt to express authentic truths as opposed to expressing fanciful thoughts and contingent opinions. Philosophy expresses the ''logos" or logical order of the world, while literature is linked to imaginary figures and mythical accounts. This artificial conceptual opposition between ''logos" and "mythos" is another one ofDerrida's targets for deconstruction. He argues that there is not any way of clearly distinguishing between authentic truth and mere opinion, because there is no such 119

PAGE 128

thlng as original or authentic truth. The very notion of"authenticity" is based upon a difference or a contrast with that which is excluded, or ''inauthenticity." Authentic truth could not have been at a determinate point of origin, because the idea of "authenticity" presupposes an ability to differentiate between this idea and other closely related ideas, such as the notion of"mere opinion." Therefore, a "deconstructive approach," can be roughly characterized as the process of closely reading a text in order to expose any underlying metaphysical presuppositions upon which that text is based. Such an approach is not directly aligned with Wittgenstein's purpose, for Wittgenstein primarily examines a generalized form oflanguage, while Derrida deconstructs the specific texts and discourses of many important figures in the Western tradition. Derrida examines philosophers such as Hegel, Husser], Heidegger, Rousseau, Plato, and Nietzsche, but he also includes figures from non-philosophical disciplines, such as Mallarme, and Jean Genet. In contrast, Wittgenstein only briefly mentions a few philosophers in the Philosophical Investigations, and he did not read widely in the history of philosophy. However, I believe this contrast represents a relatively minor difference between Wittgenstein and Derrida, and so it does not prohibit the possibility of making a deconstructive connection between their approaches. In his essay entitled "Wittgenstein and Deconstruction," which is included in The New Wittgenstein (Eds. Alice Crary and Rupert Read, 2000), Martin Stone references Henry Staten's (1984) opinion that both Wittgenstein and Derrida operate 120

PAGE 129

from a similar deconstructive standpoint. Stone suggests that Staten's interpretation assumes that both Wittgenstein and Derrida believe that misinterpretation is an essential possibility given the indeterminacy of language. However, Stone emphasizes that Wittgenstein does not think it is likely that a person would normally misinterpret the commonly accepted meanings of words or signifiers as long as the specific form of communication accords with common or everyday usage. Stone (qtd in Crary, ed., 2000) notes that: If we regard the use of a sign as an event which, appropriately specified, includes the surrounding circumstances, then we are bound to see that from the fact that a doubt about meaning is possible it does not follow that anyone does, or even intelligibly could (under the circumstances) actually doubt .... (p. 106) Stone claims that Wittgenstein's qualification, that doubt is unlikely given the fact that a certain form of life has already been accepted, implies that Wittgenstein is not adopting a strictly "deconstructive standpoint." Stone seems to assume that such a deconstructive standpoint necessarily implies a denial that it is possible to fix the meaning of words or signifiers in any sense, even by using some type of indeterminate standard, like common, everyday linguistic usage. If understanding the meanings of words or signifiers is necessarily a matter of interpretation, then such an interpretivist theory of meaning implies that agreement on common linguistic usage is illusory. Since Wittgenstein claims that the indeterminate meanings ofwords or signifiers can be described within various language-games, 121

PAGE 130

this seems to conflict with the claim that it is impossible to fix the meaning of words or signifiers in any sense. However, Derrida never claims that his deconstructive approach implies that "plain meaning" is necessarily unachievable. His focus on the infinite possible meanings that could possibly be associated with each word or signifier is not equiValent to an attempt to suggest that words or signifiers cannot possibly be associated with commonly accepted, everyday meanings. Christopher Norris (1987) notes: What is in question here (Derrida argues) is not mere retreat into a realm of infinitized textual 'freeplay' or dissemination where reality no longer obtrudes. Rather, it is the need to resist (or deconstruct) those antinomies of classical reason that have always posed the issue jn these or related metaphysical terms. (p. 143) Derrida would not deny that we do attach certain accepted or common everyday meanings to words or signifiers, but he does not think this implies that words or signifiers are grounded in a metaphysical foundation of original or authentic meanings. Derrida simply critiques the metaphysical presupposition that language articulates a predefined categorization of determinate referents. Also, Derrida does not deny that language refers to reality in a sense, but he does contest the notion that language directly refers to determinate referents that define the underlying rational structure of reality. Derrida ( qtd. in Kearney, 1984) explains: Certainly, deconstruction tries to show that the question of reference is much more complex and problematic than traditional theories supposed. It even asks whether our term 'reference' is entirely 122

PAGE 131

adequate for designating the 'other'. The other, which is beyond language and which summons language, is perhaps not a 'referent' in the normal sense which linguists have attached to this term (pp. 123-4) Derrida argues that his position is not equivalent to the claim that there is nothing beyond language, or that a ''real world" does not exist outside of the arbitrary and differential system of language. However, he does suggest that the phrase, ''language refers to the world," presupposes that each word or signifier does articulate a determinate referent, concept, or signified. In other words, there is an implicit presupposition that reference necessarily involves a non-arbitrary correspondence between the elements oflanguage and certain determinate referents that underlie reality. It is important to recognize the presuppositions that commonly underlie ideas such as ''reference," for such a term is much more ambiguous than one might imagine. Our common notion of ''reference" actually consists of a number of separate interpretations that have been linked together in a chain of contingent substitutions that does not end or begin in an original or determinate meaning. The very notion that ''reference" names a determinate type of mental or physical action is mistaken, for this very notion is constituted by a historical chain of metaphors that are not founded upon an original or authentic meaning. Although we commonly believe that reference must necessarily end in a fully determinate idea or proper meaning, Derrida reveals that the very idea of a source or origin of truth and meaning conflicts with the indeterminate character of differential phenomena. 123

PAGE 132

I believe that Wittgenstein and Derrida do both share a deconstructive approach in the sense that their common goal is to expose the metaphysical presuppositions that underlie our commonly accepted beliefs. One such belief is the notion that Janguage directly refers to some type of determinate foundation that perfectly corresponds with the predefined underlying logical structure world. Neither Wittgenstein nor Denida deny that humans use language to interact with the world in a number of practical ways, but this contingent fact does not support the notion of some type of metaphysical correspondence between words or signifiers and determinate referents of some sort. Norris (1987) explains: What he [Denida] does most emphatically deny is the notion ... that imposes a certain reified concept of reference, and so closes off these dimensions of productive exchange between the world and the text. (p. 147) Although Norris is referring to Derrida in the quote above, his statement applies to Wittgenstein equally well To assume that words or signifiers simply name determinate signifieds is to ignore the multifarious rhetorical and pragmatic uses of language. This assumption also involves a failure to account for the importance of the culture or community in which various accepted uses oflanguage arise. To attempt to examine the meaning of the concept 'l'eference" independently of the context in which it is used is to presuppose that there is a permanent or unchanging meaning of the word 'l'eference" that is free from any type of contextual ambiguity. Therefore, Wittgenstein and Derrida both emphasize the ambiguity, rhetorical force, 124

PAGE 133

and syntactical structure oflanguage, rather than simply accepting the metaphysical presupposition that language has a logical connection with determinate referents that correspond with the logical structure of reality. Although both Wittgenstein and Derrida do share a desire to unravel the metaphysical presuppositions that underlie our use of language, they also contrast with each other in relation to the traditional metaphysical task of locating a point of origin or a foundation for existence. In one sense, Wittgenstein and Derrida agree that the task oflocating a determinate, authentic point of origin for meaning and existence is not viable. Such a task is equivalent to the desire to discover a perfectly articulated formula that fully explicates the logical or rational order of the world. Since language is fundamentally indeterminate, both Wittgenstein and Derrida deny that words or signifiers can be used to articulate distinct units within a predefined categorization of signifieds. However, Derrida does not completely abandon the search for a type of origin of meaning, for he claims that di.fferance is a type of non origin that must be presupposed in order to account for the possibility of effectively interacting with any differential system. Derrida (1981) explains that ''The play of differences supposes, in effect, syntheses and referrals which forbid at any moment, or in any sense, that a simple element be present in and of itself: referring only to itself' (p. 26). Whereas, Western philosophers have traditionally sought to find an infinite, fully determinate, force or being that provides a foundation for existence, Derrida reveals that the only 125

PAGE 134

foundation is a type of'non-foundation" or an indeterminate ground. He does not only emphasize that subjects and objects are never fully present or fully absent, but that the very possibility of making such a distinction presupposes an ability to differentiate between the meanings of these terms. Therefore, the possibility of producing and recognizing differences must already be in place before it is possible to use any type of differential system Although differance must be presupposed in order to account for the very possibility of differences, it is not a determinate substance or entity with certain predetermined characteristics. Therefore, it is impossible to actually locate differance at a point of origin. Although Derrida does, in a sense, carry on with the traditional philosophical task of locating an origin or foundation, Wittgenstein suggests that his entire philosophy is an attempt to dissolve philosophical problems that are merely illusory. Martin Stone (qtd. in Crary, ed., 2000) notes: ... that while for Derrida metaphysics appears to exist autonomously and invidiously, conditioning our every effort to think something else, for Wittgenstein there simply is no such thing as a metaphysical word or thought in the traditional sense. Rather, our attraction to certain forms of words which seem to express great philosophical difficulties arises from our imagining that there is. (p. 109) Wittgenstein simply accepts differences as being part of the various forms of life that are accepted by human beings. In contrast to Wittgenstein, Derrida thinks it is no accident that differing and deferring must be presupposed in order to account for the possibility of differentiating between various phenomena. Derrida notices that 126

PAGE 135

differance must be presupposed in order to talk about 'ln.eaning," or even to talk about a ''world." Therefore, Derrida does locate a type of origin or foundation, but this "origin" must be understood in a very qualified sense. Differance is not a determinate idea or concept, so it cannot be limited to an explicit, determinate meaning. Since differance has no determinate content, it could never have been at a point of origin. In summary, the areas of similarity between Wittgenstein and Derrida are far more numerous than the differences between them. Their purpose is similar in the sense that both of them focus their arguments against the notion that meaningful language is grounded in some type of metaphysical correspondence between words or signifiers and determinate referents or signifieds. Both thinkers also target five crucial assumptions that underlie this contested conception of language. They are also similar in the sense that both of them take a "deconstructive" approach in the arguments that they use to undermine the five crucial assumptions. Both attempt to show that language is ultimately indeterminate, and necessarily plagued by a certain amount of ambiguity, because words or signifiers cannot articulate determinate units of conceptual content. Therefore, it is important to discard the erroneous notion that language is supported by a determinate, metaphysical foundation that stabilizes the proper meanings of words or signifiers. Despite the large number of similarities between Wittgenstein and Derrida, there is at least one major difference as well. Derrida does believe that the 127

PAGE 136

''metaphysics of presence" pervades many forms of Western discourse, and it is not possible to simply dissolve the metaphysical presuppositions of philosophy. Deconstruction involves a close reading of texts and an exposure of the various metaphysical metaphors that inhabit such texts, but deconstruction also recognizes its role as another type of text that does not have privileged access to authentic truth. Derrida does not necessarily intend to destroy philosophical discourse, but to ponder the limits of such discourse and the supposed distinction between philosophical discourse and other forms of discourse. Wittgenstein's project is more radical in a sense, because he hopes to undermine the type of confusion that leads to illusory philosophical problems. Wittgenstein hopes to limit philosophy to its proper role of describing the multifarious ways in which language is actually used within the context of everyday life. Wittgenstein hopes to move beyond illusory metaphysical problems, while Derrida emphasizes the fact that we must carefully continue to examine the metaphysical presuppositions that underlie many of our texts and discourses. 128

PAGE 137

Bibliography Baker, G. P. and P.M. S. Hacker. 1980. Wittgenstein: Understanding and Meaning. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Crary, Alice and Rupert Read, eds. 2000. The New Wittgenstein. New York: Routledge. Derrida, Jacques. 1973. Speech and Phenomena. Trans. David Allison. Evanston, lllinois: Northwestern University Press. Originally published as La voix et le Phenomene (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967). 1976. OfGrammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Bahimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Originally published as De Ia grammatologie (Paris: Minuit, 1967). 1978a. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published as L'ecriture et Ia difference (Paris: Minuit, 1967) . 1978b. "'Genesis and Structure' and Phenomenology." In Writing and Difference, pp. 154-168. See Derrida 1978a. 1978c. "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences." In Writing and Difference, pp. 278-293. See Derrida 1978a. 1981. Positions. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published as Positions (Paris: Minuit, 1972). 1982a. Margins ofPhilosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Originally published as Marges de la philo sophie (Paris: Minuit, 1972) . 1982b. "Differance." In Margins ofPhilosophy, pp. 3-27. See Derrida 1982a. Garver, Newton and Seung-Chong Lee. 1994. Derrida and Wittgenstein. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 129

PAGE 138

Hacker, P.M. S. 1999. Wittgenstein. New York: Routledge. HusserL Edmund. 1970. Logical Investigations. Trans. J. N. Findlay. New Jersey: Humanities Press Inc. (London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1970). Originally published as Logische Untersuchungen (Halle: M. Niemeyer, 1900). 1999. The Idea ofPhenomenology. Trans. Lee Hardy. Ed. RudolfBemet. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Keai.ney, Richard. 1984. Dialogues with contemporary continental thinkers: the phenomenolgical heritage: Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas. Herbert Marcuse, Stanislas Jacques Derrida. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. McGinn, Marie. 1997. Wittgenstein and the Philosophical Investigations. New York: Routledge. Monk, Ray. 1990. Ludwig Wittgenstein: the Duty of Genius. New York: Penguin Books. Norris, Christopher. 1987. Derrida. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Owens, Robert E., Jr. 1996. Language Development: An Introduction. Needham Heights, Ma: Allyn & Bacon. Pitcher, George, ed. 1966. WittgensteinThe Philosophical Investigations. New York: Anchor Books I Doubleday & Co., Inc. Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1959. Course in General Linguistics. Eds. Charles Bally, Albert Sechehaye, and in collaboration with Albert Riedlinger. Trans. Wade Baskin. New York: The Philosophical Library, Inc. (First McGraw-Hill paperback edition, 1966). Staten, Henry. 1984. Wittgenstein and Derrida. Lincoln: University ofNebraska Press. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1922. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Trans. C. K Ogden. NewYork: Routledge. (London: Routledge, 1961). 130

PAGE 139

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1958a. The Blue and Brown Books. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (New York: Harper & Row, 1958) . 1958b. Philosophical Investigations. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. Eds. G. E. M. Anscombe and Rush Rhees. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1958). 1967. Zettel Eds. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H von Wright. Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967). 1980. Culture and Value. Ed. G. H von Wright. Trans. Peter Winch. Oxford: Basil Blackwell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). Originally published as V ermischte Bemerkungen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977). 131