Postmodernism of Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty

20 May

Throughout the history of philosophy problems such as metaphysics, ontology, skepticism and other issues laid the foundation for many famous philosophers. Philosophers published works and conducted lectures about their own answers to common problems. Issues that some of those previous philosophers were not even contemplating came into thought during the Postmodernism era. Derrida’s Deconstruction presented some great ideas as did Rorty’s contingency and liberal ironism. Postmodernism ideas somewhat ended a philosophical era and created opportunity for more ideas.

Jacques Derrida presented his idea of Deconstruction. Deconstruction is the way to deconstruct the enemy. Many would agree that Derrida’s ideas are very ground breaking due to how Deconstruction strips everything down to its smallest forms and analyzes them that way. The essence of existence of humans and human thought used to create foundation for Deconstruction and the ideas within it are from Heidegger’s ideas of Being, being and Dasein (being in a certain place and time). He uses these ideas from Heidegger to establish presence humans and human thought. Melchert uses ideas such as Plato’s Analogy of the Cave and Descartes’ quote “I think therefore I am” to give examples of presence of humans and human thought. A key philosophical idea that Derrida points out giving way to lots of Deconstruction of language was Logocentrism.  Logocentrism is the concept of Deconstruction stating that the way things look to us are the way they truly are. The catch in Logocentrism is that we have to “signify its nature in language” (Melchert, p. 705). Lots of difficulty comes with this requirement to signify what we see with language. Gong further into his Deconstruction, Derrida addresses this difficulty by breaking language itself down.

When Logocentrism poses the problem of signifying our sights by language, Deconstruction breaks language down into two parts: speech and writing. Derrida also states that there is a binary opposition between the two parts of language. The binary opposition occurs because various schools of thought and philosophy view one part of language to be a more credible source from thought than the other. Melchert described binary opposition as one part of language as having primacy and the other part as being the shadow. Logocentrism for example views speech as the more credible source from thought. Jacques Derrida viewed it the other way around. One might ask why this huge problem of language and having to signify it exists and is such an issue. Signifying what we see into language is such a difficult task to complete because thoughts themselves are pure ideas and opinions concerning facts. When we think something it is not automatically put into a form so that we can convey our thoughts to other humans. We have to do something to effectively transform our pure thoughts into language so that we can spread our thoughts. When we have to do this, problems occur. One cannot take their thought and use the infinite network of words to express the thought through speech or writing without the thought being distorted. Our language usually conveys a slightly different idea than our original thought was. Language itself is a complex network of terms creating a lot of ambiguity in language as Melchert puts it. Language is also a difficult thing to create from thought because something existing in real life and something that is not existent or is not present while being generally the same thing are expressed with the same term regardless of whether or not it is present or existent.  You can discuss the nature of something not being there using language with the same area of terms as you can while discussing the nature of something being there. The complex infinite networks of terms in language along with discussion of different tenses with the same terminology create the gap that is created between thought and language. The two  parts of language (speech and writing) are subject to binary opposition because various schools of thought view one of those parts as creating a larger gap between thought and language being the shadow to the primacy (the part that has the smaller gap between thought and language) as Melchert described it. Derrida goes further into Deconstruction by Differance.

Lots of people would find funny how philosophers tweak existing words to make new words for their amazing concepts. Derrida’s Differance is a combination of difference and deference. This concept includes explanation of meaning in language, the defer and differ in language and dissemination all leading to one general statement about language itself. The fact that the observed thing (signifier) and the language or word to describe it (signified) exist together gives Logocentrism the opportunity to state the dependency of the signifier on the signified. Since you see something, there has to be language to describe it therefore both things are dependent on each other. This is a key part of Differance.  Meaning of language includes two factors: intention and context. Our thought processes determine what our intentions are. Our intentions are not always carried out due to the gap between language and thought. Context is the semantics, morphemes and phonemes that make up words and sentences to make up language become very complex which is one of the biggest reasons why intention is not always carried out. Differance itself also has two points.

Differance was made from difference and deference.  The differ part of the concept states that a term or ‘trace’ of a term used at one point is a part of the complex network of words that creates ambiguity. The differing part of the concept states that that term or ‘trace’ is different from any other individual part of the language. The deference part of the concept states that when we are putting thought into words, most of the time the meaning of the words is not present at the time of speech or writing. The definition of defer includes postponement or delay and the meaning of the words at the time of language use is usually deferred, postponed or delayed. These two things together make for a lot of ambiguity and question when thought is put into words. Dissemination is a concept where Derrida refers to words or fragments of words as ‘traces’. This concept also states that “No unique master meaning word exists in language”. When you think about the complex networks of words in language you might hope for a few master meaning words that solve some problems or even one master meaning words but no such thing exists which maintains the ambiguity in language. Derrida’s word ‘trace’ comes from the complex networks of words that have many words that have the same root suffixes and prefixes and other fragments of words that mean certain things that make different variations of the same general word. Many would find a trace difficult to explain by Derrida but he explains traces as footprints left. The complex ambiguous language does have small pieces within it which is most likely why Derrida felt the need for a different term when describing language through Deconstruction. Differance leads most to understand that in language and the gap between thought and language nothing is complete due to the monstrous ambiguity. Also, due to language distorting the original thought, all speech and writing is always left with some need for interpretation by the audience or readers. Many would agree with the gap between thought and language. There are not enough words, sentences, morphemes, phonemes and traces to explain the vast boundless expansion that thought is not limited to.

Richard Rorty is another Postmodernist philosopher (regardless of how much Derrida and Rorty do not like that title) that had more important ideas important to the philosophical world. Rorty’s ideas somewhat revolve around Charles Darwin’s ideas of evolution replacing the Christian creation story. He viewed science and philosophy to be a higher source for information than any false religion. His concept of Contingency stated this outright. This concept stated that it was best for society and the world to give up false religions and rely on “time and chance”. He wanted to de-divinize the world and make it so that the world relied on time, chance, science and philosophy. He felt that humans need to rely on things that could be proven along with people having to roll with the punches and take things as they come one day at a time. Religious beliefs did not rely on time and chance (generally).

Rorty also decided that humans should change our idea of what truthfulness was. Rorty did not think that our “truth in inquiry” was not the way we should view truthfulness. Truth before Rorty was basically asking everyone to get a general idea about what should be done about current issues and to maintain success. Rorty’s idea of truth is the way things will go if we are to make ourselves happy. Our wants are more important than any deity and any truth relying on what everyone else wants. Rorty also has another idea of what truth is. This definition of truth involves things being true and things being justified. If something is true and justified it is certainly true. There is another acceptable case of truthfulness called cautionary truthfulness.  This type of truthfulness occurs when something is not true but it is justified therefore it is acceptable. It is called cautionary truthfulness because it is not altogether true. Rorty later describes words and language and refers to humans as animals (most likely referring to Darwin’s evolution saying that we are all animals but humans are the especially advanced ones). Rorty says that language’s words are tools to us and beliefs are habits. He also states that “language is our way of coping with the world. Our purposes and causes we have to deal with on this earth along with causal truthfulness causes us to need to cope with the world and to have the need for tools. Rorty differs from Derrida because of how he defines vocabulary. Vocabulary by Rorty is a large set of terms defining set things. He also states that our vocabulary by language is our way of explaining and justifying our actions.

Rorty defines himself as a liberal ironist. A few things have to occur within a person for one to define himself as an ironist. A person must question the language and vocabulary one uses everyday (this makes Rorty more like Derrida), any move or action to answer the question a person has about the language and vocabulary is a redundant action and to think that each person’s vocabulary is distant from reality just like everyone else’s is. Rorty also explains the Romantic era poets as being beneficial to ambiguous language because of how they create new language and change it to be better. Rorty explains these things and defines himself as an ironist. The liberal part of his liberal ironist definition also greatly explains his aim when using language. Being a liberal ironist states that when using language it is an important aim of his to prevent cruelty of all forms. Cruelty is described by Rorty as reference to physical cruelty and verbal cruelty. Through the language of a liberal ironist one would want to prevent all forms of cruelty because cruelty is not “among the true nature of things” as Melchert puts it. Purely the identity of nature makes cruelty a bad thing. Liberal ironists also do not practice prevention of cruelty because of religion. Another important point to liberal ironists is morality. Morality also is practiced as a result of nature and true contingency as Rorty puts it. Morality also emphasizes unity among people and practicing morality to better everyone. Liberal ironism emphasizes unity and doing things as a group to better populations and smaller demographies. Rorty’s liberal ironism also included his relativism which stated that everything was dependent on each other and all things were relative. Rorty and his ideas were postmodern regardless of how much he may prefer the title of liberal ironist.

Many would agree that Postmodernism broke things down much further than many other schools of though and philosophers have. Derrida deconstructed our ideas on how we think and speak. Many would also think that Postmodernist philosophers totally reinvented the way we think about how our thoughts are related to our speech and why we always have to interpret our language. One would agree that after Postmodernism we would understand much better the reason why we have a gap between our thoughts and speech that cannot ever be bridged. Maybe there will be a philosopher sometime that is as huge and popular as the Postmodernists that really can bridge the gap between thought and speech.


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