Derrida Contra Searle – Part 1…

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The three most essential features of writing for Derrida happen to be remainder, rupture and spacing, of which the first is mirrored in weaning of a text from its origin and the second finds its congruence in severance of expression from its meaning, and all of the three happen to be graphematic. Remainder could also be thought of as writing that absents itself from the original context, while rupture is to be seen primarily as the unlikelihood of a proper context that arrests it, or confines it. Even if weaning of a text from its origin fits the bill of being graphematic, Searle’s rejects rupture as being one. This implies that the status of permanence is accorded to writing, as unlike speech, it remains in its archival form even in the absence of speaker-writer. This position is non- Derridean, as it argues against all language use as characterized by the absence of the sender. Therefore, severance of meaning from the expression is denied any special status for writing by an advantageous denomination of quotability, which, even if, not a normal purpose of quotation1, could still be a possible one. Searle’s reading of severance of meaning from an expression or rupture goes for a tailspin here, for, rupture implies a signifier to be grafted onto innumerable contexts in which sense could be derived, rather than boundations imposed upon graphemes and phonemes as simple considerations of marks and sounds respectively, and alienated from any significations they might carry when considered as mere signifiers.

Derrida most patiently and appropriately, ironically launches into his own defense against these Searlean criticisms. Irony and/or mockery rules the roost in Limited Inc., for the style is a deliberate attempt to deal with the serious/non-serious distinction in response to Searle’s tone of high disdain. In the words of Spivak (Revolutions That As Yet Have No Model), Searle’s essay is brusque and all too brief, whereas, Derrida’s is long and parodistically courteous and painstaking.

Derrida in Signature Event Context thematically points out the exclusion of writing from speech act theory, and talks about the essential predicates that minimally determine the classical notion of writing. He does this through his reading of Husserl’s Logical Investigations and The Origin of Geometry, where Husserl had indicated a suspicion on speech as underlining certain of these predicates of writing, by supposing writing to imitate speech, but unable to share in the immediate link between speech and its context of production. Even if Signature Event Context considers every sign as cited without the quotation marks, a possibility of a break with every given context leading to illimitable new contexts cannot be ruled as a crisis ridden possibility in itself. Such a crisis has resolution in Husserl through his phenomenological reduction, and in Austin through a programmatic, initial, and initiating exclusion. For Searle, writing is nothing more than a transcription of speech, and his refutation of Derrida’s take on speech and writing is too quick a translation that finds its bottom in a standard and trivial idiom. For instance, Searle clearly misinterprets Derrida by noting some marks to be only iterable by citations exemplified in quotations. It is without any doubt that Derrida considers quotation as a form of iteration or citation, but is only one such form, since for him, use of any such mark is equally a case of/for citation and iteration.2

This is misinterpretation on Searle’s part primarily due to his treating/interpreting graphematic in the classical notion of writing.

When Searle reads Signature Event Context, he reads in it the absentia of intention from writing altogether, which he bases upon the mark as separated from its origin and context of production and is clearly stated in his reply to Derrida. He (Reiterating the Differences {linked in the footnotes}) says,

Intentionality plays exactly the same role in written as well as spoken communication. What differs in the two cases is not the intentions of the speaker but the role of the context of the utterance in the success of the communication.

So, if intentions are present in writing, and contexts differentiate themselves with respect to speech and writing, leading to speech as more implicit in its form as compared to writing that happens to be explicit, one can only adduce to the fact of Searle being caught up in the classical notion of writing, with writing relegated to a lower form of language vis-à-vis speech. This is despite the fact of classical notion holding writing as dependent on speech, with Searle breaking away from it marginally by holding this dependence to be a matter of contingency in the history of human languages, rather than construed as a logical matter, and simultaneously unsubscribing from the classical notion of intentions as somehow absent from writing. Derrida sees a problem with this particular take on intentions that have hitherto sought to actualize and totalize intentionality into self-presence and self-possession.3 One cannot miss the teleological overtones of classical notions of intentionality, and the resolution lies in problematizing this notion. One such solution lies in leveling the privileged status bestowed upon writer-reader’s presence brought about by deconstruction to call back to the center the necessary possibility of the absence of sender and receiver as the positive condition of possibility of communication.4 Such a critique should not be taken to mean in Searlean style that intentionality should be done away with, or effaced, but would only lay importance to its deployment as against disappearance. Intentions could very well themselves be the effects of a desire that lead to self-identical intentions in order to produce interpretations. A limit is imposed upon such desires to prevent it from being thought in terms of a fully intending subject. These limitations, however accentuate the very functionality of intentions, lest it should only focus on Derrida’s project as absurdly nihilist. According to Derrida (Limited Inc),

What is valid for intention, always differing, deferring, and without plenitude, is also valid correlatively, for the object (qua signified or referent) thus aimed at. However, this limit, I repeat (“without” plenitude), is also the (“positive”) condition of possibility of what is thus limited.

In short, in Derrida the originary self-division of intention “limits what it makes possible while rendering its rigor or purity impossible” (Revolutions that as yet have no model). Derrida sees intention as part of the total context5 that somehow carries the ability to intrinsically determine utterances, and is rigorously put forward, when he (Limited Inc) says,

Intention, itself marked by the context, is not foreign to the formation of the total context…to treat context as a factor from which one can abstract for the sake of refining one’s analysis, is to commit oneself to a description that cannot but miss the very contents and object it claims to isolate, for they are intrinsically determined by context.

This point of understanding intentionality is crucial here, for writer’s intending is bracketed by the same context as the actual production of graphemes, and Searle, who at times vehemently rejects any distinction between intention and context invokes it in his criticism of Derrida, thus exhibiting his own conflictual stance. To achieve explicitness, writing must be able to function without the presence of the writer, and the way this is attained is when something meaningful is being said, the intention behind it exhibits its non-presence. This helps clarifying the distinction between the intention to be meaningful and intention itself, or the intended meaning. The phrase “non-presence” is misleading however, and it is loaded with absence. In actuality, these are not to be employed synonymously.5 Non-presence entails intentions as never actualized, or made fully present in the language due to dissemination. Derrida (Limited Inc) explicitly never questions intentionality, but only its teleological aspirations through his text, since these aspirations orient the movements towards the possibility of fulfilling, realizing, and actualizing in a plenitude that would be present to and identical with itself. And this is precisely the reason why Derrida calls intention as not being present wholly. This position is bound to raise suspicion in Searle, when it is largely misinterpreted that radical absence of the receiver in general should connote the absence of trace of any sender. The confusion builds up around “radical absence”, as it is taken to mean the absence of intention, which, however, is not the case. What is really communicated here is the absence of consciousness of what one intended, as is clear from the fact that if a conscious act needs to be intentional, it does not assume intention as conscious.

Searle talks about the normal and the possible purpose of quotation in a note that follows his remark (Reiterating the Differences),

We can always consider words as just sounds and marks and we can always construe pictures as just material objects. But…this possibility of separating the sign from the signified is a feature of any system of representation whatever: there is nothing especially graphematic about it at all.

If every ark is iterable, then no mark belongs to language strictly speaking. Languages could be thought of as reifications, that for someone like Donald Davidson, help us construct theories of meaning, while at the same time engaging with consistent and idiomatic speech behaviors. This might seem like loose semantic conventions and habits, but nonetheless direct towards some sort of an engagement with the likes of Joyce and Mrs. Malaprop and inculcating in us the revisionary exercise towards the theory of what language our interlocutor is speaking in line with the principle of charity. 

This is one of the reasons why Derrida calls his critique as ethico-political in nature.

This is reviewed by Spivak (Revolutions that as yet have no model {linked above}), and she calls attention to an extensive quote attributed to Derrida on the same page, that I find very insightful and hence worth reproducing it here.

To affirm…that the receiver is present at the moment when I write a shopping list for myself, and , moreover, to turn this into an argument against the essential possibility of the receiver’s absence from every mark, is to settle for the shortest, most facile analysis. If both sender and receiver were entirely present when the mark was inscribed, and if they were thus present to themselves-since, by hypothesis, being present and being-present-to- oneself are here the same-how could they even be distinguished from one another? How could the message of the shopping list circulate among them? And the same hold force, a fortiori, for the other example, in which sender and receiver are hypothetically considered to be neighbors, it is true, but still as two separate persons occupying two different places, or seats…But these notes are only writable or legible to the extent that…these two possible absences construct the possibility of the message at the very instant of my writing or his reading.

This confusion is ameliorated when one sees non-presence as designating a less negated presence, rather than getting caught up in the principally binary presence/absence opposition that is usually interpreted.

Consequentialism -X- (Pareto Efficiency) -X- Deontology

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Let us check the Polity to begin with:

1. N is the set of all individuals in society.

And that which their politics concerns – the state of society.

2. S is the set of all possible information contained within society, so that a set s ∈ 2S (2S being the set of all possible subsets of S) contains all extant information about a particular iteration of society and will be called the state of society. S is an arbitrary topological space.

And the means by which individuals make judgements about that which their politics concerns. Their preferences over the information contained within the state of society.

3. Each individual i ∈ N has a complete and transitive preference relation ≽i defined over a set of preference-information Si ⊂ S such that si ≽ s′i can be read “individual i prefers preference information si at least as much as preference-information s′i”.

Any particular set of preference-information si ⊂ Si can be thought of as the state of society as viewed by individual i. The set of preference-information for individual i is a subset of the information contained within a particular iteration of society, so si ⊂ s ⊂ S.

A particular state of society s is a Pareto efficient if there is no other state of society s′ for which one individual strictly prefers their preference-information s′i ⊂ s′ to that particular state si ⊂ s, and the preference-information s′j ⊂ s′ in the other state s′ is at least as preferred by every other individual j ≠ i.

4. A state s ∈ S is said to be Pareto efficient iff ∄ s′ ∈ 2S & i ∈ N : s′i ≻ si & s′j ≽ sj ∀ j ≠ i ∈ N.

To put it crudely, a particular state of society is Pareto efficient if no individual can be made “better off” without making another individual “worse off”. A dynamic concept which mirrors this is the concept of a Pareto improvement – whereby a change in the state of society leaves everyone at least indifferent, and at least one individual in a preferable situation.

5. A movement between two states of society, s → s′ is called a Pareto improvement iff ∃ i ∈ N : s′i ≻ si & s′j ≽ sj ∀ j ≠ i ∈ N .

Note that this does not imply that s′ is a Pareto efficient state, because the same could potentially be said of a movement s′ → s′′. The state s′ is only a Pareto efficient state if we cannot find yet another state for which the movement to that state is a Pareto improvement. The following Theorem, demonstrates this distinction and gives an alternative definition of Pareto efficiency.

Theorem: A state s ∈ 2S is Pareto efficient iff there is no other state s′ for which the movement s → s′ is a Pareto improvement.

If one adheres to a consequentialist political doctrine (such as classical utilitarianism) rather than a deontological doctrine (such as liberalism) in which action is guided by some categorical imperative other than consequentialism, the guide offered by Pareto improvement is the least controversial, and least politically committal criterion to decision-making one can find. Indeed if we restrict political statements to those which concern the assignation of losses, it is a-political. It makes a value judgement only about who ought gain (whosoever stands to).

Unless one holds a strict deontological doctrine in the style, say, of Robert Nozick’s Anarchy state and Utopia (in which the maintenance of individual freedom is the categorical imperative), or John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (in which again individual freedom is the primary categorical imperative and the betterment of the “poorest” the second categorical imperative), it is more difficult to argue against implementing some decision which will cause a change of society which all individuals in society will be at worst indifferent to. Than arguing for some decision rule which will induce a change of society which some individual will find less preferable. To the rationalisitic economist it seems almost petty, certainly irrational to argue against this criterion, like those individuals who demand “fairness” in the famous “dictator” experiment rather than accept someone else becoming “better off”, and themselves no “worse off”.

Concepts – Intensional and Extensional.

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Let us start in this fashion: objects to which concepts apply (or not). The first step in arriving at a theory for this situation is, to assume that the objects in question are completely arbitrary (as urelements in set theory). This assumption is evidently wrong in empirical experience as also in mathematics itself, e.g., in function theory. So to admit this assumption forces us to build our own theory of sets to take care of the case of complex objects later on.

Concepts are normally given to us by linguistic expressions, disregarding by abstraction the origin of languages or signals or what have you. Now we can develop a theory of concepts as follows. We idealize our language by fixing a vocabulary together with logical operators and formulate expressions for classes, functions, and relations in the way of the λ-calculus. Here we have actually a theory of concepts, understood intensionally. Note that the extensional point of view is by no means lost, since we read for e.g., λx,yR(x,y) as the relation R over a domain of urelements; but either R is in the vocabulary or given by a composed expression in our logical language; equality does not refer to equal extensions but to logical equivalence and reduction processes. By the way, there is no hindrance to apply λ-expressions again to λ-expressions so that hierarchies of concepts can be included.

Another approach to the question of obtaining a theory of concepts is the algebraic one. Here introducing variables for extensions over a domain of urelements, and calling them classes helps develop the axiomatic class calculus. Adding (two-place) relations again with axioms, and we can obtain the relation calculus. One could go a step further to polyadic algebra. These theories do not have a prominent role nowadays, if one compares them with the λ-calculus or set theory. This is probably due to the circumstance that it seems difficult, not to say actually against the proper idea behind these theories, to allow iteration in the sense of classes of classes, etc.

For the mathematical purposes and for the use of logics, the appropriate way is to restrict a theory of concepts to a theory of their extensions. This has a good reason, since in an abstract theory we are interested in being as neutral as possible with respect to a description or factual theory given beforehand. There is a philosophical principle behind this, namely that logical (and in this case set theoretical) assumptions should be as far as possible distinguishable from any factual or descriptive assumption.