Wednesday, March 01, 2006

my reading of Derrida's Right to Philosophy...

In the very beginning I would like to define the term philosophy, because it is one of the terms around which the argument revolves through out the essay. The term philosophy derives from a combination of the Greek words ‘philos’ meaning love and ‘sophia’ meaning wisdom, therefore the word comes to mean ‘love for wisdom’. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original meaning of the word encompasses all kinds of knowledge. Over time, however it gained the more specialized meaning of knowledge of the world, as contrasted with knowledge of the divine. For example, science was originally called "natural philosophy". Today, the word refers to the study of ultimate reality and the most general causes and principles of reality. Philosophy in the present context of Eurocentric definitions begins where the universal is comprehended as the all-embracing existence, or where the existent is laid hold of in a universal form, and where thinking about thought first commences.

Where, then, has this occurred? Where did it begin? That is a question of history.

And we clearly see from its definitions that it certainly did not begin in the East, because in the Eastern philosophy, definitely Mind indeed begins to dawn, but it is still true of it that the subject is not presented as a person as something absolutely concrete, but appears in the objectively substantial, which is represented as partly super-sensuous and partly, and even more, material, which is seen as negative. The conclusion to be derived from this is that no philosophic knowledge can be found here. To Philosophy belongs the knowledge of Substance, the knowledge absolute the Universal. The Eastern form must and has been therefore excluded from the History of Philosophy.

And perhaps this very shift in the definition of Philosophy from the ‘knowledge of the divine’ to the ‘knowledge of the world’ creates for a distinction between the philosophy of the East and that of the West, with more credibility associated to the Western Philosophy for its closer relation to ‘rationality’ and its ‘universal’ nature. However, what philosophy is, or should be, is itself a philosophical question that philosophers have understood and treated differently through the ages. However, when one uses the term "philosophy" in an academic context, it invariably refers to the philosophical tradition begun with the ancient Greeks. The "Eastern philosophies" are inevitably overlooked, and considered worthless for academic purposes.

It is at this juncture that Derrida voices his discomfort about how philosophy as a discipline has been institutionalized in a Eurocentric structure, which makes other philosophies, which do not follow its pattern, loose its authority as a discipline. In this essay he begins with questioning three particular axioms,

-One, is that of the right to philosophy, and the space, the platform where it can be discussed.

-Two, he asks philosophers to not take it for granted rather question the a priori philosophical mode of being of the institutes like the UNESCO. It is important to question the reasons for the existence of such institutes. He of course cites the reason Kant gives for the set up of these institutions of peace, yet he has his own reservations in accepting it.

-Three he refutes Kant’s notion of a universal, which Kant says after much struggle becomes a fact. For him the element of Universal is a problem in History and Philosophy.

He mainly draws his critique of this institutionalization of philosophy by posing the questions to ‘UNESCO’ as an institution of philosophy and also relies heavily on Kant’s “Idea of a Universal History from a Cosmo-political Point of View” in order to put forth his arguments as to show how is there an acceptance of the European model of philosophy as the Ideal philosophy, with a universalist understanding of philosophy and a unfretted faith on the Greco-European origins of philosophy without taking into account the conflicted nature of those origins. In his essay he ingeniously raises the question in the beginning as to who has and who does not have a right to philosophy? And "where does the question of the right to philosophy take place?”. And the questions that run as undercurrent are- Whether philosophy was only the concern of the West and if no other philosophies exist apart from the Western philosophy? If so what happens to the any other philosophy, the non-Western wisdom? Or the contention is that there is no other wisdom apart from the Western? Through out the essay the case that Derrida seems to be making is that he is interested in carving out a space for philosophies to emerge and be accepted from the non-Western contours of the globe. Derrida’s contribution in this essay is to recognise that, truth can be expressed from what Kant calls the barbaricregions as well, precisely because of the place philosophy occupies, rather than some special faculty of philosophy to apprehend eternal verities. He also enables us to consider the ways in which philosophy does serve to challenge the pretensions of those disciplines which deem themselves to be place-less, or regard themselves as em-placed in such a way as to simply combine their unique talents to solve a difficult problem.

The essay in one way follows Ranajit Guha’s argument about writing a Subaltern historiography, where he mainly argues against European teleological method of writing History which he feels does not work for the East, so also we see Derrida in a way making space for other philosophies and histories, rather than accepting just one way of looking at it. In this piece Derrida explains Kant’s obsession for a ‘universal element’ in history and philosophy, and how since the Greco-Roman discourse provides for such a narrative which embraces wisdom with a universal appeal, they become the Ideal for him. And as Kant explains that it is in human nature to be unsocial and nature in a way uses this evil force in them to align them into a more social form, to give a meaning to their lives to elaborate on this I quote from the text,

“…Nature makes use of a detour of violence and of primitive, thus natural, unsociability in order to aid reason and thereby put philosophy into operation through the society of nations…”

And this is the reason he gives for the formation of institutions of peace like UNESCO that claim to serve humanity and how these institutions took it to themselves for creating and maintaining a culture of philosophy, whereas the more ‘barbaric’ (as they call it) nations and states needed to affiliate to them in order to devise themselves according to the European apparatus of “Modernity”, because this was the only available path for their resurrection. And one of the most able usages of these modern phenomenons is the creation of the concept of ‘Nations’ by them, because it is through this they devised to show to the East the difference between them and how they bettered. However, Derrida does not delve into discussing this, yet it seems very important for me bring in this borrowed concept of ‘nation’ along with the discussion of ‘Philosophy’ and ‘History’ and also to allow myself to get into some diversions, cause this unquestioned acceptance of Western philosophy as the only ‘philosophy’, and the concept of the ‘nation’ seem to be interrelated in an intangible knot. Now coming back to the concept of institutions, Kant’s argument for a universal history and philosophy to govern all man/ woman-kind seems to me to be based on his gross assumption, whereas Derrida argues that aspiring for an element of universality in any of the two concepts would only make it more like literature, making it open to imagination and fiction, with no grounds on reality.

Derrida explains and extends Kant’s notion of the ‘novel’ in philosophy, as something which does not agree/ accept the universality in philosophy, but Derrida rather suggests that this hope for a universal history/ philosophy is infact like a novel. Because this universalization brings in with itself elements of fiction, as it is nothing other than a gross assumption on behalf of the nations who had not been able to voice themselves.

Derrida then goes on to explain how realizing this danger, of philosophy turning to literature, Kant resorts to idealize the European philosophy and history, holding on to the thread of European history of reason and the Greco-Roman history of history. Derrida all this while argues for a Cosmo-political space for philosophy, but Kant’s resolution of the matter only fixes this Cosmo-political space in the hegemony of Europe. And this fixation then calls for a penetration, a downward movement of knowledge and understanding with Europe at the top, to the Eastern nations at the bottom, and this is what Derrida and his likes object as a problem. For them Philosophy cannot be determined by a program. Philosophy and History the two disciplines over which Europe mainly lays its claim are nothing more than recollections, a memory/ies of the past which has been( I Borrow the terms from the essay) ‘assimilated’ and ‘appropriated’, thus the important awareness that has to and needs to come along with this is that this memory of the events of the past is not and cannot be just one, universal thing.

Towards the end of the essay he makes certain arguments for the various problems that need to be encountered in order to develop the Cosmo-political point of view to the right to philosophy. The three main hindrances that need to be tackled are related to the hegemony created by the existing models of philosophy. For him it is necessary to first take into account the various philosophies arising out of various nations. It also becomes important for one to take into account the two given models of Europe and Anglo-American, but at the same time not take them as the Ideal. Thus, any claims to the right to philosophy from a Cosmo-political point of view needs not only to appropriate these two models but also in order to make the presence of other philosophies felt, deconstruct their hegemony.

Extending the argument further he says, that with the superlative models already available there is a dominance of the respective languages that has come to set in with them, and it is necessary for one to surpass this barrier and the authority language has come to achieve in the discipline of philosophy. Because philosophy cannot be restricted to the structures of language. But the very fact becomes important that with different idioms in play one gets open to different ideas.

And lastly he appeals for institutionalizing all possible philosophies, blurring the edges of nation, language, style etc. because ultimately it is through education and institutions that there is acceptance of things that are new and important. One needs to validate and accept the Eastern philosophies with it having equal heritage.

Derrida claims that what is happening at the present times is an attempt at deconstruction of the existing hegemony, and only with this can there be an emergence of the Cosmo-political philosophy which speaks also in non-European languages. As he says,

“…Not only are there other ways of philosophy, but philosophy, if there is any such thing, is the other way.”

It is true that philosophy cannot be explained tracing it back to anyone origin or memory, one in order to have a Cosmo-political platform for Philosophy, which is the need of the time, needs to amalgamate all the philosophies, only then is there any possible justice to the discipline of Philosophy as such, only then one can begin to create a platform that is available for a discussion of ‘The Right to Philosophy.’


Siddharth said...

good writing, good reading, within the given fetters of institution and academics

wasted said...

hey since we could not discuss i detail what ur reservations are about this piece, please write it to me...

u know ow eager i always am about ur comments...

Siddharth said...

I am alien to the context...
My comments were grossly based on your style.

you make a coherent statement of your reading.

and when I mention 'fetters of institution & academics' I imply the forced part of writing...I maybe wrong...but the way I know words...they were not structured after an internalisation...and moreover I dont expect you to internalise Derrida...this again doesnt mean that you are not supposed to internalise him, or in more simpler way, you are not supposed to like or dislike him...
but you need several readings of an author to make yourself write about other words...your reading compels you to write...

'fetters of institution & academics' so often prevent you from this unpremeditation

L>T said...

So far, I've gotten to the 6th paragraph of your post.

Simply put, there seems to always be a gap(?) between Western thinking & Eastern thinking. I find this in religions, myself. Being a student of religions (as an outsider). My goal is to find common ground in all mankind. Philosophy also?
I will read further. :)

L>T said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
L>T said...

I like the idea of a 'cosmo-political platform for philosophy'. & it is true that philosophys, thoughts, ideas need to be revamped(?) to fit the modern world if we are ever to become truely 'global'.

The East should not have to assimulate into the West or visa-versa but we need to find the common ground, first.

I find this idea very exciting.

uglygirl said...

but as always, the disillusioned me thinks that this is a pholosopher's Utopia.

wasted said...

but l>t i think u r mis understanding the concept of the cosmo political. it does not call for a common /shared ground rathers it infact means the opposite, a space where things exist without any hegemony, with nothing ruling the other.
and my understanding I am still todeceide whether I will vote for a global set up or a communal/ segregate...
much on this later

wasted said...

i hope now u don feel the author is wasted...though with my liking for the worst I kindda liked that too

L>T said...

Sorry, it's an idea I seem stuck on. I guess i look for 'common ground' in everything. It's a trait that comes from thinking as a humanist. Part of my own philosophy. :)
I'll read your post again, as It's a lot to grasp.To absorb.
O.k., I understand the error of assuming all philosophy to line up w/European or western thinking.

But I Do not think that i feel that way. I am interested in the things that are common w/us humans.
I strive to see beyond culture, religion and those types of things to; what is universal in us all.
Do you think that is a realistic goal?
I think that even some philosophical truths that i ascribe to (prehaps I learned from reading 'Descartes') A person who considers them selves well read in Eastern philosophy might have heard the same thing but in a diff. context.
Maybe we understand the same thing in a diff. way.?
What you call this, I call that.
You for sure have a much better grasp of the 'concept' of Eurocentric philosophy, then I have of the Eastern 'concept' of philosophy.

I like the quote from your post:
"Not only are there other ways of philosophy, but philosophy if there is such a thing, is the other way."
To me that says, "Expand your mind to understand."
This whole disscusion has given me a lot to think about.

wasted said...

first of all l>t do not be sorry about what you think and eel, if you really think something is wrong with the way you think, try to reason it out.
however coming to the universal aspect and the humanitarian point of view, I agree with you but then the question is, Is there really something that is 'universal'? part from ofcourse the very basic human instincts. I do not completly endorse decartes view though.
what troubles me is un/fortunetly we cannot think beyond the caste/class/creed distinctions, because the world we live in doesn't give us that kind of space.I am presently trying to read Derrida and his contention on the whole issue of humanity, what I understand is that he is aiming at a 'deconstrution' of all existing hegemonies that ve been there for ages now, trying to place the 'other' in the view, but what comes finally is his imagination for as Ugly Girl calls it and any other too "Utopian space" where things exist without any kind of dominance.
I do not really know if that is at all possible, yet I being the way I am hang on that possibility, I guess that much of romantic I am, I allow myself to be perhaps to survive.
but this does not mean that will be a universal space, it will rather accomodate differences and thatis the key to it.
Since I see you read a lot, why not try reading Derrida for once, or may be you have read him...
looking forward for more...cya

Moderator said...

Hi, we're a college reading group in Hawaii. We're finishing "Decolonising the Mind" and starting Guha's "History at the limit of World-History." I'd like to invite you to check out our blog and post comments, etc.

I like your blog and we seem to be interested in some of the same things.

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