The Rigor of a Certain Inhumanity: Toward a Wider Suffrage

The Rigor of a Certain Inhumanity: Toward a Wider Suffrage

by John Llewelyn

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Focusing on the idea of universal suffrage, John Llewelyn accepts the challenge of Derrida's later thought to renew his focus on the ethical, political, and religious dimensions of what makes us uniquely human. Llewelyn builds this concern on issues of representation, language, meaning, and logic with reflections on the phenomenological figures who informed Derrida

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Focusing on the idea of universal suffrage, John Llewelyn accepts the challenge of Derrida's later thought to renew his focus on the ethical, political, and religious dimensions of what makes us uniquely human. Llewelyn builds this concern on issues of representation, language, meaning, and logic with reflections on the phenomenological figures who informed Derrida's concept of deconstruction. By entering into dialogue with these philosophical traditions, Llewelyn demonstrates the range and depth of his own original thinking. The Rigor of a Certain Inhumanity is a rich and passionate, playful and perceptive work of philosophical analysis.

Indiana University Press

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François Raffoul

"Through unorthodox and innovative readings of Husserl, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida, Llewelyn in able to configure a new geography of thought." —François Raffoul, Louisiana State University

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"Through unorthodox and innovative readings of Husserl, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida, Llewelyn in able to configure a new geography of thought." —François Raffoul, Louisiana State University

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The Rigor of a Certain Inhumanity

Toward a Wider Suffrage

By John Llewelyn

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2012 John Llewelyn
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00586-1



Old and new ways of ideas

Order may be conferred upon the following unchronologically arranged reminders of the history of thinking about linguistic representation if they are prefaced by the reminder that the word Gegenstand, so frequently used by Wittgenstein in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and that word's Latinate predecessor "object" bring with them the notion of something that is over against or cast in front and so stands in the way. A further complexity arises for us today from the fact that when the Scholastics, followed by Descartes and others, speak of the objective reality of an idea as distinct from its formal reality, objective means throwing before, projective. He says in the Preface added after the first edition of the Meditations that the formal reality of an idea is the idea as a psychological entity or operation "taken materially," meaning by this taken in abstraction from what the Scholastics, followed by Brentano and Husserl, call its intentionality. In a reply to Caterus, Descartes cites from himself a statement that anticipates a point upon which Husserl will insist and upon the interpretation of which will turn what one thinks about representation in language: "The idea is the thing itself conceived or thought in so far as it is objectively in the understanding." The star as observed by the astronomer through the "objective" lens of his telescope is not in his mind or in his eye or in his mind's eye in the manner in which it is in the sky. Only with respect to its formal (or "material") reality is the idea in the mind in the way that the star is in the sky. And as soon as our topic changes from that of the objective to the formal reality of the idea there results a compensating change in the idea of the mind that it occupies. The mind and its contents now become the topic of scientific study as when the astronomer's own experience of seeing the star gives way to a third-personal treatment of that experience as a case to be investigated by the science of optics.

Of course the word "contents" which I have just used repeats the ambiguity of the word "in." It encourages the thought just expressed that the occupation of the mind by ideas is like the occupation of space by the star, except that instead of occupying the dimensions of space and time, the idea occupies the temporal flow of consciousness. Like the star itself, the idea will still be a thing, but instead of being objectively observable in the modern sense of this adverb it will be observable only by the subject whose idea it is. This is the move that appears to be made by "the way of ideas" followed by classical empiricism. It is in order to counter this move that Husserl, echoing the sentence of which Descartes reminds Caterus, insists that when he says consciousness has the structure of noesis-noema or cogito–cogitatum, although the noema is an Objekt it is not an entity additional to the Gegenstand—not additional to, for example, a spatio-temporal thing. It is nothing other than the thing itself in its appearing as the accusative of consciousness or as phenomenon.

The Husserlian "noema" is not a freestanding psychological content (Inhalt) associated with other such contents by contiguity, resemblance, or causality. And if it can be called an idea it cannot be called inert, as Berkeley calls ideas of corporeal things. The hyphen Husserl inserts between "noesis" and "noema" indicates not a gap but a connection, one that can never be removed. A noema is always animated (beseelt) by an act of noesis, and noesis is never without a noema. But at least in the early writings, for example in the Logical Investigations, where some of the work done by the terms noesis and noema is performed by the terms Sinn and Bedeutung (though without the specific forces these terms are given by Frege), Husserl argues that, even where the topic is that of the meaning of linguistic signs, this animation need not in principle be the animation of the words of an empirical language.

Our interest here, however, is not the question of the dependence of meaning on empirical linguistic expression (though some aspects of this question will be treated in chapter 6). Our interest here is the question of the converse dependency. At this point of our historical but not strictly chronological tour of what philosophers have written about linguistic representation, having noted the medieval distinction between two ways of regarding ideas that is continued by Descartes, it is appropriate to ask how representation in language is construed by the philosopher who, while owing much to Descartes, is one of the founders of the so-called way of ideas.

Locke follows at least two ways of ideas. One of these will be signposted in the following section. He sets out on the more well-trodden way when in the first paragraph of the first chapter of Book Three of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, writing "Of Words or Language in General," he distinguishes words understood as articulate sounds such as parrots may be trained to produce from words with what he counts as the further property that man can "make them stand as marks for the Ideas within his own Mind." Given this and many other statements to the same effect, it is not surprising that Locke should be held to subscribe not only to a representative theory of perception but to a representative theory of language. If on the representative theory of perception ideas are a screen between the mind and things in their real nature, the representative theory of language will simply add that these ideas get to be the meanings or conceptions denoted by words, and words will be general, signs of instances, if the "internal Conceptions" they name are general ideas. "Words in their primary or immediate Signification, stand for nothing, but the Ideas in the Mind of him that uses them." If to this be added mention of the distinction between writing and speech, it might seem that we have the seminal definition offered by Aristotle in De Interpretatione according to which "Words spoken are symbols or signs of affections or impressions of the soul; written words are the signs of words spoken." But Aristotle goes on to say: "As writing, so also is speech not the same for all races of men. But the mental affections themselves, of which these words are primarily signs, are the same for the whole of mankind, as are also the objects of which those affections are representations or likenesses, images, copies (homoiomata)." Aristotle declines to develop these thoughts. His excuse for not doing so there (assuming that the excuse he gives there has not been misplaced from another part of the text, as some scholars suggest) is that these thoughts have been treated in De Anima. In fact they seem to undergo no development there either. So on the evidence provided by this definition of words it is difficult to say whether the affections or impressions (pathemata) are what Locke would call general ideas. That they are does not follow from Aristotle's statement that they are the same for the whole of mankind. They could be particulars in the mind that resemble particulars in the minds of others. Their serving to enable communication could be explicable by an account like that usually attributed to Berkeley. On that account an affection, although particular, could function as an archetype. The particular's capacity to represent particular things would be assured, so this story goes, thanks to the resemblance that other affections have to the original. The as it were lateral resemblance between pathemata would be what enables them to function as likenesses representing things "vertically." One difficulty with this account relates to the ambiguity of the word homoiomata. The lateral resemblance that is supposed to explain vertical representation itself supposes that one particular is a re-presentation of the other, even if it does not represent it. If everything resembles everything else in some respect over and above resembling it in virtue of its happening to represent the same thing, and if everything therefore re-presents everything else in the sense of repeating it, what is and what is not a representation that counts for the purposes of linguistic representation remains unexplained. It remains unexplained even if the metaphorical use of the distinction between the lateral and the vertical is dropped and the things, Aristotle's pragmata, are analyzed phenomenalistically or subjectivistically as ordered clusters of pathemata. This would still not meet the difficulty that communication would depend on a pre-established harmony between the affections of one soul and those of another. There would remain what Locke calls the secrecy of the reference my thought makes to yours, a secrecy no more surmountable than that which he ascribes to the real nature or the substance of things (Essay, III, II, 4).

Let us set aside the problem posed by the thought that everything resembles everything else in some respect. And let us allow that if one thing resembles another then it also re-presents it or re-presents the feature shared by itself and the other. Perhaps this does not amount to the one thing standing for the other. Perhaps we have at best a condition on the basis of which one thing may be made to stand for another, to signify or symbolize it—a condition on the basis of which one thing, even when regarded as a token (and not just because a token is a different kind of thing from a type), represents itself. We are still without an account of how one thing may be made to stand for another.

The account of this making that Aristotle goes on to give in De Interpretatione is centered on the significative function of words. So it raises the question whether anything is gained by having recourse to mental affections as intermediaries between words and the things they denote. Aristotle holds that the meaning of names or nouns (onomata) and nominalized verbs is due to convention. This cannot, however, be an unqualified endorsement of the position maintained in Plato's Cratylus by Hermogenes if the latter's view is that any correctness or incorrectness of naming is determined solely by custom or convention. Not if the correctness is determined also by the fact that the names tally with the mental affections of which Aristotle says they are signs and are the same for the whole of mankind. And of course this question concerning the meaning of names is paralleled by the question of the identity of the names themselves considered in isolation from their meaning. Barbarians and Greeks speak different dialects, vary their own pronunciation and form their letters in more or less discernibly different ways. Yet this does not prevent their using what at least members of their own respective communities would recognize across these variations as one and the same letter or word. Does this mean that there is a second affection common to the minds, a verbal impression that partners the semantic impression in virtue of which the word succeeds in naming the thing?

Further, in default of more than we have discovered so far to explain linguistic representation, and recalling Wittgenstein's statement in the Tractatus (3.1431) that the fact that tables and chairs are configured in a certain way can represent a state of affairs concerning other things, hence things like linguistic signs, there seems to be no reason why the thing could not serve as the name of a word and indeed of the intermediating mental affection, provided that between the latter and the thing a further intermediating mental affection be posited. Perhaps this is the wisdom concealed in the fact that the Hebrew "davar" can mean both word and thing or event, a fact that fits the Hasidic-Kabbalistic doctrine that the Torah existed before the Creation as a jumble of letters to be ordered by the events of which they will tell. This fact is mirrored in the fact that the Greek "stoicheion" can mean both letter and element, so the first element of a language, in Democritean atomism, and in Aristotle's comment in De Generatione et Corruptione 315b in connection with Democritus that tragedy and comedy come from the same letters. When Philonous's protestation to Hylas in Berkeley's Third Dialogue that he is not for making things into ideas but for making ideas into things is conjoined with Berkeley's teaching that things are signs in the language of God to be deciphered by human beings, these signs are at one and the same time linguistic and natural, depending upon whether they be regarded theologically or as the subject matter of physical science.

Berkeley guarantees to names a correctness founded in nature because nature is founded in God. Ultimately this correctness depends on the undeceiving nature of God no less than does the reliability of the "lessons of nature" invoked in the Sixth Meditation by Descartes. The theological premise is not essential to the case, which, in opposition to the conventionalism of Hermogenes, Cratylus presents for his own claim, that the correctness of names is based on their etymology. That case is not destroyed by saying with Aquinas: "The etymology of a name is one thing, and the meaning of the name another. For etymology is determined by that from which the name is taken to signify something, while the meaning of the terms is determined by that which it is used to signify" (Summa Theologiae 11a, 11ae, 92, 1, and ad 2). While this is indeed a most salutary reminder that what I mean by a word may not be what my great-great-grandfather—or Adam—meant by that word, it simply denies without argument what Cratylus asserts. Cratylus's assertion amounts to the contention that the determination of what a name signifies is dependent upon the determination of the thing it originally named. The origin as understood by Cratylus would have a logical and epistemological force, but this would be secondary to its sense as historical beginning. Socrates provisionally agrees with Cratylus's thesis, but only because he makes the historical sense of origin secondary to its logical and epistemological force. He imagines a legislator or wordsmith—a forerunner of Berkeley's sign-writing God—who coins words in the light of the Forms or Ideas which, in the language of the altar, are partaken of, or, in the language of the stage, are imitated by the things of the world to which our words refer. So although Socrates appears to be agreeing with Cratylus's view that the correctness of names has a foundation in phusis and to that extent appears to be disagreeing with Hermogenes' view that this correctness is based on custom, rule, or law (nomos), he is in fact putting forward a third account in which the opposition between phusis and nomos is denied. To which we may be inclined to say that this is all well and Good, but that both the Cratylic and the Socratic postulates seem superfluous to any explanation of how we manage to get words to represent things correctly. We manage to do that without needing to carry out either etymological research or philosophical dialectic. And the needlessness of dialectic for this purpose remains even if that dialectic does not generate the infinite regress of ideas of ideas between the eidos or idea as Form and idea or eidos as thought, a regress analogous to the one to which we saw Locke's new way of ideas appears to lead.

Another idea of idea

If the old Platonic Way of Ideas and the Cratylic way of etymology both lead to dead ends as ways to explain how words represent, room is left open for consideration of Hermogenes' claim that the correctness of the application of words is a matter of customary use. Consideration of this may profitably begin with the reconsideration of Locke promised above, in particular of his statement to the Bishop of Worcester that "The New Way of ideas, and the old way of speaking intelligibly, was always and ever will be, the same thing," "a new history of an old thing: for I think it will not be doubted that men always performed the actions of thinking, reasoning, believing and knowing, just after the same manner that they do now." Not unnaturally, some commentators see such remarks as an identification of ideas not with objects thought, as in the passages of Locke that support a representationalist reading of him, but with the thinking itself. It is noted by Richard Aaron, from whom the phrase "the thinking itself" is taken, that the interpretation of ideas not as objects thought but as the operations of thinking seems to be at variance with Locke's describing the ideas we have of these operations as ideas of reflection.


Excerpted from The Rigor of a Certain Inhumanity by John Llewelyn. Copyright © 2012 John Llewelyn. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
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Meet the Author

John Llewelyn, former Reader in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, is author of several books, including Appositions of Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas (IUP, 2002), Seeing Through God (IUP, 2004), and Margins of Religion (IUP, 2009)

Indiana University Press

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