Deconstruction as Analytic Philosophy

This book was recommended by my tutor. I am hoping it gets easier than the intro…

  1. Interdeterminancy of French Interpretation

Frege; at any given time, how a term is used is defines its meaning. A sense has a presence that gives it a meaning that can’t be disputed to start with and is so linked that everyone when hearing the word has a mental picture that is similar.

Husserl is more interested in how we give the sense to the sign, the language etc. Husserl and Frege both antireductionists. Both link a prelinguistic ability without the sign, we have heard a term used in that way before so the present speaker is merely reinforcing its use in that context.

‘Presence’ theory “hardheaded and antimetaphysical. Theory of knowledge.

Derrida starts from Sausure. “signs are arbetory” What defines is somethings difference from something else within a system.

Words have a non fixed meaning however senses content and meaning do and they can be identified on their own. Arbitory linguistic signs need supplimentation to be understood.

meaningful? (iterable) ie can have had more than one application, can be repeated. Derrida thinks that the exact expression would need to be used by the same speaker in a different context to have meaning, whereas Davidson says that to ascribe meaning you need to look at what the speaker is saying in total or all the possible things they could say, so you give theory to the speaker. Derrida thought that for something to be meaningful, the conditions under which it was uttered need to have truth conditions, ie used in a context that is acurate. this grass is green. said standing on a lawn.

Tokens are understandable as the type of token they are, thought token, ideas are tokens in the language of thought mental tokens understandable to the thinker.

Repeatable, and used with other tokens of type to group them (this is all about how we put meaning into words) ie tokens to do with animals would be repeatable? similar?

However, a token has a history and a future that is present and unthought of when using the token.

Nothing significant can be totally present, always refering to something non present .

Its a miracle we’ve ever understood anything given this theory. An utterance only has meaning in the context of which it was uttered, and even then its potentially ambiguous given the non fixed nature of the meaning of any given word.

So, it needs extra meaning beyond the words themselves.

Derrida gives some options.

First the present gives meaning. a presence in the company of, which the words are used.

Second the context in which the words are used also gives meaning.

Iterabilty (repeatable for different reasons) destroys the present argument.

Unless you speak in simple terms that are undenyable, the meaning of what is said is not fixed.

A sentence can have more than one meaning, both linguistic and nonlinguistic.

understanding is only reached when the interpreter (listener/reader)’s disposition matches that of the speaker/writer.

So as much as a sentence can have many meanings, its the interpretation of the situation that aids meaning.

If presence is absent, then there is nothing concrete to base the meaning on.

Deferral. signs always lack full meaning .

We must be using a nonverbal form of differentiation in our use of language to place meaning in any given situation or we would never be able to communicate.

Davidson says that you cannot separate scheme and content. language and what language is about is so linked. That we need the history to ground our knowledge of the meaning of words. and that this can alter future meanings.


“writing precedes speech and that all speech is really writing.” (Derrida)

Not true, you have to explain yourself more fully in writing than in speech when through gesture and intonation you can express other elements of your idea.

Speech is brain tokens? or is it inscriptional and therefore more like writing?

Chapter finished pointing out that without a non written form of interpretation, we would have nothing to compare text against.

2.The extension of deconstruction.

Deconstruction theory has been misunderstood, Derrida originally said the “traditional inferential bases are dispensable prejudices”.

Start by showing 2 arguments that include text or docturine that “undermine” itself  by giving an idea that its built upon that negates itself in the text.

“A text that argues for a thesis t uses essentially a premise p that presupposes that not-t. The thesis of the text is undermined by presuppositions of some of the premises used to support it. “Presuppose” in the original form of deconstructive argument is defined truth conditionally. If p presupposes not-t, then if p is true, t must be false.”

There are a given number of things that make something recognisable as itself, these are necessary truths. without them the thing is unrecognisable. However, eliminating things from the object is difficult because you end up giving the object more qualities that it has? and yet more language is needed….

For a statement to be true we have to distinguish between the meaning of the words and the fact they make up in the language, the example used is “frogs are cute” versus “frogs are animals” the second can still be taken 1 of 2 ways. so is there a “social contract” of understanding?

“Objects” then, exist as posits of a theory.

Quinean theory means that if there are necessary truths that are true in meaning, then there must be necessary truths that are not true in meaning.

Signs work as a mix of the past present and future, so are not totally present. They are repeatable, or they cannot be recognisable as signs.

However, as language is a non precise translation of words, we come back to language being used to understand language.

impossibility of separating meaning and fact.

The world is more than words but we cannot get at the more (especially without words given our reliance on language)

Plato- , there is nothing that is just itself and not also mixed with the opposite character.

all analysis is lacking in completeness, mostly because we never get beyond translation through language which is never-ending.

1 fact and value, cognitive and emotion content

if we rely on whats behind to give meaning, we cant reach the underlying connotation. can’t separate fact from value.

2 The rhetorical and truth condition

because we cannot isolate whats behind the sentence from language phenomena we cannot distinguish content and form, separate rhetoric from message.

don’t use rhetoric in philosophy. which is part of literature.

3 The metaphorical and the literal

metaphor has to be paired with truth to have meaning. my cats act like grumpy geriatric humans as a metaphor is only correct because in truth that is how they act.

“To interpret an utterance as literal is to make a choice about whether a sentence is true, from a Davidson perspective.”

4 textual essence and accident

by tone of voice or added humour we need to separate what is implied from the pun to find meaning.


Understanding the text misses the meaning behind the words?

3 Truth Conditions, Rhetoric, and Logical form

Plato put words into two categories,

Logical- concepts or thoughts expressed. And rhetorical properties that affect how it can function in discourse.

so, ‘red’ is logical.

Rejection of magical language – rethink of meaning.

For Davidson, the meanig of a word depends on what people say and in what circumstances they say it.

No magic words, no meaning over ordinary words in particular circumstances.

What someone says, their utterance is what is relevant to them at that time and contains truths that are relevant to that utterence in that time. however, in the future, the same utterence may have a different meaning or different truth conditions. so the only way to make sense of the utterence is to work out under what circumstances it could be used again.

However the meaning in what we say can be interpreted differently by how we say it, stress patterns etc. either by accident or for emphasis to change the value of words.

Only Fred loves Susan. The only person who love Susan is Fred, however this can also be read negatively.

Form and force the interdeterminancy of truth conditions

There is no truth condition to the sentence Fred loves Susan so we are reliant on language to decide if its true and its inadequate. so you go from logic to rhetoric.

Derrida takes issue with signs because they rely on language to define them and there is no end to the definition.

4 Davidson, Derrida, and Knapp and Micheals on Intentions in Interpretation

Knapp has a go at deconstruction for supposing a text can mean something other than the author intends.

Davidson agrees in principle however there is the internal meaning the author has. Knapp and Micheals claim utterance is only meaningful if its intended. “A sequence of marks can be meaningful only if it was produced on purpose.” This does not give meaning to the marks or utterance.

Because there is intention, they mean what they mean.

doesn’t work with things like the bible. (multiple authors mixed together not always a coherent join to text)

if an author writes with purpose in mind then it fixes meaning in the text. this informs the language used in the communication and the intention.

internal language first and sometimes unrepeated.

So the intention to speak creates the meaning?

Derrida’s view. the intention and the meaning is not fixed nor the motive of the author. the coms as a result have no definitive meaning regardless of the content.

The thing that gives meaning is the iterability, the repeat. There is no magic language. For a thing to be meaningful it must be meaningful in other circumstances.

Davidson allows that as long as its meant then it has meaning, and it can be understood even when its said in terms that part from conventional use of language. as listener you have to hypothesise there is a point to the words of the speaker as much as they have to have an intention in speaking them.

5 Metaphor According to Davidson and de Man

Metaphor is a balance of truths based on them being true or false and that knowledge is unknowable – Davidson

Davidson and de Man both  have same view that “every level of representation” can be descibed/explained in words, not magical though language “metaphorical as a matter of the force with which a sentence is uttered”.

An account of meaning can be no more than the sum of its parts when they were said, in the order they where said.

As much as the words can -by evidence- linked to other words, this is not their meaning. “in the same way, a scientific theory does not mean the data that confirm the theory”.

So as Davidson does not believe in magic language of thought, how does he understand metaphor? A metaphor does not say anything different from its literal meaning?

Davidson argues that literal and metaphorical differ only in the “force” they are pronounced (on paper)

Metaphorically is how a sentence is meant, not what its meaning is.

However, a metaphor if taken literally is not true. we have to suspend disbelief in its meaning and presuppose some of the truths of the words to understand the meaning of the person uttering.

De Man mixed with Rouseau aims at a sense of the language with a metaphor being created by someone. the verbalising of the metaphor turns it into a literal state.

However, a sentence can have many meanings without knowing the intention or the force with which it is said.

Read through Davidson, once a metaphor is out of the head of its owner, “it loses its privileged tie to a particular rhetorical force. that of a hypothesis,” becoming more factual.

Objects are named and similar objects are grouped by names, this conceptualisation for Rouseau was metaphor, the name of the objects had a previous meaning that became to mean something else. This process can be analysed as a turning of rhetorical force.

De Man does not agree that process will fix the language in place. This phase works because we can see the difference. “Thus Rousseau takes denomination to presuppose conceptualisation.”

By saying its all unreliable, again denying magical language of thought that anchors things.


When understanding metaphor, we use what we already understand of the language and sometimes what the speaker is saying fits with some of that historical knowledge.

A metaphor becomes dead when it is used so much that it becomes a valid term to describe something.

“Our conception of natural things is “contaminated” by the merely linguistic.”

6 True Figures

There is nothing other than tradition that links language to the object it portrays.

“Extensions of terms are fixed by “practices in culture.””

culture works by coercion and repression,

Dogs are called dogs because historically they are called dogs, not because there is an essential doginess to the word that defines dog. no magic language reference.

This is about language changing, which it does lead by innovation and youth use of words.

Culture as an unfixed ideal controlling the language as much as our parents did when they taught it to us and how the under-culture is still a part of it.

saying things to make them true – literal predication.

Without magic language, metaphor is more literal, so the need for force to make sense of the metaphor, ie linking it to humour etc is necessary for Davidson.

The word table is a metaphor, although a dead one. over the centuries, our language evolved the use of the word so that it now has meaning as a flat surface suspended/supported above ground-level upon which I put things.

7 A Rabbinic Philosophy of Language

Reviewing a religious text in the Talmud to assess the truth in language, discusses the relevance of magical language to decide action over a group decision. When is it right to decide the real? who gets to decide.

8 Deconstruction, Cleanth Brooks, and Self-Reference.

John Crowe Ransom and Cleanth Brooks 1940s literary critics who looked at poems et al as art over text, so the way the words fitted together was looked over content.

However, in terms of deconstruction as a way to analyse text, language is less formulaic than numbers so we have to look further.

“Literary theory is not a kind of language but rather a rhetorical take on a text”

First problem, no magic language, terms are not fixed.

So, the structure is most important as that is pretty static..

We have to read the text on different levels to get the meaning fundamental meaning of text.

level beyond literal metaphor figurative

analogical allegorical

with no magical, there are only words to explain, leading to language-like options.

If a contradiction is based only on the part of a text it deals with,  (non-formal language text) its ok. difference between formal theory and belief.

Brooks writing on poetry observes that rendering it into another language destroys the meaning it originally has (wonder if this works for Derrida?) Wheeler uses this argument to show again no magical language or it would make the same sense. So this is a study of the words of poetry, as we cannot get away from the meaning of words to give us the message of the poem.

How the poem is written is part of what it means. Loosening the reference can be about the poem itself as well as the content of its words.

back to deconstruction. a poem has to be assessed sentence by sentence for strength of authority power relations, prestige.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        9 A Deconstruction Wittgenstein

now looking at Derrida and Wittgenstein by Staten. writing meaning doesn’t become apparent because it exists

Some truths have to hold for us to believe a plane will fly.

“Aristotle figured we where the sort of organism that knows, that is naturally disposed to get things right.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Davidson, objective, culture independent truths. ie a rock is a rock if its a rock. as a truth this can’t be broken down any more.

10 Wittgenstein as Conservative Deconstructor  

Maths holds its own set of irrefutable truths.

1expressions. cognitive meaning (knowledge) – Emotive meaning                                                                                                                                                                                                                   dualism out of which an explanatory scheme is built (foundational)

2Value hierarchy, cognitive / other value, if the same, can be used to deconstruct.

3 contrasts, logical v rhetorical, complete v un complete.

deconstruction works when both sides of the argument are coherently describable.

so attack knowledge, with known opinion of knowledge of the time versus the other meaning at that time (rhetoric metaphor etc) Contrast at this point is incoherent.

second phase abandon first phase and shows incoherence

because one side of the argument  must presuppose the other side.

other factors can squew the argument, gender freud etc

“use a text to show how it undermines itself by implicitly denying the division it is explicitly promoting.”

problem with using an argument to resolve an argument is that tboth arguments can be found to be wrong.

remove theory keep argument?

Wittgenstein, notion of meaning being as something behind language.

11 Deconstructed Distinctions are OK

“Deconstruction points out inconsistencies or incoherence in a distinction, text or discourse”

Deconstruction, does not necessarily show that a discourse is defective.

Deconstruction does not necessarily stop a discourse – be it instructions or founding information for culture – from working.

12 Derrida’s Difference and Plato’s different.

difference itself is an entity so whatever is different between a and b is itself an entity.

Because of the differences, things become beings?

“No explanation of B by A is possible if the understanding of A requires that B exists”. (Davidson)


I think I understand Davidson’s view more than Derrida’s  It strikes me as much more common sense and dealing with what exists and how we currently describe it.

Good book, I hope to delve into lots over the years.


Wheeler, S (2000) Deconstruction as an analytic philosophy. First Edition. Stanford. Stanford University Press.



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