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Derrida, Husserl and Relativism (2012-2013)

Author: EVANS, Mihail
Field of study: Political Science, Philosophy

This paper charts Derrida’s important and often overlooked relation to the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. My primary motivation is to disabuse the persistent misreadings of his work which would portray him as a relativist. Introducing Husserl’s phenomenology, I demonstrate how he exceeds the subject/object divide of post‑Cartesian philosophy by a move to an account of consciousness as transcendental. In my second section I follow Derrida’s first major publication, which focuses on the late work of Husserl. Through a consideration of the questions of writing and infinity he demonstrates certain failures in Husserl, yet at the same time we will see that Derrida insists on a fidelity to the given that is very Husserlian. I follow this by an examination of the question of language in Husserl’s early work. Derrida’s conclusion is that language is a trace structure of presence and absence that means that we can never obtain the grasp on what Husserl’s calls ‘the thing itself’ that he believes phenomenology is able to achieve. The structure of presence/absence that Derrida found to undermine Husserl’s transcendental ambitions will be further examined in a section on time and the self. In conclusion, I will suggest that while Derrida engages in a penetrating criticism of Husserl he does not abandon his work but rather, we might say, in showing the impossibility of a transcendental conclusion comes to engage in a quasi‑transcendental argumentation that confounds those that would accuse him of relativism.

Keywords: Derrida, Husserl, Relativism, Transcendental, Quasi‑Transcendental; Phenomenology, Post‑Phenomenology

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