Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Future-to-Come: Derrida and the Ethics of Historicity

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Future-to-Come: Derrida and the Ethics of Historicity

Article excerpt

As something fateful, Being itself is inherently eschatological.

Martin Heidegger, Early Greek Thinking, p. 18.

In historiam, it is the fall of thought into philosophy which gets history under way.

Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, p. 27.

. . there where a certain determined concept of history comes to an end, precisely there the historicity of history begins.

Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, p. 74. In a footnote to his introduction to Edmund Husserl's Origin of Geometry Derrida asks a question about the character of history: "What is history, what is the origin, about which we can say that we must understand them sometimes in one sense, sometimes in another?" (p. 69). This division of history into two quite different senses is, as Derrida's reading of Husserl makes clear, integral to Husserl's denunciation of historicism and the question of truth. Later in his introduction Derrida demonstrates that these two senses of history are revealed, in the phenomenological project, to be unified in a radical sense. For both rely upon a prior delimitation of what Derrida will investigate under the name of "historicity." Husserl's division between a factical/empirical history (which would be a vehicle for some ahistorical reason) and an ideal history (which would be nothing other than Reason's own movement) is already the effect of a certain decision or determination of the character of historicity. What Husserl's inquiry into the sense of history uncovers is a historicity which would be radically anterior to these two senses-and would indeed be their prior condition. According to this reading, phenomenology would be an opening up of philosophy and all its other divisions (history/History; Being/sense; facticity/ideality). The phenomenological project is then, for Derrida, both a culmination and a radicalization of a Western metaphysics of presence. Phenomenology has as its task the question of philosophy: how is it that philosophy as an inquiry into pure truth is possible? Insofar as Husserl is able to offer an answer, he works toward a historicity which is prior both to any factical historical event or any ideal teleology of meaning.

But if the idea of a more primordial origin, which would not be a merely factical or empirical origin, animates Husserl's inquiry, how does Derrida's work itself operate in relation to the history of truth? In this essay I want to argue that history thought in two senses is not only a theme that Derrida finds in Husserlian phenomenology but is central to the project of a deconstruction of Western metaphysics. Not only in his early work on Husserl, but throughout the Derridean project, history thought in a double sense is sustained-not just as one motif amongst others but as the very possibility of deconstruction. Furthermore, I will argue, Derrida's understanding of philosophy as history precludes, at the same time that it enables, the "opening" of philosophy which Derrida finds in Husserlian phenomenology. In fact, the entire Derridean project of a deconstruction of Western metaphysics depends upon quite rigorously defined notions of philosophy, presence, truth, meaning and sense. By working through Derrida's reading of Husserl I hope to demonstrate the positive limits of the Derridean understanding of philosophy as an investigation into pure, or ideal, truth.

What are the two senses of history which Derrida sees entailed by the Husserlian radicalization of meaning? And why does this double sense tell us something about history in general? I will begin with the first sense: history with a capital "H" or "History" as in "the History of Western metaphysics." This sense of history can include both the factical history of world events as well as the ideal philosophical history of the unfolding of truth; for both these senses depend upon, and must be set against "historicity"-a second sense of "history" that cannot be understood as either an empirical event or as an ideal teleology. …

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