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Finding mental space for movement

Source: Richard Osborne (1992)
Philosophy for Beginners;
Writers and Readers; ISBN 086316157x

"Like many overarching philosophical systems structuralism seemed to promise everything and yet not quite to deliver. Everything became so pre-determined that it was hard to find space for philosophical movement. The attack on the notion of the fixity of the sign, and on grand theories, became known as post-structuralism." (p178)

Everything became so pre-determined that it was hard to find space for philosophical movement.

"Jacques Derrida was one of the first to blow up structuralism's pretensions to have answered all existing questions. Nothing, it seemed, was as solid as structuralists had imagined.

Hidden structures that actually determined the nature of things were only metaphysical constructs as far as Derrida was concerned … Derrida exploded the notion that the sign was fixed by the speaking subject and pointed to the endlessly deferred play of meaning in language." (p178)

Deconstructionism aimed to destabilise the myth of fixed meaning and to highlight the irreducible excess of language, the endless play that undermined all texts and all unitary systems.

"Derrida and others … have said that all notions of producing philosophical 'truths' are mistaken, misguided and bewildering. … Derrida thinks about the way concepts have been used historically, and how philosophy pretends that there are absolute truths which turn out to be nothing of the sort. This unmaking of the pretensions of philosophy is terribly scandalous and sends traditional philosophers running for their logical principles.

Philosophy pretends that there are absolute truths which turn out to be nothing of the sort

Derrida says that (power words) are based on (pairs of opposites) that suppress certain terms and privilege others - like 'male' and 'female'. Rather than telling the truth philosophy constructs meanings by suppressing, excluding or marginalizing other terms . He sets out to 'deconstruct' the history of philosophy in order to see what was repressed, hidden or marginalized.

Feminism often takes up this position in relation to thinking about how masculine philosophy has precisely repressed what it means to be 'women', or other. If you look at the things that male philosophers have said, or more importantly not said, then you can see what Derrida is getting at." (p179)


“It can be asked “Where has philosophy and science got us to at the moment?” and the answer seems to be in a huge environmental and political mess.”

"There are many strands of post-structuralism (and post-modernism) … Post-structuralism is, philosophically speaking, a broad church, but no one agrees on where the walls are, or even whether they exist.

Apart from dismissing the whole of Western Philosophy since Plato's grandfather, calling it rationalistic rubbish, post-structuralism isn't as radical as it sounds. It is, however, very relevant in thinking about the peculiarities of the modern world, where good old-fashioned cause and effect, truth and falsehood, right and wrong, have gone the same way as the horse drawn cart.

Philosophical rightness is now seen as part of a discourse of dominance exercised by Euro-centric males over subordinated groups, like women, blacks, gays and the Third World as a whole.

Post-structuralism opens up the possibility of talking about how knowledge and power go hand in hand;
the only question is where they walk to." (p180)

See also The Third Enlightenment - (sister site)


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