Gregory Desilet: The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life

The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life Book Cover The Enigma of Meaning: Wittgenstein and Derrida, Language and Life
Gregory Desilet
McFarland
2023
Paperback
219

Reviewed by: R.A. Goodrich (ACHE Chapter of the Society for the History of Emotions – University of Melbourne & ADI Philosophy & History of Ideas – Deakin University)

Gregory Desilet plunges his readers into a hypothetical debate between the early Jacques Derrida, especially of the ’sixties and ’sevembeenties, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, mainly of the ’thirties and ’forties. It is a debate that seeks comparable concerns with language, meaning, and metaphysics by both intellectuals before pursuing significant contrasts between them. For all his interests in theories of communication and rhetoric, Desilet avoids the vagaries of thematic adaptations or rejections of decontextualised, often provocative statements by paying closer attention to published and unpublished writings emanating from the above-mentioned decades.

The Enigma of Meaning is divided into three main parts preceded by “The Life of Signs” (5-12) and succeeded by “The Signs of Life” (161-177). The first part (14-81) comprises six chapters centred upon Derrida’s response to Wittgenstein on the role and significance of mind, use, interpretation, rules, limits and justification. The second part (84-107) devotes three chapters to contrasting terms informing Wittgenstein and Derrida, specifically public and private, family resemblance and dissemination, and games and “economies” (or degrees of predictability) respectively. Chapter by chapter the third part (110-160) explores both thinkers on five central philosophical themes: other minds, metaphysics, time, truth, and “violence” (introduced by the selective categories of language).

Desilet’s ultimate aim is to view Wittgenstein and Derrida despite their differences as not confronting us with a choice between their respective accounts of language, between their “metaphors of the tool and the trace” (169). Such a choice “refuses to reduce to either/or as it continually slips into both/and” (169-170). Why? Because the “nature of language as a tool changes when supplemented with the … trace” (176). Why, in turn, should this be?  Because the “trace changes the essence of the tool by placing it within a temporal, moving context” and by doing so “the tool’s identity becomes mobile and divided as it acquires aspects from every new context through which it is used” (176). The mutual “entanglement” between trace and tool leads Desilet to declare:

Wittgenstein without Derrida can make language appear misleadingly whole. And yet Derrida without Wittgenstein can make language appear misleadingly broken. Wittgenstein calls forth Derrida, not as opponent but as supplement, drawing out the both-and/neither-nor complementarity of difference. (177)

This review essay on The Enigma of Meaning will initially pursue two complementary points of view regarding a pivotal argument exploited by Derrida without which readers unfamiliar with him could quickly lose their moorings. Next, we shall briefly focus upon the twelfth chapter on time; temporality for Derrida being so crucial to comprehending not only experience but also the nature and role of “the trace.” At the same time, our first three sections shall incorporate passing references to the early transcendentally weighted phenomenological stance taken by Edmund Husserl. In our fourth and final section, we shall examine two alternative approaches to understanding Wittgenstein that appear not to have been fully recognised by Desilet. The first draws upon a student of Husserl, Helmuth Plessner, and the second, upon another interpretation of Wittgenstein misconstrued by Peter Hacker which Desilet omits in his appendix (179-189) devoted to the latter. Considering such alternatives is warranted by a volume that could well become the standard defence for upholding how Derrida’s contribution “to understanding the complexities of language” explicitly “emerges with a metaphysical depth beyond the positions Wittgenstein occupies” (177).

I

Beneath the wealth of topics probed by Desilet’s monograph lies a pivotal line of argument deployed by Derrida which can be construed from at least two perspectives. We shall call the first point of view verbalizable experience and the second revisable binaries or hierarchies. Applied rigorously, both undermine any philosophical attempt to uphold if not access reality, be it questioning “What is …?” (119) in the case of essential meanings and phenomena or first principles and conditions. Let us begin, albeit briefly, with the first perspective.

Desilet’s eleventh chapter takes Derrida’s La Voix et le Phénomène (in the 1973 David Allison translation rather than the 2011 Leonard Lawlor one) as exemplifying Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological avoidance of the question “What is a sign?” However, as quickly becomes apparent, Husserl’s avoidance is quite unlike that in Wittgenstein’s 1933/1934 notes popularly known as the Blue Book (or the Nachlass Ts-309):

If we say thinking is essentially operating with signs, the first question you might ask is: “What are signs?” – Instead of giving any kind of general answer to this question, I shall propose … to look closely at particular cases which we should call “operating with signs.” (16; Ts-309, 26)

Husserl in his First Investigation of Logische Untersuchungen, by contrast, seizes upon a “twofold sense” of the term “sign” which can apply to an experiential “indication” (Anzeigen) and a semantic “expression” (Ausdrücke) (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §§1-16).  Its twofold character need not exclude the possibility that the one sign can convey both aspects. For instance, “signal” may indicate the event or occurrence of conveying an utterance as well as the expression of the meaning of an utterance. Does the same apply to the use of idioms popularly thought to distinguish one language from another? However, to adapt an example from Lawlor (2021, §2, para 3), idioms can confront us with distinct meanings even within the one language without identifying the experience undergone and without ensuring which meaning might act as the actual or essential, proper or true one:

After Héloïse overheard her studious brother Hugues muttering “Il y va d’un certain pas,” she wondered whether he meant “One goes there at a certain pace or with a certain step” or “What’s at issue is a certain kind of ‘not’ or negativity.”

As Derrida (1967) insists, indicative and expressive signs whether idiomatic or not prove to be “a difference more functional than substantial” since they are “signifying relations, not terms” (p. 20; cf. p. 37). This is because the same phenomenon can be apprehended as an expression or indication, “a discursive or nondiscursive sign,” depending upon “the intentional experience [vécu intentionnel] which animates it” (p. 20). Although Husserl regards communication itself as “a stratum extrinsic to expression,” “each time an expression is in fact produced, it communicates, even if it is not exhausted in that communicative role” (p. 20). Furthermore, in Derrida’s terms, “the discursive sign, and consequently the meaning, is always involved, always caught up in [or “contaminated” with] an indicative system” of sounds, marks, and so forth, although “the reverse … is not true” (pp. 20 & 21). Husserl himself (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §1) concedes the expressive and the indicative are “always interwoven (verflochten),” yet “must not …cut off the possibility of a rigorous distinction of essence” (p. 20). However, as Derrida (1967) asserts, this appeal to what is the essential is at best discoverable through and relies upon “the possibility of language” (p. 21); an assertion reminiscent of Wittgenstein (1945, §§371 & 373): “Essence [Wesen] is expressed in grammar” and “Grammar tells us what kind of object anything is.” Moreover, claims Derrida, the “entanglement” of the expressive and the indicative is “always produced” in mutual discourse or actual conversation for two reasons. Firstly, “expression indicates a content forever hidden from … the lived experience of another” (1967, p. 22). Secondly, “the ideal content of the meaning” has been attributed by Husserl to “sensibility”; his phenomenological project having already committed itself to “intentional consciousness” only becoming “revealed … in the reduction of the totality of the existing world in general” (p. 22) (see, e.g., Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. 1, Ch. 8, §49).

II

So far, Derrida has set the scene for detecting “entanglement” or “contamination” as the norm for all communicative acts which Desilet connects to Derrida’s “law of contamination” where, although “oppositional relations do not dissolve oppositions and thereby do not support the use of terms without their antitheses, they nevertheless alter the structure of oppositions by way of supplementation to the structure” (126). The first perspective we labelled verbalizable experience above now begins to be re-enforced by the second one labelled revisable binaries or hierarchies.

Desilet next focuses upon Derrida’s 1966 Baltimore lecture, “Structure, Sign, and Play…” which sees Derrida (by way of Claude Lévi-Strauss) indirectly pursuing the intersection of signifier and signified propounded by the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. Although de Saussure, unlike Derrida, gives priority to speech (la parole) against the derivative standing of writing (l’écriture), both he and Derrida argue that a sign in sheer isolation cannot signify: it can only do so in relation to other signs. To that extent, the basically syntagmatic and syntactic sequential arrangement of individual signs in intersection with the largely semantic and phonic open-ended association of other signs (see, e.g., de Saussure, 1922, Part 2, Ch. 5 & 6) seems to imply the systemic, self-referential nature of language (la langue). For both theorists, the detectable patterns language incorporates indisputably points to its capacity for repetition. As we find Derrida declaring, “A sign which would take place but ‘once’ would not be a sign” because as an “event” it would “mean an irreplaceable and irreversible empirical particular” (1967, p. 50). He then concludes,

A signifier (in general) must be formally recognizable in spite of, and through, the diversity of empirical characteristics which may modify it. It must remain the same,  and be able to be repeated as such, despite and across deformations which the empirical event necessarily makes it undergo …. But it can function as a sign, and in general as a language, only if a formal identity enables it to be issued again and to be recognized. This identity is necessarily ideal. (1967, p. 50)

Why does Desilet focus upon the Baltimore lecture? Because it illustrates the oppositional relationship between signifier and signified of the sign itself to the point of modelling “the structure of every opposition” (127). To cite Derrida himself on the paradoxical consequences of attempting “the metaphysical reduction of the sign” which “needed the opposition it was reducing”: “The opposition is systematic with the reduction. And what we are saying here about the sign can be extended to all the concepts and all the sentences of metaphysics, in particular to the discourse of structure” granted that there were and still are “several ways of being caught in this circle” (1966, p. 281). Without the opposition between signifier and signified, there can be no sign; without the sign, there can be no discourse, leaving Desilet to elaborate that the

nature of the particular oppositional structure between the signifier and the signified is … complementary such that the signifier and the signified form a system where one cannot exist without the other and each cannot be reduced to the other without effectively destroying the system, without destroying the sign and its functionality. (127; cf. Derrida, 1967, p. 51)

Furthermore, he continues, the “logic of opposition … posits no pure instance of either pole of the opposition” which, in turn, implies that “every presumed singular identity contains the seed of its other within its essence” (128). Even casual occasions can reveal how postulating, say, a hierarchy of culture over nature is by virtue of their binary interdependences always revisable:

When Héloïse began teasing Hugues by saying, “Culture can always destroy nature,” he immediately retorted, “Yet without nature there can be no culture.”

At this juncture, we shall leave aside the transcendental and eidetic reductions comprising the phenomenological reduction characterising Husserl’s project pursued by Derrida and succinctly summarised by Desilet (e.g., 121). Nonetheless, readers may well question why Desilet’s eleventh chapter does not overtly confront the accusation notably raised by Martin Dillon (1995) that Derrida remains guilty of assuming another kind of reduction. In effect, this suggests that both Husserl and Derrida exploit a methodology of reduction. According to Dillon, Derrida employs a methodology of “semiological reduction,” one which involves an “ontological bifurcation which sets language in a realm apart from perception and denies reality” to the “world as perceived” because it is “displaced by the world as inscribed in language” (1995, p. 100). (Here, Derrida, as previously discussed, disputes the realm of indicative signs which, even in moments of self-directed monologues according to Husserl’s First Investigation of Logische Untersuchungen, are communicatively prelinguistic because “we live in the experience of the object” (Vol. 2, Ch. 1, §8).) Alternatively expressed, Dillon regards semiological reduction as “driven by an argument based on the transcendental function of signifiers” (1995, pp. 19 & 35). Why? Because cognition if not consciousness “presupposes identification which presupposes a formal ideality,” be it a concept, an essence, or a signifier (p. 19). As Dillon warns his readers from the outset of his monograph, a semiological reduction appears to beg two questions. One is “the question of the re-identification of signifiers themselves” and the other is “the question of how the play of signifiers temporalizes and makes history possible” (p. 13).

Before briefly turning to Derrida on temporality in our next section, what follows were Desilet to accept Dillon’s critique? Would he need to concede the degree to which “intentional consciousness” implies that there is an experience of something? By so doing, would he also need to concede that the experiencing subject need not be entirely removed from the “world as perceived,” from the community of persons, especially when the expressive, as distinct from indicative signs visible in nature, “extends beyond mere indication in its capacity to communicate meaning from one subject to another by means of a system of exchange … organized through structure (grammar, syntax) and categories (meaning, concepts)” (120)?

III

For those still searching for a singular absolute transcending all possible oppositional relationships, not only must they transcend the signifier-signified nexus of language but the quest for absolute unity also needs “the absence of time” (131). Returning to the “most disconcerting” First Investigation of Husserl’s phenomenological project, according to Derrida (1967, p. 56), particularly where the temporality of experience is juxtaposed with deictic or indexical expressions such as “I” and “now” which “shift with the occasion” of their utterance, they also have a fixed meaning such as “the person currently speaking” and “the present time” respectively. Yet, semantically speaking, as Husserl realises, shifting and fixed meanings cannot be invariably substituted for each other in all circumstances (Logische Untersuchungen, Vol. 2, Ch. 3, esp. §26). Derrida criticizes the conflation of “pure ideality” with temporality in Husserl which “signifies the certainty, itself ideal and absolute, that the universal form of all experience (Erlebnis), and therefore of all life, has always been and will always be the present” (1967, p. 53). On the contrary, suggests Derrida, “The I am, being experienced only as an I am present, itself presupposes the relationship with presence in general, with being as presence. The appearing of the I to itself in the I am is thus originally a relation with its own possible disappearance. Therefore, I am originally means I am mortal” (1967, p. 54). Whether such an original meaning holds in indexical or deictic cases—for example, Hugues’ present statement (to Héloïse’s query “Are you there”?) “I am there,” let alone the past “I was there” and the future “I will be there”—remains open to debate.

Given that time and experience are interwoven, it is commonly understood that every experience occurs in present time, in the “now.” Although what happens now is a distinct event different from any other we have ever experienced, yet, in the present, we can recollect the recently past and/or anticipate what is about to happen. Because what we experience now can be immediately recalled, it is repeatedly re-identifiable, such repeatability enabling us to anticipate the same thing happening again. Hence, from Derrida’s perspective, what is happening now also does not differ from every other “now” experienced. In other words, the present experience is both an event and, owing to its repeatability, not an event. Consequently, we cannot have experience in time that does not contain both event and repeatability.

Derrida’s argumentative trajectory ultimately carries the same kind of implication for time as it does for language. Experience of the present (“now”) is not simply reducible to a single experience of something present to us because it contains the re-iteration of what has passed, but no longer present, as well as what is about to occur, but not yet present. In brief, the present, to quote Lawlor (2021, §3, para 3), “is always complicated by non-presence.” This basic instance of repeatability residing in every experience is what Derrida (1967) calls “the trace” (e.g., pp. 67 & 85) which has already been implied in our previous section by the minimally re-identifiable signs of language itself.

Some readers may still have misgivings over a gap in Desilet’s treatment of re-identifiability. For example, how, in practice, does re-identifiability work when, say, Héloïse insists, “That’s my signature, Hermione”? If “signature” is in dispute, then Héloïse’s remark suggests that she is not only drawing a significant distinction between authenticity and forgery, but she is also appealing to her actual role in its inscription. Alternatively expressed, she has in effect adopted what Nelson Goodman explores as the “autographic” conditions for re-identifying her signature, whether she happened to etch or paint it, “if and only if even the most exact duplication of it does not thereby count as genuine” (1968, p. 113).  By contrast, if the sign in question is Héloïse’s above utterance in full, but now embedded within her draft playscript, performative instantiations of this playscript operate independently of its history of production. In this case, Goodman explores the sign as one of a set of complex “allographic” conditions for its (re)identification. Mistaking “what’s” for “that’s” and “bi-” for “my” in a misreading of the playscript by someone, say, an actor, director, or understudy, does not comply with the syntactic and semantic characteristics of its governing “notational” system. From a metalingual point of view, “What’s bi-signature, Hermione” has become a wh-question in the language system.

This and the previous section have concentrated upon Derrida and have particularly alluded to one of his better-known critiques of Husserl’s phenomenological project with which Desilet is obviously familiar. The next section shall shift the focus to alternative approaches to understanding Wittgenstein that appear not to have been fully recognised by Desilet notwithstanding his contention that

Both Wittgenstein and Derrida belong to metaphysical positions presenting forms of dualism, but Wittgenstein, despite his opposition to Cartesian mind/body dualism, still belongs more in the Cartesian modern tradition of oppositional structure whereas Derrida offers a genuinely different metaphysical alternative. (130)

The alternative, Desilet continues, lies in recognising oppositional relations “maximally anticipating the shifting ground of meaning under the influence of temporal succession and changing contextual boundaries” (138) irrespective of whether “temporal succession” is construed as temporal direction of past, present, and future, or as temporal order between earlier and later. Desilet then concludes:

For Wittgenstein, time affects everything, including language, but does so from the outside … For Derrida, time affects language, and everything else: without time there is no thing, no event, no position, no being—nothing. Time and space, time and matter, time and being—these oppositions name a complementarity such that each does not exist without the other. (138-139)

IV

When Wittgenstein contrasts what “behaves like a human being” with a stone or a corpse, he simultaneously raises the question of “how can a body have a mind?” (1945, §§283-284). According to Desilet, this “positions human beings as mind/bodies embedded within the world and community” before making any inferences about “the separation of mind and body” (117). So, let us begin somewhat indirectly at first by recounting the way in which Peter Hacker and colleagues interrogate the longstanding binary distinction between mind and body, between mental and physical phenomena.

Maxwell Bennett and Hacker (2003, e.g., pp. 72-74, 103-106) claim that past and present followers of René Descartes are guilty of committing the mereological or part-whole fallacy. The fallacy is traceable within, for example, Part One of Descartes’ Les Passions de l’âme where the passion of the soul is a mental state or thought which directly results from the activity of the brain that causes us to act. However, that body and mind, or that which has spatial extension and that which has not, can causally interact remains puzzling. After all, as Harry Smit and Hacker (2014, pp. 1080 & 1084) argue, conceptually speaking because “the mind is not an entity of any kind,” the mind having “a relation to the brain” simply does not apply and “makes no sense,” although the brain’s neuronal activities are “a causal condition,” a precondition, for, say, our capacities for remembering, rehearsing, and reciting things. Hacker and his co-authors consequently cleave to Wittgenstein’s contention that an “‘inner process’ stands in need of outward criteria” (1945, §580). In his 1949 “Philosophy of Psychology – A Fragment,” Wittgenstein separates the criteria demonstrating someone’s capacity and “the criteria for ‘inner states’”: “Even if someone had a particular ability only when, and only as long as, he [or she] had a particular feeling, the feeling would not be the ability” (vi, §36).

Equally puzzling for Hacker and colleagues is that the mind and/or the brain is predicated as having psychological attributes which belong to the person as a whole. This, in effect, upends the former conception of person in which the psukhē (commonly but misleadingly translated as “soul”) was reconfigured. To quote an earlier article by Bennett and Hacker, the psukhē is no longer construed “as the principle of life, but as the principle of thought or consciousness” (2002, p. 12). After noting that Aristoteles upheld “the principle that only living beings have a psuchē,” Smit and Hacker (2014, p. 1091) describe the psukhē, by contrast with Cartesian conceptions of mind, as “a biological principle.” By identifying psukhē solely with the thinking mind (res cogitans), its other functions as enumerated by Aristoteles were frequently reclassified by Cartesian adherents as material or bodily features (res extensa). Because Descartes conceives of thinking as awareness or consciousness, thinking therefore comprises volitional, ratiocinative, and imaginative powers as well as sensory apprehensions ranging from perceptions to passions. In the first book of the Peri psukhës (On the Soul), we find Aristoteles articulating the conceptual conflation in question:

We speak of the soul [psukhē] as being pained or pleased, being bold or fearful, being angry, perceiving, thinking …. Yet to say that it is the soul which is angry is as if we were to say that it is the soul that weaves or builds houses. It is doubtless better to avoid saying that the soul pities or learns or thinks, and rather to say that it is the man who does this. (408b, 11-15)

It is a conceptual confusion which, outside “secondary” uses typical of child-play, Wittgenstein also depicts by virtue of our enactive and verbal interchanges as follows: “only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves like) a living human being can one say: it has sensations; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious” (1945, §§282 & 281).

On reviewing Hacker and his co-authors, Jasper van Buuren (2016, pp. 226-227) questions what they understand by the mereological relationship between brain and person and between mind and person. To contend, following van Buuren, that Hugues’ brain is part of Hugues suggests that it is not part of the person Hugues so much as part of the person Hugues’ body. In other words, Hugues not only has a body of a particular size and weight which includes mouth and hands, lungs and brain, blood and bones, but he also is and, so to speak, lives through his body. Again, the person Hugues, whilst he continues to live, has a mind, a mind which can be said to belong to him. What the foregoing omits is that Smit and Hacker distinguish the concept of a person and that of a human. Whereas a human is a “rational, language-using” creature with “powers of intellect and will,” a person “is not a substance but a status concept,” a creature “capable of participating in a culture” and assuming “moral agency and responsibility” (2014, pp. 1092-1093 passim). Furthermore, Smit and Hacker warn us against conflating two senses of the human body, namely, “the body (the living organism) that a human being is with the body (the somatic features) that a human being has” (2014, p. 1083). That Bennett and Hacker elsewhere conceded that they are primarily concerned with “human beings qua possessors of those characteristics that render them persons” so that the brain “would be part of the human being” not the person leaves van Buuren unconvinced (2016, p. 226). Without considering whether mental properties might supervene upon physical ones (see, e.g., Robert Francescotti (c.2009)), van Buuren surmises, “Even if the mind is not literally a ‘part’ of the person, there must be some kind of mereological relationship between person and mind” (2016, p. 227). However, given Bennett and Hacker’s appeal to the unifying role of the psukhē “as that which encompasses and transcends the opposition between the mental and the physical,” then how, van Buuren asks, do they explain a person as both a physical and mental being whilst being “encompassed” by that which is “not reducible to the physical or mental” (2016, p. 228)?

In the apparent absence of an answer to this question, van Buuren looks to a student of Husserl whose philosophical anthropological theory has gained increasing interdisciplinary attention (see, e.g., Shawn Loht (2020) in this Journal). Drawing upon the largely non-Cartesian anthropological theory of Helmuth Plessner (1928) regarding “levels of organic life,” van Buuren argues that Hacker has overlooked the “threefold structure” of “our bodily existence” in the world (2016, p. 230). Baldly summarised, at an objective “level” (die Stufe des Objekts), our physical bodies are, firstly, “things among other things in the world” as are plants despite their variability (2016, p. 230). Secondly, at a subjective “level” (die Stufe des Subjekts), each organic body is “a center of sensorimotor activity” in the sense of being “open to the world” in a manner befitting most animals (2016, p. 230). Thirdly, from a positional or perspectival “level” (technically called exzentrische Positionalität), humans are distinctively “at a distance to both the body as object and the body as subject” because generally “we can always distance ourselves from any relationship we have to ourselves or the world” including other persons (2016, p. 230).

For readers more familiar with Wittgenstein, the positional capacity for distancing oneself in order to make connections, perceive relationships, resolve disparities, and the like complements his “concept of a surveyable representation [übersichtliche Darstellung]” which “characterizes the way we present things, how we look at matters” (1945, §122). Surveyability equally underpins Wittgenstein’s dual methodological attention that subsequently comes to the fore upon the interpretive role of interlocutors’ beliefs and upon logico-syntactic rules (1945, §§185ff.). Desilet’s initial focus, it is worth noting, centres upon the latter (45ff. & 179ff.) before summarising others’ arguments for the former (48ff. & 181-186 passim). For Wittgenstein in a critique not unlike Derrida’s, the distortion of surveyability emerges when “the question of the essence” of phenomena, be it thinking or language, feeling or literature “sees the essence of things not as something that already lies open to view, and that becomes surveyable through a process of ordering, but as something that lies beneath the surface” which somehow “an analysis is supposed to unearth” and where the answer claims “to be given once for all, and independently of any future experience” (1945, §92).

However, as Beth Savickey (2014) cogently argues, the foregoing translation of übersichtliche Darstellung endorsed by Hacker is highly contestable. She has at least two reasons, the first concerning the very phrase and the second concerning the Philosophische Untersuchungen itself. Translations of Űbersichtlichekeit are not merely “surveyability” or “overview,” but possibly more so “clarity” or “perspicuity,” “plainness” or “transparency” (2014, pp. 101-102). Similarly, not only “representation,” but also “account,” “depiction” or “portrayal” can translate Darstellung (2014, p. 112). For Hacker, Savickey continues, “the central preoccupation of the Investigations is the nature of language”; for Wittgenstein “it is life (i.e. all the expressions of life in language)” making a “representation of life … inherently dynamic” (2014, pp. 111-112). As Wittgenstein himself pointedly remarks, “Every sign by itself seems dead. What gives it life? – In use it lives. Is it there that it has living breath within it? – Or is the use its breath?” (1945, §432). Further elaboration can readily be found in Wittgenstein’s Zettel, including, for example, how “to explain our understanding of a gesture by means of a translation into words” and vice versa (1948, §227). This then elicits the remark:

How can these gestures, this way of holding the hand, this picture, be the wish that such and such were the case? It is nothing more than a hand over a table and there it is, alone and without a sense. Like a single bit of scenery from the production of a play, which has been left by itself in a room. It had life only in the play. (1948, §238).

In fact, the Zettel constantly applies other examples of understanding wrought by übersichtliche Darstellung to the arts, especially music and poetry (1948, §§155-176).

Now, let us return to Plessner’s tripartite approach as summarised by van Buuren. It ultimately reveals the limits of the mereological fallacy employed by Hacker and colleagues. Owing to the positional or perspectival capacity to “distance from our relationship to the external world,” we can focus upon “an inner world” and “a social world” in mediated rather than immediate, idealised rather than perceptual ways, a focus conducted as mental thinking rather than as embodied processing (2016, p. 232). Moreover, the above-mentioned subjective and objective senses of the body in effect are dual “aspects of the one and same body” without necessarily implying that one sense is reducible to the other (2016, p. 234). That Héloïse, for example, has a brain and two hands is one way of classifying parts of her body. However, brains are not perceived, possessed, or deployed in the way hands are. Why? Because, as van Buuren succinctly contends, “our hands are part of our first-person world” whose bodily appearance has “immediate practical” meaning when feeling, gathering, moving, touching, and so forth (2016, pp. 234 & 238). However, the “appearance of the brain,” which fulfils its complex functions independently of us, “presupposes the third-person perspective of science” (2016, p. 234). If the foregoing account holds, then Hacker’s mereological accusation falls short. According to van Buuren, it needs to differentiate between two different kinds of part-whole relationships in terms of parts and aspects, namely, that “between a part of the body and the body as a whole” and that “between a partial aspect of our bodily existence and this existence as a whole, whereby the whole is the person” (2016, p. 237).

In conclusion, Desilet’s volume extolling the “metaphysical depth” achieved by Derrida in comprehending “the complexities of language” beyond the logico-linguistic explorations of them by Wittgenstein (177) demands our attention. Nonetheless, one might wonder whether both philosophers were aiming at the same metaphysical trajectory with greater or lesser success. Those sympathetic to Desilet’s conclusion may well question how to determine what counts as “the same” here. Of course, none of us can definitively determine, to echo Bernard Williams,

what counts—what will have counted—as going on in the same … way. Nothing can do that, finally, except the future itself. The Last Word, as always, will lie with what actually comes about. (1998, p. 44)

References

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Bennett, Maxwell and Peter Hacker. 2002. “The Motor System in Neuroscience: A History and Analysis of Conceptual Developments,” Progress in Neurobiology 67(1): 1-52.

——-. 2003. “The Mereological Fallacy in Neuroscience.” In Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience, 68-107. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Derrida, Jacques. 1966. “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences.” In Writing and Difference / L’Écriture et la Différence. Translated by Alan Bass, 278-293. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978.

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