Metaphysics of presence
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The concept of the metaphysics of presence is an important consideration in deconstruction. Deconstructive interpretation holds that the entire history of Western philosophy with its language and traditions has emphasized the desire for immediate access to meaning, and thus built a metaphysics or ontotheology based on privileging presence over absence.
In Being and Time (1927), Martin Heidegger argues that the concept of time prevalent in all Western thought has largely remained unchanged since the definition offered by Aristotle in the Physics. Heidegger says, "Aristotle's essay on time is the first detailed Interpretation of this phenomenon [time] which has come down to us. Every subsequent account of time, including Henri Bergson's, has been essentially determined by it." Aristotle defined time as "the number of movement in respect of before and after". By defining time in this way Aristotle privileges what is present-at-hand, namely the "presence" of time. Heidegger argues in response that "entities are grasped in their Being as 'presence'; this means that they are understood with regard to a definite mode of time – the 'Present'". Central to Heidegger's own philosophical project is the attempt to gain a more authentic understanding of time. Heidegger considers time to be the unity of three ecstases, the past, the present and the future.
Deconstructive thinkers, like Jacques Derrida, describe their task as the questioning or deconstruction of this metaphysical tendency in Western philosophy. Derrida writes, "Without a doubt, Aristotle thinks of time on the basis of ousia as parousia, on the basis of the now, the point, etc. And yet an entire reading could be organized that would repeat in Aristotle's text both this limitation and its opposite." This argument is largely based on the earlier work of Heidegger, who in Being and Time claimed that the theoretical attitude of pure presence is parasitical upon a more originary involvement with the world in concepts such as the ready-to-hand and being-with. Friedrich Nietzsche is a more distant, but clear, influence as well.
The presence to which Heidegger refers is both a presence as in a "now" and also a presence as in an eternal present, as one might associate with God or the "eternal" laws of science. This hypostatized (underlying) belief in presence is undermined by novel phenomenological ideas, such that presence itself does not subsist, but comes about primordially through the action of our futural projection, our realization of finitude and the reception or rejection of the traditions of our time.
- Being and Time, §6, 26
- Physics, Book IV, part 11
- Being and Time, §6, 26
- "Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from 'Being and Time,'" in "Margins of Philosophy," 29-67: 61
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