THE LIVING PRESENT II

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Jacques Derrida

Related to what I previously posted about the Living Present are these comments of Derrida from his first published work. From Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction:

“As cultural form, the idea of science is undoubtedly also part of the Weltanschauung [world view], and the content of science and philosophy is undoubtedly transmitted according to the same process as all other forms of culture and tradition in general. The process is analogous, if not identical, to that of internal time-consciousness described from the noematic viewpoint in the 1904-10 lectures. The present appears neither as the rupture nor the effect of a past, but as the retention of a present past, i.e., as the retention of a retention, and so forth. Since the retentional power of living consciousness is finite, this consciousness preserves significations, values, and past acts as habitualities (habitus) and sedimentations. Traditional sedimentation in the communal world will have the function of going beyond the retentional finitude of individual consciousness. Of course, sedimentary retention is not only the condition for the possibility of protention: it also belongs essentially to the general form of protention, which is itself conceived under the absolutely unique and universal form of the Living Present. The latter, which is the primordial absolute of temporality, is only the maintenance of what indeed must be called the dialectic of protention and retention, despite Husserl’s repugnance for that word. In the movement of protention, the present is retained and gone beyond as past present, in order to constitute another primordial and original Absolute, another Living Present. Without this extraordinary absolute alteration of what always remains in the concrete and lived form of an absolute Present, without this always renewed originality of an absolute primordiality, always present and always lived as such, no history would be possible. Also, what is true of the Living Present is true of what supposes it as its ground, the historic present; the latter always refers more or less immediately to the totality of a past which inhabits it and which always appears under the general form of a project. At every moment each historic totality is a cultural structure animated by a project which is an ‘idea.’ Thus, ‘Weltanschauung, too, is an “idea.”’

“But at other times, on the contrary, Husserl describes science as a unique and archetypal form of traditional culture. Besides all the characteristics it has in common with other cultural formations, science claims an essential privilege: it does not permit itself to be enclosed in any historically determined culture as such, for it has the universal validity of truth. As a cultural form which is not proper to any de facto culture, the idea of science is the index of pure culture in general; it designates culture’s eidos par excellence. In this sense, the cultural form ‘science’ (of which geometry is an example) is itself ‘exemplary’ in the double sense of this word, eidetic and teleological: it is the particular example which guides the eidetic reduction and intuition, but it also is the example and model which must orient culture as its ideal. Science is the idea of what, from the first moment of its production, must be true always and for everyone, beyond every given cultural area. It is the infinite eidos opposed to the finite ideal which animates the Weltanschauung.”

At this point, Derrida quotes Husserl:

Weltanschauung, too, is an ‘idea,’ but of a goal lying in the finite, in principle to be realized in an individual life by way of constant approach…. The ‘idea’ of Weltanschauung is consequently a different one for each time…. The ‘idea’ of science, on the contrary, is a supratemporal one, and here that means limited by no relatedness to the spirit of one time…. Science is a title standing for absolute, timeless values. Every such value, once discovered, belongs thereafter to the treasure trove of all succeeding humanity and obviously determines likewise the material content of the idea of culture, wisdom, Weltanschaunng, as well as of Weltanschauung philosophy.”

Derrida then observes that “we must now discriminate, in order to understand pure culture and traditionality in general, between empirical culture and that of truth. In other words, between de facto historical culture, on the one hand, in which sense-sedimentation does not exclude the fact that validity (which is rooted in a language, terrain, epoch, and so forth) can become dated, and on the other hand, the culture of truth, whose ideality is absolutely normative.” But he adds the following observation: “No doubt, the latter would be in fact impossible without the former.”

Above, Husserl (by way of Derrida) presents us with a rich cluster of themes: for instance, history and tradition and their dependence on the Living Present. For me, the teleological aspect is perhaps of paramount importance. The natural sciences have done away with the notion of a telos in relation to the object of their investigations (nature). Nevertheless, as a conscious project enacted within the Living Present, and as itself part of nature, science is an inherently teleological endeavor. Science is not simply pushed forward by its past but pulled, as it were, into the future by the inexorability of an outstanding truth. For unlike nature as conceived by the natural sciences, the pursuit of truth isn’t blind but already anchored in the future through the power of human forethought. Once its phenomenal unity with consciousness has been restored, the world recovers the teleological aspect that was obscured when science (quite artificially, however methodologically justified) severed noesis and noema, consciousness and the intentional object. I believe that learning to appreciate this is scientific humanity’s only way back to a belief in God. But this requires that holism, the original unity of the world as phenomenon, be correctly understood. There is perhaps no telos in any individual process of nature in so far as nature “in itself” is blind, but the world in its essential unity with consciousness is quite a different story.

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