Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dennett's Logocentric Lexicon

A read through Daniel Dennett's Philosophical Lexicon is quite humorous for anyone familiar with concepts and names in philosophy. However, one has to realize that this is Daniel Dennett's Philosophical Lexicon, and while they are his views, they expose some interesting biases. All the philosophers whose work was in logic, their names are created into positive adjectives.

  • Saul Kripke, for example, had his name adjectivized into "Not understood, but considered brilliant; (ex.g.) ‘I hate to admit it, but I found his remarks quite kripke.’"
  • Stephen Cole Kleene, an American mathematician, was dennetted into an adjective meaning “Exhaustive, complete; (ex.g.) ‘Kleeneness is next to gödelness.’"
  • Alsadaire MacIntyre is "an inflated wheel with a slick, impervious coating; hence, derivatively, an all-terrain vehicle equipped with macintyres. (ex.g.) ‘If you want to cover that much territory that fast, you'd best use the macintyre.’”

If you look at the Continentalists, however, we have a different picture from their names.

  • Derrida is “From a old French nonsense refrain: ‘Hey nonny derrida, nonny nonny derrida falala.’”
  • Foucault is “A howler, an insane mistake. (ex.g.) ‘I'm afraid I've committed an egregious foucault.’”
  • Even Richard Rorty, who sympathizes with some continental philosophy was demoted to “(1) an incorrigible report; hence, rorty, adj. incorrigible. n. (2) Fashionable but confused discourse. (ex.g.) ‘Don't talk rort.’”

While I enjoy Dennett’s humor and agree with analysis of certain philosophical topics in the philosophy of mind, his lexicon is highly simplified and indicative of the analytic tradition’s systematic misunderstanding of continental philosophy. Derrida would have said the names and concepts in the Lexicon are logocentric, an exemplification of the American fascination with logic and mathematics without regards to politics, art, ideology, semantics or any full sense of the history of philosophy. The lexicon is plagued by non well-roundedness. Some would no doubt agree with the framing and phrasing Lexicon based on their own studies, but others would easily accept the terms on which Dennett offers us an account of continental philosophy without a well-rounded conception of what it actually is.

Those seeking a credible philosophical dictionary online might be apt to actually take the Lexicon seriously if they did not know better. That would be laughable.

1 comment:

Greg Afinogenov said...

You have Derrida wrong, I think. Logocentrism isn't really about American thought, art, or historical context.

Logocentrism is "the determination of the being of the entity as presence." Presence is a thorny Platonic concept, but it's rooted in the idea that speech expresses the primal statement--that it possesses an unproblematic relationship to the signified, while writing is secondary, twice-removed. Derrida is attacking the idea that the written word is merely a signifier (on the grounds that there can be no coherent concept of the signified). Hence the distinction between "logocentrism" (speech-centrism) and "graphocentrism" (writing-centrism).

Now, later interpreters have grafted all sorts of psychoanalytic and feminist strata onto this concept, but these are only metonymic: Derrida always maintained that logocentrism is a narrow question of philosophical ontology, and moreover, one that cannot be rejected. He would certainly object to historicizing logocentrism, or at least placing the historicism at the heart of the definition.