On Descriptive Philosophy, Or Beyond the Linguistic Turn, Part II
[Here’s Part II of this essay in progress. For Part I, see here.]
Apodictic Deconstruction and Descriptive Deconstruction
Where does one go, however, after one has deconstructed the world and then deconstruction itself? How does one deal with the wake of deconstruction? It seems that most symbolic discourses in the 20th century went through a phase of deconstruction. And yet, the world has not vanished, practices have not ground to a halt, the world still goes about its business. There must be some way beyond deconstruction, even if only a very practical one. Of course, at least in theory, any practice can be theorized, the question is only one of why and how.
But before addressing the ways beyond deconstruction, it is worth discussing the ways in which many stay within the deconstructive moment. That is, some people in the world, often after starting out apodictics or descriptivists who then encounter deconstruction, relate the world deconstructively as deconstructionists. And so here we see that we need a third position, in addition to apodictic and descriptive, of deconstructive philosophy.
In some ways, deconstructive philosophies are similar to apodictic and descriptive ones, in that they are able to organize the way people relate to their practices and other views of the world. However, deconstructive philosophies also differ in crucial ways. One particular manifestation of this is that deconstruction comes in two primary flavors, namely, the apodictic and descriptive.
Let us call apodictic deconstruction the approach to the world which finds its only certainty in the fact that everything can be deconstructed. Apodictic deconstructionists find security and delight in the fact that they can take apart any and every other philosophy, and the repetition of this act serves to provide order for they need in the world.
In contrast, descriptive deconstruction argues that deconstruction is itself simply one other description of the world, one which itself deconstructs, and which is useful to deconstruct any apodictic system that comes along. Such deconstructionists often see their job as attackers of entrenched power. These deconstructionsists find security and delight in the fact that they can take apart any and every other philosophy, and the repetition of this act serves to provide the plurality they need in the world.
Finally, there is one additional type of deconstruction, one which is rarely seen, but certainly worth mentioning. These are deconstructionist deconstructionists. These are folks who see deconstruction as neither certain nor merely a truth amongst many, but truly a way out of the need for philosophy at all. These are those who leave philosophy and tend to their garden. This is the philosophy closest to Buddhism, one which many espouse, but few seem even able to attain. In fact, while I think such a philosophy is in theory possible, and possible to espouse, I’m not sure it exists as anything but as an unproveable description of a state which no-one has ever actually seen, except in those who are truly un-philosophical, who live in a world of pure practice with no snags or crises. Such an approach to the world simply writes itself out of the world, and in many senses, ceases to be philosophy, and as such, is barely different from no philosophy at all. And as such, there is not much more we can say about it, so let’s return to the matter at hand.
Tacit Apodictic and Descriptive Philosophies
Both apodictic and descriptive deconstruction remain within the deconstructive circle, and abandon traditional forms of apodictic and descriptive practice. Deconstruction becomes the primary philosophical life-mode of these folks, if in its descriptive and/or apodictic varieties, or even, mixtures and/or oscillations between these. These two forms of deconstruction mix more easily than apodictic and descriptive philosophies, for they have more in commo cn than apodictic and descriptive life-modes.
However, most people ultimately engage with their worlds via ad hoc mixtures and composites, oscillations, and various other admixtures from which our generalizations have been drawn. For while many people philosophize about what they do, that is, engage in meta-questioning about their practices, many do so only fleetingly, if at all, for practice only requires so much meta-practical thought for it to work, and for many, when something works, that is enough. Few folks, namely, philosophers, whether professional or practical, worry about things like consistency, since generally, this isn’t required in daily life.
But what should we call those who switch life modes and justificatory philosophies so swiftly and easily? Let us call these folks tacit descriptivists, those who simply ask ‘does it work?’, and if so, continue on without asking any more questions. These are opposed by the tacit apodictics, who in times of crisis ask ‘am I sure?’, and if so, continue on without asking any more questions. And for such folks, if all goes as planned, the fact is that one is sure that things work, and no more questions need to be asked, and that is that. Philosophy is only neeeded when we are less certain that things are working. And here we see the tacit similarity between tacit apodictics and tacit descriptivists, in a manner similar to that between our two types of deconstructionists. Only apodictics and descriptivists seem to worry so much about being different, and much of this is because ultimately they define themselves, at least partially, by means of theif differences from each other.
Most people start off in the world, in fact, as tacit philosophers, and only when hit with some crisis when they aren’t sure if things are working, do they then have to start philosophizing in an open way, and truly take sides as an apodictic or descriptive. And only when challenged by one of the standard critiques of these ways of life (ie: the objection of inconsitency or incoherence), do they become sly. And only when their slyness is deconstructed do they then have to choose to either become deconstructionist, in one of its two mildly distinct varieties, or attempt to find some way forward, a post-deconstive type of philosophy, to which we will now turn.
Post-Apodictic and Post-Descriptive Philosophy
What might the possibilities be for post-deconstructive philosophy? That is, how do we account for those who find a way to move on, as it seems our general culture has, after a deconstructive crisis, without becoming deconstructionist? And can we theorize this process?
Many people simply respond by shifting modes of defense, which is ultimately what these modes of meta-practical philosophies are, such that when their current mode of philosophy is challenged, they simply switch to another similar form temporarilly, and them shift back to the one they are most comfortable with. It’s only philosophers who worry about things like consistency. But as societies grow more complex, it is possible that some of them may need to be consistently philosophical. Certainly, it seems, when there is a general shift in cultures such as that seen in the postmodernism of contemporary global capitalism, it might be necessary for whole groups of people to have a consistent post-deconstructionist philosophy simply to live their everyday lives.
But what about those who decide to try to incorporate deconstruction into their philosophies? Is this possible? In fact, it is, sort of, and here, in a way, at least, we see the rebirth of apodicticism and descriptivism.
Let us call post-apodictic philosophy the type of apodicticism which uses the deconstruction of apodicticism as the foundation from which to build a new form of apodicticism. If sly apodictism defends apodictism against its traditional enemy (ie: incompleteness, or what about x, y, or z?), post-apodictism defends it against deconstruction (ie: every philosophy deconstructs). Post-apodictic philosophy goes something like this: “Yes, all philosophy deconstructs. But if we are clear about what we are claiming, and the limits thereof, then by adminiting our incompletion, we save ourselves from dreaded incoherence. And with limited applicability, we can do a lot of good work in the world this way. Because if we act, in limited circumstances, as if we could be certain, then things work pretty well. It’s almost as good as being certain. And in the process, we avoid the true danger, namely, a world in which there is no truth, and anything is possible.” Basically, what we see here is a variant of sly apodicticism, adapted for the critique posed by deconstruction.
Post-descriptive philosophy, however, goes something like this: “Yes, all philosophy deconstructs. But this just means that no desctription can be fully certain or uncertain of its truth. Many descriptions may prove highly useful, however, in particular situations. And what they are useful for, in addition to the individual values they all espouse, is the avoidance of apodicticism, and the paranoia it brings.” Essentially, what we have here is a variant of sly descriptivism, adapted to the critique posed by deconstruction.
It’s worth noting how in sly descriptivism, in its traditional and post-deconstructive variants, description itself is described as always necessarily incomplete. That is, any individual description is tentative, and hence, incomplete, in relation to the most encompassing description, namely, the relative certainty which grounds descriptivism as such. These two positions cannot be brought together at the risk of incoherence, but separately, they remain incomplete, and sly descriptivism in all its varieties continually oscillates or blends these in various ways. What is perhaps curious is that incompleteness is the usual objection posed against apodicticism, not descriptivism, such that it seems like some shift happened when things got sly/post, about which more will be said shortly.
But first let’s examine how likewise, in sly apodicticism, in both its traditional and post-deconstructive variants, the problem is reversed, such that it is not ultimately incomplete, that is, the traditional enemy of apodicticism, but rather, incoherent. For by making use of the argument that limited apodicticism can’t be proven, but that it works, the very defense of employed by apodicticism, whether against sly descriptivism or deconstruction, is ultimately descriptivist in nature. Thus it proves itself incoherent, for uses descriptivism in its own justification, even as descriptivism is that which it fights against. These two positions can be blended, or separated out and oscillated, in various ways.
What do we make of the fact, then, that post-apodictic and post-descriptivst philosophies, in the process of confronting deconstruction, turn into versions of apodicticism and descriptivism, if in reverse? For when sly apodicticism is confronted with its own incoherence, the result is usually a momentary retreat to a form of traditional descriptivism, namely, “does it work?”, and if so, a return to practice as normal as sly apodicticism. Likewise, when sly descriptivism is confronted with its own incompleteness, the result is usually a momentary retreat to a form of traditional apodictism, namely, “are we certain?”, namely, that certainty is dangerous, followed by a return to practice as normal as sly descriptivism.
Are these hybrids really that much different from the simpler forms of apodicticism and descriptivism described early on? In fact, it seems they are, for what makes them different is in fact the very consistency of the hybridity at work. That is, rather than inconsistency, the form of switching between positions is highly consistent. And as such, these forms of inconsistent consistency are truly philosophies, for they can be theorized and described as such.
But that’s not the end of the story, in fact, there’s more, namely, the issue of history.
[More to come in Part III . . .]