Communicability in philosophical discourse

20 10 2016

(Tanto non lo manderò mai ad una rivista, tanto vale che lo pubblichi qui.

Avverto che è lungo, ma lo considero il fondamento del mio approccio al discorso filosofico e dunque non si può capire appieno praticamente niente di quello che scrivo se non si hanno ben chiari questi punti.

Si consideri inoltre che qui l’influenza di Wittgenstein ancora non si sente molto.

Un’ultima cosa: mi rendo conto che è scritto in un Inglese un po’ indigeribile. D’altro canto, quando faccio scienza penso in Inglese, ma quando faccio filosofia non posso che farla nella mia lingua madre, e tradurlo solo dopo… ciò è coerente con quanto leggerete fra poco.)

Dialogues and monologues

The problem of “otherness”, meaning the contrast between “me” and everything that poses itself immediately as “not-me”, is one of the critical points in philosophical debate: in fact, whenever the philosophical discourse is made object of a communication, be it verbal or written, it is by definition oriented to others, it has the other for its goal, and as such is naturally interested in “the other”. The great philosophers noted to general knowledge are considered great exactly because they were able to touch others, shake their minds in some way, and leave a mark in them. This centrality of the other in the discourse as communication, not just in philosophical discourse but in general, is unavoidable, since it constitutes the very intimate structure of the communicative project: to act on the non-self, to induce in it some changes.

The relation to the other develops itself through communication, it is communication, and for that reason otherness is not just one of the topics philosophy deals with in books or universities classrooms, but rather appears to be philosophy’s intimate and omnipresent fabric. If philosophical discourse is a discourse, one would say, it is a discourse for the others, and if it is for the others, it must have for subject something that concerns the others in some way.

Nevertheless it could be simplistic to think that, just since otherness is central to philosophy as the aim of its communication, philosophy had to develop in function of communication, or that it should be necessarily structured for communication. In fact the discourse (philosophical or not) is not necessarily the object of a communication: a discourse which is confabulation, dialogue with oneself, actually exists. This kind of discourse is not aimed at acting on the other, but rather moves toward an interior clarification for the person who is actually discussing with himself, and thus is a routine of personal reflection, an action oriented at the self, rather than at the not-self.

Discourses that are communicated and discourses that are confabulated in an internal monologue have a lot in common, even if less so than one could think at a first blush. It is proof of their similarity the fact that hybridization phenomena can happen between the two: I can make up a message using an intimate reflection and putting it in relation with other messages, vice-versa, I can start confabulating using a message I’ve heard which I “translate” into a reflection. Thus, an articulated sound, be it a single word or an entire discourse, can pass, at least theoretically, from a state of reflection (a part of an internal monologue) to one of communication (part of a spoken or written message), and vice-versa.

Nevertheless, if I try to examine the possibility of converting completely and effectively an internal monologue into a message, I am going to be met with great difficulties. If I need to create a message starting from an intimate reflection of mine, I can directly see what are the obstacles to overcome: on one side there is the stream of thoughts, that in its spontaneous flux tends naturally to carry me in the direction it prefers; on the other side, though, I need to maintain a certain order instead, with a view to communication. Thus, when I realize that the internal monologue is getting too far from the point I was to follow in the beginning, I am forced to put it back on the right track, reviewing the bonds between the concepts and fix thoughts on paper, so to restrain them from coming back again and again. I am not losing the thread, but nevertheless it is very easy for me to forget where it started in the first place, and if I weren’t to settle what I think as I go in some precise order, I would obtain nothing but an incomprehensible stream of consciousness; furthermore, all of the digressions and transgressions and intromissions of discourses that have passed through my mind would undoubtedly belong in the stream of reflection, and nevertheless won’t appear in the final communicative product, thus making it at fault of serious omissions.

“You can’t write the same way you think”, I have been told once at school; nowadays, I understand that a thought and a message are quite different, even if we admit they both are constituted by words.  The final communicative product is definitely not a simple transcription of the word sequence the way it formed in my mind, especially at the level of its structure and sequence: words follow one another in a very different way in reflection and communication, their distribution and the connections intertwining the different, temporally ordinate sections of the two kind of speech are substantially opposites. Internal monologue, in fact, is characterized by the absolute integration of its “parts”, for its ability to constitute a stream, and as such, its inability to be fragmented or deconstructed. If every thought of mine was written down on paper, it would not be a thought of mine anymore: after a few moments the original thought is dead, since its own typical structure resides in its continuous, vaguely haphazard reorganizing itself, in the repeating, re-chewing, re-ruminating that are peculiar to the internal monologue.

The nature of communicated messages is entirely different from the one of confabulation; the form does not change significantly with time, it can be divided in insulated and organized modules, and at the same time it has precisely delimited spaces and occasions for its fruition, which is, in the author’s intent, purely instrumental to a feedback. The issue of the incompatibility between internal monologue based on a “fluid” stream of consciousness and a verbal communication based on “static” finds roots in the bergsonian concept of duration, the “dureé” (Bergson, 1904); since the subjective time of consciousness is not a modular system, but a perfectly holistic one, and its extension is constituted by growth and mutation, the incompatibility between it and a communication made of a sequence of static signs is evident, and the possibility (or lack thereof) of a transmission of mind content from one consciousness to another has been object of a interesting line of philosophical inquire (Fell, 2009, Lukianova and Fell, 2015). But though the possibility and modality of a transmission of contents with duration through the use of crystallized signs has been thoroughly investigated, and we can say that it is indeed possible to convey some form of content and meaning through discourse, the question of what this content is about is pretty much open to discussion. No doubt it is possible to say something, albeit imperfectly; but what can this something be? If communication is not simply a pouring of ideas from one brain to another, we can expect some restriction to be imposed on what is possible to “say”. It is indeed an important matter, and deconstructionists, in particular, have been very attentive to the problem of meaning; in fact, we can find in the works of Derrida some themes that closely resemble the ones we are dealing with here. The decostructionist distinction between “speech” and “writing” looks akin to the one we made between internal monologues and communication. Internal monologue, in fact, has perfect meaning and is immediately “present” to the mind in the form of intuition, it has no extension in time, no “differànce”; if it acquires it, that is because it has been forced on it through an artificial enlargement of its confines. And this is exactly what all forms of communication try to do: expansion of presence in the objective time. Decostructionist criticism of the idea of “presence” of the meaning in speech is taken to the extreme consequence of seeing communicated contents as entirely autonomous from both their cause and their end, the interpretation, thus shattering the very basis of “signification”.
I won’t go nearly as far, indeed I will go in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t be content with taking note of the different temporal extensions of soliloquy and communication, nor with considering the differences between the two as of a purely functional kind. By analyzing the structural, essentially formal differences between internal monologue and communication, it is in fact possible to become aware of how this differences unavoidably stop being just “formal”: in discourse it is never possible to operate a perfect scission between praxis and contents, since the very same form in which the content is expressed is going to mould its function and the subsequent action, the one it makes on itself (in reflection) or on the other (in communication). This means that, if we remain at the level of communication of the philosophical discourse, the other, who is the fulcrum around which the communicative praxis revolves, becomes necessarily an implicit or explicit theme of the message itself: one cannot simply speak to the other without seeing his words being moulded by the other, and the reflection itself being influenced in some way by the other, customized for him, with the theme of otherness becoming the very fabric of the content transmitted through the speech. Communication actually compels the discourse to be affected by the recipient of the message to a very profound extent. Speech itself, in fact, by its own nature is a reference to a generality, to a multiplicity that not only includes the other but puts me in parenthesis; in the philosophical discourse, as it can be read on a book or listened to in spoken words, the term “I” is a substantive, not a pronoun: it is not “me”, but “the I“, an absolute generality in which I, the speaker, wish to be included, and through which I try to accomplish an identity between me and the rest.

The obsessive attention towards the I, that is, towards the generality of other Is and not to the actual me, is intrinsic to the philosophical discourse as it is communicated, and is the reason of its intrinsic “uncertainty”: it compels me, the speaker, to relinquish myself and move towards the other, thus obliging me to leave the immediate certainties of the self and search for the consent of others. But once I’ve been decentralized and classified as an I among the many Is, the dimension of certainty ultimately becomes elusive to me.
In philosophical reflection I am always making an operation that includes some level of introspection; I am inside the process, I am the centre, the immovable reference, the absolute. To reach the very deep end of my soul may be a long way or a very short one, but once I get there I am arrived to my destination anyway: I found meaning; new proofs or demonstrations or any other deferral of signification are not needed, and no further doubts or confutations arise naturally. For that which is my depth relative to that instant, I can be content with my reflection. In a sense, even a six-year-old child can actually be the greatest philosopher, the moment he/she he has accomplished a full introspective journey.

This perfect and complete self-comprehension unavoidably breaks when my thought is made subject to an attempt of conversion to a message to be communicated to others: the fact that it is been translated in the times and modalities of communication, the fact that it does not concern anymore just me, but the I in general, is enough to make it “refutable” again. The fact that the entire “movie” of my internal monologue has been lost, leaving just few photograms of it behind, makes it substantially “weak”. The research for the absolute foundation of thought comes to its definitive completion in the moment of reflection, which in itself can be considered, for its modalities, perfect; but it is lost whenever I lose its cornerstone and absolute landmark, me: not “the I”, but I: precisely, I am its core. At this point, the shadow of refutability cannot be escaped in any way. My reflection was based on self-evidence, but self-evidence is about me, it is self-evident to me. To anyone else, self-evidence could be anything; you do not even need to think about a refutation of my self-evidence, you can be content with denying it.
You could do that in plain honesty, since for you It may not be an axiomatic self-evidence, but you could do that also out of intellectual dishonesty (it is evident to you too, but you do not want to admit it); in both cases, your denying of self-evidence alone is enough to refute it. Of course, your honesty or dishonesty in denying my self-evidence would make a difference to me and my beliefs, but it does not make a difference to the I; for what concerns the I this difference does not even exist: deconstructionism is a good example of how it is theoretically possible to bring on the verge of collapse every logic structure that has been put in words. The delusion of “absolute irrefutability” or “definitive evidence” in communicative contexts has to fall: if it is communicated, it is refutable; and even if it is not refutable, it can still be refused or denied a priori.

This realization seems to be able to easily lead the entire philosophical discipline to implosion: it is possible to deconstruct and refute/refuse any philosophical doctrine that has assumed the form of a communicated message, ironically, including the same statement that “it is possible to deconstruct ore refuse/refute any philosophical doctrine”; so, apparently, philosophy has to suicide itself in undecidability.

This “tragedy” resembles closely the one math has gone through following the demonstration of Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, and in fact Derrida himself proposed an analogy between the work of deconstructionism and Gödel’s in “La dissemination”, and this parallelism has already been explored from different points of views (Bates, 2005, Livingston, 2010). Nevertheless, in formal logic just as in metaphysical language, “the proof of the impossibility of the proof” is not able to stop, nor even to slow down, the progress of the discipline.

The reason for this resides in the particular kind of bond that exists between philosophical communication, which is deconstruction’s dialectical target, and philosophical reflection, which is at the very origin of philosophical discourse. Reflection goes on independently, human brain never gives a non-compute error, a perfect undecidability. My internal monologue, precisely since it is founded on my own absoluteness, it is referred to me, from me is born and in me is concluded. Since it is my work of self-clarification, it has a structure not logic in the conventional dia-logic sense, but logic in an interior sense and as such, in respect to the traditional meaning of “logic”, it is meta-logic. Refutations based on radical scepticism or deconstruction can’t strike down philosophical reflection, since it already includes them in the very same moment they are formulated, and elaborates them, and overcomes them.

Communication in time

Obviously, to insist that strongly on the untouchability and fullness of significance of philosophical reflection “to oneself” may look like an arguable exaggeration of that which Derrida calls “metaphysic of Presence”. It probably is, and I do not think that is detrimental to the theory; on the contrary, I would gladly push it to more extreme consequences: I believe, actually, that such an overturning of deconstruction is almost a dialectical necessity invoked in existence by deconstruction itself. Indeed, if it can be said that western philosophical discourse is centred on “Presence” and as such on the “self” in a certain sense, we must nevertheless recognize that it has always been centred on “Difference” and the “Other”, in a certain other sense.

In order to better explain why this is true, it is useful here to recall Theuth’s myth. To summarize, it is well true that in this narration Plato’s admonition is for the philosophy to be preserved in the pureness of the present which is present-to-itself (that is, in philosophical reflection as it unfolds itself in soliloquy). But we cannot  forget that Plato’s admonition is nevertheless transmitted in writing, that is, it is a crystallized communicated message, meant to be read. This is the reason why I am arguing that the alleged centrality of living thought, as it is expressed in soliloquy and put in metaphor as “orality”, is true only in a certain sense. Precisely, in the sense that, starting with Plato, it is said to be true in words. But on the other side it is proved, in fact, to be false, by the very actions of philosophers: philosophers write, or at least those whose thought system has arrived to us did or do so. Even when an author writes in the form of “soliloquy on paper”, he cannot but stay within the borders imposed by a mean that is structurally made for communication, and as far as it can imitate the appearance of the stream of consciousness, it can never rise to its same fluid and holistic completeness. Thus, western philosophy has always been prisoner to a declared, de iure, “phonocentrism”, and to an acted out, de facto, “graphocentrism”.

As it is been said before, in communication form moulds contents, and that is why the very allusion to presence got lost in the words of western philosophers, while terms as absolute, transcendence, universality and eternity resurfaced as protagonists of every debate; those could be regarded as attempts to expand presence beyond present, but in practice end up representing death of presence instead. We could well argue that presence is a fulcrum of western philosophical research just as far as it confronts “differànce” and searches for a synthesis. More than that: it can be said that probably the key problem of philosophy is not about presence, but about reconciling presence and “differànce“, which is a very different question.

Indeed, I would say that between presence and difference, the greatest de facto absent is actually presence, for the very fact that it is obsessively searched for in philosophical communication hints at its hidden, threatened condition. The threat resides in the always frustrated attempt to reduce the other to the self integrally, while at the same time keeping its otherness complete and intact by addressing him through the mean of communication, that puts my own thought in parenthesis. It is a trade-off, if I aim to reduce the other to me, to make him an object of my interior monologue, then his otherness can’t remain absolute; in some way, in some form, it has to become part of my universality, at least as an object of my consciousness; “I”, “me” and “mine” need to be the only pronouns to which I should refer if I am to speak to myself about otherness. Vice-versa, if I mean to reduce everything to communication, it is I and my philosophical reflection that must disappear from the discourse, while I speak to the other about my sameness.

This conflict is in my opinion well exposed by mean of the contrast between the “sensuous” and the “formal” impulsions described by Friedrich Schiller, who succeeded in giving maybe one of the most fitting pictures of the problem:

Der sinnliche Trieb bestimmend, macht der Sinn den Gesetzgeber, und unterdrückt die Welt die Person, so hört sie in demselben Verhältnis auf, Objekt zu sein, als sie Macht wird. Sobald der Mensch nur Inhalt der Zeit ist, so ist er nicht, und er hat folglich auch keinen Inhalt. Mit seiner Persönlichkeit ist auch sein Zustand aufgehoben, weil beides Wechselbegriffe sind – weil die Veränderung ein Beharrliches und die begrenzte Realität eine unendliche fordert. Wird der Formtrieb empfangend, das heißt, kommt die Denkkraft der Empfindung zuvor und unterschiebt die Person sich der Welt, so hört sie in demselben Verhältnis auf, selbständige Kraft und Subjekt zu sein, als sie sich in den Platz des Objekts drängt, weil das Beharrliche die Veränderung und die absolute Realität zu ihrer Verkündigung Schranken fordert. Sobald der Mensch nur Form ist, so hat er keine Form und mit dem Zustand ist folglich auch die Person aufgehoben. Mit einem Wort, nur, insofern er selbständig ist, ist Realität außer ihm, ist er empfänglich; nur, insofern er empfänglich ist, ist Realität in ihm, ist er eine denkende Kraft.[1](Schiller, 1847, pp.51-53)

This topic was reprised and further analyzed by Jung in his “Psychological Types”: there, the duality between sensuous impulsion and formal impulsion was translated in the one between extraversion and introversion, but the basic problem is the same: the philosopher works to reconcile two different tendencies of the human intellect, the one that “gives cases” (singular circumstances) and the one that “gives laws” (generalities). Discourses fixed in time, conceived to speak to others and share the objective world with them, against fluid, out-of-time thoughts and interior monologues, designed to find the absolute self-clarification thinkers need. One might say, the fundamental issue of all philosophy is about reconciliation of static communication and fluid intuition.

This reconciliation, as Schiller notices, is far than easy to accomplish, because of the very strong opposition between the two tendencies:

Wo beide Eigenschaften sich vereinigen, da wird der Mensch mit der höchsten Fülle von Dasein die höchste Selbständigkeit und Freiheit verbinden und, anstatt sich an die Welt zu verlieren, diese vielmehr mit der ganzen Unendlichkeit ihrer Erscheinungen in sich ziehen und der Einheit seiner Vernunft unterwerfen.

Dieses Verhältnis nun kann der Mensch umkehren und dadurch auf eine zweifache Weise seine Bestimmung verfehlen. Er kann die Intensität, welche die tätige Kraft erheischt, auf die leidende legen, durch den Stofftrieb dem Formtrieb vorgreifen und das empfangende Vermögen zum bestimmenden machen. Er kann die Extensität, welche der leidenden Kraft gebührt, der tätigen zuteilen, durch den Formtrieb dem Stofftrieb vorgreifen und dem empfangenden Vermögen das bestimmende unterschieben. In dem ersten Fall wird er nie er selbst, in dem zweiten wird er nie etwas anderes sein, mithin eben darum in beiden Fällen keines von beiden, folglich – null sein.[2]

(Schiller, 1847, p.50)

The interesting question, now, is: as far as we must be aware of the difficulties in finding a way for the progress of thought between two opposite tendencies, can it be said, in all honesty, that western philosophy has always chosen the way of presence, as deconstructionists seem to suggest?

Hardly so, in my opinion. Of course presence is not in communication, it cannot be there. We could say that many philosopher have tried to express presence in communication, but aside for every good intention they might have had, I’d rather say they ended up trying to erase presence from the discourse, setting themselves more and more against presence. Proof of that should be the deliberate and persistent detachment and inattention in respect to the present instant that we’ve seen in western philosophy since Plato.

With very few notable exceptions (Augustine, or in more recent times William James and Henri Bergson) in the words of philosophers the hinc et nunc is totally disregarded and replaced by the diffused aspiration towards universality of space and time. “N’y a et il n’y aura jamais que du present” (Derrida, 1969), Derrida wrote debating Husserl. I am not considering here the question if his intentions were of refuting a supposed mistake of the phenomenologist, or just making a nuance of wording or else. I shall just point out the syntactic contradiction implicit in such an expression: “present” has never been, nor ever will be; to apply tenses other than present to the present is in itself an act of distortion of the concept of present. Moods can be applied to present, duration can surely be applied to present but tenses cannot, the tense of present is present. Present is present and the very word “present” has meaning only if applied in the present. Communication is unable to expand present and presence, it rather erases it, and by the constant use of differànce western philosophy has been constantly denying the pre-eminence of present; that is the root, indeed, of philosophy’s (especially continental philosophy) obsession for history, for hermeneutics, for genealogies, hence for a past that is obstinately and undeniably seen by scholars as real, in fact, more real than present, and as such more real than the real itself. In spite of Derrida’s insistence on the pre-eminence of presence in the history of western philosophy, it can and it has be argued, for example by Luce Irigaray, that present is actually the great absent in western philospshy (Söderbäck, 2013).

And this makes totally sense, based on certain premises: indeed, if the present moment is considered, as Augustine of Hippo considers it, as the infinitesimal instant or infinitesimally short “segment” of the longer line that is historic time, and as such is thought to be of the same “quality” of historic time, then its minority descends automatically by the clear-cut reduction in its extension, and that which is said in the present is apprehended only when it is already gone into the past. Present is made of the same substance as past and future, but it is less, thus it is obviously less important. The vice in this modus cogitandi clearly resides in considering the “extension” of present time as of the same quality and the extension of the “non present” time, whereas present is not just a segment of historic time sharing with it the same extensional properties, rather it has a different “extension” as its own peculiar property, in the sense of bergsonian duration, as quality, not as quantity.

Clearly, giving the presence the importance it deserves needs some effort; especially, this task requires us to look at present as the foundational element a priori of the entire arc of historic time, that is, as an element that transcends history. Since present has a different quality from historic time extensions, past and future are available to it as representations, as consciousness data, while present is consciousness itself. We might say that present is like the time needed to write a story: it does not compare with the time in which the story develops. They both have an extension, of course, but the time in which the story happens and the one in which it is narrated are two essentially different things: I might need a year to write a story that lasts a day and vice-versa, the two magnitudes are not commensurable. Present is not projected towards the time of not presence, and man does not live the time of his non-presence, but rather has it as a representation in his consciousness.

If I wish to attack presence as such, first I need to treat it as non-presence; that is how the hiatus between speaking to oneself and listening to oneself is given a (false) extension expressed in terms of historic time. This way, the universality and generality natural to the word, which in soliloquy is pure availability of the meaning to presence, becomes a difference per se, as it would in fact be in historic time.

Truth is, instead, that there’s no interval in “time of consciousness” between the moment I speak to myself and the moment I listen to myself, it is only a posteriori, through the introduction of measure instruments, that I objectivize that duration turning it artificially in a succession of instants. There is no “time of consciousness” between the expression of the word to myself and the reference to its meaning, rather availability of meaning is instantaneous.

This radicality of presence is kind of elusive to most of philosophy, for the simple reason that if it is based on duration in the bergsonian sense, it eludes every attempt at a perfect communication. Of course it is clear to “me”, but it is not clear to “the I“. The very attempt to communicate it is at risk of not being taking seriously by readers: “I am immortal since I am” is a phrase most philosophers would avoid, but a poet or a writer may have better luck in finding words to express this concept. Jorge Luis Borges, for example, wrote ” Ser inmortal es baladí; menos el hombre, todas las criaturas lo son, pues ignoran la muerte; lo divino, lo terrible, lo incomprensible, es saberse inmortal”[3] (Borges, 2007).

The most surprising thing here is (or maybe it is not surprising at all, since opposites often come in contact) that it has often been argued that Derrida, the famous critic of the “metaphysics of presence”, is nothing more than rerun of Borges: Borges, the same man who got this close to putting in words absolute presence (Rodríguez Monegal, 1985).

Ironically, while the language of traditional philosophy in its search for a way to extend presence in historic time ends up hiding it, maybe the language of deconstruction, that namely aims at annihilating the notion of presence, turns out to be the linguistic instrument that gets closer to communicate it.

Language-power overturned

It follows naturally, from what has been told till now, that language analysts that are determined enough to dissect and point out all the defects and limits of a communicated message will easily succeed in demolishing it, for the simple reason that communication is not, in its foundation, a crude transmission of present contents of the reflection, and will fail in that respect.

The impression that communication could be just the vehicle for the contents of reflection is at the roots of a great deal of attention reserved to the semiosis as a process of mind-content sharing or transimission, and indeed there is an imperfect form of content transmission in communication. But communication is more fundamentally an act of social power that creates a behavioural modification in another individual, allowing me to have the desired feedback: in the same moment I try to write down my confabulation, what I am implicitly trying to do is not transmitting content (in)expressis verbis, but rather put the interlocutor in a mental state similar to mine, in the hope we will develop his own reflection, similar to mine. Hopefully, that will allow me to have some appreciated behavioural feedback, perhaps through empathy or some different mechanisms.

It won’t go unnoticed how little of the communication in general (I will let philosophical communication aside, for now) consists in fact of the attempt to transmit thought as it is in its complexity, and how much instead consists simply in the attempt to persuade others to behave in a certain way, if needed through hypocrisy; no wonder it is been told that “la semiotica è la disciplina che studia tutto ciò che può essere usato per mentire[4]” (Eco, 1975, p.17; author’s emphasis). I will agree with Foucault, here, about discourses being “des éléments ou des blocs tactiques dans le champ des rapports de force[5]” (Foucault, 1976, p.135): that is totally true in the field of discourses with purely communicative intents, where meaning is accessory and power is preeminent, but much less so in the field of internal monologues, where power becomes accessory and meaning acquires pre-eminence. Indeed, if we just want others to behave as we please, we don’t need them to be exactly in the same mental state as we are at all; on the contrary, we need them to be in a subordinate status. From an evolutionary point of view, the ability to lie is something that ensures a huge competitive advantage to its possessor, thus it is no surprise that it has been discovered and rediscovered multiple times in the history of life. On the other side, the competitive advantage granted to the liar is strictly dependent on the presumption that people don’t lie; if lies were the norm, no one would believe them. This is why language, an instrument that has the distinctive characteristic of being most apt to lie, is most often used in an attempt to tell the truth, that is, to put the other in the same mental state I am when I speak. Briefly, if I want people to behave as I wish, I must tell a few well placed lies, plus and a lot of truths to dissimulate them. But, clearly, if I had the certainty that all my lies would be believed, most of the time it would be much more advantageous to me to lie than to (try to) tell the truth.

Of course it can be argued that truth is not just a mean for the dissimulation of lies: truth also serves to create coordination and unity of intents between people, to create an understanding (Lukianova and Fell, 2015). And this is doubtlessly true when the discourse is functional, for example, to the coordination of actions: if I’m writing a recipe for a cake, I only want people to mix ingredients in such a way as to cook a good cake; the issue of the faithful transmission of a mental content that I feel as “true” is of secondary importance. But it becomes of the greatest relevance when we talk about science, or ethics, or philosophy in general.

Now it is peculiar that, for what concerns that particular type of discourse that is philosophical debate, the focus of the message is peculiarly shifted towards the attempt to transmit mind contents, that is, the focus is on introspection: philosophers care for truth more than anyone else, thus they are concerned with the problems pertaining to the transmission of the contents of their reflection more than anyone else. We may say that philosophy refuses hypocrisy. This particular care that philosophical discourses show for reflection is exactly what makes them “weak” in terms of expression of power, of their ability to “make others think like we want them to”. That continuous struggle to put others in the same mindset we are, through a refusal of hypocrisy, exposes the reflection that tries to “show itself” to all kind of destructive attacks. Indeed, it is not in the attempted introspective sincerity of philosophical discourse that an aware communicative intent is realized, since it is precisely in the act of lying that the original task of communication is fully accomplished, whereas in the (partial) honesty of the reflection that tries to show itself to the interlocutor this task is, in principle, betrayed.

The intrinsic weakness of the “honest” philosophical discourse cannot be escaped but, partially, by giving up on the goal of transmitting the content of consciousness as it is; but at the same time, this act exposes to the risk of falling in hypocrisy entirely, thus ending up in communicating something that is totally disconnected from reflection. And on the other side, hypocrisy itself is never totally pure either, since every pronounced word, in the first place, has been an instant of the stream of consciousness: while it will never show the movement, it still displays some kind of reminiscence of it.

There is not an autonomous third way other than the ingenuous attempt of exposition of consciousness on one side and hypocrisy on the other. But an hybrid approach is surely possible, indeed, this is the standard in philosophical discourse: that approach consists precisely in an attempt to fix reflection in a instant on paper, creating a dead “simulacrum” of it; the form used in this case, with which I dealt before en passant, is more or less the one of the soliloquy on paper. Compared to the modality of the purely manipulative discourse, that gives voluntarily a distorted picture of the author’s mind state, soliloquy on paper is willing to show “photograms” that are in some way representative of the “movie”, and in this sense wants to “transmit the idea”.

Being aware that an authentic transmission remains inaccessible, we acknowledge that even soliloquy on paper is to some extent hypocrite, since it is still not  the internal monologue we see when we are reading a message, but just fragments of it. Nevertheless, through those thought fragments the reader is able to expand his own interior monologue by including some contributions that reflect, in part, the state the author was in when he was writing. Form the point of view of me, the author, such an approach to communication represents an opening to confrontation with the other, and as such a way to put myself in a position of subordination to the other. Philosophical discourse, when arranged in this way, has the potential to overturn the power balance usually established in communication, to the point that he who opens himself to the world, by focusing on himself and communicating disperse fragments of his reflection for everyone to judge and refute, is actually surrendering to the world, whereas he who focuses his discourse on the other in reality wants the other, the world, to surrender to him.

In this sense philosophical discourse is the sincerest one, but the most fragile one too from a dialectic point of view; since it shows instead of hiding and simulating, it is very easy to refute. That is why the reader should not confront it with the idea of trying its robustness to the trickiest of criticisms, but rather always with a basic degree of receptivity and openness to the possibility of nourishing his own reflection. In this sense, philosophical literature is not to be received as a sum of ideas to be “understood”, but rather as an invitation to thought.

In this way philosophical discourse, giving up on the pretence of describing reality a priori, is nevertheless able to look at itself in the mirror, not impervious to change but able to assimilate it in its own becoming, bringing to completion that virtuous alliance between stability and change that represents the very basic impulsion that puts philosophy forward.

References

Bates, D. 2005. Crisis between the wars: Derrida and the origins of undecidability. Representations 90(90) 1-27.

Bergson, H. 1904. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience: Félix Alcan.

Borges, J.L. 2007. El Aleph: Emecé.

Derrida, J. 1969. La voix et le phénoméne. Philosophy 44(167) 77-79.

Eco, U. 1975. Trattato di semiotica generale. Bompiani, Milano 19827 246-248.

Fell, E. 2009. Beyond Bergson: the ontology of togetherness. Empedocles: European Journal for the Philosophy of Communication 1(1) 9-25.

Foucault, M. 1976. Histoire de la sexualité: La volonté de savoir: Gallimard.

Livingston, P. 2010. Derrida and Formal Logic: Formalising the Undecidable. Derrida Today 3(2) 221-239.

Lukianova, N. and Fell, E. 2015. Beyond meaning: Peirce’s interpretant as a meta-semiotic condition for communication. ESSACHESS–Journal for Communication Studies 8(1 (15)) 150-176.

Rodríguez Monegal, E. 1985. Borges & Derrida: Boticarios. Maldoror 21.

Schiller, F. 1847. Kleine Schriften vermischten Inhalts. Ueber die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen. In einer Reihe von Briefen: Cotta.

Söderbäck, F. 2013. Being in the Present: Derrida and Irigaray on the Metaphysics of Presence. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 27(3) 253-264.

[1] “if the sensuous impulsion becomes determining, if the senses become law−givers, and if the world stifles personality, he loses as object what he gains in force. It may be said of man that when he is only the contents of time, he is not and consequently he has no other contents. His condition is destroyed at the same time as his personality, because these are two correlative ideas, because change presupposes permanence, and a limited reality implies an infinite reality. If the formal impulsion becomes receptive, that is, if thought anticipates sensation, and the person substitutes itself in the place of the world, it loses as a subject and autonomous force what it gains as object, because immutability implies change, and that to manifest itself also absolute reality requires limits. As soon as man is only form, he has no form, and the personality vanishes with the condition. In a word, it is only inasmuch as he is spontaneous, autonomous, that there is reality out of him, that he is also receptive; and it is only inasmuch as he is receptive that there is reality in him that he is a thinking force”.

[2] “By the union of these two qualities man will associate the highest degree of self−spontaneity (autonomy) and of freedom with the fullest plenitude of existence and instead of abandoning himself to the world so as to get lost in it, he will rather absorb it in himself, with all the infinitude of its phenomena, and subject it to the unity of his reason.

But man can invert this relation, and thus fail in attaining his destination in two ways. He can hand over to the passive force the intensity demanded by the active force; he can encroach by material impulsion on the formal impulsion, and convert the receptive into the determining power. He can attribute to the active force the extensiveness belonging to the passive force, he can encroach by the formal impulsion on the material impulsion, and substitute the determining for the receptive power. In the former case, he will never be an Ego, a personality; in the second case, he will never be a Non−Ego, and hence in both cases he will be neither the one nor the other, consequently he will be nothing”.

[3] “There is nothing very remarkable about being immortal; with the exception of mankind, all creatures are immortal, for they know nothing of death. What is divine, terrible, and incomprehensible is to know oneself immortal”.

[4] “Semeiotic is the discipline studying whatever can be used to lie.

[5] “tactical elements or blocks operating in the field of force relations”

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