Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 12, No 1 (2016)

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Derrida, Husserl and the Problem of Prior Sense

Ralph Shain


In his introduction to Husserl’s “Origin of Geometry”, Derrida makes several claims for the superiority of Husserl’s philosophy over Kant’s.  The main claim of superiority is Husserl’s grounding of transcendental historicity and transcendental intersubjectivity in concrete experience.  For Kant, Derrida points out, the truth of geometry is already constituted, and thus must be extrinsic to all history.  But for Husserl, every ‘objectivity’ has a history, including geometrical objectivities, and that these objectivities did not pre-exist the originary intuitive act.  I will explore these claims, as they reach into the heart of issues concerning time and temporality. 

First, I will consider Derrida’s interpretation of Husserl, and argue that there is an unclarity or a contradiction in Husserl’s treatment of the temporality of ideal objects, which arises from his avoidance of the issue of whether ideal objects pre-exist their first intuiting.  Derrida interprets Husserl as if Husserl had indeed dealt with this issue, thus avoiding the same issue in turn.  I will examine the arguments in support of Derrida’s interpretation, but will provide reasons for rejecting each argument.  Then I consider various ways of resolving the ambiguity, and will conclude by looking at the implications of Derrida’s avoidance of this issue for the project of deconstruction in general. 

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