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Timothy Clark HEIDEGGER, DERRIDA, AND THE GREEK LIMITS OF PHILOSOPHY The question "What is philosophy?" is not simply one question among others. Its status involves the questioner at once in a series of peculiar problems. The question "What is chemistry?" (for instance) would surely seem to admit of an answer. Even if there were a dispute about the wording of a definition, the general region to which the question directs us seems relatively secure. "What is chemistry?" asks about the essence of a physical science and, as a consequence, the questioner will be situated in the realm of the philosophy of science. "What is philosophy?" however, can make no such leap. A "philosophy of philosophy " is simply tantamount to more philosophy. The question of philosophy 's essence can only be posed within philosophy. Moreover, would not this very question of an essence ofphilosophy be determined in advance by an understanding of "essence" by philosophy, which thus seems remorselessly to encompass the borders of that which might try to enclose it? The mode of questioning on the (impossible?) borders of philosophical discourse is the site of Martin Heidegger's so-called overcoming of Western Metaphysics. More recently, Jacques Derrida has intensified the mode of borderline questioning, engaging himself in both a radicalization and displacement of Heideggerian questions. Derrida writes, in "Violence and Metaphysics" (1964), "The entirety of philosophy is conceived on the basis of its Greek source. As is well known, this amounts neither to an occidentalism, nor a historicism. It is simply that the founding concepts of philosophy are primarily Greek, and it would not be possible to philosophize, or to speak philosophically, outside this medium."1 Derrida continues to discuss Husserlian phenomenology and the thought of Heidegger in terms of their insistence on 75 76Philosophy and Literature conceiving philosophy according to its Greek impetus. If something is to transpire in the traditions of philosophy, its origin "will have to be summoned forth and adhered to as rigorously as possible" (p. 81). The specific "event" to be attended to will be what Derrida, after Heidegger, describes as the determination ofbeing as presence. This, it is argued, is constitutive in respect of philosophy and all the regional disciplines it governs. Needless to say "the determination of being as presence" demands considerable explication. The Greek nature of philosophy is discussed by Heidegger in the lecture, "What is Philosophy?"2 The question raises the problem of philosophy 's relation to its limits. Tb ask the question "What is Philosophy?" is not to step outside thought to some "metaphilosophical" realm. It is to be already standing in Greece. What is specifically Greek and decisive, in fact, is the very mode of the question ''What is XT' itself: "But not only what is in question —philosophy— is Greek in origin, but how we question , the manner in which we question even today, is Greek. We ask, "what is that—" (p. 35). The Greek mode of questioning something as to its whatness {ti estin?, "what is it?") has now become thoroughly familiar. Its novelty and Greek source have become obscured: "It is this form of questioning which Socrates, Plato, and Aristode developed. They ask, for example, What is the beautiful? What is knowledge?' ..." (p. 37). Heidegger's characterization of the question, ti estin?, as decisively Greek must be distinguished from Edmund Husserl's apparently similar description of the fundamentally Greek nature of philosophy. Husserl characterized the theoretical relation to the world as a legacy which has largely determined Western Europe and, indeed, the modern world itself , a determination most palpable in the proliferation of the various sciences. The theoretical attitude is one of pure curiosity towards entities : "man becomes the disinterested spectator, overseer of the world, he becomes a philosopher."3 Moreover, the devotion to pure theoria builds up a body of disinterested knowledge in which others may participate and to which they may add. A universal culture, a project traversing individual and national difference, comes into being. The Greek philosopher embodied, for the first time, a type ofhumanity and culture to which the European world still belongs. Husserl thus underlines the huge stakes in so little a question as the "What is it?"//i estin...


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