Derrida v. Dennett...a paper i wrote for History of Philosophy. Nothing of my own thoughts...unless you consider my interpretation as my thoughts, in which case i might think you are correct. Without further adue:
Derrida begins his work “Structure, Sign, and Play” with the word “perhaps,” which seems entirely fitting as the whole body of the work is concerned. The object of this “perhaps” is an “event,” or the beginning of a shift from the old idea of structure to a new conception of it. The idea of a structure has always been coupled with the idea of a center which organizes and, more importantly, limits freeplay with in it. The idea of center, he says, is a paradoxical one. The center is both within, and outside, the structure—belonging to the totality, and outside it. Thus, “the center is not the center.” Concerning centers, within history, they can be seen as constantly being replaced within systems, each structure insisting on a different center. This “event”, then, as he discusses it, occurred when we became aware of the structure itself, and the center as a separate construct. He begins to wonder about this idea of a structure with a center, drawing attention to the necessity (despite all efforts) to refer to and speak within the confines of the structure you are attempting to deconstruct. He uses the example of the concept of “sign”, saying that signifying systems are centerless, with all the signs possessing an equal role with limitless freeplay. However, in using the word “sign” there has been a meaning assigned, and thus, the deconstruction of the system defeats itself.
Derrida next begins in on the work of Levi-Strauss. He gives an example of a time in his work where Levi-Strauss finds an inconsistency—a place that deconstructs, makes the oppositions unstable, and shakes up the entire structure. Derrida calls this, “putting the elements into play.” The key moment arises in how one deals with this deconstruction. There are two options. One can either attempt to reconstruct a system with no inconsistencies (deemed impossible by Derrida), or one can continue to use the previously deconstructed system with an awareness that it is founded on a center that is not fixed, but instead, has freeplay. If one chooses the latter approach, he is a Bricoleur, decidedly unconcerned with coherence of terms or truth value, elevating instead, their usefulness in the system. The bricoleur uses bricolage, which introduces a new way to discuss systems without appealing to a center. Arising from these assertions is the notion that totalization of a system is impossible—no system can cover all the bases because there are either too many things to account for or too much freeplay in the system. Play within the system disrupts the center, or presence. One can either dream of deciphering truth, a center free from play, or one can deal with the reality of the multiplicity of centers and get caught up in the freeplay. Thus the “perhaps” at the beginning of his essay was a signal of the denial of definitive truth that was to come.
Dennett, on the other hand, initially calls out to philosophers to regard their work with caution, so as not to harm, asking questions like: “What if I’m wrong?” These questions must be asked because, despite tradition, ideas affect lives in way that are worth worrying about. He, next, tells a story of a man who came to him, searching for “an epistemology.” He recognized a “gulf” between himself and the enquirer. This gulf is best described as the space between those who see proof as futile because of the relativity of truth, and those who see truth as scientific, provable. He has even been able to get his counterpart, Richard Rorty, to acknowledge the gap between reality and appearance—truth and non-truth.
The recognition and bridging of the gap are ideas that humans discovered and mastered. Humans, not animals, have the ability to worry about whether things are true, or if they just appear to be true. Because of this doubt, we invented communicative and recording innovations which come with the idea of truth inherent in them—the goal of truth is inherent in every culture. People ask questions to find true answers and measure things to get accurate ideas. Our technology of truth is science, using objective tools and objective organization so as to avoid opinion from tainting results. When science goes astray, which it will inevitably do, it is a result of bad science, political misuse of science, and unperfected methods—which are, luckily, perfectible.
These two works are, in most ways, diametrically opposed to one another. Ironically, both men use the idea of an engineer as a premier example in their work. In Derrida’s work, the engineer is seen, negatively, as someone who designs buildings with little or no freeplay, someone who aims to originate discourse from his own unique experience. He must create a stable system or nothing at all. This character is not one that Derrida would hold up as a shining example of human purpose, to say the least. In Dennett’s work, the engineer is someone who must ask himself: “Am I wrong?” This, to Dennett, is an entirely necessary question that can have either profound effects for good or evil. The example of the engineer sheds light on both men’s ideas about philosophy. While Derrida does nothing less than ridicule the engineer for his objectivity and desire for stability, Dennett highlights the necessity of objectivity in the realm of applied sciences as well as in discourse.
Dennett’s opponent, Rorty, takes what seems to be a similar stance to that of Derrida. He says that “debates about Truth really do erase the gulf, really do license a slide into some form of relativism.” He says that these discussions are just “conversations” (discourses, if you will) in which your side is determined by political, historical or aesthetic necessity. This is why Derrida points out the shift in centers from one time period or culture to the next—these conversations are in flux because the ideas of culture change over time, along with the conversations and discourses themselves. Dennett, however, still asserts that though language and metaphor are tools of thought, we also have other methods of ascertaining truth (e.g. microscopes and mathematics), which are not relative conversations, but lend themselves to objective truth. In the end, (in a much too simplistic manner), Derrida asserts that constructions of truth emanate from a pragmatic center, and can only be believed as true if that is how one chooses to deal with the deconstruction of truth—a nostalgic clinging to something that has been lost. Dennett, on the other hand, believes that objective truth is not just solely an exercise in clinging to what is most useful, but is, instead, an objective affirmation, worthy of complete confidence, if all correct methods are employed.
On a side note--Derrida is entirely too difficult to read for what he is trying to say. Dennett, though, speaks like i think philosophers should--coherently for the lay person, me.