Deconstruction, process and openness: Philosophy in Derrida, Husserl and Whitehead

Timothy Mooney
University College Dublin
An attempt to compare the approaches of Alfred North Whitehead and Jacques Derrida might appear extremely unrewarding from the outset. Derrida has often been hailed (and reviled) as a figure who rejects many key concepts in the philosophical lexicon, amongst them those of subjectivity, rationality, creativity and progress. Whitehead, on the other hand, may seem to hold uncritically to the notion of a metaphysical system in which every element of our experience can be interpreted, so that everything of which we are conscious ‘shall have the character of a particular instance of the general scheme’.1 In our modern world, furthermore, Whitehead argues that it is the business of philosophers and students and practical men ‘to recreate and re-enact a vision of the world...penetrated through and through with unflinching rationality’.2 In this article I wish to show that Whitehead’s understanding of philosophy converges with Derrida’s in certain significant respects, and that this clearly illustrated when we relate both of them to Edmund Husserl. I will begin with brief outlines of Derrida’s account of the philosophical tradition, of his deconstruction or delimitation of subjectivity, and of the way in which his understanding of philosophical openness is influenced by the work of Husserl. I will then proceed to show how many of the ideas found in Whitehead’s metaphysics resemble those of Derrida. Other aspects of this metaphysics would certainly be inimical to the latter, but need not be seen as fixed in stone. This is recognized by Whitehead himself, who has a fallibilistic and revisionary understanding of the philosophical enterprise that is akin to Husserl and Derrida. My conclusion, however, is that Whitehead is closer to Husserl in concentrating on the reconstructive side of philosophy, a side which Derrida has ultimately neglected.
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