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metaphysics of presence


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Term originally used by Heidegger to characterize the central mistake of western metaphysics. In his vision, metaphysics from Plato to Nietzsche postulates a self-knowing and self-propelling autonomous agent, for whom nature exists only in so far as it is present, which means useful. This metaphysical view renders authentic respect for nature impossible, and leads to the enslaved consumer societies of the age of technology. Poststructuralist critics and literary theorists appropriate the term for the view that there is a privileged fixed point at which the meanings of terms are anchored. This could lie in the intentions of the utterer or writer, or in some other semantic anchorage, such as the presence of a non-linguistic idea or the presence of an ostended thing. The favoured contrasting view is that there is nothing but text, or in other words that any attempt to fix meaning issues only in the production of more text, itself liable to a plurality of interpretations. The view bears affinities to the doctrine of the indeterminacy of radical translation, and to the Wittgensteinian discussion of the rule-following considerations. See also reader response theory.

Subjects: Philosophy


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