Logocentrism

Logocentrism

[loh-guh-sen-triz-uhm]
In critical theory and deconstruction, logocentrism is a phrase coined by the German philosopher Ludwig Klages in the 1920s to refer to the perceived tendency of Western thought to locate the center of any text or discourse within the logos (a Greek word meaning word, reason, or spirit). Jacques Derrida used the term to characterize most of Western philosophy since Plato: a constant search for the "truth."

Logocentrism is often confused with phonocentrism, which more specifically refers to the privileging of speech over writing.

Logocentrism is manifested in the works of Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and many other philosophers of the Western tradition, all of whom regard speech as superior to writing (believing writing only represents or archives speech), but who more generally wish to establish a foundational presence of Logos or "reason" obtained from an origin of all knowledge (e.g., God or the universe).

Several examples of this phenomenon may be observed through the privileging of:

  • speech over writing
  • presence over absence
  • identity over difference
  • fullness over emptiness
  • meaning over meaninglessness
  • mastery over submission
  • life over death
  • lightness over darkness

Jacques Derrida argued in his Of Grammatology (translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and published in English in 1976) that, in each such case, the first term is classically conceived as original, authentic, and superior, while the second is thought of as secondary, derivative, "given" or even "parasitic." Derrida believed that to overcome logocentric thinking, we should think of ourselves as a "rapport to the Other." That is, the "now" manifested as meaning through ourselves is always interconnected with various meanings throughout time. For this reason, Derrida privileged writing over speech.

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