Re: Mystical Validation Tested

Damien Broderick (
Sat, 30 May 1998 11:25:08 +0000

At 04:16 AM 5/29/98 -0400, Daniel Fabulich wrote:

> I believe that one can define the
>identity of A in terms of its relationship to only PART of its holistic
>identity and still make sense. More precisely, I'd say that identity of A
>(as defined by holism) is governed by *everything* that is not-A; but the
>atomist's definition of identity (which I'll call partial identity to
>avoid confusion) is simply the relationship between A and a particular
>other value; usually 0.


>here I must fall back on utility: when we use words to
>communicate, the best words are those which are the best mutually
>understood by the parties to whom we are communicating

FWIW, I discussed this issue from a slightly different perspective in


Plainly, it must help if we keep clear that not all dichotomies have the
same force [...]. Aba and Eba are the kinds of grand exclusives which
practitioners of deconstruction are eager to demote, understandably enough
in political terms. Much vulgar debate, much `common sense', has persisted
in the fallacy that these contraries exhaust the possibilities for
discriminating between categories. When `man' is contrasted to `woman'
under the Aba/Eba rubric, `woman' will get short shrift indeed in a
phallocentric culture. But of course there are other and better ways to
distinguish two classes.

To define an elephant is not usually to distinguish it from quasars and
English muffins, though the act of definition, by definition, has the
side-effect of excluding it from those and all other non-elephant classes.
Nor is it even to mark the elephant off from other large landbased
lifeforms. Rather, a useful definition needs to specify the animal's
positive physiological, evolutionary and ecological characteristics. In
the context of the Earth's grand ecology, we are far more interested to
learn in what precise ways an elephant metabolises oxygen than to know that
it declines to breath methane or uranium hexafluoride.

Yet in the starved terms of post-Saussurean Theory, `elephant' has no
positive term. It is solely a play of differences from those things which
it is not, as the vocable /cat/ is not /mat/, /bat/, or /can/. But while
in a strict sense it is true that to define an elephant is to exclude
everything else in the universe from that set, it is a long and
debilitating step from this elementary truism of logic to the view [of
Julia Kristeva and Elizabeth Grosz] that we thus construct for the elephant
`an "other" in which it can cast all that it is incapable of accepting or
desiring in itself'.

Another way to make the point is this: let us posit that we may distinguish
a given entity from the rest of universe by a number of paths (assuming
that our discourse permits us to make discriminations in the first place;
if not we can abandon the possibility of logic at once). `A' can be
divided from `non-A'. Some boundary thus separates `A' from the rest of
the universe (at least in terms of some set of defining conditions). But
we can also distinguish `A1' from `A2', and from [`A2' through `An'], or
perhaps as well from members of other classes such as `B1', or [`B1'
through `Bn']. Indeed, only if we divide `A1' off from [`A2' through `Nn']
are we back to `A' and `non-A'. But I hope it is clear that the simple act
of binary discrimination need not have a single effect, for good or ill,
since it can be performed in many different ways. Post-structural Theory's
attack on binarisation appeals to a more fundamental metaphysical problem
in determining just what is inside the boundaries of these `A's and `N's.


Damien Broderick