We use words as signs in part to distinguish one thing from another. Words distinguish by establishing borders that include and exclude meaning. Speaking figuratively, we could say that a word is like a frame, such as for a picture or a window. It contains what is included within its boundaries and excludes what is without, and we see what is included within the frame by looking through the frame. The word “animal” includes within its borders the significance of what it means to be an animal and excludes whatever isn’t contained in that significance. The word “cat” establishes a smaller frame, so to speak, for it contains what it means to be a cat, but not what it means to be any kind of animal.
When we combine words to form sentences, we construct more complex frameworks, but the function of excluding and including meaning remains. Whole systems of thought likewise establish distinguishing borders between what meaning is included and what meaning is excluded. Therefore, we can continue to speak of these systems using the figurative image of a frame, albeit an intricate one. A metaphysical system might aim to include within its boundaries the essential aspects of being while excluding what is not true of being. The metaphysician here would seek to construct a framework through which the viewer could see the truth of being.
While the framer may look to reality as the basis for how he constructs his framework, the framework itself is an artifact, something he has created. All frameworks are artificial, but that doesn’t mean they cannot be true. The metaphysician who strives to express truth will strive to construct borders that correspond to the reality of being and the real differences between beings, at least in so far as he experiences them. He will strive for accuracy, for a framework that includes and excludes as accurately as possible. He will also strive for clarity, an endeavor that adds something to our image of a frame. The clarity of his philosophy is measured by how well the things he philosophizes about show through the glass placed within his frame.
The reason for glass within our image may become clear when we consider that even the metaphysician who strives to express the essential truth of being will incorporate metaphors and figurative expressions into his construct. He will express abstract concepts using concrete images. In so doing, he creates and adds meaning to what he strives to express. Metaphors describe one thing by means of another; therefore, the other thing is in a sense combined the thing described. So long as what the framework shows is true, we can still see through the glass, but the glass changes what we see, if ever so slightly. It may add darkness, color, or distance, for instance. The glass within the frame allows us to see through it, but it also affects our perception.
I’ve used the example of a metaphysician as someone who constructs a framework and strives to make his framework as accurate and clear as possible. The metaphysician is concerned with being. The moral philosopher, to give another example, is interested in expressing the truth about the moral life or, we might say, the good. He makes use of frameworks as well. Where do philosophers of alterity, such as the deconstructionist, fit into this image of constructing frameworks?
Philosophers of alterity are sometimes characterized as enemies of truth. They don’t seem interested in the pursuit of truth, at least in the way the metaphysician is. Nevertheless, such a characterization fails to frame what these philosophies are about. Where the metaphysician is intent on describing what fits into his framework, the philosopher of alterity is interested in what doesn’t fit into the framework, specifically in what the framer has excluded from framework. Where the metaphysician may insist on the accuracy and clarity of his system, the philosopher of alterity insists on calling the artificial structure of his system into question. Where the metaphysician is motivated by speaking the truth about being, the philosopher of alterity is motivated by giving justice to what is otherwise than being. A philosopher of alterity may deconstruct a frame, but he does so not as an enemy of truth or even as an enemy of framing, but rather from the desire to give what the frame excludes – alterity – its due. We might say that the metaphysician and the philosopher of alterity each have a unique vocation or role to play in the act of framing.