Is A Cat A Cat?
Press Start for “Is A Cat A Cat?” by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.
Episode 16: Is A Cat A Cat? | (Derrida + Double Dragon)
Written by: Matt Reichle
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon
Is A Cat A Cat? (Derrida + Double Dragon)
How do we know what “cat” means? Is it as simple as pointing at the animal we call cat and then saying the word?
20th century philosopher, Jacques Derrida, would say, NO.
The word “Cat” is not simply a reference to the furry, four-legged creature that meows and is indifferent to your existence. In other words, we don’t get the meaning of “cat” so easily. Language is quite a bit more complicated.
Thinkers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle all ground thinking in the belief that there is an Objective Truth that can be apprehended through philosophy.
They understood philosophy as a sort of a journey where, through practice, the truth and falsity of our claims are eventually revealed.
For Derrida, however, privileging reason as the way to achieve objective truth is itself problematic. Deconstruction is a way of showing that our assumptions about language—and objectivity—are flawed.
There is no reference point outside of text, no way to think outside of language, no correct and true word for actions or objects—there is no Objective Truth. For Derrida, meaning is relational or textual—there is no significance in the words themselves: calling a jump kick a snarflag, a punch a flimflam, that guy Abobo, or a cat a znutigunrgkjax—is as good as any other word.
In his… how should we say? Loquacious work “Of Grammatology” Derrida famously asserts that: “There is nothing outside of the text.” (Of Grammatology) What he means is that we come to understand everything about the word through language and as such it is inescapable.
The way that we come to know language isn’t from an encounter with the true essence of a term but rather, the meaning is created in relation to other words, or what Derrida calls Différance.
For example, We know what ‘cat’ means because we understand the idea of feline, domestic animal, and pet, we understand pet as not feral, as a friend, we understand friend as not enemy, we comprehend an enemy as an opposing force, we know that by force (in this instance) we don’t mean the multiplication of mass and acceleration, but rather an entity or person, and we comprehend person as not an animal, as not a… cat… each concept points to another concept to be defined ad infinitum—the meaning of a term turtles all the way down.
Moreover, all text is unreliable—there is no single or objective meaning of words. Against a single reading—Derrida prefers heterogeneous, different, multiple interpretation of text. Most texts contain conflicting narratives that intersect and contradict—deconstruction points out these contradictions.
And that is how deconstruction is both construction and destruction—hence the word play.
But when does deconstruction end? Really, a cat isn’t just a cat?