Book III: Deconstructing Traditional Metaphysical Tenets

In book III, Marion introduces the essential characteristics of the given phenomenon, each of which describes how the event becomes accessible: anamorphosis, unpredictable landing, incident, event and fait accompli. Here what is significant about these features of the given is that because they are neither metaphysical nor causal, the given is not determined by any transcendental conditions. Though each of these characteristics could be discussed in detail, I have decided on three, the “unpredictable landing,” the “incident,” and the “event,” because each provide examples of the ways in which Marion deconstructs foundational elements of the traditional metaphysical landscape.

With his discussion of the “unpredictable landing,” Marion deconstructs the traditional definition of contingency as the property of what is not necessary, and likewise suggests that metaphysical opposition between contingency and necessity becomes irrelevant in phenomenology. “In fact, it shows itself to be inadequate, indeed erroneous” (131). In this section, Marion interacts with a well-known passage from Aristotle in order to show that Aristotle has to admit that the necessity of event x occurring (or not) remains inscribed within the horizon of possibility. In addition to deconstructing necessity, he also questions whether potentiality must be thought in a lesser way than actuality. Instead Marion says that something arrives to me in a way that I am not determining it, i.e., it contingently imposes itself on me.

Turning to his discussion of the “incident,” Marion deconstructs the traditional understanding of substance and accident. In the tradition, substance has always been given primacy. Marion, however, wants us to think of the incident in terms of accident. According to Marion, even Thomas Aquinas was forced to recognize that substance is an accident of an accident. In other words, Marion is saying that from an historical perspective Aquinas got his idea of being (esse) from Avicenna who claimed that being is an accident of the substance. Thomas, of course, did not say this, but Marion’s point is to show that there is a continuum between Aquinas and Avicenna, and if the act of being is like an accident, then we have a primacy of accident over substance. (N.b., Avicenna claims that essence is sheer possibility. When essence is actualized in reality, then existence is added to it as an attribute/accident). So again we encounter a challenge to the Western tradition of metaphysics with its static presence over dynamism. Substance has been understood as something stable, yet its accidents can of course change. Marion, however, subverts this idea and says that substance “shows itself only as accident of the accident—as second-order incident” (158). This new privileging of accident over substance suits Marion’s project well as accident has the determinations of givenness much more than substance.

Marion’s discussion of the “event” likewise challenges the tradition of the primacy of cause over effect. Here Marion says that the traditional claim that the cause precedes the effect is mistaken; the effect should instead be given primacy. As Marion points out, even Aristotle would say that an effect is first for us, but in itself the cause is first. In our analysis of givenness we must accept that a phenomenon that gives itself gives itself as an effect that cannot be reduced to its causes—it contains more reality than its causes. To illustrate his point, Marion gives the example of World War I, viz., there have been numerous explanations offered concerning the cause of this event. So instead of reducing the effect to the cause, we should allow the effect to be taken seriously—allow the given, to be given. In other words, Marion’s emphasis is that the event is something that resists the reduction to its causes.

With the introduction and explication of these characteristics, we gain insight into Marion’s notion of givenness, yet we also see the ways in which he challenges traditional metaphysics as to their privileging certain primacies. Here one might ask whether Marion’s deconstruction of metaphysics is actually a destroying of metaphysics or whether his desire is more along the lines of subverting the primacy of traditional metaphysics because it prevents givenness from being seen. In other words, is Marion’s aim here more or less to bring to our attention that traditionally construed, metaphysics explains givenness away, or does he have more in mind?

2 thoughts on “Book III: Deconstructing Traditional Metaphysical Tenets”

  1. All I have to say is: This post, read out of the context of any stream-of-thought, just kind of hurts my head. There are few times when I get to blatantly express my ignorance… This is one of those times. Thanks… ?? ;-)

  2. Cynthia,

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been having some discussions on causality lately with a friend and trying to figure out where the locus of the discussion itself should be, so this helps me a little bit.

    I’ve been having problems when others reduce effects (caused by, say, Libealism) to mere causality because then they point to other ’causes’ (i.e. religions) that produce similar ‘effects’ (i.e. strife, racism, etc.) and so therefore criticizing the first cause somehow gets undermined in their mind (i.e. Liberalism isn’t that bad, they reason), even though it really doesn’t, because the effects must still be dealt with rather seriously.

    I’ve been trying to come up with a good analogy for the discussion, but to no avail. Something along the lines of: criticizing capitalism for fostering greed, and then trying to point out that communism does the same thing but with a select few people. So, it’s as if pointing to communism for its greediness somehow makes the greed of capitalism ‘less bad’, when both are just as bad, and both situations must be dealt with on their own merits. The effects must be reckoned with in each case, I would argue. Also, it seems like the initial retort from the other side is locked into a dualism of “what, so capitalism is bad, then you offer marxism/communism?” …when, one of my whole points is that I’m trying to offer the Church as the alternative polis to all of this, which transcends any of those univocal systems of being. Anywho.

    Sorry for rambling. Fascinating stuff, though.



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