Logocentric, logocentrism: French theorist Jacques Derrida used the term logocentric in De la grammatologie (Of Grammatology) (1967) and other works to describe and characterize Western thought, language, and culture since the time of Plato, a Greek philosopher of the fourth century B.C. To understand what Derrida meant by logocentric, it is important to know that the root word, logos (which in Greek means “word,” “speech,” and “reason”), has in Western philosophical and theological tradition come to signify law, truth, and even ultimate Truth. The suffix -centric is generally used to suggest the privileged status of that to which the root refers. Thus, defined narrowly, logocentric means centered on and revolving around the word (or speech or reason). More broadly, the term implies a belief in the centrality and, more important, the determinability of ultimate Truth. It is this broader meaning that Derrida used when he characterized and critiqued Western traditions as hung up on the notion that words contain Truth.
It is difficult to disentangle Derrida’s use of logocentric from his concept of presence. (In biblical tradition, logos refers to the creating, spoken word of a present God who, “In the beginning,” said “Let there be light.”) In arguing that the Western conception of language is logocentric, Derrida also argued that it is grounded in “the metaphysics of presence,” the tendency to believe that linguistic systems are grounded in “ultimate referents” (such as God, some Platonic or otherwise foundational “Idea,” or deep etymological word “roots”) that make it possible to identify a correct meaning or meanings for any potential statement that can be made within a given system. Rather than supporting this view of language, however, Derrida argued that there are no ultimate referents and thus that presence is an arbitrary, rather than an inherent or true, foundation for language that cannot guarantee determinable (much less determinate) meaning. In other words, presence no more makes it possible to determine meaning than it makes it possible to select one particular meaning with confidence in its correctness.
According to Derrida, Western logocentrism is due in part to Western phonocentrism, the tendency to privilege the spoken over the written, that is, to regard speech in positive terms and writing as comparatively negative. Derrida argued that the privileging of speech cannot be disentangled from the privileging of presence. (We write postcards, for instance, when the people with whom we wish to communicate are absent; similarly, we read Plato because he cannot speak from beyond the grave.) Just as Derrida debunked logocentrism, so he interrogated the privileged status granted to speech in Western metaphysics and culture.