The Post-deconstructive Concept of Evidence

In: Research in Phenomenology
Juan Manuel Garrido Wainer Professor, Department of Philosophy / Centro de Estudios Mediales, Universidad Alberto Hurtado Santiago Chile

Search for other papers by Juan Manuel Garrido Wainer in
Current site
Google Scholar
Full Access


The general objective of this essay is to systematize Jean-Luc Nancy’s post- deconstructive reflections on the concept of evidence. A general claim of this paper is that the post-deconstructive concept of evidence is genuinely an epistemic concept of evidence insofar as it refers to structures involved in verification processes. Evidence is the presentation of a state of affairs that relates the presentation not only to what we claim about this state of affairs but also to the singular circumstances of its production. Verification (the production of a claim’s truth) results directly from the singularities involved in the production or presentation of evidence. This means that evidence is never exhausted in the truth it produces or the knowledge it validates but remains a priori exposed or available to produce and validate unknown knowledge about unknown states of affairs.


The general objective of this essay is to systematize Jean-Luc Nancy’s post- deconstructive reflections on the concept of evidence. A general claim of this paper is that the post-deconstructive concept of evidence is genuinely an epistemic concept of evidence insofar as it refers to structures involved in verification processes. Evidence is the presentation of a state of affairs that relates the presentation not only to what we claim about this state of affairs but also to the singular circumstances of its production. Verification (the production of a claim’s truth) results directly from the singularities involved in the production or presentation of evidence. This means that evidence is never exhausted in the truth it produces or the knowledge it validates but remains a priori exposed or available to produce and validate unknown knowledge about unknown states of affairs.

Et l’art ?1

À l’origine, il y aurait l’évidence2

1 Introduction

Jacques Derrida often declared his “grateful wonder” at the work of Jean-Luc Nancy. This wonder concerned the ingenious ways in which Nancy took up and rethought several concepts from the philosophical tradition the use and application of which Derrida’s deconstructive analyses, to Derrida’s own chagrin, rendered complicated and uncertain.

I have said it elsewhere, but I repeat it here, pointing out my grateful wonder at the extraordinary fact that Jean-Luc Nancy, as we all know, has the courage, dare I say the heart, to assume the heritage, and not only to do with the tradition, with the greatest, most venerable lineage, to live with it, but to face all the immense conceptual ghosts that some of us, me at least, had thought, or judged, as exhausting as exhausted: meaning, for starters, and then the world, and then creation, and then community, and then freedom, so many themes he tackled frontally, where others, including me, were running away, trying to justify or organize their evasion.3

We must admit, in any case, that all philosophical work tends to justify itself by indicating the exhaustion of available concepts. The exhaustion of concepts is supposed to reveal the limits of our understanding and point out the philosophical challenges we face. It is supposed to reveal the complexity of the real by exhibiting the aporias involved in the uses we make of the concepts that pretend to access the real. And because they do not capture reality or fail in conceptualizing it, our failing available concepts nevertheless open the chance to renew our understanding of reality. This is a chance not to get rid of our concepts but to let them say what they have not yet said and have already begun to say through their failure.4 No wonder then, if it is with the concepts of meaning, community, freedom, etc., that the unheard-of in our experience of meaning, community, freedom … is posed. The “deconstruction” of traditional philosophical concepts never fails to suggest or even prescribe their “post-deconstructive” elaboration. His ability to find ways for the post-deconstructive conceptualization of our deconstructed philosophical concepts was precisely what Derrida so admired and appreciated in Nancy’s work:

My wonder lies in the fact that Jean-Luc, in a lucid way and without any turning back, has taken charge in order to treat in a deconstructive, post-deconstructive way these great things, these great themes, these great concepts, these great problems, which have the name meaning, world, creation, freedom, community, etc.5

In this essay, I propose to include another “great concept” and “great problem” to the list offered by Derrida: evidence. Persistently and consistently, Jean-Luc Nancy enshrines post-deconstructive reflections on the concept of evidence. The concept of evidence that emerges from these reflections of Nancy’s can be defined, I think, as follows. Evidence is the presentation of a state of affairs that relates the presentation not only to what we assert about the present state of affairs but also and primarily relates the presentation to itself (“presents the presentation,” to put it in terms closer to Nancy’s usual idiom), namely, to the situated or localized circumstances and processes that make it possible, not to say “produce” it. Such a definition retains relatively little of the properties that philosophers have traditionally ascribed to the concept of evidence. Evidence in Nancy does not concern an alleged reality accessible or thinkable independently of the conditions for presenting reality. It does not concern the self-evidence of the given to intuition and it does not concern the self-evidence of self-consciousness in self-certainty. The exhaustion of the traditional concept of evidence has probably been most clearly demonstrated in the epistemic realm. This realm includes the social, scientific and cultural practices that organize scientific evidence production, circulation, use and valuation – a realm that is coextensive with life itself. The philosophical ideal of “apodictic knowledge” (whose main prototype is provided by the self-certainty of self-consciousness) does not seem to play any significant role in this realm. It does not even seem to play the heuristic or regulative role that one might suppose it to have as an “ideal”: it does not orient the processes and practices of production, circulation, use or valuation of scientific evidence. In the socially and culturally pervasive activities for producing evidence, much more decisive seem to be the installation, development and assurance of well-functioning technological and scientific infrastructures. Accordingly, the production of evidence is not measured to the completion of an idea of “good science” (and ideas of the social, economic, and political import of science) but to evidence scope, usefulness or applicability, for example, in decision making, the testing of our theories, the development of new technologies, and the like. The “presentation” and “modes of presentation” of evidence are always limited, transient, situated, or contextualized. That is why evidence is perfectible, accumulable, discardable, transformable, modelable, etc. The “post-deconstructive” concept of evidence is precisely a concept that detaches evidence from the “ideal” of knowledge and attaches it to the situated and determining circumstances of its “presentation.”

I will begin by reviewing, however succinctly and schematically, what is at stake in the deconstruction of evidence, that is, the problematic aspects of the traditional philosophical concept of “evidence” that make it “both exhausting and exhausted.” I address this question in section 2. In section 3, I characterize the post-deconstructive concept of evidence. I draw on various claims of Jean-Luc Nancy, mainly derived from his analyses of art and cinema. My characterization is divided into three parts: evidence as a “presentation of presentation” (section 3.1), evidence as an operation that escapes the constitutive capacities of the knowing subject (section 3.2), and the intrinsic and defining relation of evidence to the localized circumstances of its production (section 3.3). Finally, in section 4, I propose a general reflection on the productivity sui generis at play in scientific evidence, only comparable, it seems to me, with the Kantian idea of “purposiveness without purpose.” A general claim of this paper is that the post-deconstructive concept of evidence is genuinely an epistemic concept of evidence, insofar as it refers to structures involved in verification processes.

2 The Deconstruction of Evidence

Derrida generally contextualizes his analyses of the concept of “evidence” in systematic discussions with Husserl’s phenomenology. Husserl interprets “evidence” as a mode of subjective intuition that functions as the immediate and ultimate instance for the legitimization of true knowledge. According to the phenomenological model of evidence, a proposition is true if consciousness in general can take it universally and immediately as such in the act of meaning it.6 Derrida is not interested in directly discussing the scope and limits of the phenomenological theory of evidence. He is interested in questioning the role that Husserl assigns to this concept in the phenomenological theory of consciousness. Derrida targets what seems, to his eyes, a sort of arbitrary extrapolation of evidence to the structure and functioning of the intentional consciousness in general. Husserl extrapolates the temporal structure of the act of meaning epistemic truths to the temporal structure of experiencing (for instance, in the correlation between the omnitemporality of mathematical idealities and the living present7 ). Derrida sees no reason for evidence, understood as universal form of scientific truth, to supply the universal form of lived experience in general. The phenomenological analyses of consciousness’s intentionality took evidence as a standard or prototype for understanding all forms of meaning donation.8 Every real form of experience or meaning donation – whether in perception, mathematization, memory, fantasy, introspection, self-reflection or empathy – is eventually defined with respect to the ideal of apodictic knowledge. Similarly, the phenomenological understanding of historicity is captured within the normative-teleological horizon of the infinite transmissibility of ideal meaning.9

The deconstruction of evidence follows the closure of the eidetico-teleological sense of historicity and the arche-constitution of consciousness’s inner temporality through “arche-writing.” “Arche-writing” constitutes the possibility (and the impossibility …) of the living present and the transmissibility of meaning. That is to say, ideality and historicity rely ultimately on the iterability of the trace (or the “arche-trace”), the functioning of which is independent of consciousness’s intentionality.

Except for sporadic and elliptical indications, Derrida drops the concept of evidence and does not develop alternative interpretations. Derrida likely saw the philosophical chances of the concept of evidence sealed to the exhaustion of the phenomenological approach to meaning and consciousness’s intentionality. Moreover, it is an entire idea of science (not to say a “worldview”10 ) that is dropped along with evidence, namely, “science” as the horizon of an infinite mathematization of nature. “Mathematization” in this context refers less to the theoretical and technical development of a historical practice than to the metaphysical “representation” of nature as a totality of beings objectifiable by consciousness.

After deconstructing the idea of science (and science as “idea”), it is understandable that Derrida should lose interest in exploring the consequences that the arche-writing model has for a “post-deconstructive” reconceptualization of evidence. The scientificity of science must be posed for Derrida on completely different terms from those of consciousness and its presentifying structures, and therefore, and above all, on a completely different ground from that of “evidence.” For Derrida, the way science produces objects and progresses depends on the technical, the graphematic infrastructures of nature’s mathematization.11 But shouldn’t these infrastructures also offer an opportunity to rethink what we mean by evidence? Do we not also call “evidence” all that information relentlessly produced by the techno-scientific infrastructures with which we organize contemporary life and that function in a profoundly decentralized manner, far from the presentifying powers of intuition and the “living present”?

3 The Post-deconstructive Concept of Evidence

At least from the 1979 book on Descartes12 to some 1990s and later texts on art and cinema,13 Jean-Luc Nancy enshrines reflections that offer relevant hints for developing a post-deconstructive conceptualization of evidence. As I aim to show in this section, evidence, according to Nancy, is a type of presentation internally and structurally mediated by the relation to itself: in evidence, the presentation and its force to present states of affairs become apparent. The “real” is presented in the relation of presentation to itself. This self-relation, however, turns presentation irreducible into an act of consciousness. Nancy does not derive evidence from the immediate and apodictic self-donation of consciousness. Originary as it is, evidence is not the living self-presence of experiencing in self-reflection. Evidence reflects the presentation itself and the states of affairs that we claim presented or reflected in this presentation (section 3.1). Correlatively, the verifying power of evidence entails infrastructures unbeknown to the “knowing subject” (section 3.2). Evidence depends on specific, situated methods, protocols and technologies. Evidence is a verifying power if, and only if, it makes apparent or refers presentation to the circumstances and processes in which this presentation is produced (section 3.3).

3.1 Reflecting the Real

Generally, when we speak of evidence, we think of information with the force or capacity to reveal certain states of affairs. Specifically, we attribute such force or capacity to this information’s mere exposure or presentation. We expect evidence to confirm or disconfirm whether certain states of affairs occur as we claim them to occur. Examples of claims about states of affairs are: “the day is cloudy,” “19 is a prime number,” or “every even integer greater than 2 can be written as the sum of two primes.” If I look out the window and see a gray sky, the presence of the gray reveals that the state of affairs indeed is as claimed. In other words, the manifestation of the gray renders manifest or reveals that my claim about the weather (“the day is cloudy”) is true. It makes it a true claim; it veri-fies it. Something similar happens if I produce some evidence to test whether 19 is a prime number. I divide 19 into 2, 3, 5 and 7. The results of my operations never yield an integer and thus reveal that “19 is a prime number.” It is clear from the performed operations and their results that the claim is true. As for the claim about the set of primes greater than 2, there seems to happen something different in this case. As far as I understand, the available information on this particular does not reveal the state of affairs described by the claim, nor does it reveal a state of affairs that denies it. That is, the available information does not constitute evidence for deciding about the claim’s truth-value. It does not reveal whether the claim in question is true or false.

Evidence is not, then, a pure and simple appearing. It is an appearing that somehow redoubles, unfolds or relates to itself. It presents itself as an appearing that makes something appear, a manifestation that makes something manifest. Evidence is the presentation of a state of affairs due to the operations involved in the presentation itself. Evidence is an appearing that makes appear, that makes patent or that makes manifest something, and this peculiar revealing capacity of evidence should manifest itself. Otherwise, it is not evidence that we are talking about. Evidence is not the real but the presentation that makes the real manifest, patent or obvious. That is why evidence has the power to confirm or disconfirm claims about the real. Evidence is redundant, recidivist, reiterative. Evidence is like a mirror that reflects the real and never a direct, immediate or transparent appearing of the real.

From the phenomenological point of view, consciousness turns the appearing into the appearing of a state of affairs. In the act of presently intuiting a state of affairs, it is consciousness that invests the appearing with verifying force (see previous section). However, the verifying force of the appearing, and the mode in which that force is given to consciousness in general, necessarily refers to the mode in which the appearing succeeds in revealing a state of affairs (the mode in which the appearing relates to itself). Regardless of how much it “appears” to consciousness and, by “being present,” acquires (or not) the sense of “self-evidence,” the appearing of a state of affairs entails operations that are proper and internal to it, to the appearing. Consciousness (the “knowing subject”) has to understand these operations to understand how evidence renders manifest a state of affairs. Otherwise, no evidence would end up resulting “self-evident” for consciousness. In evidence, the appearing points to itself from itself and not from the structures that constitute consciousness’s constitutive experiencing. Evidence points to an “impersonal” spontaneity, an obviousness that imposes itself and does not derive from consciousness’s internal machinery. In Nancy’s words:

The presentation of presentation is not a representation: it does not relate presentation to a subject for which or in which it would take place. The presentation of presentation relates it to itself. Patency is related to itself – as if one were saying simply: patet, “it is manifest,” “it is evident,” not so as to initiate infinite reflexivity (“it is evident that it is evident”), but rather so as to make appear, to make heard, felt, and touched, the “subject” it of the obviousness.14

The presentation of presentation that relates the presentation to itself relies on mechanisms and operations that necessarily occur behind the back of consciousness, of the present of consciousness, of the knowing living act of the knowing subject. The knowing subject cannot access the self-evidence of things without things’ reflection in evidence. It does not access things that are immediately given, things that do not present themselves as the presentation of things. (More on the “knowing subject” in the next section).

When I look at the grayness of the clouds that cover the sky or review the rows and columns of digits dividing the number 19, I do not witness snapshots of reality, nor does reality present itself as it is “in itself” (that is, unrelated to the conditions that make its presentation possible). Instead, I see realizations prescribed in claims and definitions of the claims’ terms. The meanings of the terms involved in the claims, on the one hand, and the infrastructure employed in the production of information, on the other hand, constitute the mechanism yielding the “presentation of the presentation.” Claims about states of affairs are realized (or presented) in processes of observation or computation that show the truth or falsity of those claims through their very realization (or presentation).

No such presentation, no such process of verification occurs in the space of mere “consciousness,” i.e., merely according to the general rules governing the production of a “present” in general (e.g., retention, protention, etc.). Verification occurs in the localized and situated processes through which evidence is presented, and the truth of a claim is observed or inferred. The great problem that Husserl believed to be facing in Crisis emanated precisely from the fact that scientific practice’s methodological, procedural or technological dimension has increasingly replaced the regime of intuition, at least since the Renaissance. The phenomenology of sciences is an attempt (to say the least, controversial) to replace the methodological and technological regimes defining the localized epistemic processes and practices of producing evidence with the pre-epistemic structure of subjective self-intuition. However, not even the realm of formal and mathematical truths could be understood apart from its intrinsically technological development.15 Consciousness does not apprehend the “ideality of meaning” without first obeying the system of rules that sustain the production or reproduction of this “ideality.”

3.2 The Knowing Subject

The “knowing subject” has no priority as a key verifying source for understanding the production of evidence. The subject’s epistemic function depends on how much it succeeds in adjusting to the functioning and normativity of verification systems, i.e. systems that produce evidence. The current increasing automation of processes for data production, data analysis and data modelling only stress this secondarity of the knowing subject. The knowing subject participates in the production of knowledge to the extent that it reduces or nullifies its self-certain, self-ensured, self-given initiative. So external is the knowing subject to the systems that produce evidence, and so pervasive are these systems in our world, that we seem compelled to infer that there is no subjective experiencing that is not a priori mediated by objectification. As Nancy, and later Francisco Varela, proposed both in poignant and compelling testimonies about their condition of organ transplant patients, we are currently undergoing a profound cultural mutation in which it has become increasingly clear that all experiencing is constituted by the mediation of techno-scientific objectification.16

The knowing subject does not access a self-evident reality without this access being enabled through the (technical, situated) reflection of evidence. The reflection of evidence conditions the presentation of reality and the subject’s “access” to reality. A fundamental passivity constitutes the knowing subject. This passivity does not make a simple receiver, a “white paper” (although the metaphor of the “white paper” also points to the infrastructure that actively condition and enable the “inscription” of reality, for instance the two-dimensionality and the chromatic homogeneity we attribute to it). Using another metaphor for subjective passivity, we could say that the knowing subject is a sort of “hostage of reality,” a hostage of the operations that constitute reality’s presentation. The subject knows insofar as it submits to the operations yielding the “relation to itself” of reality’s presentation. The subject “looks” at reality insofar as reality itself teaches, permits, or compels the subject to look at it. It is not so much the subject that looks at reality – a supposedly “self-evident” reality – as the reality that positions the subject, following this mode of “relation to itself” of reality’s presentation that we call “looking.”

Evidence constitutes a very peculiar type of mediation. The knowing subject cannot distance itself from it. Evidence is not an instrument from which the knowing subject can detach itself or the use of which it can suspend, analyze and redesign at will. Evidence is a blind spot of the knowing subject. The knowing subject would need to “look” at the “look” it itself has upon reality to analyze or redesign this “look.” But it cannot do that. It would need to suspend the relation with reality and with itself as a knowing subject and yet to maintain the capacity to look at reality and to look the look the subject has on reality. The subject would need to suspend the relation with reality and with itself and yet establish a relation with reality and with itself. I see this contradiction as difficult to resolve by means of the speculative alchemy of phrases such as “relation without relation.” Either the blind spot sustains the subject’s relation to reality and to itself, or the knowing subject has simply no access to reality, nor to itself, and reality does not appear in any sense of the expression. If reality appears and the subject accesses it, this is because the blind appearing of reality prescribes this access in the “relation to itself” of presentation. The subject is a term solicited by that relation. In Nancy’s words:

Evidence always comprises a blind spot within its very obviousness: in this way it leans on the eye. The “blind spot” does not deprive the eye of its sight: on the contrary, it makes an opening for a gaze and it presses upon it to look.17

This passage is from Nancy’s study of Abbas Kiarostami’s work, The Evidence of Film. This book studies how the filming technique posits “the axiomatics of a way of looking.”18 It is less about the real than about the donation of the real through the “way of looking” at it. It is, then, about the filmmaker’s gaze, not about what is supposedly given independently of this gaze. The filmmaker’s gaze is precisely the “way of looking” with which the spectator tunes in for the real to take place.

In the cinematic box-gaze (dans la boîte-regard du cinéma), the gaze no longer faces a representation or a spectacle from the outset, but first (and yet without suppressing the spectacle) it fits into a way of looking: the filmmaker’s.19

The filmmaker’s gaze is much more than, say, a personal touch, a way of seeing the world, which we may see differently. It is not a point of view among other points of view or a point of view that we may add to a pluralistic view on the world. The filmmaker’s gaze entails injunction, prescription. We see nothing of what a filmmaker shows if we do not adjust to how their gaze is organized in order to show us something. The result, i.e., what we see, is not the object we think represented on the screen but the gaze that puts it there, that presents it, that allows us to see it, contrast it, appreciate it, and go through it with our senses, because it is the object itself (the object that is shown to us) that relates to the conditions or circumstances that the filmmaker’s techne arranges to present it. The filmmaker’s gaze reveals a property of all gaze in general: nothing shows to uninformed, unconstructed contemplation. “Evidence evades contemplation, the shot’s fetishism,” writes García-Düttmann.20 The filmmaker’s gaze presents the world, and the chance and legitimacy of this presentation are coextensive with the force with which the filmmaker’s gaze constructs what it shows. The force with which that, what the filmmaker’s gaze shows, relates to its own construction. It is not a possible construction of some real “in itself” (either already given or to be produced), a real to which we could have access from our own and independent gaze. There is no way to bypass what is shown to us. It leaves indelible traces. Any re-affirmative gaze or any alternative gaze will be installed in continuity and contiguity with the filmmaker’s gaze. It is evidence, and evidence cannot be ignored. It can be discarded and invalidated or strengthened and reconfirmed, but it cannot be ignored. The evidence of film is “evidence” because everything that the film shows also shows the “relation to itself” of reality in its being shown to us. It shows not the essence or the truth of presentation, but the truth as presentation,21 as the presentation that occurs or is occurring before the eyes of the spectator or with the eyes of the spectator and from which the spectator could never abstract.

The cut prunes the look, trims its borders and its point, lightens its sharpness. When the filmmaker frames in his viewfinder a space with things in it – the hill, the road, a heap of stones, reflected leaves, the side of a truck, rubble, concrete, pipes, the misty or powdery distance, hot and heavy harvests – he grips what is indistinct, wide and confused and blended, to make it distinct, to shrink and harden it, to make it look real. He works so that the eye has to deal with a fissured wall and the fissure in turn goes right through the eye, with dust rising on the dirt roads – and the dust affects our vision.22

3.3 Evidence Enriched

Clarity and distinction are properties of things’s (empirical or conceptual) contours. The contour of a thing distinguishes it for what it is and distinguishes it from what it is not, from a background, the environment or other things. “Something is seen distinctly from far away because it detaches itself, it separates.”23 But the environment, the background or other things are not amorphous no-things or things that disappear behind the appearing of the thing because they lack contours. An amorphous background is what it is if, and only if, it shares the contours of things that are seen distinctly and turns these contours into its own. The background is that which sets apart or withdraws, not “behind” the thing that appears, but at its confines. The background is adjacent to things. Adjacency is what makes the appearing of both the background and the thing. The thing appears if it draws the background contours that with-draws the contours of the thing. The appearing

is the necessary rhythmic discreteness of a cut or a cutting out of appearing. Not the cutting out that lifts up a figure against a ground, but the cut of a form inasmuch as a form is a ground that withdraws, that removes or ex-poses itself of itself, different from itself as ground.24

If the thing were to cease to refer to what it is not or to the other that disappears along with its appearing, its contours would be lost and with them all chance to appear. To be “itself,” to present itself clearly and distinctly, means to draw the contours that separate it from what the thing is not. It means that what the thing is not is nevertheless inscribed in it, appears in it, de-fines it or de-limits it. To quote again Alexander García Düttmann, “the evident thing (…) refers to itself by referring to the other.”25 Things appear clearly and distinctly insofar as they draw the contours of their co-appearing. In the confines of co-appearing, “the world is simply patent,”26 patent not as an object given presently to a subject, but patent in the dynamics of its dis-appearing.

This entails several consequences for the conceptualization of evidence. Clear and distinct evidence is never a self-evident, total or definite appearing that would self-delimit independently or be absolved from a reference to the co-appearing of the other. Evidence is never simpliciter. It needs to be referred to what it is not, what it lacks, what it needs, or what it might be to be identified and assessed as evidence. Language assimilates this idea when we qualify evidence, for example, as “available,” “preliminary,” “recent,” “substantial,” “compelling,” etc. We also classify evidence as experimental, statistical, documentary, historical, anecdotal, etc., assuming that there are different “types” of evidence. All these qualifications assume that evidence is never separated or abstracted from the context in which it is given, which is the context that provides its meaning and determines the verifying force it possesses as evidence. It is always necessary to contextualize evidence, delimit it and contrast it to other available evidence, to knowledge about the origin of available evidence, or to the expectations we have about its verifying power, etc. But not only we qualify evidence. We also quantify it. Even if we say it in the singular, the word evidence often refers to things in the plural. It refers to an “amount” of things (of “data”) or sets of things. And the number or quantity matters. One bit of evidence is not the same as many bits. Evidence can or should be added, increased, accumulated, etc. And if quantity matters, then so does diversity: the convergence or non-convergence of evidence produced by different methods, techniques, disciplines, communities, in different moments and different localities. Evidence constitutes a corpus in progress, and however large and sophisticated a corpus of evidence may be, it will always be limited. It will always relate to its own definitory but transient de-limitation.

Evidence is not self-evident. We always need additional information about evidence, for evidence to be recognized and used as such. We need evidence about evidence: namely, information about the circumstances of evidence’s de-limitation. How could we determine the usefulness and verifying force of evidence if we could not determine its provenance or if we lacked information about the context, the instruments, the technologies, and the methods by which it was collected, analyzed or modelled? Evidence is nothing in itself, abstracted from these circumstances. Evidence is epistemically, phenomenologically and ontologically laden by these circumstances.

Evidence is not self-evident, and we always need to make it evident. “Evidence is something that needs always be established. We must make it evident.”27 When we test the truth of the claim: “it’s cloudy” through an observation (to look out the window), we need specific details about the circumstances of this observation. For example, it is important to know whether I am not wearing my sunglasses, whether the crystal of my window is reasonably clean, the estimated position of the sun, etc. What verifies the claim is not the gray that I see but the whole process eventually resulting in the gray’s observation. It is this observation process taken as a whole, with its protocols and peculiarities, that reveals whether that which results from this process, that which manifests itself in this process (the gray or any other sign of a cloudy day, such as a lack of shadows on the ground), confirms or not the state of things described in my claim. The gray or the lack of shadows do not constitute “in themselves” signals of clouds covering the sky. They are such signals if, and only if, they refer to the observation process from which data are collected. Only to the extent that the presentation is in this way “related to itself” can it confirm or disconfirm a claim and reveal, through its very presentation, the truth or falsity of a claim.

Similarly, when I test the truth of the claim: “19 is a prime number” by performing the division of 19, I need to know whether the algorithm employed in the division operationalizes the integer definition. Only then does the result (namely: the division of 19 by 2, 3, 5 and 7 forces me to add decimals to the right, after a point or comma) constitute more than just asemic scribbles on a paper and does it reveal, by its very having come to light (the execution of the division algorithm), the truth or falsity of the claim. By presenting the circumstances of its presentation, evidence makes the truth of the claim, it veri-fies the claim.

In presenting evidence, I need to present information about the process by which I produced, collected, modelled, or analyzed the evidence. Evidence does not properly function as evidence until it is supplemented, “enriched” with that information.28 That information is the “presentation” to which evidence refers when it “presents a presentation,” when the presentation “relates” the presentation “to itself” and reveals a state of affairs. It is the production of evidence – evidence that evidences the process of its production – that entails the verifying force of claims about a state of affairs. The veri-fication of claims rests on the veri-fication of evidence. “Evidence” is not “self-eviden” but “meta-evident.” Evidence synthesizes the circle of the permanent production of itself. In Nancy’s words, “the given must be given again: it must be received and recreated to be what it is.”29

4 Producing the Unknown

The production of evidence is not a process that we may simply equate to craft or technology. In a technological or craft process, we implement a productive process that is generally already known and wish to reach a result that also is already known. Instead, in producing evidence we generally produce something that we do not know. Otherwise, installing and executing a process to produce evidence would be pointless. We produce evidence insofar as we ignore something or want to answer a question or test a claim. We need evidence to establish a truth, “to make” it evident, because it is not yet a truth, and it is not yet evident.

The question I ask, or the claim that I wish to test, provides parameters with which I will eventually evaluate whether my evidence is relevant and reliable to decide the answer to the question or the claim’s truth-value. It also determines the design of the processes through which I intend to produce new or additional evidence. New evidence will answer a question or establish a claim’s truth if, and only if, it speaks to the question I ask and the claim I want to test. Doesn’t the process of producing evidence seem then to resemble the process of producing something already known, as occurs in technology or craft? Suppose I seem to notice that the jasmine in my garden bloom earlier each year and I want to find out whether this is an anomaly of the weather or my garden. Then I can ask friends who also have jasmines in their gardens to report when they have bloomed in recent years, or I can launch a survey of people who have jasmines, or I can look for records from previous years with relevant and reliable data on this particular. What I still don’t know seems thus to supply enough knowledge to guide the production of evidence. Shall we not then say that evidence seems determined in advance by its (unestablished) truth? A truth, or knowledge, that I may perhaps ignore but that enables the production and presentation of evidence nonetheless? Shall we not then say, using Kant’s language, that evidence is not a presentation “without a purpose” but a presentation “with” a purpose, a purpose that we simply ignore? A presentation that does not relate the presentation to itself but to the concept (unknown which one) that the presentation renders present or objective?

Not really. In producing evidence, we are not only interested in the “design” of the process and whether it allows us to anticipate the production of evidence-for something we want to know and whether the evidence produced will actually speak to our claims. The observation process needs to materialize in some concrete, functional infrastructure. For example, the transparency of the window glass allows me to see the color of the clouds without distortion, just as the homogeneous surface of my spreadsheet allows me to apply rules for digit ordering and combination. This infrastructure and its components have an operativity that is highly independent of the purpose for which I make it work (the glass of my window and the spreadsheet can be put to infinitely many other uses besides testing my claims about the weather or the number 19). The evidence that results from the observation process does not result merely from the design of that process but from the infrastructure that materializes it. As we saw previously, evidence is first and foremost evidence of the circumstances in which it is produced (see supra, 3.3). Before evidence be the evidence-of-something (something known or unknown), it is evidence of the process that produces it. Evidence of its own presentation. Evidence reliability does not depend on the purpose of the observation (at most, its relevance and use will depend on that purpose) but on how straightforward, transparent and complete is the presentation of the conditions of its presentation.

The productivity itself of the system that produces evidence guides, therefore, the processes of evidence production. Evidence is first and foremost a presentation not (or not only) of that which is verified or refuted by its presentation but of the productivity of the system that produces it and to which evidence unfailingly refers in its presentation. The more the evidence reveals the circumstances of its production or the more “enriched” it is with information about these circumstances,30 the more likely it will migrate and be iterated and used in different contexts, the more independent will be of the purpose for which the observation process was initially designed.31

It is not at all forced to say that the evidence presents not a determined purpose but a purposiveness in general, a purposiveness that lacks a definite purpose (a “purposiveness without a purpose,” to use the Kantian expression). Indeed evidence is never exhausted by the state of affairs it reports. Evidence presents an essential, definitory indeterminacy. This indeterminacy is, however, what gives to evidence its stature or dignity, its intrinsic standing or independence and self-validation. What verifying force would evidence have if evidence depended on the claims and concepts it supposedly tests through its presentation? Evidence is a presentation that “interrupts” or “cuts”32 its relation to its uses and to the purposes of its production, and its relation to the states of affairs it presents.

This interruption or cut occurs as soon as evidence relates its presentation to the circumstances of its production. And it is worth noting that these circumstances do not constitute a list with a definite extension. Not only because it would be vain to make an exhaustive catalogue of factors involved in an observation process (we usually identify and control only those factors that seem more relevant to our research questions or the claims we want to test) but also because the information about these circumstances is “enriched” in each report, in each iteration, in each reference we make to that information (observations accumulate, contradict each other, etc.). The context of the evidence production is “unsaturated,” to borrow an expression from Derrida.33 We never know evidence of what evidence can be evidence. Or, more precisely: the more we know about the circumstances of its production, the more we free evidence from reporting states of affairs, and the more it remains exposed or available to produce unknown knowledge about unknown states of affairs.

Nevertheless, as we all know, it is not the celebration of the unknown that we pursue when we produce evidence. What we pursue is the control of things, and certainties and justifications for our beliefs and decisions. This duality tensions us profoundly, insofar as there is no meaningful realm of life in which today we could do without the production of evidence. There is thus no realm in which we do not end up increasing, intensifying our exposition to the unknown.


Jean-Luc Nancy criticizing a manuscript where I claim that knowledge production constitutes the only type of production in which the end or result is unknown (personal communication, December 12th, 2017). A later version of my manuscript appeared in Juan Manuel Garrido, Producción de conocimiento (Santiago de Chile: Metales Pesados, 2018) and Juan Manuel Garrido, “Not the Universal, but the Unknown,” in Jean-Luc Nancy, The Fragile Skin of the World, trans. Cory Stockwell (Polity, 2021), 45–57.


Alexander García Düttmann, “L’évidence même,” in Sens en tous sens. Autour des travaux de Jean-Luc Nancy, ed. Francis Guibal and Jean-Clet Martin (Paris: Galilée, 2004), 143.


Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy, “Responsabilité – du sens à venir,” in Sens en tous sens. Autour des travaux de Jean-Luc Nancy, 167.


For the topic of concepts’ “philosophical chance” in Nancy’s philosophy, see Juan Manuel Garrido, Chances de la pensée – À partir de Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Galilée, 2011), 105–114.


Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Nancy, “Responsabilité – du sens à venir,” 167–168.


In chapter 5 of the sixth of the Logical Investigations, the model proposed by Husserl considers that a proposition is “true” if it is accompanied by the present intuition of a concordant state of affairs that fulfils both the proposition’s syntactical structure and the meaning it conveys; see Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, trans. J. N. Findlay (London: Routledge, 2001). In Formal and Transcendental Logic, verification corresponds to a process that makes subjectively distinct the intentional content of propositions and chains of propositions; see Edmund Husserl, Formal and Transcendental Logic, trans. David Cairns (Springer, 2012), §§ 16, 46, 58–61.


For details on this topic, see Klaus Held, Lebendige Gegenwart. Die Frage nach der Seinsweise des Transzendentalen Ich bei Edmund Husserl, Entwickelt am Leitfaden der Zeitproblematik (Springer, 1966), 49–59, 123–133.


Jacques Derrida, Speech and phenomena, and other essays on Husserl’s theory of signs, trans. with introduction, by David B. Allison, preface by Newton Garver (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973), 97–98.


Jacques Derrida, Heidegger: The Question of Being and History, trans. Geoffrey Bennington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 2, 141–142.


Ibid., 127.


See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press); Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, Iterationen (Lepizig: Merve, 2005), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, On Historicizing Epistemology: An Essay (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010), Juan Manuel Garrido, “The Dialecticity of Mathematical Concepts and the Problem of the Origin of Geometry: Cavaillès avec Derrida,” in CR: The New Centennial Review 15, 1 (2015):25–48, Juan Manuel Garrido, “From Ideality to Historicity, What Happens?: The Problem of the Origin of Geometry in the Formation of Derrida’s Early Conception of History,”” Philosophy Today 60 (2016): 949–973, Juan Manuel Garrido and Eduardo Molina, “Derrida’s Theory of Propositional Truth-valued Meaning,” forthcoming in Derrida Today.


Jean-Luc Nancy, Ego Sum: Corpus, Anima, Fabula, trans. Marie-Eve Morin (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016).


See, in particular, Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses, trans. Peggy Kamuff (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996) and Jean-Luc Nancy, The Evidence of Film. Abbas Kiarostami, trans. Christine Irizarry and Verena Andermatt Conley (Brussels: Yves Gevaert, 2001).


Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses, 34. The French is as follows: “La présentation de la présentation n’est pas une représentation: elle ne rapporte pas la présentation à un sujet pour lequel ou dans lequel elle aurait lieu. La présentation de la présentation la rapporte à elle-même. La patence est rapportée à elle-même – comme si l’on énonçait simplement: patet, ‘il est manifeste,’ ‘il est évident,’ non pas pour amorcer la réflexivité infinie ‘il est évident qu’il est évident,’ mais plutôt pour faire paraître, entendre, distinguer, sentir et toucher le “il sujet” de l’évidence.” For the French, see Jean-Luc-Nancy, Les Muses (Paris: Galilée, 1994), 62.


See above, note 11.


See Jean-Luc Nancy, L’intrus, nouvelle édition augmentée (Paris: Galilée, 2000–2017) and Francisco Varela, “Intimate distances: Fragments for a phenomenology of organ transplantation” in Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 (5–7), 2001:259–271.


Jean-Luc Nancy, The Evidence of Film, 12.


Ibid., 12.


Ibid., 16 (translation slightly modified).


Alex García Düttmann, “L’évidence même,” 148.


On this topic, see also Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Sublime Offering,” in A Finite Thinking, ed. by Simon Spark, trans. Jeffrey Librett (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 211–244.


Jean-Luc Nancy, The Evidence of Film, 42.




Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses, 31–32.


Alex García Düttmann, “L’évidence même,” 144.


Jean-Luc Nancy, The Muses, 33.


Alex García Düttmann, “L’évidence même,” 149.


For the idea of “enriched evidence” and associated discussions, see Nora Mills Boyd, “Evidence Enriched,” in Philosophy of Science 85 (3) 2018.


Jean-Luc Nancy, The Evidence of Film, 14.


See Nora Mills Boyd, “Evidence Enriched” and above section 3.3.


On this topic, see Sabina Leonelli and Nicolò Tempini (eds), Data Journeys in the Sciences (Springer Open, 2020).


See Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, translated by Geoffrey Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987) and Juan Manuel Garrido, Rosaria Caldarone, and Jean-Luc Nancy, “La tulipe, l’androgyne et le vulgaire. Sexe en Derrida,” in Rue Descartes 89 (2) 2016:158.


Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 45 45 0
Full Text Views 57 57 10
PDF Views & Downloads 100 100 6