8 Introduction

How did they administer their respective linguistic ages. Ours is an inquiry concerning historical sites that points to a topological question: From where does a representation promoted to the level of fantasm speak to us?

This investigation is not new. Common opinion among historians of philosophy holds that the Greeks trusted Nature (the World) in all things, the medievals God, and the moderns the Subject (Man). This opinion corresponds perfectly with the proceedings quite unanimously instituted against metaphysics, proceedings in which metaphysics is first gathered into one bloc, and then, through a somewhat curious after effect, is in turn accused of reification. These three Great Beings—the World, God, and Man—are distributed by common opinion along history until, with a certain critical turn in modern philosophy, they find themselves emptied of their sub stance and translated into simple ideas obsessing our reason (unless one were to say the Copernican turn does not exactly inaugurate the reign of Man). Opinion has a didactic utility. It serves as a reminder of the first critical requirement: to desubstantialize the contents of thought! Nev er the less, in this it continues to pursue a rhetorical strategy. Take for instance the equally plausible per mutations in the epochal assignment of these Beings. It is just as reasonable, or unreasonable, to speak of a Greek theocentrism, of a medieval anthropocentrism and a modern cosmocentrism. . . . Let us call these Great Beings supreme referents and leave them in the care of pro fes sion al persuaders.

The history of hegemonic fantasms is the history of ultimate referents, which are, quite literally, “nothing,” non-res. A “supreme” standard, in political economy, would be a standard commodity (gold, oil); an “ultimate” standard would be the variable relation of goods to a factor that is itself variable. A fantasmic economy is a result of the variable relations among beings, large or small, to a referent that is itself diachronically variable; a relational referent that does not appear among beings. The doctrine of principles treats of these ultimate authorities.

An ultimate function is relevant in principle whenever it allows all that we are able to say, do, and know to be ranged under it. The question will be how such positings fall within the province of the ultimate functions in ordinary experience.

In order to grasp how philosophy came to involve itself with such sovereign non-beings, how it came to feed on them and feed the ages with them, it is useful to remember what has in deed been—and continues to be in certain circles—the public function of philosophy ever since the Greeks entered it on their public rolls.11

“We are the civil servants of humanity,” Husserl said.12 That is an altogether bureaucratized version of the philosopher-king (even though it involved, for Husserl himself, the most rigorous public probity in safeguarding the originary institution of Western rationality). Whether seated in court or in his office, what is expected of a master thinker? What does he expect of himself? What he expects are directive ideas, thus a certain kind of government. One can put it this way: He occupies the position of an expert. And he posits. What? Foundations. Be he monarchic or bureaucratic, his duties have remained technical. His techné, his “know-how,” pertains to the deep moorings of private phenomena within, and public phenomena without. The foundation he secures must guarantee certainty in knowledge and rectitude in acting, and to life, perhaps both stability and a meaning. One sees that his job description