Derrida: The Philosopher who says Nothing?
Derrida has acquired the reputation among many of the philosopher who has nothing to say. This suggestion is common place among his critics. However, a lot of Derrida fans are complicit with this position. They don’t want to attribute anything as simple as philosophical theses to Derrida; that would betray the purity of Derrida’s textuality and style. Those people tend to appreciate Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger in a similar way.
Semantic Contextualism, Holism, and Indeterminacy
It is correct to say that in Derrida the argument, the theses, the claims can never be completely isolated and abstracted from the precise movement of the text. However, it is also true that for Derrida there is no text outside context, and there is never a determinate context. Every text has many possible contexts, and these contexts themselves have many further contexts and so on. These fundamental aspects of Derrida’s philosophy should not be regarded as something isolated from a standard philosophical language of claims and theses. Derrida’s position can be clearly identified in very regular terms as Semantic Contextualism (meaning is determined by context), Semantic Holism (meaning of a linguistic item is always part of the meaning of the whole system of language), and Semantic Indeterminacy (meaning is never fully determined)
Derrida is a Semantic Contextualist, Holist and Indeterminist.
Demistifying Derrida’s Style
We have characterised Derrida’s philosophy as operating according to certain claims about semantics . Derrida tries to show these aspects of meaning in the way he writes. This is why style and textuality matters in Derrida. Not so mystified and strange after all is it.
A sample list of Derrida’s claims
- Speech is not superior to writing when interpreting the meaning of linguistic items.
- There is no philosophical position free of contradiction,
- There is no language free of semantic contradiction.
- Consciousness does not have a pure knowledge it its own contents.
- Language combines semantic abstraction with the physical of linguistic items.
- Every interpretation requires interpretation.
- Law rests on force in its application.
- Law assumes the universality of origin of law and its applicability, which is a universality it is instituting.
- Philosophy is part of educational and political institutions.
- There is no consistent demarcation possible between nature and culture.
- The idea of democracy assumes a perfection of identity between government and popular will which can never be achieved.
- There are no situations of perfect communication.
- Language has to understood with reference to non-ideational codes like DNA, computer programs and logical systems.
- Democracy assumes a friendship between all citizens which never be achieved.
- There is no pure socialist or anarchist community because individuals can never achieve perfect communication, or sympathy, with each other.
- There is a difference between the historical origin of scientific theories and their abstract origin as deduction.
- History of science is not the same thing as the justification of scientific theories.
- Pure Nominalism is assumed with regard to all meaning.
- The purity of Nominalism is always challenge by the universality assumed in the semantics of any linguistic item.
- All linguistic items are Peformative as well as Constative.
- There is no purely non-metaphorical moment in language.
- The idea of the Friend includes the idea of someone other than me and someone within myself.
- Hospitality includes the idea of the welcome of the stranger and the exclusion of the stranger as what is not me.