Derrida, Jacques (1930–2004)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DE010-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2006
Retrieved January 21, 2018, from

Article Summary

Jacques Derrida was a philosopher for whom nothing about the philosophical enterprise was to be taken for granted. Without ever repudiating philosophy or abandoning the ideal of philosophical rigour, he relentlessly challenged all seemingly settled philosophical practices. He did not believe that his questions could be adequately characterized as metaphilosophical, because he regarded the question ‘What is philosophy?’ as an eminently philosophical one and thus itself in need of scrutiny. To indicate the unique kind of engagement with the philosophical that he was after, Derrida introduced a number of essentially provisional terms, one of which was déconstruction, initially conceived as a French translation of the German word Destruktion which Heidegger had used in Sein und Zeit (Being and Time) to characterize his own project of ‘dismantling’ the history of Western metaphysics. In the USA, ‘deconstruction’ came to be associated with a style of literary criticism that was inspired by the work of Derrida but that often lacked its adherence, however uneasy, to the distinction between responsible and irresponsible ways of reading, thinking, and writing. During his lifetime, Derrida was frequently dismissed as a sophist by Anglo-American philosophy professors, whether because they assumed, without reading him, that he himself disregarded this distinction (when in fact he merely insisted on the philosopher’s perpetual responsibility to problematize it anew), or because they resisted the challenges that he posed to merely self-reassuring philosophical practices. Those who appreciated the care and rigour that Derrida brought to bear on philosophical texts and institutions took deconstruction to be the most promising (if not exactly legitimate, since not self-legitimating) offspring of the Kantian critical project.

    Citing this article:
    Cutrofello, Andrew. Derrida, Jacques (1930–2004), 2006, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DE010-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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