In many ways I see Derrida as following Heidegger. But he was more pessimistic than Heidegger about the prospects for good metaphysics. And he paid a kind of attention to language that Heidegger never did. One of the main things that he did was to distinguish between what he called “speech” and what he called “writing”. He meant these terms in a more or less technical way. By “speech” he meant, very roughly, the use of signs whose meanings were intrinsic to them, so that they couldn’t be misinterpreted. By “writing” he meant, again roughly, the use of signs whose meanings were extrinsic to them—that is to say, whose meanings depended on the signs’ association with other signs—so that they could be misinterpreted. And he rejected the idea there was any such thing as “speech”, so understood: there was only “writing”. This was significant, because he also argued that much traditional philosophy, including most traditional metaphysics, tacitly presupposed that there was such a thing as “speech”. This was part of the reason why he was more pessimistic than Heidegger about the prospects for good metaphysics: he was sceptical about how far metaphysics could thrive once it had unshackled itself from the traditional forms that it had taken. And this is all relevant to analytic metaphysicians too, because his arguments about the unacceptability of traditional metaphysics carry over to what they’re doing.
So yes, there is something to be said for analytic metaphysicians reading Derrida and confronting the challenge that he poses to their various enterprises. But his style and approach to philosophy are so different from theirs that it would be silly to pretend that they are liable to find his work anything other than alien. Of course I hope that my book may help in that respect, by casting some of his principal ideas in ways that analytic philosophers will find more familiar and more accessible.--Adrian Moore interviewed @3AM Magazine.[HT Leiterreports]
lt is extremely rare for analytical philosophers to say anything positive about Derrida. (In fact, I kind of enjoyed the scandal it caused me to be doing so [recall here, here, and here].)* It is even more unusual to claim that Derrida may well be relevant to analytic metaphysicians in particular. So, I have decided to read Moore's book because of the interview (so more about that not before long).
In the passage quoted above, Moore (Oxford) hints at a substantive reason for analytic philosophers to take an interest: that Derrida undermines (shall we say) the ground beneath the projects analytic metaphysicians pursue. Somewhat strikingly, Moore claims that Derrida has arguments. (This is often denied.) As presented, Derrida is a thoroughgoing semantic holist, who, thereby, makes impossible certain (presumably realist/non-idealist) metaphysical projects. Right now such holism is a non-starter. (One can say, not entirely unfairly, that it was only through the rejection of Quine's holism that contemporary metaphysics got off the ground.) But presumably Moore thinks that Derrida's version of holism is especially insightful and challenging. Moore does not say what Derrida's arguments are that can pull the analytical metaphysian back from her project.
In the passage, Moore allows that Derrida's style is "alien" to the contemporary analytical metaphysician. One may think, in fact, that Moore believes that for those trained in analytical idiom, Derrida is simply unintelligible because Derrida's idiom is incommensurable (in the Kuhnian sense, say) with ours. But a moment's reflection reveals that there is something peculiar about Moore's stance here (analogous to Kuhn's ability to discuss incommensurable scientific paradigms); for Moore clearly believes that he can read and understand Derrida. (Let's stipulate he can.) And Moore is, of course, a trained analytic metaphysician (although by no means a kneejerk realist). So, Moore implies, strongly, that despite alien first impression there is no fundamental incommensurability between an analytical philosopher and Derrida's writing. (His comprehension of Derrida is a proof of real possibility.)
As an aside, if there is no fundamental incommensurability between an analytical philosopher and Derrida's writing, then many analytical philosophers (who often claim that Derrida is bullshit) are just intellectually lazy or dishonest in their encounters with Derrida.
Be that as it may, Moore does not claim that Derrida's arguments would successfully undermine the project of the analytic metaphysian. They are said only to "challenge" them. One may wonder what the benefit of such relevance is. Moore could be thinking that such a challenge could lead to more subtle reflections on the (semantic, conceptual) foundations of the metaphysician's enterprise. It would be amusing (in a cunning of history sense) if grappling with Derrida created more stable foundations for analytical metaphysics.
Such a result would be unintended by Derrida because Derrida's skepticism about metaphysics is not just, as it were, epistemological; it has a Socratic and political or ethical element. Moore hints at the Socratic element in a touching passage:
As analytic philosophy has developed, and as it has become more and more assured, it has also become, in certain respects, less and less self-conscious. The concern with sense has never diminished. But there is less and less concern with what it is for us to make sense. For the most part, contemporary metaphysicians are more interested in just getting on with the business of making it than agonizing about what it takes for us to do so! Dummett, in that respect, can appear alien.
It is notable that the description of Dummett's philosophy is uncannily similar to the description of Derrida. They are both treated as alien. (I once wrote a whole blog post about asking when Wittgenstein had become a continental philosopher; it had not crossed my mind to ask the same about Dummett.) I have to admit that I used to find the word (and concept) 'alien' innocent--I thought of Martians who could fly away at will. But in our day and age, I think of unwelcome refugees when I hear 'alien.'
The main point of this passage is a decline and fall theme: the loss of self-consciousness. (I leave aside the rather harsh comment on the contemporary metaphysician's interest.) In fact, one may see Moore as saying that the point of an encounter with Derrida is that it would lead to a recovery of self-consciousness.
In the interview Moore does not explain the nature or point of such self-consciousness. And one may well wonder if it prevents one from getting on with the business of making it then is it really worth the agonizing, opportunity costs?
In the interview (which is admittedly brief, so this is not a complaint), Moore says nothing about Derrida's let's call it ethical or practical reasons for cautioning (recall) agains metaphysics, especially its and philosophy's more general tendency to deploy authoritative speech and, thereby, slide into authoritarian practices. That is, in our jargon, Derrida worries about inductive risk (or, as we learn from Spivak via Dotson, epistemic violence). So understood Derrida's playful, even comic style is, in fact, an instance of responsible speech a topic that should not be alien to analytical philosophers at all (recall).**