Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Comme or the Last Word

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Comme or the Last Word

Article excerpt

An Afterword to the Evans/Kates/Lawlor Debate and Correspondence July, 1996 Joshua Kates

At the end of these encounters it is customary to take stock of the situation, to give an account of where things have ended up. Recently the protocol for this has become more complicated. To be sure, it is still usual to summarize areas of agreement. disagreement, conclusions reached, etc. These valedictory gestures continue-in conformity with a version of philosophy in which its own limits and project are not in question. Another approach recently has also taken hold. At the end of interchanges where genuine communication seems doubtful, it has become common to raise the problem of discussion or dialogue itself. A discussion having failed to take place, one interrogates the conditions ofthe interchange as such. And precisely because philosophy's assumptions (about the possibility of dialogue, debate, consensus) are here in doubt, this style of afterword tends to focus on the problem of reading: have the discussants read one another, have they read the texts upon which each purports to comment, what in general can be expected from such reading. I think above all of Derrida's well-known afterword to his debate with Searle (Afterword: Toward an Ethic of Discussion), but such instances could be multiplied.

Neither alternative appears suitable here, however. Certainly, it would be difficult to simply summarize what conclusions have been reached. Though everyone involved has proceeded in good faith, though Professor Evans initiated our correspondence precisely in order to find areas of agreement or minimally reach consensus on our differences, no one reading what is collected here would think this has been achieved. It is as if the parties from the first have moved in courses skewed to one another.

More narrowly, I fear I have always found Professor Evans' reading of Derrida unconvincing, and even his interpretation of Husserl sometimes hasty. In general, Professor Evans prefers doctrines to questions. He multiplies citations in the hope of constructing the edifice of an author's thought. He sometimes fails, however, to suffciently scrutinize any single brick. In my most recent paper appearing here, "The Problem of Bedeuten in Derrida and Husserl," I tried as best as I could to untangle and clarify one small yet decisive piece of this edifice. Though Professor Evans recognized the point at issue (and this I appreciate), he has simply multiplied his citations further. On my view, he continues not to recognize all the interpretive problems these pose-particularly those that concern Derrida.

I will come to Professor Lawlor in a moment. Though a superficial interpretation would put us in agreement, here too I think there are differences that do not allow for consensus.

In turn, the latter alternative is also not available. To question the possibility of our discussion, to focus on the protocols at issue-well, this is precisely where I began. From the initial review of Professor Evans' book, these questions, and perhaps these alone, have been the ones that interested me. All along I have wished to make reading a theme or what I would also call the pragmatic dimension of philosophical discourse. And this starting point, anticipating the limits of dialogue, may in part have accounted for these limits as well. If our discussion has been skewed, no common ground available, in part this may be because from the first these protocols have been in question.

Such questions, then, are what make final agreement even between Professor Lawlor and myself impossible. In his essay published here, "Distorting Phenomenology," Professor Lawlor claims that though Derrida's reading may be a distortion, this is legitimated by the philosophical problems that Derrida manages to raise. Surely, there is some irony in Lawlor's statement. Yet his essay has gone to great trouble to anchor Derrida's early work in the existing discourse of French philosophy at that time. …

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