The Death of God and the Meaning of Life

By Julian Young | Go to book overview

14

Derrida

Jacques Derrida, born in 1930 - like Camus, in Algeria - has had an enormous influence within the contemporary university, sometimes over philosophers but most decisively within literature departments. Extremely good-looking and media-savvy, he has become a 'star' even outside the university. His influence has not, however, been universally welcomed. In 1992 the proposal to offer him an honorary degree at Cambridge University (normally an entirely proforma affair) was vigorously and publicly opposed by a sizeable number of members of the University. By the end of this chapter it will be obvious how I think the members of the University should have voted.

I propose to discuss two themes. First, 'différance' (spelled with an 'a' instead of the 'e' usual in both French and English), something Derrida identifies as his greatest claim to importance in the history of philosophy, and then 'deconstruction', a term coined by Derrida that has since passed into general use and assumed a much wider and vaguer meaning than the meaning he himself intended.

* * *

The concept of différance, as Derrida acknowledges, grows out of the 'semiotics' (theory of signs) of Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). Its meaning consists in a number of claims Derrida makes about it which can be set out in the form of an extended series of inferences. I shall give numbers to the individual steps in this series.

(1) As Saussure shows, says Derrida, difference (with the usual 'e') is the condition of any sign's (word's) possessing meaning. The meaning of a word is not, as the 'classical' view holds, atomic, but is, rather, holistic. The meaning of a word is determined by its interaction with other meaningful words, by the role it plays in language as a whole. And, of course, to possess a distinctive meaning, the

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The Death of God and the Meaning of Life
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Before the Death of God 7
  • 1 - Plato 9
  • 2 - Kant and Christianity 21
  • 3 - Schopenhauer 29
  • 4 - Early Nietzsche 44
  • 5 - Hegel 57
  • 6 - Hegel (Continued), with a Postscript on Marx 71
  • Part II - After the Death of God 81
  • 7 - Later Nietzsche 83
  • 8 - Posthumous Nietzsche 97
  • 9 - Early Heidegger 107
  • 10 - Sartre 125
  • 11 - Sartre (Continued) 142
  • 12 - Camus 160
  • 13 - Foucault 173
  • 14 - Derrida 188
  • 15 - Later Heidegger 197
  • Further Reading 213
  • Notes 216
  • Index 233
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