Philosophy and Its Relation to Other Disciplines in Derrida’s Writings on Education

By Haddad, Samir | Philosophy Today, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

Philosophy and Its Relation to Other Disciplines in Derrida’s Writings on Education


Haddad, Samir, Philosophy Today


Derrida's writings on education, most of which are gathered in Du droit a la philosophie, form a rich and multifaceted body of work.1 In these writings Derrida covers a wide range of topics related to the teaching of philosophy, including the appropriate age at which philosophy should be learned, the relation between philosophical teaching, educational institutions, and the State, the links between philosophy and national languages, the position of philosophy both within and outside the University, and the role of means-ends thinking in philosophical research, to name just a few. Those of us interested in education in philosophy thus have much to learn from this resource, and I would advocate strongly for a closer engagement with it than is currently the case.2

In this essay I pursue this engagement by following one thread of thinking in Derrida's education writings, namely his attempts to transform how philosophy is conceived, paying particular attention to the role played in this transformation by Derrida's rethinking of philosophy's relation to other disciplines. My task is complicated somewhat by the fact that philosophy has more than one referent in these writings. In texts related to Derrida's involvement in French education debates of the 1970s, "philosophy" refers for the most part to "philosophy in France" By contrast, in other texts, notably those associated with the College International de Philosophie, the term transcends this national boundary, signaling a broader European institution anchored in Kant. This duality means there is no single transformation of philosophy taking place in Derrida's work, and the content of these referents also poses challenges of translation for those, like myself, working in other institutional contexts, who still want to learn from what Derrida has to say. Nonetheless, these challenges are not insurmountable, and my wager is that Derrida's new understandings of philosophy, specifically as they developed through rethinking philosophy's relation to other modes of inquiry, can provide inspiration for our own attempts to defend and transform philosophical education.

One constant across Derrida's work is that philosophy is never spoken of as eternal or unchanging, as something that transcends time. Rather, philosophy for Derrida always appears in institutional forms-with "institution" understood broadly, covering practices, traditions, and organizational bodies-and among these forms, one to which he refers frequently is the institution of philosophy in France. Now to speak of this institution in the singular is to some extent misleading. Philosophy in France is constituted by multiple institutions, in multiple areas of society, containing multiple divisions. Philosophy is taught in the lycées, in the universities, and in the grandes écoles, and philosophical research is supported in many of these establishments, as well as at the College de France and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Philosophy also appears in the French public sphere at a level perhaps greater than in any other nation, with a presence across the media and a publishing industry that addresses a large public outside the academic world.

Nonetheless, this complex multiplicity is given some measure of coherence due to its being organized around a focal point, the philosophy class in the lycée. Philosophy has long been a central feature of the baccalauréat, and, even as its presence has been reduced over time, it remains a required course across the general and the technical streams of the certificate today. This presence in the lycée curriculum has important practical consequences for philosophy everywhere else in France. The fact that studying philosophy in the grandes écoles and universities might lead to a specific profession at the end-that of becoming a lycée philosophy professor-helps sustain enrollments in the subject. This in turn supports positions for those teaching in higher education. …

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