Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Searle on (Foucault on) Derrida

John Searle, in an interview with Reason Magazine*:
With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure. Every time you say, "He says so and so," he always says, "You misunderstood me." But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that's not so easy. I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking French. And I said, "What the hell do you mean by that?" And he said, "He writes so obscurely you can't tell what he's saying, that's the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, 'You didn't understand me; you're an idiot.' That's the terrorism part." And I like that. So I wrote an article about Derrida. I asked Michel if it was OK if I quoted that passage, and he said yes.

Foucault was often lumped with Derrida. That's very unfair to Foucault. He was a different caliber of thinker altogether.
I'm not entirely sure how reliable or accurate this is, but I thought it was interesting, and kinda funny.

For a direct attack by Searle on Derrida, see this review by Searle of Culler's On Deconstruction here. (That link goes to a reprint; the original publication is behind a paywall.) This is presumably the article mentioned in the above quote, since Searle does, in fact, quote Foucault on this point within it. Here's a bit of it that I found interesting (at least in part because it is consonant with other reactions to skepticism I've read and found interesting):
I believe that Derrida's work, at least those portions I have read, is not just a series of muddles and gimmicks. There is in fact a large issue being addressed and a large mistake being made. The philosophical tradition that goes from Descartes to Husserl, and indeed a large part of the philosophical tradition that goes back to Plato, involves a search for foundations: metaphysically certain foundations of knowledge, foundations of language and meaning, foundations of mathematics, foundations of morality, etc.... Now, in the twentieth century, mostly under the influence of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, we have come to believe that this general search for these sorts of foundations is misguided. There aren't in the way classical metaphysicians supposed any foundations for ethics or knowledge.... Derrida correctly sees that there aren't any such foundations, but he then makes the mistake that marks him as a classical metaphysician. The real mistake of the classical metaphysician was not the belief that there were metaphysical foundations, but rather the belief that somehow or other such foundations were necessary, the belief that unless there are foundations something is lost or threatened or undermined or put in question. It is this belief that Derrida shares with the tradition he seeks to deconstruct. Derrida sees that the Husserlian project of a transcendental grounding for science, language, and common sense is a failure. But what he fails to see is that this doesn't threaten science, language, or common sense in the least. As Wittgenstein says, it leaves everything exactly as it is.

All this via a fruitless search for an online copy of Searle's "Reply to Derrida: Reiterating the Differences". Say what you will about Derrida, I really wish that Searle had given him permission to reprint that piece in his book Limited, Inc.

Update: Thanks to commentator Francis Jervis for providing this link to an online copy of Searle's Reply to Derrida."

* Why Reason Magazine, you ask? I dunno. But later in the interview Searle does discuss an article he wrote claiming that Hayek's Road to Serfdom as one of "the book of the century".) He says of Hayek:
It would be interesting for somebody to analyze in a more scholarly vein to what extent he was right: that there wasn't any halfway point of democratic socialism, that it would naturally collapse into various forms of oppression, that however well-intentioned the setting up of the socialist bureaucracy was, it would be bound to have calamitous effects.
Possibly such a survey might start out by studying the various democratic socialist countries of Europe, which tend to be roughly as free, prosperous, stable and happy as the U.S. Which means, unless I'm missing something (and of course maybe I am) that the answer to "what extent he was right" was not at all. (On this point, see also this actual economist.)


Francis Jervis said...

Ironically, I found this post five items below

while looking for Foucault's "Reply to Derrida"...

Stephen said...

Ah, thanks. I never had found that. Glad I'll get to read it!)