Marcelo Dascal, Tel Aviv University
Philosophy, by representing the invisible chains which bind together all these disjointed objects, endeavours to introduce order into this chaos of jarring and discordant appearances, to allay this tumult of the imagination, and to restore it ... to that tone of tranquility and composure, which is both most agreeable in itself, and most suitable to its nature.
Kant considered it a scandal that metaphysics, unlike physics and mathematics, remained a controversy-ridden battleground, where no position was able to overcome once and forever its opponents. Although he did not purport to solve philosophical controversies, he believed he had found a way to both sidestep and take advantagte of them. If you look at them – he suggested – as resulting from attempts to apply pure reason to issues that lie beyond its capacity, then you will resist the temptation to decide philosophical controversies; at the same time, you will learn from them something about the limitations and powers of pure reason.
Unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – controversies did not disappear from philosophy after Kant’s ingenious suggestion. This suggests that they may be even more intimately connected to the practice and content of philosophy than envisaged by Kant. Perhaps they are not only endemic and propedeutic, as he argued, but also necessary for the formation, evolution, and evaluation of philosophical theories, and thereby for the progress (whatever it may be) of philosophical knowledge (whatever it may be). If this is the case, then whatever rationality there is in the progress of philosophical knowledge is not the rationality of pure reason, but rather of reason as operative in philosophical controversies. The study of their nature and role in the history of philosophy would then be extremely significant. Provided, of course, such a study proceeds not by way of imposing pre-ordained normative schemata on the historical debates, but rather by trying to be as descriptive as possible.
In this spirit, I have undertaken to study actual philosophical debates, namely communicative exchanges between at least two opponents, addressing each other and replying to each other directly, orally or in writing, publicly or privately. My studies so far have led to a general typology of such debates, which includes three main kinds, which I call discussions, disputes, and controversies (in a strict sense). Each of these kinds of debate is characterized by preference for certain moves, modes of opening and closure, depth and breadth of issues open to debate, etc. I will present this typology and illustrate it through its application to a debate across the analytic-continental divide. This, I believe, will give us some “empirical" insight on the nature and extent of the alleged gap that constitutes such a divide.
“Whether the treatment of such knowledge as lies within the province of reason does or does not follow the secure path of a science, is easily to be determined from the outcome" (B,vii) – this is the opening sentence of the Preface to the second edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. The persistence of dispute between different “schools", the lack of agreement not only about their theses but also about the procedures and methods to be followed in order to reach the common goal – Kant says – are one of the outcomes that indicate clearly that a field of studies “does not follow the secure path of a science". According to this criterion, metaphysics, which he describes as a “battlefield of endless controversies" (A, vii), is rightly despised. Compared to the sciences which have been able to rise above endless controversies, it remains “a merely random groping" (B, vii). According to Kant, this situation is intolerable – a real scandal – for it has a pernicious influence on science, ethics and religion. One must face the problem raised by controversies in metaphysics and solve it. “There has always existed in the world, and there always will continue to exist, some kind of metaphysics, and with it the dialectic that is natural to pure reason. It is, therefore, the first and most important task of philosophy to deprive metaphysics, once and for all, of its injurious influence, by attacking its errors at their very source".
In spite of Kan’t efforts, philosophical disputes have continued after him with the same vigor and virulence as before, as if the “natural dialectic" was stronger than Kant had imagined and the “source of errors" could not be eliminated once and for all. But if controversy has such a constant and major presence throughout the history of philosophy maybe it’s not only the sign of a lack of maturity of a prescientific random groping, but rather an essential component of philosophical activity? After all, isn’t it in controversy that critical activity – which Kant himself considered to be the very essence of philosophizing – is exercised? Could one imagine a golden age where philosophy would achieve completion through full agreement, so that controversy would become irrelevant?
Even if such a golden age is imaginable and desirable, it is clear that we have not yet reached it, as the “divide" we are addressing in this conference demonstrates. Today, as in the past, and probably also in the future, the study of controversies is essential both for the practice of philosophy and for its historiography.
An adequate teaching of philosophy must provide the apprentices with the necessary tools for evaluating the philosophical combats that take place in front of them, as well as for fighting their own critical battles.
An adequate historiography of philosophy cannot satisfy itself with reporting doctrines, while ignoring the debates they raise and those that have engendered them. One cannot reconstruct the meaning of philosophical texts on the basis of their internal structure alone, since the polemical context to which every philosophical text belongs, the audience to which it is addressed, the “problem situation" it faces, are essential to determining its meaning. On the one hand, objections and criticisms force philosophers to specify and make more precise what was implicit or imprecise in their formulations; they also force them to modify, if need there be, their theses, in order to overcome such objections. On the other hand, these very objections connect philosophical doctrines to the social and intellectual context of their time. They do so by revealing what can be presupposed without justification and what must be laboriously justified, as well as the dangerous implications that must be avoided by all means and the political and intellectual interests which are operative at any given time.
Furthermore, the study of philosophical controversies is essential for the study of key philosophical and metaphilosophical topics, such as the nature of philosophical method and of philosophical argumentation, as well as the very notion of rationality – at least as showed, rather than said, in philosophical work. For it is in the actual practice of polemics that one can discover the nature and limits of rationality as it is put into action (rather than idealized): it is this practice that reveals what counts at the time as a proof, as a valid criticism, as a relevant argument, as an intelligible formulation, and as what is taken for granted as “knowledge".
Kant himself tried to exploit metaphysical controversies in order to pursue the goals of his transcendental philosophy. For this purpose he conceives of an entirely neutral judge, capable of eliminating what is circumstantial in every debate in order to keep only what is essential. But this judge’s task is not to decide which of the two opposing positions is correct. To try to do so would be to fall prey to the illusion consisting in the belief that reason possesses the means to decide in favor of one or another of two conflicting “dogmatic" theses. In order to escape this illusion, one should rather lift oneself above metaphysical controversies. By understanding their source and nature one will be abto recognize in them a positive function in the constitution of philosophical knowledge. This is why “if thetic be the name of any body of dogmatic doctrines, antithetic maybe taken as meaning, not dogmatic assertions of the oppositions, but the conflict of the doctrines of the seemingly dogmatic knowledge (thesis cum antithesis) in which no one assertion can establish superiority over another" (A, 420). The aim of a transcendental antithetic is not the solution of this conflict, which manifests itself in oppositions between propositions which “can neither hope for confirmation in experience nor fear refutation by it", each of them being not only in itself free from contradiction, but even claiming to find “conditions of its necessity in the very nature of reason – only that, unfortunately, the assertion of the opposite has, on its side, grounds that are just as valid and necessary" (B, 449). Its aim is the study of the deep sources of such a conflict or “antinomy of reason", which in turn can reveal something about the nature and limitations of reason itself.
For Kant, the value of the study of metaphysical controversies lies in the fact that it provides the only possible touchstone for exploring the limits of the use of pure reason. This leads to the knowledge of pure reason as well as to the avoidance of the mistakes due to the transgression of its limits. In order to achieve these goals, this study must be conducted by means of a reflection that abstracts away from all concrete aspects of philosophical controversies and schematizes them to the extreme. Furthermore, it gives up in advance any hope of resolving such controversies, hoping at most to dissolve them thanks to its propedeutic or therapeutic function.
With all due respect I beg to disagree with Kant. Instead of applying to philosophical controversies an a priori schema, an a priori function, and an a priori role vis-a-vis rationality – all of which overlook the careful study of actual controversies – I would rather pursue the opposite route. That is to say, I would draw conclusions about the organization, recurrence, and function, as well as about the rationality or irrationality of controversies, on the grounds of an “empirical" study of the variety of their actual manifestations.1 In this paper, I will illustrate this approach by applying it to a polemical exchange that might be taken as typical of “the analytic-continental divide". For this purpose, I will make use of an analysis of polemical exchanges I have been developing in recent years (see Dascal 1990a, 1995, 1998).
Controversies, discussions, and disputes
Philosophical controversies belong to the family of discursive dialogical polemical phenomena. There is no controversy, strictly speaking, without there being at least two persons who employ language to address each other, in a confrontation of opinions, arguments, theories, and so forth. As a truly polemical and dialogical activity, controversy always involves the unexpected. The exercise of the right to contest a thinker’s views by a live, real, and active (i.e., neither dead, nor imaginary, nor silent) opponent leads to unpredictable results. The presence of the unexpected, ensured by the free activity of a living and capable opponent is, to my mind, essential to explain the controversy’s “openness" and its capacity to yield radical innovations. For this to be possible, each contender must be able to exercise the right to contest not only the opponent's views but also the latter’s renderings (quotes, summaries, interpretations) of his [the former’s] positions. Since this right can be put to use either privately or publicly, either orally or in written form, either directly or indirectly (e.g., through intermediaries), all of these forms of confrontational interaction should be considered “polemical exchanges".
There are many “levels of organization of dialogue", many ways of distinguishing between these levels, and many ways of analyzing their structure. Polemical exchanges should be studied at all of this levels, of course. Here, I will focus on the “macro" level of organization that might be appropriately called “strategical".2 This level, which is akin to what Jacques (1991) calls “discursive strategies", has to do with the global pattern of a polemical exchange – its overall aims, its general thematic and hierarchical structure, its conceptualization by the contenders, and the corresponding assumptions about its “rules" (if any) and its mode of resolution. At this and other levels of organization, polemical exchanges share much with other forms of dialogue, but I will naturally focus on their peculiarities, which I will present in terms of ideal types.
In order to specify controversy's position within the large family of polemical dialogues, I propose to distinguish between three members of the subfamily to which controversies belong. I will call them ‘discussion’, ‘dispute’, and ‘controversy’. The main criteria for this typology are: the scope of the disagreement, the kind of content involved in it, the presumed means for solving the disagreement, and the ends pursued by the contenders. These differences belong to the “strategical" macro-level in so far as they refer primarily to the overall structure of the exchange, the assumption being that such a structure reflects (at least to some extent) the contenders’ planning and performing the “larger ... movements and operations" involved in the exchange.3
Viewed from point of view of their ends, discussions are basically concerned with establishing the truth, disputes with winning, and controversies with persuading the adversary and/or a competent audience to accept one’s position. In discussions, the opposition between the theses in conflict is mostly perceived as purely logical, in disputes as mostly “ideological" (i.e., attitudinal and evaluative), and in controversies as involving a broad range of divergences regarding the interpretation and relevance of facts, evaluations, attitudes, goals, and methods. Procedurally, we might say that discussions follow a “problem-solving" model, disputes a “contest" model, and controversies a “deliberative" model. A discussant seeks to apply decision-procedures that provide knock-down arguments proving the truth of her position or the falsity of her adversary’s position (which amounts to proving the truth of her position, on the presumption that tertium non datur); a disputant seeks to be acknowledged as the winner, regardless of whether his position is true or not; and a controversialist seeks to provide reasons for believing in the superiority of her position, even though such reasons do not conclusively prove it. Whereas a discussant is prepared to admit defeat if the adversary provides a knock-down argument against her position and a controversialist is prepared to acknowledge the weight of the opponent’s reasons, a disputant begins and ends the dispute (whatever its externally induced outcome) convinced he is right.
Actual polemical exchanges are rarely “pure" examples of one of these three types. One of the reasons for that is that the contenders’ ways of perceiving and conducting a given exchange need not be identical. For example, in the controversy about Newton’s account of whiteness as a mixture of the other colors,6 Newton’s attitude was to consider it as a discussion, by asking his opponents to perform cautiously and without mistakes the experiment upon which he had based his account, as a way of solving the problem and finding the truth: “For this is to be decided not by discourse, but by new tryal of the Experiment" (Cohen, 1978, 153); “But this, I conceive, is enough to enforce it, and so to decide the controversy" (ibid., p. 131); “There are yet other Circumstances [i.e., other experiments, M.D.], by which the Truth might have been decided" (ibid., p. 130). However, his opponents – especially Hooke and Huyghens – refuse to see in Newton’s experiment an experimentum crucis, and consider the debate more as a controversy, for they reject the assumptions underlying Newton’s hypothesis, and propose alternative hypotheses of their own, grounded on a different theoretical framework and supported by other experiments, as capable to explain Newton’s experimental results. Here is what Hooke says: “But, how certain soever I think myself of my hypothesis (which I did not take up without first trying some hundreds of experiments) yet I should be very glad to meet with one experimentum crucis from Mr. Newton, that should divorce me from it. But it is not that, which he so calls, will do the turn; for the same phaenomenon will be solved by my hypothesis, as well as by his, without any manner of difficulty or straining: nay, I will undertake to shew another hypothesis, differing from both his and mine, that shall do the same thing" (Cohen, 1978, 111).
Kant himself considered only the existence of the two extreme types, discussion and dispute – the one exemplified by physics and mathematics, the other by metaphysics. In his polemical practice, he tended to follow a pattern quite similar to Newton’s: those who did not accept his own decision procedures were ridiculed and treated as if they were engaged in a dispute, not in serious discussion. Similarly, contemporary epistemologists are mesmerized by the dichotomy in question, and in fact deny the very possibility of a tertium, namely “controversy". Thus, in Kuhn’s (1962) well-known schema, in periods of “normal science" disagreements between scientists are intra-paradigmatic, i.e., they arise against a background of shared decision procedures that regulate their “problem solving" activity. Such disagreements instantiate our “discussion" category. The inter-paradigmatic conflicts, characteristic of periods of “extraordinary science", on the other hand, are often depicted as typical “disputes", in so far as their conduct and resolution depends, ultimately, upon preferences, public relations, interests, and power, rather than upon rational persuasion. At the other extreme (as far as positions in the philosophy of science are concerned), a similar dichotomic tendency to exclude the possibility of controversies can be found in Popper’s (1981) attempt to sort out, in the polemics conducted by scientists involved in “scientific revolutions", between an “ideological" and a properly “scientific" component: the former clearly belongs to the category of “dispute", while the latter instantiates “discussion". Needless to say that, for Popper, only the latter is of any value in an account of the “growth of knowledge".
I am persuaded that the neglect of the category “controversy" as a third alternative, between the strict rule-based notion of rationality that characterizes “discussion" and the conception of “dispute" as governed by extra-rational factors, has been a major setback for the history of ideas and for epistemology, depriving these (and other) disciplines from the possibility of identifying and developing an alternative model of rationality. This is why I recommend this category for special attention and careful (empirical) study.7
Polemics across the “divide"
Let us now apply the framework introduced above to polemical exchanges between “analytic" and “continental" philosophers. By studying specific cases, rather than a general atmosphere of opposition and mutual denial, we should be able to proceed in a bottom-up way in order to determine the nature of the alleged “divide" between these two camps. In order to do so, I grant, a large sample of across-divide debates should be studied. Furthermore, the choice of case studies should be representative of the alleged divide, at least by involving opponents who are clearly recognized as belonging to the opposed camps. The truth of the matter is that it is not easy to find polemical exchanges (and especially “controversies") of this kind. This fact itself reveals something about the “divide". On the one hand, it shows that philosophers that align themselves with one camp shun debates with those of the other camp, perhaps due to a pervasive a priori mutual disqualification, which is not conducive to a careful study of each other’s texts – a prerequisite to engage in sustained polemics (even if it turns out to be a dispute). On the other hand, the search for such across-divide polemics reminds us pointedly of the non-monolithic character of both the “analytic" and the “continental" camps – especially of the latter, which is more a creation of the former than a philosophical movement or school on its own.
Consider for example the Rorty/Habermas debate, held in Warsaw in 1996 (cf. Niżnik and Sanders 1996). Is it a case of a debate across the analytic-continental “divide"? In a sense yes, because the issues debated – e.g., contextualism, relativism, historicism, objectivism, the role of language in philosophy, the nature of rationality and of philosophical inquiry – are recurrent topics in any characterization of that divide. Yet, the contenders are not clearly aligned along the lines of the divide, for each of them has concocted a special blend of “analytic" cum “continental" components in developing their philosophical positions. In fact, it is Rorty, the “ex-analytic" philosopher, that represents in this debate positions that are today considered typically “continental", although he does so in the name of the “American" philosophical tradition; whereas Habermas has gmany “analytic" elements onto the essentially Kantian basis of his philosophy.
Even if one takes a clearcut case of an across-divide debate, perhaps the clearest available case, upon inspection it reveals also the mixed nature of the “traditions" in confrontation. I am referring to the well-known debate between opponents (Searle and Derrida) who are usually taken to belong to each of the camps across the “divide". Yet, one might ask, how representative of “continental" philosophy is, say, Derrida’s deconstructive method or his whole way of philosophizing?;8 or, for that matter, to what extent Searle’s commitment to the foundational role of intentionality in the philosophy of mind, of language, and of action, as well as in social philosophy, is not quite similar – at least metaphysically – to that of Husserl and other phenomenologists? In fact, questions such as these underly the debate, and are sometimes evoked and thematized in it. In the piece that launched the debate, Derrida (1977a: 13) suggests an affinity between Austin and Nietzche, who is also said to have felt an affinity for “a vein of English thought". The opening sentence of Searle’s “Reply" (1977: 198) states that “it would be a mistake … to regard Derrida’s discussion of Austin as a confrontation between two prominent philosophical traditions", which immediately prompts the question of what is definitory of each tradition. Derrida (1988a) declares that he agrees “with the letter if not with the intention of this declaration", adding that he sometimes “felt closer to Austin than to a certain Continental tradition from which Searle, on the contrary, has inherited numerous gestures and a logic" (p. 130). Further elaborating upon this alleged “inversion of traditions", he goes on to suggest that this may be one reason for the apparent failure of communication in the debate:
“It is often because “Searle" ignores this tradition or pretends to take no account of it that he rests blindly imprisoned in it, repeating its most problematic gestures, falling short of the most elementary critical questions, not to mention the deconstructive ones. It is because in appearance at least “I" am more of a historian that “I" am a less passive, more attentive and more “deconstructive" heir of that so-called tradition. And hence … more foreign to that tradition. I put quotation marks around “Searle" and “I" to mark that beyond these indexes, I am aiming at tendencies, types, styles, or situations rather than a person (pp. 130-131)".
In his second contribution to the debate, Searle questions Derrida’s alleged mastery of the history of philosophy (or at least his use thereof), by claiming that his reading of the history of Western philosophy according to which “philosophers are roundly condemning writing, while privileging spoken language, is not grounded on an actual reading of the texts of the leading figures in the philosophical tradition", only three of which (Plato, Rousseau, and Husserl) he “discusses … in any detail" (Searle 1983a: 76). The truth is that Searle must be aware that Derrida (1977a) discusses in detail the views on writing and speech held by at least another major philosopher, namely Condillac.9
The difficulties in clearly identifying the contours of the “divide" and in sorting out precisely the “traditions" involved are, I submit, not accidental. They not only suggest the need for a much more nuanced “ontology of divides" (which Barry Smith is developing). They are also part and parcel of the debates through which this ontology is established and constantly modified. For the delimitation of such contours – i.e., of the ways of defining philosophical problems and of the ways of arguing about them – are central strategical moves in these debates, moves through which the contenders seek to obtain an advantageous position in the conduct of the debate. They are also moves that tend to highlight the differences, and thereby to sharpen the contenders’ self-awareness of their philosophical stand. In this sense, a theory of divides can only benefit from the empirical study of how such moves are performed in “across-divide" debates.
My purpose here, however, is not to argue for rigorous generalizations about the camps and the divide, but only to show the usefulness of my framework for a more nuanced conceptualization of this conference’s topic. Due to limitations of space and time, I will overlook methodological caution and focus on a single debate, whose analysis – I trust – will prove to be quite enlightening.
The Searle – Derrida debate
Pace Searle’s opening claim that Derrida’s discussion of Austin should not be regarded as “a confrontation between two prominent philosophical traditions" (1977: 198), it seems to me that the Searle – Derrida debate that follows that discussion is a prime example of the kind of confrontation that both stems from and contributes to entrenching the “divide" we are endeavoring to analyze in the present conference. Not only because Searle and Derrida are, respectively, prominent representatives of the “analytic" and “continental" camps. They have also developed these traditions along lines that reinforce, rather than reduce their opposition. Searle has raised the analytic requirement of a precise language to the status of a “principle of expressibility" (whatever can be thought can be expressed clearly and precisely); he has also privileged the role of “constitutive rules" in his account of how language functions; he employs and demands strictly logical arguments for supporting or refuting any philosophical thesis; and the aim he consistently pursues is the construction of philosophical theories. Derrida, on the other hand, fears the emasculation of thought that may result from the insistence on clarity and precision; he privileges metaphorical language, revels at playing with words, produces texts where associative and analogical links rather than deductive ones prevail, and is mostly concerned with deconstructing philosophical theories. Under these conditions, their confrontation is prima facie poised to be a dispute – and a rather virulent one. What is remarquable is that one can discern in it – as we shall see – characteristic features of an interesting philosophical controversy.
The primary text
A text by Derrida, first delivered as a lecture in 1971, published in French in 1972, and then in English (1977a), where he proposes a reading of Austin’s work on performatives based on his (Derrida’s) analysis of writing and communication, provokes a strong reply by Searle (1977). This is followed by an even stronger reply by Derrida (1977b). Later on, Searle (1983a) criticizes, in the New York Review of Books, “Derrida’s eccentric reading of the history of Western philosophy" as well as his “obscurantist terrorism", and Derrida (1988) closes the debate in an “Afterthought" where he raises questions about the “ethic of discussion".10
The debate is framed by the figure of “Austin": a quote from Austin serves as a motto for Derrida’s first text and Searle’s “Reply" begins with a reference to Derrida’s alleged misunderstandings of Austin. Althoguh in both texts Austin is discussed only later on, it is clear that his shadow looms large in triggering the debate and in inflaming it. The major initial issue will be how to interpret the significance of the infelicities and other kinds of failures that prevent the successful performance of speech acts. Austin mentioned that these “difficulties" should be understood in terms of a “general doctrine" of action, but stopped short of developing it. Derrida sees this as both a shortcoming and as an important hint regarding the constitutive role of such failures and other “marginal" phenomena in communication. Searle sees it as merely the application by Austin of a praiseworthy research strategy that treats the “marginal" only after providing an analysis of the “central".
Had the debate been conducted between philosophers sharing a philosophical orientation, it might turn out to be confined to a discussion, which could be adjudicated by appeal to their shared criteria of interpretation,evaluation, and problem-solving. Even in that case, the debate might develop into a controversy, for its topic touches upon the inherently controversial questions of philosophical method and of the ultimate meaning or the deep orientation of a philosophical oeuvre. Since, however, the contenders come from quite different – in fact, radically opposed – philosophical backgrounds, which share neither aims nor methods, the discussion pattern is practically ruled out. Furthermore, given the fact that Austin is customarily identified as a member of the analytic camp, the very attempt by the other camp to suggest an alternative reading of his work calls into question the analytic tradition’s “ownership" of Austin. In particular, it challenges Searle’s status as the acknowledged heir and developer of Austin’s insights.11 Therefore, this specific framing of the debate, in the light of these well known pieces of contextual information, reinforces the expectation that we are in for a dispute.
Derrida places his discussion of Austin within a further frame: a short introduction followed by a long opening section where he expounds some of the key themes of his thought and a short concluding section on the notion of “signature". This “sandwich" is designed to question the “standard" (i.e., “analytic") reading of Austin’s work on performatives and to highlight its connections with Derrida’s own philosophical work. It also questions the notion of “ordinary language" presupposed in the work of practitioners of philosophical analysis.
The declared purpose of Signature Event Context is to re-examine the polisemy of the concept of communication, so as to show that the semantic or semiotic conception of communication as transfer of meaning, which “impoverishes" that polisemy, has no “prior authorization" to be privileged (p. 1). Austin will be praised precisely for having “shattered the concept of communication as a purely semiotic, linguistic, or symbolic concept" (p. 13). Derrida’s argument is sometimes tortuous, but its contour is fairly clear. Starting from the “classical" conception of communication and writing emblematized by Condillac, he singles out absence as “the essential predicate of [writing’s] specific difference" within the genus communication (p. 6). Three “essential predicates" of the absence characteristic of writing are then identified: (a) subsistence of the written sign and its iterability beyond its moment of inscription and both its producer and addressee; (b) detachment from context – both ‘external’ (“above all" detachment from the author’s intention, for the sign is readable “even if I do not know what its alleged author-scriptor consciously intended to say at the moment he wrote it" – p. 9) and ‘internal semiotic’ (a written syntagma can be detached from the chain where it has been inscribed and “grafted" into another chain, e.g. through citation);12 (c) spacing (espacement) of the written sign, i.e. its separation from its co-text as well as from any reference, present, past or future, subjective or objective. The next step is to argue that these predicates do not apply only to writing, but are generalizable to all other forms of communication (including speech) as well as to experience in general. “Every mark, including those which are oral, [is thus] a grapheme in general; which is to say … the nonpresent remainder of a differential mark cut off from its putative ‘production’ or origin" (p. 10). The factor underlying this tour de force is the “iterability" of the (now not only written) sign, understood as a repeatability-cum-alterity. It is the repeatability component of iterability that ensures “the possbility of disengagement and citational graft" of the sign (p. 12), while it is its alterity component that prevents contexts from being fully determinable or “saturated" and/or from being able to “fully enclosing" a syntagma (pp. 2, 9).
Enter Austin. Derrida begins by taking stock of the “good" features in Austin’s work on performatives, namely those that permit to claim that he has realized that “communication" is more than the transmission of a previously given and truth-oriented semantic content: Austin shows that, unlike a “constative" (or assertion), a perfomative does not describe a situation, but transforms it; that it is thus “free from the authority of … the true/false opposition"; that it acts or effects by “communicating a force through the impetus of a mark"; and he is led to extend his analysis to all utterances (including assertions) which should be seen primarily as “acts" endowed with a “force" that modifies the “total situation" in which they are performed (p. 13). So far, his description of Austin – except perhaps for the wording – contains nothing that Searle could not endorse.
Derrida’s next move consists in focusing on Austin’s treatment of the “infelicities" (e.g., christening a ship or a child without having the authority to do so) and “unhappy features" (e.g., the uttering of a performative by an actor on stage) that may prevent the successful performance of a performative or of other speech acts. Austin claimed that there should be a “very general high-level theory" accounting for both kinds of failure, but deferred its elaboration. Derrida undertakes to demonstrate that this deferral is not accidental, for if Austin had attempted to develop the required high-level theory, he would have been led to abandon most of the key assumptions he takes for granted (e.g., the determinability of context, the central role of the speaker’s intention, the oppositions serious/non-serious, successful/unsuccessful, ordinary/parasitic, etc.). The reason is that all the kinds of “difficulties" such a theory would have to handle stem from a “common root", namely the fact that something “in the structure of locution … already entails that system of predicates I call graphematic in general" (p. 14). Derrida’s demonstration purports to show that these essential predicates (e.g., non-saturation of context, absence of a governing intention, iterability/citability) not only are contrary to those assumed by Austin – they also make the possibility of failure of a speech act inherent to the very possibility of performing it, rather than an eventual accident. Thus, he contends, the “parasitic" or marginal is both generalized and displaced, becoming the umbrella under which any general theory of speech acts (and of communication) must be formulated. Under succh an umbrella, he concedes, the category of intention needs not disappear, but it will lose its centrality: “it will have a place, but but from that place it will no longer be able to govern the entiry scene and system of utterance" (p. 18). Needless to say, none of this is palatable to Searle, as we shall see.
The concluding section on “signatures" explores Austin’s claim that appending one’s signature to a written utterance plays the same role as being the person that uttters a verbal utterance: both serve to tether the utterance to its source or origin. Derrida’s claim is that, once more, by considering writing (in this case, signatures), one clearly sees the aporetic nature of the assumptions of the author’s presence and of the singularity of the speech event. “A written signature – he says – by definition implies the actual or nonempirical nonpresence of the signer", while at the same time retaining now the signer’s “having been present". The condition of possibility of the run-of-the-mill “effects of signature", he concludes, “is simultaneously, once again, the condition of their impossibility, of the impossibility of their rigorous purity. In order to function, that is, to be readable, a signature must have a repeatable, iterable, imitable form; it must be able to be detached from the present and singular intention of its production" (p. 20). Thanks to Austin’s establishment of the functional equivalence between signature and utterer’s presence, once again we see how a property of writing can be extended to speech (in this case, to “oral signatures"). The cumulative effect of such generalizations is supposed to lead to a profound restructuration of the whole cfield under analysis.
A lesson in deconstruction
Derrida concludes by summing up his concept of deconstruction.13 This somewhat unexpected finale, coupled with hints in the introduction, suggests that the whole paper functions as an illustrated exposé of the method of deconstruction. The illustration is carefully built around Austin: he was aware of the need of a general account of the various forms of failures in the performance of speech acts, but failed to see its deep significance and to draw its implications for his theory; Derrida does both, spelling out what is potentially present in Austin. Austin is thus construed as a sort of deconstructionist in ovo. The illustration, being aimed at one of the alleged strongholds of “logocentrism", acquires thus the weight of a demonstration – a word Derrida frequently uses in this text – of the power and usefulness of deconstruction.14 So, although the “real" frame of the discussion is deconstruction, the discussion of Austin – a “marginal sub-frame" in the article – proves to be quite “central", thus justifying its motto position. Presumably this “game of positions" is itself intended to illustrate deconstruction’s displacement strategy.
In his “Reiterating the differences: A reply to Derrida", Searle makes it quite clear that he doesn’t want to play the game in the ground and by the rules introduced by Derrida’s reframing of Austin. He presents his task in terms of “correcting" Derrida’s mistakes – particularly those that led him to present a picture of Austin that is “unrecognizable" (p. 204). He undertakes to do so by pointing out Derrida’s equivocations, by returning to well established and familiar distinctions, and by denouncing invalid arguments. In so far as he, along with other analytic philosophers, assumes that these requirements form a universal and neutral baseline for any serious philosophical debate, seeing to it that they are fulfilled is an operation that might be properly called “deframing". For those who doubt the assumption of a frameless neutrality and universality, the operation might be seen simply as an attempt to return to an arena considered (by Searle and others) to be the appropriate frame to discuss Austin, an arena where Searle’s proven skills can be put to full use
Searle’s strategy of “correction", in the “Reply", not only seeks to shift the arena; it also aims at deflating Derrida’s grandiose claims. What Derrida takes to be a major breakthrough is, for Searle, either trivial or obviously false, or else the result of crude misunderstandings or equivocations. Against Derrida’s “generalization" move, Searle employs the classical distingo move. Where Derrida sees similarities (e.g., between the classical account of writing as ‘parasitic’ upon speech and the ‘parasitism’ of, say, fiction upon ‘serious’ discourse) Searle sees only the overlooking of obvious distinctions (respectively, between a contingent and a necessary logical dependence – p. 207). Likewise, Derrida is charged with confusing mention and use (pp. 203, 206), instantiating and modifying (p. 206), instantiating and meaning (p. 203), the relative permanence of the written text with iterability (p. 200), etc. Against Derrida’s “displacement" move, which consists in changing a given conceptual apparatus by undermining the implicit hierarchy of its basic dichotomies, Searle employs the classical nego move. Not only there is nothing wrong with these dichotomies, he contends. They can also explain with clarity and precision the relatively trivial phenomena Derrida makes a lot of fuss about. Iterability, for example, is understandable in terms of the type-token distinction (p. 200) and of the notion of recursive rules (p. 208). Furthermore, he tries to further entrench the extant dichotomies by providing them with additional support. For example, the implicit hierarchy of the serious/non-serious distinction relies not only on logical dependence, but also on an evidently sound research strategy (p. 205).
Enter Austin. “Derrida’s Austin" is unrecognizable, contends Searle, because Derrida attributes to Austin intentions the latter never had. This, in turn, results from misinterpretation and exaggeration. When Austin sets aside “nonserious" or “void" utterances (such as those made by actors on stage), for example, he is neither “excluding" them nor passing an “ethical" judgment on them. He simply recognizes that they are, “in a fairly obvious way … not standard cases" (p. 204): they are “pretended" forms of speech and, as such, their existence is derivative vis-a-vis the existence of the corresponding “nonpretended" forms. This is the rationale for studying the latter first, and then moving on to account for the former. Once the general theory of the standard forms is in place, “it is one of the relatively simpler problems to analyze the status of parasitic discourse", as Searle’s subsequent work is said to demonstrate (p. 205). Who could object to this research strategy?
Derrida also gets involved in “what is more than simply misreading Austin" (p. 206), by entangling himself in confusions and invalid arguments that lead him to claim that Austin “has somehow denied the very possibility that expressions can be quoted" (ibid.). According to Searle, Derrida reaches this absurd conclusion by confusing “three separate and distinct (sic!) phenomena: iterability, citationality, and parasitism" (ibid.). Parasitic discourse, Searle claims, has nothing to do with citationality (it is “neither an instance of nor a modification of citationality"); hence, the alleged “exclusion" of parasitism by Austin cannot entail the absurd conclusion above. He concedes that parasitism is an instance of iterability “in the trivial sense that any use of language whatever is an instance of a use of iterable elements" (p. 207). This “trivial sense" amounts to the fact that language is a set of recursive rules mastered by speakers and hearers (p. 208). Accordingly, Searle is prepared to admit that parasitism is also a “modification" of iterability, provided this phrase is understood as meaning that the rules that govern parasitic discourse are modifications of the ‘normal’ rules that govern serious discourse (p. 206). Notice that the use of the term ‘modification’ presupposes the primary status of serious discourse, thus adding further support to the above ‘research strategy’ argument.
Enter intentionality. As already mentioned, Derrida’s removal of intentionality from its central place in a theory of communication would be, if successful, the most damaging blow for Searle (as well as for Searle’s Austin). Searle reserves for the end of the “Reply" his reaction to this move by Derrida, a reaction that is remarkably mild, if compared with the previous sweeping charges of ignorance and illiteracy, manifest in the varieties of “mis-“ Searle attributes to Derrida. This relative mildness, however, may be due to Searle’s belief that his previous criticism has been sufficient to undermine Derrida’s basis for the displacement of intentionality. In particular, having reduced the notion of iterability to the recursive character of lexical and syntactic rules, Searle argues that this notion is a necessary condition for the intentionality of speech acts and explains “the peculiar features" of such an intentionality (p. 208). For Derrida, this unsubstantiated argument is hardly sufficient for reconquering for intentionality its former central position. Furthermore, it gives him an opportunity to lecture Searle on copyright and illiteracy, since Derrida correctly points out that iterability as a necessary condition “is one of Sec’s most insistent themes" (1977b: 105). We shall return to this issue below. At this point, it suffices to notice that, once again, Searle’s strategy consists in resisting Derrida’s attempt to modify the location of a concept (intentionality) within the conceptual hierarchy that is supposed to account for the whole range of communicative phenomena.
A lesson in rule-following
Rules loom large in Searle’s “Reply", which begins and ends with allusions to rules. It is because the proper rules for underand stating Austin’s position are not followed that Derrida’s confrontation with Austin “never quite takes place". And it is because Derrida is unaware of the fact that recursive rules fully explain the phenomenon of iterability that he makes exaggerated claims about the implications of this phenomenon. Throughout the paper Searle reminds Derrida of the basic rules of method that he ought to follow in order to engage in a serious discussion of issues in the philosophy of language in general and of Austin’s and his followers’ “research programme" in particular. These include, first, the adoption of a “research strategy" that follows strictly Descartes’ rule of analysis – breaking down a complex phenomenon in its components and studying them separately, rather than as a ‘totality’. A hierarchy between these components is established in terms of a clearcut criterion of logical dependence, which also determines the ‘direction of research’ as well as the ‘direction of explanation’, namely, from the ‘standard’ to the ‘nonstandard’ uses of language. At each step the well-established clear and distinct ‘tools of the trade’ of the philosophy of language (i.e., a series of basic distinctions) must be conscientiously used. Furthermore, the serious critic of the particular research programme under discussion must beware of lightly challenging its ‘core’ (namely, the central role of intentionality) and must be aware of its overall productive results (as exemplified by its potential for generalization and account of the ‘nonstandard’ cases – a potential developed in Searle’s subsequent work). Searle’s “Reply", by calling attention to Derrida’s alleged violations of this ensemble of rules, not only emphasizes his own allegiance to them, but also illustrates, again and again, their application. In so doing it no doubt does justice to its carefully chosen title – “Reiterating the differences".
Discussion or controversy?
It seems to me quite clear that Searle attempts to conduct the debate – up to this point – as a discussion. The underlying rules he appeals to are supposed to provide a decision procedure, according to which it is possible to identify the opponent’s mistakes and to establish the correct solution to whatever substantive issues remain after Derrida’s “confusions" are swept aside.
It is equally clear that, from the outset, Derrida rejects this kind of conceptualization of his nonstandard analysis of Austin, which he enlists as part of his onslaught on “logocentrism". He ominously speaks of “the disruption of the authority of the code as a finite system of rules" (1977a: 8), rejects the ‘direction of research’ that goes from the ‘standard’ to the ‘nonstandard’, emphasizes the need of taking into account the “totality" of the problematic field as an ever-present factor (as opposed to the Cartesian analytical strategy that views the “total" solution as simply emerging from the solutions to the separate “simple" problems), and undertakes to subvert the established dichotomies and conceptual hierarchies they presuppose. Derrida thinks that, in this way, he “opens up a semantic domain that precisely does not limit itself to semantics, semiotics, and even less to linguistics" (1977a: 1). He seems to be conceptualizing the debate as a controversy, where the questioning of entrenched interpretations and distinctions, privileged readings, research strategies and methods, and limitations of the field is the rule, thereby allowing for a wide opening of the debate, where everything is up for grabs. Since the issue at hand is nothing less than the alleged limitations of the usual conception and forms of communication, Derrida’s moves, though preserving partially these forms, seek to overcome them by provoking “a tremor, a shock, a displacement of force" (1977a: 1) that would shake entrenched convictions and break open the field for debate.
Searle refuses to go along with Derrida’s strategy and doesn’t let his convictions and his modus operandi be shaken. He is happy with the foundations laid by Austin, on whose shoulders the theory of speech acts can be further developed. He is also happy with the dichotomies that have proved so useful in the philosophy of language. None of these requires revision, deepening, generalization, or displacement. They are evident: “Does one really have to point this out?" – he says (Searle 1977: 205). Searle refuses to be tolerant vis-a-vis the difficulties someone (like Derrida – or ‘Derrida’s Austin’, for that matter) naturally faces when trying to question entrenched wisdom by means of a language deeply impregnated by it. Perfectly comfortable within such wisdom, he castigates Derrida’s attempts as being merely examples of confusion, misunderstanding, etc. He thus sticks to the discussion frame and refuses to engage in a controversy – or at least he wants the reader to believe so.
Searle’s strategical choice of arena has the effect of a kind of move I have called elsewhere (Dascal 1990b) ‘the insulation strategy’. In the present case, this move aims to protect a certain kind of claims, assumptions or methodological procedures from certain kinds of criticism, on the grounds that the latter are irrelevant to the former because they do not meet the requirements of the framework or domain to which the criticized claims belong. The irrelevance in question is here supported by arguing that the critic is guilty of a massive misunderstanding of what he attempts to criticize. Although such moves are often used within discussions and relatively mild controversies (cf. Dascal 1990a; Dascal and Cremaschi 1999; see also Dascal 1999a), one wonders whether they are effective when what is attacked is the appropriateness of the framework itself. To be sure, it is always possible to exclude such comprehensive ‘external’ attacks by simply ignoring them. But, if one chooses to react to them, it seems useless to try to do so by requiring that they conform to the very rules they object to. In this sense, to revert to the discussion pattern when a comprehensive controversy has been launched seems to be impossible.
If the first round of the debate held the promise of a serious controversy, the acrimonious and sarcastic tone of the second round seems to preclude this possibility, leading the contenders, in a crescendo of mutual disqualification, to a rather violent dispute. This crescendo begins already in the first round, with the long list of “misses" (misunderstanding, misreading, misstatement, etc.) Searle attributes to Derrida, who registers the punch and reacts in kind. In fact, if we follow Derrida’s logic, it may have begun even earlier, with Derrida’s first article which, according to him and pace Searle’s unshaken stance, “touched" Searle profoundly.15 What is certain is that Derrida himself was “touched" by Searle’s attack, which he dubs “percussion in mis-major" (1977b: 41) and whose significance he discusses at length.
To be touched is, unlike to understand, to be affected as a person, not just as an intellect; it is to have one’s character (ethos) and one’s integrity jeopardized. Derrida begins his reply to Searle by focusing on the “person" – more precisely, on the “author" who signs “Reiterating the differences". Noticing that the author thanks other persons for discussing with him matters related to the paper, Derrida suggests that the signature ‘John R. Searle’ refers in fact to a collective, and decides to refer to the paper’s author as ‘Sarl’ (French acronym for ‘Societé à Responsabilité Limitée’). This pun achieves various objectives: it presents Searle as belonging to and representing a group, a society that has a stake in defending its assets; it questions Searle’s responsibility; it shows how something marginal (a footnote) can and should be paid attention to; and it questions Searle’s ability to identify what is important in a text. For, in “Reiterating the differences", Searle does not mention the last section of Sec, devoted to “signatures", a section that, in addition to containing an explanation of deconstruction, is relevant to several other issues of the debate (the relationship between wrand speech, the interpretation of Austin, iterability, the presence/absence of the author/speaker, etc.). In fact, this section is so important that “the whole debate might boil down to the question: does John R. Searle ‘sign’ his reply?" (p. 30). Furthermore, the other two concepts that appear in Sec’s title, namely “event" and “context", are also omitted by Searle in his list of “the most important" topics to be discussed in his “Reply". For Derrida, this is a “monumental omission" (p. 46) that reveals either that Searle is an incompetent reader or that he has a hidden agenda – an intention that is not transparent – that guides his selection of topics to discuss.16
This overture – self-described as “nonserious" and as a “false-start" (p. 34) – matches Searle’s “overture in mis" – that, for Derrida, “sets the tone" of Searle’s “Reply" (p. 40) – in setting the tone of his own “Limited Inc a b c …". Like Sec, this text will illustrate the application of its author’s principles. By beginning with the nonserious, the marginal, the allegedly mistaken, the omitted, the text not only thematizes “exclusion", but also further generalizes this notion and displaces it to center stage. By quoting extensively both from Sec and from the “Reply" (as well as from other texts by Searle), Derrida not only uses a technical device to contrast the alleged accuracy of his response with the alleged looseness of Searle’s; he also displaces “citationality" to center stage and illustrates his “law of iterability" by highlighting the decisive role as well as the non-determinability of context, which is “always transformative-transformable, exportative-explorable" (p. 79). By “referring to the quasi-totality" of Sec, rather than to the points selected by Searle as “important", he not only rejects the latter’s criterion of what is important, crucial or central; he also purports to show how the consideration of text’s “totality" (or of an approximation thereof) – especially of what seems marginal in it – is essential as a source of “insight into the general functioning of a textual system" (p. 44).
“Limited Inc a b c …" is thus, like Sec, a lesson in applied deconstruction. This time, however, the “case study" is not Austin but Searle. Not just a generic Searle, author of many works, some of which are mentioned in the “Reply". 17 It is rather a “customized" Searle, who allegedly read, summarized, understood, interpreted, and selected the most important issues to be criticized in Derrida’s article. It is a Searle whose speech acts refer to Derrida, quote or misquote Derrida, and are addressed to Derrida. This situation grants Derrida a special authority (and responsibility) vis-a-vis Searle’s text; he even toys with the idea that he holds the copyright for parts of that text, or even that he is a partner in ‘Sarl’. But, more “seriously", it permits him to assume the position of a teacher who “masters the rules" of careful reading and magnanimously dispenses his time and effort to deliver a master class on the subject, a class whose direct pupil is the careless Searle. From this position of authority he systematically dissects Searle’s “Reply" piece by piece, argument by argument, concept by concept, following Searle’s text “as closely as possible" (p. 60).
It is as if Derrida in fact accepts Searle’s selection of the most important points as actually constituting the “systematic chain" (p. 44) that organizes Sec as well as the debate. It is as if, ultimately, he abides by Searle’s rules of discussion. He even admits at one point that he “seem[s] to have become infected by Sarl’s style" (p. 86). The details of his close reading of the “Reply", however, quickly dispel this impression. Derrida remains faithful to his strategical aim of breaking open the analytic categories and the research strategy through which Searle’s tradition imposes a conceptual hierarchy that severely and arbitrarily constrains a priori the study of the phenomenon communication. His tactics in Sec was to read closely (and sympathetically) one representative of this tradition. Here, it is to read even more closely (and much less sympathetically) another, taking full advantage of the position of authority Searle obsequiously granted him. In both cases, Derrida’s moves recontextualize the opponent’s moves; thereby he believes to be able to keep and nurture the baby (e.g., the “good points" in Austin, a certain notion of intentionality in Searle) through its relocation in a new and open environment free of the suffocantingly soiled waters in which his opponents had been bathing it. That the baby is utterly transformed by this operation and becomes “unrecognizable" is only to be expected, of course, for context – as we have seen – is for Derrida always “transforming-transformable".
Unfortunately, I cannot dwell here into the wealth of details of Derrida’s close reading – not even in their “quasi-totality". A couple of examples should suffice. (I am aware of the danger involved in this selective procedure.) Consider a pattern of argumentation Derrida identifies as recurrent in Searle’s “Reply", which he dubs ‘from-to/Sec’. It consists in “taking arguments borrowed from Sec, as though there were nowhere else to turn, and changing them into objections to Sec" (p. 47). For instance, Searle is charged with objecting to Sec that iterability does not differentiate between written and oral language, whereas this is “precisely the thesis of Sec, if there is any" (p. 46). Derrida considers a “mystery" how a thesis defended in a paper can be turned into an objection to that very paper. Barring the possibility of a misreading, for on this point he considers Searle’s summary adequate, he hints at two complementary explanations (p. 47). On the one hand, the inherent limitations of Searle’s tradition (“as though there were nowhere else to turn"); on the other, the encompassing (and perhaps dialectical) character of Derrida’s generalization, which comprises both a thesis and the seeds of its antithesis, thus overcoming the limits of entrenched dichotomies. (I confess that this suggestion is a mystery to me, due perhaps to some misunderstanding on my part.) Derrida employs what appears to be the same pattern of argumentation (was he really infected?). He transforms Searle’s claim that “Derrida’s Austin is unrecognizable" into an objection to the “Reply": “reading it there – he says – ‘Derrida’s Austin is unrecognizable" (p. 88). What he means, of course, is that Searle’s presentation of ‘Derrida’s Austin’ is “so summary, so ‘void’, so ‘false’" that it “bears no relation" to Derrida’s own presentation of Austin. In this case it is perfectly clear that the same sentence refers to different things in each of the (con)texts. Perhaps a more sympathetic reading might help to solve the “mistery" in the former case in a similar way. But the punch line in both cases is not at all sympathetic. The “baby" – Austin’s insights – strives once it is adopted by and adapted to a derridean environment; but this very rescuing operation renders the baby unrecognizable by its “self-proclaimed heir" (p. 42) who remains “trapped in the most resistant autism" (p. 88). Similarly, the traditional difference between written and oral language “loses all pertinence" while at the same time releasing its fecundity, once it is uplifted into the sphere of “graphemes in general" (pp. 46-7); but the autistic opponent, unable to accompany such a generalization, stubbornly keeps looking for a pertinent difference, and transforms his inability to find any into an objection.
Searle could no doubt respond to Derrida by a comparably close dissection of “Limited Inc a b c …". The fact that he refrained to do so, being itself a move in the debate, could be interpreted in different ways. Rather than speculating about its interpretation, we should look at what can be seen as Searle’s next contribution to the debate. It doesn’t hook up directly with the preceding texts, but only indirectly – from the margins, one might say – i.e., via a review of a book authored not by Derrida himself, but by one of his literary ‘disciples’, Jonathan Culler.18 But Derrida loolarge in Searle’s review, and traces of the earlier clash abound in it. Searle apparently has not lost interest in the confrontation with Derrida, for the review quotes from other books by Derrida, which he has obviously been reading. His extensive discussion of the relationship between writing and speech, with lengthy quotes from Derrida, might indeed be seen as a reply to Derrida’s from/to-Sec argument mentioned above. Searle shows thereby that he is quite familiar with the generalization/displacement move, and argues that this move is invalid, because it is “based on a redefinition" which is not grounded on “any empirical study of the differences and similarities" between speech and writing. Furthermore, “the redefinition is based on a misrepresentation of the way the system of differences functions, and the misrepresentation is not innocent. It is designed to enable the apparatus of writing, so characterised, to be aplied quite generally – to experience, to reality, etc.". “By such methods – he adds – one can prove anything" (1983a: 76-7).
There are, in Searle’s review, some appeasing gestures towards Derrida. His work – he says – “is not just a series of muddles and gimmiks" – as it might appear from Culler’s description. He addresses “a large issue" but also makes “a large mistake" (p. 78). The large issue is the critique of foundationalism, the search for “a transcendental grounding for science, language, and common sense", a critique he shares with such thinkers as Wittgenstein and Heidegger (hence, he is not original in this). The large mistake is that this critique “doesn’t threaten science, language, or common sense in the least", but, “as Wittgenstein says, leaves everything exactly as it is" (p. 79). If this is so – Derrida might retort – then, for Searle, deconstruction is, after all, just a game or a set of gimmicks and muddles. As if to confirm this, Searle concludes his criticism of Derrida by illustrating how the “deconstruction game" could be played against deconstruction itself. It is not quite clear whether this “argument" is, for him, “serious".
Rather than indicating a significant progress in the debate, Searle’s review reverts to his earlier “percussion in mis-major" tactic, to which he adds the allegation of hidden intentions, as well as a thoroughly negative evaluation of deconstruction’s philosophical originality and of its usefulness as a method. This escalation culminates with the characterization – attributed to Foucault – of Derrida’s style as “obscurantisme terroriste": “The text is written so obscurely that you can’t figure out exactly what the thesis is (hence ‘obscurantisme’) and when one criticizes it, the author says, ‘Vous m’avez mal compris; vous êtes idiot’ (hence ‘terrorisme’)" (p. 77).
Derrida, of course, does not leave this without a rejoinder, which characterizes Searle’s style in the conduct of the debate as ‘dogmatisme terroriste’: “Those who wish to simplify at all costs and who raise a hue and cry about obscurity because they do not recognize the unclarity of their good old Aufklärung are in my eyes dangerous dogmatists and tedious obscurantists" (1988a: 119). This is written in the context of a set of written replies to Gerald Graff’s questions, under the title “Toward an ethic of discussion", which begins in a very sober tone and purports to discuss the reasons for “the violence, political or otherwise, at work in academic discussions or intellectual discussions generally" (p. 112). Derrida acknowledges the aggressivity of his reply to Searle in “Limited Inc a b c …", and declares that here he wants to avoid this, by returning “to a very classical, ‘straightforward’ form of discussion" (p. 114). But apparently he cannot (or doesn’t really want to).
Graff’s mention of Searle’s review in the New York Review of Books, which Derrida describes as “an article of unbridled resentment", whose reading of the relevant texts is “at the very least hasty" (p. 125) seems to ignite his ire. He is particularly irritated by by the review’s attribution to deconstructionism of a “crude positivism" according to which “unless a distinction can be made rigorous and precise it is not a distinction" (p. 78).19 It is Searle, not me, argues Derrida relying upon quotes from Speech Acts as well as from the “Reply", that “is obliged to practice conceptual oppositions dominated by the logic of ‘all or nothing’" (p. 123). If Searle renounces “explicitly, seriously, literally" that the axiom that “in the order of concepts … when a distinction cannot be rigorous or precise, it is not a distinction", then, “short of practicing deconstruction with some consistency and of submitting the very rules and regulations of his project to an explicit reworking, his entire philosophical discourse on speech acts will collapse even more rapidly. The entire apparatus of distinctions on which this discourse is based will melt away like snow in the sun" (pp. 123-124). Derrida’s violent reaction indicates that we are facing here what is, from his point of view, the core of the debate, the core of the opposition between the two strategies of research, the two methods, the two metaphysics. He is forced, therefore to reiterate the differences forcefully and bluntly. If Searle indeed foregoes his commitment to sharp distinctions and adopts a gradualistic approach to his basic concepts, he capitulates to the deconstructionist argument. Why not commemorate joyfully this victory, instead of being so angry? Because it is not a true capitulation but only a feigned one, concocted for the purposes of a journalistic polemics. But Searle cannot have it both ways – to maintain “at all costs, in his books, the most rigid and most traditional form of the excluded third [that] obliges him to practice the most brutal and least motivated exclusions" and to “pretend to have renounced trenchant distinction" out of sheer journalistic “opportunism" (pp. 124-5). At this point the escalation reaches its peak, for Searle is accused of nothing less than cheating and deliberately misleading. One cannot but have the impression that all this fury is not motivated by philosophical zeal alone, for it reminds one of the disappointment and anger of someone who feels defrauded from his entire raison d’être. Quite apart from the question whether Searle can, without blatant inconsistency, be committed to both the “bookish" and the “journalistic" views, of whether his argument in the review is “serious" or just a “stratagem", it is certain that he at least hit the mark with it.
Controversy or dispute?
The escalating crescendo described in the preceding section suggests that the debate reached a phase where it couldn’t but become a dispute. The use of attacks aimed at the person of the opponent, of an inflamed rhetoric that doesn’t stop short of invectives, of a merciless sarcasm; the attribution to the opponent of hidden intentions and the unwillingness to accept his apparent changes of mind at face value; the emphasis on the profound differences between the contenders; the entrenchment of each side in his positions; the ostensive lack of real hope to persuade and to reach a rational solution of the conflict – all these are typical of disputes. They reveal a deep difference of requirements, styles and attitudes towards philosophizing as well as a deep conviction that one’s attitude is ‘evidently’ right and the opponent’s ‘obviously’ wrong. This seems to be the kind of conflict that cannot be rationally solved (as discussions are) nor resolved (as controversies are). It cannot even be dissolved by appealing to to judgment of a ‘public’ or a ‘tribunal’ both sides agree to submit to (as disputes sometimes are), for the contenders’s constituencies are essentially disjoint (‘professional philosophers’ – Searle – vs. ‘philosophers cum literary critics’ – Derrida), precisely along the lines that separate the contenders themselves. And yet, in spite of all these signs, the picture – even in this last phase of the debate – is not so clearcut. There are signs that a controversy may, after all, be going on, beneath the appearance of a dispute. The debate is remarkably focused:although one of its topics is marginality, side-issues are for the most part avoided and/or clearly and relevantly linked to the topic under discussion. Even the ‘personal’ attacks are not extemporaneous, but are introduced and perceived as directly relevant – which ranks them as cognitively ‘valid’ ethotic arguments (cf. Dascal 1999b, Dascal and Gross 1999). In spite of the mutual accusations of misunderstanding, the contenders do perform a careful and close reading of each other’s texts.20 All of this allows the debate to somehow contributes to the clarification of the contenders’ concepts and claims – for the reader as well as for themselves, as they sometimes acknowledge (e.g., Derrida 1977b: 54-5).
Furthermore, in spite of the tendency to emphasize the differences, there are some slight indications of an approximation between the positions, such as the us of similar argumentative moves21 as well as partial and – to be sure – heavily qualified agreements. For example, Derrida points out on several occasions (1977b: 105, 129-30) that he and Searle are basically saying the same thing about iterability as a condition of speech acts and their intentionality; he repeats again and again, referring Searle back to Sec, that he is not excluding intentionality, but stressing the need to rethink its defining characteristics (is it ‘undivided’? is it ‘conscious’? how is it ‘present’ in or behind a text or an utterance?) and its role (in his “differentil typology of forms of iteration", the category of intention “will have its place, but from that place it will no longer be able to govern the entire scene and system of utterance" – 1977a: 18). Searle himself has (independently?) asked some of these questions and provided answers that go some way towards satisfying Derrida’s qualms. For example, he accepts the need to question the monolithic character of the intention ‘behind’ an action, and accordingly ‘divides’ it into components such as ‘prior intention’, ‘intention-in-action’, and – in collective actions – even a ‘we-intention’ (cf. Searle 1983b, 1990; see also Dascal and Idan 1989). He also breaks down the context needed for the understanding of a speech act into components, at least one of which – the “background" – is ssaid to be “inarticulate" (Searle 1992; see also Dascal 1992), a notion that reminds one of Derrida’s insistence on the “indeterminable" character of context. Even Searle’s withdrawal from rigid distinctions (1983a), that arouses Derrida’s fury, might in fact be seen as an approximation of sorts in their positions.
The debate may thus, after all, have produced a ‘cognitive gain’, it may have yielded some ‘philosophical progress’ (whatever this may be). Not necessarily by providing a solution to the problems it tackles. The gain may lie simply in the clarification of one’s positions due to the need to confront them with those of an aggressive opponent. For the philosophical community it may consist in laying bare the substantive differences between conflicting ‘research programmes’, or even in nothing more than the exposure to a confrontation between presumably ineliminable differences of ‘philosophical style’.22 Controversies quite often result in modest – but non-negligible – gains such as these.
We might now ask what kinds of polemical exchanges are most typical of the analytical-continental rift, and what would it take to “bridge" such a rift. Were we to find mainly disputes in analytic-continental debates, we would be justified in assuming that this is what was instrumental in leading to the perception of this rift as a “divide", a “gap", or an “unintelligibility barrier". This in turn would have transformed the word ‘philosophy’ into merely homophonic when applied to the two sides, and would eventually justify the practice of creating separate departments of philosophy for each of the homophones.
Invectives such as Carnap’s pointing to Heidegger’s reply to the question “Was tut das Nichts?" – namely, “Das Nichts nichtet" – as a perfect example of meaninglessness would perhaps support such an assessment. But in fact such invectives (or their continental counterparts, claiming that analytic philosophy is shallow and devoid of any philosophical interest) – unlike the two variants of terrorisme Searle and Derrida brand at each other – did not even develop into disputes, for they never evolved into dialogical exchanges of any kind. In such pseudo-exchanges, at best each side elaborates monologically its own arguments against “the other" – an “other" that it cannot but misrepresent, given its own prior disqualification of “such a kind of discourse". It is clear, anyhow, that shouting at each other from each side of La Manche, The British Channel, or the Atlantic, is not exactly an effective way of bridging the gap.
Consider now an eventual exchange ruled by what Bar Hillel (1962)has candidly called “A pre-requisite for rational philosophical discussion". Bar-Hillel grants the right of philosophers on both sides of the divide to use the object-language they choose. But he contends that there is an asymmetry between the analytic and the continental camp: “One cannot expect that the analytic philosopher, while endeavoring to persuade his speculative colleague of the cognitive poverty of his ways of philosophizing, should himself use speculative discourse for this purpose. This type of discourse is unintelligible to him in any capacity, including that of metadiscourse" (Bar Hillel 1962: 357). Protected by this “veil of unintelligibility", the analytic philosopher can stipulate his pre-requisite: “I am ready to listen and argue with him [the speculative metaphysician] only if the (meta-)language, in which he explains to me his reasons for challenging my standards, itself complies with these standards" (ibid.) The speculative metaphysician, on the other hand, is not entitled to a similar move because he doesn’t claim neither the unintelligibility of the opponents’ views, nor his own incapacity to use “scientific (observational plus theoretical) metalanguage". Bar-Hillel thus proposes to adopt his own language as the lingua meta-franca of philosophical discussion. On the grounds, of course, that it is clear, universally intelligible, and hence appropriate for the exercise of rationality.
However, as we have seen in the Searle-Derrida debate, these assumptions, with their accompanying choice of vocabulary, categories, style, argumentative moves, and discourse strategies is precisely what is contentious, and not only regarding the object language, but also the meta-language. If a continental philosopher were to comply with Bar-Hillel’s prerequisite, he would thereby be accepting a standard he in fact questions. A debate conducted in these terms couldn’t but be a discussion, with the odds heavily in favor of that contender for whom this meta-language is also the object-language. Since the attempt to impose such a prerequisite, however candidly made, can be interpreted as a stratagem to ensure the superiority of one contender’s starting position, the wise opponent should reject it, and the exchange, once more, would never take place or would easily degenerate into a dispute. At any rate, Bar-Hillel’s prerequisite would only be able to “bridge the divide" if the other side were ready to admit in its territory a strong analytic bridgehead.
Bridging requires a bridge, and a bridge is typically a middle-ground, a sort of no-man’s land, where both sides can meet freely, unconstrained by the rules that prevail in each of the sides. In such meetings they can challenge not only the other side’s rules and meta-rules, but also their own ones. Such challenges naturally extend well beyond any specif topic – a characteristic of controversies. No doubt such meetings require mutual understanding, but since they may – and do – question language and meta-language, syntax, semantics and pragmatics, the way of achieving understanding is something that must itself be sought and worked out in them, rather than presumed to be “given" if only one follows a set of rules established by one of the contenders. The only requirement for ensurithe possibility of such meetings is the earnest allegiance to a minimal ethics of communication, which can be summarized in two duties: the duty to understand and the duty to make oneself understood. The latter means, at the very least, an effort to use a language intelligible to the opponent; the former, at the very least, the effort to read and understand (before one dismisses or criticizes) the opponent’s texts. If there is to be any bridging of the “divide", therefore, it will not occur – as Kant would perhaps wish – by eliminating once and for all the scandal of philosophical controversies; it would rather be possible only through pursuing this scandalous enterprise intensively, earnestly, and according to the minimal ethics of communication just mentioned. Setting aside any illusions about solving or dissolving philosophical problems, such an enterprise could eventually lead to their resolution, i.e. to an improved understanding of their underlying structure.Notes
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