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February 2, 2009

Litowitz Reviews "Derrida and Legal Philosophy"

Douglas Litowitz, who has a far higher opinion of Derrida than I do, makes some nice points in this review of a recent collection.  From his concluding paragraph:

As the editors correctly point out, Derrida is routinely denounced by scholars unfamiliar with his work. This means that certain people will reject this book simply because it is associated with Derrida. Conversely, certain people embrace everything that Derrida writes, and they will have the opposite, equally uncritical, reaction to this book. In between these extremes is a group of scholars, like myself, who are moderately sympathetic to Derrida. Most of us are generally willing to endure Derrida's lack of argumentative rigor, his endless word games and pretentious deferrals, in exchange for those few shining moments when he offers a truly unique reading of a key text, or when he draws attention to a person or a concept that has been wrongfully excluded or marginalized. Such readers would probably be receptive to a book about Derrida and legal philosophy if it clearly set forth Derrida's notion of justice and demonstrated how it complements, challenges, or improves upon the positions staked out by other legal philosophers. It is curious that instead of reaching out in this way, the contributors to this book seem content to decry Derrida's marginalized status as a legal philosopher without demonstrating why it is so undeserved.

Of course, his marginal status as a legal philosopher (and, I would add, as a philosopher) is deserved, and a book of essays by folks who largely know nothing about legal philosophy is, of course, not in a good position to demonstrate otherwise.

It is true that fans of Derrida routinely assert that "Derrida is routinely denounced by scholars unfamiliar with his work," but what exactly is the evidence that the scholars with a low opinion of Derrida have not read him?  As with Simon Critchley, whom we discussed once before, I think more often than not the assertion is not based on any actual evidence but rather on the question-begging assumption that if someone had read Derrida, of course they would appreciate him

Posted by Brian Leiter on February 2, 2009 in The Continental Traditions | Permalink


I think it's a mistake to run together "people unfamiliar with Derrida's work" with "people who haven't read Derrida." I've read through a good bit of Of Grammatology, for instance, but unfortunately can't claim any significant degree of familiarity with what's going on in the book.

Posted by: Chris Green | Feb 3, 2009 3:11:16 PM

That is exactly the problem with him, reading his work does not help you understand him!

Posted by: Justin Vlasits | Feb 8, 2009 5:29:48 PM

Leiter, your marginal status as a legal philosopher is deserved. How could you even begin to talk shit about Derrida? Derrida owns you. You have nothing on Derrida. Let's compare your vitae with Derrida's. Let's compare book sales. Shit man, you aren't even a Simon Critchley, let alone a Derrida.


--Karl Marx

Posted by: Karl Marx | Feb 16, 2009 3:46:24 PM

Karl, it is great to hear from you! I had no idea that you'd settled in Carrollton, Georgia and that you were now teaching at the University of West Georgia and using IP address But we'll be sure to find you soon and let everyone know who and where you are.

I quite agree with your last line: I'm not a Simon Critchley or a Derrida. Thanks!

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Feb 16, 2009 4:01:23 PM

Brian, let's compare Your book sales with Joanne Rowling´s. Your marginal status as a novelist is deserved.

Posted by: Tomáš Sobek | Feb 17, 2009 10:30:14 AM

I should add that I have no reason to think that "Karl Marx" is actually a philosophy professor at West Georgia; indeed, I have some evidence to the contrary.

Posted by: Brian Leiter | Feb 17, 2009 1:59:36 PM

Now what would a serious social critic like Karl Marx be doing standing up for that notoriously effete patsy of the bourgeoisie, Jacques Derrida? Maybe you're being naive, Brian, in assuming that the grumpy comment above came from Karl himself? I suspect an impersonator. In any true revolution, JD would surely be first against the wall.

Posted by: John Gardner | Feb 17, 2009 5:38:30 PM

Well, let's just be glad Prof Leiter didn't out out Karl's current address under the Bush Administration.

Posted by: C. Sistare | Feb 19, 2009 3:51:13 PM

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