Philosophy, Literature and the Inheritance of Language

Abstract: This dissertation investigates the extent to which philosophical assumptions are inherited when we learn language. The topic is approached through an investigation into the importance of literature in Jacques Derrida’s philosophy. In chapter 1 it is argued that Derrida’s interest in literature is best seen as an attempt to make room for a thinking that is not controlled by limitations inherent in the language inherited. Chapter 2 describes how the question of literature is related to Derrida’s overall deconstructive philosophical project. In Derrida’s view, our philosophical problems and metaphysical thinking as such are dependent upon a particular understanding of the linguistic sign. Chapter 3 describes why a literature that is based on and formed by a traditional conception of meaning is not going to be useful for Derrida in his deconstructive philosophy, since that notion contains, in Derrida’s view, a reinforcement of traditional metaphysical assumptions.Chapter 4 describes Derrida’s alternative understanding of “literature” and situates this notion in his “quasi-transcendental” philosophy. It is argued that, in Derrida’s philosophy, the question of “literature” must be understood as intertwined with these three things: the transcendental/empirical distinction, Derrida’s attempt to re-think phenomenology and his conception of language. In chapter 5 Derrida’s view of language is examined. It is argued that Derrida’s notion of the sign is more restricted in scope than Derrida claims and that he has overestimated the importance of certain linguistic conceptions of language. It is argued that Derrida’s interest in “literature”, as a response to philosophical assumptions inherent in language, is dependent upon a much too detached view of language that fails to do justice to ordinary facts about language use and about language acquisition. Chapter 6 contains a summary and an elaboration of my own position.

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