I would like to know how Derrida-Searle debate went on (Wikipedia is lacking, and Searle's response is somehow difficult to find.).

Can anyone provide me some summary and some crucial details?


The Derrida volume Limited, Inc. contains the critical documents, minus Searle's piece, due to Searle's refusing permission.

The publications went like this:

Derrida, in 1971, delivered a lecture in Montreal entitled "Signature Event Context", which discussed the notion of communication in various philosophers from Condillac to Austin. This work was published in the journal Glyph, and in Derrida's 1972 collection Margins of Philosophy.

In 1977, Searle published a reply to Derrida entitled "Reply to Derrida: Reiterating the Differences", also in Glyph. Searle seem to be suffering under the illusion that Derrida was somehow attacking Austin, and rushed to defend Austin from Derrida's alleged attack. Unfortunately for Searle, this was based upon a misreading of Derrida. Ironically, one of the key points in Derrida's original piece was the necessarily possibility of such misreadings-- that one can never be sure one's intended message (to the extent that one can determine it) can successfully reach its destination.

In the same 1977 issue of Glyph, Derrida published a reply to Searle's reply, entitled "Limited Inc a b c...." (pg. 29) which playfully took apart Searle's misreading; it also quoted the entirety of Searle's piece within its own text (in fragments), in order to reiterate one of Derrida's other points in his original piece, concerning citationality (that texts can always be taken out of context, and placed in another context outside of the author's control.)

In 1988, Derrida collected his original essay and his response to Searle in the aforementioned volume Limited Inc; Searle declined to allow his piece to be reprinted, so the editors substituted a brief précis of Searle's argument. In addition, Derrida appended an interview performed for the occasion in which he discusses the "debate" between himself and Searle entitled "Afterword: Toward an Ethic of Discussion" in which (among other things) he suggests that there is an ethical directive that one actually read and engage with the work one is attempting to critique, and that Searle failed this.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    It seems that you are saying Derrida won the debate... Just saying, nothing else. – AAAAA Oct 8 '12 at 9:05
  • 3
    I'm saying the debate never took place; for there to be a debate, the two sides have to engage with each other. Searle attacked an imagined foe who bore little resemblance to what Derrida actually wrote. It was like Clint Eastwood debating an empty chair. – Michael Dorfman Oct 8 '12 at 10:33
  • 3
    Is there any reading of Derrida which wouldn't count as a misreading? – Dennis Apr 14 '13 at 6:53
  • 2
    "[L]et it be said in passing how surprised I have often been, how amused or discouraged, depending on my humor, by the user or abuse of the following argument: Since the deconstructionist (which is to say, isn't it, the skeptical-relativist-nihilist!) is supposed to not believe in truth, stability, or the unity of meaning, in intention or "meaning-to-say," how can he demand of us now that we read him with pertinence, precision, rigor? How can he demand that his own text be interpreted correctly? How can he accuse anyone else of having misunderstood, simplified, deformed it, etc.? [cont] – Michael Dorfman Apr 14 '13 at 8:50
  • 2
    In other words, how can he discuss, and discuss the reading of what he writes? The answer is simple enough: This definition of the deconstructionist is false (that's right: false, not true) and feeble; it supposes a bad (that's right: bad, not good) and feeble reading of numerous texts, first of all mine, which therefore must finally be read or reread. Then perhaps it wil be understood that the value of truth (and all those values associated with it) is never contested or destroyed in my writings, but only reinscribed in more powerful, larger, more stratified contexts. [cont] – Michael Dorfman Apr 14 '13 at 8:51

All I have to contribute is that if you're still having trouble finding it, Searle's response has been made available on Scribd:


| improve this answer | |

I realize that I'm quite late to this discussion, but I just recently discovered a piece by Searle, The World Turned Upside Down, which appeared in the New York Review of Books in 1983 as a review of Jonathan Culler's "On Deconstruction" -- http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1983/oct/27/the-word-turned-upside-down/

| improve this answer | |
  • For those not subscribed to NYRB, Searle's entire review is available here, and the resulting exchange is available here. – Mr. Kennedy Jan 17 '17 at 5:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.