I've been studying Sociology for a few years, and am coming up on modern theory: post-structuralism, deconstruction etc. I've read a bit of it, but the ideas often seem somewhat removed from everyday experience and pragmatism.

What I'm wondering with this question is:

What were Jacques Derrida's most important ideas?

  • See a helpful survey in SEP, Jacques Derrida. His most recognizable trademark idea is deconstruction, which upends settled lines of thought by tracing their contingent genealogy and/or argumentative structure to expose biases, shaky presuppositions, paradoxes, etc.
    – Conifold
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 23:06
  • As someone who has studied Derrida extensively, I can confidently say that this question is way too broad (as would be an equivalent question about virtually any philosopher). This must be narrowed down to the point where it can be answered without writing a book-length survey; otherwise, it simply doesn't fit into the Stack Exchange Q&A model. Commented Jun 16, 2023 at 2:51
  • I know his wife...theawfulauthor.com/blog-1/2021/7/3/vive-la-diffrence Commented Jun 17, 2023 at 13:34

2 Answers 2


Derrida is known for his commentaries on Heidegger, so his one on Being & Time is notable: Heidegger: The Question of Being and History.

Also a significant work imo is The Gift of Death, referred to as a "consideration of religion". A theme which he also explored in the more loose Acts of Religion.

Freud and psychoanalysis is notably developed in The Post Card and Resistances of Psychoanalysis.

I don't think Derrida can be pinned down to specific meta ideas such as Différance, deconstruction and trace. Each of the above themes elucidate or develop 'important ideas'.


The 3 most important ideas to be found in Derrida (arguably) are:

  1. Critique of metaphysics of presence. For 2 thousand years there was this dogma that there is such a thing as certain presence. For example, in Plato there is preference for spoken words over written ones. Vocal utterances are immediate, present, transparent and clear. Once we write something down, it becomes subject to corruption, and loses most of its truth. Derrida fully dismantles this way of thinking, and shows a dynamic dialectic interplay between the written and the spoken. One is not inferior to the other, there is no privileged position that we can call present like Plato did.

  2. The supplement. It is a hard concept to grasp, and I am not certain if I understand all the nuances behind it. Being heavily influenced by Hegel, Derrida considers many dialectical pairs, and one of the most important ones is natural - artificial (which can be thought of as man-made). In the natural there is this extra little thing called the supplement that helps the natural in a way, and in the process undermines the supposedly clear boundary between the natural and the artificial, undermining the hierarchical structure. Understanding the supplement is key to understanding Derrida's famous discussion of masturbation in Rousseau's confessions.

  3. You guessed it, differ-e/a-nce. This concept cannot be understanding without some knowledge of Saussurean linguistics. Language forms a system of signifiers (can be thought of as words, like "cat") - signifieds (can be thought things, that furry meowing creature). The chain of signifiers obscures or defers meaning. There cannot be a single correct interpretation of any text, there are only faint bits and pieces of meaning called "traces" that we can gather from a text. This has great implications for the fields of philology and literary criticism.

Reading Derrida is very difficult business. If you find his books incomprehensible, it might help to read some Hegel, Heidegger and Lacan.

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