The movement of philosophical ideas across national and linguistic borders, especially in these days of international conferences, is notoriously slower than the physical movements of philosophers themselves. When rumblings of new names or new ideas come from afar, there is a rather predictable but unphilosophical tendency to claim that the putative new thoughts are either old hat, trivial or absurd; this trichotomy is not much of an improvement on the older positivistic dichotomy of tautologically trivial or merely empirical. Jacques Derrida is a philosopher of some eminence in France who has generally been subjected to such treatment by English-speaking philosophers, when they have deigned to take notice of him. In fact when such notice has been taken, it has very often been through the pressure and mediation of our colleagues in comparative literature who have professional responsibilities to effect just such pressures and mediations. John Searle has charged Derrida, for example, with an elementary ignorance of the type-token distinction in their controversy concerning speech acts, signatures, and reiteration. This might strike even a rather superficial reader of Derrida as somewhat surprising, for the areas in which the French philosopher shows himself most obviously acquainted with Anglo-American thought are semiotics and formal linguistics. While I believe that Searle does misunderstand Derrida's criticism of the type-token distinction and his concept of "iteration," I am interested here in unearthing some of the issues between Derrida and some of our more native thought about the nature of signs and communication.

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Publication Date

Spring 1984

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Copyright © 1984 University of Dayton. This article first appeared in University of Dayton Review, Spring 1984, 33-38.

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