philosophy

What Derrida Means When He Talks About Meaning

What the hell does this even mean???

“Meaning” is a multivalent term, which means that any attempt to discuss it meaningfully will be fraught with difficulty. Jacques Derrida makes a similar point when he asks, “Is it certain that to the word communication corresponds a concept that is unique, univocal, rigorously controllable, and transmittable: in a word, communicable?” Yet difficulty doesn’t entail impossibility. In the present paper, I wish to outline several distinctions that cut across the nebulous concept of “meaning” and which serve to alleviate some of its thorniness. First, we need to differentiate between (a) semantic meaning (often called “literal meaning”), (b) communicative meaning (which involves a speaker’s intentions) and (c) informative meaning (the non-semantic and non-communicative content expressed by an utterance). Second, we ought to distinguish between issues of epistemology (truth, certainty, etc.) and those of semiology proper.

In light of these distinctions, the Derridean account of meaning—insofar as it’s articulated in “Signature Event Context”—loses much of its initial unintelligibility. Specifically, it appears that the purported disjunction between meaning and a speaker’s intentions only holds with regards to semantic meaning. And even then, such a claim needs to be qualified. In what follows, I will first discuss the importance of separating semiology from epistemology. Next, I will delineate the notions of semantic, communicative and informative meaning. Finally, I will investigate the relationship between meaning and a speaker’s intentions.

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REVIEW: Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”

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Originally published on Goodreads.

Both frightfully obscure and logically scrupulous, Kant functions sort of like a philosophical litmus test. Many a metaphysical charlatan (Lacan, Žižek, et. al.) has aped his mystifying prose-style without any attempt to match his rigour. And meanwhile, the most provincial of the analytic camp, unduly equating “abstruseness” with “bullshit,” write him off as a mere historical oddity.

But the truth of the matter is that the Critique—Kant’s magnum opus—constitutes one of the most inventive, meticulous and edifying works of philosophical mind-f****ery ever to be writ. (more…)

Joseph Raz, Liberalism and the Nature of Human Rights

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According to one line of thought, rights protect the well-being of the individual against the claims and demands of others. Joseph Raz challenges this view. On the contrary, he argues that individual and societal interests are not necessarily at odds with one another. What is more, he claims that a right may in fact be conducive to both. In what follows, I will outline the basics of Raz’s account of rights, including his notion of “the general good.”[1] Next, I will employ his view in the analysis of an actual case-study—R. v. Keegstra. In doing so, I will raise certain concerns with regards to the parsimoniousness of Raz’s moral claims. Specifically, I will (1) question the role that democratic liberalism plays within his theory and (2) explore the epistemic limitations that might arise in the calculation of individual interests.

Raz’s view hinges upon two fundamental features of rights. The first is that a right must be in the interest of the right-holder. Indeed, it seems counterintuitive to suppose the opposite. Consider the proposition that criminals have the right to be punished. Likely, it strikes you as somehow odd. According to Raz, this is “precisely because being punished is not commonly thought to be in the interest of the punished.” The second feature of rights, moreover, is that the value of a right need not be proportionate to its value to the right-holder. Imagine that A owns something that is of little value to her, yet which happens to be of great value to B. Clearly, A’s right to it is not undermined by the relative weakness of her interest. Nor does B’s greater interest manifest itself as a right. Therefore, rights cannot be exclusively the function of individual interests.

But taken together, these two features of rights seem to beget a dilemma. For how can a right be inextricably linked to an individual’s interest and yet receive its value from elsewhere? Some theorists have opted to embrace one horn or the other. Raz, by contrast, attempts to sail between them. His strategy is to argue that the value of many rights lies not in their worth to the individual, but rather in their worth to others. (more…)