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IS THERE A LANGUAGE-GAME THAT EVEN THE DECONSTRUCTIONIST CAN PLAY? by Steven Fuller After reading A. J. Cascardi's fascinating "Skepticism and Deconstruction ," I am led to ask the question that "entitles" this response.1 The answer I want to give is "yes," but Cascardi has made the task more difficult than I would have liked. In brief, he has dissociated deconstruction from all philosophical pursuits, including skepticism, which it superficially resembles. I shall proceed, first, by reasserting deconstruction 's skeptical credentials and, then, by showing how these credentials enable the deconstructionist to play an interesting language-game. I Cascardi's thesis is most vividly stated in the following passage: But the deconstructionist, wrongly thought of as a skeptic, has no idea of what an epistemology counter to his uncertainties and indeterminacies would look like. This is because he is out to question the very axis ofwhich skepticism and epistemology are the opposite poles. Because his questioning shows up as a denial of the principle of non-contradiction, one is likely to think that deconstruction is a form of irrationalism. (p. 7) For all its forcefulness, this statement suggests that Cascardi may have fallen prey to a Cartesian ruse involving the meaning of "skepticism." A coherent history of skepticism can be told that extends from Sextus Empiricus's Outlines ofPyrrhonism (c. 200 AD) to Pierre Bayle's Historical and Critical Dictionary (c. 1700) without ever mentioning Descartes. The theme 104 Steven fuller105 of this history would be that no claims to knowledge are certifiable. In a more modern vein, we would say that no proposition has a determinate truth-value. The skeptics in our history would be presented as moral philosophers instructing their readers on how to live in a world in which they can never tell the true from the false — a world in which doubt is the natural attitude. The paraphrase is crucial because virtually all philosophers — most notably Husserl — have regarded doubt as unnatural, a psychic tension that must somehow be resolved. And just as hunger motivates the drive for food, it has usually been assumed that doubt motivates the drive for method. Whereas food sustains the physical needs of the sentient being as it reduces hunger, so too method sustains the cognitive needs of the rational being as it reduces doubt. Our skeptics have perennially noted that to think of all knowledge claims as certifiably true or false would be to think that nature answers us directly upon being addressed. In less metaphorical terms, we would be speaking a language whose predicates pick out natural kinds. The "dogmatists ," as Sextus and Bayle liked to call their opponents (we would now call them "foundationalists"), could then easily conceive of how nature appears to us as nature's response to our utterances. To drive home the dogmatists' intentionalist stance toward nature, instead of "how nature appears to us," we might say "how nature represents itselfto us." In the case of truths, nature represents itself transparently, while in the case of falsehoods, representation has gone awry: either we misspoke or nature deceived us. To put the blame on ourselves is to call for a revision in method; to put the blame on nature is to suspect that an evil designer, a Cartesian demon, is behind the faulty appearances. The point, of course, is that one needs to be a dogmatist in order to have Descartes's more demonic thoughts. The classical skeptic, who held the language-world link to be purely conventional, used the uncertifiability of knowledge claims as an argument for denying any design whatsoever to nature — either for good or for ill. Descartes muddled things, however, when he interpreted the skeptical stance as claiming that all knowledge claims may turn out to be false. From the First Meditation, it is never made clear why we should worry about the Cartesian demon (and hence send him into cognitive exile as quickly as possible). Presumably, the concern arises from the possibility of discovering that the appearances are indeed illusory — that is, certifiablyfalse. This concern becomes a full-fledged anxiety once the doubter realizes that he ultimately has no control over how his doubt is resolved. In other words...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 104-109
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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