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A. J. CASCARDI SKEPTICISM AND DECONSTRUCTION There are signs from various directions of a reconciliation between traditional Anglo-American philosophy and contemporary French deconstruction . One may take the concluding section of Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), on the American side, and the special issue of Critique (1980), on the French, as signal instances of increasing comprehension among the parties involved. In an essay on Stanley Cavell, Jay Cantor drew certain parallels between Cavell's Wittgensteinian critique of skepticism and Jacques Derrida's deconstructive critique of Western philosophy. ' If Cavell's The Claim of Reason (1979) can be compared to the work of Derrida, it is because Cavell's answer to skepticism is that it has no answer, only a certain range of response, or what Saul Kripke, using a phrase of Hume's, has called a "skeptical solution."2 The solution here does not land us on anything like firm ground, but instead is meant to make us aware of the groundlessness of our claims to knowledge and hence of the importance of the ways in which we claim to hold that ground. But it would be wrong if the rapprochement of French deconstruction and Anglo-American philosophy were to rest on the assumption that deconstruction is a form of skepticism, even of the most radical kind, or displaced to certain areas which have not traditionally been within the scope of skepticism's concern. Jay Cantor says for instance that "Deconstruction is a classical skeptical argument , recast using linguistic metaphors," that deconstruction "is a version of skepticism which attacks the claim of consciousness that it has at its disposal a language that is representative of the world or even of itself," or again that deconstruction "is a thoroughly skeptical enterprise, as was Nietzsche in some of his moods" (pp. 50, 51). My thesis here is that this alignment of skepticism and deconstruction seriously mistakes the nature and intent of deconstruction, which takes as its target the very ground on which arguments on either side of skepticism rest. But it is because of the notion that deconstruction is a form of skepticism that contemporary analytical philosophy has, by and large, been unable to answer it. To say that skepticism and deconstruction are vastly different amounts in one sense to a 2 Philosophy and Literature statement about a certain division in contemporary philosophy and the historical factors which have brought it about. One has only to look at the texts which contemporary philosophers take as their fixtures to find a divergence that goes back to the time before Socrates. Indeed, one can explain many things about the split between the Anglo-American and the French (or more broadly, Continental) philosophical traditions simply by seeing that the Anglo-American tradition does not feel itself responsible for dealing with the claims raised by the Sophists, Socrates having provided a response to them once and for all, whereas the French tradition wants to call deeply into question the establishment of reason in their defeat. Rather than call deconstruction a form of skepticism, it would be more revealing of its place with regard to analytical philosophy to call it a contemporary version of Sophism. The Anglo-American tradition, by contrast , has been mainly preoccupied by problems of skepticism which rest on an epistemological basis outlined by Descartes and Kant. I mention these considerations at the start to give a sense of the possibility of an alternative account to the one I will offer here. I will be dealing with the arguments and the themes, rather than with the history, which divide skepticism and deconstruction. There are, to be sure, tempting reasons for thinking of deconstruction as a version ofepistemological skepticism. In this section I want to press this point as far as I can in order to show how the rapprochement is imperfect. One reason that the alignment of skepticism and deconstruction is made is that skepticism describes our relationship to the provisional objects of our knowledge as one of deep uncertainty, which sounds like what the deconstructionist means when he speaks of textual "indeterminacy." But there are significant differences between skeptical doubt and deconstructionist indeterminacy. Within the scope of traditional...


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