- Derrida and Post-Hegelian Kantianism in Eric WeilImpossibility and Possibility of Dialogue
Upon considering the work of Eric Weil (born in Parchim, Germany, 1904, dead in Niza, France, 1977), especially the three volumes that constitute the fundamental core of his thought (Kirscher 1989)—Logique de la philosophie (1950), Philosophie politique (1956), and Philosophie morale (1961)—there persists the following question that plagued so many of his first readers: Are we dealing with a discourse of the Kantian or Hegelian sort? Does the systematic (scientific) pretension of Weil’s philosophy (Weil 1970) respond more to an idealist transcendental model or to a categorial one? This problem led the Jesuit Pierre-Jean Labarrière to speak of an “inactuality” (inactualité) of Weil’s thought that, to be sure, takes up quite seriously the Hegelian system, but, in the same reflexive effort, seeks to sublate it by returning to the Kant of the finite things, that Kant who sees in the noncoincidence [End Page 195] between freedom and reason the essential space that allows for the understanding of finitude (Jarczyk and Labarrière 1996).
Additionally, this inactuality has been a source of ignorant and abstract interpretations. In the French philosophical scene of the twentieth century, Weil appears as a rather misunderstood, poorly studied, and even ignored author (e.g., Descombes 1979). All those authors that tried to think—whether from the perspective of Marx, Heidegger, Nietzsche, or Freud—the rupture between thought in the contemporary world and Hegel’s philosophy (considered, according to Kojève, as the philosophy that fully realized reason) had not suspected that there could be another way of reflection. That is, one can critique Hegel but also understand him; in other words, it is not necessary to renounce systematic discourse to confront and critique the philosopher who finalizes it. In this project, Weil wants to maintain a philosophical relation with Hegel (as he does with Aristotle, Kant, and with many others in the Western philosophical tradition), not a violent relation, indifferent, ironic, or deconstructive. Weil aims to sublate Hegel but without renouncing discursive and systematic philosophy, without losing hope in the role that reason continues to play in history.
The precarious relation between Weil and Derrida can fall within this context. Situating and understanding this relation properly will allow for a better analysis of the Weilean pretension to sublate Hegel, which is precisely what the author of “Violence et Métaphysique” fails to see. Furthermore, this standpoint will make possible a closer examination of the possible convergences and the quite real divergences between the two philosophers.
Derrida contra Weil
The relationship, in terms of textual references, between Derrida and Weil is minimal. Weil never mentions Derrida in his writings and, given the moment in which he was academically active, it is unlikely that he was familiar with Derrida’s first works. For his part, Derrida pays little attention to Weil and refers to him only in a marginal way that reveals, more than anything, his evident lack of interest rather than a critical stance concerning his thought or some given work. Derrida’s most important reference to the author of Logique [End Page 196] de la philosophie appears in a footnote in “Violence et Métaphysique” (from the year 1964, reedited in Derrida 1967, 117–228). It is well known that Derrida in this essay lays the foundations for a dialogue with Lévinas that will carry on for the rest of his intellectual life. In this essay, Derrida pays homage to Lévinas’s philosophical project given that he recognizes in the latter’s work both a critical questioning of the Greek foundations of Western philosophy as well as that Lévinas aims to open up philosophy to another origin. However, at the same time, Derrida questions his discursive strategy. In effect, according to Derrida, by preferring the conceptual and discursive problem of philosophy, Lévinas fails to free himself from the greater problem to which he should have directed his attention: namely, the problem of language. Furthermore, and for the same reason, Derrida claims that Lévinas fails to see that infinite and absolute alterity cannot...