Although Derrida is often taken to be “anti-humanist,” this paper argues that his engagement with the legacy of humanism is not only much more complex, but that it retains and alters this legacy in such a way as to provide a new way of thinking about the human in a trans-national or “global” context. This argument is at the same time an occasion to briefly explore some of the implications of this for Derrida’s relation to philosophy as a humanistic discipline. It first tracks some of Derrida’s most explicit discussions of humanism over the course of several works and lines of inquiry, showing what I take to be a shift in his work from the critical stance of “The Ends of Man” to the more nuanced discussions in some of the later “political” writings. My main goal is to link Derrida’s discussions of humanism to his work on cosmopolitanism and particularly to his argument that political thinking must negotiate the troubling but important legacy of a philosophical universalism that is nonetheless tied to a very particular cultural and historical past. I take this problem to be analogous to the ambiguity of a humanist legacy that is potentially violent and limiting in its conception of universal humanity while being at the same time what underwrites important political concepts such as human rights. Derrida argues that philosophy is the “other way” and is thus always open to redirection and reappropriation by traditions other than its own. Taking the “human” as an Idea in the Kantian sense, I argue that it too can wander from its end, liberate itself from the strictures of universal humanity while nonetheless retaining the promise and the political consideration due that humanity. Derrida thus offers an innovative way to rethink the humanist legacy in the context of a plurality of cultures. I end by suggesting that philosophy and the humanities more generally, far from being irrelevant, may thus be more relevant than ever.


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pp. 49-67
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