After publishing a horrible obituary marking the death of the philosopher I admire most, Jacques Derrida, the NYT has published a very readable, straightforward, and beautiful eulogy written by the world-renowned scholar Mark C. Taylor, professor of humanities at Williams College.
The NYT would be wise to take seriously Taylor's version of the Derridean axiom, "There can be no ethical action without critical reflection" before it again publishes such a debased and inaccurate obituary of someone so revered by so many. This, however, is probably too much to ask from an institution too often reactionary in character.
What Derrida Really Meant
October 14, 2004
By MARK C. TAYLOR
What makes Jacques Derrida's work so significant is the
way he brought insights of major philosophers, writers,
artists and theologians to bear on contemporary problems.
Excerpt from the article:
"... There can be no ethical action without critical reflection.
During the last decade of his life, Mr. Derrida became preoccupied with religion and it is in this area that his contribution might well be most significant for our time. He understood that religion is impossible without uncertainty. Whether conceived of as Yahweh, as the father of Jesus Christ, or as Allah, God can never be fully known or adequately represented by imperfect human beings.
And yet, we live in an age when major conflicts are shaped by people who claim to know, for certain, that God is on their side. Mr. Derrida reminded us that religion does not always give clear meaning, purpose and certainty by providing secure foundations. To the contrary, the great religious traditions are profoundly disturbing because they all call certainty and security into question. Belief not tempered by doubt poses a mortal danger.
As the process of globalization draws us ever closer in networks of communication and exchange, there is an understandable longing for simplicity, clarity and certainty. This desire is responsible, in large measure, for the rise of cultural conservatism and religious fundamentalism - in this country and around the world. True believers of every stripe - Muslim, Jewish and Christian - cling to beliefs that, Mr. Derrida warns, threaten to tear apart our world.
Fortunately, he also taught us that the alternative to blind belief is not simply unbelief but a different kind of belief - one that embraces uncertainty and enables us to respect others whom we do not understand. In a complex world, wisdom is knowing what we don't know so that we can keep the future open."