Human Studies

, 34:277 | Cite as

Understanding Each Other: The Case of the Derrida-Searle Debate

  • Stanley Raffel
Theoretical / Philosophical Paper


This paper revisits the Derrida-Searle debate, an exchange that, unfortunately, did not lead to much, if any, mutual understanding. I will suggest that this failure can be traced back to key features of their respective theories. In that Searle and Derrida use their own theories of speech as resources in trying to understand each other, their unsuccessful communication can be used to reveal a great deal about the limitations of both their theories. My paper tries to draw out these limitations by analyzing specific moments in the debate. I also suggest concrete proposals for overcoming defects in each of the theories, proposals that, arguably, would make some mutual understanding more possible.


Derrida Searle Austin Wittgenstein Communication Signifiers Intentions 



What first stimulated this paper was some writing by Peter McHugh in which he differentiated rule-based theories of understanding from what he called ‘aesthetic reasoning’. (McHugh 2009) I am also grateful to him and Alan Blum for their comments on previous drafts. Further thanks go to all the participants at a Culture of Cities seminar in Toronto, Canada, April 2010, for a lively discussion of an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of EdinburghEdinburgh, ScotlandUK

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