Rigor; or, stupid uselessness

Southern Journal of Philosophy 50 (s1):20-38 (2012)
Abstract
In his seminars on the death penalty, Derrida consistently describes Kant's arguments in favor of capital punishment as “rigorous” and explicitly relates that rigor to the mechanisms of execution and the subsequent rigor mortis of the corpse. ‘Rigor’ has also often been a contested term in descriptions of deconstruction: different commentators have either deplored or celebrated the presence or the absence of rigor in Derrida's work. Derrida himself uses the term a good deal throughout his career, usually in a positive sense, although he also at least once, in passing, suggests the need to question the rigor of the concept of rigor itself. In this paper, I will outline the place of Kant in the Death Penalty Seminars and suggest that it is the very rigor attributed to Kant that makes him (rather than some other writers—whether supporters or opponents of the death penalty—whose arguments seem less rigorous to Derrida) an exemplary object for deconstructive attention, not for the first time in Derrida's work. Broadening the focus beyond the texts Derrida explicitly analyzes, I suggest that this kind of attention can also be fruitfully brought to bear on some more general arguments in Kant about right and justice. In conclusion, I suggest some implications of this situation for the still difficult issue of the more general relation between deconstruction and critique in the Kantian sense
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