Ethics of ambiguity and irony: Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty

Human Studies 24 (1-2):5-28 (2001)
Abstract
This paper examines the relation or, more precisely, tension between postmodern deconstruction and ethics by elaborating upon the ethico-political dimensions of deconstructionism. It embarks on a critical assessment of postmodern discourse on ethics in view of its political implications by analyzing Jacques Derrida''s and Richard Rorty''s arguments with an assumption that their positions represent a certain logic in the postmodern discourse on ethics. Postmodern ethics is based on incredulity with regard to traditional metanarratives, and it defines ethics in terms of sensitivity or responsibility to otherness and difference. Its proponents believe that the negation of modern metanarratives opens a way to the Other which has been marginalized and suppressed both in thought and in social practice. Derrida and Rorty represent this position with their emphasis on the ethical nature of deconstruction and the need to elaborate new languages for ethics. Despite postmodern appeal to ethics of this sort, however, postmodern thinking shows its limits in dealing with most ethical-political matters in the contemporary world. The postmodern approach to ethics, being restricted within the perspective of the individual, does not provide any determinate framework for deciding how to adjudicate conflicting ethical claims or how to link the unconditional affirmation of emancipatory ideals, enlightened social criticism, and democratic accountability in determinate political terms. In the main, this paper contends that philosophical deconstruction and responsibility to otherness undermine each other in the public sphere.
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