Deconstruction and Hermeneutics: Placing Jacques Derrida and Hans-Georg Gadamer in Non-Dialog (Paper)

The PDF document that I am providing for download is a copy of the paper I wrote for the Th.M. class where we explored the relationship between philosophy and (Christian) theology. I should note that it was a better writing experience than it is a paper. I decided to take on the overwhelming tasks of juxtaposing Hans-Georg Gadamer and his philosophical hermeneutics with Jacques Derrida and “deconstruction”.

What will make this paper frustrated for the reader is that I go back and forth between writing for a novice and writing for someone familiar with the subject. In part, this is likely because I wrote as a novice trying to become more familiar with the subject so there was an evolution in my own thinking over the course of working on this project. Also, as anyone who has studied Gadamer and/or Derrida could have told me, if the paper is going to be around five thousand words just focus on one person. There is no way to give either philosopher sufficient attention at twenty five hundred words a piece.

So now that I have told you why not to read it let me tell you why you may want to read it: the subject is interesting. Gadamer and Derrida met in person in 1981 to discuss this very relationship. Many people are still baffled at the results. I will leave it you to decide on one thing: does reading this paper make you want to know more about either Gadamer or Derrida? If so, I count it a success.

Download here: LePort. Deconstruction and Hermeneutics



About Brian LePort

Religious Studies Instructor at TMI Episcopal (San Antonio, TX). PhD in Religion and Theology from the University of Bristol (Bristol, UK). Married to Miranda Perez. Human to a Cocker Spaniel named Frida. Fan of the San Francisco 49ers, San Francisco Giants, and Golden State Warriors.

Posted on December 17, 2010, in Philosophical Theology, Th.M. Program and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Brian,

    Thank you for posting your paper. I enjoyed your explanation of Gadamer and Derrida. You mentioned in your paper that Derrida was known as a “very careful reader” and that he did seek to understand the author’s intended meaning (if only to observe the process of deconstruction). Could you expand more on what Deridda’s views of Scripture are? You speak about it (a bit) in your paper, but I was wondering if you could explain it further for me?


  2. Danielle,

    I did not find much on Derrida’s view of Scripture, but my assumption is that he would have read Scripture like he read any other work of literature. He would have sought to understand authorial intent only to assume that the “argument” made in any particular place in Scripture would deconstruct itself as well.

    As regards how Christians apply Derridian principles to reading Scripture this is something I am still pondering. If we accept Derrida’s critique of language, yet say it does not apply to Scripture, I would be begging the question. I assume that there would need to be a fuller “ontology of Scripture”, as Marc stated somewhere, for Scripture to avoid the critique. That, or Derrida himself must be critiqued.

  3. Thank you Brian. What do you think about the relationship between Philosophy and theology? Where do you come down on the discussion of the relationship between philosophy and theology? Do you think that we necessarily ‘need’ to provide an argument by which we ‘escape the critique’ of Derrida? Or do you see Theology as it’s own way of knowing?

  4. @Danielle:

    I have a hard time compartmentalizing between theological and philosophical discourse. If I have a certain understanding of epistemology as regards theology I don’t find myself being able to suspend it to discuss philosophy. If I am able to do this it for the sake of conversation, but this doesn’t mean I actual stop believing certain things.

    For example, if I were to discuss the resurrection of Christ with someone it will be very difficult to play on the field of historiography by the rules already established. If I am not allowed to assume the in-breaking of a deity, because it would not be fair to simply use the God-card when things get rough, then there is really no way for me to affirm the resurrection as historically verifiable according to the common rules of historiography (i.e. One cannot use the God-card in order to explain historical anomalies). If I concede to work within the bounds of historiography the best I can say is something happened that causes the disciples to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and to believe strongly enough that they risked their lives to proclaim it, but not that a resurrection happened.

    So if I did suspend my own assumptions to dialog in philosophical terms, somehow void of my own Christian theological assumptions, I think I’d have to admit that I am not going to be able to proclaim the same things in such a discussion that I would otherwise. But then I don’t necessarily see why I’d have to suspend my presuppositions if others do not have to suspend theirs.

    That being said, I am more than willing to assume that the Spirit does something in Scripture that protects it from the fallibility of human language, but I haven’t developed a strong argument there.

    I hope this wasn’t too wordy a response. If I missed your question let me know.

  5. Thanks for the response Brian. I understand what you are saying about not being able to ‘suspend your beliefs’ in order to “do philosophy.” (I hope I am understanding you correctly). Isn’t that the “recognition of presuppositions you bring to the table” that is Derrida-esque?

    I guess I was wondering, do you think that theologians must necessarily respond to the challenges of philosophy (for instance, those posed by the implications of Derrida’s philosophy), or that they have their own object and method that separates them as distinctly different disciplines?

  6. @Danielle: I don’t think theologians must respond. With Derrida and/or Gadamer it is difficult not to do so since it is an attempt to describe how language works and language seems, to me, to be neutral ground. It seems different than say a discussion on whether or not God exists. So I don’t know if I am saying these are different disciplines as much as I am saying something like theology is philosophy with one a theistic presupposition.

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