The "Proper" Tone of Critical Philosophy. Kant and Derrida on Metaphilosophy and the Use of Religious Tropes

In Kant and the Continental Tradition: Sensibility, Nature, and Religion. London: Routledge (2020)
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This is an essay on Kant's neglected late tract On a Recently Adopted Prominent Tone in Philosophy (RTP) and Derrida's oblique commentary on this work in his D'un ton apocalyptique adopté naguère en philosophie. The theme of the essay is metaphilosophical and considers issues concerning the nature of critical philosophy, fanaticism (Schwärmerei), and the use of religious tropes in philosophy. I am primarily interested in the ways in which RTP thematises the legitimacy of speaking in an exalted, quasi-religious tone apropos of the authority of Reason as a self-legitimising capacity in philosophical speech. An important additional reason for taking a closer look at this text is because the late Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) took a great interest in this work of Kant’s and, indeed, emphasised, rightly I think, that despite its prima facie rhetorically charged, polemical nature this work—which might at first be taken to be merely a lampoon—is anything but insignificant in Kant’s œuvre. Derrida’s On a Recently Adopted Apocalyptic Tone in Philosophy, originally published in 1983, is an oblique commentary on Kant’s RTP, and aims to expose to view the alleged hidden underpinnings of Kant’s polemic against exaltation or fanaticism (Schwärmerei) in philosophy. Derrida tries to show that Kant’s appeal for tonal moderation in philosophy, for a measured speech, which should rein in exalted modes of speech, is itself not neutral and rather fundamentally biased against an exalted, quasi-religious, manner of thought. It is evident that, as he himself notes early on in RTP, Kant is predisposed towards a more Aristotelian, academic kind of philosophy, which adopts a “proper” tone or pitch in philosophical debate, but Derrida claims that Kant himself raises his voice precisely in lampooning exalted thinkers. I am particularly interested in the extent to which Derrida’s critique manifests a fundamental misapprehension of the Kantian mode of moderating critique. By expounding this misapprehension, Kant’s own reasons for his philippic against religious or quasi-religious talk in philosophy are foregrounded, thus showing the nature of properly critical thought. At the same time, I shall show how Derrida underestimates the self-reflexivity, and hence properly critical, self-authorising mode of thinking, underlying his own oblique references to the adieu as a trope for quasi-transcendental intentionality towards the so-called ‘Other’.

Author's Profile

Dennis Schulting
University of Warwick (PhD)


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