The other as friend : a platonic response to the political thought of Jacques Derrida.
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Dinan, Matthew D.
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This dissertation presents a critical examination of the political thought of Jacques Derrida, suggesting that some of its aims are better realized by Plato. I argue that Derrida's late political works respond to a concern expressed in his early essay, "Plato's Pharmacy," where he suggests that Plato suppressed the subversive insights of philosophy, merely "deciding" to preserve the possibility of hierarchical order in politics. Derrida's explicitly political works identify the same Platonic logic of "closure" in Western political thought's prioritization of the "self" or "commensurability" to the other or "incommensurability." Such closure runs the risk of a nihilistic denial of the ultimate incommensurability: future time. Derrida responds to this politico-philosophical crisis through his notion of "democracy to come," in which he argues that democracy is never fully present, because it alternates between its irreconcilable principles of equality and freedom, in turn. Democracy is thus the one regime receptive to the radically incommensurable future or "to come." While Derrida's efforts to disrupt the nihilistic denial of the future in his political thought are admirable, his account relies heavily on a problematic conception of the self, assumes receptivity to the other to be incompatible with meaningful political limitations, and oversimplifies the Western tradition of political thought in both of these regards. In response, I return to the origin of Derrida's political interventions: the dialogues of Plato. I first examine the Sophist, arguing that Plato preempts Derrida's suggestion that he suppresses philosophy in the name of political order by criticizing the Eleatic Stranger's diacritical ontology for its inability to censure sophistry without recourse to the very decisionism Derrida supposes Plato to recommend. Turning to the Phaedrus I argue that Plato demonstrates Socrates' superiority to the Stranger in the Athenian's recognition of the human context in which thought occurs. Furthermore, Socrates models a type of friendly openness to Phaedrus that mitigates the neutralization of the incommensurable other feared by Derrida, while at the same time providing a foundation for meaningful politico-philosophical limitations. Plato thus offers a model of politico-philosophical openness through which it is possible to better obtain the political goals of Derrida.