Also found in: Dictionary.
Derrida Jacques(1930-2004) Algerian-born French philosopher whose ideas (e.g. Writing and Difference, 1978) have influenced sociological thinking in a number of areas, especially the implications for methodology of human LANGUAGE. Derrida is one of a number of philosophers in recent years to argue that philosophers have been simply mistaken in searching for underlying ‘essences’ or ‘first principles’. Derrida's case, drawing critically on the ideas of HEIDEGGER and SAUSSURE, is that language, as a system of internal ‘difference s’, cannot be the unambiguous carrier of TRUTH in the way assumed by many branches of traditional philosophy and by many social scientists, including LÉVI-STRAUSS (see also TEXT, DECONSTRUCTION). For Derrida the signifier has no stable relation to the signified. A sign (and signification) depends on a structure of difference, half of which is ‘not that’ (the relational différence - see DIFFERENCE) and the other half is ‘not there’ (différance - or ‘deferral’), the fact that a meaning is never fully achieved, sliding under an endless chain of signifiers. Signifiers and signifieds are always becoming detached and forming new combinations. There is no end to the call for definition, and thus meaning is never transparent. As for Heidegger, for Derrida the sign, strictly speaking, must always stand ‘under erasure’, as necessary but inadequate. What this means is that, not only signs, but also human 'S elves’, must remain always in flux. The ‘self is an uncertain effect, rather than the stable core and only origin of linguistic and thinking practices.
There are similarities in outcome, but also important differences of emphasis, between Derrida's POSTSTRUCTURALIST thinking and ‘post-empiricist’, ‘antiepistemological’ intellectual movements in the UK and US (compare KUHN, FEYERABEND). See also POSTMODERNISM.