Derrida and Durkheim on Suffering


In the Cerisy lectures, Derrida famously argues that the animal question is at the heart of all the great questions, such as those concerned with the origins and nature of law, rights, justice, freedom and morality. For Émile Durkheim, founder of the French sociological tradition, the question of society is one such great question.1 Indeed, it was the question for Durkheim, as it has been for subsequent generations of sociologists. Among Derrida’s many contributions in these lectures, published as L’animal que donc je suis (2008), is a perspective that enables us to appreciate how, for Durkheim, the question of society is bound up with the question of the animal. Derrida’s seminars on The Beast and the Sovereign (2001-2003) develop this perspective insofar as they help us to see Durkheim’s theory of society as a logical extension of a Cartesian tradition that accords non-human animals the ability to react, but not respond. And yet, a closer inspection of Durkheim’s theory of society complicates any straightforward application of Derrida’s deconstruction of the human-animal opposition.

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