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The Ethics of Deconstruction

Derrida and Levinas

Simon Critchley

Edition: 3

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An expanded edition of the first book to argue for the ethical turn in Derrida's work

New for this edition

  • This third edition contains three new texts, and a new preface where Critchley reflects upon the origins, motivation and reception of The Ethics of Deconstruction

The Ethics of Deconstruction, Simon Critchley’s first book, was originally published to great acclaim in 1992. It was the first book to argue for the ethical turn in Derrida's work and to show as powerfully as possible how deconstruction has persuasive ethical consequences that are vital to our thinking through of questions of politics and democracy. Rather than being concerned with deconstruction in terms of the contradictions inherent in any text – an approach typical of the early Derrida and those in literary criticism aiming to extract a critical method for an application to literature – Critchley concerns himself with the philosophical context necessary for an understanding of the ethics of deconstructive reading. Far from being some sort of value-free nihilism or textual free-play, Critchley showed the ethical impetus that was driving Derrida’s work. His claim was that Derrida’s understanding of ethics has to be understood in relation to his engagement with the work of Levinas and the book lays out the details of their philosophical confrontation.


Preface to Third Edition
Prefatory Note and Acknowledgements
1. The Ethics of Deconstruction: The Argument
2. The Problem of Closure in Derrida
3. Clotural Readings 1: 'Bois' - Derrida's Final Word on Levinas
4. Clotural Readings II: Wholly Otherwise: Levinas's Reading of Derrida
5. A Question of Politics: The Future of Deconstruction
Appendix 1: The Ethics of Deconstruction: An Attempt at Self-Criticism
Appendix 2: Habermas and Derrida Get Married
Appendix 3: Emmanuel Levinas
Appendix 4: Derrida. The Reader
Appendix 5: Leaving the Climate of Heidegger’s Thinking
Appendix 6: Five Problems in Levinas’s View of Politics and the Sketch of a Solution to Them

About the Author

Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. He also teaches at Tilburg University and the European Graduate School. His many books include Very Little…Almost Nothing, Infinitely Demanding, The Book of Dead Philosophers, The Faith of the Faithless, and, most recently with Tom McCarthy, The Mattering of Matter: Documents from the Archive of the International Necronautical Society. A new work on Hamlet called Stay, Illusion! Was published in 2013 by Pantheon Books, co-authored with Jamieson Webster. He is series moderator of ‘The Stone’, a philosophy column in The New York Times, to which he is a frequent contributor.


On its first appearance The Ethics of Deconstruction not only helped to shape the English reception of both Levinas and Derrida, but it also contributed to a reorienting of continental philosophy toward ethical issues. The book was timely when it first appeared and has not lost any of its initial relevance today. In fact with the additional material added to this edition it is now all the more valuable.

- Robert Bernasconi, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Philosophy at Penn State University

I celebrate this third edition of the classic book on ethics and deconstruction that Critchley published over twenty years ago and which has been widely reread and reviewed both in the English-speaking world and well beyond it. This book was pathbreaking, for it started a whole line of reflection on the possible ethical implications of Derrida's work, that Derrida himself encouraged in his later writings. Critchley's book remains as crucial for the interpretation of deconstruction as it was in its original version and I arnestly encourage a careful reading of its main theses.

- Ernesto Laclau, Emeritus Professor, University of Essex