[(essay date 2003) In the following essay, Clarkson argues that Kripke does not challenge Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction but rather “Kripke’s radical claim for the possibility of necessary a posteriori statements bears resemblance to Derrida’s understanding of the referential effects of language.” Clarkson suggests that the points of similarity serve as the starting position for an ethics of naming.]
The stand-off between Derrida and contemporary analytic philosophers is well known: the controversy surrounding the proposal by Cambridge University to award Derrida an honorary degree is a spectacular case in point. At the very least, Derrida is recognized to share concerns typically associated with Wittgenstein, Davidson and Quine; common ground between Derrida and Kripke, however, is not readily conceded,1 especially in the wake of influential essays by Christopher Norris and others. Derrida and Kripke, Norris claims, meet on equal and opposite terms” (Norris 1984: 177, my emphasis); Kripke, according to Norris, provides “a fairly drastic critique” (169), a “powerful critique” (170) of structuralist and post-structuralist conceptions of language.
In this paper I shall address Norris’s argument, showing that Kripke does not pose a challenge to Derrida on the grounds that Norris stipulates. Further, I show that Kripke’s radical claim for the possibility of necessary a posteriori statements bears resemblance to Derrida’s understanding of the referential effects of language. I conclude the paper by suggesting that the points of contact in Kripke’s and Derrida’s accounts of proper names serve as a starting point for broaching a different line of philosophical enquiry—that is to say, a general ethics of naming. In this context, names and naming in fiction can be shown to make an important contribution to serious thinking about singular referring terms, as we shall see through a consideration of the designation, “The English Patient,” in Ondaatje’s novel of the same name.