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Linguistic Archipelago and (Its?) History

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In this article I examine Jean–Fran├žois Lyotard’s conception of history, its philosophical presuppositions, and its implications. As his conception’s most crucial implicit assumptions I consider Lyotard’s account of language and his notion of agonistics and dissent. Concerning its implications, I consider the nominalist and relativist conclusions Lyotard’s theory may engender if thought through to its end, as well as the possibilities it opens up for ethics and justice for alterity, or otherness, via a new notion of human history. My aim is to show how Lyotard advances philosophical thought about history and to examine whether he succeeds in delivering the goods he promises. I conclude with suggestions for an alternative approach. The main thesis of the article is that Lyotard’s metacritique of past accounts of human history is pertinent and apposite but, because of some negative implications of certain implicit assumptions on which he relies to articulate this critique, it appears inadequate in some respects. I argue that it is possible to promote a critique of older notions of human history along Lyotardian lines and to preserve the merits of Lyotard’s critique for a sensitive and nonlogocentric approach to otherness via another route, one that is not committed to Lyotard’s agonistics and incommensurability of language games.
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Keywords: Kant; Lyotard; history; justice; language; representation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Cyprus

Publication date: 2002-10-01

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