There are more than two brands, but I’m restricting myself to two.

On the one hand there are the careful, balanced assessments of some writer or a collection of writers. These aim to clarify the aims and actual opinions of thinkers of the past. They rebut misinterpretations and misconstruals. Descartes didn’t really mean that , Heidegger’s opinion on X must be seen in the context of his views on Y. This is all very useful.

On the other hand are intellectual histories that trace out the impact of one thinker on another, regardless of whether the influenced thinker interpreted the influencing thinker accurately. This is also very useful, since misconstruals may actually have more impact on future thinkers than correct construals.

Which, after all, has been more influential on later thinkers, Descartes or truncated Descartes, Heidegger or pop-Heidegger, Freud or pseudo-Freud, Derrida’s actual thought or Derridean slogans ( il n’y a pas de hors-texte ) and terms (deconstruction)?

More on: History

Articles by Peter J. Leithart