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abstract

This article analyzes the role played by Immanuel Kant's defense of the death penalty, in the first and the second years of Jacques Derrida's Death Penalty Seminars, delivered from 1999 to 2001. Regarding the first year, the initial part of this article charts how Derrida introduces Kant's writings that purport to elaborate the categorical imperative of the death penalty, not by Kant's primary arguments but rather precisely through Kant's concession of an exception to this categorical imperative, concerning the impunity of a mother's infanticide. Derrida's lectures juxtapose Kant's philosophy of the death penalty with Victor Hugo's claim for the inviolability of life, and in doing so, the sessions introduce other examples of the applicability of the death penalty to mothers who have killed their children. What is at stake is the status of philosophy relative to the death penalty. Concerning the second year, the latter part of this article isolates the logic of Kant's categorical imperative, as deconstructed by Derrida, through recourse to the additions that Kant was obliged to append to his initial argument—those involving precisely sex crimes. The article follows how Derrida thoroughly takes apart both the simplicity of Kant's categorical imperative of the death penalty by means of the complications that are its abyssal foundation and the phallogocentrism of Freud's sexual oppositions through the extraction of insights into another thinking of sexual difference that Freud's categories foreclosed.