Alas, he is being referred to as a philosopher.
I think this captures the sentiment of analytic philosophers (which Leiter further elaborates in the subsequent paragraph) toward Derrida fairly well. In contrast, Clark of Mormon Philosophy & Theology writes:
To read Derrida was to see things in a new light. From a purely literary perspective, it was a joy to read. It was like nothing I had seen before.
And shaviro of The Pinocchio Theory wrote
Derrida was important to me because, when I first read his early writings, my understanding of the world changed. I was never able to see things the same way again.
I think Clark and shaviro capture what I want in philosopher: an individual whose own ideas force me to view the world in a different way. Is it so wrong, then, to refer to Derrida as a philosopher? If not, then why do some, especially those within the analytic tradition, take such offense at his being referred to as a philosopher, as one of them?
I think the answer is that analytic philosphers are offended by the conservativism of Derrida. Yes, I said the conservativism of Derrida. By this, I don't mean political conservativism, but historical conservativism. Derrida, far more than most analytic philosophers, is working within, and with, a philosophical tradition that is much older than the largely ahistorical analytic tradition. He is working in and with the tradition of thought that began with the pre-Socratics, especially Heraclitus and Parmenides, and continues through the Scholastics, modernists, and on the post-modernists. It is the tradition of philosophy that is concerned with man's (and woman's) place in the world as it is today, and how he (or she) can, should, and will come to know and live it.
This tradition has not been co-opted by analytic philosophy; it has, in the minds of analytic philosophers, been transcended by it. We no longer live in a world in which "idle" speculation, playing with ideas, words, intuitions, and introspections, counts as philosophy. To do philosophy, under the analytic view, one must write and think in a certain way. One must bend one's will, and one's philosophy, to the transcendence of scientific truth, and one's primary aim should be to capture the world, and man (or woman) as he (or she) is beneath the parachute of scientific knowledge. Scientific truth is not (only) in the findings of science, which, as often than not, are transitory, but in its methods. Thus the methods of philosophy must, by their very nature within this new conception, conform to the methods of science. Writing philosophy should consist of presenting a thesis, followed by arguments from evidence, followed by a conclusion in which it is determined that the thesis is or is not true by the weight of that evidence. Even "experiments" can and must be used, often in the form of "thought experiments," or better still, counterfactual reasoning, which embodies the form of scientific experiments1.
While some philosophers in the tradition within which Derrida works, and therefore outside of the tradition within which analytic philosophers works, might decry this bending of the philosopher's will to the goals and meta-theoretical direction of science and technology, I think almost everyone would admit that the goals and methods of analytic philosophy are important and useful. But are they the only methods? Are they the only way of doing philosophy? Historically, the answer is obviously no. This is not how philosophy, even the philosophy that has ultimately influenced the analytic tradition, has been done. Even the analytic insistence on fidelity in philosphical reading (which Leiter alludes to when he notes that Derrida was a bad reader) is a fairly new thing2. Still, in the age of science, has it become the only way to do philosophy, as I think analytic philosophers would contend? The fact that those working outside of the analytic tradition, and therefore outside what they view as philosophy, have ultimately come to recognize the same problems, and even arrived at some of the same conclusions, as analytic philosophy implies that it is not. Even more, the relatively recent recognition that ideas from outside the analytic tradition may provide insight into some of the problems with which analytic philosophers struggle (e.g., Dreyfus' use of the ideas of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty as a compliment to analytic approaches to mind) demonstrates that analytic philosophers are not doing philosophy in the only way that it can be done.
More important, however, is the non-analytic philosophers' focus on real-world problems, and not only the real-world problems of scientists who are doing science. However much we may disagree with their conclusions about various social, ethical, and everday issues, their focus on these things is valuable, particularly in the face of analytic philosophy's increasing attention to problems and issues that are too far removed from everyday life to be of much immediate value. By analogy, in my field, reductionists and neuroscientists often argue that their way of doing things is the right way, and should be the only way. Yet neuroscience, and reductionist approaches to mind are in their infancy, and are therefore bogged down in foundational issues that will not provide global insight into the ways in which humans think and reason for many years to come. For this reason, less reductionist, more cocomputational or algorithmic3 analyses are productive because they advance our understanding of the human mind now, in real time. Nelson Goodman once observed that there are two kinds of people in philosophy, those who are drawn to big problems about which their can be little certainty, and those who are drawn to little problems that admit a great deal of certainty. Neuroscientists generally come from the latter crowd, while those using more algorithmic or computational forms of analyses into the former. The same two categories can (at least roughly) be applied to philosophers like Derrida and analytic philosophers. Analytic philosophers focus on small, manegable problems, and continental philosophers on large, complex and unmanageable ones. Philosophers like Derrida are valuable in the same way that the computational analysis is valuable: while the analytic philosopher struggles with the minutiae that may one day provide the foundations for global theories of human knowledge, ethics, and social life, Derrida and his ilk use the insights of today to try to understand these things today, for the benefit of those in the here and now.
In this way, Derrida and others whom analytic philosophers would not deign to call philosophers, are philosophers in the vein of Hegel, and in Hegel's view, the entire history of western philosophy. They are individuals who use the concepts of their time to understand their own experiences, and the state of the world aound them, and when necessary, create new concepts to better understand these things. Thus Derrida is a conservative philosopher, one who, even in his critique of tradition, embeds himself within it through the direction in which he points his ship. If he works outside of the boundaries analytic philosophers have given to philosophy, it is to is credit. These historically narrow boundaries unnecessarily limit philosophy in its attempt to understand life. Philosophers like Derrida are important, and necessary, even when we disagree with them, because they help us to see the world today, and the big problems within it, in new lights, while analytic philosophy gives us mostly primosory notes.
It is for Derrida's courage, then, to be conservative, and tackle the here and now with the full force of his being, that I respect him. Perhaps he was not a great philosopher in the sense that Plato, Kant, or Hegel were great philosophers. Who knows whether he will be read five hundred, or even one hundred years from now? He may no longer be relevant. That is the risk that a philosopher takes when he takes as his object the problems of his day. It's a risk that takes an uncommon strength, uncommon even among philosophers, and for that strength, I think Derrida is and will remain memorable. I think, then, that a fitting tribute to Derrida might be to use the words with which Nietzsche spoke of Schopenhauer, to describe him:
His strength rises straight and calmly upwards like a flame when there is no wind, imperturbably, without restless wavering. He finds his way every time before we have so much noticed that he has been seeking it; as though compelled by a law of gravity he runs on ahead, so firm and agile, so inevitably.4
Inevitably. Yes, because philosophers like Derrida are inevitable, no matter how much analytic philosophers protest. As livers of life, we are compelled to try to understand it, and philosophers like Derrida will continue to help us to do so.
1 Scientific experiments are similar in form to counterfactual reasoning in that they set up alternative worlds (e.g., control and experimental conditions) and compare the outcomes of certain processes in those worlds. Even competing hypotheses (e.g., the null and experimental hypotheses) can be considered to be competing worlds.
2 Who would accuse Hegel, for instance, of being true to Plato or Aristotle, or even of Kant, in the analytic sense of truth in reading? Yet his readings of Plato and Aristotle were valuable, if only because they furthered his own thought, and his exposition of it.
3 From David Marr's levels of analysis.
4 From "Schopenhauer as Educator." Another compliment Nietzsche pays to Schopenhauer in that essay, through a comparison to Montaigne, might also be appropriate from those of us who have enjoyed Derrida's work: "That such a man wrote has truly augmented the joy of living on this earth."