Enlightenment contra humanism: Michel Foucault’s critical history of thought


In this dissertation I claim that Michel Foucault is a pro-enlightenment philosopher. I argue that his critical history of thought cultivates a state of being autonomous in thought and action which is indicative of a kantian notion of maturity. In addition, I contend that, because he follows a nietzschean path to enlightenment, Foucault’s elaboration of freedom proceeds from his critique of who we are, which includes a rejection of humanism’s experiential limits. At the same time, and perhaps most importantly, I also suggest that Foucault articulates a posthumanist conception of finitude and being. To begin with, I show that on humanism’s path to edghtenment, which is established by Rousseau, Kant and Hegel and currently advocated by Rawls and Taylor, a philosophy of the autonomous subject who desires self-actualisation through recogrution precedes the epistemologcal and political critiques which generate humanism’s objective, normative and subjective axes of experience. On the basis of Foucault’s archzological, genealogical and, when they operate together, critical historical critiques of these conditions of possibility for autonomy and recogrution, I maintain that humanism fails to teach us how to think or act freelythat is, as critical thought that delivers enhghtenment-and that humanism’s knowledge of the world and its justice in politics necessitate the confined exclusion of those who are different and the submission of subjectivity of those who are normal. In response to the immaturity that is at the heart of humanism, I illustrate that Foucault deploys archeology, genealogy and critical history to excavate his posthumanist, enlightenment alternatives of savoir, pouvoir and ethico-morality. After he relocates an explanation of cause and effect in the human sciences from savioir to the relations between savoir and pouvoir, I explicate how Foucault reconceives, firstly, the way pouvoir is exercised by productive mechanisms, which discipline the body and regulate the citizen, and, secondly, the nature of pouvoir, which he characterises as governmentality, or one’s action upon the actions of others. He then retlunks freedom as the vis-a-vis of pouvoir/savoir, and I demonstrate how critical history reveals that, prior to the hermeneutic relation to self wluch is at the centre of humanism’s conception of moral identity, ethical subjectivity in antiquity is formed through an ascetic, agonistic freedom that is based on a practical relation to self. Foucault uses this as a blueprint for the present, in which an ethico-political state of being autonomous in thought and action is constituted over against our limits of pouvoir/savoir. I thus claim that Foucault’s portrayal as an anti-enlightenment philosopher, who proffers nothing but anormative critique and amoral freedom, represents the perspective of those for whom to be anti-humanism is akin to being antienlightenment. These criticisms are exposed as misguided by the thesis that I verify in this dissertation, which is that critical history qua critique, thence an ontology, namely, Foucault’s critical ontology, brings about maturity and endorses an ehghtenment that is both contra- and post-humanism.



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Bregham Dalgliesh
University of Tokyo

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