Practicing politics with Foucault and Kant: Toward a critical life

Philosophy and Social Criticism 29 (3):259-280 (2003)
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This paper problematizes the claim that Michel Foucault's work is normatively lacking and therefore possesses only limited political relevance. While Foucault does not articulate a traditional normative framework for political activity, I argue that his work nonetheless reflects certain normative commitments to, for example, practicing freedom and improving the state of the world. I elucidate these commitments by sketching out Foucault's notion of critique as a mode of existence characterized by practices of the self, arguing that such practices possess political significance within the context of what Foucault refers to as a way of life, and analyzing points of intersection and departure between Kant's and Foucault's respective responses to the question `What is Enlightenment?' in order to clarify the connection Foucault makes between self-practices and freedom. Through this analysis I also show that Foucault reconceptualizes normative concepts such as obligation, freedom, autonomy and publicity in non-normalizing, politically compelling ways, and argue that his work opens onto a similar reconceptualization of the notion of political unity. I conclude with a preliminary investigation into the political efficacy of Foucault's ethos by discussing its relevance specifically for feminist politics.



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Dianna Taylor
University of South Australia