Overcoming "the Present Limits of the Necessary": Foucault's Conception of a Critique

Southern Journal of Philosophy 55 (S1):7-24 (2017)

Tuomo Tiisala
University of Helsinki
This essay offers a novel interpretation of Michel Foucault’s original and often misunderstood conception of philosophy as a critical activity. While it is well known that Foucault’s critique undertakes to disclose contingent limits of thought that appear necessary in the present, the nature of the obstacle whose overcoming critique is meant to facilitate remains poorly understood. I argue that this obstacle, “the present limits of the necessary,” resides on the unconscious level of thought Foucault identified as the object of analysis for an archaeology of knowledge. Therefore, Foucault’s conception of a critique can be grasped only against the background of the distinctive conception of thought that informs his archaeological analyses of discursive practices. According to that view, thinking is always shaped by some historically specific system of unconscious norms that define the contingent set of conceptual possibilities subjects are able to recognize in the present. Drawing on Foucault’s largely neglected remarks on the obvious and the habitual, I argue that these unconscious norms of thought are enacted habitually in a discursive practice, which endows them with an appearance of obviousness. In this way, I explain how something contingent appears in the guise of necessity and begins to function as part of the present limits of the necessary. Finally, I argue that the task of a critique to expand the scope of conceptual possibility by disclosing these unconscious limits of thought is motivated by Foucault’s commitment to the ideal of autonomy understood as subject’s self-determination.
Keywords critique  Foucault  political philosophy  20th century philosophy
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/sjp.12224
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Leibniz and Descartes, Proof and Eternal Truths.Ian Hacking - 1973 - Proceedings of the British Academy 59.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Anthropology as Critique: Foucault, Kant and the Metacritical Tradition.Sabina F. Vaccarino Bremner - 2020 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 28 (2):336-358.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Adorno, Foucault and Critique.Deborah Cook - 2013 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 39 (10):0191453713507016.
Keeping It Implicit: A Defense of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge.Tuomo Tiisala - 2015 - Journal of the American Philosophical Association 1 (4):653-73.
Critique as Technology of the Self.Matthew Sharpe - 2005 - Foucault Studies 2:97-116.
O sonho da interpretação na arqueologia de Foucault.Tomás Mendonça da Silva Prado - 2014 - Veritas – Revista de Filosofia da Pucrs 59 (2):339-360.
Foucault's Kantian Critique: Philosophy and the Present.Christina Hendricks - 2008 - Philosophy and Social Criticism 34 (4):357-382.
Ricoeur and Foucault: Between Ontology and Critique.Patrick Gamez - 2013 - Études Ricoeuriennes / Ricoeur Studies 4 (2):90-107.
Critique and Experience in Foucault.T. Lemke - 2011 - Theory, Culture and Society 28 (4):26-48.
Experience and the Limits of Governmentality.Jan Masschelein - 2006 - Educational Philosophy and Theory 38 (4):561–576.
Michel Foucault: Politics of the Ethical.Joanna Leigh Crosby - 1995 - Dissertation, Vanderbilt University


Added to PP index

Total views
280 ( #25,138 of 2,311,192 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
80 ( #7,507 of 2,311,192 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature