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Foucault and critique: Kant, humanism and the human sciences

Mark Olssen
University of Surrey

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh,
11-13 September 2003

A critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought, the practices that we accept rest.... Criticism is a matter of flushing out that thought and trying to change it: to show that things are not as self-evident as we believed, to see that what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such. Practising criticism is a matter of making facile gestures difficult. (Foucault, 1988a: 154)

Critique, for Foucault, aims at identifying and exposing the unrecognised forms of power in people's lives, to expose and move beyond the forms in which we are entrapped in relation to the diverse ways that we act and think. In this sense, critique aims to free us from the historically transitory constraints of contemporary consciousness as realised in and through discursive practices. Such constraints impose limitations which have become so intimately a part of the way that people experience their lives that they no longer experience these systems as limitations but embrace them as the very structure of normal and natural human behaviour. Within these limits, seen as both the limits of reason and the limits of nature, freedom is subordinated to reason, which is subordinated to nature, and it is against such a reduction of reason to nature that Foucault struggles. His commitment is to a form of `permanent criticism' which must be seen as linked to his broader programme of freedom of thought. It is the freedom to think differently than what we already know. Thought and life achieve realisation through an attitude of `permanent criticism' which does not have as its aim an objective of absolute emancipation, or absolute enlightenment, but rather aims at limited and partial operations on the world as well as acts of aesthetic self-creation framed within a critical ontology of ourselves and supported by an ethics and aesthetics of existence. The three central thinkers in terms of whom Foucault's notion of critique takes form are Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, and it is in terms of these three thinkers that our consideration of Foucault's conception proceeds.

Foucault and Kant

Much of Foucault's approach to critique stems from his radicalization of the Kantian approach to critique. As James Miller (1994: 138) notes "Foucault never ceased to consider himself a kind of Kantian". In The Order of Things Foucault (1970: 384) tells us that Kantian critique forms an essential part of "the immediate space of our reflection. We think in that area". Further, as Miller (1994: 138) notes, in an essay completed shortly before his death for a French Dictionary of Philosophy1, Foucault also situates his own work within the critical tradition of Kant. This tradition, says Foucault, entails "an analysis of the conditions under which certain relations of subject and object are formed or modified" and a demonstration of how such conditions "are constitutive of a possible knowledge" (cited in Miller, 1994: 138)2

In Foucault's view, Kant founded the two great critical traditions between which modern philosophy has been divided. On the one hand, Kant laid down and founded that critical tradition of philosophy which defines the conditions under which a true knowledge is possible, of which a whole area of modern philosophy since the nineteenth century has been presented and developed on that basis as an analytic of truth; on the other hand, he initiated a mode of critical interrogation that is immanent in the movement of the Enlightenment and which directs our attention to the present and asks `what is the contemporary field of possible experience?' It is to this latter emphasis, starting with Hegel and leading through Nietzsche, Weber and the Frankfurt School, that Foucault locates his own work.

Foucault sees in Kant's essay `An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?'3 of 1784 the origin of a critical ontology of the present. Foucault summarises Kant's definition of the concept `Enlightenment' as a measure of man's "release from his self-incurred tutelage" (Kant, 1992: 90). Kant defines Enlightenment, says Foucault (1984a: 34), "in an entirely negative way, as an Ausgang, an `exit' or `way out' . . . he is looking for a difference: what difference does today introduce with respect to yesterday?" In this, Foucault discovers Kant as "an archer", as Habermas (1986: 165) has put it, "who aims his arrow at the heart of the most actual features of the present and so opens the discourse of modernity". As Foucault puts it:

The question which seems to me to appear for the first time in this text by Kant is the question of the present, of the contemporary moment. What is happening today? What is happening now? And what is this "now" which we all inhabit, and which defines the moment in which I am writing? ... Now it seems to me that the question Kant answers...has to do with what this present is...The question is: what is there in the present which can have contemporary meaning for philosophical reflection. (Foucault, 1986: 88-89)4

In considering the Enlightenment, what also must be taken into account, says Foucault (1986: 89) is that it was "the Aufklärung itself which named itself the Aufklärung". In this, it was " a cultural process of indubitably a very singular character, which came to self-awareness through the act of naming itself, situating itself in relation to its past and its future, and in prescribing the operation which it was required to effect within its own present" Thus, as Foucault (1984a: 34) summarises it, Kant indicates in his essay that the 'way out' that characterises the Enlightenment is a process that releases us from the status of our own immaturity, an immaturity in which we accept someone else's authority to lead us in areas where the use of reason is called for.

Kant links the process of release from immaturity to man himself. He notes that "man himself is responsible for his immature status . . . that he is able to escape from it by a change that he himself will bring about in himself". Hence Kant's motto for the Enlightenment: aude sapere (dare to know) (1984a: 34).

It is in this sense, says Foucault (1984a: 35), that the Enlightenment for Kant is both a collective process, as well as an act of personal courage. As integral to the conditions for escape from immaturity, Kant seeks to distinguish the realm of obedience and reason. Hence one must obey as a condition of being able to reason freely (Kant gives the example of paying one's taxes while being free to reason about the system of taxation in operation). Thus central to the Enlightenment in Kant's view is the public use of reason which "must be free . . . [for] it alone can bring about enlightenment among men" (Kant, 1992: 92). To resolve the issue as to how the public use of free reason can co-exist with obedience to the law, Kant proposes his famous contract with Frederick II. This, as Foucault puts it, "might be called the contract of rational despotism with free reason: the public and free use of autonomous reason will be the best guarantee of obedience, on condition, however, that the political principle that must be obeyed itself be in conformity with universal reason" (Foucault, 1984a: 37).

There is a connection, in Foucault's view, between the brief article `What is Enlightenment' and Kant's three Critiques, for Kant describes the Enlightenment as the moment when humanity is going to put its own reason to use, without subjecting itself to any authority. It is precisely at this moment, however, that critique is necessary since, as Foucault (1984a: 37-38) puts it, "its role is that of defining the conditions under which the use of reason is legitimate. . . . The Critique is, in a sense, the handbook of reason that has grown up in the Enlightenment; and, conversely, the Enlightenment is the age of the Critique". Thus, Kant's short essay on the Enlightenment constitutes "a reflection . . . on the contemporary status of his own enterprise" (1984a: 37). It is in this sense, as Foucault maintains (1984a: 38), that "this little text is located . . . at the crossroads of critical reflection and reflection on history".

Foucault takes Kant's text as the point of emergence of the question of modernity. As he puts it:

the question of modernity has been posed in classical culture according to an axis with two poles, antiquity and modernity; it had been formulated either in terms of an authority to be accepted or rejected . . . or else in the form . . . of a comparative evaluation: are the Ancients superior to the Moderns? are we living in a period of decadence? and so forth. There now appears a new way of posing the question of modernity, no longer within a longitudinal relationship to the Ancients, but rather in what one might call a `sagital' relation to one's own present-ness. Discourse has to take account of its own present-ness, in order to find its own place, to pronounce its meaning, and to specify the mode of action which it is capable of exercising within this present. What is my present? What is the meaning of this present? Such is, it seems to me, the substance of this new interrogation on modernity. (Foucault, 1986: 90)

Hence, for Foucault (1986: 89), Kant's essay introduces a new type of question into the field of philosophical reflection, one that sees philosophy "problematizing its own discursive present-ness" within the context of history. It is this historical contextualization that was Kant's reason for undertaking his work at the particular time, in the first place. In fact, the question he was addressing was one put to him and other Aufklärer by the Berlinische Monatsschrift. Fifteen years later Kant posed a similar question in response to the French Revolution of 1798. In his article `The Contest of the Faculties'5, Kant considers the question as to the nature of the French Revolution. What he was searching for was a `sign' of progress of the human race. In order to judge progress, reasoned Kant, rather than seek to follow the threads of a "teleological fabric which would make progress possible" (1986: 92) Kant thought it necessary "to isolate and identify in history an event that will serve as a sign for progress". Further, says Foucault (1986: 92):

The event that will be able to allow us to decide whether there is progress will be a sign, which is 'rememorativum, demonstrativum, prognosticom'. It must be a sign that shows that it has already been thus (the rememorative sign), a sign that shows that things are at present happening thus (the demonstrative sign), a sign finally which shows that things will always be thus (the prognostic sign). We will then be sure that the cause which makes progress possible has not been operative only at a particular moment, but that it guarantees a general tendency of the whole human race to advance in the direction of progress. (Foucault, 1986: 92)

Is there such a sign? Kant's answer was `the French Revolution' has such signifying value, although it is not the revolution as an event which constitutes the sign but rather "the way the Revolution operates as spectacle, the way it is generally received by spectators who did not take part in it but watch it, witness it and, for better or worse, allow themselves to be swept along by it" (1986: 93). It doesn't even matter whether the Revolution succeed or fail. What constitutes the sign of progress is, as Kant expresses it, that the Revolution is surrounded by "a wishful participation that borders closely on enthusiasm" (cited in Foucault, 1986: 93).

Hence, for Kant, the enthusiasm for Revolution "is the sign of a moral disposition of humanity" (Foucault, 1986: 93); it completes and continues the process of the Enlightenment, that event that denotes the long journey from humanity's immaturity to maturity. In Foucault's view, Kant's two questions -`What is Enlightenment?' and `What is Revolution?'- are the two forms in which he poses the question of his own present. They are also the two questions "which have continued to haunt if not all modern philosophy since the nineteenth century, at least a great part of it". For Kant, says Foucault, the Enlightenment constitutes both a "singular event inaugurating European modernity and as a permanent process manifesting itself in the history of reason" (1986: 95).

Foucault is less convinced than Kant that the Enlightenment is a long, slow, uphill pilgrimage based on the directing capacities of reason, and less convinced than Kant that the Revolution constitutes a sign of progress. For Foucault, rather than being a period or event based on conviction and certainty in man's newfound, mature dependence on reason, the Enlightenment signifies uncertainty and the need for caution. Similarly, the Revolution is not an event marked by the passage of enthusiasm which serves as a sure sign of progress, but an event that is an ambiguous occurrence and always potentially dangerous: "liable to succeed or miscarry, or to succeed at unacceptable cost" (1986: 92). Hence, while Foucault respects Kant's argument, he finds it flawed on several grounds: "many things in our experience convince us that the historical event of the Enlightenment did not make us mature adults, and we have not reached that stage yet" (1984a: 49). The Revolution that Kant took to be a sign of progress, although "born of rationalism . . . one is entitled to ask what part is played in the effects of despotism in which that hope lost itself" (Foucault, 1980b: 54).


Foucault's critique of humanism is consistent throughout his work. As he expressed it in a later essay, anthropological humanism takes various forms and can be seen evident in Christianity, Marxism, Existentialism, Phenomenology, even Nazism and Stalinism, says Foucault. In addition (1984a: 44):

Humanism is . . . a theme or rather set of themes that have reappeared on several occasions over time, in European societies; these themes, always tied to value judgements, have obviously varied greatly in their content, as well as in the values they have preserved. . . . From this we must not conclude that everything that has ever been linked with humanism is to be rejected, but that the humanistic thematic is in itself too supple, too diverse, too inconsistent to serve as an axis for reflection. And it is a fact that, at least since the seventeenth century, what is called humanism has always been obliged to lean on certain conceptions of man borrowed from religion, science, or politics. Humanism serves to color and to justify the conceptions of man to which it is, after all, obliged to take recourse.

In its more specific usage, however, humanism constitutes a condition of possibility of the Enlightenment episteme. It focuses on the study of Man placing the subject at the centre of life. Kantianism sees man as transcendental arbiter of reason and as both subject and object of knowledge, leading in Foucault's view to the fundamental incompatibilities in the conception of what man is and in the nature of modernist knowledge that he analysed in The Order of Things (1970: 316-322). For Foucault, man cannot be seen as a foundation or origin or condition of possibility of discourse. Kant's attempt to do so was part of his search for an original foundation "that would make rationality the telos of mankind, and link the whole history of thought to the preservation of this rationality" (Foucault, 1972: 12-13). Although Kant's 'analytic of finitude' made possible the sciences of man, man is placed in an unstable position as both the subject and object of knowledge. Hence, man emerges in the 'analytic of finitude' introduced by Kant as a "strange empirico-transendental doublet" because he is both the object of knowledge (that which knowledge seeks to know about) and the subject of knowledge (that which strives after such knowledge). Such a humanism introduces radical instabilities into the human sciences. As Hiley (1985:72) puts it:

Humanism, as Foucault understood it, exhausts itself in an endless back and forth

from one side to the other of man and his doubles: from man as the condition for the possibility of knowledge to man as himself an object in the empirical field; from man's attempt to become intelligible to himself by making accessible the unthought that always eludes him because it is that which makes thought possible; from man's curious relations with his history as historical and what makes history possible in which his origin always retreats. Humanism or the analytic of finitude, then, is 'warped and twisted forms of reflection,' and all those forms of reflection that take man as the starting point, that talk of man's liberation, that attempt to reach the truth about man are caught in the futility of the doubles.

Humanism, then, involves the claim that man, for Kant, exists at the centre of the universe as a finite being who can reason within limits which he cannot go beyond. Such a notion generates insoluble contradictions for the human sciences because it is based on incompatible conceptions of what man, his history, and mind are. Foucault (1970: 312-313) traces the play of these contradictions as they have emerged alongside of the empirical human sciences. Hence on the one hand our knowledge must be limited, as man knows himself as a finite being, as an objective of nature; on the other hand that finitude which establishes the limits of human understanding is claimed to be the condition that makes knowledge of this finitude possible (1970: 314-315). Hence the possibility of knowledge is established on limits to reason which deny it (1970: 317-318).

Kant's transcendentalism is thus underpinned by an anthropological conception of the subject. Foucault opposes Kantian humanism in the same way he opposed the Cartesian conception of the atomized and disembodied Cogito at the centre of the universe. For Foucault, the Cartesian conception of an autonomous and rational subject who is set apart from history depends upon a distinction between mind and body setting up a dualism of inner/outer. In this model, while the body is subject to the determinations of the laws of nature, mind is autonomous unto itself. In such a conception, knowledge is seen as grounded upon an incorrigible and indubitable foundation. Following Heidegger and Nietzsche, humanism, for Foucault, has a specific meaning which refers to the philosophical centrality or priority of the subject whose rational capacities, which are asocial and ahistorical, serve as a foundation anchoring objectivity and truth. As Fraser (1994: 191) states, humanism 'is the project of making the subject pole triumph over the object pole" representing man as constitutor, as free, as all knowing, and as master of their fate and destiny. Foucault's conception of the subject, influenced by Nietzsche, sees it as having no `unity', `essence' or integral identity.

It is in defense of this philosophical anti-humanism that Foucault presents his reading and adaptation of Kant. In his introductory commentary to Kant's Anthropology Foucault argues that this work is much more important to Kant's overall project than has commonly been represented6. By 'anthropology' Kant meant the actual empirical study of the human being, and in his Logic Kant suggests that anthropology might be regarded as the fundamental issue in philosophy, as all of the questions that he was centrally concerned with stem from the more basic question 'What is Man?' In his introduction to Kant's Anthropology7 Foucault suggests that Kant's own conception of the person's choice grows out of the network of social practices which constitute them. Yet in order to establish knowledge as secure Kant distinguished between the empirical and the transcendental, positing specific laws of cognition in order to ground objectivity against skeptical attack. Thus central to Kant's Copernican Revolution were (1) the establishment of lawful cognitive regularities to anchor objectivity, (2) the establishment of free will as a transcendental practice, and (3) the representation of human beings as constructing their moral and political worlds for themselves through the utilisation of the capabilities of reason. Although Kant believed that such a constructivism, if carried out according to the dictates of reason, would vindicate the traditional Christian idea of God, in Foucault's view the consequences of his transcendental critique was to establish human beings as having much greater creative capabilities than Kant had supposed. Hence, for Foucault (1960: 17), as Miller (1994: 140) recounts, "the world appears as a city to be built, rather than as a cosmos already given". In Foucault's view, then, Kant had failed to confront the constructivist implications that his insight regarding the transcendental power of human beings revealed. As Miller (1994: 141) expresses the point:

Instead of exercising the power of free will and imagining "a city to be built", Kant in his Anthropology tried to vindicate a "normative understanding", not only by codifying the kind of savior faire acquired in the course of everyday life, but also of accusing of "high treason" anyone who regarded such know-how as counterfeit and illusory. As Foucault sums up the argument of his thesis in The Order of Things, Kant's philosophy produces, "surreptitiously and in advance, the confusion of the empirical and the transcendental, even though Kant had demonstrated the division between them8

What Kant's Anthropology also reveals, in Foucault's view, is the contextual historical character of the categories which take root in, and develop in the social and historical customs and practices of a specific society. In this context, the role of the philosopher is to understand the historical nature of the a priori through a detailed examination of the social and historical practices (customs, language, habits, discourses, institutions, disciplines) from which a particular style of reasoning emerges and develops. It is in this sense, for Foucault, as Miller (1994: 140) puts it, Kant's Anthropology, far from being "a piece of crackpot pseudo science opens up an important new philosophical horizon". As Miller (1994: 140) continues:

Despite its apparent eccentricity, Kant's book underlines for Foucault the manifold ways in which "the self, by becoming an object" of regulated social practices, "takes its place in the field of experience and finds there a concrete system of belonging". This system is "immediate and imperative", no human being may escape it; it is transmitted in "the regulated element of language," organized "without the intervention of a force or authority," activated within each subject "purely and simply because he speaks".9

For Foucault, the unresolved tension of Kant's philosophical project is that he fails to appreciate the contingent and historically contextualized character of all truth-claims, i.e., to advocate a notion of critique which claims to transcend specific historical conditions through the exercise of cognitive faculties (of understanding, reason, and judgement) deduced a priori as timeless structures. The transcendental character of Kant's argument resides in positing a priori categories which are deduced to constitute the consciousness of the human subject, as that which organizes perception as a timeless and universal structure. In this sense, Foucault rejects Kant's claims to have established the universal grounds for the conditions of possibility of human knowledge, and Kant's claims for transcendental reason are replaced for Foucault by a principle of permanent contingency. By extension, Foucault disputes Kant's claim to have established a secure foundation by which to differentiate different types of knowledge claims, relating to science, practical reason, or aesthetics. The objective is to switch from a conception of critique as being transcendentally grounded, to a conception of critique which conceives it as practical and as historically specific. Thus Foucault says:

Criticism is no longer going to be practised in the search for formal structures with universal value, but rather as an historical investigation into the events that have led us to constitute ourselves and to recognise ourselves as subjects of what we are doing, thinking, saying. In this sense the criticism is not transcendental, and its goal is not that of making a metaphysics possible: it is genealogical in its design and archaeological in its method. (Foucault, 1984a: 45-46)

Hence, on Foucault's account, Kant's famous questions `What can I know?', `What ought I to do?' and `What may I hope for?', as James Bernauer ( Foucault, 1991: 46) expresses it, Foucault would "de-nature" and "historicize" them:

Not "What can I know?," but rather, "How have my questions been produced? How has the path of my knowing been determined?" Not "What ought I to do", but rather, "How have I been situated to experience the real? How have exclusions operated in delineating the realm of obligation for me?" Not "What may I hope for?," but rather, "What are the struggles in which I am engaged? How have the parameters for my aspirations been defined?"

Foucault's genealogical project is then a critique of reason whereby he seeks to introduce, to use Thomas McCarthy's (1994: 249) phrase "a sociohistorical turn" into the practice of philosophy. In order to explore "the nature scope and limits of human reason" we have to understand:

the intrinsic impurity of what we call reason - its embeddedness in culture and society, its engagement with power and interest, the historical variability of its categories and criteria, the embodied, sensuous and practically engaged character of its bearers... and this calls for models of sociohistorical enquiry that go beyond the traditional bounds of philosophical analysis. The critique of reason as a non-foundationalist enterprise is concerned with structures and rules that transcend the individual consciousness. But what is supraindividual in this way is no longer understood as transcendental; it is sociocultural in origin. (McCarthy, 1994: 243-244)

Foucault thus adapts Kant to support his socio-historical conception through which individuals are constituted in relation to a world of already given practices of a determinate historical terrain. In drawing on Nietzsche's method of genealogy, institutions and practices are historically investigated in order to trace the forms of power and lines of opposition between and amongst them. For Nietzsche our habitual modes of action and thought have an historical origin and bare the marks of conflicting individual wills to power of people, groups and classes in history. In On the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche shows how our dominant moral codes emerged from the battle of classes and groups (e.g. Romans and Jews) in the past. Genealogy seeks to trace the lines of the battles that have gone into making the world as we know it in the present, natural. In this sense it contributes to problematizing our taken-for-granted beliefs and conceptions about the way the world is.

A further sense in which Foucault is anti-humanist arises in the writings of the 1970s, specifically Discipline and Punish, the History of Sexuality, and in his writings on power (see Foucault, 1980a). In these works, Foucault is concerned with the role of the human sciences in the emergence and maintenance of normalization through disciplinary bio-power. Bio-power, as David Hiley (1985: 73) tells us, is a uniquely modern form of power/knowledge which includes "disciplinary techniques for optimizing administration of bodies with regulatory controls over biological processes for the management of life" (Hiley, 1985: 73; citing Foucault, 1978c: 139). It functions via normalization to colonize every aspect of life. As Hiley (1985: 73) continues:

It is productive rather than merely repressive; it is capillary, decentralized and omnipresent, it operates through coercion, surveillance and discipline at the level of micro-practices rather than merely through ideological distortion; it is intentional and strategically deployed but nonsubjective, i.e., it is strategies without strategists.10

Liberal fears of anti-humanism

Following Nietzsche, Heidegger, Althusser, Lacan, the structuralists, Derrida, and Deleuze, Foucault's anti-humanism is specifically a philosophical thesis which represents humanism as bolstering a 'philosophy of consciousness' as entailed in the foundationalist claims of Descartes and Kant. As a consequence, Foucault's anti-humanism must be seen as undercutting only the modernist notion of the subject, and as such, much of the core of humanist values can be retained. As a philosophical thesis anti-humanism questions the values of autonomy, subjectivity and self-determination. One can, on such a view, still oppose oppression and domination, as well as those values that could be represented as 'anti-humanity'. As well, one still tries to equalise power, to liberate. What Foucault is opposing essentially then, is the modernist conception of the subject, articulated in the philosophies of Descartes and Kant, and which took root in the period of the Enlightenment developing from a number of threads that can be traced from the 15th to the 18th centuries. As Tony Davies (1997: 9) says "the word is of German coinage and ...its credentials are Greek". Humanism was a term which centred on the development of the individual by such writers as Burckhardt, Vasari, Machiavelli, and Marlowe. It entails:

the myth of the essential universal man: essential, because humanity -human-ness-is the inseparable and central essence, the defining quality, of human beings; universal, because that essential humanity is shared by all human beings of whatever time or place (Davies,1997: 24)

If 15th century Italy is one source of humanism, then the revolutionary discourse on rights is another, says Davies. When Rousseau, in the Social Contract (1762) announces that "L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers', he distinguishes between abstract 'Man' and 'actual man' caught in their social position. Similarly, Thomas Paines Rights of Man (1792) or Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (1776) all appeal to the abstract singularity and universality of Man. (Davies, 1997: 24-32). Humanism, then, posits a "timeless and unlocalised" condition, which is "Frederich Nietzsche's radical insight". In Human, All Too Human (1880), says Davies, (1997: 32), Nietzsche wrote that:

All philosophers involuntarily think of 'man' as an aeterna veritas [eternal truth], as something that remains constant in the midst of all flux, as a sure measure of things...Lack of historical sense is the family failing of all philosophers; many without being aware of it, even take the most recent manifestations of man, such as has arisen under the impress of certain religions, even certain political events, as the fixed form from which one has to start out...But everything has become: there are no eternal facts, just as there are no absolute truths.(Davies, 1997: 33; citing Hollingdale, 1973: 60-61)

And Nietzsche's message would also be that of Foucault: what is needed from now on is "historical philosophising" and with it "the virtue of modesty" by which he meant "a healthy willingness to resist temptation to confuse our own dispositions and values with some universal and eternal 'human condition' (Davies, 1997: 33; from Hollingdale, 1973: 65). At a philosophical level, then, Foucault rejects the Kantian paradigm of critique as grounded in the idea of an autonomous, self-constituting, transcendental subject.

According to Nancy Fraser (1994: 196) the foundationalist warrant that humanism justifies is not only philisophical but also political and strategic, in that humanist values are utilised by liberals in opposing absolutist government, the use of torture, and the violation of rights. Here, however, while it is true that Foucault opposes humanism in this sense, he does not thereby support absolute government, or torture, or the violation of rights. Rather, what he argues is that such causes are not adequately supported or opposed by humanist liberal arguments. Humanism is a discursive myth, and notions of autonomy and self-determination are illusions of a liberal hegemony form of disciplinary government which fail to recognise the historical constitution of selfhood. Such a discourse is at odds with both reason and experience.

Fraser also claims that Foucault could be seen as rejecting humanism on normative grounds which would be to introduce a relativistic argument that humanism is (just another) form of disciplinary bio-power in a world where all forms of power are disciplinary, and equally arbitrary. I have already rejected such an interpretation of Foucault in my book Michel Foucault: Materialism and Education (Olssen, 1999: chp. 7). Thus, expressed in terms of Fraser's language, my argument is that Foucault's anti-humanism, like Althusser's, is exclusively conceptual or philosophical. It is, as Fraser (1994: 207) has put it, "the project of de-Cartesianizing humanism". This is to acknowledge the Heideggerian, as well as the Nietzschean, influence on Foucault. For it was Heidegger, in his attack upon Cartesianism, who argued that what modern philosophy posited as universal and ahistorical, was in reality contingent and historically located11. Just as Heidegger theorizes the background system of beliefs and values that constitute Being, so Foucault sees humanism as a particular discourse of power/knowledge whose central figure is man. And, furthermore, "as the archaeology of our thought easily shows, man is an invention of recent date. And one perhaps nearing its end." (Foucault, 1970: 387).

Foucault's rejection of humanism cannot, thus, be seen as a relativistic rejection of ethics, freedom, or the possibilities of self-creation. Rather, Foucault explicitly advocates for a non-humanist ethical paradigm, which can be extrapolated for him, from his later works on ethics, to answer the charge, in Fraser's (1994: 196) terms, of why we should challenge a fully panopticized society. Although for Foucault, as for Spinoza, 'the body forgets nothing'12, in that it is subject to external determinations, as for Spinoza, it also has its own momentum or force for acting on the world. In opposing humanism, Foucault is not thereby rejecting agency or freedom for, like Spinoza, he sees the subject as possessing both passive and active dimensions13. It is not then that no humanist values are worthy of protection, but that modernist humanism radically misconceives them. If this argument is valid, then Foucault's rejection of modernity and its values is not a rejection tout court, but only of some aspects of it. Likewise, in rejecting humanism, he is rejecting a specific theoretical, philosophical discourse. The rejection of humanism, then, does not entail the rejection of humane values, despite historical associations between thinkers like Heidegger or Nietzsche with political movements like Nazism14. Such documented associations make an additional comment important, however. The existence of support for fascist causes by a thinker such as Heidegger, or the appropriation of several Nietzschean themes for the support of Nazi policies, cannot be seen as undermining or discrediting the thinkers entire philosophical ouvre. Nor can it suggest that themes such as genealogy, or the priority of the social over the individual could be represented as lending support to such causes, directly or indirectly, inspite of the fact that Nietzsche (like Wagner) was appropriated to the Nazi campaign. In this sense, as Davies (1997: 34) states, it is:

worth stressing that what is at stake in the Nietzschean not the endorsement of some proto-fascist brutality and humiliation but the analysis of one of the central myths of nineteenth century civilization, its 'religion of humanity', among whose monstrous offspring Nazism itself can be numbered.

Neither is it possible to see how Foucault's philosophical anti-humanism could plausibly be linked to such themes. Rather, it denotes Foucault's attempt to expunge a metaphysical remnant from the enlightenment. In this sense, then, it is a limited technical discourse which signifies his affinity with structuralism as it:

kicks away the twin pillars of humanism: the sovereignty of rational consciousness and the authenticity of individual speech. Thought and speech, which for the humanist had been the central substance of identity, are located elsewhere, and the self is a vacancy. 'I', as the poet Rimbauld put it, 'is an other'. (Davies, 1997: 60)

Critique as a permanent philosophical ethos

For Foucault because the Enlightenment has not evacuated the problems and dangers of earlier periods in history, the implications of his criticisms of Kant mean that the basis to critique must be as a form of permanent interrogative thinking:

The thread that may connect us with the Enlightenment is not faithfulness to doctrinal elements, but rather the permanent reactivation of an attitude - that is, of a philosophical ethos that could be described as a permanent critique of our historical era. (Foucault, 1984a: 42)

In that the Enlightenment emphasises `permanent critique', it emphasises a form of philosophical interrogation which "simultaneously problematizes man's relation to the present, man's historical mode of being, and the constitution of the self as an autonomous subject", says Foucault (1984b: 42). Critique, then, defines an `ethos' which has both a negative and a positive heuristic. In terms of its negative heuristic, Foucault identifies the need to refuse what he calls "the `blackmail' of the Enlightenment" (1984a: 42.). This refers to the pressure to be either "for or against the Enlightenment", to "accept the Enlightenment and remain with the tradition of its rationalism . . . or [to] criticise the Enlightenment and then try to escape from its principles of rationality" (1984a: 43). Rather:

We must try to proceed with the analysis of ourselves as beings who are historically determined, to a certain extent by the Enlightenment. Such an analysis implies a series of historical inquiries that are as precise as possible; and these inquiries will not be orientated retrospectively toward the "essential kernel of rationality" that can be found in the Enlightenment and that would have to be preserved in any event; they will be orientated toward the `contemporary limits of the necessary', that is, toward what is not or is no longer indispensable for the constitution of ourselves as autonomous subjects.

For Foucault, the Enlightenment comprises a set of events and complex historical processes located at a certain point in the development of European societies. This creates the necessity for a double conception of critique. On the one hand it must proceed genealogically under the influence of Nietzsche through an examination of the historical a prioris of all possible experience; on the other, it must seek to explore the possible limits to experience by exercising the transcendental freedom which Kant himself established as an essential foundation for critique . In this sense, the philosophical ethos of critique may be characterised as a limit-attitude, but in a different sense to that suggested by Kant:

Criticism indeed consists of analysing and reflecting upon limits. But if the Kantian question was that of knowing what limits knowledge must abstain from transgressing it seems to me that the critical question today has to be turned back into a positive one: in what is given to us as universal, necessary or obligatory, what part is taken up by things which are actually singular, contingent, the product of arbitrary constraints? The point, in brief, is to transform critique conducted in the form of necessary limitations into a practical critique that takes the form of a possible transgression. (Foucault, 1984a: 46)

Rather than accepting pre-established limits to reason based on Kant's transcendental analysis, the theoretical task becomes testing the limits which establish to what extent we can move beyond them. Foucault defines transgression as "an action which involves the limit...the experience of transgression brings to light this relationship of finitude to being, this moment of the limit which anthropological thought, since Kant, could only designate from the distance and from the exterior through the language of dialectics" (1977: 33, 49).

Such transgressive behaviour thus makes visible the limits to reason and in that it takes thought to its limit it serves as an arm in the critique of reason. As Miller (1994: 143) notes, for Foucault

transgression accomplishes a kind of post-Kantian 'critique' in "a three fold sense":

"it brings to light the conceptual and historical a priori; it discerns the conditions in which (philosophical thought ) can find or transcend its forms of stability; it ultimately passes judgement and makes a decision about its possibilities of existence".

Yet the limits to transgression are unsurpassable, as there is no neutral ground beyond power/knowledge from which critique could establish itself. As Foucault (1977: 34) states:

Transgression has its entire space in the line it crosses. The play of limits and transgression seems to be regulated by a simple obstinacy: transgression incessantly crosses and recrosses a line which closes up behind it in a wave of extremely short duration, and thus it is made to return once more right to the horizon of the uncrossable.

Criticism as practical politics

What criticism refers to for Foucault, in a concrete and practical sense, is an autonomous, non-centralised kind of theoretical production, one whose validity is not dependent on the approval of the established regimes of thought. In this sense, criticism has a local character because the attempt to think in terms of totalizing strategies or models proves a hindrance to effective action. Criticism thus involves the role of the `specific intellectual' and is linked to the insurrection of subjugated knowledges. By subjugated knowledges, Foucault is referring to the historical contents of knowledges that have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated--naive knowledges that are defined as operating low down on the hierarchy of formal knowledge below an acceptable level of cognition or scientificity. But, Foucault does not mean by subjugated knowledge the unsuccessful paradigms of knowledge, but rather as Habermas (1994: 92) notes, he is thinking of:

the experiences of groups subordinated to power that have never advanced to the status of official knowledge, that have never been sufficiently articulated. It is a question of the implicit knowledge of 'the people' who form the bedrock in a system of power, who are the first to experience a technology of power with their own bodies, whether as the ones suffering or as the officials manning the machinery of suffering - for example, the knowledge of those who undergo psychiatric treatment, of orderlies, of delinquents and wardens, of the inmates of concentration camps and the guards, of blacks and homosexuals, of woman and of witches, of vagabonds, of children and dreamers.

For Foucault it is through the re-emergence of these low-ranking subordinate knowledges that criticism performs its task. And as Habermas (1994: 93) has observed there is a parallel here between Foucault's conception and writers like Lukács who attributed an immanent potential to the perspectives of the working class.

By 'buried', 'disqualified', or 'subjugated' knowledges Foucault is also referring to the 'local' or 'regional' character of knowledge, for genealogy can only do its work "once the tyranny of globalizing discourses is eliminated" (Foucault, 1994: 22 In this, Foucault strives repeatedly to distance the task of critique from its traditional pairing with the notion of revolution, or indeed with any ideal conception of an imagined society in the future. In this sense, historico-critical attitude must be an experimental one. This is to say, it must reject "radical and global" forms of analysis, as "we know from experience", he says (1984a: 46), "that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led to the return of the most dangerous traditions". Thus, Foucault analyses "specific transformations", which are "always practical and local" (1984a: 46).

On these grounds, Foucault's conception of critique does not appeal to standards in the past, in the future or in reason, yet it seeks to expose unrecognised operation of power in social practices. This is why Foucault's conception of critique differs from that of Marxism, the Frankfurt School and Habermas. His aim is not the realisation of a rational society, but more pragmatically orientated to revealing "the contemporary limits of the necessary". His critique, in that it is not Kantian, also does not share the faith of a future utopia of the sort advocated by Marxists or by the leading writers of the Frankfurt School such as Adorno, Horkheimmer, or Habermas. As Rajchman (1985: 80) says, citing Geuss (1981), Foucault sees the model of an "inverted Enlightenment" as definitive of the very idea of the model of critical theory that has been developed within Marxism, and most especially by the Frankfurt School. Such models presuppose, in Foucault's view, the revelation of some concealed emancipatory truth about our `real' natures, just as much as they do about the real nature and limits to reason. It is the absence of some implicit or explicit ultimate measure or standard by which truth is assessed that explains why Foucault terms his own form of critical interrogation as `practical'. In this sense, its most immediate and central concern is to sound a warning on the dangers of power, and this becomes the main function of philosophy. As Foucault (1991a: 20) states, "on the critical side . . . philosophy is precisely the challenging of all phenomena of domination at whatever level or whatever form they present themselves--political, economic, sexual, institutional, and so on".

For Habermas, critical theory has both Hegelian and Kantian moments in that it attempts to realise an ideal historical state as well as to maintain universal claims for truth and moral reasoning. In addition, Habermas's critical theory shares the Kantian theme of the unity of knowledge underpinned by a conception of anthropological interests. In Habermas's conception there are three `interests' of humanity which correspond to the different relevant interests of inquiry. The first `interest' corresponds to the natural sciences, yields instrumental `means-ends' knowledge and is based on an interest in explaining; the second corresponds to the human sciences, yields interpretive knowledge and is based on an interest in understanding, and the third corresponds to critical knowledge and is based upon an interest in emancipation, or in becoming mature. For Habermas, knowledge acquired through these interests is rational to the extent that domination or oppression does not corrupt it, which is to say that communication is rational to the extent that it is unconstrained by force. Hence Habermas promotes a transhistorical and cross-cultural conception of rationality which locates it neither in the subject, nor the world, but rather in the nature of unconstrained communication, as resolved through argumentation or deliberation. Presupposed in every speech act, says Habermas, is the possibility of separating the `strategic' from the `communicative' uses of language, a circumstance that makes it possible to assess the validity of perspectives based on the force of the better argument alone.

Foucault sees Habermas's conception of critique as an idealist conception which traces the process of Enlightenment as the story of its movement toward its ideal realisation or end-state. This is the Hegelian theme which links Habermas's idea of critique to the realisation of history's ultimate goal, and which sees history as the self-realisation of humanity. He also rejects Habermas's assumptions concerning the systematic unity of knowledge and of the interests of the human race, which ground for Habermas, following Kant and Fichte, the major divisions in the sciences of inquiry. This in Foucault's view is to ground one's form of critique on an analytic framework of anthropological interests which underpin both the Hegelian and Kantian moments. Hence, Foucault attempts to purge both the humanist as well as the idealist aims of critique as they occur in Habermas's project, replacing it, following Nietzsche, with a model of history as a continuous and never-ending process of changing practices.

Foucault thus opposes Habermas in terms of his Hegelianism and his Kantianism: he rejects his conception of history, his conception of anthropological interests, his conception of reason, as well as his `utopianism' which together give rise to Habermas's notion of a rationality premised, as Jameson (1984: vii) has put it, on the idea of a "noisefree, transparent, fully communicational society" where "so-called validity claims immanent in ordinary conversation can be discursively redeemed at the level of discourse" (Peters, 1996: 40). As Foucault states, in relation to this issue:

[In Habermas's work] there is always something which causes me a problem. It is when he assigns a very important place to relations of communication and also to functions that I would call `utopian'. The thought that there could be a state of communication which would be such that the games of truth could circulate freely, without obstacles, without constraint, and without coercive effects, seems to me to be Utopia. It is being blind to the fact that relations of power are not something bad in themselves, from which one must free oneself. I don't believe there can be a society without relations of power. . . . The problem is not of trying to dissolve them in the utopia of a perfectly transparent communication, but to give oneself the rules of law, the techniques of management, and also the ethics, the ethos, the practice of self, which would allow these games of power to be played with a minimum of domination. (Foucault, 1991a: 18)

For Foucault, `strategic' action, conceived broadly as politically or ideologically distorted dialogue, necessarily supervenes on `communicative' action. It is always the question of maintaining the correct `balance of power relations in the present rather than seeking to exclude all forms of power from the world in the search for a different order of society. Hence Foucault rejects the idea, that he sees in Habermas, Marxism, and the Frankfurt School, of conceiving history as a single rational trajectory along which humanity fulfils its essential nature. For Foucault, power is more ubiquitous, diffuse, and corporeal; it infiltrates the fine textures of social existence as well as self-identity, and hence it is impossible to know one's true humanity apart from power's distorting effects (Foucault, 1980c: 96, 101).

In that the task of criticism is not linked to the objective of absolute emancipation, the commitment is part of a broader programme of freedom of the thinker which involves an ascetical moment of self-creation. In this sense, critique for Foucault involves both work on oneself and responding to one's time. In relation to the former, Foucault developed new forms of relating to the self, most clearly expressed in his ethical theories designed to resist the constraints of normalisation in an "ecstatic transcendence of any history which asserts its necessity" (Bernauer (1991: 70). As a modern example of work on oneself, Foucault points to Baudelaire whose "consciousness of modernity is widely recognised as one of the most acute in the nineteenth century" (Foucault, 1984a: 39). Baudelaire defines modernity as "the will to `heroize' the present". Modern man is the man who tries to invent himself through an ascetic elaboration of self. For Baudelaire this can only be produced through art. In TheCare of the Self and The Use of Pleasure, however, Foucault recognises various forms of self-creation drawing variously on the Greeks, the Romans, the Renaissance (Burckhart) as well as contemporary models.

In that it is linked to the specific struggles of subordinated groups, the role of critique does not only function in relation to ethical and aesthetic self-creation of individuals and groups, but also in the transformation of the real-world structures. "Criticism", says Foucault (1988a: 155):

is absolutely indispensable for any transformation...(A) transformation that remains within the same mode of thought, a transformation that is only a way of adjusting the same thought more closely to the reality of things can merely be a superficial transformation . . . as soon as one can no longer think things as one formerly thought them, transformation becomes both very urgent, very difficult, and quite possible.

So criticism is integrally related to transformation and change, which, says Foucault, can only be carried out in a free atmosphere. This gives a programmatic role for the `specific intellectual' and for `thought'. His role, since he works specifically in the realm of thought, is to see how far the liberation of thought can make these transformations urgent enough for people to want to carry them out:

Out of these conflicts, these confrontations, a new power relation must emerge, whose first, temporary expression will be a reform. If at the base there has not been the work of thought upon itself and if, in fact, modes of thought, that is to say modes of action, have not been altered, whatever the project of reform, we know that it will be swamped, digested by modes of behaviour and institutions that will always be the same. (1988a: 156)

Thought, then, is a crucial factor in the process of criticism. Thought exists independently of systems and structures of discourse. It is something which is often hidden but which always animates everyday behaviour (1988a: 154-155). A critique is not a question of criticising things as not being right as they are. Rather, says Foucault (1988a: 154) "it is a matter of pointing out what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices that we accept rest . . . Criticism is a matter of flushing out that thought and trying to change it: to show that things are not as self-evident as one believed, to see that what is accepted as self-evident will no longer be accepted as such (1988a: 154.).

Critique, then, is practical, in that it is through the arm of critique that Foucault wants to change our world, not simply our idea of it. As an intellectual he was opposed to the enlightenment emphasis on unity and normality, the lack of toleration for diversity as evidenced in the technocratic ways our cultures deal with sickness, insanity, crime and sexuality. The homogenising and totalizing forms of culture work in and through the apparatuses of education in conjunction with the Enlightenment project based on the sciences of Man. The role of the intellectual in this process is to challenge power. As Foucault (1977b: 208) explains to Gilles Deleuze:

The intellectuals role is no longer to place himself somewhat ahead and to the side in order to express the stifled truth of the collectivity; rather, it is to struggle against the forms of power that transform him into its object and instrument in the sphere of knowledge, truth, consciousness, and discourse. In this sense theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it is practice. But it is local and regional as you said and not totalizing. This is a struggle against power, a struggle aimed at revealing and undermining power where it is most invisible and insidious. It is not to awaken consciousness that we struggle but to sap power, to take power; it is an activity conducted alongside those who struggle for power, and not their illumination.

Critique, for Foucault, is the basis of his own conception of maturity. Whereas Kant sees maturity as the rule of self by self through reason, Foucault sees it as an attitude towards ourselves and the present through an historical analysis of the limits, and the possibility of transgression, of going beyond. Critique is thus a permanent interrogation of the limits, an escape from normalization, and a facing -up to the challenges of self-creation while seeking to effect changes in social structures on specific regional issues of concern.

Science, knowledge, relativism: comparing Foucault to Martha Nussbaum.

I would like to conclude this essay by relating critique to the central epistemological issues of relativism and essentialism. If genealogy is a method of critique that seeks to trace the history of a discourse, what is its own method of procedure? While as a method it searches for a buried and disqualified knowledge of struggles, Foucault does not believe that such a method proceeds through a more careful or accurate empiricism. Rather than being the handmaiden of the genealogical approach, in Foucault's view, the human sciences constitute a central object of its critical method. Neither genealogy nor archaeology thus has anything to do with a more rigorous approach to the assemblage of facts, and neither are they concerned with excluding metaphysical knowledge from empirical investigation. Hence, it is not through a more systematic empiricism, nor through a more forthright positivism that Foucault's methods work. What they seek to do, rather, is question science and accepted models of knowledge. As Foucault (1994: 22-23) states:

Genealogies are not therefore positivistic returns to a more careful or exact form of science. They are precisely anti-sciences. Not that they vindicate a lyrical right to ignorance or non-knowledge: it is not that they are concerned to deny knowledge or that they esteem the virtues of direct cognition and base there practice upon an immediate experience that escapes encapsulation in knowledge...We are concerned rather with the insurrection of knowledges that are opposed primarily not to the contents, methods or concepts of a science, but to the effects of the centralizing powers which are linked to the institution and functioning of an organized scientific discourse within a society such as is really against the effects of the power of a discourse that is considered to be scientific that the genealogy must wage its struggle.

For Foucault, the human sciences arose in institutional settings that were structured by hierarchical relations of power. It was as a consequence of such relations that the sciences began to function as new disciplinary forms of power, replacing the coercion of violence which characterized the ancien régime with the gentler coercion of administration by scientific experts that characterized the enlightenment. In as much as Foucault's critical genealogical method traces the effects of the sciences, the discursive content of the sciences becomes part of archaeologies critical focus. In this, as Miller (1994: 152) puts it, Foucault's method:

is an archaeology that smashes its idols. The sciences of man are not sciences at all; in the pages of his book [The Order of Things]; nineteenth century linguistics, economics, and zoology are systematically treated as a type of fiction, parochial, transient, confining. Even Marxism, which Sartre just six years before had declared to be unsurpassable, Foucault gleefully dismisses as a kind of useless antique.

In his treatment of the sciences, however, it is clear that Foucault sees a certain discontinuity between the natural and the social sciences (see Habermas, 1994: 71). While he sees the natural sciences as having achieved a certain autonomy, and as having developed mature epistemological apparatuses, the human sciences have remained enmeshed in the micro-physics of power, and became inseparably linked and controlled by the anthropological turn ushered in and justified in the humanistic philosophies of Descartes and Kant. As Habermas (1994: 72) has put it:

A perspective arose in which the human being was perceived as a speaking and laboring creature. The human sciences made use of this perspective; they analyzed the human being as the being that relates itself to objectivations engineered by itself, the speaking and laboring creature. Inasmuch as psychology, sociology, and political science on the one hand, and the cultural sciences and humanities on the other, got involved with object domains for which subjectivity (in the sense of the relation to self of experiencing, acting, and speaking human beings) is constitutive, they found themselves in the wake of the will to knowledge, on the escape route of a boundless productive increase in knowledge.

Richard Bernstein (1994: 220) notes Jürgen Habermas's criticism that when critique is totalized it is caught in a contradiction as it has no standard. In this sense, as Habermas (1987: 275-276) has put it, genealogy " is overtaken by a fate similar to that which Foucault had seen in the human sciences". Yet Bernstein seeks to defend Foucault's position by relating critique to the exigencies of the environment, not in terms of truth, but in terms of the ever-present dangers in which people in history face. What is dangerous is that "everything becomes a target for normalisation"15. Furthermore, Foucault's "archaeological-genealogical analyses of problematiques are intended to specify the changing constellation of dangers" (Bernstein, 1994: 227). And, of course, for Foucault (1984d: 343), "everything is dangerous" and "if everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do". As Bernstein (1994: 230) argues, this makes Foucault "the great skeptic of our times...skeptical about dogmatic unities and philosophical anthropologies" as well as about the verities and axioms of the human sciences.

Bernstein's point that Foucault is a skeptic enables us to clarify a number of issues in relation to relativism, realism, and essentialism. Although Foucault is frequently charged with a strong form of epistemological relativism it is important to establish the connections precisely in order not to misrepresent him. While he rejects strong versions of metaphysical realism, which seek to posit a transcendent, ahistorical foundation, he may not necessarily disagree with the broad thrust of Martha Nussbaum's soft version of Aristotelian essentialism which involves some version of appeal to a "determinate account of the human being, human functioning, and human flourishing" (Nussbaum, 1995: 450). This is not to accept a particular essential ahistorical characteristics of human beings, but rather to accept an "essentialism of a kind: for a historically sensitive account of the basic human needs and human functions" (Nussbaum, 1995: 451). Nussbaum's account is an "historically grounded empirical essentialism" which she calls "internalist essentialism". This specifies formal characteristics or "the most important functions of human beings in terms of which human life is defined" (p. 456) Such a conception of the good is concerned "with ends, and with the overall shape and content of the human form of life" (p. 456). Such a conception, she says, is "vague, and this is deliberately so...for it admits of much multiple specification in accordance with varied local and personal conceptions. The idea is that it is better to be vaguely right than precisely wrong" (p. 456). Such a conception is not metaphysical in that it does not claim to derive from a source exterior to human beings in history. Rather, it is as "universal as possible" and aims at "mapping out the general shape of the human form of life, those features that constitute life as human wherever it is" (p. 457). Nussbaum calls this her "thick, vague conception...of the human form of life" (p. 457). Hence, her list of factors constitutes a formal list without substantive content, allowing for difference or variation within each category. Amongst the factors are (1) mortality: all human beings face death; (2) various invariant features of the human body, such as "nutritional, and other related requirements" regarding hunger, thirst, the need for food and drink and shelter; (3) cognitive: "all human beings have sense perception...the ability to think"; (4) early development, (5) practical reason, (6) sexual desire, (7) affiliation with other human beings, and (8) relatedness to other species and to nature (pp. 457-460).

As a list of purely formal factors or generic species characteristics, which can admit to cultural and historical variation, Foucault, in my view, could agree with the general tenor of Nussbaum's list, although he may wish to enter qualifications or caveats on specific features (sexual desire?). Foucault himself says that universal forms may well exist. In 'What is Enlightenment' (Foucault, 1984a: 47-48) he suggests there may possibly be universalizing tendencies at the root of western civilization, which include such things as "the acquisition of capabilities and the struggle for freedom", as "permanent elements". Again, more directly, in the Preface to the History of Sexuality, Volume II (Foucault, 1984b: 335), he says that he is not denying the possibility of universal structures:

Singular forms of experience may very well harbour universal structures: they may well not be independent from the concrete determination of social existence...(t)his thought has a historicity which is proper to it. That it should have this historicity does not mean that it is deprived of all universal form but instead the putting into play of these universal forms is itself historical.

Like Nussbaum, the factors he recognises as invariant do not derive from any "extrahistorical metaphysical conception" (p. 460). Also, Foucault's conception is very much in keeping with Nussbaum's "thick, vague conception of the good" (p. 456) in that it is concerned to identify "components that are fundamental to any human life" (p. 461). It is crucial, of course, that the recognised features of human life are formal and not substantive, otherwise the form of essentialism is unacceptable. He would be skeptical that the essential substantial properties of a human being can be distinguished from the accidental properties, in that the human being is historically constituted in the process of history.

Beyond this, Foucault does not deny that there is some form of determinate structure to the way things are, but he would argue that such a structure would be shaped and modified in the process of history. He could accept, no doubt, as well, that while human species characteristics may be transformed or modified in history, the process of change would occur at a different (i.e., slower) rate than most discursive or cultural phenomena, thus enabling comparisons between older and newer institutions and discourses. While in this sense there are still no foundations or invariant structures outside of the flux of history, this need not lead, as hard metaphysical realists sometimes claim, to a quagmire of relativism in terms of which there is no ground on which to stand. As Nussbaum (1995: 455) claims, for instance:

When we get rid of the hope of a transcendent metaphysical grounding for ... judgements-about the human being as about anything else - we are not left with the abyss. We have everything that we always had all along: the exchange of reasons and arguments by human beings within history, in which, for reasons that are historical and human but not the worse for that, we hold some things to be good and others bad, some arguments to be sound and others not sound. Why indeed should the relativist conclude that the absence of a transcendent basis for judgement - a basis that, according to them, was never there anyway - should make us despair of doing as we have done all along, distinguishing persuasion from manipulation.

Foucault does not deny that there is some way the world is. He is a skeptic who is a metaphysical realist of sorts. By this I mean he sees reality as having a material embodiment. But he also sees the power of our discourses as being able to construct realities and of realities as being filtered through the lens of our discourses. The chief difficulty, then, is in grasping reality, as every attempt to give an account of the real bears the imprint of the historical a priori. Hence, historically elaborated discursive systems both facilitate and distort our ability to see the real. In the human sciences, Foucault questions what sort of truth is available to us, and the sense in which the discursive apparatus of disciplines like psychiatry construct rather than unravel the real. Because there are no foundations in reason or fact to compare claims to, science is brought inside history, and can be subjected to critical scrutiny like anything else.


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  1. "Michel Foucault", in Denis Huisman, ed., Dictionnaire des philosophes (Paris, 1984), p. 941. Foucault used the pseudonym 'Maurice Florence' on this article.
  2. His interest in Kant is continuous throughout his academic career, and begins with his translation of Kant's Anthropology from a Practical Point of View into French in 1960 as his thse complŽmentaire - a smaller supplement to his major thesis of publishable quality, Madness and Civilization. Foucault submitted his translation of Kant's Anthropology to the Sorbonne jury in 1960 along with a commentary of 128 typescript pages (see Foucault, 1960). Kant is also considered in depth in The Order of Things (Foucault, 1970) as the introducer of humanism to the human sciences. Again, Kant is considered in 'Qu'est-ce-que la critique' (Foucault, 1978), translated as 'What is critique?' (Foucault, 1996); in the 1983 essay 'What is Enlightenment?' (Foucault, 1984a); in 1984 in 'Un Cours Inedit' in Magazine LitŽraire (see Foucault, 1984), translated by Colin Gordon as 'Kant on Enlightenment and Revolution' in Economy and Society (Foucault, 1986). In addition, Foucault gives a brief discussion on Kant in his introduction to the English translation of Georges Canguilhem The Normal and the Pathological (see Foucault, 1978b); in his interview with GŽrard Raulet 'How Much Does it Cost For Reason To Tell the Truth' published in Foucault Live (see Foucault, 1989: 240-243) and in his essay 'The Subject and Power', printed as an afterword in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow (1983: 215-216), Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics . Also, as Hacking (1986:238-39) notes, Foucault read Kant at the Sorbonne under the Heidegger scholar Jean Beufret. He also comments that the discussion of Kant in The Order of Things had its origin in Foucault's doctoral thesis.
  3. See Kant, 1970.
  4. A different translation of the same article appears in Foucault, 1988c.
  5.      The Contest of the Faculties is a collection of three dissertations on the relations between the different faculties that make up the university. The second dissertation concerns the conflict between Law and Philosophy and concerned the question "is there such a thing as constant progress for mankind?" Kant raised the issue of the French Revolution in seeking an answer to this question.

  6. Foucault translated this work into French for the first time in 1960 (see Foucault, 1960). It was only translated into English in 1978. The work has traditionally been seen either as crackpot or marginal to Kant's central philosophical enterprise.
  7. My own analysis and interpretation of Kant's Anthropology has been substantially influenced by that of James Miller (1993).
  8. Miller is citing Foucault from his article Preface ˆ la transgression. See Foucault (1963) or Foucault (1977)
  9. Citations are from Foucault (1960: 72, 142, 100, 101)
  10. See Foucault (1977a: 26-27 and 176-177; 1978c: 93-94; 1980b: 96-101)
  11. See Martin Heidegger, 'Overcoming Metaphysics' in The End of Philosophy, trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York, 1973) pp. 84-110.
  12. The phrase is taken from Michle Bertrand (1983: 66) who applies it to Spinoza.
  13. Spinoza's conception of conatus incorporates the notion that our bodies, as well as being shaped by external determinants, also have a force or momentum of a positive sort. See Spinoza's Ethics, Part III 'On the Origin and Nature of the Emotions' (Spinoza, 1960).
  14. Nietzsche did not give any direct support to the Nazis, although as Davies (1997: 33) states, his sister Elizabeth became in her later years an enthusiastic disciple of the FŸhrer. It is also true that the Nazis appropriated a number of Nietzschean themes and tropes - the †bermensch, or 'blond beast' into their own repertoire. It is also now well documented that Martin Heidegger committed himself to Nazism and also wrote approvingly about Nietzsche.
  15. He is citing David Hiley ((1988: 103).

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