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Michel Foucault and the question of

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Michel Foucault and the question of What is Enlightenment? The critical ontology of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Michel Foucault and the question of


1
Michel Foucault and the question of What is
Enlightenment?
  • The critical ontology of ourselves has to be
    considered not, certainly, as a theory, a
    doctrine, nor even a permanent body of knowledge
    that is accumulating it has to be considered an
    attitude, an ethos, a philosophical critique of
    what we are is at one and the same time the
    historical limits that are imposed on us and an
    experiment with the possibility of going beyond
    them
  • Michel Foucault, What is Enlightenment? 50

2
Foucault and Kant Part I
  • Foucault interprets Kant as suggesting that the
    process of enlightenmentthe move from
    self-imposed tutelage of immaturityas a way
    out (34).
  • A way out from what, however?
  • For Foucault, the call to make use of ones own
    reasonSapere Audeis to subject the present to
    critique, a possible way out of the present.

3
Foucault and modernity
  • What is modernity?
  • For Foucault, modernity is neither a period nor
    an achieved state.
  • Here think about the process of enlightenment,
    can it be accomplished once and for all?
  • For Foucault, modernity consists in an attitude
    marked by Kants critical attitude of using ones
    own reason (38).

4
Foucault and modernity
  • The attitude of modernity does not treat the
    passing moment as sacred in order to maintain or
    perpetuate it. For the attitude of modernity,
    the high value of the present is indissociable
    from a desperate eagerness to imagine it
    otherwise than it is, and to transform it not by
    destroying it but by grasping it in what it is
    (40-41).

5
Foucault and modernity
  • Individuals adopt a certain relation to the
    present We see ourselves as both belonging to
    the present as well as the possibility of
    departing from it.
  • The relation that one adopts to the present the
    pays attention to the present but also confronts
    it with a practice which simultaneously respects
    and violates the present (41).
  • This practice is an expression of our autonomy.

6
Foucault and modernity
  • For Foucault, the critical attitude commits us to
    critically engage history.
  • Our relation to history, to social reality, is
    always one of complex difficult elaboration
    (41).
  • Social reality for us is not established
    once-and-for-all the presentwho we are, what we
    areis always in flux.
  • We are constantly working on social reality,
    possibly making it anew, including ourselves.

7
Implications of the attitude to modernity
  • A possible objection to Foucault since you are
    criticizing modernity, arent you committed to
    rejecting all that is modernity? Either one is
    for modernity or one is against it, according to
    this objection.
  • Foucault calls this objection the Blackmail of
    Enlightenment
  • He rejects the dichotomy of either you are for or
    against modernity because it is a false
    dichotomy. Why?

8
Foucault the blackmail of enlightenment
  • Foucault diagnoses the motivation behind the
    blackmail of enlightenment is the false
    identification of enlightenment with an
    endorsement of humanism
  • Humanism is a vague term, trying to capture
    many themes under one description.
  • For Foucault, these themes should be separated to
    yield different varieties of humanisms (44).

9
Foucault the blackmail of enlightenment
  • Not all of the varieties of humanisms are worthy
    of endorsement, e.g. Nazism billed itself as a
    humanism.
  • For Foucault, we should engage the different
    humanist themes critically, to oppose them by
    the principle of a critique and a permanent
    creation of ourselves in our autonomy (44).
  • Foucault calls the exercise of a permanent
    creation of ourselves in our autonomy a project
    of critical ontology

10
Foucault and Kant Part II
  • Unlike Kants goal for critique, the task of
    critical ontology does not aim at a philosophical
    system.
  • The task for critical ontology is not that of
    making a metaphysics possible. It will not
    seek to identify the universal structures of all
    knowledge or of all possible moral action. It
    will separate out, from the contingency that has
    made us what we are, the possibility of no longer
    being, doing or thinking what we are, do or
    think (46).

11
Critical Ontology
  • Foucaults project is not theoretical, but
    practical.
  • It is directed to potentially problematic areas
    of what we do and think, in general who we are.
  • We need to honour the present yet at the same
    time seek out where change is both possible and
    desirable and to determine the form of this
    possible change
  • The changes are experimental. Why experimental?

12
Critical Ontology
  • We are not all-knowing we arent omniscient.
  • We cant assume a position which can grasp the
    problematic areas all at once and offer solutions
    to them for all eternity (47).
  • Changes have to be provisional and targeted at
    specific issues.
  • However, local and provisional do not mean that
    we do not pay attention to possible complications
    from wider concerns.

13
Critical Ontology
  • Indeed, Foucault invites us to reflect on the
    dangers with those proposals who have claimed to
    offer a solution to all our ills (46).
  • Foucault favours the concrete results achieved
    by, for example, womens and gay liberation.
  • These examples are ongoing processes for there is
    still much to be done.

14
Critical Ontology
  • Objection If we limit ourselves to this type of
    always partial and local test, do we not turn
    the task of letting ourselves be determined by
    more general structures of which we may well not
    be conscious, and over which we may have no
    control (47).
  • Response this objection is based on the claim
    that we have assess to knowledge of such general
    structures it is based on us being all-knowing

15
Critical Ontology
  • For Foucault, the fact that we are not omniscient
    does not mean that change is impossible.
  • For him, one of the more pressing areas for
    change is the effects of modern power relations.
  • Recall modern power in contrast to sovereign
    power is not top-down but is deeply connected to
    knowledge of ourselves at a variety of levels, as
    individuals and as a population

16
Critical Ontology
  • For Foucault, such knowledge increase our
    capacities to make achievements but it comes with
    constraints of being more and more directed by
    power relations
  • Examples
  • The aim is to disentangle the growth of
    capabilities from the intensification of power
    relations (47).

17
Critical Ontology
  • These investigations and tests are not assumed to
    be for all times. Hence, the critical ontology
    of ourselves has to be considered not, certainly,
    as a theory, a doctrine, nor even a permanent
    body of knowledge that is accumulating it has to
    be considered an attitude, an ethos, a
    philosophical critique of what we are is at one
    and the same time the historical limits that are
    imposed on us and an experiment with the
    possibility of going beyond them (50).

18
Foucault and critical theory
  • How is critical ontology different from the
    emancipatory projects of Marcuse or Habermas?
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