MICHEL FOUCAULT AND THOMAS AQUINAS
ON THE BASIS AND CONSUMMATION OF INTELLIGIBILITY
A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of Theology of the Dominican House of Studies in Candidacy for the Degree of Master of Arts in Theology
by Elliot Michael Milco
Thesis Director: Fr. John Dominic Corbett, O.P.
May 2013 1
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter I. Michel Foucault and the Emergence of Genealogy Section 1. The Pre-History of Genealogical Analysis §1 Descartes and Kant §2 Nietzsche
Section 2. Two Post-Nietzschean Developments §3 Structuralism §4 Heidegger
Section 3. Three Faces of Michel Foucault A. Moriae Encomium §5 Method and Historiography §6 A New Triumph for Madness B. The Critique of Rationality §7 Dissolving the Transcendental §8 Toward a New Analytical Vocabulary C. The Will to Knowledge §9 Foucault the Nietzschean §10 Power §11 Genealogy and the Genealogist
Chapter II. Orders of Intelligibility in Thomistic Ontology Section 1. Defense of First Principles §12 A Foundationalist Dilemma §13 Defense of Non-Contradiction as a Metaphysical Principle §14 Reflections on the Defense of Non-Contradiction
Section 2. The Order and Limits of Human Understanding §15 The Nature of Understanding §16 Response to a Kantian Objection §17 The Order of Natural Human Knowledge §18 Implications for Philosophy and Transmitted Knowledge §19 The Consummation of Human Understanding
Section 3. The Order of Things §20 Ordo Inventionis and Ordo Rerum §21 A Sketch of the Real Order of Intelligibility
Chapter III. In Dialogue §22 Recapitulation §23 An Imaginary Dialogue §24 The Uses of Genealogy
Bibliography 3 4
Four friends go to see a movie. As they leave the theater, they discuss what they saw.
Andy and Ben find that they disagree about what happened in a specific scene, and, as a result, differ on its significance for the story. Did Cinderella leave the ball before midnight, or after?
Did she deserve to have her nice things turned back into mice and rags? While Andy and Ben are caught on this point, Charlie enters the fray, and tells them they are both wrong: the story is not about Cinderella deserving or not deserving something. In fact, it is not about Cinderella at all, but the restoration of nobility to its proper place in society. Charlie explains that stories are not really about individual characters in particular situations, but social types and class interactions.
Ben retorts that types and classes are grounded in individuals and their behavior, so that stories are first of all about people, and then secondarily about social classes. The three of them shift to this question, and the terms of the debate become more abstract. Finally the fourth friend, David, joins in and says that Andy, Ben, and Charlie are all mistaken: there is no such thing as what the 5 movie was "really" about, or what really grounds its content and holds it together. The movie is just a free-floating network of scenes and dialogue which can be gathered or dispersed along different lines by the person viewing it, and which have no essential meaning. The first three are outraged. Charlie objects that David is hiding what he actually thinks, namely that the essential meaning of the movie lies in its scenes and the arrangement of dialogue, while Andy says that
David's account of things is incoherent because it ignores the intention of the director and actors.
Ben, however, sees that there's something correct in David's analysis, but worries that David's thesis has made it impossible for the conversation to proceed.
This story illustrates a few of the different levels of disagreement people can encounter, across all the sciences and disciplines, and especially in philosophical and theological discussion.
On the first level there are disagreements about facts within a shared understanding of their context and meaning, and, slightly above this, disputes about the relationships between accepted facts and the larger whole of which they form a part. For lack of a better term, we will call these particular controversies. Andy and Ben, in our story, agree on what the movie is about, and they agree on what happened in it, but they differ as to the particular thrusts of the narrative: was it exactly this that happened, or something else? Does it bear this particular significance, or some other one? What bears significance, and the means by which it bears it are undisputed, and their agreement on these fundamentals enables conversation to happen rather easily.
On the second level, there are disagreements about the fundamental orientation of things and the basic carriers of meaning or existence. We will call these ontological controversies. They are represented in our story by the exchange between Ben and Charlie. Both agree that there is some truth about the subject at hand, and both see the proper understanding of things as grounded in a basic unit from which the order and intelligibility of the whole flow. However, the 6 identification of that primary element or ground of truth and intelligibility differs between them, thus making their discussion more difficult. On the first level, the discussion proceeded with ease, as Andy and Ben were merely tweaking certain points of interpretation within a common framework. Progress could be made because the same ultimate understanding of the story was available to both, and so one view could triumph by virtue of its greater coherence or depth.
Progress on the second level is much harder to come by. Here, the discussion is no longer grounded in a shared vision, since each understanding differs so much as to seem (at least potentially) to be about a different object. Instead, the discussion focuses on the interpretive mechanisms (categories, values, vocabularies, prejudices) by which the object is given significance. Ben can try to convince Charlie by explaining to him that Charlie's mode of interpretation is implicitly dependent on his own, but Charlie can do the same thing in turn.
Because their fundamental commitments differ, there is no guarantee of progress on this level: each side can always critique the other for failing to sufficiently respect or account for the fundamental elements or grasping points which it takes as self-evident.
Vertigo may have already stricken, but we proceed to the third level of disagreement, introduced in our story by David. Where Andy and Ben had disagreed on particulars, they could mediate their discussion through a shared vision of the whole. Where Ben and Charlie had disagreed on what constituted or completed a correct vision of things, they could at least proceed by virtue of their shared groping after the transcendental actuality of the thing. But David is more distant still. He does not accept that there are any fundamental elements or final visions, only a dispersion of indeterminate parts and groupings. The other three, in struggling to come to terms with David's position, resist it by means of various accusations. Perhaps David is not being intellectually honest, or maybe his position is simply absurd. Perhaps David, by moving beyond 7 the ontological level, has implicitly forfeited his right or ability to speak. On this level of controversy, which we will call genealogical, these and related accusations are raised and answered.
Genealogical controversy is to be the chief domain of this thesis. In particular, we will be looking at the work of the twentieth century’s greatest genealogist, Michel Foucault. Our goal is to lay the groundwork for a confrontation between Foucault and one of the greatest ontologists,
Thomas Aquinas, in order to see how each can respond to the other in dialogue about the basis and consummation of intelligibility. The thesis will unfold in three parts: first, a presentation of
Foucauldian genealogy, its origins, forms, key concepts and analytical tools; second, a Thomistic account of the foundations of philosophical and theological discourse: the first principles of metaphysics, the nature and limits of human understanding, and the inner order of intelligibility in things; finally, an exchange between Aquinas and Foucault on the possibility of meaningful dialogue between them, and an analysis of the implications of this exchange. My hope is that this thesis will lay the groundwork for further explorations along these lines. The reader should, in the meanwhile, anticipate three points of interest along the way: first, that the role-model of the pure genealogist is the madman; second, that the Catholic theologian (in our case, the
Thomist) has no legitimate disadvantage vis-à-vis the genealogist, but must exercise caution and humility about his own principles and ideas in order to shield himself from the genealogist’s attacks; third, that genealogy is a profoundly useful critical tool, ultimately amenable (when tempered) to the work of the metaphysician and the theologian.
MICHEL FOUCAULT AND THE EMERGENCE OF GENEALOGY
SECTION ONE: THE PRE-HISTORY OF GENEALOGICAL ANALYSIS
Michel Foucault arrived late on the scene of modern European thought, and his identity and methodology are heavily determined by his predecessors. Before examining in detail
Foucault's genealogical method of analysis, we will look at a few shifts in the history of philosophy that made a figure like Foucault possible. Our tour will begin with Descartes and
Kant, and then shift to Nietzsche. In the next section we will look at two post-Nietzschean developments that are particularly important for Foucault, before turning to Foucault himself.
§1 Descartes and Kant
Foucault's emergence is part of a series of ruptures that has constituted western
"modernity" since Descartes. The Cartesian revolution against baroque Scholasticism introduced 9 two thematic trends into the philosophy of the day: first, a preference for skeptical methodologies that attempt to do away with prejudice and conjecture and arrive at the skeleton of absolute knowledge upon which all other knowledge is based. Second, a turn to the subject, in which priority is given to the evidence of reflective self-consciousness over the evidence of experience, custom, and tradition. In light of this orientation toward the subject, accounts of things are increasingly grounded in an account of the one who knows them.
At the end of his Discourse on Method, Descartes invites fellow thinkers to help him build up a reliable system of knowledge based on his new method1, but such a system would never appear. Instead what we see in the subsequent centuries is the unfolding of a dialectic between these two themes at the core of Cartesian project.2 Wherever self-certainty predominates, we have the work of rationalist metaphysicians. Wherever skepticism triumphs we have the rebirth of empiricism. The dialectic continues thus, manifesting itself in various independent philosophical systems and empirical discoveries, until the end of the 18th century, when Immanuel Kant effectively ends the Cartesian project with his Critique of Pure Reason.
Descartes had based his philosophical system on the search for an absolutely indubitable foundation for all knowledge, but Kant has a different quest. Instead of searching for a set of conscious states the self-evidence of which is so immediate that they could not possibly be false,
Kant asks what sort of logical and mental structures must exist in order for knowledge and
1 Cf. Part Six of Discourse on the Method for Conducting One’s Reason Well and for Seeking Truth in the Sciences, found in René Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, 4th ed., trans Donald A. Cress (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), henceforth cited as Discourse on Method or Meditations with the appropriate page number in this volume. 2 While of course we are suggesting neither that Descartes’s influence was universal or dominant during the early modern period, nor that his Discourse on Method was the Ursprung from which all of 17th century philosophy flowed, still his work is useful in thematically organizing the diverse philosophical endeavors of the early modern period, and we stick to the common narrative on this point. History does not generally admit of beginnings, but we must occasionally invent them for the sake of brevity. 10 experience to be possible.3 The result of his inquiry is a marvelous form of idealism, in which the objective realities normally treated as transcendental, i.e. external to the subject, are rooted instead in the universal cognitive rules for the formation of experience. The concepts, ordering, structures and relations by which reality is intelligible are imposed upon things by the mind in advance of our consciousness of them, so that the mind can only recover from the world what it had placed there in advance.4 Consequently, for Kant every object of knowledge has its origin in the mind itself, and the transcendental object is lost.
We should pause a moment to consider the implications of the Cartesian project for
Kantian metaphysics. Descartes prioritizes the evidence of mental states, and uses these to prove the existence of God and the reliability of the senses, thus regaining access to the world of mind- independent objects. However, Descartes’s problem and method prove more enduring than his solutions, and this leaves subsequent philosophers with a perpetual return to the subject as they criticize and formulate arguments for the basis of ordinary knowledge. Philosophical analysis comes to focus increasingly on mental states and the way they evidence reality, rather on the qualities of mind-independent objects.
When Kant produces his great critical synthesis of rationalist and empiricist thought, his goal is twofold: to demonstrate against the empiricists (Berkeley, Hume) the reliability of our empirical knowledge of the world, and to demonstrate against the rationalists (Leibniz, Wolff,
3 Cf. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Unified Edition, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996), page B5, henceforth cited as KRV. Pages cited reference the pagination of the original 1781 edition (“A”) and the 1787 second edition (“B”) by prefixing the appropriate letter to the citation. E.g. “KRV B65” indicates the 65th page of the 1787 edition of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. 4 Cf. KRV B130, “I would assign to this act of understanding the general name synthesis, in order to point out at the same time: that we cannot present anything as combined in the object without ourselves having combined it beforehand; and that, among all presentations, combination is the only one that cannot be given through objects, but—being an act of the subject’s self-activity— can be performed only by the subject himself.” 11
Spinoza) the proper bounds of metaphysical science.5 Curiously, Kant’s way of doing this is to declare our mental states, which had been evidentially primary since Descartes, also ontologically primary. In other words, Kant orchestrates a massive conceptual shift.6 Traditional metaphysical language (substance and accident, cause and effect, unity and plurality) remains, and it remains objectively universal7, but its reality and validity become dependent on the synthetic order of mental “representations”. It is not that some trace of the real unity and order in things is conveyed to the mind in experience. Rather, the mind is responsible for imposing on the disordered contents of experience the categorical unities through which metaphysical analysis is possible in the first place. Substance, causation, quantity, relation, etc., only inhere in things because the unity upon which they are grounded8 was first in the mind. Many metaphysical questions can still be asked in Kant’s system, but he arranges his metaphysics so that they are all ultimately reducible to questions about the structure of minds and mental contents.9
Notice that Kant has simply metaphysically consolidated the Cartesian philosophical problem. By making the ground of actuality coincide with the bearer of evidential primacy,
Kant’s analysis allows the post-Cartesian thinker a long-desired rest, and ends the quest to recover the world’s certainty on the basis on inward reflection. The world is certain because it is
5 Cf. KRV Aix – Axii 6 Cf. KRV Bxvi and Bxii, note 93. 7 Cf. for example KRV B44, “…We assert that space is empirically real (as regards all possible outer experience), despite asserting that space is transcendentally ideal, i.e., that it is nothing as soon aswe omit [that space is] the condition of the possibility of all experience and suppose space to be something underlying things in themselves.” 8 I.e., the transcendental unity of apperception, cf. KRV B132-B139. Kant’s “ich denke” at the foundation of all the metaphysical unities, is of course a transformation of Descartes’s cogito. 9 Cf. KRV B218ff., where Kant organizes his proofs of the principle of causation and the permanence of substance under the principle that experience is possible only through the representation of a necessarily connected succession of perceptions. I.e., the basis of the metaphysical unity of substance and the law of causation is their necessity in the construction of experience by the mind. 12 constituted by our very act of knowing it. Kant reserves metaphysical language for use on the questions traditionally pursued by metaphysicians, for whom extra-mental objects are seen as ontologically primary. However, an astute metaphysician (one not taken in by Kant’s relegation of metaphysics to the contents of possible experience) would recognize that the proper object of metaphysical analysis in the Critique of Pure Reason is now the transcendental subject10 itself and those “representations” and synthetic functions which are constitutive of all reality.
Much as with Descartes before him, Kant’s problems and methods prove more influential than his particular solutions. Kant’s transcendental idealism sparks a new series of reflections, especially in Germany, and an intensification of the interest with which philosophers approach mental structures and the nature of subjectivity. While various idealists (e.g. Fichte, Schelling,
Schopenhauer, Hegel) develop complex philosophies around the inner principles of consciousness and the idea of subjectivity as the ground and end of all being, the Kantian mobilization of the grounds of being and intelligibility invites new and more radical analyses of knowledge and existence. Friedrich Nietzsche is one of the first to answer this call.
Nietzsche's thought is diverse and unsystematic, but for our purposes two pieces of analysis are particularly important: one dealing with truth, the other with morality. In his 1873
10 N.b., the “transcendental” subject is so called in Kant because it is the foundation for the possibility of objective experience. “Transcendental” has another, more common sense, in Kant and elsewhere, namely, “beyond the bounds of possible experience” or “extra-mental”. However, it is important to see that by grounding the unity and actuality of experience, Kant’s transcendental subject becomes an object (even the prime object) of interest to the metaphysician. 13 essay "On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense",11 Nietzsche outlines a theory of truth according to which our judgments about things are actually falsifications which obscure the realities that make them possible.12 Nietzsche observes that truth resides in the domain of language and conceptual abstraction. Linguistic systems grow up over time by layering metaphors and abstractions, to the point where a language is sufficiently complex to allow for philosophical discourse. As metaphors and abstractions calcify and become part of our habitual means of understanding and explaining things, they lose their identity as metaphors and abstractions, and instead begin to be treated as elementary realities in their own right.13 Thus ideas and expressions, whose meanings are at the outset parasitic on the arbitrary association of various unlike things, are gradually allowed independence from the diverse sensory experiences at their roots. Abstraction, based originally on the negation of the differences by which individuals are what they are, begins, over time, to seem like the purification of thought, when in reality it is the gradual elimination of its content.14
If truths are based in language, and language is based on metaphors we have forgotten, and these metaphors rest on conceptual syntheses which are only possible through the subsumption of particulars under concepts which erase their essential differences, then truth cannot, as truth, have anything to do with reality. From its very beginning, truth falls away from its object, and falls further away the more abstract it gets. For Nietzsche, the Platonic form of the
11 “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” in Friedrich Nietzsche, Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche’s Notebooks of the Early 1870s, ed. trans. Daniel Breazeale (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1979), pp.79-97. Henceforth cited as “On Truth and Lies”. 12 Ibid. p. 80: “[Men] are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images; their eyes merely glide over the surface of things and see ‘forms.’” 13 Ibid. p. 84 14 There is an amusing analogy between Nietzsche’s description of Truth and the traditional Augustinian understanding of evil as undue privation. One might say (with a smile) that for Nietzsche Truth itself is Evil. 14 good is the height of philosophical self-delusion: the utmost purification of truth in the annihilation of all contact with reality. It is in Truth, in this everyday exchange of formulas according to accepted metaphorical schemes whose very reasons (arbitrary though they originally were) for existing have fallen away—it is in this that men deceive themselves most of all. Thus, Nietzsche claims, “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions; they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.”15
Consequently, according to Nietzsche, it is in knowing the truth that we most forget the truth, and in truthfulness that we are most dishonest. Honesty itself is merely an abiding by this convention of metaphorical blindness—a sort of Hobbesian contract among men maintained in order to avoid constant conflict and dissent. Man tends naturally toward dishonesty, toward dissimulation, toward the recognition of objects in their dispersion and difference: it is out of his weakness that he develops the cunning that leads to language, thought, and knowing.
Nietzsche's ideas in "On Truth and Lies" express a simple nominalist attitude toward truth. The particulars of his critique of the reality of common forms and the legitimacy of abstraction may differ from those of previous nominalists, but, if so, the development is not terribly surprising or interesting. On the contrary, what interests us most in Nietzsche's essay is the intentional utilization of nominalism to attack the Kantian theory of objective knowledge, and to revolt — in a way much deeper than his modern predecessors — against metaphysics and the abstract notion of being. The impulse against truth, knowledge, and metaphysics only intensifies throughout Nietzsche's career, culminating some years later in one of his last and
15 “On Truth and Lies”, p.84 15 greatest works, On the Genealogy of Morality.16
Nietzsche’s Genealogy attempts to discover the roots of Christian morality and modern science in an inverted and diseased desire to dominate. At the risk of caricaturing Nietzsche’s thought, which is as powerful and expressive as it is enigmatic and complicated, the story he tells goes something like this. In pre-Christian society, value was attached to the exercise of power: to be good was to be strong, to be bad was to be weak. Our words for “good” and “bad” reflect this at their roots.17 Nietzsche likens the pre-Christian world to an ecosystem of sheep and crows.
The sheep are weak and eat grass; the crows are strong and eat sheep. It is reasonable for a lamb to hate a crow for wanting to eat it, but Nietzsche asks us whether it would be reasonable for the lamb to blame the crow for doing so.18 He believes not, and says that Christian morality arises from precisely such an error. The morality of Christ is the morality of a slave who, wishing to turn the tables on his oppressor, conjures a system of values in which slaves are noble and good, and oppressors are evil. If he can convince the oppressor to accept this morality, then he as slave will have triumphed, and the oppressor will be left only with a gnawing guilt over his own nature.19 This reversal is all the more perverse because what the oppressor is taught to hate in himself is precisely his primordial excellence. According to Nietzsche we have lived under such a moral system for millennia now, and he believes that it is nearing its end. In order to move beyond it we need to learn how to raise the questions that will dislodge Christian morality and
16 Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, Revised Student Edition, ed. Keith Ansell- Pearson, trans. Carol Diethe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), henceforth Genealogy. 17 Genealogy, pp.13-15 18 The crows “will perhaps say ‘We don’t bear any grudge at all towards these good lambs, in fact we love them, nothing is tastier than a tender lamb.’ ” Genealogy, p.26 19 Genealogy, p.17 or again pp.56-58 16 allow for the emergence of something new. We need to ask about the value of our values.20
Crucially, Nietzsche links our use of the corrupt moral values of Christianity to the will to knowledge inscribed in the western philosophical and scientific enterprise. Nietzsche carries forward his earlier insights on the nature of truth and draws the obvious conclusion: the entire philosophical enterprise,
…That stoicism of the intellect . . . that will to stand still before the factual . . . that renunciation of any interpretation (of forcing, adjusting, shortening, omitting, filling-out, inventing, falsifying and everything else essential to interpretation) — on the whole, this expresses the asceticism of virtue just as well as any denial of sensuality (it is basically just a modus of this denial). 21
In other words, the man of science is a kind of priest of the “ascetic ideal” at the heart of
Christianity: he despises everything particular and individual, everything passionate and interested, and strives for a disinterested objectivity. He goes on,
Our faith in science is still based on a metaphysical faith, — even we knowers of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians, still take our fire from the blaze set alight by a faith thousands of years old, that faith of the Christians, which was also Plato’s faith, that God is truth, that truth is divine . . . But what if precisely this becomes more and more unbelievable, when nothing any longer turns out to be divine except for error, blindness and lies — and what if God himself turned out to be our oldest lie?22
What is Nietzsche proposing here? His complaint is not merely with Christianity, but with the entirety of western philosophy since Plato. What is diseased in philosophy and science is the desire for truth, the desire to achieve an intellectual stasis in the attainment of fixed forms and ideas which are devoid of perspective. Nietzsche embraces the sensuousness of human experience and rejects the philosophers’ God. But he goes further than this. His rejection is not merely personal, but part of what he sees as a general movement in the West away from
20 Genealogy, p.17 21 Genealogy, p.122 22 ibid. 17 metaphysics, away from the will to truth, and toward something more vital and real. The death of
God, the absence of a primary being to ground our ontology, to act as the backbone of truth, the increasing emphasis on subjectivity and the multiplication of vain systems of thought attempting to ground the universality of abstractions — all of these things point toward the final emptying out of western nihilism.
Nietzsche’s work introduces two elements which will be essential to the later genealogical work of Michel Foucault: first, the analysis of intellectual history in terms of latent power drives; second, the rejection of the metaphysical impulse at the basis of philosophical analysis. Both of these are deeply embedded in Nietzsche’s mature work, but they are also both left incomplete. Nietzsche’s historical narrative is heavily dependent on philological analysis and is so poor on data and documentation that it reads at times like thin propaganda. At the same time, his rebellion against metaphysics is never total. There is always some vague understanding of the will to power or sensuous Dionysian chaos underlying things and, although he says the pursuit of objective truth is nihilistic, Nietzsche never goes so far as to say that nothing exists.
Truth may be a phantasy, we may be dreamers resting on the back of a tiger,23 but there is still a tiger. That Nietzsche keeps the tiger leads to criticism from later thinkers. He may have been one of the first post-Kantians to cry for an open rebellion against metaphysics; he may even have been the first to recognize and reject the fundamentally ontological character of the modern philosophical project, but his own thought seems to be tacitly metaphysical, leaving later thinkers to bring it to its conclusion.24
23 “On Truth and Lies”, p.80 24 Of course, it is possible to object to this reading of Nietzsche, and say (quite plausibly) that his rejection of metaphysics was complete, and that later thinkers who dispute this are simply misreading him. Nietzsche is difficult to read, and his work is so loaded with rhetorical excesses and complex metaphors that multiple interpretations will always be possible. Whether Nietzsche 18
SECTION TWO: TWO POST-NIETZSCHEAN DEVELOPMENTS
Foucault’s writings are in constant tension with two strains of thought that develop after
Nietzsche. The first and most obvious of these is the school of structural analysis exemplified in the writings of Roland Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss. The second is the school of ontological hermeneutics founded by Martin Heidegger and continued by Hans-Georg Gadamer. Though
Foucault rejects both of these strains of thought and distances himself from them in his writings, their influence is clear,25 and they contribute significantly to the production of his books. In this section we will explore these developments in post-Nietzschean thought, in order to prepare for our analysis of Foucault himself.
We spoke earlier of the nominalism in Nietzsche’s early writings on truth, and the ways his work develops something already present in Kant. What is curious about both Kant and
Nietzsche is that at some level they both invoke an essence or nature that explains the emergence of the conceptual system. Kant posits a universal structure of rationality, and speaks of the kinds of logical functions necessary in any mind like ours. The categorical framework and pure forms of intuition which make possible the emergence of all our concepts, pure and empirical, are thus
is “guilty” of doing metaphysics is ultimately of little interest, especially as concerns Foucault, since the question of interpretive validity is completely excluded from Foucault’s thought. That in Foucault and Heidegger a Nietzschean mode of philosophizing is changed and developed is clear. 25 With regard to Heidegger, cf. Foucault’s final public interview, in which he says that “Heidegger has always been for me the essential philosopher.” Found in Michel Foucault, Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984, ed. Sylvere Lotringer, trans. Lysa Hochroth and John Johnston (New York: Semiotext(e), 1996), p.470. With regard to structuralism, sufficient evidence of influence lies in the fact that Foucault needs to constantly distinguish himself from it, though one may find numerous references in interviews. 19 grounded implicitly in a human nature.26 Nietzsche’s analysis inverts Kant’s. Categorical structures and the gradual effacement of metaphors explain the development of systems of knowledge, but their ultimate ground is not an underlying form of rationality, but the erasure of the plurality and chaotic differences among things. In other words, things are still at the root, and there is always still some ontology, some Ding an sich implicit in the system. Both Kant and
Nietzsche rail against the God of metaphysics and his attendant court, while behind them metaphysics seems to always creep back in.27
This thought leaves us with a question: is it possible to describe a conceptual system without any reference to metaphysics? Structuralism is one attempt to provide such a system.
Rooted in the early 20th century linguistic work of Ferdinand de Saussure,28 Structuralism was developed by a number of linguists and anthropologists, and became for a time one of the dominant underlying theories of the human sciences. Saussure’s central thesis is that the relationship in a linguistic sign between the concept signified and the verbal signifier is arbitrary, and that the existence and distinctness of signifier and signified is dependent on their division from other signifier/signified pairs within the language.29 The value of a given sign is determined not by its own nature or the nature of the transcendental object signified, but by the relations the sign has to all the other signs in the semiotic system. Difference is constitutive of meaning, and a semiotic system becomes enriched by the multiplication of distinctions within it. Thus, for example, the extent of the color “red” depends on whether we have divided our color wheel into
26 Kant is, of course, unwilling to use normal metaphysical language to talk about the subject of consciousness (cf. KRV B406ff.), and yet there it is, persisting through his entire system, the ever-present enigma. 27 Of course, Kant’s relationship with metaphysics is quite complex. Though he rails against the metaphysician’s god, he is quite happy to admit the god of the ethicist. 28 Cf. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris (Chicago: Open Court, 1983). 29 Ibid., pp.110-116 20 five, twenty, or two hundred colors. If our system includes only red, blue and green, “red” will be much more expansive than if we add purple, fuchsia, maroon, pink, and orange. According to the structuralists, what red is depends neither on the underlying nature of certain colored objects, nor on the perspective of the one viewing them, but on the network of signs in which “red” occurs, and the distinctions in that network between “red” and everything else.
The same theory can be applied to virtually every abstract notion, and proves to be a powerful way of explaining differences in perspective across ideological camps and philosophical movements: the multiplication of distinctions changes the meaning of everything in a given system. Structuralism as a meta-theory also eliminates the need for philosophical analysis and metaphysics: if every set of concepts and signs is governed and produced by structuralist rules, then ultimately there are only taxonomies and the sign systems that govern them. “Being”, “goodness”, “subject”, “cause” and the like are all simply functions within a semiotic system—functions which emerge on the basis of certain (fundamentally arbitrary) distinctions. Their necessity and universality are thus completely erased.
Structuralism eliminates all consideration of the intention of those producing signs, and in his classic essay "The Death of the Author", Roland Barthes writes about this liberation from authorial intent in a strikingly Nietzschean way:
We know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the 'message' of the Author-God) but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash . . . Succeeding the Author, the scriptor no longer bears within him passions, humors, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense dictionary from which he draws a writing that can know no halt: life never does more than imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs, an imitation that is lost, infinitely deferred. Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author (or its hypostases: society, history, psyche, liberty) beneath the work: when the author has been 21
found, the text is 'explained' — victory to the critic. In precisely this way literature, by refusing to assign a 'secret', an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases — reason, science, law.30
Barthes' summary of the implications of structuralism is quite profound. Here we can see both a development of the Nietzschean rebellion against metaphysics, i.e., the "death of God", and at the same time a continuation of the very nihilism Nietzsche diagnosed in the European academy.
Barthes rules out the need for interpretation, because he has finally excluded the "Author-God" from his semiotic system. Instead, we have merely a set of signs, the transcendental signified of which is deferred in perpetuum.
Now that we have presented structuralism, we turn to Germany for an alternative post- metaphysical philosophy, found in the work of Martin Heidegger. Our goal is to describe three main thrusts in Heidegger’s thought: first, a rejection of Cartesian foundationalism; second, a confrontation of existential anxiety; third, a fundamental reorientation toward Being. Our primary tool will be his great work Being and Time.31
As we have seen, Structuralism is essentially opposed to the idea of interpretation, because it refuses to acknowledge the existence of any meaning “behind” the text, or any transcendental object that could ground such a meaning. For the structuralist, there is only the text and the relations which constitute it. For Heidegger, on the other hand, everything is caught
30 Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author” in Image – Music – Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), p.142 31 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), henceforth Being and Time. 22 up in the act of interpretation, and the world itself is constituted by the perpetual cycle of projecting and recovering meanings. The emphasis on interpretation in Heidegger is a development of a theme in the works of Nietzsche, who insists contrary to the anemic objectivity of the sciences that everything is interpretation.32 Heidegger takes what had been in Nietzsche merely a frequent affirmation of individual subjectivity against the universal stripping away of individuality and perspective, and develops it into a general methodological insight on what it is to do philosophy.
In the first half of Being and Time, Heidegger is engaged in a critique of Cartesian epistemology and the metaphysics of res cogitans and res extensa. He accepts that Descartes is interested in verifying our sensory knowledge of reality and providing for it a firm rational foundation, but he insists that in order to assess Descartes properly we need to compare his analysis of consciousness and substance with the modes in which both of these present themselves to us ordinarily.33 He concludes very quickly that the Cartesian project is possible only in light of a mutilated account of human experience that has been truncated to fit into the lines marked out by a few questionable practices and metaphors.34
Metaphysically, Descartes reduces physical matter to subsistent extended quantity, and his successors build on this reduction, devising a metaphysics in which quantity and shape are the fundamental constitutive features of the physical world. Against this, Heidegger offers a highly compelling account of the ordinary experience of the world as the context of a set of
32 Cf. for example, aphorisms 22, 38, and 108 of Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1989), as well as many passages in the Genealogy. 33 Heidegger takes up Husserl’s famous slogan, “To the things themselves!” which is meant to signify a return to the analysis of mental contents and the actual data of appearances. Cf. Being and Time, p.50 34 Cf. Being and Time 122ff. and 246ff., though the critique extends through most of Division One. 23 directed environments, filled with objects of interest to us, alongside which and by means of which we pursue goals and develop relationships.35
Epistemologically, Descartes advances a view of knowledge according to which assertions about reality are always to be grounded in logical first principles and absolute self- certainty.36 The perfect Cartesian subject would presuppose nothing and know everything.
Heidegger suggests that this model of knowledge is basically irrelevant to human understanding.
Instead, he offers a picture of understanding in which prejudice is the necessary determinant of particular experiences and interpretations of events, and our environments are ordered and constituted by the interests and expectations through which we engage them.37 Heidegger’s portrait of human understanding matches up very well with actual experience, and makes sense of the fallibility and flexibility of knowledge in a potent way that the Cartesian model does not.
Perhaps most strikingly, Heidegger draws a connection between value and knowledge, turning
Nietzsche’s apparently venomous question about the value of truth into a positive assertion that the emergence and orientation of our knowledge of objects depends unceasingly on their involvement in our interests and goals.
Aside from its obvious superiority as a description of the everyday act of knowing,
Heidegger’s account of understanding has a second and more significant advantage. Because understanding, according to Heidegger, is always caught up in a dialectic between the projection of prejudicial expectations onto things, and the imagination of alternative possibilities that develop and change our prejudices, Heidegger sees humans as essentially incomplete beings. To
35 Cf. Being and Time pp.95ff., and again 153ff. 36 Discourse on Method p.11 37 Cf. for example Being and Time pp.172ff. but also 95ff. 24 be human is always to be wrapped up in the un-true, the possibility of things yet to unfold.38 It is to be not-yet, to have yet more interpretive possibilities open, ready to be chosen, to be ordered and recollected and re-imagined.39 In the direction of both principles and conclusions, human understanding is essentially undetermined. This eliminates the early modern problem of an absolute epistemological foundation. Ordinarily, we are always already engaged in the world, occupied with some task, some set of concerns. We are on our way, we are with others, we are getting things done. The constant re-interpretation of the world happens on the basis of our
Geworfenheit or “thrown-ness” into the world at every given moment.40 The past is the foundation for our understanding of things, and it is always being transformed as we fall into the future.
This brings us to the second point on which Heidegger interests us: the possibility of radical disorientation. Because our knowledge of the world is inherently prejudicial and always being developed through interpretation, Heidegger entertains the following question: what if we were to become aware of these interpretive possibilities, not just in some object we encounter, or in a particular environment, but in the world itself and in ourselves as interpreters? The recognition of this possibility, which comes along with a realization of our deep indebtedness to prejudice and Geworfenheit, is given the name “anxiety” in Heidegger.41 Anxiety opens up the possibilities of the world in a fundamental way, because it forces us to ask who we will be and why, in a context which can no longer supply any solid grounding or justification. Instead there is a sudden infinity of potential, which in its groundless lack of orientation is encountered as an abyss.
38 Being and Time p.265ff. 39 Ibid. p.286ff. 40 Ibid. p.174 et passim. 41 Ibid. pp.228ff. 25
Anxiety ‘does not know’ what that in the face of which it is anxious is. . . Therefore that which threatens cannot bring itself close from a definite direction within what is close by; it is already ‘there’, and yet nowhere; it is so close that it is oppressive and stifles one’s breath, and yet it is nowhere . . . What oppresses us is not this or that, nor is it the summation of everything present-at-hand; it is rather the possibility of the ready-to-hand in general; that is to say, it is the world itself.42
Heidegger sees this opening up of the world's possibilities as essential to the process of becoming an authentic human. In ordinary "inauthentic" existence, the question of what sorts of things, environments, values, etc. make up the world, is always immediately and obviously answerable. But in authentic existence, the ontological question gets reopened in a radical way.
Authenticity for Heidegger is a way of describing the human being's process of relearning to ask the question of being.
The idea of a "question of being" is our third point of interest. Heidegger begins Being and Time with the suggestion that we have forgotten the meaning of "Being", which is prior to every other logical and scientific investigation. While at first it seems that he is trying to re-inject a more fundamental strain of metaphysical reflection into philosophy, it turns out in time that
Heidegger lays the blame for the forgetting of Being on the western tradition of metaphysics.43
What he proposes is not first of all a rediscovery of Being, as if he alone has somehow come upon the secret nature of reality and plans to tutor us in it after two and a half millennia of ignorance. Instead he offers to teach us to ask the question of Being. Heidegger suggests that metaphysics is always based on a failure to ask the question of Being, because it is only on the basis of certain limits or barriers to thought that metaphysics can move forward. By asking the question of the meaning of Being, we raise these barriers to thought and return in earnest to the
42 Being and Time, p.231 43 Ibid. p.21ff. 26 fount of philosophical analysis, recognizing the inherent mobility of unquestioned philosophical first principles and inviting by their mobilization a new disclosure of Being.44 Heidegger’s insistence on the questioning of basic principles has a Pyrrhonist feel to it, though his mood is considerably more optimistic than Sextus’s,45 and his language considerably more difficult to understand. This interest in mobilizing intellectual first principles, however, will prove central to the work of Foucault, which we are now ready to turn to.
SECTION THREE: THREE FACES OF MICHEL FOUCAULT
It is helpful when considering of the works of Michel Foucault to speak of “many Foucaults,” so as to emphasize the diversity in tone and method across his works, and their internal resistance to systematic unification.46 Though there are shared themes and analytical techniques, Foucault himself (or, at least, the Foucault of The Archaeology of Knowledge) insists on the discontinuity and “facelessness” of his authorship, and when he imagines a reader complaining that he is always shifting to avoid criticism, he offers the following rebuke:
What, do you imagine that I would take so much trouble and so much pleasure in writing, do you think I would keep so persistently to my task, if I were not preparing -- with a rather shaky hand -- a labyrinth into which I can venture, in which I can move my discourse, opening up underground passages, forcing it to go far from itself, finding overhangs that reduce and deform its itinerary, in which I can lose myself and appear at last to eyes that I will never have to meet again? I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our
44 Cf. “Letter on Humanism” in Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), pp.213-265. 45 Cf. Book I of Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Skepticism, ed. Julia Annas, trans. Jonathan Barnes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), henceforth Outlines of Skepticism. 46 Cf. Gary Gutting, Foucault: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), pp.1-2 27
police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.47
This affirmation of authorial discontinuity will play a significant role in our analysis of Foucault, but for now it is sufficient to serve as an excuse for our way of presenting him. To read Foucault as a single author responsible for all the works attached to his name is already to silence those works and reject their ideas out of hand. If one is to try and read Foucault honestly, one must accept from the beginning a certain degree of inconsistency, indeterminacy, and change. To read
Foucault as an Author is, in a way, to invent him. While this act of invention is inevitable, we would like to do our best to avoid any excessive manipulation of his texts and instead present them as they are. Thus, we will not present a single over-arching Michel Foucault, but three different ones: the Foucault of History of Madness, the Foucault of The Archaeology of
Knowledge, and the Foucault of The History of Sexuality. In each case we will focus on his method, use of metaphysics, and understanding of the sources of knowledge. The account that results will be neither progressive (showing authorial maturation) nor systematic (reducing everything to unity under a single concept), but it should provide all the data necessary for the execution of our main task: an understanding of genealogical analysis, its methods, its problems, and its key concepts.
A. Moriae Encomium
§5 Method and Historiography
Foucault’s History of Madness, his first major work, is an attempt to track the intellectual, political and cultural developments that made possible the emergence of modern
47 Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Vintage, 2010), henceforth Archaeology. 28 psychology in the 19th century.48 Over the course of nearly 600 pages, Foucault records the shifting attitudes and understandings of madness in Western Europe from 1400 to 1900, including copious references to legal documents, hospital regimens, prison records, diagnostic manuals, medical theories, and works of moral theology. Our focus here will be twofold: first, we will examine Foucault’s peculiar historiographical method; second, we will present the vision of madness he sees emerging alongside modern psychology.
The initial premise of the book is that a history of madness is the history of a certain trick,49 whereby madness is continually divided off from the rest of society and marked as a terminal “other” whose exclusion forms the boundary of reason and culture. Foucault is interested in the ways this boundary is formed and designated, and the changing relationship between reason and madness, especially during the Enlightenment. Because he wants to trace the history of that limit which is occupied by insanity,50 his interest does not lie in finding traces of modern psychological schemata in archaic psychological types and practices. Instead he attempts to faithfully describe madness as it appears in each period, and to observe the changes in its distinguishing features and symbolism.51 His approach differs somewhat from that of an ordinary intellectual historian, in that he suspends entirely the question of psychology’s progress as a science, and even demonstrates hostility toward the field in its modern form. The word
“genealogy” in its Nietzschean sense occurs not once in the book, and yet we can see the
48 There is a good deal of room for confusion about this book. It was heavily abridged by Foucault in later editions, and the title changed. The first edition, which in French is called Folie et Deraison is published under the name History of Madness. An abridged version is published in English as Madness and Civilization. Cf. Ian Hacking’s Foreword in Michel Foucault, History of Madness, trans. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa (London: Routledge, 2006), pp.ix-xii 49 Cf. History of Madness, xxvii 50 Ibid. xxix 51 Ibid. xxxv 29 influence of Nietzsche at work here.52 The heart of the book is a kind of genealogy of the concept of alienation.
However, Foucault’s historical analysis, which he refers to as “archaeology”, differs from
Nietzsche’s genealogy in several crucial respects. First, there is no mention of an underlying will to power, and no angry moralizing about the corruption of values. This is no polemic, no grand attempt to transcendentally question the value of our values. The book does not present itself explicitly as a threat to the academic system. Though in its more excited moments, History of
Madness erupts into philosophical reflections on the nature of rationality, in the main it consists of a series of analyses focusing on the modes in which madness is experienced in various times and places. There is no priority among these, no fundamental experience of madness, though there are hints that madness is a continuous possibility that exists in tension with various modes of rationality.
As the place of madness in the cultural imagination of the west shifts through the centuries, Foucault questions the historical unity of the figure of the madman. Various forms of madness are not, it seems, simply the attempts of Reason to cover up a hidden truth (as Christian values and scientific truth are in Nietzsche), but modes by which Reason, in tension with its own limits, simultaneously comprehends and excludes what is irrational. The history of these modes of exclusion is not the history of a lie decaying into nihilism, but a positive and productive history in which tension and negation perpetually generate new realities, new experiences and symbolisms.
This tension is expressed well in a discussion of the so-called “Cartesian moment”, which
52 Nietzsche is explicitly cited as an inspiration several times in the Preface to the first edition, and forms, with Sade and Goya, part of a triad of triumphant madmen in the book’s original conclusion. Instead of calling History of Madness a genealogy, Foucault refers to it as an “archaeology”. See §6 below. 30
Foucault sees as constitutive of the early modern experience of madness. This is the moment in the middle of the first of Descartes’s Meditations on First Philosophy, when the skeptical philosopher rejects the possibility of his own madness, because to suppose oneself mad would be madness itself.53 Foucault finds in this prima facie rejection of the possibility of madness a kind of ethical choice against madness, characteristic of 17th century thought. He explains:
All madness hides an option, in the same way that all reason is the result of a freely accomplished choice. That much is discernible in the insistent imperative of Cartesian doubt; but the choice itself, the constitutive movement of reason where unreason is freely excluded, is apparent throughout Spinoza’s thought, and the unfinished efforts of the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect. Reason asserts itself first of all as a decision made against the unreason of the world, in the clear consciousness of the ‘hollowness and futility of everything that is ordinarily encountered in daily life’. . . Spinoza [postulates] a sort of ethical wager, which is won when it is discovered that the exercise of freedom is accomplished in the concrete fullness of reason, which, by its union with nature taken in its totality, is access to a higher form of nature. . . The freedom of the wager culminates in a unity where it disappears as a choice to reappear as a necessity of reason. That final step, however, is only possible against a backdrop of conquered madness, and madness appears as a constant peril until the end.54
This passage should of course call to mind our earlier overview of the Heideggerian concept of
Anxiety. Setting that aside for a moment, let us consider how a version of Rationality constituted in the way described here would define by opposition a kind of madness.
According to Foucault, an idea of unreason defined against Cartesian rationality will tend to fall into either of two categories. On one hand, it can be experienced as the domination of the soul by the sensible faculties, or the failure of nervous organs to comply with the dictates of the mind, so that the madman is plagued by legion irresistible phantasms and is utterly inculpable for his actions.55 This vision of madness lies in continuity with late scholastic anthropology and moral thought. On the other hand, madness can be experienced as a fundamental choice against
53 Cf. Meditations, p.60 54 History of Madness, pp.139-140 55 Ibid. p.158 31 the prevailing norms of rationality, by which the madman constitutes his own alternative rationality. Foucault explains:
There are therefore in madness ... two levels. The first is the one that is obvious to all eyes: a groundless sadness... a deranged imagination... a disjointed reason... But on a deeper level there is also to be found a rigorous organization that follows the faultless structure of a discourse. The logic of that discourse calls up a set of extremely solid beliefs, and progresses by a chain of judgments and reasoning, and is a sort of reason in act. In short, beneath the obviously disordered delirium reigns the order of a secret delirium. In this second delirium, which is, in a sense, pure reason, reason that has slipped off the external rags of dementia, the paradoxical truth of madness is to be found. And this doubly so, as what is to be found there is both that which makes madness true (faultless logic, well organized discourse, and the flawless flow within the transparency of a virtual language), and that which makes it truly mad (its own nature, the rigorously particular style of all its manifestations and the internal structure of delirium).56
It is this second madness in particular that becomes the center of the latter part of History of
Madness. How, asks Foucault, does madness disclose its particular mode of rationality? How does it come to lose its voice during the early modern period, and, most importantly, how does that voice re-emerge, in the 19th century, in the works of Foucault’s great heroes: Sade,
Nietzsche, and Goya? These are Foucault’s questions, and while we cannot give a full account of them here, we should at least observe something about the ideas implicit in his inquiry.
§6 A New Triumph for Madness
Foucault denies frequently that there is a single madness continuous across the history of the west. One of his main theses in History of Madness is precisely the opposite: that there is very little continuity between the various conceptions of madness described, and that the mad men implicated are basically different – experienced in different ways, categorized under different schemata, punished, exonerated, hospitalized, condemned, hidden, and observed for
56 History of Madness, p.234 32 different reasons throughout the period in question. He maintains, however, that even though the essence of madness is inconstant and grows by opposition out of the political, moral, and medical structures of the day, still there is some unity to the phenomenon of exclusion by which all forms of madness are constituted. This unity is crucial in understanding Foucault’s treatment of Nietzsche in the final chapter of History of Madness.
We mentioned earlier that there is something in Foucault’s description of madness reminiscent of Being and Time. Traces of Heidegger are scattered across the History of Madness.
We find them first of all in Foucault’s persistent interest in the way modes of experience constitute the various kinds of madmen that populate his history, but also on a much deeper level. What is madness for Foucault? What is the determining feature which links all these various characters, symbolic networks, modes of experience, and legal objects together? We have already indicated that in the 19th century Foucault sees madness as being given a voice, after an extended period of institutionalized silence. This voice is in the first instance a confessional voice, and it is elicited by figures like Philippe Pinel and Samuel Tuke, two of the first men to develop varieties of therapy in which social pressures applied to the patient are used to bring about a conversion to sanity.57 Formerly, the insane had been subjected to torture, imprisonment, and various bizarre medical treatments. Now a cure is produced in which the mad man, no longer an exile, no longer tortured for his ramblings or silenced in prison, is asked to speak.
According to Foucault, Pinel and Tuke attempt to force madness into the circle of language, and hence make the madman, by disclosing his own “truth”, fall back into the prevailing mode of rationality, so that the he is subsumed under an anonymous type within the
57 Cf. History of Madness, pp.463-511 33 order of things.58 The experience of insanity as guilt and alienation which are remedied through a confessional talking cure is not fundamentally about liberating the insane (though the birth of the asylum is hailed as a liberation), but about forcing madness into a paradoxical space on the border between freedom and determinism.59 The madman is free in that he is no longer confined within his cell, but is instead confined by the circle of language and the taxonomy of social types which he is forced to join. He is freed from criminality while being “locked into the rigorous mechanisms of a determinism”60 marked out by prevailing cultural norms, without which he would remain guilty under the gaze of the psychologist.
However, the re-emergence of a voice of madness makes possible a transformation that undoes the tyranny of the psychologist. Recall that madness and rationality exist in a relation of perpetual exclusion. The former is always defined by the subversion of the latter, since madness occurs as the limit of discourse, beyond which the ordering structures of rationality collapse and silence falls. Where reason is worldly prudence and good sense, madness becomes the eschatological wisdom which undoes the world. Where reason is virtue, madness becomes vice.
Where reason is the affirmation of one’s own sanity, madness becomes a choice of the wrong version of sanity. Now reason has attempted to subsume madness, by placing the madman at the boundary of reason/discourse and unreason/silence, and investing in him the power to confess his madness. In a therapeutic context, this new division is effective, and enables the psychologist to triumph. But by trying to tame madness it has opened up the boundaries of discourse to include its modes of speech. Accordingly, the madman experiences his insanity as an antinomy and a
58 In plain language, Pinel and Tuke are the first to develop some form of “talk therapy”, the goal of which is to have the patient re-integrate his consciousness and become fit to interact normally with society. Cf. History of Madness, pp.496ff. 59 History of Madness, p.515 60 Ibid, p.514 34 choice. He can either resolve his guilt, cease to be mad, and become merely another “anonymous type”, or he can manifest a newer, higher form of madness by giving voice to unreason against reason, and inverting the guilt relationship by which psychology operates.
The greatest instance of this new inversion of psychology is Nietzsche. Nietzsche does not simply stand at the limit of discourse and look out upon madness, nor does he submit his rival mode of rationality to diagnosis at the hands of a psychologist. Instead, his work actively partakes of madness, thrusts itself into the void of unreason, and by this unreason it indicts rationality itself. “Madness is an absolute rupture of the oeuvre: it is the constitutive moment of an abolition... it delineates the outer limit, the line of its collapse, its outline against the void.”61
Here, beyond reason and the limits of discourse, Foucault finds “a new triumph for madness,”62 where madness, no longer silenced or excluded, reveals itself in its essence as a rupture, as the perpetual possibility of a new rationality, an alternative discourse, a different set of normative criteria. In this latest madness, the unquestioned limits of reason have disclosed their essential mobility, and the madman, formerly guilty for his deviance, finds the strength to indict rationality itself.63
B. The Critique of Rationality
Our second Foucault occurs about seven years after the publication of History of
Madness. If History of Madness was an investigation of the limit that encloses rationality, then
The Archaeology of Knowledge is in part a skeptical exercise meant to dissolve the ontological unities by which rationalities are held together. In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault
61 Ibid. p.536 62 Ibid. p.538 63 To draw the anticipated connection to Heidegger, in Nietzsche madness, experienced as fundamental anxiety, begins to raise anew what Heidegger calls the Question of Being. 35 looks back at his previous works and attempts to formulate a general methodological outline of what he has done. Basically Cartesian in structure,64 Archaeology has two parts: a skeptical deconstruction of existing theoretical unities, and a critical reconstruction meant to provide a pure basis for future research. Naturally with Foucault the reconstruction is not, unlike with
Descartes, foundationalist or metaphysical. The primary goal of the reconstruction is, rather, to avoid these conveniences and preserve the indeterminacy revealed in the skeptical first half. In other words, we can envision this book, which describes itself as a methodological inquiry into recent developments in historiography, as a critique of the basis of rationality itself, a way of constructing in abstract a historiographical method totally free of metaphysics and references to the transcendental. The belief that such a method is adequate to historical realities, and in fact superior to alternative historiographies, reveals something not just about Foucault’s vision of history, but of his understanding of rationality and reality itself. We will examine each part of the book, skeptical and theoretical, in turn.
§7 Dissolving the Transcendental
In the first part of his book, Foucault attempts to show various problems underlying the common “discursive unities” by which we analyze and group historical objects, especially in the sciences. Several of his arguments depend on the application of the sorites paradox.65 Thus, for example, he attacks the notion of an authorial oeuvre66 by showing the indeterminacy of its boundaries: does it include unpublished works? Marginal notes? Transcribed conversations?
64 Archaeology follows the same general scheme as Descartes’ Meditations and Discourse on Method: first, the clearing out of received knowledge through radical skepticism, then the reconstruction of philosophical praxis in light of that doubt. 65 That is, the paradox of the heap, which attacks the determinacy of a given thing by showing the impossibility of defining its limits. 66 Archaeology, pp.23ff. 36
Incomplete drafts? Sketches? Copies? His goal is not to show that the oeuvre is a meaningless concept, but that the constitution of any oeuvre is a positive act and not an obvious truth—that the obvious truth of what goes into an oeuvre is only made possible by a set of choices that end up constituting the oeuvre itself.
This thought process is repeated several times in the first half of the book, to successively more significant concepts. In one chapter, Foucault challenges the obvious unity of the concept as such,67 pointing out that the referent of various ideas shifts between periods and even between authors in a given period. “Hysteria” is many different things within 17th century medical diagnostics, depending on the taxonomy in which it is located and the set of attachments the concept bears. Is there male hysteria? What causes hysteria? Is it culpable or not? Different answers to questions like these conjure up different ideas entirely, which relate differently to other elements within any particular diagnostic scheme.
Again, still more significantly, Foucault criticizes the unity of objects.68 He challenges the idea that the sciences simply uncover preexisting objects and begin to speak of them, attempting to make scientific discourse adequate to the preexisting nature of the thing itself.
Rather, the emergence of objects in their particular natures is made possible by certain conditions in the discursive field of a given historical period. Depending on the shifts in this discursive field, objects too, in their difference and heterogeneity, change. Their relations with other objects shift. They vanish and reappear (like the madman’s voice), so that there is no “constant object” or fixed nature except as imagined within a specific mode of discourse. Rather, everything is caught up in a perpetually indeterminate dispersion of statements, modes of speaking, definitions, authorities, etc. which allow for the maintenance of objects, concepts, works,
67 Ibid. pp.56-63 68 Ibid. pp.40-49 37 interests, and strategies over time, but which fundamentally undermine the possibility of any ontological permanence or stability of form. In a particularly revealing passage, Foucault explains his idea:
…What we are concerned with here is not to neutralize discourse, to make it the sign of something else, and to pierce through its density in order to reach what remains silently anterior to it, but on the contrary to maintain it in its consistency, to make it emerge in its own complexity. What, in short, we wish to do is to dispense with ‘things’. To ‘depresentify’ them. To conjure up their rich, heavy, immediate plenitude, which we usually regard as the primitive law of a discourse that has become divorced from it through error, oblivion, illusion, ignorance, or the inertia of beliefs and traditions, or even the perhaps unconscious desire not to see and not to speak. To substitute for the enigmatic treasure of ‘things’ anterior to discourse, the regular formation of objects that emerge only in discourse. To define these objects without reference to the ground, the foundation of things, but by relating them to the body of rules that enable them to form as objects of a discourse and thus constitute the conditions of their historical appearance. To write a history of discursive objects that does not plunge them into the common depth of a primal soil, but deploys the nexus of regularities that govern their dispersion.69
In this statement of his project, we can see Foucault envisioning a new kind of Kantianism. He is interested in the grounds of the possibility of knowledge, and the ways knowledge constitutes the things with which it is concerned. Like Nietzsche he rejects the validity of the universal synthetic functions at the basis of objective experience, but unlike Nietzsche, he does not intend to ground his critical analysis in some fundamental object, will to power, or primary level of experience.
Foucault’s approach does not involve the reduction of the phenomena to some ultimate ground, nor does it treat the interested subject as primary. In fact, Foucault’s analysis abstracts from the subject entirely. But once free of the subject, it does not presuppose (as in structuralism) an ideal langue whose invisible rules determine with clarity the significance of every statement. Nor does it involve the quest to find a new ground for the significance of things in authentic resoluteness, repetition, etc. (Heidegger). What remains? Foucault seems for a moment to have crawled into a
69 Ibid. pp.47-48 38 corner with Sextus Empiricus and consigned himself to dissolving all certainties and modes of affirmation. But this is not the case.
With the Pyrrhonists, the goal of skepticism is to achieve ataraxia in the suspension of judgment.70 Foucault has no interest in ataraxia, nor does he suspend judgment. In fact, though he dissolves the transcendental unities that ground ordinary discourse, his goal is not to reject them all, or to somehow debunk every form of knowledge and open up a nihilistic clearing, purged of all ideology. In the Introduction to Archaeology, he assures his reader that his analysis
“is not a way of saying that everyone else is wrong.”71 Instead, it is a way of uncovering the plenitude of possibilities latent in discourse, in order to begin the process of analyzing the role of choice, limitation, and exclusion in the constitution of the realities of which we speak.
§8 Toward a New Analytical Vocabulary
As he proceeds, Foucault has to struggle against his own critical apparatus, and as powerful as the first half of The Archaeology of Knowledge is in opening up the space for a new analysis of discursive functions, the second half of the work seems largely to be a struggle not to drink the poison he has brewed for others. In casting aside the ordinary discursive unities used to ground research (and therefore to ground ontologically the rationality of any particular period or mode of speaking), Foucault needs to develop a way of describing his characteristic historical analysis. If he does not presuppose the transcendence of particular objects, modes of analysis and authority, etc., then he needs some way of getting a conceptual hold on the slush of indeterminate identities he has revealed, and he needs this conceptual function to be detached from any metaphysical framework, lest it too fall victim to his critique.
70 Outlines of Skepticism, pp.4-5, 10-11 71 Archaeology p.17 39
To understand how this is possible, first we need to clarify some of the outcomes of his critique. Does Foucault mean to deny the truth or accuracy of any particular discursive structure
(in medicine, science, philosophy, etc.) and disarm each discipline and ideology completely? No, he does not. His interest is not, as we have already said, to debunk everyone else or suspend all the accepted truths. He wants to preserve the truths, and preserve even the objects in which they inhere and of which they speak. But as a practitioner of “archaeology”, Foucault is interested in the practical modes of the emergence of these truths, without appealing to a transcendental object, without seeking “to pass from the text to thought, from talk to silence, from the exterior to the interior, from spatial dispersion to the pure recollection of the moment, from superficial multiplicity to profound unity.”72 He attempts to meet the mass of statements, truths, objects, modes of speech, etc. at the level of their expression, and to analyze them as the finite set of actualized enunciations among an infinite set of possible statements. He wants to understand the regulative mechanisms within discourse by which a particular corpus of statements is actualized, the qualities of the discursive field that make this emergence possible, the qualities of statements that make them repeatable and yet differentiable. 73
We can return once again to the example of Heidegger, and see that Foucault’s goal here is basically to remain in that moment of anxiety characteristic of authenticity. But Foucault is not looking to ask the question of Being, i.e., not actually anticipating the possibility of a disclosure of the Being of things. Instead he wants, given the revelation of the dispersion and mobility of the reasons at the basis of our knowledge, and the objects which participate in that knowledge, to move freely among those objects, those ways of knowing, without prejudice or reduction. If this is the fundamental idea of archaeological analysis, we can see why an abstract account of its
72 Ibid. p.76 73 Ibid. pp.101-102 40 methods and instrumental concepts would be difficult. Foucault needs to describe his method with sufficient ambiguity and flexibility that it can change to take on any object, can move freely through all varieties of ordinary, scientific, linguistic and philosophical speech without itself preventing the immanent intelligibility of these modes of speaking from emerging, without keeping them from revealing their relationship to other earlier and later modes of speaking.
But if Foucault’s goal as archaeologist is to show the causal relationships between successive modes of speech and historical loci of discourse, has he not already tacitly accepted some underlying metaphysics? Causation implies a set of transcendental laws governing history, and the concept of history itself presupposes a constant substrate within which various events, ideas, and interactions appear and vanish. Foucault circumvents these difficulties by developing what we might call an ontology of indeterminate stabilities. Just as the application of the sorites paradox allowed him to deal with things (objects, authors, works, periods) as “dispersions” and not determinate identities, in the same way he preserves lines of influence and conditions for the actualization of discursive forms tenuously, under the name “historical a priori.”74 The historical a priori is a play on Kant’s synthetic a priori (a kind of knowledge which grounds the possibility of all empirical knowledge, and hence of all events and objects in the world). Foucault’s historical a priori is not a transcendental ordering mechanism, however, but a set of factual conditions that precede the factual emergence of a set of interrelated statements. Thus to ask about the historical a priori of the modern notion of schizophrenia is to ask about the discursive forms and rules that made the emergence of our discourse concerning schizophrenia possible.
These forms and rules have only a diffuse and contingent power, however, because they themselves are subject to a historical a priori. This is to say that “this a priori does not elude
74 Ibid. p.127 41 historicity: it does not constitute, above events, and in an unmoving heaven, an atemporal structure; it is defined as the group of rules that characterize a discursive practice: but these rules
… are caught up in the very things they connect… The a priori of positivities is not only the system of a temporal dispersion; it is itself a transformable group.”75
Is this ontology of the historical a priori sufficient to keep Foucault free of metaphysics?
Is there some transcendental object lurking in his system? We will take up these questions in more detail later on, but for now we must emphasize the lengths to which he goes to “lift the transcendental barrier.”76 For example, the accusation might be made that Foucault is assigning ontological primacy to the statement. It, if anything, seems to be the building block of his methodology. But while we might have begun listening to Foucault talk about discursive fields, statements, and enunciative modalities, and believed that he was showing us a hidden realm of pre-existing objects whose relations and unities are causally determinative for our speech and our truths, a closer look reveals that Foucault makes no such claim. He insists that “the statement is not just another unity.”77 Instead all of his new ontological concepts—statement, historical a priori, archive, enunciative modality, accumulation, dispersion, etc.—operate on the same level and describe the same things. Or better yet, they seem to presuppose no things at all, but whatever is given within the discursive field currently under analysis. Foucault’s ontology does its best to avoid being a theory and remain pure method: it does not reduce things to an absolute ground, but searches out the fraying and transformations that happen on the surface of things in moments of transition or rupture.
The downside to Foucault’s attempt at a pure methodological account of Archaeology is
75 Ibid. p.127 76 Ibid. p.113, translation emended. 77 Ibid. p.111 42 that he cannot describe much. Practices are best illuminated when they are performed. It is usually easier to understand a machine by seeing it operate than by having it explained in abstract. In Archaeology, Foucault attempts to describe an analytical practice which is designed to avoid all reference to fixed objects. Given the consequent vagueness of his self-description in
Archaeology, reading The Order of Things or one of his other archeological texts may in fact be more useful in understanding the function of the statement or the historical a priori than wading through the collection of apophatic descriptions presented in the later chapters of The
Archaeology of Knowledge. In fact, Archaeology seems to have been structured mainly as a long anti-metaphysical disclaimer directed at (mis)readers and critics of his earlier work.
Before moving on, we should summarize our findings. The Archaeology of Knowledge is a methodological inquiry into the work done in Foucault’s books in the 1960s. It differs from
History of Madness chiefly in its emphasis on speech and communication to the exclusion of phenomenological analysis. What he describes is not interpretation or reduction, but a way of tracking speech at the level of its occurrence and investigating the conditions which made possible the emergence of these particular modes of expression, and these particular statements, to the exclusion of others. The chief fault of the book is one that Foucault acknowledges several times throughout it: his ideas are provisional. At the end, we are left only with a vague sense of what this method might do and how it might set about its task. What is the basis of this or that factual dispersion of statements? How do discursive conditions make possible the emergence of knowledge? These questions are left unanswered, and given the great number of things he says his new concepts cannot do, it becomes difficult to see how his words can mean anything. What
Foucault provides is a vocabulary for analysis, and not a guide for the reduction of objects to a system. But whether this vocabulary is capable of functioning remains to be seen. 43
C. The Will to Knowledge
We said at the beginning of the previous section that The Archaeology of Knowledge can be read as a general critique of the possibility of rationality. In its attempt to develop a new account of the foundations of the possibility of knowledge, we might compare it to Kant’s
Critique of Pure Reason. Unlike Kant, however, Foucault offers no explicit theory for the emergence of knowledge in Archaeology, but limits himself to the elaboration of an analytical vocabulary. After Archaeology, Foucault refrained from publishing any major studies for several years. This period of silence divides what readers of Foucault call his “archaeological” period from the later, more Nietzschean, “genealogical” period. In this final section we will look at the central work of this genealogical period, the first volume of his History of Sexuality: The Will to
Knowledge.78 In particular we will examine two points: first, his use of the concept of power; and second, the broad aims of his revised genealogical method.
We mentioned earlier the importance of Structuralism as a context for Foucault’s thought. Some vaguely structuralist themes have appeared in our analysis so far: the focus on division and classification in History of Madness, the centrality of discursive forms in The
Archaeology of Knowledge. In The Will to Knoweldge, another of these themes emerges, developed in a very potent way. Earlier we said that, because difference is constitutive of meaning, the structuralist recognizes that the proliferation of distinctions increases the
78 Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1990). As with History of Madness, the title of this book leaves room for confusion. The English edition of La Volenté de savoir is published under the title History of Sexuality, Volume One: An Introduction. We will prefer “The Will to Knowledge” to the unwieldy alternative in referencing this text, not least because it does a better job describing the thrust of the book. 44 significance of signs within a system. Within a closed field of discourse about colors, for example, the multiplication of shades of red will make each particular shade more useful in articulating some value. Foucault recasts this idea by tying it to the formation and transformation of values and ontologies. We will see that for Foucault the field of differences is the medium in which value and ontology interact to transform each other through history. Foucault will come to refer to this field as “power”.
Before focusing in on power, however, we should come to grips with what Foucault is trying to accomplish in this book at large. The Will to Knowledge is the introductory volume of a planned multi-part history of western sexuality. In this introductory study, Foucault lays out the basic questions organizing his research and explains the method he will use to investigate it. The thesis of The Will to Knowledge is typically Foucauldian: sexuality as we currently experience and imagine it—as something inscribed in our natures which must be rediscovered and freed from the secrecy of repression—is a recent invention, no more than two or three centuries old, and is the product of a long series of contingent cultural developments in the west since the middle ages. But Foucault adds something to this (for him) typical hypothesis that greatly magnifies its descriptive power. He contends that the myth of Victorian sexual repression is not just a prevailing fiction in our idea of sexuality, but part of a general strategy for the transformation of power relations, a strategy which has generated sexuality itself. The idea of repression functions as a perpetual incitement to discourse by which sexuality comes to exist as a
“natural” phenomenon, takes on increasing moral weight, and becomes more and more central to the power relations that order our society:
We are compelled… to accept three or four hypotheses which run counter to the one on which the theme of a sexuality repressed by the modern forms of society is based: sexuality is tied to recent devices of power; it has been expanding at an increasing rate since the seventeenth century; the arrangement that has sustained it 45
is not governed by reproduction; it has been linked from the outset with an intensification of the body—with its exploitation as an object of knowledge and an element in relations of power.79
These hypotheses are so deeply subversive that they end up sounding positively reactionary.
Here Michel Foucault, the famously homosexual postmodernist, is effectively claiming that the entire movement for sexual liberation is a function of large-scale power dynamics that are both politically suspect and, paradoxically, fundamentally opposed to sexual freedom. Sexuality is part of a movement which, by perpetuating a set of confessional impulses, brings the activities and pleasures of the human body more and more into the play of moral and political power struggles.
In this move, Foucault finally reveals himself as the greatest grandchild of Nietzsche. His earlier archaeological analyses had been “genealogical” in their deliberate rejection of the transcendental and insistence on considering intellectual shifts as basically contingent and rooted in discursive praxis. But if they had been lacking anything, it was a viable account of what drives intellectual shifts. Foucauldian archaeological analysis loses its appeal as a post-metaphysical account of the conditions for the possibility of various ontologies (or modes of rationality, or ordines rerum) to the extent that it cannot explain the transformations by which new ontologies come to be. Moreover, it lacks the essential characteristic of Nietzschean genealogy: its reduction of historical transformation in the realm of truth to the expression of an underlying will to power. It is the will to power, the sensuous Dionysian chaos at the root of subjective human experience, that drives the development of truth for Nietzsche. Without some analogous function, Foucault’s mode of speaking seems to fall flat and become merely another step in the emptying out of human vitality for the sake of nihilistic objectivity.
79 The Will to Knowledge, p.107 46
At the same time, the adoption of Nietzsche’s will to power is problematic for reasons we have already discussed: the assertion that a universal law of history is invisibly at work underlying and motivating things is tacitly metaphysical. The will to power acts as the Ding an sich to which all our actions are referred, and becomes the basis of a new truth in relation to which all the old values an ideas are to be judged. Foucault avoids this metaphysical reduction by eliminating the will to power and substituting a new understanding of power, which is neither extrinsic to the particular ontological orders in which it operates, nor reducible to a form of sovereignty or dominance.80 Around the midpoint of The Will to Knowledge, Foucault lays out a rich exposition of his understanding of power:
Power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their organization; as the process which, though ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses them; as the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another; and lastly, as the strategies in which they take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies.81
We will now attempt to work through this fourfold definition to convey a sense of its scope and explanatory potency.
First, Foucault labels as “power” the “multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their organization”. By force relations he does not mean merely relations of dominance or mastery, but relations of difference as such, by which
80 It is arguable, as we have mentioned above, that Nietzsche’s “will to power” is not actually metaphysical, but this question cannot be treated here. 81 The Will to Knowledge, 92-93. 47 some value or significant quality is distributed across a field. The idea is that the inequities latent in value and quality establish and organize relations within that field, and constitute the field itself. We might think back to Plato’s Republic: the city is founded on relationships of difference and need—specialization is the basis of the polis from the beginning—and it is the lines of inequity which constitute the relations which in turn organize the state and cause its development. Thus power is not an abstract quality or sovereignty which flows from the governing power of the state or from its individual constituent parts. It is not something that some have and others lack. It is neither primarily the will of a tyrant, a right bestowed by God, a contract by common consent, or a collective embodiment of the interests of the people. Power exists in all the relations of the parts which form the state: classes, factions, parties, guilds, ethnic and familial groups, stereotypes, clothing styles, etc. But it also exists below this in all the recognized qualities by which diversity exists in individuals: desires, objects, ideas, etc. The differences in all of these and the relationships among these differences which make them relevant are power, and it is power first of all that constitutes things in their difference and individuality. Foucault’s thought brings Structuralism around a profoundly Heideggerian turn, by suggesting that it is relations of force and value which compose the lines of difference by which objects exist. Our engagement in the world with things is what leads to the distinctions by which things themselves are capable of emerging and becoming ontologically stable or significant.
This brings us to Foucault’s second point: power is “the process which, though ceaseless struggles and confrontations, transforms, strengthens, or reverses” these force relations. Foucault does not locate power relations in stable structures, or fixed rules of transformation, but includes within power the constant transformation of the relations which are constitutive of ontological order. There is a profoundly effective insight here: since it is modes of difference which allow 48 for the possibility of things and change, and therefore of interest and struggle, by that fact power includes the perpetual transformation of these relations. Difference and interest are locked in an ongoing exchange of transformations, each magnifying and shifting the orientation and organization of the other to lead to new orders, modes of rationality, discursive structures, etc.
Foucault has overcome the merely discursive focus of Archaeology of Knowledge and at the same time made possible a coherent, post-metaphysical analysis of historical transformations.
We can imagine truth now as a great woven tapestry the threads of which are constantly, by their winding about one another, forming knots and images and fraying out of existence. As the tapestry is woven, the threads from which it is formed perpetually disintegrate and reform around new lines, new unities, and old images become the matter for new patterns. There is no edge and no center, nor any fixed point, nor even fixed matter, but still in each moment the tapestry remains, explicable fully in terms of what it was and is, though never reducible to any stable form, unity or interpretation. Even as we observe it shifts again and becomes something new, for by our speaking of it we change it, so that it can never be held.
Third, Foucault includes “the support which these force relations find in one another, thus forming a chain or a system, or on the contrary, the disjunctions and contradictions which isolate them from one another.” Here he expands his understanding of power to include not only the individual lines of difference and their transformation, but the way these differences or power relations pile upon each other to create competing systems of difference, varying ontological structures, possibilities of interest and development grouped around a few central themes or contrasts. This is the level on which “discourses” or “enunciative modalities” emerge, modes of speech which draw together a vast range of different phenomena and possibilities and, by emphasis or exclusion, serve to enrich or prioritize some over others: concepts of perfection, of 49 justice, of rights, natures, honesty, and so on function as normative regulators in this sphere, less conveying some essential truth about the objects under consideration than controlling and fixing the ordered relations by which the discourse is maintained and the ontology stabilized.
Fourth and finally, power includes “the strategies in which [these systems and groupings] take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies.” At the fourth and highest level, Foucault begins to speak of strategies. Strategies are not necessarily political schemes devised to accomplish goals. For Foucault, a strategy is not even necessarily intentional or tied to a subject. Rather, strategy is the province of grand movements of change and organized structures of interest and power that, because of their stability and pervasiveness, reliably factor into the organization of power on the largest scale. The most significant strategies operate on a level far beyond individual intentions. They reveal themselves in political systems, legal codes, institutional practices, taboos, social hierarchies, etc. These strategies are rarely tied directly to individual subjects, and are almost never designed by individuals or groups, though the designs of individuals function in and are made possible by these strategies. The transformation of power relations is, on every level, primarily a matter of power unfolding itself, developing its own possibilities, morphing through tension and rupture into new realities.
Foucault’s vision of power is breathtakingly comprehensive. One needs only to look around the world of public discourse a while to see the facility with which his theory is capable of explaining organizational principles at work in intellectual conflicts, the development and promulgation of common ideas and images, the repetition and replication of narratives and logical relationships, and so on. But Foucault’s intention here is not primarily to develop a theory of power capable of explaining the organization and development of discourse. The theory of 50 power is in service of a larger project, a new elaboration of genealogical method. Some final thoughts on genealogy and the genealogist will conclude our discussion of Foucault.
§11 Genealogy and the Genealogist
At the beginning of this overview of Foucault’s thought, we quoted the famous passage about facelessness from his introduction to Archaeology of Knowledge. The habit of disowning his works and suspending authorial privilege is consistent throughout Foucault’s career. With his later work developing a theory of power relations, we might expect Foucault to settle down into his ideas and develop a broad theory of history that attempts to exhaustively describe the course of events and mechanisms by which ideas and things change. By one possible reading of his late works, this is indeed what he did. However, if we sit with his description of power a while, we will realize that it does not allow for any sort of final analysis or fixed theory. Foucault may appear to have settled into a system and accepted the mantel of the institutional professor,82 but a more thorough reading of his works will show that any system we suppose Foucault to have developed will necessarily and intentionally dissolve itself in time. Foucault is not the last ontologist showing at length the truth of being to man. His work is genuinely anti-metaphysical.
It is genealogical. Ultimately what does this mean?
Nietzsche’s genealogy involved the reduction of historical developments to a constant underlying will to power. However, the core goal of genealogy for Nietzsche is to mobilize accepted values and show the contingency and hidden arbitrariness of Christian morality and the will to truth. Foucault’s genealogy, on the other hand, does not reduce history to a constant rule—Parmenides is not lurking at the bottom of this Heraclitean river—but reduces everything
82 Cf. Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopedia, Genealogy and Tradition (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), p.53 51 to power relations, which are already, according to his definition, everything. His analysis, always wary of the ontological tendencies implicit in a hermeneutical approach, remains triumphantly superficial, and its superficiality enables it to exploit contingencies to perpetually undo metaphysical or hermeneutical systems of depth, by showing how their projected depths too are simply surface phenomena, explained and determined by a multiplicity of unintended effects, interests, and power relations at particular moments in history. The goal of the genealogist is to develop an analytical vocabulary, a set of theoretical tools, and a position of difference from which he can critique and dissolve the ontological pretensions of every intellectual system. This means that the genealogist must be mobile, his language must be flexible, and his analytical tools must be perpetually adaptable to the system under consideration.
As Foucault writes in his famous essay “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”, the genealogist inhabits a “‘non-place’, a pure distance.”83 Later on in the same essay, he returns to the image of the mask, saying that the identity of the genealogist “which we attempt to support and unify under a mask, is in itself only a parody: it is plural; countless spirits dispute its possession; [in it] numerous systems intersect and compete.”84
In other words, the genealogist is the outsider to every inside; he is the plurality of voices which undoes every systematic unity. How do we identify the genealogist then? How is it possible to find the face behind the mask? How could one become a true genealogist? In the first place, we are not required to do any of these things, since the genealogist’s function is not dependent on our recognition of him as a genealogist. The genealogist is not a character, or a psychological type, or even a steady mode of difference in the midst of or exterior to a particular
83 “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” in Michel Foucault, The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: Pantheon, 1984), p.85. 84 Ibid. p.94 52 mode of rationality. He is mobile, un-nameable. More than all the transcendental objects and identities he dissolves by his methods, the genealogist first of all does not exist. Note that if he did not have this quality, then he would immediately become a metaphysician and ideologue. He would be defined by what he defied and his resistance would be one particular seed or further ramification of an old tree. But the real genealogist is a machine producing an endless diversity of fungal spores, always eating away at old life to provide the fertile ground for new. We spoke earlier of history as a tapestry constantly being rewoven through the play of power relations. In this image genealogy is not a particular weave, pattern or line, but a kind of function by which the threads of a discourse fray and become available again to a new spinning, a new weave, undetermined by both the old pattern and the function of genealogy itself. After many chance developments and curiosities we have hopefully gained a sense of the nature of genealogy and the demands it places on practitioners. We are now ready to present an ontological account of intelligibility which claims superiority over genealogy, so that we can then observe the two modes of discourse in conflict and attempt to find a resolution to their dispute.
ORDERS OF INTELLIGIBILITY IN THOMISTIC ONTOLOGY
Our goal is to arrange a dispute between the genealogist and the ontologist, a conversation in which the two actually meet each other and engage in dialogue. We have given an appropriately fragmented portrait of our genealogist, Michel Foucault. Now it is time to present the ontologist he is to engage: Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas’s thought is vast and intricate, with theoretical complexity and adaptability meant to match the richness and diversity of the world of created things. However, though with Foucault a multi-part historical account of his emergence was necessary, for Aquinas we will tend to present an account of things that is unitary and consistent, one which, though by its own admission incomplete, is meant to be adequate to the persisting world of things and their determinate natures. We will also, to avoid the textual morass, treat less of Aquinas himself and more of Thomism, depending primarily on Aquinas’s 54 own works, but also on the thought of Aristotle and Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Our treatment of Thomistic thought will proceed in three stages: first, an account of the roots of metaphysics in the principle of non-contradiction; second, an analysis of the progress and limitations of natural human knowledge; and third, an account of the inward order of intelligibility in things themselves as they proceed from God. Having completed the cycle, we will turn at last to the confrontation between our two contenders.
SECTION ONE: DEFENSE OF FIRST PRINCIPLES
§12 A Foundationalist Dilemma
As we begin our treatment of Aquinas, a variety of difficulties present themselves immediately. First of these is the problem of beginnings: intellectual first principles and the possibility of a foundation for all concrete certitudes about being. As informed by a modern philosophical mindset, this problem seems to resolve itself into a dilemma: On one hand, we might find that Aquinas falls under the Cartesian quest for intellectual self-certainty and locates the primary evidence for our knowledge in the clarity of basic ideas or mental states. In this case, he seems to be merely a precursor to the crises of modern philosophy: his first principles can be revealed to be unexamined barriers to thought, which, when dissolved, will leave no certitude at all. But if this is not true, then, on the other hand, we will have to admit that Aquinas has no intellectual first principles of the Cartesian variety, and thus that his entire system of thought hangs together loosely as the concatenation of a series of contingent dogmas, making him a superb target for our genealogist. In either case, his ability to give a valid account of the foundation and possibility of metaphysics seems dubious from the start.
Fortunately for the Thomist, this dilemma is illusory, and our explanation of its falsehood 55 will at the same time lead us to understand the foundation of the Aristotelian defense of metaphysical first principles. The illusion rests on an understanding of the nature of philosophical inquiry based on granting a certain kind of primacy to intellectual first principles, a methodological primacy which Aquinas does not place in them. For clarification, we return to
The Cartesian project is at its root a quest for certainty about the truth. Descartes finds himself frequently led astray by prejudice and false instruction, and wants to clear the ground for a new unblemished system of beliefs whose pristine basis and logical integrity are so perfect that he will never need to worry about error or prejudice. He wants to begin with a small set of absolutely indubitable ideas, and make them breed with each other to produce more indubitable ideas, until (ideally) his flock of indubitables comes to exhaust reality itself. The blemish from which Descartes struggles to protect his flock, is the possibility of doubt. This is a fine ideal, but one which deeply impacts his way of proceeding and his understanding of philosophy.
With Descartes, philosophy becomes a solitary exercise in which the individual attempts to convince himself against all doubt of the truth of his ideas, and to elaborate an absolute system incapable of further perfection or revision, because it is so well-founded and coherent. The key to this method is an initial skeptical purge, in which everything capable of being doubted is cast away. The Cartesian method leads to a great deal of instability. As successive generations of thinkers examine the work of their forebears and find new room for doubt in their principles, they are forced to scrap the old philosophical systems and perpetually begin anew. In the end, this vision of philosophy frustrates the philosopher completely, because it fails to recognize the fundamentally prejudicial nature of particular starting points and standards of purity. The inescapability of prejudice becomes more evident as the heap of botched foundationalist systems 56 towers ever higher in the historical background. And, once the foundationalist philosopher recognizes that he is necessarily trapped by the contingencies of his perspective, he tends to throw up his hands and become a pragmatist.
However, this solitary, foundationalist vision of philosophical inquiry seems not to do justice to the actuality of philosophy. All philosophers, including Descartes, work by talking things through. The philosopher always works in a context, and always holds forth in conversation with others. His work is significant because it helps him and those who meet him to clarify and deepen their notions about the world. His context, in other words, is always particular, and his interests (though they pierce through the everyday into matters of transcendental and universal import) are always conditioned by a particular interlocutor.
Consider Socrates, as a counterpoint to Descartes. The Socratic method always unfolds in a way appropriate to the particular occasion, and in its best instances it is not informed by the attempt to impose a prior philosophical doctrine on the listener, but allows the exchange of questions and answers to lead the conversation to whatever primary issues seem most pressing at the moment.
If we were to ask Socrates or Plato whether they had any first principles of the Cartesian variety, they would clearly answer in the negative. If there are any “first principles” in their kind of philosophy, then they are the conditions that make philosophical conversation possible: the possibility of communication and the availability of things to discuss. But clearly these
“principles” are at work in all philosophy, foundationalist or not, though in much modern philosophy they tend to be overlooked in the search for a more absolute foundation.
If we grant philosophy these modest principles, which are not really first principles in the
Cartesian sense, but relatively simple descriptions of the prerequisites for philosophy as "talking things through", metaphysics seems (perhaps surprisingly) to follow almost immediately. As 57
Aristotle argues in Book IV of his Metaphysics, in order for meaningful exchange to be possible, one must accept the principle of non-contradiction, the existence of things, and the reality of determinate essences or kinds in the things discussed. We will now give a loose account of his reasoning on these points.85
§13 A Defense of Non-Contradiction as a Metaphysical Principle
The principle of non-contradiction exists in two forms.86 In its most obvious form, it is a statement about logic: about the possible conjunction of contraries in some particular judgment.
Taken this way, non-contradiction states that it is impossible for one proposition to be both true and false in the same sense at the same time. As a principle of logic, non-contradiction is rarely disputed. It is quite evident that we cannot meaningfully assert two contradictory statements simultaneously. However, we are interested here not in the logical application of this rule, but its transcendental validity. In other words, I may not be able to entertain two logically contradictory ideas at once, but could two contradictories obtain simultaneously in reality? What would this entail?
To say that the principle of non-contradiction does not hold transcendentally of things as they really are, is really to imply quite a lot about things. The transcendental denial of non- contradiction cannot simply be a denial of the adequacy of particular human expressions or
85 The account given is dependent primarily on Aristotle’s Metaphysics IV, chapters 4-6 and Vasilis Politis’s exposition of that text in the Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Aristotle and the Metaphysics (London: Routledge, 2004), but also (to a lesser extent) to the defense of intellectual first principles in Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, God: His Existence and Nature, Volume I, trans. Dom Bede Rose, OSB, (St. Louis: Herder, 1934), Part I, Ch. 2, Art. 3, Section 1. Readers will find that my analysis differs significantly in tone from both of these, in the interest of orienting Thomas toward Foucault. 86 Cf. Routledge Guidebook pp.132ff. 58 concepts to things, but entails a radical denial of the determinacy of extra-mental objects.87 If the principle of non-contradiction does not hold of my teakettle transcendentally, this does not mean that what my teakettle is somehow transcends the capacity of human understanding to restrictively intuit and speak about it, but that there is no such thing as what it is to be the teakettle: that any property or characteristic of the thing in itself does not determinately belong to it. In other words, the teakettle does not subsist as whatever it is, cannot determinately be designated as a distinct thing, is not bounded qualitatively, and does not exist. Or, to take the simultaneous and opposite route, once one denies that my teakettle is transcendentally subject to the principle of non-contradiction, it become true that this teakettle is also the Holy Roman
Emperor, a spoon, the horse head nebula, me, the entire cast of Star Trek, and everything else. In other words, everything becomes transcendentally one, and nothing exists at all.
The claim that non-contradiction does not hold in reality is rather a serious one, then, because it means that whoever accepts it has not only given up on the ability to adequately describe and talk about things, but actively denies the meaningfulness of reference to things altogether. While this position may be tenable in solitude or silence, it immediately excludes one from conversation with others. In fact it makes all talk about objects, beliefs, and truths simply a practical gesture, rather than a reference to these things, a gesture deeply suspect and fundamentally irrelevant to both philosophy and ordinary discourse. What the denier of non- contradiction says may have practical impact, may seem for a while like actual communication, but it must ultimately be meaningless.
It seems, then, that the philosopher, or anyone who is interested in communicating with others about things, must admit that the principle of non-contradiction holds transcendentally of
87 Cf. Routledge Guidebook, pp.138-150 59 whatever objects are under analysis, or be excluded from conversation. This exclusion, however, is not a gesture of fear or contempt, but one of genuine puzzlement, because it is impossible to understand what is being said by anyone who denies the possibility of meaningful reference, or even to understand why he has bothered to open his mouth.
From this defense of non-contradiction, a few other interesting consequences follow. The transcendental validity of non-contradiction preserves the possibility of communication by making reference possible. But it is impossible to talk about things without having things to talk about. This is to say that the objects which come under philosophical analysis must actually exist in some determinate way: it must be possible, for any given object of discourse, to distinguish between what the object really is (its actual qualities and identity) and what it is not.88 This must be true not only at any given moment, but over time: if what it was to be X were determinate at any particular moment but in constant flux, then conversation about X would still be impossible.
In other words, the very act of talking meaningfully about things presupposes not only that any object under discussion is determinate in its nature and qualities (i.e., subject to non- contradiction), but also that it has a definite identity, and that “what it was to be that thing” at some moment persists stably through time, so that it is possible to determine whether that thing still exists or not.89
What we have just run through is a kind of deduction of the concept of determinate essences (“what it was to be that thing”) in existing things, i.e. the affirmation that individual things subsist in particular natures and are really distinguishable from other things according those natures. We have also shown that meaningful discourse presupposes our ability to
88 Ibid. pp.150-153 89 Note that “possibility of determining” some thing does not depend on whether some observer can verify it, but whether there is some actual criterion by which it can be said whether or not X still exists. 60 recognize and distinguish by names both individual existing things and the essences by which they subsist and are distinct from each other. In other words, we have laid the groundwork for all philosophical and scientific discourse, and shown that philosophy as “talking things through” excludes eo ipso strict nominalism, idealism, pragmatism, and relativism, among other things.
Before we call for a parade, however, some important caveats must be added.
§14 Reflections on the Defense of First Principles
We have given “a kind of deduction,” but what kind exactly? Evidently it is not a strict logical deduction or a proof of the existence of essences. In fact, because the concept of proof, as a specific mode of philosophical discourse, presupposes the transcendental validity of non- contradiction and the stable subsistence of existing things in their essences,90 it is impossible to provide a non-circular proof of the reality of essences, the actual determinacy of existing things, the possibility of meaningful communication, or the principle of non-contradiction.91
But in saying that these principles of philosophical inquiry are incapable of proof, we mean neither that they are absolutely self-evident and incapable of doubt,92 nor that they are simply arbitrary and based on particular prejudices. Furthermore, the recognition of their necessity in philosophy should by no means be taken as a kind of baseline for thought below which one cannot reasonably explore. To question the meaning of essences, the stability of things, or the nature of being is essentially philosophical—anyone who scoffs at such
90 Let the reader beware of the term “essence.” We mean to import no philosophical baggage with the term, but only use it to designate that quality or set of qualities in which a thing is whatever it is. Essence is simply shorthand for “that by which a thing is determinate and stable in its identity.” We might substitute “what-ness” for “essence” to jar the reader into constant awareness of this fact, but it seems inelegant. 91 Routledge Guidebook, pp.128ff. 92 See note 95 below. 61 fundamental questions, who views the earnest interrogation of the principle of non-contradiction as ludicrous, has as much lost the habit of philosophy by setting up arbitrary barriers to inquiry as others have by rejecting the preconditions for philosophy outright.
Instead, the principles we have deduced defy the dichotomy between mere prejudice and absolute indubitability. They are prejudicial, but they are indispensible prejudices. They are dubitable,93 but to deny them is to exclude oneself from a range of basic activities. Instead of falling into the systematician’s dilemma given at the start of this chapter, our principles are simply recognitions of what it is to do a certain sort of thing. They may seem in the first instance to be absolute principles of thought, a kind of Archimedean point at the basis of metaphysics, but a careful look at our method of deduction reveals that we have derived them as descriptive principles, as if to say “to play this game, you must follow these rules; to reject them is to excuse oneself and play a different game.” The rules themselves are insufficient to determine the course of play, but they determine what it is to play at all. Likewise our principles do not claim in themselves to provide epistemic warrant for all true affirmations or beliefs, but they make it clear what it would mean to make an affirmation about things in general, and they make meaningful affirmation possible.
To those of us perpetually on guard against relativism, this account of the basis of metaphysics may sound highly disturbing. Are we saying that the principle of non-contradiction is simply a rule which governs a particular linguistic activity, one among many, and that other kinds of linguistic or quasi-philosophical activity, including strict nominalism, pragmatism, and relativism, have no inherent self-destructive tendencies? Cannot be disproven? May continue to exist alongside philosophical discourse, without the possibility of refutation? Are we saying that
93 Ibid. 62 what we have called philosophical discussion cannot be shown to be the only possible way of talking, cannot demonstrate its superiority to convicted rivals? Yes, in fact we are saying all of those things.
However, we are not saying that alternative linguistic and quasi-philosophical activities are true, or that they are simply equal to philosophical discourse, or even that they can be performed in an analogous way. In fact, further examination of our deduction of first principles reveals that these alternative activities are radically deficient: not necessarily in terms of their inner consistency or as modes of speaking, but simply in that they, by their own admission, exclude themselves from the performance of certain basic human operations: communication about and knowledge of things. In fact the kinds of non-philosophical activity we have listed exclude the very act of positively understanding an object or speaking about it. Hence Aquinas denies that Heraclitus could have held in actuality the opinions he professed in his teaching,94 since to opine about things presupposes already the possibility of meaningful reference.95
The deduction we have sketched of intellectual first principles can be taken as the
94 Thomas Aquinas, In Metaphys. IV Lect. 6, no. 6 95 Aquinas goes further than this, and says in Summa Theologiae Ia IIae q.53 a.1 co. (and similarly elsewhere: Ia. q.2 a.1 co.; q.17 a.3 ad 2; q.18 a.3 co.; q.79 a.8 co.; q.82 a.2 co., q.83 a.2 co., q.85 a.6 co. et passim) that intellectual first principles “cannot be corrupted by any deception or forgetfulness whatsoever.” We do not mean to neglect this point, but the limited sense in which Aquinas means to say that the mind must assent to them depends on a specific notion of “understanding” which we will develop later on, which is a subset of the broad class of verbal and imaginative activities commonly included under the name “thought”. In denying the indubitability of the first principles, we do not mean to contradict Aquinas, but take “doubt” in a broader sense than he is interested in, to include any sort of indirect rejection or contrary speech. For example, if a Buddhist monk accustoms himself through mental contortionism and the cultivation of certain metaphors, to believing that he and the universe are actually numerically identical, it seems reasonable to say that he has “doubted” the principle of non-contradiction, or even denied it in thought, though no doubt he has not strictly speaking intellectually apprehended and affirmed that he is in the same sense both himself and not himself at the same time. This subtlety, while ultimately important, is not of direct interest at this stage of our exposition, and it is more to the point for us to affirm the possibility secundum quid of doubting first principles than to immediately toe the line with St. Thomas in affirming their ultimate indubitability per se. 63 description of one possible kind of activity, an activity distinguished by the exercise of a certain human faculty: that of knowing and communicating about things. One can accept or reject the existence of this faculty, but one cannot meaningfully claim to exercise it without accepting the first principles we have enumerated. Hence the certitude of our metaphysical principles is not first of all a certitude of rational proof or absolute indubitability, but one of natural tendency.96
As humans almost incessantly engaged in the act of thinking and communicating about things, humans whose sociality and practical activity depend on a high-level ability to know and talk about the way things are, the habit of intellectual first principles is engrained in us by nature, as part of our intellectual powers.
The attitude toward first principles given above informs much of Thomistic epistemology. Instead of forming a deductive system which derives the justification of all subsequent beliefs from the self-evidence of a few primary mental states, Aquinas works out a theory of knowledge based on an analysis of the kind of activity humans are capable of.97 There are natural habits98 which incline us to commit to intellectual first principles, and these habits are dispositive to the natural exercise of the human faculties of apprehending, judging, reasoning, and speaking. But we need not be explicitly aware of these habits, and they do not give warrant to all other beliefs directly.99 However, the absolute necessity of these intellectual first principles in the acts of knowing, judging, and speaking, is central to the order and aim of the acquisition of human knowledge, which we will examine next.
96 Cf. ST Ia q.18 a.3 co. 97 Thus Thomas’s main treatment of epistemological questions is found in his Treatise on Human Nature, Summa Theologiae Ia qq.75-102. 98 Cf. ST Ia q.58 a.3 co., IIa IIae q.8 a.6 obj. 2, and elsewhere. 99 Cf. ST Ia q.82 a.2 co. 64
SECTION TWO: THE ORDER AND LIMITS OF HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
In the previous section we gave a general account of the defensibility of the principle of non-contradiction and its necessity as a prerequisite for the acts of knowing and speaking about things. Our focus was on the role of intellectual first principles in constituting the natural basis for knowledge and speech. We took knowing and speaking as acts of human beings, and worked to determine what qualities were necessary in mental and verbal activity in order to make it qualify as meaningful, object-oriented understanding and communication. In this section we will look at the inner order and ultimate aim of understanding, so that we can begin to see the relationship between knowledge and natural intelligibility on a scale that transcends human acts of knowing.
§15 The Nature of Understanding
Understanding is a certain act of a human being by which the individual is able to recognize the essence100 of an object—to possess, as it were, what it is to be that thing.101 We do not have space here to enter into the rich metaphysics of knowledge elaborated in Aquinas’s works, but what is of primary importance here is the fact that understanding is an act of a particular agent, by which he receives and sustains intentionally the characteristic act of another being within himself. The reception and the maintenance of that act (i.e., the essence of the thing) may be imperfect, but the fact of one’s reception and maintenance is constitutive of understanding. In knowing a thing, what it is to be that thing, even if only under the most general
100 See note 95 above. 101 Cf. ST Ia q.14 a.1 co. et passim. 65 aspect, comes to exist in the mind of the knower.102 If understanding involves anything short of the essence of the known object, if for example it involves merely a material sign or constructed representation of the object, then knowledge is impossible. This fact becomes clear if we return to the question of determinateness which motivated our defense of non-contradiction.
Recall that if the object spoken of is basically indeterminate, then speech about it becomes impossible (because there is no “it” to speak of). In knowledge the problem arises again. We may suppose that extra-mental objects are determinate, that they subsist in essences, etc., but if we do not say at the same time that the acts of the mind by which those objects are known are determinate in their relationship to the essences of the things known, then meaningful knowledge and speech about things becomes impossible once again. Determinacy of reference is necessary for knowledge to be genuinely object-oriented.
Suppose for a moment that the mind does not possess the essence of the thing known, but possesses a kind of sign which signifies the essence, or merely in its act “intends” the essence without possessing it as part of the intention.103 In this case since the act or posited inward sign by which the object of knowledge is referenced does not contain the essence of what is signified, it follows that the bond between the sign and what it signifies is not intrinsic to the sign (which is just as little my teakettle as it is the Holy Roman Emperor), but must at best be extrinsically attributed.104 However, this extrinsic attribution cannot be performed by the mind, since the mind
102 Cf. ST Ia q.12 a.11 ad 4 et passim. 103 These thoughts are based in part on ideas given by Edward Feser in a lecture delivered at the Dominican House of Studies on April 14, 2012. 104 Implicit here is the assumption that knowledge is an intentional act, i.e. that it involves not just any kind of relationship between the knower and what is known, but an intentional relationship, one in which the knower himself is capable of referencing what is known. Again, one need not grant that it is possible to know things intentionally, but without this assumption the language of knowing loses its meaning. For example, in a theory which denies the possibility of intentional knowledge, mental acts cease to be characteristically different from any other sort of 66 only knows things (in this supposition) by inward signs. In this case the knower cannot be said to be capable of knowing or, by extension, speaking meaningfully about things.105 If, on the other hand, the mind does possess the essence of the thing known, then by the comparison of that essence with continually received sensory impressions, it becomes possible for the mind to turn directly toward extra-mental objects, i.e., to know them determinately. Intentional reference becomes possible, and also (by extension) speech.
§16 Response to a Kantian Objection
We have, it seems, just given an argument for one of the primary theses of Thomistic and
Aristotelian epistemology: that knowledge consists of the intentional possession of the essence of another. More striking still, our argument is based on a set of principles closely tied to the law of non-contradiction. By most accounts it would seem that we are engaged here in a classic system- building operation. First came the principle of non-contradiction, and then, by a series of arguments, a collection of successively more complicated and less evident propositions. Soon, the Kantian in our hearts warns us, this subtle reasoning will lead us to all sorts of outlandish conclusions far beyond the purview of legitimate human cognition.106
We can set the Kantian in our hearts at rest, however, by making two points. First, the argumentation given so far is predicated entirely on the ability of human beings to think and
acts. The denial of such a difference seems unproblematic until one begins to ask how it is possible to reference “teakettles”, “billiard balls”, “knowing”, etc. in the first place. Once this question arises, we are led by a short route back to Heraclitus or Sextus. 105 Note that in speech and other use of signs, the bond between the sign and the object designated is extrinsically attributed. This accounts for the ambiguity inherent in language, and the fact that a determinate sense for any particular sign or sentence always depends on the supposition of an intentional agent behind it, as the author (or at least the authoritative interpreter) of the sign. 106 Cf. KRV Avii-Aviii 67 speak about things. It is not a set of absolute proofs and, in fact, we have insisted that our first principles cannot be proven directly but must be accepted individually based on the reader’s observation of himself. Is mental activity intentional? Do we think and speak about things? Then the deduction follows. If not? Then we leave our friend in silence.
However, there is also a second point of defense against the Kantian, one which flows directly from the account of understanding we have just given. Though knowledge of a thing properly involves the mind’s possession of that thing’s essence intentionally, obviously the essence of a thing can be conveyed to the mind more or less perfectly. The reception and refinement of the form of the thing possessed by the mind takes place gradually by the continual comparison of the form in the mind with new forms received through the senses. As judgments are made about what is experienced and its relation to what is already known, the essence present in the mind is made more specific and is known more fully under its various aspects. What was known at first simply as a material object, then a heavy one, hollow, filled with water, becomes something useful for boiling water, made in Japan, out of a specific grade of steel, coated with enamel, placed on the stove by a spouse or child for the purpose of making tea. The refinement of one’s knowledge of a particular thing, we propose, does not involve the steady deduction of propositions from a preceding series of propositions, nor is it a matter of some detached logical operation. Rather, the expansion of knowledge always begins with the essence of the thing known and always terminates in it.107 The same is true in all knowledge: it begins with certain principles,108 proceeds through investigation and comparison, and terminates again in those principles, refined and expanded through the process. An investigation always grounded in the
107 For the student of Heidegger, thoughts of the hermeneutic circle are difficult to avoid here. 108 “Principles” in our usage extends also to things and aspects of objects, and not just to logical rules or basic propositions. An essence, for example, is a principle of the thing of which it is the essence. 68 contemplation of things does not fall victim easily to Kantian fears about runaway logical deduction. If one’s philosophical investigation is always already oriented toward things, toward the disclosure of the essences of things and the adequation of thought to reality, the chances of any early errors of principle fundamentally corrupting one’s work are fairly slim. On the other hand, if one operates like Descartes, or Kant himself, and attempts, while suspending the exercise of one’s capacities as a knower of things, to describe the pure principles of thought by which knowledge is possible, then parvus error in principio will indeed, as St. Thomas says, be magnus in fine.109
§17 The Order of Natural Human Knowledge
This insight into the inward order of the process of understanding opens the door to the examination of a larger issue: the order of knowledge in general. What we have described is not merely the order of individual acts of apprehension, or even philosophical quests for basic principles, but of the entire human intellectual life. Just as thought begins by referring to an object under the most empty and general aspect, “being”, all particular acts of understanding fall into the division and elaboration of being, the first principle of things, and tend as they are perfected to join together in progressively more comprehensive and enriched ideas of what is.
This process must end somewhere, not only because of the finitude of human life, but also because of the limited means by which we are capable of receiving impressions of existing things, and thus philosopher can ask about the tendency of understanding and distinguish its progress in particular acts, categorizing them by their refinement and perfection with regard to the whole.
109 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, De Ente et Essentia, proem. 69
Thus we can distinguish between different grades of knowledge. There is conjectural knowledge, based merely on opinion about things and intimations of the workings of as yet unrecognized principles within them. Or again there is particular knowledge of individuals met in experience. But above both of these is scientific knowledge, which grasps the essences of things not only determinately and precisely in themselves, but includes their inner tendencies, origins, and constitutive parts. Science knows things through their causes, and enables the knowledge of particular essences to be integrated into a hierarchy of species and genera based on differentiating qualities, as well as a broad order of origins and ends. In other words, scientific knowledge is distinguished by the universality with which it regards the essences of its objects and the comprehensiveness of this knowledge. As scientific knowledge expands and unifies the human comprehension of being, it reaches toward ultimate principles, and asks fundamental questions. Each individual science is distinguished by the kind of objects investigated: living things, mobile things, rocks, plants, music, etc., of which it asks the question “what is it to be this sort of thing?” At the root of all the sciences is metaphysics, which asks “what is it to be?”
Since the object of metaphysics includes the objects of all the other sciences, metaphysics has a privilege in recognizing the ways being is divided and understood, and thus performs a general ordering function among all the sciences. Metaphysics as the master science not only gives the rule to all the others inwardly, but extends to ultimate questions: what is the nature of being as it subsists in itself? What is the origin and end of all things? The metaphysician, armed only with the evidence of sensory knowledge and the ability to abstract, distinguish, and unify impressions of material things, finds himself capable of answering these questions only indirectly. However, his answers earn his particular mode of knowledge a different name: in light of its orientation toward the ultimate comprehension and ordering of things, metaphysics is 70 called “natural wisdom.”110
For the Thomist, the subject of metaphysics is twofold: first, the various divisions of being that are capable of being apprehended by the human intellect through sense knowledge; second, the separate and immaterial being which is necessary to explain the existence of the observable, material universe.111 The metaphysician deduces certain qualities of this supreme being by the observation of sensible realities: its existence, simplicity, unity, perfection, goodness, intelligence, etc., but metaphysical knowledge of the prime mover and ultimate good which is the origin and end of the universe is mainly negative and entirely indirect. One of the first things to be deduced about God is his immateriality, which means that direct knowledge of the divine nature is impossible by the means available to human nature.
§18 Implications for Philosophy and Transmitted Knowledge
We should pause in our ascent at the limits of natural knowledge and make some observations on what these limits entail for the overall structure and character of philosophy and transmitted knowledge in general. Because natural knowledge cannot supply an adequate idea of the divine essence, the Thomist recognizes that philosophy is, on its own, always essentially imperfect.112 It can perpetually incorporate the essences of more and more material things, perfect its understanding of their particular causes, and so on, but since it lacks actual knowledge of the ultimate cause as it exists in itself, a philosophical idea of the universe as a whole will always be basically conjectural: open to modification and revision, incomplete, lacking final certitude in its grandest conclusions. In other words, any particular philosophical vision, without
110 On this point cf. ST Ia q.1 a.6 as well as Summa Contra Gentiles I.1 111 Thomas Aquinas, In Metaph. VI, Lect. 1 112 Summa Contra Gentiles I.8 71 a direct knowledge of the divine essence, will always be susceptible to some reorientation in terms of the remote causes and ends of things. In the absence of the direct knowledge of God, the meaning of being remains a matter of conjecture.
These limitations are compounded, however, when one adds the fact of human mortality.
From womb to tomb, the human intellect has at most a century to glean the nature of being from material things, and each new life must begin the process of knowledge acquisition anew.
Intimations of cosmic order can be transmitted through writing and teaching, but the teacher cannot communicate the essences he has received directly to the minds of his students. Rather, the transmission of knowledge is always more methodological than theoretical: pedagogy directs the mind to the truth, rather than supplying its objects directly. Shifts in pedagogical order, omissions or erasures in the body of transmitted knowledge, deprive new minds of the inclination to discover certain causal connections or aspects of being which others may have found in the past.
To state things bleakly, because of the nature of knowledge acquisition and its dependence on the apprehension of objects themselves, the history of knowledge is not analogous to the development of an individual intellect. Where the intellect always returns to possessed ideas to perfect and develop them, in history death and contingency continually intervene to mar the transmission of acquired knowledge, so that each generation tends to represent more a set of variations on the intuited order of things than the perfection of previously held knowledge. Perfection and decay occur constantly between generations, but the limits on human life seem to dictate that no earthly generation will ever possess the fullness of truth or be able to offer it to its progeny. Instead, to study the history of ideas would be to study the history of pedagogy and the changing forces of human society which incite us to attend to some objects 72 and neglect others.
§19 The Consummation of Human Understanding
The limits of natural human knowledge mark the boundary between ordinary philosophical discourse and revealed theology. The methods of theology, its way of proceeding, habits of apprehension, judgment, synthesis, etc., are the same as those of natural human knowledge, but the character of the data at the heart of theology is basically different.113
Knowledge is naturally based on abstracted essences received from sensory experience (directly or indirectly), but a knowledge which transcends the natural ability of sensible objects to illuminate the mind must have a different basis. It must involve supernatural illumination: a direct act upon the substance of the mind which impresses upon it some aspect of the inner intelligibility of immaterial forms, or illuminates it so that supernatural objects referenced in speech become intelligible. This phenomenon is the basis of supernatural faith, which concerns the nature of God and his relation to humanity. In the act of faith, according to Aquinas, the mind is illuminated supernaturally so that the articles of Christianity are intelligible and the will of the individual is moved to assent to the truths proposed in speech.
Because by faith the individual is capable of knowing more perfectly and positively the nature of the Deity, the elevation of human nature by which faith is possible114 also confers the gift of a higher wisdom than that available to the metaphysician.115 The cause and end of cosmic order and humanity, once they are more deeply understood, are capable of grounding a simpler and more comprehensive understanding of things. Beyond this, since faith provides an infused
113 Cf. ST Ia q.1 a.8 114 Namely, habitual, sanctifying grace, the presence of which is always marked by the habit of charity in the soul. 115 Cf. ST Ia q.1 a.c co. 73 positive understanding of the Godhead, it allows for the first taste of a genuine knowledge of who God is, beyond the negative and indirect intimations given in ordinary philosophy.
This “first taste”, however, is only the beginning in us of a perfect knowledge of God,116 which knows him neither by the indirect mediation of the natural order, nor by the direct mediation of divine revelation, but without mediation, as he is in himself. Faith is a foretaste of heaven, which consists, according to Aquinas, in the direct vision of the Divine Essence by the intellect.117 In this highest form of human understanding, the intellect, elevated supernaturally so that by the “light of glory”118 it can receive the divinity in all his simplicity, participates in the mode of being of the Godhead, understanding everything else through the superabundant unity of the divine nature.
In this section we have given an account of the order of human knowledge, its basic character as the real adequation of the mind to the essences of things, and its limits, both natural and supernatural. The order of intelligibility we have discussed is relative to the human mind. In the next section we will look at intelligible order as it exists in things themselves, i.e. intrinsic intelligibility, its source and consummation.
116 Cf. ST IIa IIae q.4 a.1 co. 117 Cf. ST Ia q.12 a.9 co 118 ST Ia q.12 a.2 co. 74
SECTION THREE: THE ORDER OF THINGS
§20 Ordo Inventionis and Ordo Rerum
One of the key methodological distinctions in Thomas’s work is between the ordo inventionis and the ordo rerum (or ordo iudicii).119 The ordo inventionis or order of discovery is the organization of ideas according to their logical emergence in the human mind. This ordering is inherently dialectical, as it begins in contingent singulars and works upward to necessary universals. The beginning of the ordo inventionis is always contingent, because the limitations of the human mind dictate that the first thing distinctly known will be some material object.120
Hence, peculiarly, the beginning of this dialectical chain is ultimately the least significant element. Its emergence and perfection over time depend not at all on the particulars or correctness of that initial thought.
The ordo inventionis governs the emergence and perfection of our ideas, but it forms an accidentally, rather than essentially, subordinated chain of knowledge. This is to say that while each state of thinking about the world is the ground from which the next thought emerges, the validity or coherence of subsequent thoughts is not grounded in the validity or coherence of earlier ones, but, ideally, refines and corrects them. Were someone to ask us why we think of the teakettle this way, i.e. to inquire after the efficient cause of our knowledge, there would be two main accounts. First we could explain the emergence of our ideas as a kind of mental history, the history of an encounter: prejudices, earlier thoughts and experiences, initial encounters, derived
119 Its importance is clear from the beginning of the Summa Theologiae, where in the proemium Aquinas insists on treating theology according to the inner order of the subject matter. 120 Though the first manner of our knowing is maximally indistinct—this particular material object is first grasped simply under the notion “being”. Thus it is true both that being is the first thing known by the mind (as said in De Ente et Essentia and many other places) and that particular material things are the first thing grasped by the mind. 75 concepts, sensations, rational deductions, further confirmations, etc. This account of the emergence of our knowledge of the teakettle would adequately answer the question, showing how the prior contingent state of my knowledge terminated after some activity in an idea of the teakettle adequate to its reality. But there is another way of answering the question which does not depend on the history of mental states. Instead of recounting experiences and deductions, we might answer in abstract with reference to the essence of the teakettle: it existed under such and such a form, and impressed itself on my mind through sensory experience, and I came to see its essence through reflection and grasped it distinctly as what it is. Here the account of knowledge begins with the real source of intelligibility and terminates in the mind. The stages in this account are essentially subordinated, inasmuch as the validity of the latter steps (my imagining and knowing the teakettle) necessarily presupposes the early steps (the existence of the teakettle, its presence before me). This ordering, the ordo rerum, is not illustrative of the generation of knowledge, but does more efficiently convey the nature of the things in question. Most significantly, though, the ordo rerum is not determined by the contingencies of initial ignorance, but flows logically from the nature of the thing in question.
In the previous section we gave a rough account of the order of discovery in human knowledge, beginning with material things and terminating (hopefully) in God. Though in the wayfaring state it is impossible to give a full account of the intrinsic order of things, as explained above, still in faith, with the aid of philosophical tools, it is possible to achieve a modest grasp of the inward ordering of the universe as it flows from God and reaches out to return to him. This final section will focus on the generation of that inward ordering.
§21 A Sketch of the Real Order of Intelligibility
Before anything else there is God, absolutely simple and unique, utterly exhausting his own potentiality, totally free, impassible, immaterial, transparent to himself.121 God first of all is, and his being determines the being of everything else. There could be no fuller answer to the question “What is?” than “God.” In God’s perfect possession of the highest actuality, his being lies open to itself, and communicates itself to itself in an eternal relation of knower and known.
The divine essence as the principle of knowledge bears fruit internally in an inner idea or word which exhausts and is who he is, so that both the principle and the word are one God, but differ really by the relation of opposition between them. God alone participates in this perfect immediate and exhaustive intelligibility, which is made more excellent still by its infinity and eternity, so that already we can see an intrinsic superiority in the divine openness to being known that no creature could surpass.
The Word, then, is the perfect image of the invisible God and this perfection manifests and affirms itself in the Divine self-love which terminates in the person of the Holy Spirit. But the primacy of God’s inward intelligibility is manifested further in relation to created things. God in knowing himself perfectly knows also all the possible acts to which his power extends, and knows them infinitely in all their effects and relations and so on, so that within himself God contains the perfect idea which acts as the exemplar of every created thing. This is to say that the inward intelligibility of creatures is merely a participation in the primary and infinite intelligibility of the Godhead. To know a created thing, however perfectly, is merely to grasp at a shadow cast by the light of the Divine Ideas. This notion does not collapse into Platonism, since we are not saying that every species of thing is simply a (deficient) variation on some eternal
121 In order to spare the reader a barrage of useless citations, suffice it to say that this subsection is a very rough summary of ST Ia qq.1-46 and 103. Some key places will still be noted. 77 form, but rather the divine ideas include each particular contingent thing, the course of its existence, etc., and contain it fully, in relation to all other things, as a manifestation of the divine perfection which surpasses all understanding. What God knows primarily is himself, and secondarily he knows all created things in himself as extensions of his power. But God’s knowing something as it is is the cause of its being so, which means that the Divine Ideas are the cause of creation, not only formally as exemplar, but also efficiently as the source of their existence.
We call the pre-existing order of creatures in the mind of God “divine providence”, and the execution of that order in the things themselves “divine government.”122 Because providence ordains that things should exist in varying degrees of perfection, and because the plurality and diversity of things implies a hierarchy of causes in the created order, the action of the higher on the lower mirrors in a finite way the action of God on creatures, so that each microcosm of creatures is analogically representative of the divine mastery over creation. This also means that the providential unfolding of worldly events is fulfilled in the action of creatures on each other.
Though God sustains the world in existence by knowing it, and directly infuses the act of existence into every being from moment to moment, the order among creatures is really present in them and not simply extrinsically imputed to them by divine ordinance. Providence is not fate: the unfolding of events does not happen randomly by a divine fiat, but works through the natures of things, so that by each creature’s natural inclination toward its end, the whole universe tends toward its consummation in Christ, the eternal Word.
Thus, since the act of being of each creature is immediately supplied by God, the government of the universe is immediate, but because God sets some things over others as
122 Cf. ST Ia q.22 a.3 co. 78 causes, which impel each other toward their ultimate end, the government of the universe is also mediated by other creatures, and comprehends in that mediation the entire manifold of created things. Returning to the question of intelligibility, we can see that God, who gives the light of intelligibility (which is a participation in the divine ideas) to every creature, also gives this light in such a way that they communicate it to each other, “as a master, who not only imparts knowledge to his pupils, but gives also the faculty of teaching others.”123 And, since the order and distinction of things is from God, and unfolds in accord with providence, eternally pre- existing in God, any created knowledge of things finds its principle and end in that same eternal ordinance by which the world was created, is sustained, and draws toward its fulfillment.
We have, then, given a rough account of the first principles of intellectual activity, the order of the development of human knowledge (ordo inventionis) and the intrinsic order of intelligibility in things (ordo rerum). This account is thoroughly ontological, both in its focus on the transcendental being of things underlying knowledge and its aspirations to determinate and eternal truth, and it stands like a cliff beside the raging waters of Foucauldianism. We have presented our ontologist and our genealogist. Now it is time for them to meet.
123 ST Ia q.103 a.6 co. 79
In the first part of this thesis we attempted to explain the emergence of Foucauldian genealogical analysis, its basic interests, its categories, and its methodology. We began by looking into the historical background against which Foucault’s writings develop: the Cartesian turn to the subject, the Kantian mobilization of the ground of metaphysics, the Nietzschean revolt against metaphysical truth, the Structuralist replacement of transcendental objects with semiotic divisions, and the Heideggerian invitation to ask the question of Being. From there, we moved into an analysis of the methodological and metaphysical aspects of three of Foucault’s works. In
History of Madness we found him using phenomenological and structural techniques to explain the historical variability of madness and its relationship to reason. His analysis culminated in the description of a positive, productive kind of madness which subverts dominant modes of rationality and perpetually offers the possibility of a new set of fundamental discursive 80 principles. In Archaeology of Knowledge we found Foucault performing a critique of the ontological discursive unities used to organize historical research. After dissolving these unities and recasting them as pragmatic, rather than referential, gestures—gestures essentially productive of the objects with which they deal—Foucault developed a new historiographical vocabulary. This vocabulary attempts to remain free of transcendental references and merely make contact with the profusion of statements at the level of their utterance, without interpretation or reduction. Finally, we turned to The Will to Knowledge, where we found
Foucault deploying a new species of historical analysis informed by Nietzsche’s interest in power. This new genealogy functions by uncovering the contingent roots of particular forms of knowledge and ontological structures, and showing how they can be explained in terms of the transformation of power relations which order and constitute social, political, and intellectual realities at every level.
Our analysis of Foucauldian genealogy reveals several key points: first, that according to
Foucault particular structures of rationality are fundamentally contingent and susceptible to critique. Second, that a historical critique that exposes the contingent foundations and power dynamics which enable particular modes of rationality to attain dominance will not only serve to eliminate prejudicial aspects of those modes of rationality, but will dissolve all their claims to transcendental reference and validity. Third, that all speech is basically a practical gesture, and that just as reference is a function contained within speech, likewise the objects of discourse exist within discourse and are generated in their natures, differences, values, etc., by discursive praxis.
Fourth, that sovereignty within an existing mode of rationality does not mean creative power or dominance—the sovereign is rather the most bound and most heavily determined part of a system—but rather, that creativity and productive power lie most of all with the figure capable of 81 mobilizing the limits of a system, of disrupting its order, of revealing the possibility of alternative modes of rationality. This figure is the madman, and his language is genealogy.
In the second part, we gave an account of the Thomistic-Aristotelian foundations of philosophical discourse and metaphsysics by offering an indirect defense of the principle of non- contradiction. Our defense focused on the distinguishing features of a particular sort of discursive activity, i.e. determinate, referential speech—speech about things. From there we looked into the metaphysical requirements for communication about things: the transcendental validity of the principle of non-contradiction, the existence of extra-mental objects, their subsistence in stable and determinate essences. We showed that discursive activities which are not referential, while incapable of being disproven, cannot reasonably be said to mean anything.
We then attempted to show how the defense of intellectual first principles given by the Thomist differs from that of a Cartesian foundationalist, specifically focusing on their primacy as the habitual underpinnings of a natural capacity in humans to know, judge, reason about, and discuss things. This discussion of human knowledge opened up into a discussion of the nature of understanding as the intentional possession of the essence of an object, and the inherently cyclical nature of human understanding, working out from first principles and general impressions through further experience and refinement to end up with greater comprehension in simpler, more unified ideas about things. We pointed out that this cyclical structure governs the knowledge acquisition of individual humans throughout life, and extends beyond particular knowledge to science, metaphysics, faith, and ultimately to supernatural beatitude in the vision of God. Crucially, we observed that the contingency of mental states short of beatitude leaves them open to further revision and transformation, and that the order of discovery is not (again, in contrast to a foundationalist system) an essentially subordinated sequence of derived 82 propositions, but an unfolding sequence of perfected insights into the nature of things. We looked at the implications of the dependency of human understanding on the reception of forms from things for pedagogy and the history of ideas, with the important point that historical developments are governed by contingency in a way that the life of the individual mind is not.
Finally, we discussed the Thomistic distinction between the order of discovery and the order of judgment, and gave a rough account of the essential order of intelligibility in the universe, proceeding from God by way of the divine ideas through providence, manifested in created things, which participate in the divine government both immediately and mediately and form a cosmic order which as a whole and in every part serves to image the uncreated perfection of the
As we have outlined these two visions of intellectual activity, each seems to raise core challenges for the other. Foucault asks the Thomist whether he can face the contingency and power dynamics at the root of his thought. The Thomist asks Foucault whether his denial of the transcendental reference of discourse does not ultimately undercut his ability to speak. In order to allow for a maximally fruitful engagement, our next section will put our genealogist and our ontologist in an imaginary dialogue. We will then summarize the findings and conclude this thesis with a reflection on the ontological usefulness of genealogical analysis.
§23 An Imaginary dialogue
Thomas Aquinas: Let’s begin by asking whether a dialogue between the two of us is possible. In this matter three problems must be addressed: first, the existence of the participants; second, the stability of their identities; third, their ability to communicate. By the lights of your theory of knowledge, it seems that we fail on all three counts. With regard to existence, you yourself deny the reality of thinking and speaking subjects as stable existing entities with determinate qualities. By your description, the existence of a particular entity is merely an epiphenomenon of transitory patterns of speech and power relations, which have no subsistent reality. With regard to the stability of our identities, the difficulties become even clearer, since you regularly dissociate yourself from your own expressions and insist that there is no Foucault, but only a series of masks. If there is no Foucault, perhaps neither is there an Aquinas, in which case the dialogue we seem to have entered into will have been merely a farce, the playing out of ideal roles irrelevant to the underlying persons (which do not, apparently, exist). Finally, with regard to communication, since you deny the reality of transcendental being, and are totally uninterested in knowledge or truth except considered as practical gestures generative of the ontological structures with which they deal, dialogue—an exchange of ideas by which individuals attempt to draw closer to reality—cannot occur. Though I may speak of truths to you, your response, it seems, must always be held in suspicion, as motivated by a desire to transform or reinforce particular modes of speaking, rather than to illuminate the mind by directing it toward some unseen aspect of being.
Michel Foucault: You misunderstand me. I am willing to grant that each of us exists, that you are Thomas Aquinas and I am Michel Foucault, and that we are speaking about things. 84
Thus none of your supposed barriers to dialogue seem to pose any problem. However, already in your attempt to impose metaphysical requirements on our interaction, you are demonstrating one of the essential functions of speech, one which I believe you will deny: namely, the threat of exclusion. It takes many forms (e.g., appeals to the obviousness, stupidity, absurdity, or danger of what is said), but in your case the gesture of exclusion falls on anyone who rejects your metaphysical principles or violates the ordering functions of your dogmatic metaphysical discourse. This threat of exclusion is especially visible in rigid discursive frameworks like your own, and particularly in one so fixated on adherence to hierarchical power structures, in which the threat of excommunication looms over the heads of dissenters. Though, as I have said, I accept our existence, our identities, and that we are talking about things, still I firmly reject your faith in the mysterious metaphysical ground of discourse, which performs no additional function in granting meaning to our exchange besides allowing participants to shape the course of discussion and the varieties of acceptable speech in accord with prejudices raised up (through mere force of assertion) to the status of “metaphysical principles” or “pure laws of thought”.
Aquinas: So, by your account, it seems that any appeal I might make to a principle or an obvious truth would merely be an attempt to force the conversation in a certain direction, to confine the set of acceptable statements within bounds that are practically appealing to me because of this or that interest latent in either my metaphysical ideology, my own broader social- political situation, or the grand strategies within which these particular principles and metaphysical barriers have been generated. This is a delightfully elaborate conspiracy theory, and one which benefits from being free, it seems, of the need for actual conspirators. But doesn’t your need to raise this objection merely confirm the third difficulty I spoke of initially? If the imposition of any norms of truth or reasonableness upon a conversation can only be read as a 85 confinement of discourse which serves to generate stable objects and exclude alternatives, then wasn’t it correct in the beginning to say that our communication will be haunted by the question of which power structures each of us is serving? It seems, by your reasoning, that even if you and I are both after the “truth”, the variability of that truth (depending on our respective positions in the discursive field) will guarantee a fundamental tension within the dialogue—one which must result in one of us “losing” to the other. Dialogue ceases to be a mutually beneficial exchange, and becomes instead a kind of combat: perhaps not between individual persons or wills or ideologies, but between infra- and supra-personal structures of power.
Foucault: Yes, I think this is correct. However, to say that my describing the power relations constitutive of ordinary discourse somehow renders this discourse problematic in a way your system does not, belies the actual structure of your discourse. You would have us both refer to truth or “being” as the objective norm against which our conversation oriented itself.
But this focus on the transcendental object merely masks the adversarial nature of exchange.
You make it sound as if I thought all conversation involved one participant trying to beat the other to death. This is absurd. Instead, the conflict at the heart of discourse, which is productive of truth and gives the participants truth, is a battle of prejudices, ideas, modes of speech, and so on. The orientation toward being (or lack thereof) is merely another factor in that battle, another line of tension which determines the development of the exchange. If we accept your metaphysics, reality is still determined and made possible by a set of power relations: the difference between God and creature, the grades of being, the tension between knower and known, master and student, etc. Strife governs all of these relationships and their development.
Aquinas: But, returning to the possibility of dialogue, it seems that once you claim that everything is power relations—and I know that by this you do not intend a metaphysical 86 reduction of the phenomena to an underlying reality, but merely another mode of discourse with its own conditions of emergence and use—it invites the question: Why speak at all? It seems that here we get at the central difference between genealogical and ontological discourse. When you speak, your goal is to subvert existing modes of thought and clear the way for new ones.
You see yourself as an agent for the transformation of power relations, who, by speaking, creates new realities. When I speak, my goal is to orient myself toward an existing reality so that my mind can more readily grasp whatever it is to be that thing. I speak with others so that together we can attain a more perfect understanding of being. And so the ethical function of speech comes to the fore. You and I can ask each other what the value of speaking is, and judge each other’s responses. But it seems to me that you cannot give a coherent response. Perhaps your desire to subvert comes merely from the fact that it pleases you. Or perhaps it is merely a brute fact about reality. In neither case are we satisfied with your answer.
Foucault: Precisely. But you cannot be satisfied because your standards for judging the adequacy of an answer are metaphysical, and I am no metaphysician. The genealogist has no need to provide a stable account of himself. He changes to meet his opponent. The power of genealogy is its ability to dissolve all the transcendental pretentions of the philosophers by showing their contingent, dirty roots. Demanding purity of the genealogist would be absurd.
Aquinas: But if the genealogist changes, as you say, to subvert all the anchoring points of his interlocutor’s discourse, then why should anyone bother talking to the genealogist or listening to him? Wouldn’t it take a ready-made conviction of one’s own incorrectness to drive such an exchange? The genealogist is merely a machine for negations, but anyone who recognizes this must realize that the genealogist cannot have any objective standards of critique, since then he would cease to be a genealogist and become an ideologue. Lacking objective 87 standards of critique, anyone whose discursive structure is (or, you will say, pretends to be) reasonably stable, will only reasonably be willing to engage the genealogist as one capable of revealing the weaknesses of his system. But in all this the value of the conversation really depends on the non-genealogical participant, who supplies the meanings and ideas to be tested.
What if we were all genealogists? What would we have to speak of?
Foucault: This is not the sort of question I am interested in. Since genealogy has no
“essence”, it is meaningless to ask what it would be like if we were “all genealogists”, since such an expression presupposes something about genealogy that could be held in common. In fact, we could say that since there is no essence of genealogy, we are all already genealogists, and the functions of subversion and regulation that govern our dialogical interactions participate already in that combative instability (that anti-essence) which the term “genealogy” calls to mind.
Aquinas: But this response seems to me to be in bad faith. You have written these books, performed all of these archaeological excavations, given innumerable lectures, taught courses, all in the service of genealogy. But if genealogy is not specifically different from other forms of speech, why bother? If speech is already merely a battlefield of competing truth systems, what function could it possibly serve to “reveal” this to us? If your purpose was not to illuminate our minds with some truth, why should you have affirmed all of these things? If you did not desire the emergence of some particular new variety of “truth”, some new ontology, why go to such lengths to subvert our existing ideas? And if you did desire to reveal, to illuminate, to create, then wouldn’t this be a betrayal of genealogy? Wouldn’t it then be the case that behind your convenient disguise of chaos, discontinuity, and meaninglessness, there is actually a metaphysician, an ethicist hiding, pulling the strings, longing for the good?
Foucault: You speak as if I were trying to set up the genealogical method as an 88 objective theory. Again and again the same misconception returns in your questions. My genealogizing is tied to particulars. It is not a trans-historical phenomenon, in object or in act. It is not performed by a continuous “Foucault”, who dominates his texts with authorial responsibility. It does not take as its objects trans-historical systems, figures, or ideas.
Genealogy does not tear up the tapestries of ideology or weave new ones. It follows threads to their end, to the edge, and shows points of fraying and failure in the weave. By revealing the contingent roots of knowledge, my genealogizing seeks to undo the scientific claims of knowledge—or at least, to make clear the limits and contingency of scientia (or epistemé). In this sense, yes, it has a kind of universality, but its universality is not a totalizing or actual universality, but what you might call a potential universality.
Aquinas: Is my system susceptible to your genealogical attacks, then? Evidently you have already tried to demonstrate my vulnerability with this line about how aggressive my habit of excluding metaphysically nihilistic speech is. This attack seems not to have gone anywhere.
Perhaps instead of taking on the regulative mechanisms by which my discourse is sustained, you could tell me something about its historical origins?
Foucault: Very well. A genealogy of Thomism would have to unfold on at least two levels. First we would want to examine the roots of the Aristotelian philosophical framework, which you claim is available universally to all humans by nature. Here the goal would be to show the contingency of the particular philosophical categories employed in your thought. Why essences? Why relations? Why this kind of formal syllogism, this style of writing? How do these contingencies impact the whole and determine its content? How do larger structural concerns, without any apparent metaphysical import, end up supplying the metaphysical content of your system? So we would proceed. The other side of the genealogy would examine the 89 traditions of faith and their development, the extent to which the particular dogmas of your age have been created in response to political threats, the gradual saturation of doctrine with worldly interests, and so on. The goal on this side would be to show how, far from being a pure vessel of election, the Church and its teachings are no less subject to power drives than any other political or ideological force in history.
Aquinas: Oddly, though, I’m not sure I would need to dispute these points, except in small details. For example, I am willing to grant completely that the particular philosophical categories I employ are contingent, and have been received through contingent historical processes. I am a contingent being, and therefore all my acts of knowing are likewise contingent. And, as acts of a historical and contingent being received from and inspired by other contingent historical beings, the habits and tendencies which govern those beings will necessarily enter into the acts transmitted by them in the long run. So, if human beings are, on the whole, a wicked and deceitful lot, bent on self-will and the acquisition of power, the perpetuation of certain concepts will likely be explainable through recourse to their usefulness as devices of power. The more enduring a system of thought is, the more like it is to be deeply tied to power structures. And the history of the church bears this out to a great extent. Oddly, though, Catholicism is the one ideology for which this kind of impurity poses no problem whatsoever. In fact, if we look at the genealogy of the Christ child given at the beginning of
Matthew’s Gospel, we find a mix of liars, harlots, idolaters and adulterers mixed in with the holy and faithful. And often among the Jewish patriarchs, the dubious character of the ones chosen is stressed above their virtues.
Foucault: I understand where this is going. Catholicism has built into it something like what Roland Barthes once called “Operation Margarine”—an inoculation against criticism which 90 celebrates arbitrariness and vice by pretending that existing with them is somehow an even greater strength.124
Aquinas: Not exactly. The idea there is a kind of appeal to romantic irrationality.
Instead of being meticulous and consistent in our ideals, the groups Barthes describes stress the romance of an imperfect hero, to win the people over with a kind of melancholic “realism”— margarine is not perfect, but it is real, and we must love it for what it is, whatever our scruples say. Catholicism does not love vice or praise it. It does not say “behold the Church with its principles, ridden with corruption but steadfast through the years.” We lament sin, and bear our faults heavily, but we see them as a real, universal part of history and humanity. Just so with the contingency of philosophical ideas. We are born ignorant, and the things we know first and best are lowly and slight when compared to the fullness of the truth. But the order of intelligibility, like the providential order of history, always tends toward the good, the true. Without this tendency it is impossible to understand how any order is possible, even the worldly order of power and domination.
Foucault: But you will claim that there is some aspect of history that transcends the order of power and domination. What function does this play but to justify by recourse to something invisible the visible acts of violence and domination by which the Church operates?
Aquinas: By your definition of power, I grant that there is nothing that does not enter into power relations. But your use of martial metaphors in discussing “power relations” is basically arbitrary and ideological. If we perform a genealogy of the concept of violence, we find that it functions solely in relation to some stable nature, the normativity of which you deny.
So the moralizing language of “violence” depends implicitly on a metaphysics which you
124 Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Anette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), pp.41- 42 91 expressly wish to avoid. Moreover, by means of this conceptual genealogy we can see how relations of difference can effect change without violence. Any change which develops a thing in accord with its nature is not violent, but natural. Hence if there are relations and lines of change in the world, in history, which promote the development of things in accord with what they are, then there is a sphere of activity that is not constituted by violence. Such are the actions of virtue, grace, friendship, and so on. In order to thwart this solution, you can attack the concept of nature, but if you do so, you will have to cede the language of violence. And once you have lost the appeals to violence, your genealogy has lost its feet. It cannot appeal to the contingency of revelation or philosophy, since both of these points are granted by the system. It cannot appeal to regulative mechanisms (affirmation, exclusion), because this line of attack directly undercuts the meaningfulness and relevance of genealogy, as we have seen. It seems to me, once again, that any meaningfulness or relevance genealogy possesses as a mode of discourse will invariably be borrowed or illusory, and always tied to some hidden metaphysics.
So we can reduce your position to a dilemma: either you are secretly a metaphysician, or your speech is pointless and meaningless, and in the latter case either you are a buffoon worthy of our pity, or you are a liar attempting to manipulate those you meet by pretending to speak the truth.
Foucault: The violence of your accusations confirms what I have already said. In any case, they do not concern me, since I am not bound by your metaphysics or your attempts to
“delegitimize” my speech with your moralizing. Even when excluded and rejected, genealogy retains its first and last tool—silence. My silence contains by the purity of its opposition a mighty challenge to all the power of your well-ordered discourse.
Aquinas: I will grant you your silence.
§24 The Uses of Genealogy
We might be tempted at this point to declare Aquinas the victor. To do so, however, would be basically incorrect. Aquinas may prevail by not falling victim to the genealogical critique leveled against him, and he may seem to have shown that Foucault’s participation in the conversation is either unintelligible or immoral, but we must realize that none of these accusations, however strong the arguments behind them, have any real hold on the Foucauldian position. Since Foucault is not worried about conforming himself to a pre-existing truth or standard of rationality, he need not be constrained by principles of consistency or morality, and hence can never be refuted. He will continue to chatter as long as he has an interlocutor.
Moreover, despite its faults, Foucault’s speech is not mere gibberish. It behaves according to certain rules. It obeys grammatical norms, employs many ordinary concepts, and is generally comfortable moving around in the discursive structures of others. But this semblance of philosophical agility is an illusion. The genealogist, when pressed, will admit that he does not speak the way his interlocutors speak. He is not talking about “realities” in the way they intend.
And to point this out to him is no objection to his activity. He admits it, and relishes it.
Foucault’s ability to seem to mean things, as well as the fact that his variety of speech has spawned an entire academic clan of earnest followers and practitioners, suggests very strongly that there is something behind his method. What he does, though it is not real speech, really gets at the mechanisms by which discursive frameworks emerge and consolidate themselves.
Furthermore, his theory of power relations does actually and reliably describe the development of history to a great extent.
Though Foucault seems to have been defeated by Aquinas, in reality what we have shown in our dialogue is merely a limit experience of genealogical analysis: a portrait of 93 genealogy taken out of its hiding place on the fringes, where it can safely tear down and build up others’ systems, and forced into a conversation in which its tendency to assert itself is called into question by its own critical approach. This is merely one of many possible “limit experiences” of genealogy, each of which employs the anti-metaphysical critical apparatus to undermine the methodology itself. We might otherwise have performed a historical genealogy of Foucault and shown the roots of his philosophical/ethical impulses in a Jansenist pessimism about the rectitude of the will and the mendaciousness of human sociality, etc. But if we pull back from the limits of genealogy, and take it not as an absolute anti-metaphysical method, but as a kind of historical analysis, we will find that it remains useful, not only as a tool for self-criticism, but as a frequently realistic account of the development of systems of thought.
Before we conclude with a discussion the usefulness of genealogy, we must remind the reader one final time of what has not been accomplished in these pages. We have not refuted
Foucault. We have not shown the self-destructiveness of his preferred form of speech. Instead, we have shown that both of these tasks are impossible, and that any attempt to show the true genealogist the impossibility of his position will not disturb him in the least. We have likewise shown that the non-foundationalist philosopher or theologian, who recognizes the mechanics of tradition and its importance in informing his thought, and who is willing to grant the contingency of his beliefs in the wayfaring state, as well as the foundation of their legitimacy in natural habits
(rather than in absolute self-certainty), can give an account of knowledge acquisition and the order of discovery that meets the genealogist’s objections with ease and improves upon the concepts employed in them.
With some adjustments, that is, removed from the explicitly anti-metaphysical context in which they were generated, the tools of genealogy prove to be very powerful in understanding 94 the human forces that drive historical developments. The presupposition of the genealogist is that power (interest, difference, inequality) grounds the development of conceptual systems and social categories, and that categorical structures exist in constant interaction with human interest and desire. To translate this thought into a Thomistic idiom, we might say that because the will moves the intellect to consider apprehended objects under this or that aspect, it follows that habitual tendencies of the will to prefer some particular aspect or conceptual means of apprehending realities will reliably be reinforced through human sociality and pedagogical structures, so that those things which we tend to desire by nature (or are taught to desire by education) form networks of interconnected goods and opposed evils. These large-scale structures of interest and understanding can then be used to explain the emergence of particular fields of study, the dominance of particular ideas in a given community, the reinforcement of taboos, ideals, etc. Furthermore, since fallen human nature tends through concupiscence to prefer certain types of good, and to be subject to certain types of influence and habituation (the capital vices, for example), it is possible to look at these structures (formerly referred to as
“power relations”) simply as informed by sin. Such a view tends naturally toward
Manicheanism, but without a deity it collapses entirely into Heraclitean senselessness and despair, as we have seen. But preserved from this error, the genealogical method provides a convenient antidote to the more dogmatic philosophical systems of the day (rationalist or positivist) by exposing what they cannot afford to admit: namely, the contingency and historicity of their concepts and principles. The genealogical method, which uses history to discredit illegitimate claimants to trans-historical validity, is saved and perfected in the service of a philosophical system informed at its core by the bond between unchanging, eternal being and the contingent lowliness of historical events. 95
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