From: ccw94@xxxxxxxxxx (COLIN WIGHT)
Date: Mon, 19 May 1997 08:53:13 +0100
>Though she is also quite critical of Foucault, Nancy Fraser has a partial
>defense of him in an article titled "Is F a Young Conservative?"
Yes I have seen it. I was sort of moved but remain a sceptic.
>What do you think of the tool metaphor introduced by another member of the
>list? I am very suspicious of attempts to force theory to provide us with
>politically correct decisions on this or that side of an issue.
Oh me too John, But I wasn't suggesting this. No philosophical position or
theory will answer our existentailist angst for us, but, and it is a big
but, we never approach our existence in a philosophical vacuum. The question
is, what sort of space does Foucault provide? And I have to say, and with
all due respect, i simply find your assertions that Foucault provides you
with nothing, both a vindication of my position and ironically enough a very
>> This becomes clear on just this issue because some on this list have said
>> they would censor the Nazi's, but have elaborated no reason why this group
>> rather than any other. Why pick on the Nazi's? What criteria are being
>> applied? What do they do that we don't like and why? Because they kill Jews?
>> So what! Jew after all is only a nominal term that refers to no real
>> referent but simply a disursive construct of various incommensuarble
>> discourses. Hence their discursive construct Jew is not our discursive
>> construct Jew, and moreover, since they created their own discursive
>> construct I suppose they can do what they want with it.
>> Yes I am being absurd, but I think the absurdity is not mine but Foucualt's.
>No, Colin, the abusrdity is yours, as F *never once* adopted this
>deconstructivist Derridean rhetoric or approach.
Well, this may be so John, but much of the FI do. Also, I think that Given
Foucault's nominalism and much of what he says in The Order of Things, he
certainly can be given this spin. If you want to defend him against this I
for one, would be more that pleased to hear, or see it. It is a bit like
Derrida who claimed in an interview,
"I never cease to be surprised by critics who see my work as a
declaration that there is nothing beyond language, that we
are imprisoned in language; it is, in fact, saying the exact
opposite. The critique of logocentrism is above all else the
search for the "other" and the "other of language".
Still, one can find ample evidence in Derrida that he did say that
everything is language. I am also reminded here of much of the back-tracking
that occured post-Sokal when even Stanley Fish claimed that he had never
said there was 'no such thing as a mind independent reality'.
>of your preferred "species being" type argument that the Nazis did their
>killing. In the name of it again that Stalin did his. In the name of it a
>third time that Pol Pot did his. Ethics is covered with incredible amounts
>of blood and gore, and this makes a reliance on it seem naive to me.
This is simply facile John, and scare tactics. Rationality was not the motor
of the holocaust, even if it did allow a spectacularly successful
manipulation of technology for chosen irrational ends. Also John I am struck
by the way you reject species being but then go on in this post and others
to talk of human beings! As Doug Henwood has consistently argued when
ethical positions are elaborated one can usually find an unthematised
humanism at work. So why don't us concerned humans simply be honest about
>No, F does not make all ethical choices merely arbitrary. They are
>arbitrary in the sense of being rooted in free human beings who make
Well, an interesting reading I do admit, but given Foucault's notion of an
episteme, I find it difficult to see how you are using the word choice here.
>Arbitrariness is just another word for human freedom, after all.
This speaks volumes, not least, of course, the manner in which it reveals
what you consider to be the essence of the human.
>Just as Hobbes says that the word "tyrant" is the label we give to "kings
>we happen not to like," so too "arbitrary" is the sticker we apply to
>"exercises of freedom that we happen not to like."
Well this makes my point rather nicely for me. You insisted that Foucault
was not a discursive idealist (I think that you are wrong on this), but
whatever, the position you are articulating here most certainly is. So, if
tyrant is simply a label we give to rulers we don't like, I suppose Hitler
was only a tyrant because we didn't like him, or Pol Pot, or Stalin even,
just to use your examples. I would argue that they were tyrants because the
word tyrant is not a subjective label I, or you, attach to entities we don't
like but because of behaviour. Yes at the borders things get fuzzy. But not
to call a spade a spade in any human society is simply to misdescribe it.
>You want "an ethical starting point for a critique of things we find
My argument is more that we have all got one anyway, on pain of Cratylan
silence. Yours John, appears to be humanity, no matter how often you deny it.
Notice that you have already found some things
>unacceptable. The "ethical starting point" isn't really a starting point,
>is it? You want some way to "justify" or "ground" the things found to be
No I do not, I am not asking for an ethical blueprint that tells us how to
go on in every situation. But look, an example, when Pol Pot knocks the
heads of 6 million things, what is it that upsets you, that stirs the moral
sentiments? are you upset because 6 million bullets no longer possess their
life chances (the ability to kill people) or is it the people who have been
killed that upset you? If the latter we can begin to see that we now have a
common starting point for ethical discussion, both of us object to humans
being harmed. Nazi's harm people. Hence, ceteribus paribus, we should be
against Nazi's. And moreover, note, that we can now say why. Deny the human
(species being in my terms), but still object to a given outcome of a given
situation, and it is legit to ask what criteria are you using?
Department of International Politics
University of Wales, Aberystwyth