Re: Materialism and Spirituality

Kenneth McPhail wrote:

>In a paper I was reading recently the author said,
> 'There are a couple of sub-schools in this field (critical
> accounting research, - I bet you didn't realise there was
> such a thing) which appear to be more united in what they are not
> than what they are. The issue of materialism is one of the dividing
> questions in this respect. Some of the critical researchers base
> their studies explicitly on materialistic philosophy but there are
> also many, eg the Foucaultian researchers whose studies are overtly
> non-materialistic.'
>The reference to materialism relates to an earlier section of the
>paper where the author suggests that ,
> 'Marx and Engles interpreted Hegels dialectics in a new way,
> which resulted in dialectical materialism, a way of thought based on
> the notion that the world is essentially material and not spiritual.'
>Could anyone explain to we in what sence Foucault is
>'non-materialistic'? Also, I know that to be non-materialistic does
>not necessarily imply to be spiritual but is there any part of Foucaults
>phylosophy that could be regarded as 'spiritual.'?

I believe (and I'm by no means a Marx scholar) that a confusion
arises here from the conflation of two senses of "materialism." As I
understand it, Marx, et al, used the term not in the more familiar sense
from science or ontology (i.e., that everything is made of "matter")
--though Marx was apparently committed to this, too-- but rather in the
sense that relations and processes of "material production" are
fundamental. Social theory must begin and end with anaysis of "modes of
production" if it is to comprehend adequately social relations and
transformations. And this is, at bottom, an _economic_ analysis.
In interviews Foucault made a point of clearly distinguishing his
own brand of social analysis from those within the Marxian tradition which
insist on an "economics-in-the-last-instance" approach. Rather, analysis
(genealogical, archealogical) must procede on a plurality of fronts, and
consider economic relations as only one form among many in which "power" is
exercised. I'm guessing that this is the difference referred to in the
first quote above.
Further, I suppose (re the second quote) that Foucault is not a
"dialectical materialist" not only for the above reason, but because he
rejects the "dialectical" approach as well. He doesn't take sides in the
Hegel/Marx squabble, because he rejects the premise common to both, i.e.,
that social transformations can/should be understood on the dialectical
model of "determinate negation."

As for the materialism/spiritualism distinction, insofar as this
refers to questions of "what the world is really made of," I can only
assume that Foucault would abstain from judgment. (I'd like to think, pace
your quote, that Hegel would abstain also, but that's another issue.) For
one thing, F has declared his intention on several occasions not to be that
of investigating the nature of things themselves, but rather of how
discourses _about_ things constitute themselves and interact with relations
of power (or something to that effect); secondly, insofar as "materialism"
is connected with discourses of the "natural sciences" (e.g., physics), F.
would have little to say, as he has always (er, with a few exceptions)
restricted his analyses to the domain of the "human sciences."

Well, I hope some of this helps. Come to think of it, I'd bet that
someone on this list could tackle the final question better than I, viz.,
in what sense F's work could be called "spiritualist." This might involve
attempting to sort out his ambiguous relation to Hegel, which is probably
far from easy. But also, his later work on the "care of the self" could be

David Hodges
Dept. of Philosophy, UIUC

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