Re: Fouc. and Witt. Revisited

I want to respond to David Hodges comments on my Foucault and
Wittgenstein posting. Perhaps it's worth responding in stages, since
David makes a number of interesting points. I'll try to tackle one
point in this posting. David writes, in part:

> First, Descartes' use of madness (in the Meditations, at any rate) seems to
> me to be somewhat different from what you describe. The famous quote
> occurs, not in the 2nd (where he is establishing the 'cogito'), but in the
> 1st where he initiates the methodological doubt. He is asking himself
> whether it makes sense at all to engage in radical skepticism, or whether
> this would be a sign of madness. He writes:
> Descartes' offhand dismissal of the thought that he could
> be mad is perhaps very good
> evidence for the sort of "ontological assumption" Foucault alludes to. I
> believe, however, one of Derrida's points is that Descartes is, at this
> point, not explicitly identifying himself (the thinker) in opposition to
> madness, but rather inadvertently drawing himself near to it. To doubt
> that, e.g., his hand exists would be dangerously similar to those "certain
> fools," and yet he must do it anyway. (Incidentally, this is the more or
> less the response I usually get when I teach Descartes to freshmen: it's
> 'crazy', 'insane' to be so skeptical.) I think Derrida is right to point
> to this as an instance (a rupture?) where an item within a text (the
> rational subject) momentarily turns into its opposite (the madman). It is
> a moment of forgetfulness, in that Descartes allows himself to *assume*
> that he is not mad, even though he knows that one who is indeed mad makes
> (or can make) the same assumption.

As you note, I think Derrida's point is well taken. Perhaps Descartes
does in fact think he can assume he is mad; but Foucault's point seems
to be that to do so would be at odds with Descartes's system of doubt.
Descartes method is to doubt rationally, not simply to doubt at all
cost. I take it that the whole point in attempting to find reasons for
his doubt is related to the need to doubt rationally. And this is why I
think Foucault's response to Descartes is in line with Wittgenstein:
Foucault thinks madness cannot serve as a reason for one's rational
doubt. The Derrida/Foucault debate, then, comes down to whether it is
possible to doubt reasonably in light of the possibility of one's own

I'll let F speak for himself, even thought the quote must be a bit
long. From "My Body, This Paper, This Fire":

It is of the first importance that Descartes does not here [i.e. in
questioning the certainty of his sensory info] involve
the certainty that one may have in general of one's own body but
rather everything which, at this precise *instant* of meditation,
resists *in fact* the carrying out of doubt by the subject who is
*currently* meditating. ...If I must begin doubting the place where
I am, the attention I am paying to this piece of paper, and this
heat from the fire which marks my present moment, how could I
remain convinced of the rational character of my undertaking? In
placing this actuality in doubt, am I not at the same time going to
render impossible all rational mediation and remove all value from
my resolution to discover the truth at last?

It is in order to reply to this question that two examples are
called on side by side [madness and dreaming], both of which force
one to call into doubt the subject's system of actuality.

First example: madness. Madmen indeed are completely deluded as to
what constitutes their actuality: they believe they are dressed
when they are naked, kings when they are poor. But can I take up
this example on my own account? Is it through this that I shall be
able to transform into an effective resolution the proposition that
we must doubt everything which comes to us from [the senses]?
Impossible: *isti sunt dementes*, that is, they are juridically
disqualified as rational subjects, and to qualify myself among
them, following them ('transfer their example to me') would
disqualify me in my turn and I should not be able to be a rational
subject of meditation ('I should be no less extravagant...) If one
uses the example of madness to move from systems to ascesis, from
the proposition to the resolution, it is quite possible to
constitute oneself as a subject having to call everything into
doubt, but it is impossible to remain qualified as a subject
conducting rationally his meditation through doubt to an eventual
truth. The resistance of actuality to the exercise of doubt is
reduced by too strong an example: it carries away with it the
possibility of meditating validly; the two qualifications 'doubting
subject' and 'meditating subject' are not in this case
simultaneously possible.

That madness is posited as disqualificatory in any search for
truth, that it is not 'rational' to call it up to carry out
necessary doubt, that one cannot feign it even for a moment, that
this impossibility is immediately obvious in the assignation of the
term *demens*: this is indeed the decisive point at which Descartes
parts company with all those for whom madness can be in one way or
another the bringer or revealer of truth.

So are the freshmen right? Well, perhaps there is a distinction to be
made with respect to scepticism itself. What amounts to scepticism?
Perhaps its just to say that one can doubt something or everything. If
so, clearly Descartes can say that he recognizes the possiblity of his
own madness and that he therefore calls everything into doubt. But
scepticism as an activity (and what this amounts to is unclear to me), as
opposed to a method which opens all windows of possibility, seems to be
what Foucault is saying is problematic if it is based upon madness.
Wittgenstein notes this, too, I think. Clearly doubt for him must be
reasonable doubt: "One doubts on specific grounds. The question is
this" how is doubt introduced into the language-game." (OC,458) So of
course one can say one is doubting, but one can only (really?)
reasonably doubt when there are rational grounds for doubt. Scepticism
must (I think!) be of this sort, reasonable scepticism, to do any work.
Clearly, Wittgenstein thinks that doubt must amount to something more
than one's verbal expression of doubt. So an important element of
sceptical doubt seems to depend on its making a difference; or as,
Wittgenstein writes, when one simply expresses their doubt, we wonder "
would his doubt come out in practice? And couldn't we peacefully leave
him to doubt it, [if] it makes not difference at all?" (OC, 120).

I guess the point here is, doesn't the method of rational doubt come to
an end when one moves from verbal doubt to practical doubt, where
madness is cited as the grounds for doubt in each case? Can rational
doubt and madness co-exist in practical scepticism? In practice,
doesn't the possibility of one's being mad rule out reasonable doubt as
a methodology?

Perhaps the freshmen are thinking in terms of methodological application, where
philosophers are thinking in terms of methodological abstraction.

I'm not sure if I've addressed your point here.
Any other thoughts?

Blaine Rehkopf
York University
North York, Ontario



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