Re: Foucault and Hegel

The relation between Hegel and Foucault is extremely complex, and I would
resist the temptation to simplify the matter by dubbing Hegel a modern and
then showing how Foucault operates against Hegel's system. There are, I
believe, two very important points of contact between Hegel's philosophy and
the work of Foucault. The first is language, as Hegel, at least in the
_Phenomenology_, asserts that language is _not_ the external manifestation of
an interior meaning or thought, and that language "tells the truth" in spite
of whatever our conscious intentions and programs might be. This regards his
ingenious play on the word _meinen_, which in its verbal form is to intend,
to mean, and also functions as a possessive. For Hegel, _Sprache_ is not
simply the externalization of thought, but thought itself, and this is why he
says that thought breaks out entirely in it, and that it is no longer what it
is insofar as it is given over to a materiality and concrete statement that
is subject to a reading which does not construct simply another meaning or
thought, but makes it into something Other ("zu einem Andern macht.") In the
_Encyclopedia_, Hegel does seem to regress a bit and slide back into a rather
semiotic ( rather than semiological) view.

The second point, which has not been sufficiently fleshed out in scholarship,
is the relation of Foucault to Hegel's _Philosophy of Right_. It seems to me
that especially with regard to Hegel's critique of Kant, where the issue of
effects, consequences, and contexts disrupts the singularity and the clarity
of the individual will, and the use of language here (particularly when Hegel
repeatedly calls for the need of _bersetzen_ as a mode of moving between
discourses of right, culture, etc.) -- he is doing something that is akin to
Foucault's displacement of the individual's conscious will as the grounding
instance of ethical life. The question which arises in Hegel's PofR is: where
am I responsible for effects of an action that I might or might not have
foreseen? What are the contingencies that bear upon the responsibility for an
action? In moving beyond Kant's formalism with regard to such issues, Hegel
was asking us to rethink the ethical question(s) as part of a much larger set
of philosophical issues concerning society and the state and the construction
of life within institutions.

Rob Leventhal


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