Re: foucault and habermas


I'll take a stab at this one:

The Foucault Habermas debate is perhaps one of the most trod over areas
in post modern/post Kantian efforts to take on the fundamental
philosophical questions of the Western tradition, or on a slightly less
general level, to theorize the necessary connections between rationality
and morality, the "is" and the "ought".

Kantian liberal philosophy holds that a moral philosophy naturally
follows from a rational one: to the extent that we free ourselves from
our self incurred bondage to fundamentally irrational ways of seeing the
world (belief in spirits, belief in the given surpemacy of rulers, etc.),
we enter into an enlightened relation to things and people, we expose our
knowledge to the judgement of reason. Thus to the extent that we can
diferentiate between a) the aesthetic attraction of certain beliefs, b)
the political pressure to take up certain beliefs and c) the freely
reasoned deduction of the existence of given things, we become
enlightened, modern people

Thus, kant asserts (and Habermas agrees) that such differentiations
imply a moral system whereby the sphere of interest and coercion (the
political pressures to say "yeah, I agree" when in fact you may not) is
kept separate from the sphere of free reasoned deduction (the autonomous
sphere of free, rational thought, and the freedom to say what one really
thinks). For Kant, the enlightenment project consisted of the work of
ensuring the continued differentiation of these spheres, as it is for

One difference: for kant, it is the pure mind, the transcendal synthetic
operations of consciousness that are the foundation for the autonomy of a
rational thought. habermas is at least fashionable enough to take the
linguistic turn, where it is in the specific structures of linguistically
interacting subjects that teh diferentiations of these three spheres
are negotiated. Thus he arrives at all the liberal conclusions of
Kant only instead of saying "cogito" or "consciousness" or "a priori" he
says "structures of communicative action","rationality potential of a
given speach situation". On a more frightening note, this scheme allows
habermas and his followers to speak of "pathologies", in the form of
threats to this differentiation between the spheres of reason, aesthetics
and politics. Sadam Hussein was, for habermas, such a patholocial
element: hence habermas's support for the Gulf war.

Now Foucault, of course, never imagines that such a differentiation of
spheres is possible or desirable. Never was, never will be. Power and
truth, the political, the aesthetic, the rational, enjoy no essential
difference from eachother which is simply developed into fruition as
societies become increasingly mature, but are always deeply involved in
eachothers functioning, each operating alternatiely as the other's
mechanism of distribution etc. a better analysis of how this imbrication
of the spheres of power and knowledge that habermas wants to keep
separate and that Foucault wants to expose as always already given is
easily available in many postings on this list. For now, it's enough to
say that Foucault never imagines that such a differentiation is
possible. Infact, following Nietzsche's critique of morality, he would
say that the mere pretense to operate in a realm free of power relations
is perhaps the most cunning and sinister play of power there could be,
which masks itself behind a benign fascade of liberal (christian)
generosity, a mode of domination specific to the period of modernity.

This is all very general, but suffice it to say that: Foucault's exposure
of the concealed relations of power behind discorses of truth (that is,
claims to the differentiation of spheres) which for him and other post
modernists stand as the grounds for a critique of modernity present
habermas with the task of reviewing the project of modernity (this time
under the ruberic of the philosophy of language, not consciousness) and
coming up with the continuing possibility of preserving the autonomy of
rational discourse against the pathological incursions of irrational
elements. Habermas's vision of such differentions opertates within an
overarching structure: a unifying differentiatiation of elements that
resonates with a traditionally German philosophical attitude that
varying french philosophies of radical difference (from baudelaire to
bataille) have found distasteful. habermas's unifying vision reserves the
term "pathological" for any intrinsically disunifying elements. Pretty
scarey stuff.



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