Re: ethics and poststructuralism


>The negative critique (shall we call it?) and the prescriptive ethical
>pronouncement are two different types of speech acts. The former shows
>what is wrong with a certain kind of social relation of power knowledge
>(among other things); the latter prescribes what people ought to do.

I know that half the struggle with Foucault is our own cognative categories
and the constraints of language. However, I would argue that former only
attempts to show what is (no value judgement) with a certain kind of social
relation of power/knowledge.

I will be extreme (to argue a case). Is murder wrong? How would you feel if
I murdered your spouse//father/mother/brother/sister/son/daughter? Why? Is
that universal or simply socially constructed? What about war? Some murder
is "justified" in war and others not. Poststructuralism can tell me about
power and its relationship with knowledge. But so what. A different
outcome would simply reflect a different confluence of power and knowledge.
Why is rape wrong? Why is equal pay a good goal for gender equity programs?
Is political correctness just evidence of contest of discourses and the
construct of power? etc.

>I see no evidence that a prescriptive utterance is any more likely to
>change behavior and relations (or change anything at all) than a negative

I would assert all of us have ethical positions (hence my extreme points
above). There are things we passionately believe in. My observations is
that most poststructuralist writers lean to the "left" (Foucault included).
That leaning is often centred around issues of equity and equality. Even
issues of relative power and powerlessness appear to be cast in terms of
equality. Like most left leaning people I am deeply affronted by a number
cases of inequality in my society. But I also feel that to use Derrida or
Foucault to analysis a position is bankrupt; if I have to take a contrary
paradigmatic position to interpret my poststructural analysis.

>In fact, though it is tied to a (perhaps passing) historical moment, the
>reverse may be true.
>At any rate, a lot of the criticisms of poststructuralism's "impotence"
>emerge when one imagines that the important part of thought is the
>thought itself--what it can figure out, discern, and so forth. My
>position emerges when one focusses on the reception (or dialogic scene)
>of ideas--when one says that there are "ideas-an-sich" and chooses to
>look at them instead as speach acts.
>Foucault's later work often was almost explicit about its self-conscious
>status as a speech act (though Foucault sometimes suggests that it is a
>speech act addressed to himself). In this light, his work has been
>referred to as "an ethic [!] of permanent critique." Moreover, the
>distinction potence/impotence (rather than true/false, for instance)
>suggests we are already in the realm of what words or utterances DO--a
>completely different question from that of whether the utterance itself
>can tell us what we ought to do.

But within a poststructuralist framework, why would I care?

>I think this is a really important and interesting issue, but I don't
>think that it is a matter of ethics vs. no ethics. All utterances,
>rhetoricians will tell us, after all, do have an "ethos."

But surely a relativistic and personal ethos.

Bryan Palmer
Canberra - Australia's National Capital


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