Re: foucault and specific intellectual (SI)

On Tue, 30 Sep 1997, Colin Wight wrote:

> Hi John,
> Just some comments:
> You argue that Foucault claims that Darwin be considered to be thought of as
> the originator of specific intellectual because:
> But this surely gets the issue upside down. I don't know how Foucualt
> understands, or employs the terms universal and specific (notwithstanding,
> of course, that the interplay between the universal and the particular has
> been one of the most problematic issues for philosophy) but to describe
> Darwinism as an instance of the particular (specific) seems perverse. The
> whole point of Darwinism, certainly in its more radical forms, is that
> evolution is universal.

Yes but the point in this context is that Darwin is someone whose
knowledge in a particular field of human inquiry 'legitimated' a much
broader range of effects. Thus we get Social Darwinism, phrenology, a
large part of the initial impulse for sociology, and so on.

His expertise was in a specific field but this specific field was taken to
have much broader implications.

> Also you say that Foucault claims that I's should shift their focus from a
> battle on behalf of truth to one that questions the status of truth and the
> economic and political role it play. However, it hardly needs pointing out
> that in order to do the latter one must know what T is. Hence I don't see
> how the two questions can be separated.

What does it mean to battle on behalf of truth as opposed to questioning
the status of truth? We battle on behalf of truth when we think the truth
will set us free. In this sense the truth is something that stands opposed
to the world as it is, confronting it with an ought of some kind. I've
always thought of Hegel as much more of a leftist than a rightist because
he is willing to oppose his abstract, presently unrealized but present in
nuce, concept of the truth of Spirit against its "actual" but in some
sense "unreal" manifestations.

This Hegelian approach to truth must be distinguished from the claim that
truth refers to the human mind's ability to mirror an already-existing
external world. The latter approach is inherently conservative. The former
naturally tends towards criticism.

Marx too wanted to battle on behalf of a Hegelian notion of truth. By that
I mean Marx thought "the truth" -- about capitalism's inherent laws, about
history's inevitable resolution, about the proletariat's prefiguration of
a liberated human society -- stood against the world as it was, and
offered us a non-utopian opportunity for genuine liberation.

Foucault thinks that strategy is a dead-end. Too many demons better left
locked up are released by tying the liberatory impulse to something as
emotionally charged and as incendiary as "the truth." Instead of trying to
act the role of Midwife, helping history along by exiling and
expropriating the Kulaks, all under the banner realizing the truth of our
being, Foucault suggests that we question the *status* of truth.

So we should turn away from a Hegelian, critical notion of truth, a notion
of truth that acts as a critical principle against which the world as-is
can be evaluated, but we should not simply *affirm* the world as it is. In
other words, Foucault wants to navigate between the cliff of left
Hegelianism and the reef of right Hegelianism. The LeftHegs want a notion
of truth that maintains a critical distance from the world; the RightHegs
want a notion of truth that affirms the world. Positivists (speaking
broadly!) want a notion of truth that reflects the world, and that makes
them friends of the RightHegs.

> Also, what is this with Foucault, why has the right not also paraded as a
> master of truth and justice also? Good old Maggie Thatcher and Reagan were
> fairly adept at presenting truths, as of course, was Adolph Hitler. Are F's
> attacks on the left evidence of his own political leanings?
> >
> >One consequence of this move from care for the universal to care for the
> >specific is that the wall between practice and theory is breached.
> How and why? The wall between theory and practice is not simply one of scale.
> I also think we have to begin to question what Foucault thinks the political
> is or was. I mean, to say that 'Everyone gets politicized' implies that
> there must have been something that wasn't already politicised. To a
> Marxist, of course, this would be nonsense.
> ee p. 127 of _P/K_. So there's
> >this sort of breakdown of the division of labor between those who 'write'
> >and those who 'do.'
> Sorry, I don't get this. Does this mean that everyone is now an activist?
> Absolutely everyone? Does rather let the non-activists off the hook does it
> not? There is no difference between taking part in a revolution and writing
> about it, is that the argument? Seems like a dreadfully monistic view of
> axiology to me.
> Part of the problem to me seems to be F's overblown conception of what an
> intellectual was before F came along. After all, the easiest way to make
> your own arguments look sophisticated is to make your opponents look silly.


> Just who are these universal intellectuals? Not Marx surely? After all, if
> Marxism is predicated on economic reductionism, then this is a very specific
> form of theory, and doesn't include, politics culture, or the environment.
> That is it is specific to the economy. So it would seem that Marx can't be
> both guilty of economic reductionism and playing the role of a universal
> intellectual. One or other stick with which the FI beats Marxists over the
> head would have to go it seems, non?

Both can be used because Marx used both. He wanted to explain the internal
laws of the capitalist system which worked independent of the will of this
or that actor, and his study of that system does indeed provide valuable
insights into its workings. But Marx did not want to separate that off
from his political views. His study of the internal mechanics of the
capitalist system was always connected to a vision of the world as it
should be. Every line of _Capital_ is infused with this vision.

Best wishes,


> Thanks,
> ------------------------------------------------------------------
> Colin Wight
> Department of International Politics
> University of Wales, Aberystwyth
> ----------------------------------------------------------------

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