Re: foucault and specific intellectual (SI)

Hi John,

It still seems to me that you are arguing that Darwin was a specific
intellectual and that Marx was a universal one. But surely, Darwin's theory
of evolution, although initially derived from a small study in a certain
part of the world, and orientated toward certain species, was a theory about
the universal nature of evolution. Darwin didn't just say that evolution
only applied to the species he studied, but that it was a universal
phenomenon. Hence i think the characterisation of Darwin as a specific
intellectual is at best perverse and at wort merely a case of linguistic

Truth. You argue:

>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.

No, well at least, not only this. Is it true that the world is really the
way it is, or is it not? If the world is a certain way, which must itself be
true, I fail to see the utility of the distinction between the world as it
is and the world as we want it to be. The point is that we need to establish
the truth of the situation now, for as F might say, the truth of our
situation is too important to be left to the powers that be. Is it true
that women are discriminated against? Is it true that X% of the prison
population in the US are black? These are truths, or falsehoods, that are
not diminished by a normative claim we might make about things not having to
be this way. There are good reasons, I suppose, for politicians to deny both
the treatment of women and the %age of blacks in US prisons. But the
normative point of positing truth as something opposed to the world as it is
now only gets its force if the world as it is now fails to meet the ideal.
And to know this we need to know the truth of thesituation now. Hence we can
ask the question, 'How is the world now?' and the answer can misdescribe the
world or get it right. That is, it can be true or false.

I've always been kinda perplexed with that strand of critical theory that
attempts to replace research on what is with mere criticism of what is. To
my eyes it is a very poor critical social science which imagines it can
dispense with both abstract and concrete knowledge of what is in society,
and the form it takes (in effect, truth claims). If certain social
structural patterns, and modes of behaviour, are to be overridden or
undermined and new ones established we need abstract knowledge of the
structure of social relations and material conditions in virtue of which
such practices exist.

>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.

Sorry, are you claiming that anyone who appeals to a greater truth is
necessarily leftist? Surely not? The right, as I have already argued, makes
fairly strong claims to truth itself. As BTW does Foucualt. Are his analyses
true? Well he clearly thought so.

>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.

Can you explain why? Doesn't this depend upon what you are holding the
mirror up to.

>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.

And is it true that this is what Foucault thought? You simply can't dispense
with truth in this simplistic manner. You are making truth claims all the
time John. Dead end or not a commitment to truth may be the only thing that
stops us as a species getting really arrogant.

>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.

Well my question, no actually claim, is that Foucault too doesn't escape
this dilemma. So he fails in his attempt to:

>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.
>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.

And as such he was a specific intellectual, yes?

But Marx did not want to separate that off
>from his political views.

Because, much more astutley than Foucault, Marx knew this was impossible.
Foucault's claim, or your claim on his behalf, to have done so can only
reveal a residual commitment to some form of the fact-value divide.



Colin Wight
Department of International Politics
University of Wales, Aberystwyth


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