On Wed, 25 Nov 1998, John S. Ransom wrote:

> What we are concerned with here is finding those grounds on which Foucault
> can argue we should prefer genealogical accounts to discourses associated
> with the disciplines given the seemingly universalist claim that all
> knowledge and discourses are constituted in a "power-knowledge circuit."

This is basically the question Habermas asks in _The Philosophical
Discourse of Modernity_. The answer is: why do you want *grounds*? You
do genealogical analyses when you find that the truth hurts, that some
formation of knowledge is hurting people with whom you're sympathetic.

> If it is true,
> absolutely and essentially, that men and women are inherently rational
> agents, then certain moral consequences will follow (such as treating each
> agent equally, or promoting their participation in non-coercive discursive
> formations) which when violated will be subject to critique from the
> absolute standpoint of the essence said to characterize human beings. It is
> not clear how an empirically deduced conclusion about the rational nature of
> human beings arising on the basis of contingent historical factors could
> provide such a stable point for criticizing violations of norms associated
> with rationality.

Even if that were so, that would be no reason to believe that human beings
are inherently rational agents, or whatever. (It's funny how
"anti-relativists" decry the view that "everything is political"--on
political grounds!)

I think Richard Rorty has done a good job of showing how believing in
absolutes about human beings does very little to ensure that everyone
treats everyone else well--the question simply shifts from "how should we
treat other human beings?" to "who should we count as a human being?" Not
to mention that *believing* you have moral obligations a la Kant doesn't
do a whole lot to motivate you to act on those obligations.

> Power produces the kind of truth it needs in order to function. It is at
> least plausible to read this as dismissing truth tout court, including the
> absolute as well as "empirical" version produced above. In that case
> "truth" would always require quotation marks as there would never be
> anything that one could refer to in an unqualified way as true. Everything
> said to be true is simply part of the production of a discourse which forms
> part of the prerequisites for the functioning of power.

Well, some kinds of truth are politically problematic, and some aren't.
"Water boils at 100C" is a bit of truth that everyone can agree to,
without any political problems resulting. (Of course, you can *use*
knowledge of that bit of truth for politically problematic purposes, maybe
by using it to denigrate those who don't know it ... but that's another
matter.) Is it a bit of "power-free" truth? Well, I guess not, but so
what? There's no pressing political reason to investigate the power
relations sustaining it. (Perhaps these innocuous bits of unproblematic
truth *could* serve as a standpoint from which to speak in the name of
truth--not Objective truth, but universally intersubjectively agreed-upon

And again--don't forget Foucault-the-parrhesiast! (Or Nietzsche-the-
parrhesiast, for that matter.)


---Matthew A. King---Department of Philosophy---York University, Toronto---
"In the conviction that it is possible you may depart from life
at once, act and speak and think in every case accordingly."
----------------------------(Marcus Aurelius)------------------------------

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