Re: [Foucault-L] Foucault and "human nature"

I think (philosopher and psychologist) Todd May's book "Between Genealogy and Epistemology: Psychology, politics and knowledge in the Thought of Michel Foucault' (1993) could be helpful here.

He believes that its important to make a distinction between justification and truth (something he reckons so-called 'poststructuralist' French thought tended not to do). He says that Foucault could be ambiguous on these questions but makes the case that his position is not a relativist one re: truth. He claims that Foucault takes an antifoundational relation to truth but one that allows truth claims to be justified on the basis of 'inferential networks' of already existing knowledges (this includes justificatory practices). [May further argues that scientific knowledges of Western culture tend to have relatively 'tight' inferential networks]. This, of course, does not guarantee any absolute truth. Rather it is assumed that while everything is open to question, not everything can be questioned at the one time (so there always has to be some taken-for-granteds). I think this is pretty much consistent with Edward's reading.

May also argues (like others) that since the relativist position affords no grounds for truth claims it is self-defeating argument in logic terms.

Message: 11
Date: Fri, 5 Mar 2010 22:08:48 -0500
From: Edward Comstock<ecomst@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: [Foucault-L] Foucault and "human nature"
To: Mailing-list<foucault-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>

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Right. Similarly, our current physics works as a system of knowledge that
gives us repeatable results and laws. But this does not mean that we could
not have a competitive "non-quarky" physics that gives repeatable results
and laws of a different order. Perhaps, with different cultural
circumstances, a given non-quarky physics might even be more useful in the
knowledge it produces. In other words, just because our physics works as
a system of knowledge does not make it "true" in the absolute sense. But
at the same time, who cares anymore about finding knowledge that is true
in the absolute sense?

Of course we also have to distinguish between sciences that have crossed
the epistemological threshold (like physics and pathological anatomy) and
those that have not...

Re: [Foucault-L] Foucault and "human nature"

David McInerney
03/05/2010 04:26 PM

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Please respond to Mailing-list

On 06/03/2010, at 7:41 AM, Edward Comstock wrote:

> It also seems to me that even what we call human nature or look for is
> going to change based on different knowledge practices, such that the
> question can only be answered within given systems of knowledge.
> Foucault,
> after all, for instance, believed that modern medicine presented valid
> abstractions against which we could gain usefull knowedges. But I
> dont'
> take this to mean that he believes modern medicine to be "true" in the
> absolute sense.
This seems similar to Althusser's attempts to distinguish between
discourses in terms of the 'adequacy' of their 'grasp' of the
material world, a rather tricky notion in that idealist discourses
such as empiricism always attempt to exploit it. I'm not sure how
one avoids it though, unless one accepts the extreme relativism that
would assert that the phlogiston theory is equally valid way of
looking at the generation of heat as thermodynamics. It is clear
that one gives us a more adequate grasp of material reality, but if
one attempts to 'go around' discourse to find a way to see whether it
corresponds to something outside of itself then, whoops, there we are
back with the 'subject of knowledge' etc etc.

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