In Defense of Foucault's Genealogy

Topics: Michel Foucault, Sociology, Immanuel Kant Pages: 10 (3037 words) Published: February 7, 2013
In Defense of Foucault’s Enlightenment

Martin Alec N. Bautista


The Philosophical Area of Postmodernism has always been classified as a critique of the continuity established by modernism and the different claims it has towards truth and reality. Postmodernism puts into play different factors that contribute to the formation of the things that modernists consider to be clear and indubitable such as language, media, power, and social institutions that shape the way we conceive reality.

My paper focuses on the critique of Performative Contradiction by Habermas on Foucault’s method of Genealogy, as seen in Habermas’ The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1990) and his article entitiled Taking Aim at the Heart of the Present (1991, 102-108). In this critique, Habermas charged Foucault’s Genealogy of “performative contradiction,” to put it simply, Habermas and his supporters claim that Foucault’s Genealogical Framework to be self- defeating as it does not render the very claim that Foucault suggests immune from his own method of writing history. According to Habermas, Foucault’s own project cannot account for its own claims to truth because for Foucault, any form of knowledge is influenced by power. I shall go against this charge made by Habermas. I will show that Habermas’ charge of “performative contradiction” is a product of misinterpretation of Foucault’s project by arguing that (1) Habermas’ criticism rests on an idea of power that is different from Foucault’s understanding of power, (2) Foucault’s theory of power is not solely repressive but also productive, and (3) that this Productive element of power is reflected in his Ethos of Enlightenment. Key words: Foucault, Habermas, Enlightenment, Power, Genealogy


The General topic shall revolve around the debate between Foucault and Habermas concerning the Enlightenment. There are two views in this issue, namely Habermas’ “Transcendental Pragmatics,” which focuses on the emancipatory form of reason (1990), and Foucault’s “Ethos of the Enlightenment,” which concerns itself with the constant critique of the structures and authorities without necessarily positing an end result (1984). In Foucault’s essay What is Enlightenment (1984, 32-50) he mentioned Kant responding to a German periodical on the same question. Kant claimed The Enlightenment to be an “exit,” a way out of immaturity. Foucault interprets Kant’s view as an action in which a person refuses to accept ideas that impose themselves in an authoritarian manner (Foucault 1984, 43). Foucault’s Enlightenment also suggests to us a way to approach our present conditions with the hope of transgressing our limits (Foucault 1984, 45-47). This idea was the object of Habermas’ critique, Habermas says that Foucault’s theory of power is caught in a Performative Contradiction.Meaning that Foucault’s method is proven because of Its power effects towards its audience and not because it is reasoned out better. The problem here is that there may be a difference between Habermas’ and Foucault’s understanding of power that leads Habermas to reject the Foucauldian stance on the Enlightenment. Philosophers and sociologists such as Samantha Ashenden and David Owen (Ashenden and Owen, 1999) say that this debate has been construed in Habermasian terms. This means that because Habermas’s reply came after Foucault’s death and received no reply from Foucault himself, this debate resulted to speculative responses to the charges based on the works that Foucault has left behind. Given this disadvantage, supporters of Foucault (Patton 1998, Dreyfus and Rabinow 1983, Dalton 2008, Schmidt and Wartenberg 1994, Kelly 1994) either dismiss the Habermasian critique as one that presupposes what it seeks to show, or defend Foucault’s practice with arguments designed to illustrate its misinterpretation. My paper aims to motivate the latter. My claim is that this criticism made by Habermas and...
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