Foucault's Archaeology: Science and Transformation

Foucault's Archaeology: Science and Transformation

Foucault's Archaeology: Science and Transformation

Foucault's Archaeology: Science and Transformation

Synopsis

David Webb reveals the extent to which Foucault's approach to language in The Archaeology of Knowledgewas influenced by the mathematical sciences, adopting a mode of thought indebted to thinkers in the scientific and epistemological traditions such as Cavailles and Serres. By aligning his thought with the challenge to Kantian philosophy from mathematics and science in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he shows how Foucault established his own perspective on the future of critical philosophy.

Excerpt

The Archaeology of Knowledge by Michel Foucault is a book that presents a number of challenges. Most obviously, it introduces a lot of new terminology and makes many methodological distinctions, and for this reason presents a certain technical difficulty. However, there are other reasons. First and foremost, it addresses a specific problem that is not really explained in the book itself, concerning how thought in late modernity has responded to the impasse that Foucault describes in the final chapters of The Order of Things, and which hinges on the finitude of man. My first aim in this book is to show that The Archaeology of Knowledge is a deliberate attempt to accelerate a response that was in his view already underway. in addition, Foucault’s text does little to make it clear where the most important precedents lie for the conceptual and methodological steps that he takes. For many readers, this is made worse by the fact that some of these precedents may be relatively unfamiliar today. Without some appreciation of them, however, I believe one’s understanding of what Foucault is doing in this book will be incomplete. the precedents lie primarily in the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of science and the epistemology of the first half of the twentieth century, and in particular in the work of Gaston Bachelard and Jean Cavaillès. Michel Serres’ early work on the history and epistemology of mathematics is also very significant, as are other elements of his thinking, such as his readings of atomism and of Leibniz.

It is on the basis of this work, I maintain, that Foucault elaborates the central ideas of The Archaeology of Knowledge, and in particular his attempt to respond to the challenge that he set near the end of The Order of Things; namely, to repeat Kant’s critique of pure reason on the basis of the mathematical a priori (OT 383, 394). in different ways, for Bachelard, Cavaillès and Serres, mathematics is fundamentally . . .

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