Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy

Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy

Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy

Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy

Synopsis

Michel Foucault had a great influence upon a wide range of scholars, but it is often difficult for beginners to find their way into the complexities of his thought. This difficulty arises from a number of historical and substantive reasons that are especially germane if the reader comes to Foucault without prior acquaintance with Continental philosophy. C. G. Prado argues in this new introduction that the time is ripe for Anglo-American philosophy, in particular, to come to terms with Foucault. In this clear, straightforward introduction to Foucault's thought, Prado focuses on Foucault's "middle" work, Discipline and Punish and the first volume of The History of Sexuality, in which Foucault most clearly comes to grips with the the historicization of truth and knowledge and the formation of subjectivity. Understanding Foucault's thought on these difficult subjects requires working through much complexity and ambiguity, and Prado's direct and accessible introduction is the ideal place to start.

Excerpt

Understanding Foucault requires heightened awareness of some important presuppositional and methodological differences between his thought and the more familiar philosophical methods and ideas that form the background to, if not always the content of, intellectual inquiry in North America. Deleuze is quite right in saying that what Foucault offers runs counter to established philosophical methods and objectives (Deleuze 1984:149). But the very thing that is countered may not always be obvious. One's own philosophical presuppositions are rarely self-evident, perhaps especially when they most should be, as in the process of trying to understand and assess novel and unfamiliar ideas. A necessary prelude to consideration of Foucault is a brief outline of what Foucault's genealogical views most sharply counter.

In the introduction I contrasted the "analytic" tradition with the "Continental" or European tradition and clearly implied that the bulk of North American philosophers are analytic philosophers. The people I have in mind share presuppositions, priorities, techniques, methodologies, interests, and goals that have defined philosophy in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Scandinavia for much of this century. The sort of philosophy these people do is analytic, not in the pejorative sense now used by some postmodern critics to describe all philosophizing that is not postmodern, but in the sense of being a generally dissective or taking-apart style of intellectual inquiry as opposed to a more synthesizing or putting-together sort of inquiry. This contrast is often drawn in histories of philosophy, as in comparing philosophers like Hume and Russell on the one hand and G. W. Leibniz and Henri Bergson on the other. The former are described as analytic because they try "to understand complexes by reducing them to their . . . parts and to the relations in which these parts stand"; the latter are then described as "integrative" because they believe the things we try to understand "are parts of larger unities" and can be fully understood only when fitted into those unities (Matson 1987:403).

The analytic approach to intellectual inquiry began in earnest with Plato Theaetetus and Sophist and Aristotle Prior Analytics, was paradigmatically illustrated in René Descartes Discourse on Method and Meditations and Hume Treatise on Human Nature, and became the . . .

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