The Moral Theory of Poststructuralism

The Moral Theory of Poststructuralism

The Moral Theory of Poststructuralism

The Moral Theory of Poststructuralism


Both Anglo-American and Continental thinkers have long denied that there can be a coherent moral defense of the poststructuralist politics of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Jean-François Lyotard. For many Anglo-American thinkers, as well as for Critical Theorists such as Habermas, poststructuralism is not coherent enough to defend morally. Alternatively, for Foucault, Deleuze, Lyotard, and their followers, the practice of moral theorizing is passé at best and more likely insidious.

Todd May argues both that a moral defense of poststructuralism is necessary and that it is possible. First, he develops a metaethical view of moral theorizing that treats it as a social practice rather than a transcendentally derived guarantee for right action. He then articulates and defends antirepresentationalism, a principle central to poststructuralism. Finally, May offers a version of consequentialism that is consonant both with the principle of antirepresentationalism and with other poststructuralist commitments. In conclusion, he distinguishes morality from an aesthetics of living and shows the role the latter plays for those who embrace antirepresentationalism.


In this book I defend several central tenets of the poststructuralism of thinkers like Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, and especially Michel Foucault. My arguments, however, are made mostly in the idiom of Anglo-American philosophy. Although I harbor no illusion that I have addressed all the relevant issues, especially all the relevant metaethical issues, I do hope to have built the framework for a coherent defense of an important strand of recent French philosophy.

As with my previous books, working with Sandy Thatcher, Cherene Holland, and the staff at Penn State Press has been a pleasure. I cannot imagine a more cooperative publishing house. Keith Monley's copyediting will doubtless save more than one reader from unnecessary puzzling over my arguments. Alisa Carse was helpful in pointing out several important texts in Anglo-American philosophy that I would otherwise have overlooked. Discussions with Mark Lance about the material yielded new insights and helped me avoid numerous errors. Owen Flanagan.and Peter Railton offered thoughtful comments on the text, allowing me to situate my work more clearly within the context of Anglo-American moral theory. the errors that remain must be chalked up to my own philosophical shortcomings.

Readers of my previous book, The Political Philosophy of Poststructuralist Anarchism, will recognize this book as a development of thoughts first sketched in that book's last chapter. Sections of that last chapter are scattered throughout the first several chapters of the present book.

This book is dedicated to three people, two of them in memoriam. the latter are Michel Foucault and John Coltrane. the third, still very much alive, is Tek Lin. Without these three, I would be bereft of even the modest knowledge that I do possess about the art of living.

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