Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Education of Philosophy: From Canguilhem and the Teaching of Philosophy to Foucault's Discipline and Punish

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

The Education of Philosophy: From Canguilhem and the Teaching of Philosophy to Foucault's Discipline and Punish

Article excerpt

So far, there is no philosophy that one could learn. For where is it? Who has got it in his possession, and by what characteristics can it be recognized? One can only learn to philosophize.-Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, "Architectonic,"A838/B866; quoted in UNESCO 1953:17

Nel Noddings, the well-known philosopher of education and proponent of care ethics, worries that Foucault's approach to education is potentially damaging to educational practices and philosophizing because it calls into question the agency of subjects at precisely the moment that historically marginalized groups are beginning to experience their own subjective agency (Noddings 2007: 80-81). Though her argument is not addressed to Foucault alone, his work is implicitly included when she suggests that the so-called "death of the subject" in postmodern philosophy means that subjectivity is no longer the constitutive basis of meaning, that subjects are now understood as constituted by multiple, fragmentary identities.1 If subjectivity is always constituted and fragmentary, and thus produced by forces beyond its control, she suggests, then autonomy and agency will ultimately be experienced as illusions. Marginalized groups, as a result, she thinks, will lose interest in pursuing autonomy and agency. An education in power technologies would be, therefore, an unwitting extension of hegemonic, marginalizing, and exclusionary endeavors.2 But I see no reason for her to limit the argument to marginalized groups. For its center is the thought that if one is educated to believe in the impossibility of individual autonomy, then one will forego the attempt to act autonomously. This paper questions the assumption here that education and educators can and should shape or mold students in such a direct manner, if at all. It will do so by sketching an important part of the intellectual history informing Foucault's own genealogical investigation into the emergence of such an assumption in a disciplinary society. This history leads directly to Georges Canguilhem, Foucault's elective master, his bon maître. And in the relation between the writings of master and student, we find a different exemplification of education, namely, as a thoroughly dialogical and philosophical activity undertaken for the sake of freedom.3

The book in which Noddings worries about the death of the subject, entitled Philosophy of Education, is intended primarily as a textbook for students of education. Though the chapters of the book treat diverse philosophical approaches to education, Noddings's title seems to suggest that there is such a thing as philosophy of education. This paper's title, by contrast, is meant to suggest that education would be better grasped as an activity pursued philosophically, rather than the object of a disciplinary subdivision within academic philosophy. Etymologically, philosophy is the love or friendship for wisdom, that is, the search for wisdom. While many other human activities and practices require education or training, not all make education central to the very practice itself as philosophy does. The best way to philosophize about education, I contend, would be to consider attempts at the education of philosophy. Rather than evaluate solely what philosophers have said or written about how to philosophize or think, I will consider how one philosopher endeavored to develop and transform methods and ideas found in another. I respond to Noddings's concerns, therefore, by focusing on Foucault's accounts of education and philosophy, framing these as critical continuations of Georges Canguilhem's own work as a philosopher concerned with education.

Such an endeavor is authorized by Foucault's own late essays asserting the importance of Canguilhem's work for his own (Foucault 1991). Treating Canguilhem and Foucault together on education is important in its own right for a number of reasons: first, because it helps to correct widespread and mistaken perceptions about Canguilhem, that, for instance, he was a historian more than a philosopher or that his sole area of interest was medicine and the life sciences. …

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