Foucault's Archaeology: Science and Transformation

By David Webb | Go to book overview

Introduction

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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Foucault's Archaeology: Science and Transformation
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Abbreviations vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Introduction 1
  • Background 5
  • 1- To What Problem Does the Archaeology of Knowledge Respond? 7
  • 2- Gaston Bachelard- Construction and Temporal Discontinuity 11
  • 3- Jean Cavaillès- Grounding Thought in Its Own History 16
  • 4- Michel Serres- Mathematics, Epistemology, History 22
  • 5- Michel Serres- Atomism 28
  • 6- The Mathematical a Priori 31
  • 7- Temporal Dispersion 34
  • Commentary on the Archaeology of Knowledge 39
  • Part I - Introduction 41
  • Part II - The Discursive Regularities 48
  • Part III - The Statement and the Archive 85
  • Part IV - Archaeological Description 120
  • Part V - Conclusion 152
  • Closing Remarks 159
  • Notes 166
  • Selected Bibliography 174
  • Index 178
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