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Foucault–Habermas debate

Although he freely engaged in conditions-of-possibility talk, he always understood those conditions to be empirically conditioned all the way down. Koopman argues that this aspect of genealogy is often overlooked or underappreciated even by Foucault's ablest defenders, who frequently take genealogy to be an exercise in denaturalization full stop. Koopman connects this to the thought that genealogy as problematization is neither vindicatory nor subversive but rather aims toward what he calls "responsive reconstruction" Armed with this characterization of Foucault's method of genealogy as problematization, chapters five and six re-read some of Foucault's major works in this new light.

Chapter five focuses on Foucault's problematization of modernity. Koopman argues that this critique has often been interpreted in terms of a Weberian logic of exclusion and domination, according to which "reason dominates madness by totally excluding it, and.

Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy

Hence, the proper response to Foucault's critique is not the liberation of madness or freedom but rather a "critical-experimental practice of self-transformation" Koopman argues that this contrast between freedom as liberation, which Foucault regarded as deeply problematic, and freedom as critical self-transformation, which he offered as a reconstructive response to his problematization of modernity, accounts for his apparent ambivalence about the concept of freedom.

Chapter six delves into this reconstructive response in more detail, engaging Foucault's late work on ethics.

Koopman thinks the idea of freedom as a critical-experimental practice of self-transformation offers a promising new ethical orientation, but finds the specific ethical commitments articulated in Foucault's late work -- to bodies and pleasures, aesthetic self-creation, and parrhesiastic truth-telling -- underdeveloped and thin.

While these ethical commitments may be valuable at the level of personal ethical practices, they "have yet to yield a viable alternative to the much broader political-cultural problematizations we find ourselves facing today" That Foucault offered a reconstructive response to his problematizations of modernity suggests that he took the work of reconstruction to be compatible with his genealogical method.

That his reconstructive response was ultimately unsatisfactory provides the impetus for turning to the nearby philosophical traditions of pragmatism and critical theory that can supply the normativity needed for reconstructive critique.


  • Genealogy as Critique.
  • 2013.08.29.
  • À propos d’une traduction de Catulle (French Edition).

This sets the stage for Koopman's final chapter. The overall argument of this chapter is that genealogy and pragmatist critical theory need each other because the former excels at the diagnostic work of problematization but fails to generate convincing reconstructive responses, while the latter excels at the anticipatory work of normative reconstruction but fails to offer compelling critical diagnoses of the present. Although Koopman aims for what he calls a modest methodological reconciliation between these traditions, he nevertheless endeavors to show that these methodological approaches are not, as is often thought, in principle incompatible with one another.

The supposed incompatibility of Foucaultian genealogy and Habermasian critical theory largely rests on the assumption that the former's commitment to the contingency of our beliefs and practices is incompatible with the latter's defense of the universality of our communicative practices and our moral norms.

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Hence, Koopman's methodological reconciliation turns on the possibility of reconciling contingency with universality. Here Koopman once again offers a seemingly simple yet nonetheless important insight -- that "contingency picks out a modality, and universality picks out a scope," hence, there is "no obvious no necessary contradiction in their being deployed together" -- and then develops this insight into a compelling defense of contingent universals that are themselves the outcome of complex and ongoing processes of universalization.

It should be clear from this synopsis that this book makes a number of powerful and original contributions to the literature on Foucault. This master key fails to unlock each and every door -- for example, Koopman's reading of the Foucaultian critique of modernity as distinct from the Weberian critique strikes me as less successful than other aspects of the book, since the distinction between the logic of exclusion and that of purification is hard to maintain. But in the main, Koopman succeeds in showing that genealogy is best understood in terms of the notion of problematization and that genealogy as problematization is best understood as an internal transformation of Kantian critique.

Hence the book largely succeeds in achieving the two ambitious aims that Koopman sets for itself in the introduction. This is no small feat.

About Foucault's Philosophy of Art

The book also makes an important contribution to the literature on Foucault's relationship to critical theory, though with respect to this aspect of the project, I think there are some unanswered questions that I hope Koopman will take up in future work. London, Philosophy Compass. Michel Foucault.

Colin Koopman - Writings

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