Foucault's Absent Epistemology: Reassessing the Philosophical Implications of Foucault's Critical Histories
There is a claim in contemporary political and social theory, which holds that theorists ought to abandon the pursuit of context-transcendent, generally valid knowledge claims, and that they ought to refrain in particular from advancing normative judgments. This position is grounded in a particular account of the relationship between power and knowledge — an account that is typically attributed to Michel Foucault and frequently repudiated by Jürgen Habermas. This article resituates the Foucault/Habermas debate by arguing that Foucault did not subscribe to the epistemological position generally ascribed to him and that nothing Foucault wrote amounts to a defense of that epistemology. Foucault, however, did clearly and repeatedly endorse the claim that political and social theorists ought to refrain from advancing normative or prescriptive judgments. His endorsement of this claim, it is argued, is grounded in a misinterpretation of the epistemological implications of his own critical studies. The article concludes that Foucault's circumvention of normative philosophy ought not be read as a debunking of it, and that for those, like Habermas, who continue to engage normative questions, Foucault's work need not be read as anathema.
Keywords: Foucault, Habermas, power, knowledge, epistemology
Dr. Jason Neidleman
Associate Professor of Political Science, Department of History and Political Science, University of La Verne