Archive for September, 2016

J. Colin McQuillan “Beyond the Analytic of Finitude: Kant, Heidegger, Foucault”

September 29, 2016 Leave a comment

McQuillan, J. Colin 2016. Beyond the Analytic of Finitude: Kant, Heidegger, Foucault. Foucault Studies 21: 184-199.


Like Heidegger, Foucault tries to explain how the question concerning man “relates to” the questions “What can I know?”  “What  ought  I  to  do?”  and  “What  may  I  hope  for?” Unlike  Heidegger,  however,  Foucault argues that the answers  to these questions are  not founded upon,  or  reducible to,  the question  concerning  man.  They  relate  to  that  question  in  a  number  of  different  ways, corresponding to the different senses in which Kant understands man in the different parts of the critical philosophy. First, there is the conception of man as transcendental subject in the  Critique of Pure Reason, which relates to the question “what can I know?” There is also the conception of man as  “person”  in  Kant’s  moral  philosophy,  which  relates  to  the question  “what  ought  I  to  do?” Finally, there is the conception of man that relates to the philosophy of religion and the question “what  may  I  hope  for?”  According  to Heidegger,  the  conception  of man that  is to  be found  in Kant’s anthropology explains all of these different senses, because Kant (allegedly) says we could “reckon  all  of  this  as  anthropology,  because the  first  three  questions  relate  to  the  last  one.” Foucault  denies  this  claim,  insisting  that the  question  concerning  man  “has  no  independent content.” It merely repeats the divisions of the faculties and the different parts of Kant’s critical philosophy. (190)


The problem of finitude is a problem that arises because the  relationship  between  the anthropological  question  and the  other  three  questions  is not clearly defined. We understand that the answer to the question “What is man?” is related to the answer to the questions “What can I know?” “What ought I to do?” and “What may I hope for?”  but  we  do  not  know  exactly  how.  We  know  only  that  man  is  related  to  transcendental subjectivity, moral personhood, and the revolution in human nature that is the ultimate object of religion; yet he is reducible to none of them, because they all transcend him. Nor does man have any  content  or  meaning  of  his  own.  Understanding  the  limit  this  imposes  on  anthropological reflection  positively  and  empirically  is  the  task  of  the  analytic  of  finitude  that  emerges  from Kant’s anthropological-critical repetition. (191)


[…] critical philosophy distinguishes itself  from  the  philosophies  that  preceded  it—both  rationalist  and  empiricist—by  founding knowledge in a transcendental condition that precedes experience. This condition may be grasped in  transcendental  reflection—as  the  a  priori—but  only  to  the  extent  that  this  is  possible  for  a transcendental subject. (192)


Foucault describes how a similar approach emerges in empirical sciences, where labor, life, and language appear as “so many transcendentals” at the end of the eighteenth century. Labor, life,  and  language  function  as  transcendentals,  because  they  “make  possible  the  objective knowledge  of  living  beings,  the  laws  of  production,  and  the  forms  of  language,”  but remain “outside of knowledge.” They refer, instead, to the “force” of labor, the “energy” of life, and the “power”  of  speech,  none  of  which  can  be  observed  or  measured  in  themselves. Nevertheless, these “new empiricities” differ from transcendental philosophy in two crucial respects. First, the condition of empirical knowledge is located in an object and not in the transcendental subject. Second, they are concerned with the “positivity” of what appears, rather than the “negativity” of its conditions. This creates a conflict between transcendental philosophy and empirical science that  was,  according  to  Foucault,  constitutive  of  European  thought during  the  nineteenth century. (193)


The difference between the Kant that Foucault finds in his studies of “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” and the Kant  that  he  calls  “the  threshold  of  our modernity”  in  The  Order  of  Things  is  both  radical  and tremendously significant. The fact that Foucault finds in Kant’s enlightenment essay a different kind of critique, one that leads beyond the anthropologism of the analytic of finitude is evidence that Foucault was pushing beyond Heideggerean interpretation he adopted in the 1950s, toward a new  reading  of  Kant  that  would  help  him  overcome  the  conception  of  man  as  an  empiricaltranscendental double  that  had  come  to  dominate  the  human  sciences.  That  he  continues  to oppose  the  critical  attitude  that  he  finds  in  Kant’s  enlightenment  essay  to  the  “analysis  and reflection upon limits,” however, suggests that Heidegger’s reading of Kant remained an obstacle that he would have to overcome. (197)