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Paul Veyne “The Final Foucault and His Ethics”

Veyne, Paul 1993. The Final Foucault and His Ethics. Critical Inquiry 20(1): 1–9.

Foucault’s books are, strictly speaking, the works of a historian, at least in the eyes of those who have acknowledged that all history is interpretative; but Foucault would not have written all the historians’ books. For the interpretation that is history has as its second agenda the project of being a complete inventory, whereas Foucault played the part of historian only with respect to points where the past masks the genealogy of our present. (3)

[…] in thinking they are seeking the truth of things, people succeed only in establishing the rules according to which they will be said to be speaking truly or falsely. In this sense, knowledge is not only linked to the powers that be, it is not only a weapon of power, it is not even power at the same time that it is knowledge; knowledge is only power, radically, for one can only speak truly by virtue of the force of the rules imposed at one time or another by a history whose individuals are at once, and mutually, actors and victims. Thus by truths we do not mean true propositions to be discovered or accepted but the set of rules that make it possible to utter and to recognize those propositions held as true. (3)

[…] the aim of Foucault the philosopher was not to claim that, for example, the modern state is characterized by a grand act of setting aside, of exclusion rather than of integration, which would obviously be  exciting to discuss; his aim was to show that every gesture, without exception, at the level of the state or not, always fails to fulfill the universalism of a reason and always leaves emptiness outside, even if the gesture is one of inclusion and integration. Similarly, when Kant spoke of the transcendental constitution of space and time, he was not inviting us to proceed with it: the difficult point would rather be that without knowing it we have not been proceeding with it. (5)

The other generous misunderstanding had to do with the famous void; people imagined that the finitude of every discursive practice was only empirical, to such an extent that the metaphorical void became, for some, a real space, inhabited by all the outcasts, rejects, and lepers and buzzing with all the forbidden or repressed words. The historical task was then to allow them to be heard: a rational account of the negativity of contradictories finally reestablished an encouraging philosophy that based our good feelings on reason. And yet, if there is one thing that distinguishes Foucault’s thought from that of some others, it is the firm resolve not to serve a dual function, not to reduplicate our illusions, no to establish as finally true what everyone would like to believe, not to prove that what is or ought to be has every reason to be. The rarest of phenomena, here is a philosophy without a happy end. Not that it end badly: nothing can “end,” since there is no end point any more than the is an origin. Foucault’s originality among the great thinkers of our century lay in his refusal to convert our finitude into the basis for new certainties. (5)

To be a philosopher is to make a diagnosis of present possibilities and to draw up a strategic map – with the secret hope of influencing the choice of combats. Enclosed in his own finitude, in his own time, man cannot think just anything at any time. (6)

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