Foucault: historian or philosopher?

Kevin Turner provides (in Foucault-l) a couple of links to a short debate between Gary Gutting and Beatrice Han on the question of whether Foucault was a historian or philosopher.

According to Gutting, Han sees Foucault as a philosopher with an inherent weakness; that he (Foucault) does not escape from the error of transcendentalism. In Han’s reply, she accuses Gutting of rejecting Foucault’s philosophical mission and being akin to Foucault’s critics who accuse him of dilettantism.

Turner feels that Foucault is both historian and philosopher and at the moment and on those grounds (one v. the other) the debate is not that illuminating. Recall Foucault on this matter:

I think I have in fact been situated in most of the squares on the political checkerboard, one after another and sometimes simultaneously: as an anarchist, leftist, ostentatious or disguised Marxist, nihilist, explicit or secret anti-Marxist, technocrat … and I must admit that I rather like what they mean (‘Polemics, Politics, and Problematizations.’ In Paul Rabinow (Ed.) Michel Foucault Ethics. New York: The New Press. 111–19.)

Part of the problem here, or rather part of the reason Foucault is so interesting, is that he was a new, trans-boundary kind of scholar, who if he was a historian was not a historian of ideas, and who if he was a philosopher was a philosopher of that banned topic: the subject.

One Response

  1. I’m quite suspicious of this “historian or philosopher” (semiotician or sociologist or political scientist or whatever) talk. Such talk seems to reify the disciplinary organization of knowledge – people engaged in this sort of talk seem to miss major points being raised by Foucault in his own work on the history of disciplines.

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