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DISCOURSE, POWER, AND SUBJECTIVATION: THE FOUCAULT/HABERMAS DEBATE RECONSIDERED
The Foucault/Habermas debate was a nonevent. The reasons for this were both personal––Foucault’s untimely death––and philosophical––Foucault and Habermas’s apparent inability to agree on a topic for debate.1 Whatever the reason, no formal exchange of ideas between Foucault and Habermas ever occurred; instead, what is commonly known as the Foucault/Habermas debate is largely a product of the secondary literature on these two thinkers.2 Moreover, the way the debate has gone so far, Habermas and his defenders have seemed to have the upper hand, for two reasons.3 First, whereas Foucault only mentioned Habermas’s work in passing in a handful of interviews and essays, Habermas actually offered a sustained critical reading of Foucault’s work.4 Thus, to a great extent, Habermas has been
An earlier—and shorter—version of this paper was presented at the American Philosophical Association, Central Division, in 2005. Thanks to David S. Owen for his insightful comments on that occasion. Thanks also to Colin Koopman for his feedback on a more recent draft. 1 For Foucault’s version of the story, see Michel Foucault, “Critical Theory/Intellectual History,” Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate, ed. Michael Kelly (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) 124–25; for Habermas’s version, see Jürgen Habermas, “Taking Aim at the Heart of the Present,” Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate, ed. Michael Kelly (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) 150. 2 See, for example, Axel Honneth, The Critique of Power: Reﬂective Stages in a Critical Social Theory, trans. Kenneth Baynes (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991); David Hoy and Thomas McCarthy, Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994); Michael Kelly, ed., Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994); and David Owen and Samantha Ashenden, eds, Foucault contra Habermas: Recasting the Dialogue between Genealogy and Critical Theory (London: Sage, 1999). 3 On this point, see Owen and Ashenden (1999): 1–2. 4 For Habermas on Foucault, see Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick G. Lawrence (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987) lectures 9 and 10; and Habermas (1994). For Foucault on Habermas, see Foucault (1994); Michel Foucault, “The Art of Telling the Truth,” Critique and Power: Recasting the Foucault/Habermas Debate, ed. Michael Kelly (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994) 139–48; Michel Foucault, “The Ethics of Concern for the Self as a Practice of Freedom,” Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault,
able to set the terms of the debate, and many of the contributions to the debate from Foucault’s side have consisted of efforts to defend him against Habermas’s critique.5 The second and no doubt related reason is that both Habermas and the Habermasians have tended to be much more interested in engaging with Foucault’s work than the Foucaultians have been in engaging with Habermas’s.6 Ladelle McWhorter’s complaint that of all of the misguided criticisms of Foucault she has read, the “most boring, irritating, and seemingly irrelevant of all were Habermas’s tortured and contorted critiques [. . .], which became only marginally more intelligible when reiterated by his American followers,”7 though unfair, expresses an all-too-common if not often explicitly articulated sentiment among Foucaultians: namely, that Habermas’s work is so boring and irritating (so German?) that it is beneath discussion. These two factors have led the Foucault/Habermas debate to a peculiar impasse: The Habermasians seem to think they have won, while the Foucaultians act as if they were not even playing. It is a principal aim of this essay to reinvigorate this deadlocked debate. However, one might wonder why this is worth doing at all. After all, who cares about the outcome of this debate, other than a handful of partisan Foucaultians and Habermasians? Why bother rehashing yet again the minutiae of Habermas and Foucault’s respective philosophical positions? What, if anything, is at stake here that is of general philosophical interest? The answer to this last question is: a great deal. Habermas and Foucault can be understood as contemporary representatives of opposing traditions of thought in social and political philosophy.8 Habermas’s focus on the rationality inherent in our social practices and political institutions, a rationality that for him is rooted in their communicative structure, places him in the long and illustrious tradition of political thought stretching back through Kant to Plato. Foucault’s emphasis on power, by contrast, traces its lineage back
vol. 1, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: The New Press, 1997) 281–301; and Michel Foucault, “Space, Knowledge, Power,” Power: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault, vol. 3, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: The New Press, 2000) 349–64. Owen and Ashenden’s edited volume Foucault contra Habermas exempliﬁes this trend. As the editors note in their introduction, the purpose of the volume is to offer “a critical response to Habermas’s position from the perspective of Foucault’s practice” and thus “to reanimate the engagement by providing a Foucauldian rejoinder to the practitioners of [Habermasian] critique [. . .]” (Owen and Ashenden : 2). The Owen/Ashenden volume is a welcome exception to this general rule. Ladelle McWhorter, Bodies and Pleasures: Foucault and the Politics of Sexual Normalization (Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1999) xvi. See Bent Flyvbjerg, “Ideal Theory, Real Rationality: Habermas versus Foucault and Nietzsche.” Paper for the Political Studies Association Conference, The Challenge for Democracy in the 21st Century, London School of Economics, 2000. Available online at: http://ﬂyvbjerg.plan.aau.dk/ IdealTheory.pdf, accessed on July 24, 2006.
the existing literature on the Foucault/Habermas debate has not. I think. and Gender in Contemporary Social Theory (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P. ideals and reality. A much smaller portion addresses the task of developing a Foucaultian critique of Habermas. Thus. the Foucault/Habermas debate centers on a substantive tension that lies at the very heart of social and political theorizing. the majority of this literature either articulates the by now standard Habermasian criticisms of Foucault—charges of performative contradiction or normative confusion11—or offers defenses against these criticisms on Foucault’s behalf. wrongly. For a reappraisal of Habermas’s critique of Foucault in light of Foucault’s relationship to Kant.” or. the respective projects of Habermas and Foucault highlight an “essential tension” in thinking about politics and society: the tension between “consensus and conﬂict. but Fraser. and Allen. ed. brought out these core issues in a productive or fruitful way. that Habermas and Foucault are.”13 Contra Flyvbjerg. See Nancy Fraser. see Amy Allen. between Habermas and Foucault 9 10 11 12 13 One can also trace Foucault’s lineage through Kant. where the differences. Social and political theory cannot afford to give up entirely on the admittedly impossible ideal of a rational organization of social and political life. As I have already indicated. 2. and Gender in Contemporary Critical Theory (New York: Columbia UP. at least on certain issues.10 Flyvbjerg is right. are more metatheoretical rather than substantive. although Foucault’s reading of Kant is quite different from Habermas’s. POWER. I maintain that there is more basis for a middle ground. Exploring their shared Kantian background is a useful way of articulating a middle ground in their debate.9 Indeed.DISCOURSE. 3 . “To Think and Act Differently: Foucault’s Four Reciprocal Objections to Habermas’s Theory. but it is not one that I will pursue here. as Bent Flyvbjerg notes. “Foucault and Enlightenment: A Critical Reappraisal. Unruly Practices: Power.12 A still smaller portion takes on the much more difﬁcult but ultimately more productive task of integrating the respective insights of Habermas and Foucault. nor can it afford to turn a blind eye to the complex and insidious workings of power. to put it more broadly still.” Foucault contra Habermas: Recasting the Dialogue between Genealogy and Critical Theory. The ﬁrst to make the charge of normative confusion is actually not Habermas. 1999) 90–142. to call this tension an essential one. for the most part. as Flyvbjerg puts it. Flyvbjerg (2000): 1–2. Discourse. AND SUBJECTIVATION through Nietzsche and Machiavelli to Thrasymachus. By far. “so profoundly different that it would be futile to envision any sort of theoretical or metatheoretical perspective within which these differences could be integrated into a common framework. Unfortunately. The Politics of Our Selves: Power. between rationality and power. David Owen and Samantha Ashenden (London: Sage. Habermas takes up this criticism in Habermas (1987): lecture 10. though signiﬁcant.” Constellations 10: 2 (2003): 180–98. unlike the Rawls/Habermas debate. however. Autonomy. 1. often because commentators assume. Flyvbjerg (2000): 1. 1989) ch. 2008) ch. the best example of this approach to the debate is James Tully.
My aim is to lay the groundwork for an account of subjectivation that draws on the conceptual insights that are to be found on both sides of the Foucault/Habermas debate. This article consists of four parts. 1990) 99. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge: MIT Press. shifting the focus of discussion away from Foucault and Habermas’s respective views on normative justiﬁcation and toward their respective accounts of subjectivation makes it possible to move the Foucault/ Habermas debate to new and more productive terrain by developing an account of subjectivation that draws on the insights of each. After all. However. in order to demonstrate this. 4 . it reveals that Habermas’s defense of discourse ethics rests. such a task would most deﬁnitely be beyond the scope of a single essay.14 Taking up this vantage point on the Foucault/Habermas debate is productive for several reasons.” he makes it clear that he takes Foucault to be paradigmatic of the most extreme and consistent form of skepticism that he has been arguing against. I begin.AMY ALLEN than is commonly acknowledged. my focus in what follows will be on one strand––but it is arguably the central strand––of the Foucault/Habermas debate: their respective accounts of subjectivation. by considering brieﬂy whether or not Habermas is justiﬁed in associating Foucault with moral skepticism. once again allowing him to set the terms of the debate. perhaps in substantial ways. modifying and recasting their views as necessary. it will not sufﬁce simply to assert the complementarity of their philosophical positions. Habermas devotes very little space in his lengthy defense of discourse ethics to explicit discussion of Foucault. I shall argue that framing the issue in this way enables us to pose in the most forceful possible way the challenge that Foucault’s work presents to the Habermasian position. I begin with a fascinating yet mostly overlooked moment in the Foucault/Habermas debate: Habermas’s metaethical defense of discourse ethics against moral skepticism. at the end of the debate that he stages with the moral skeptic in his seminal essay “Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justiﬁcation. Even if this were possible. although one might object that framing the debate in terms of the opposition between discourse ethics and moral skepticism plays too much into Habermas’s hands. Thus. Second. “Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justiﬁcation. in section one. In order to accomplish this goal. First. This may seem like a strange place from which to begin a reconsideration of the Foucault/Habermas debate. on the plausibility of his intersubjective account of subjectivation. In section two.” Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. And yet. This is not to say that it is possible to bring together into one overarching framework all of the insights of these two proliﬁc and wide-ranging thinkers. Integrating the insights of these two thinkers will of necessity involve modifying or recasting their views. I reconstruct Habermas’s argument against moral skepticism 14 Jürgen Habermas. in the end. trans. Finally.
POWER. “Moral Skepticism and Justiﬁcation. 1985). Gary Gutting argues that Foucault is not a universal skeptic or relativist with respect to truth. I argue that acknowledging the role that power plays in socialization would make it difﬁcult for him to maintain a sharp distinction between power and validity claims.16 On the face of it.DISCOURSE. With respect to Habermas. 5 . I argue that. Michel Foucault: The Freedom of Philosophy (New York: Columbia UP. see John Rajchman. AND SUBJECTIVATION in the necessary detail. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. about morality or anything else. if so. see Gary Gutting. however. I argue that acknowledging the role that communicative rationality plays in the process of subjection would require him to expand his conception of the social. 1996) 6–8. In section three. Accepting this feature of socialization would thus require him to be much more self-critical about the status of his own normative idealizations and to recast his project in a more contextualist and pragmatic way. I turn to a discussion of that account and contrast it brieﬂy with Foucault’s alternative account of subjection. 15 16 For a characterization of Foucault as a skeptic. and Habermas never offers a precise deﬁnition of what he means by the term. what sort of skeptic he was. not just about moral norms but about knowledge claims more generally. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Mark Timmons (New York: Oxford UP. the success or failure of Habermas’s metaethical argument against moral skepticism depends upon his intersubjective account of subjectivation. delineates ﬁve distinct varieties of moral skepticism. in the sense that he views all norms as historically contingent constraints on human freedom. There are hints in Foucault’s late work that he was willing to move in this direction. In contrast to each of them. 1989) 273–85. but he seems to concede that Foucault is some sort of a normative skeptic. but they remain seriously underdeveloped. In the concluding section.” Moral Knowledge? New Readings in Moral Epistemology. FOUCAULT AND MORAL SKEPTICISM Habermas’s claim that Foucault is representative of the most consistent and extreme form of moral skepticism raises the complicated question of whether or not Foucault was a skeptic. and. By contrast. for example. I consider the implications of my comparative argument for both Foucault and Habermas’s broader philosophical projects. rational. See Walter Sinnott-Armstrong. I. ed. Habermas stresses its communicative. I argue that both Habermas and Foucault offer a one-sided analysis of subjectivation. With respect to Foucault. I argue that subjectivation necessarily entails both communicative rationality and power relationships.15 This question is made more complicated by the fact that there are many different varieties of moral skepticism. in the end. a distinction that he takes to be fundamental for his normative philosophical framework. intersubjective aspects and Foucault emphasizes its power-ladenness. Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Scientiﬁc Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge UP.
no matter whether they were theories or codes. trans.]. but that is not my concern here. His strategy is to claim that the norm of popular sovereignty can be shown to be grounded in “mechanisms of disciplinary coercion” that have been concealed by the system of right that seeks to justify this norm (and other related norms). Foucault’s putative attempt to hold both of these commitments is what leads to the charge of normative confusion. I want to highlight Foucault’s methodological move. universal norms. In other words.AMY ALLEN Habermas certainly seems safe in calling Foucault a moral skeptic. . This would suggest that Foucault believes that no universal moral norms are or can be justiﬁed. provisional. “Society Must Be Defended”: Lectures at the Collège de France. For instance. Extreme moral skepticism would thus seem to be incompatible with a normative critique of power relations. much more would have to be said here about how Foucault backs up this claim in order to determine its plausibility. thus.17 Obviously. at the very same time when. it does not appeal to any universal moral norms. After all. Moreover. 2003) 37. in the following passage. 1975–76. even if Foucault never makes the blanket claim that there can be no non-contingent. calling into question or problematizing the presumed validity of those norms. and because the democratization of sovereignty was heavily ballasted by the mechanisms of disciplinary coercion. I consider this strategy below. one certainly get the distinct impression in reading through Foucault’s work as a whole that he believes that all of our most deeply cherished moral and political norms can be subjected to the genealogist’s withering gaze and thus can be seen to be rooted in contingent power/knowledge relations. If one were so inclined.18 However. Foucault could potentially overcome this objection by claiming that although his critique of power relations is indeed a normative one. to the extent that. inasmuch as all such norms can be shown via genealogical analysis to be bound up with contingent power/knowledge relations that problematize their claim to universal validity. 6 . juridical systems. Foucault’s genealogical method often involves analyzing the ways in which moral norms are rooted in and bound up with contingent and historically speciﬁc power/ knowledge relations. and contextual rather than 17 18 Michel Foucault. and the establishment of a public right articulated with collective sovereignty. the situation is a bit more complicated than it appears at ﬁrst glance. Foucault employs this strategy with respect to the norm of popular sovereignty: [The theory of sovereignty] made it possible to superimpose on the mechanism of discipline a system of right that concealed its mechanisms and erased the element of domination and the techniques of domination involved in discipline [. one might defend Foucault against the charge of moral skepticism by arguing that he does believe that some norms can be justiﬁed. so long as those are understood to be local. allowed the democratization of sovereignty. Instead. . David Macey (New York: Picador.
Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage. The intellectual is not (and cannot be) the bearer or prophet of universal norms or moral “truths.23 There is no doubt some sense in which Foucault 19 20 21 22 23 James Tully seems to have something like this view in mind when he writes: “Foucault’s enlightenment attitude is a ‘speciﬁc’ scepticism (against the claims of a speciﬁc limit).”20 Intellectuals should be thought of as “speciﬁc” rather than “universal”. rather than attempting to construct universal theoretical frameworks or utopian ideals. “[t]ruth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. CA: Semiotext(e). not the universal scepticism Habermas argues against in his mock dialogues” (Tully : 120). indeed. Michel Foucault. power. On this line of interpretation. vol. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon. echoing Nietzsche. Foucault suggests that the status of the universal intellectual was always illusory because the truths and normative judgments that such intellectuals offered were not. as he famously puts it. At the very least. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage. instead.19 Evidence for this reading can be found in some of Foucault’s comments on the role of intellectuals in public political culture. see Michel Foucault. mutatis mutandis. vol. for example. trans. trans. including care of the self. ed. “Truth and Power. 2. 3. Michel Foucault. ed. 7 .” for given the unavoidable rootedness of norms and truths in contingent social practices and power/knowledge relations. to moral judgments as well. Paul Rabinow. On this interpretation. Fearless Speech. one might argue that Foucault’s point here shifts the burden of proof back to Habermas. Foucault’s reason for this claim is that he regards truth as inseparable from. 2001). “What Is Called Punishing?” Power: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault. 1985). they should conﬁne their work to pointing out the contingency of historical formations and the speciﬁc problems that are endemic to them. On this point.21 Here. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault. The Use of Pleasure: The History of Sexuality. ed. Foucault’s own ethical works would be seen as his attempt to spell out a more local and provisional set of norms.”22 I assume that what Foucault says here about truth would apply. POWER. could not be held true or valid universally. though not reducible to. vol. 1997). 1986). AND SUBJECTIVATION universal.DISCOURSE. in all places. 1 (New York: The New Press. he does not hold the radical skeptical view that no moral norms are or can be justiﬁed. for all persons. and parrhesia. Foucault argues that the intellectual should no longer be thought of as the “master of truth and justice” or as “the spokesman of the universal. any claim to the universality of moral norms is open to question.. The Care of the Self: The History of Sexuality. 2000) 384. Joseph Pearson (Los Angeles. ed. who is charged with demonstrating that his proposed norms are indeed universally valid despite the historical contingencies in which they are rooted. and Michel Foucault. Paul Rabinow (New York: The New Press.” Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings. vol. See. 1980) 126. 3. aesthetics of existence. which he groups around a variety of concepts in his late work. Foucault (1980): 131. his skeptical critique is aimed only at attempts to claim that any norm can be valid at all times. 1972–1977.
I have condensed Habermas’s fourth and ﬁfth stages into a single step. once we take up a ﬁrst-person participant’s perspective. however. though perhaps a more limited form. 1988) 254. Although 24 25 26 Habermas (1990): 111. would remain a moral skeptic for the purposes of Habermas’s argument. Philosophy. Habermas suggests that the realm of moral phenomena can only be denied when we take up a third-person observer’s perspective on everyday life and interactions. 8 . he responded: “Absolutely. Culture. in Habermas’s text. In response. since Habermas speciﬁcally links the justiﬁcation of moral norms with their universalizability. i. which Habermas claims remains stubbornly attached to the observer’s perspective and denies the usefulness of more hermeneutic.” Michel Foucault: Politics. this stance is enough to call Foucault a moral skeptic. when Foucault was asked in a 1984 interview if he is a skeptical thinker. This stage of the argument is relevant for the Foucault/Habermas debate quite generally. However. For our purposes. I think. MORAL SKEPTICISM I will present Habermas’s defense of discourse ethics against the moral skeptic’s attack in ﬁve stages.25 II. this position nonetheless leaves him endorsing what Habermas would legitimately see as a form. but these norms have value for us only given our contingent historical situation and the particular sorts of power/knowledge relations against which we are struggling.26 The skeptic’s opening move is to attack moral cognitivism. It is an open question. so I shall leave further discussion of it aside. Foucault never claims universal validity for such norms. For the sake of space.” See Michel Foucault. Indeed. pointing to the repeated failure of cognitivists to explain satisfactorily what it might mean for moral beliefs or judgments to be candidates for truth. 41. n. it is less relevant for the major issues under consideration here.AMY ALLEN thinks that we should engage in practices of self-fashioning or fearless speech. which concerns the skeptic’s denial of the phenomenology of moral experience. ed.”24 Thus. those that are invariable over historical time and across social groups. of moral skepticism. Habermas maintains that we might “call moral only those norms that are strictly universalizable. all things considered. a rather mild form of skepticism. inasmuch as it links up with Habermas’s criticisms of Foucault’s methodology. Actually. for even granting Foucault the ability to justify provisional and local norms. Lawrence Kritzman (New York: Routledge. I skip over the ﬁrst stage. Although it may well be true that Foucault thinks that local norms are the best we can hope for and maybe also all that we need. participantcentered approaches. there are seven stages to the debate. DISCOURSE ETHICS VS. “The Return of Morality. this can remain an open question.. even if this seems. Indeed. someone who is skeptical of the possibility of the universal validity of moral norms. it is impossible to deny the existence and relevance of these phenomena.e. as Foucault is. how well Foucault’s ethical works defend even the local and provisional value of living one’s life as work of art. from Habermas’s perspective.
the skeptic appeals to what Habermas calls the “pluralism of ultimate value orientations” as evidence that even Habermas’s relatively weak version of cognitivism is ﬂawed. AND SUBJECTIVATION Habermas does not deny the ﬂaws in earlier attempts to defend cognitivism.29 Thus. but not his account of moral rightness. Habermas offers a theory of moral argumentation that explains how normative rightness claims can be redeemed in practical discourse and thus how a reasoned agreement on normative questions can be achieved. Habermas (1990): 76. In other words. however. Truth and Justiﬁcation. which Habermas states as follows: 27 28 29 30 31 Habermas (1990): 55. Ibid: 56.31 In response to this second stage of skeptical argument. See Jürgen Habermas. The disanalogies are not as important for our purposes as is the analogy. 9 . then wouldn’t we expect reasonable people to reach agreement on moral issues? The overwhelming evidence to the contrary thus emboldens the skeptic to ask whether normative claims are based on reasons after all. on his view. Recently. If this were true. responds by questioning Habermas’s assumption that normative claims are based on reasons.”27 Moreover. POWER. Habermas suggests that this strategy of thinking of normative claims as analogous to though not types of truth claims offers the best way of salvaging discourse ethics’ commitment to moral cognitivism from the skeptic’s opening challenge. these he discusses in Habermas (1990): 60–61. trans. In order to be valid. Habermas has modiﬁed his conception of truth. The key component of this theory is the principle of universalization (U). He also acknowledges that there are certain disanalogies between truth and rightness claims. Barbara Fultner (Cambridge: MIT Press. a norm must fulﬁll (U).28 Habermas notes a prima facie analogy between truth claims––claims about what the objective world is like––and normative rightness claims––claims about how the intersubjective world should be ordered: Truth claims are to facts as normative claims are to legitimately ordered interpersonal relations.30 The skeptic. he maintains that the alternative—an embrace of ethical subjectivism which necessarily. just as we appeal to facts as reasons for asserting truth claims.DISCOURSE. collapses into skepticism—“deprive[s] the sphere of everyday moral intuitions of its signiﬁcance. he argues that cognitivism can be successfully defended if we give up the strong claim that normative claims are truth candidates and instead adopt the weaker position that normative claims are analogous to truth claims. we appeal to legitimately ordered interpersonal relations as reasons for our normative judgments. nor his contention that there is an analogy between the two. 2003).
from the discourse principle (D): “Only those norms can claim to be valid that meet (or could meet) with the approval of all affected in their capacity as participants in a practical discourse” (Habermas : 66). Habermas (1990): 76. The Linguistic Turn in Hermeneutic Philosophy. then to make the transition to discourse ethics properly. “Democracy and the Rechtstaat: Habermas’s Faktizität und Geltung. In this way. Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. it plays a role in practical discourse similar to that played by the principle of induction in theoretical discourse. he now argues that (U) is derived from (D). Habermas’s strategy is ﬁrst to defend (U). Habermas claims that (D) presupposes (U). however. on the other. She replies that (U) seems to be nothing more than “a hasty generalization of moral intuitions peculiar to our own Western culture. In any case. including the skeptic’s own argument against the cognitivist. Ciaran Cronin and Pablo de Greiff [Cambridge: MIT Press. and commitments. Habermas distinguishes (U). (U) is merely contingent. The aim of this argument is to establish that (U) is. Stephen K. trans. The Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory. (U) seems to be a substantive normative principle requiring independent justiﬁcation. In his original account of the relationship between these two principles. on the one hand. See Jürgen Habermas. is unimpressed by the appeal to (U). an “inescapable presupposition of [an] irreplaceable discourse and in that sense universal. 1996) 109.33 The skeptic. interests. 1995) 201–32. emphasis mine. the general principle of moral argumentation. and Cristina Lafont. that is. Habermas’s more recent formulation of (U) is this: “A norm is valid when the foreseeable consequences and side effects of its general observance for the interests and value-orientations of each individual could be jointly accepted by all concerned without coercion” (Jürgen Habermas. trans. Ibid: 84.”34 As a result. in particular against the skeptical charge that (U) is ethnocentric. White (Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ed.AMY ALLEN (U) All affected can accept the consequences and the side effects its general observance can be anticipated to have for the satisfaction of everyone’s interests (and these consequences are preferred to those of known alternative possibilities for regulation). see Kenneth Baynes. As I am more interested in his defense of (U). rather than vice versa. ch.”35 32 33 34 35 Ibid: 65. trans.32 (U) serves as a bridging principle between particular values. rather than being a universal principle rooted in the structure of moral argumentation. Habermas responds to this third stage of skeptical attack with his well-known transcendental-pragmatic argument. as Habermas puts it.” The Cambridge Companion to Habermas. 10 . José Medina (Cambridge: MIT Press. William Rehg (Cambridge: MIT Press. and generalizable norms. it presupposes that norms can be justiﬁed. and Habermas (1998): 41–43. 1999). at worst. it is ethnocentric. Habermas still maintains that (U) is the principle that governs moral discourses. 7. I shall leave aside further discussion of (D) and of the complicated relationship between the two principles. designed to show that (U) is a necessary and unavoidable presupposition of any moral argument. 1998] 42). Habermas has revised his account of the relationship between (U) and (D). For helpful discussion of the relationship between (U) and (D). More recently. At best.
see William Rehg.” Justiﬁcation and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics. the 36 37 38 39 40 41 See ibid: 88–89. 1994) ch. we will always have to settle for approximations. then the skeptic himself. Insight and Solidarity: The Discourse Ethics of Jürgen Habermas (Berkeley: U of California P. simply by engaging in an argument with the cognitivist in which he attempts to deny (U). 1994] 50). trans. POWER. these are “idealizing assumptions that everyone who seriously engages in argumentation must make as a matter of fact” ( Jürgen Habermas. the conversation in question must actually conform completely to these rules. For a slightly expanded list of argumentative presuppositions. 3.DISCOURSE. For a clear and concise attempt to derive (U). if we grant that these presuppositions are necessary and universal. speakers must presuppose that all participants understand the argument to be a cooperative search for the truth and are motivated to agree or disagree solely on the basis of the unforced force of the better argument. 11 .” however. Habermas next claims that (U) can be derived from them.40 If this is the case. involves demonstrating that any violation of one of these rules leads the speaker into a performative contradiction. Both the defense of Habermas’s claim that the violation of any of the rules of argument leads to a performative contradiction and the derivation of (U) from those rules are complex tasks. However. “Remarks on Discourse Ethics. see Habermas (1998): 44. I shall not pursue either. “must inevitably subscribe to certain tacit presuppositions of argumentation that are incompatible with the propositional content of his objection. and that all participants are free of internal and external coercion in the evaluation of such validity claims. Habermas does not actually carry out the derivation of (U) from the rules of argumentation. however.”41 The skeptic thus falls into a performative contradiction and defeats himself. then (U) must be necessary and universal as well.39 Having established that these rules are unavoidable presuppositions of argumentation. because even if we grant that Habermas’s transcendental-pragmatic argument goes through. Habermas does not mean to imply that in order to count as a discourse. Habermas (1990): 82. in such actual discourses. he only indicates that he thinks such a derivation is possible and suggests the direction the argument might take. rather than merely contingent conventions of Western forms of reasoning.37 Establishing these rules38 as unavoidable presuppositions of any argument whatsoever. Habermas acknowledges that they have to be counterfactually imputed as governing in actual discourses. The presuppositions of argument are idealizing assumptions that are implicitly adopted and intuitively known and that must be assumed to be approximated in order for us to enter into argumentation at all. even though. Thus. Ibid: 89. See ibid: 92–93. By calling these presuppositions “rules. See Habermas (1990): 90–91. In other words. Ciaran Cronin [Cambridge: MIT Press.36 The presuppositions themselves stipulate that everyone who stands to make a relevant contribution is included in the discourse. AND SUBJECTIVATION Habermas argues that in order to engage in argumentation at all. that everyone is able to participate equally in the raising and questioning of validity claims. given their status as idealizations.
“the radical skeptic’s refusal to argue is an empty gesture.”44 But there is something a bit too quick about the move that Habermas makes here.” Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. This means that although it is indeed the case that by rejecting communicative action. 1990) 130. a privileged derivative––of action oriented toward reaching understanding. Ibid: 100–01. elsewhere Habermas makes it clear that he views “argumentative speech as a special case––in fact. of communicative action in general. and that he reproduces his life in that web. For instance. Jürgen Habermas. it is not the case that 42 43 44 45 Ibid: 99. and not even a coherent one at that. 12 . even indirectly. shaking his head over philosophical argumentation as though he were witnessing the unintelligible rites of a strange tribe. The skeptic can avoid performative contradiction and thus potentially defeat the transcendental-pragmatic argument simply by refusing to engage in discourse. but the qualiﬁcation is signiﬁcant. deny that he moves in a shared sociocultural form of life. the skeptic also necessarily rejects argumentation.” that is.42 Habermas’s initial response to the consistent skeptic is to insist that argumentation is an integral part of our shared form of sociocultural life. Nietzsche perfected this way of looking at philosophical matters.AMY ALLEN skeptic has a fourth line of attack. “Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action.45 Argumentation is a reﬂective and more highly evolved form of communicative action. and Foucault has now rehabilitated it. the former is a particular (though in Habermas’s view. a form that emerges phylogenetically with the modern age and ontogenetically with the attainment of a post-conventional ego identity. trans. argumentation and communicative action are not coextensive. Thus. too. The skeptic “cannot. It is true that the presuppositions of the communicative practice of everyday life are partly identical with the presuppositions of argumentation.”43 Thus. truly consistent skepticism demands the nearly impossible task of cutting oneself off completely from the community of beings who argue. it is at best an abstract possibility. As Habermas puts it. truly consistent skepticism is inconceivable. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge: MIT Press. And these in turn are at least partly identical with the presuppositions of argumentation as such. to the presuppositions of which he remains bound. He may. take the attitude of an ethnologist vis-à-vis his own culture. Habermas describes such a skeptic as follows: The consistent skeptic will deprive the transcendental pragmatist of a basis for his argument. a privileged) form of the latter. he cannot drop out of the communicative practice of everyday life. as a result. Ibid: 100. for example. No matter how consistent a dropout he may be. that he grew up in a web of communicative action.
That is why they. claims about historical progress––that a Foucaultian skeptic would no doubt want to question.”48 In reality. As I have shown elsewhere. have a choice between communicative and strategic action only in an abstract sense. Habermas’s response to this ﬁnal skeptical move is to insist that “the contexts of communicative action represent an order for which there is no substitute. emphasis added. AND SUBJECTIVATION by rejecting argumentation. That would mean regressing to the monadic isolation of strategic action. the claim that argumentation is a key feature of modern societies. i. the very idea that one can choose between acting communicatively and acting strategically exists. Ibid. POWER. Ibid: 102. he also necessarily rejects communicative action. Habermas claims. The plausibility of Habermas’s argument here relies heavily on his theory of modernity. according to Habermas. or schizophrenia and suicide. There is no other. however. only in the abstract. social integration. there is not sufﬁcient space to delve into Habermas’s complex and wide-ranging theory of modernity here. the only possible mode of interaction that would be left open to the skeptic would be strategic. Individuals acquire and sustain their identities by appropriating traditions.. that the Foucaultian skeptic does not take up this line of criticism. if (U) is to be rendered plausible” (Habermas : 45). Habermas (1990): 101–02. equivalent medium in which these functions can be fulﬁlled. grants Habermas for the sake of the argument on Habermas’s theory of modernity. sufﬁce it to say that it involves certain claims about social evolution and cultural learning processes––in short. such that the skeptic who is situated in such a society does not have the option of rejecting it while still embracing some other form of communicative interaction. these processes operate only in the medium of action oriented toward reaching understanding.DISCOURSE. as he puts it. “it exists only for someone who takes the contingent perspective of an individual actor. in individual cases. Suppose instead that she just bites the bullet. In Habermas’s terminology. as individuals.e. belonging to social groups.”47 In point of fact. and taking part in socializing interactions. and socialization. The symbolic structures of every lifeworld are reproduced through three processes: cultural tradition. it is not obvious that the skeptic could not opt out of argumentation without opting out of communicative action in general. Suppose. They do not have the option of a long-term absence from contexts of action oriented toward reaching an understanding.46 Obviously. In the long run such absence is self-destructive.49 46 47 48 49 Habermas seems to acknowledge this point when he claims that his “justiﬁcation strategy” for (U) “must be supplemented with genealogical arguments drawing on premises of modernization theory. 13 . speciﬁcally. and announces that she is nonetheless happy to opt out of both argumentation in particular and communicative interaction in general. Thus.
rationally) structured lifeworld. even though developing such an integrated perspective will necessitate modifying or recasting certain aspects of their views. individuals become subjects by being subjected to the forces of disciplinary power and normalization. these accounts also have more in common than has been previously recognized. TWO RIVAL VERSIONS OF SUBJECTIVATION: INDIVIDUATION THROUGH SOCIALIZATION VS.AMY ALLEN In short. deliberate. As Foucault sees it. but because it seems to me that following Habermas’s debate with the moral skeptic to its conclusion leads us to a very interesting point: namely. By contrast. However. Habermas’s term “individuation through socialization” suggests a more benign process whereby autonomous individuals are socialized into a communicatively (thus. their differences notwithstanding. 50 Ibid. we could have questioned Habermas’s claim that the consistent skeptic must opt out of discourse and communicative action altogether by challenging. For instance. Habermas’s characterization of argumentative discourse. SUBJECTION As I will use it here. the point at which it becomes clear that what is ultimately at stake in the debate between the Habermasian discourse ethicist and the Foucaultian moral skeptic is the coherence of the self. I have refrained from raising these sorts of challenges not because I want to allow Habermas once again to set the terms of the debate. In this way. Habermas’s response to this line of argument is that it puts the skeptic into a hopeless position. and act. a fruitful integration of the insights of these two accounts is possible. 14 . Foucault’s use of the term “subjection” underscores what he takes to be the ambivalent nature of subjectivation. this corner could have been avoided if we had challenged certain of Habermas’s argumentative moves along the way. their accounts of this process are arguably crucial to their respective philosophical projects––but they understand it differently. To be sure. The question now becomes whether Habermas is correct in maintaining that the coherence of the self is secured “only in the medium of action oriented toward reaching understanding. on Foucault’s behalf.” In order to address this question. but only a part. leads her to “an existential dead end. as a result. we will have to take a closer look at Habermas and Foucault’s accounts of the self. the term “subjectivation” refers to the process by which neonates are transformed into competent subjects who have the capacity to think. III. Both Foucault and Habermas are interested in this process–– indeed. each is too one-sided to tell the full story.”50 Foucault seems to have been painted into an unpleasant corner here. each of these accounts captures an important part of the truth about subjectivation. in the modern era.
abstraction. ed. MA: Beacon Press. the self has an intersubjective core because it is generated communicatively. Mead and Lacan. Thomas McCarthy (Boston.53 Thus. 1992) 177. Mead. this ego always retains an intersubjective core because the process of individuation from which it emerges runs through the network of linguistically mediated interactions.” ﬁrst emerges in interactions with an other for whom she is a “me. conventional. self-consciousness is dependent upon the recognition of others. cannot be maintained by me solely through my own power.] is dependent upon recognition by addressees because it generates itself as a response to the demands of an other in the ﬁrst place [. William Mark Hohengarten (Cambridge: MIT Press. developmental. and post-conventional stages. “on the path from without to within. Following Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg. and the reﬂexive behavioral expectation of the second level again becomes reﬂexive at the third level––norms can be normed. “Individuation through Socialization: On George Herbert Mead’s Theory of Subjectivity. AND SUBJECTIVATION Drawing on work in cognitive. It is because others attribute ethical accountability to me that I gradually transform myself into an accountable moral agent. 15 . Habermas offers a thoroughly intersubjective account of the self which traces the formation of the self through processes of socialization that are rooted in the lifeworld. According to Habermas. which seems to me to be given in my self-consciousness as what is purely my own.”52 This is the general picture that Habermas has in mind when he says that: The self [. “Communicative Paradigms and the Question of Subjectivity: Habermas. with particular emphasis placed by Habermas on reﬂexivity: “[T]he simple behavioral expectation of the ﬁrst level becomes reﬂexive at the next level––expectations can be reciprocally expected. For an insightful critique of Habermas’s reading of Mead.DISCOURSE. H. Habermas breaks down the development of moral agency into pre-conventional. . 1979) 86. Ibid: 186. an “I. according to whom an individual’s sense of herself as a subject. of moral development. . 1999) 87–117.”51 Habermas’s account of cognitive and linguistic development draws heavily on the work of G. “Moral Development and Ego Identity. a self-conscious being. and generalization. Habermas (1992): 169–70. mutatis mutandis. POWER. their “recognition of my claim to uniqueness and irreplaceability. Rather.” Habermas: A Critical Reader.” Communication and the Evolution of Society. . . trans.”55 It is this greater degree of reﬂexivity that explains how Habermas can view individuals as 51 52 53 54 55 Jürgen Habermas.” Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays. These stages are distinguished by greater and greater degrees of reﬂexivity. see Peter Dews. as it were for me alone––it does not “belong” to me. speciﬁcally. Jürgen Habermas. The ego.”54 The same is true. Dews (Oxford: Blackwell.]. trans. and social psychology.
is structured by relations of power.59 Foucault. where power is understood in basically strategic. 16 . Relations of power seem to play no role whatsoever in Habermas’s account.” Philosophy and Social Criticism 22 (1996): 13–44. that is. would agree. 1983) 208–26. “identity is produced through socialization. strategic power relations. and Michel Foucault. Foucault. ed.58 Foucault’s genealogical works of the 1970s aim to show that disciplinary. rather than communicative. that the individual is formed “on the path from without to within”. one of the ﬁrst effects of power that it allows bodies. For the characterization of power as strategic. The individual is not. Moreover. grounded in reciprocal relations of mutual recognition. .” the social relations within which and by which subjects are constituted. for his part. disciplinary (strategic) power. 2nd ed. by contrast. power’s opposite number. I think. the resulting “within”). through the fact that the growing child ﬁrst of all integrates into a speciﬁc social system by appropriating symbolic generalities. gestures. it looks as if Habermas and Foucault offer diametrically opposed accounts of subjectivation. For Foucault.” Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. for us. or which is struck by a power that subordinates or destroys individuals. As he put it. see Foucault (1997).57 Foucault quite infamously suggested that the individual subject is an effect of these omnipresent. [I]t is [. For a critique of Habermas along these lines. In actual fact.”56 For Habermas. it is later secured and developed through individuation. that is. see Hans-Herbert Kögler. precisely through a growing independence in relation to social systems. . and such processes take place in the medium of communicative action. Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow (Chicago: U of Chicago P. At ﬁrst glance. his claim that 56 57 58 59 Ibid: 74. “The Self-Empowered Subject: Habermas. discourses.] a mistake to think of the individual as a sort of elementary nucleus. in other words. then. the subject is produced through but not determined by socialization processes. terms. then. Although both of them understand subjectivation as a social process. inert matter to which power is applied. and Hermeneutic Reﬂexivity. the “without” from which the “within” of the modern subject is constituted.AMY ALLEN produced through but not determined by socialization. and desires to be identiﬁed and constituted as something individual. “Afterword: The Subject and Power. Foucault. As he puts it. thus.. normalizing relations of power form. his disagreement with Habermas would be over how to characterize the “without” (and. the individual is one of power’s ﬁrst effects. a primitive atom or some multiple. Habermas views it as a rationally and communicatively mediated process of socialization. the “without. understands subjectivation as a process of subjection to normalizing. Foucault (2003): 29–30.
60 61 62 For the claim that power is omnipresent. the crucial link between Habermas’s discourse ethics and his account of subjectivation. that is. necessary––role that power plays in this process in the form of asymmetrical power relations between parents (and other authority ﬁgures) and children. however. discourse ethics is “dependent on a form of life that meets it halfway.]. This point reveals once again. For one thing. see Michel Foucault. . Volume 1: An Introduction. For us. 17 .DISCOURSE. For an insightful discussion of this claim. Following Freud and Mead. things are not quite so simple as all that. “this void is [. Habermas (1992): 179.61 The growing child undergoes a transformation from a dependence on a wholly external authority (usually a parent) through an internalization of that authority relation to an ability to reﬂect internally on social norms. “Is Power All There Is? Michel Foucault and the ‘Omnipresence’ of Power Relations. to the extent that they are assimilated into the personality of the growing child and thus made independent of the sanctioning power of concrete reference persons. and expectations.] ﬁlled by normatively generalized behavioral expectations. which take the place of instinctual regulation.”62 The internalization of social controls is thus a necessary––though not a sufﬁcient––condition for both adherence to and reﬂection upon moral norms. . Habermas also acknowledges the important––indeed.e. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage.” Philosophy Today 42 (1998): 65–70. As Habermas puts it: [T]he task of passing to the conventional stage of interaction consists in reworking the imperative arbitrary will of a dominant ﬁgure of this kind [i. it is a necessary condition for the achievement of individual autonomy. 1978) 93. . though in a different way. . . relationships. communicative relations in this process. a parent] into the authority of a suprapersonal will detached from this speciﬁc person [. although he emphasizes the role that communicative action plays in socialization processes. trans. . The History of Sexuality. Habermas suggests that this internalization of authority is necessitated by the lack of a common instinctual repertoire that might perform a similar action-coordinating function for non-linguistic beings. [P]articular behavior patterns become detached from the context-bound intentions and speech acts of speciﬁc individuals and take on the external form of social norms to the extent that the sanctions associated with them are internalized [. There has to be a modicum of congruence between morality and the practices of socialization and education. POWER.. in some of his early writings.60 However. see Richard Lynch. and assess their validity. these norms need to be anchored within the acting subject through more or less internalized social controls. Habermas (1990): 153–54.]. Habermas regards the internalization of structures of authority as a necessary feature of the process of subjectivation and the development of moral autonomy. thus. AND SUBJECTIVATION power is omnipresent seems to rule out in advance any possible role for nonstrategic.
purpose-directed. as Habermas puts it. Try as one may to reason with her about why she should eat her peas or go to bed or brush her teeth or even hold your hand in a parking lot. For now. Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. not just the unforced force of rational insight or the better argument. given certain facts about the human condition.AMY ALLEN The latter must promote the requisite internalization of superego controls and the abstractness of ego identities.”64 63 64 Jürgen Habermas. he assumes that the social controls that have to be internalized are rational and the authority of the parents who enforce them is legitimate. So it is not that Habermas denies that power plays a role in subjectivation. but this does not mean that they operate in a medium structured by communicative action alone. As any parent knows. thus. The Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments. the internalization of power relations and social controls also plays an important. masculine character of human beings––was created. Socialization requires exercises of power that are non-reciprocal. Second. and something of this process is repeated in every childhood. First. It may be true. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford. 2002) 26. it is just that he is completely sanguine about that role. and that rest on actual (though not necessarily physical) force. “Morality and Ethical Life: Does Hegel’s Critique of Kant Apply to Discourse Ethics?” Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action. anthropologically unavoidable. 18 . into and through which the individual has been socialized. I will return to these two points momentarily. relationships. for at least two reasons. although communicative action plays a crucial role in subjectivation for Habermas. institutions. that socialization processes “operate only in the medium of action oriented toward reaching understanding” (my emphasis). As Horkheimer and Adorno put it in a famous passage from The Dialectic of Enlightenment: “Humanity had to inﬂict terrible injuries on itself before the self––the identical. CA: Stanford UP.”63 All of which suggests that. indeed. a capacity that allows the individual subject to reﬂect critically on and assess the validity of the norms. they are unobjectionable from a normative point of view. often it is necessary to resort to strategic interaction (whether that takes the form of threatening negative sanctions or offering positive inducements) in order to get her to comply. role as well. trans. trans. I would simply like to note that although Habermas emphasizes the role that communicative action plays in socialization processes. and so forth. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge: MIT Press. practices. he is nevertheless committed to the belief that communicative action is necessary but not sufﬁcient for socialization. the force of rational insight is powerless in the face of an intransigent and willful toddler. 1990) 207. he assumes that the outcome of this process is the capacity for autonomy.
the child is incapable of seeing it as rational and legitimate until it has taken up the moral point of view. However. MA: Beacon Press. see Judith Butler. given that he or she ﬁrst has to internalize them in order to be capable of assessing their legitimacy?68 Habermas might respond here by appealing to the distinction between the internal motivating force of reasons and the force of external sanctions. The key point is that such internalization and the autonomy to which it gives rise is not based solely in repression. as Habermas himself has acknowledged. For an insightful discussion of this point. how is the child ever to be in a position to assess the legitimacy of these structures of power/authority. Thomas McCarthy (Boston. a result that is accomplished primarily through the mechanisms of parental discipline and the educational 65 66 67 68 69 70 Jürgen Habermas. Habermas (1994): 42. CA: Stanford UP. who had a somewhat darker view of the implications of this internalization process. 1987) 39. 1997). 19 . Indeed. even if we grant Habermas this point. This is what ultimately distinguishes Habermas’s view from Mead’s. For an interesting critical comparison of Habermas and Mead on this point.”65 The crucial point for Habermas is that “the social control exercised via norms that are valid for speciﬁc groups is not based on repression alone.69 As he puts it: “We do not adhere to recognized norms from a sense of duty because they are imposed upon us by the threat of sanctions but because we give them to ourselves. POWER.”70 However. Ibid: 45. this way of putting it overlooks the fact that.”66 This way of putting it suggests that Habermas is willing to admit that the social control that is made possible by the internalization of structures of authority is at least partly based in repression.DISCOURSE. the developmental achievement of the autonomous. see Dews (1999). the question remains. else it “could not obligate the actors to obey but only force them into submissiveness. Volume 2: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason. see Rehg (1994): 23–24. trans. we are only able to become the sort of beings who are capable of feeling obligated or motivated by reasons in the ﬁrst place because of the internalization of structures of authority. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford. AND SUBJECTIVATION It is here that Habermas’s use of the term “authority” is crucial because it implies that the power relation that the growing child must internalize in order to become autonomous is both rational and legitimate. Ibid. For helpful discussion of this point. Habermas has acknowledged this: “[F]or the growing child this question [of whether a norm is valid] has already been given an afﬁrmative answer before it can pose itself to him as a question. post-conventional self yields precisely the capacity to be motivated by the former rather than merely by the latter. The Theory of Communicative Action. which it can only do by internalizing the power relation.”67 However.
one might be tempted to object that this critique of Habermas is guilty of committing the genetic fallacy. forthcoming). Against this assumption.71 Given that this is the case. James Strachey [New York: W.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 37 (2004): 863–82. vol. Ibid. trans. 2000) 358. This objection is often a conversation stopper. see James Wong. what is primitive is so commonly preserved alongside of the transformed version which has arisen from it that it is unnecessary to give instances as evidence” (Sigmund Freud. indeed “indispensability” of such forms of rationality. For a classic formulation of this objection in the context of the Foucault/Habermas debate. that they are nothing more than domination. 3. Michel Foucault. Norton and Co. To assume that it is fallacious is to assume that the early stages of childhood development are like a ladder that we discard after we have ascended it. Ibid. see Fraser (1989): 35–54. Moreover. ed. John Christman. The worry here is a Foucaultian one. “Sapere Aude: Critical Ontology and the Case of Child Development. internalized before the child is in a position to make this very distinction) does not cut much ice. the worry is that the distinction between external force and internal force (which is. but it should not be confused with the irrationalist claim that the demands of rationality and autonomy are per se pernicious. fortunately committed to practicing a rationality that is unfortunately crisscrossed by intrinsic dangers?”73 But he also believed that the awareness of these intrinsic dangers is perfectly compatible with an acceptance of the necessity.. . not all genetic arguments are fallacious. and what are its dangers? How can we exist as rational beings. .AMY ALLEN system. and. 1995]). Paul Rabinow (New York: The New Press. genetic or historical considerations of how someone came to be “autonomous” are often relevant to our assessments of whether that person is genuinely autonomous.”72 Foucault did worry that our modern form of rationality is dangerous.” Power: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault. that they are. “Autonomy and Personal History. Autonomous Agents: From Self-Control to Autonomy [Oxford: Oxford UP. “The Entanglement of Power and Validity: Foucault and Critical Theory. and to insist that the origins of our capacity for autonomy are simply not relevant for our assessment of that capacity. 20 . 1961] 16). a worry that led him to wonder: “What is this Reason that we use? What are its historical effects? What are its limits.].” he goes on to acknowledge. Civilization and Its Discontents. Power. Knowledge.74 What speciﬁcally is the danger that Foucault believes to be intrinsic to rationality? Foucault offers as an example the link between the rationality of social Darwinism and the legitimization of Nazi racism. one could cite Freud’s contention that “in the realm of the mind [. of course. In the ﬁrst place. as much of the literature on personal autonomy shows (see. I would argue that this genetic argument is not obviously fallacious.” in Timothy O’Leary and Christopher Falzon (eds). and Alfred Mele. in this case. this comment comes in response to a question about Habermas’s critique of postmodernism. after all. Interestingly enough. “the enemy that should be eliminated. for example. I discuss these issues more fully in Allen. Foucault and Philosophy (London: Blackwell. but it is not at all obvious to me that it should be.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 21 : 1–24. as Foucault once put it. “This was. but an irrationality that was 71 72 73 74 At this point.W. “Space. For another helpful response on Foucault’s behalf to the genetic fallacy objection. “an irrationality.
1990) 69–86. deliberation. Arlene Dallery and Charles Scott (Albany. Indeed. which is not per se pernicious. NY: SUNY Press. that it lacks the capacities for thought. it does. thus. at the very least. see Foucault : 299). socialized individuals can only be perceived as exemplars. Habermas acknowledges a crucial role for power in the process of subjectivation. after all. and action that have been traditionally associated with it. So Habermas’s account of subjectivation is much more complicated than it appears at ﬁrst. the free ﬂow of power is restricted and some individuals or groups are unable to exercise it (see Foucault : 283). It is undeniably true that Foucault never offers a normative conception of subjectivation or of social relations and that he has a tendency to use the word power to cover an overly broad range of phenomenon (which he himself admits. “from [Foucault’s] perspective. Resistance.DISCOURSE. insofar as such a judgment seems to rely on a normative conception of social relations that Foucault’s work does not provide. One might object at this point that. and it is the function of critique to shed light on such connections. and this acknowledgement opens his account up to the Foucaultian line of criticism that I have articulated.”75 The example suggests that the danger Foucault has in mind is that. or bad. 1991). See. given the normative confusions in his work. labeling some sorts of power relations “pernicious” on Foucault’s behalf might seem unjustiﬁed. in some of his late work. I think.77 Habermas himself claims that. Although there are certainly questions that one could raise about this distinction (and I discuss some of these in Allen. or. which. POWER. However. they can be and indeed often are connected in subtle and insidious ways with power/knowledge relations. whereas in relations of domination. ed. and domination. that Foucault thinks that the subject is merely epiphenomenal. or that it does not really exist. 1999] ch. this discussion highlights that what is crucially at stake in the debate between Foucault and Habermas is not the substantive content of Habermas’s normative conceptions of subjectivation and of social relations but the strongly universalistic. is. Moreover. Ideals and Illusions: On Reconstruction and Deconstruction in Contemporary Critical Theory (Cambridge: MIT Press. as standardized products of some discourse formation––as 75 76 77 Ibid.76 But the imprimatur of rationality can serve to obscure that very connection. Linda Alcoff. context-transcendent status that he tends to claim for them. The Power of Feminist Theory: Domination. 21 . in his view.” Crises in Continental Philosophy. provide a compelling response to the foregoing objection. AND SUBJECTIVATION at the same time. wrongly. Foucault’s account of subjectivation is also more complicated than it appears at ﬁrst. and McCarthy. objectionable. because forms of rationality are historically contingent and rooted in human practices. Habermas (1987): lectures 9 and 10. Foucault does distinguish between power. Solidarity [Boulder. Foucault is not able to make normative distinctions between different kinds of power relations. The key to the distinction is that power relations are reversible and unstable. Many critics have assumed. a certain form of rationality. I shall return to this issue later. 2). it is also the case if we understand Foucault to be a moral skeptic––rather than a moral nihilist or an immoralist––then there would be nothing inconsistent or contradictory about him offering normative distinctions between different kinds of power relations––or about others doing so on his behalf. for example. Honneth (1991). CO: Westview Press. “Feminist Politics and Foucault: The Limits to a Collaboration.
then it will necessarily be inﬂected with power as well. they are always also its relays. 1.] the growth of capabilities [can] be disconnected from the intensiﬁcation of power relations?”82 To be sure. who also acknowledges a necessary role for power in subjectivation. ed. This would seem to follow from his claim that there is no outside to power. Moreover. this view does not distinguish him from Habermas. that power is omnipresent in social relations. Indeed. They are never the inert or consenting targets of power. Does he view the subject as a mechanically punched-out copy. . for Foucault. “What Is Enlightenment?” Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault.” that is. Paul Rabinow (New York: The New Press. To the contrary. Foucault himself insists that “individuals do not simply circulate in those networks [of power]. The crucial issue is whether or not Foucault holds the imposition of disciplinary power to be sufﬁcient for subjectivation. vol. but one is simultaneously enabled to be a subject in and through this process. even if he does not seem particularly worried about the implications of this role. toward revealing as contingent forms of constraint that are falsely presented as necessary. although there is a sense in which Foucault does think that normalizing.”80 The process of subjectivation is.”78 Thus. it does seem likely that Foucault would maintain that some sort of power relation is necessary for subjectivation. or wholly determined by outside forces. Foucault (2003): 29. Foucault’s understanding of individuals as effects of power does not necessitate viewing them as inert. Habermas seems to assume that Foucault views the imposition of disciplinary power as both necessary and sufﬁcient for subjectivation. always two-sided. disciplinary power is necessary for creating the modern subject.AMY ALLEN individual copies that are mechanically punched out. incapable of action. It is not applied to them. Ibid: 317. . see McCarthy (1991): ch. Foucault’s late interest in practices of the self in antiquity is precisely motivated by a concern with asking “how [. Since subjectivation is a social process.81 The role of disciplinary power in the constitution of the modern subject is one such form of constraint. 1997) 313. and Kögler (1996). power passes through individuals. Foucault. In other words. they are in a position to both submit to and exercise this power. 22 . 2. For similar critiques of Foucault. as nothing more than the relations of power that constitute it? Is he guilty of reducing subjectivity to domination? The answer to these 78 79 80 81 82 Habermas (1987): 293. The process of being subjected to power relations constitutes one as a subject.79 However. that he thinks of the subjected subject as nothing more than the sum total of the disciplinary. In any case. he also views the aim of his genealogies to be the exposure of what he calls “the contemporary limits of the necessary. normalizing relations of power that constitute him/her.
see Tully (1999): 136. the pyramidal hierarchy). for example. . In any case. but Foucault does not deny the possibility of non-strategic. Indeed.”85 Interestingly. Foucault argues that “it is [. Foucault (1983): 217. Although Habermas acknowledges the role played by power in the internalization 83 84 85 86 87 Foucault (1983): 220.”84 Power and communication do not constitute two distinct domains of social life.Yet each account remains relatively one-sided. In fact. incompatible with the Foucaultian claim that there is no outside to power. surveillance. See. the important point for the purposes of this discussion is that these insights are not. differentiation marks of the ‘value’ of each person and of the levels of knowledge)” and of “a whole series of power processes (enclosure. Ibid: 218–19.” Radical Philosophy 51 (1989): 37– 41. 23 . contrary to what is often assumed.” The Philosophical Forum 31/2 (2000): 113–30. Of course. 2. reward and punishment. Ibid: 218. Habermas emphasizes the role played by communicative rationality. and use each other mutually as means to an end. Habermas (1994). coded signs of obedience. exhortations. POWER. nor does he deny that such forms of interaction may play some role in subjectivation. Many of Foucault’s critics have maintained that the “return” of the subject in the late Foucault stands in contradiction to his earlier analysis of power. Peter Dews. communicative forms of interaction. see Allen. “The Return of Subjectivity in the Late Foucault. see Lynch (1998): 67. perhaps had he lived long enough for the planned debate with Habermas to take place.DISCOURSE. For arguments to the contrary. support one another reciprocally. orders.”86 To be sure. For a helpful discussion of this example. this quote comes from a relatively late essay.] necessary to distinguish power relations from relationships of communication which transmit information by means of a language. these insights in Foucault’s late work about the nature of communicative relationships and their connections to power are quite underdeveloped. while Foucault highlights that of disciplinary power. On this point. and McCarthy (1991): ch.”83 Not only that. which raises the vexed issue of the relationship between the middle Foucault account of power and the late Foucault account of practices of the self. they are analytically distinct but practically intertwined “types of relationship which in fact always overlap one another. a system of signs. Foucault cites educational institutions––which play a crucial role in the process of subjectivation––as examples of the intertwining of these two distinct types of relationship.87 Each of these accounts highlights an important aspect of subjectivation. “The Anti-Subjective Hypothesis: Michel Foucault and the Death of the Subject. Foucault explicitly claims that power is “always a way of acting upon an acting subject or acting subjects by virtue of their acting or being capable of action. questions and answers. AND SUBJECTIVATION questions is no. rather. Such institutions make use of “a whole ensemble of regulated communications (lessons. . he would have developed them further. or any other symbolic medium.
In order to overcome the one-sided emphasis on power in his account of subjectivation. 24 . some of the fundamental commitments of these two thinkers will have to be recast. CONCLUSION I have already indicated the principal way in which Foucault’s account will have to be recast in light of this discussion. IV. through the production of subordinating modes of identity. for Foucault’s account of subjection seems to call into question Habermas’s faith in the reﬂexive capacities of the subject.AMY ALLEN of structures of authority. his relative inattention to the communicative dimension of social relations arguably undercuts his ability to satisfactorily theorize the possibilities for individual and collective resistance to and transformation of the relations of domination that his own work helps to expose. these two accounts of subjectivation can be seen as complementary: Foucault’s account highlights the role that disciplinary practices play in the formation of the autonomous self. it 88 For a similar claim. Habermas’s relative inattention to the power-ladenness of subjectivation arguably makes it difﬁcult for him to offer a satisfactory critical-theoretical account of some of the most pressing social problems of our time. Moreover. the one-sidedness of these accounts helps to explain certain persistent features of the critical reception of their respective authors. while the plausibility of Habermas’s account of the development of autonomy seems to rest on the denial that any signiﬁcant consequences follow from the necessary role that power plays in socialization processes. Habermas’s account emphasizes the ways in which the achievement of autonomy enables the self to reﬂect critically on such disciplinary practices. which are reproduced and maintained. see Tully (1999): 107–08. if the insights of these two accounts are to be integrated. in large part. these relationships and their connections to disciplinary power remain underdeveloped. reciprocity. In this sense. and the distinction between power and domination that are mentioned in Foucault’s late work and to think through how these ideas bear on the issue of subjectivation. including sexism and racism.88 However. Doing so would not only completely undermine Habermas’s claim that Foucault reduces subjectivation to the imposition of disciplinary power. Although Foucault’s work is widely believed to be more useful for this task. Thus. simply asserting their complementarity is not enough. though one that is cast in terms of a contrast between contingent versus universal aspects of subjectivity. and although Foucault acknowledges that communicative relationships can and do play a role in disciplinary institutions such as the educational system. Foucaultians would need to develop some of the very underdeveloped ideas about communication. he is overly sanguine about the implications of this role.
Volume 2: A Poststructuralist Mapping of History (Chicago: U of Chicago P. Moreover. Butler (1997). because power plays an unavoidable role in subjectivation. and because she will attach to painful and subordinating modes of identity rather than not attach––for some form of attachment is necessary for psychic survival and social existence––her psychic attachment to subordination may well precede and inform the development of her capacity for autonomy. ed. Drucilla Cornell. Given that Foucault himself appeared to be moving in this direction in his late work. he does seem to deny that it has any signiﬁcant consequences for his account of autonomy. for example Thomas Flynn. 1995) 39. as Judith Butler has recently argued.89 With respect to Habermas. as we have seen.DISCOURSE. including the subject position of the critic. putting those resources to work will require that we rethink the relationship between the various periods of Foucault’s work. Foucault. Although critics began castigating Foucault for contradicting his earlier analyses of power almost immediately after the publication of volumes 2 and 3 of The History of Sexuality. and Nancy Fraser (New York: Routledge. AND SUBJECTIVATION would also make it possible to develop a more satisfactory Foucaultian account of individual and collective resistance to modern disciplinary power.90 It is precisely this dimension of subjectivation and the psychic cost of the subjugation that Habermas’s account glosses over. subjects are vulnerable to becoming psychically attached to and invested in the forms of subjectivity and identity that are subordinating. and Historical Reason. however. 25 . However. Although. “Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of ‘Postmodernism’. Seyla Benhabib.” Feminist Contentions: A Philsophical Exchange. on the other. then it will be difﬁcult to maintain the sharp distinction between power and validity that is so central to 89 90 91 See. 2005). overcoming the one-sided emphasis on communicative rationality in his account of subjectivation would require Habermas to confront more directly the implications of the necessary and unavoidable role that power plays in subjectivation processes. on the one hand. Habermas does not deny this role. POWER. This is one way of ﬁlling out a claim that Butler makes elsewhere: “[P]ower pervades the very conceptual apparatus that seeks to negotiate its terms.”91 If power invades the conceptual apparatus of the subject who is attempting to reﬂect critically on its nature and effects. more recent scholarship has argued that there is much more continuity to Foucault’s diverse periods than has previously been thought. However. because the child cannot distinguish between subordinating and non-subordinating modes of attachment. particularly the issue of the compatibility between the early and middle Foucault. Judith Butler. Sartre. there are resources within Foucault’s oeuvre for developing such an account. Judith Butler. and his late account of practices of the self.
he famously retracted this claim. Unfortunately. However. trans. As I see it. Sheridan-Smith [New York: Pantheon. a position that Habermas himself aims to avoid. 1970]. as an ineradicable features of human social life. A. Knowledge and Human Interests. The Politics of Our Selves. though it does necessitate interpreting it in a much more pragmatic and contextualist way than 92 93 94 Indeed. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. See ibid: 322. Doing so would mean that acknowledging the unavoidable entanglement of validity and power. 1971]). MA: Beacon Press. One might well wonder about the status of and basis for this claim that power and validity are unavoidably entangled. Habermas himself viewed power (along with work and language or interaction) as an anthropological given. (There are interesting connections that could be made here between Habermas’s notion of cognitive interests and Foucault’s account of the historical a priori in his early work. possibility: to give up on the demand for purity altogether.93 But there is a third. and viewed power as an unnecessary and potentially eradicable deformation of normatively structured communicative interaction. Habermas acknowledges this point in a roundabout sort of way in the context of his critique of Nietzsche: he rejects Nietzsche’s account of bad conscience on the grounds that such an account makes it impossible to maintain the distinction between power and validity. and better. See Habermas (1987): 121–26. 26 . see Michel Foucault. 3 and 6). Moreover. it seems to me that we have all the inductive evidence that we might possibly need to motivate the conclusion that power is an ineradicable feature of human social interaction. such a form of life would arguably not be recognizably human. chs. but without reducing the former to the latter. Shapiro [Boston. even if we could imagine a form of sociocultural life that was completely puriﬁed of power relations. I discuss these similarities in Allen.92 Indeed. In Knowledge and Human Interests. accepting this claim need not completely undermine the foundation of Habermas’s normative philosophical project.AMY ALLEN Habermas’s normative-philosophical enterprise. the entanglement of power and validity only poses a serious problem if one assumes that there are only two possible ways of understanding the relationship between power and validity: either validity is reduced to nothing more than power and autonomy to nothing more than disciplinary subjection––a position that Habermas rightly sees as normatively and politically disastrous but wrongly imputes to Foucault––or validity is understood as wholly distinct from and unsullied by power relations––in which case the purity of pure reason slips in through the back door. The theory of cognitive interests offered in Habermas’s early work attempts to split the difference between the empirical and the transcendental levels of analysis by uncovering a set of anthropologically basic features of human social life that “have a transcendental function but arise from actual structures of human life” (Habermas : 194).94 Moreover. this was a serious mistake. Is this an empirically based generalization? Or an a priori claim based on philosophical reﬂections about human social interaction? I would suggest that we might view it in the same way that Habermas himself did in his early work: as an empirically grounded claim about the quasi-transcendental anthropologically basic features of human sociocultural forms of life (see Jürgen Habermas. Jeremy J. later. trans. it sometimes seems as if this is precisely why Habermas insists on downplaying the role the power plays in socialization processes.
their rootedness in a particular historical. 2006). in turn. see Seyla Benhabib. on Foucault’s view. is that we view such commitments as inescapably rooted in a particular. Indeed. as Foucault once put it. Such skepticism is even compatible with the same kinds of substantive ﬁrst-order normative commitments––to greater political inclusiveness and openness and against. However. in turn. Recognizing the unavoidable entanglement of power and validity necessitates acknowledging the historical and social speciﬁcity of these idealizations. such a move certainly need not result in a collapse into moral nihilism or immoralism. 1992). Recasting Habermas’s metatheoretical claims about the status of his normative idealizations in a more contextualist and pragmatic way moves him much further than he would care to move in the direction of a kind of skepticism about the universalizability of those idealizations and. Community and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (New York: Routledge. The question then is whether such a commitment is compatible with his commitment to the contexttranscendence and universality of our fundamental normative commitments.DISCOURSE.95 In particular. For discussion of this point. culturally. One might well argue that Habermas himself has moved in this more pragmatic and contextualist direction over the last decade or so. about the contexttranscendent validity of the moral norms that can be justiﬁed by means of them. then the best way to take up the 27 . In other words. with an acceptance of substantive normative commitments. see McCarthy (1991): ch. requires that we be much more cautious than Habermas has 95 96 97 For a convincing defense of such an interpretation of Habermas. Re-presenting the Good Society (Cambridge: MIT Press. I think the answer to this question is no. provided that these commitments are understood as speciﬁc and local. the status of the normative idealizations––the norms of universal respect and egalitarian reciprocity that form the core of the ideal speech situation96––that are central to Habermas’s critical project would have to be recast. and socially speciﬁc context––the context of late Western modernity.97 This. 2. Foucaultian moral skepticism is perfectly compatible. then. whatever independent grounds one might have for objecting to this characterization of the normative status of our ideals. In a sense. historically. the context of late Western modernity––which. If this is true. see McCarthy in Hoy and McCarthy (1994). All that is required. requires viewing them as open to contestation and revision. Habermas himself seems committed to it. social. AND SUBJECTIVATION Habermas himself has tended to do. as I argued in section one above. as rooted in contingent social practices that are connected with relations of power/knowledge. thus. and cultural context––namely. POWER. For this formulation of the norms that are fundamental to the ideal speech situation. Situating the Self: Gender. as Habermas seems to fear. As should be clear by now. the outcome of this restaging of the debate between Foucault and Habermas is a victory of sorts for the limited form of moral skepticism sketched above. Habermas seems to commit himself to just such a view with his recognition of the inherent situatedness or impurity of reason and its ideals. nonconsensuality––that Habermas cherishes. see Maeve Cooke. For an insightful discussion of these issues.
even as we acknowledge that such transcendence is an impossible to achieve ideal. On this point. Dartmouth College 98 Habermasian project is to reinterpret it in a more contextualist way than he himself has tended to do. and McCarthy (1991). as aiming at transcendence of context. such a shift might seem less like a loss than a welcome––perhaps even long overdue––change for the better. however. see Cooke (2006). and McCarthy in Hoy and McCarthy (1994): ch. For prominent and productive examples of such ways of interpreting and taking up the Habermasian critical project. that is.AMY ALLEN tended to be about claiming a strongly universalistic or context-transcendent status for these commitments. 28 . see Benhabib (1992).98 In a world in which Western moral and political ideals of freedom and democracy continue to be so closely associated with the morally bankrupt projects of colonialism and empire. Though we might still understand them as context-transcending. 3. Cooke (2006).
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