Marked Subjectivities. Or the View from Somwhere.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingMeeting abstract (Book)


Marked Subjectivities. Or the View from Somewhere

The reception of Immanuel Kant's Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? by Michel Foucault in his Qu'est-ce que les Lumières? is remarkable for several reasons.
Given Foucault's criticisms of the Enlightenment in general and his criticism of Kant in particular, it is surprising that he, in the aforementioned essay, seems to want to inscribe himself into a Kantian tradition. First, I will consider the problems that Foucault's interpretation of the Enlightenment engender. Second, I focus on what elements from the Enlightenment tradition Foucault wants to preserve and how he intends to apply them in a positive way. In a third step, I wish to criticize the interpretation of Foucault's work as such from a contemporary feminist perspective. This will lead me to a conception of radical Enlightenment that starts from the idea of 'a view from somewhere'.
1. Michel Foucault distinguishes two forms of Kantian criticism. The first he sees present in the three Critiques, and he regards it as an analytics of truth. The perspective here is transcendental and looks for universal structures of knowledge or of moral action. The question here, as is well-known, is which limits can not be surpassed in this quest. In short: Foucault rejects the possibility of universal claims to truth and universal values.
2. The second form of Kantian critique Foucault describes as an ontology of the present or an ontology of the self. It is about a search for possible transformations in the present. Foucault sees Kant as the first philosopher who views the present as a philosophical problem and who questions, from there on, the role of the philosopher. Foucault, then, problematizes the contingency of how we became who we are, in other words, how we have become subjectified. He goes on to demand the possibility of a different thinking and acting and a different conception of subjectivity. This I'd like to describe as a radical form of Enlightenment and as a sharpening of Kants Sapere aude.
3. Feminists like Nancy Hartsock review some of the criticisms of Foucault of a particular interpretation of the Enlightenment. They also consider the 'God-trick' as problematic, i.e., the idea that there exists a view from nowhere, and they formulate a critique of the idea that there is a conception of reason that could, except for being disembedded, also be disembodied, and that could lead us to objective knowledge. Even though this is a criticism that Foucault would endorse wholeheartedly, he would not have gone far enough according to this feminist perspective. Or at least: he would have had no alternative. His criticism of the idea that one can see everything from nowhere makes him decide that there is nothing to see at all. His attitude, like that of Rorty, is described by Hartsock as satiric and parodic. Foucault sees knowledge as a product of power and as a way of subjectifying. Ultimately this means, however, that Foucault keeps holding on to one form of epistemology, especially the masculine and Eurocentric version thereof. Hartsock, on the contrary, argues for a plurality of epistemologies that depart from marked subjectivities, and strives for local forms of emancipation.

From this I wish to conclude that this view, which takes into account minority views of all kinds, is consistently in line with a radical Enlightenment thinking, in which the critical questioning of the ontology of actuality takes central stage.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCongress on 'The Radical Enlightenment. The Big Picture and its Details', Brussels, Universitary Foundation, 16-17 May
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventUnknown -
Duration: 1 Jan 2013 → …


Period1/01/13 → …


  • Political Philosophy


Dive into the research topics of 'Marked Subjectivities. Or the View from Somwhere.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this