Nythamar Fernandes de Oliveira

Publisher: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.; ISBN: 1590336224; (January 2003)

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Table of Contents



1. Zur Genealogie der Moderne, or the Foucauldian Problematic

2. Kant, Nietzsche, and the Foucault-Habermas Debate

3. Seven Theses on "Truth, Power, and Ethics"

Chapter One: Kant's Critique and the Truth of Modern Man


1. Critique, Archaelogy and Human Nature

2. Kant and the Limits of Representation

3. The Critique of Metaphysical Reason

4. Aesthetics and Ethics in the Third Critique

5. Conclusion: The Critique and the End of Man

Chapter Two: Hegel's Critique of Kantian Critique


1. Kant's Conception of Moralität

2. Hegel's Conception of Sittlichkeit

3. Kant, Hegel, and the Foundation of Ethics

Chapter Three: Nietzsche, Genealogy and the Critique of Power


1. Critique and Genealogy: Of Truth and Method

2. Human Nature and the Will to Power

3. Nietzsche's Critique of Kantian Morality

4. Nietzsche and the Critique of Subjectivity

5. Conclusion: The Critique of Modernity

Chapter Four: Aestheticism, Nietzsche, Foucault


1. Nihilism, Genealogy, and History

2. Nietzsche's Genealogy of Christianity

3. Aestheticism and Subjectivity

Chapter Five: Foucault's Genealogy of Modernity


1. Foucault, Habermas and the "Questions of Method"

2. Truth, Archaeology, and Genealogy

3. Modernity and the Critique of Power

4. Subjectivity and the Genealogy of Ethics

Conclusion: Truth, Power, Subjectivation


List of Abbreviations


We must try to trace the genealogy, not so much of the notion of modernity, as of modernity as a question.(M. Foucault, "The Art of Telling the Truth" PPC 89)

This book was originally conceived as a PhD dissertation, defended in 1994, under the title "On the Genealogy of Modernity: Kant, Nietzsche, Foucault," before the committee composed of Professors Dr. Kenneth Baynes (Advisor), Dr. David B. Allison (President), Dr. Mary Rawlinson, and Dr. Herman Lebovics (External Reader). It was then regarded as a seminal contribution to the overall Foucault-Forschung project of a "genealogy of modernity," since its main theses were articulated just before the four volumes of Dits et Écrits came out in France that same year. The major thesis of the book is that the "genealogy of modernity" (Zur Genealogie der Moderne, On the Genealogy of Modernity, to paraphrase Nietzsche's masterpiece) not only constitutes one of Foucault's greatest contributions to the "history of systems of thought," but it also stands for what might be regarded as the Foucauldian philosophical problematic par excellence, with its historical-ontological implications for all research undertaken in questions dealing with truth, power, and subjectivity.


The main purpose of this study is to articulate a philosophical discourse that addresses the methodological problematic lying at the critical intersection of archaelogy and genealogy in Michel Foucault's conception of modernity. Both archaelogy and genealogy were described by Foucault as critical methods employed in the analyses of discursive formations and social institutions, respectively. Both proved to be decisive in his formulation of a thorough understanding of how modern "man" was born, how the subjects of modernity came into being. The major thesis of the book is that the "genealogy of modernity" (Zur Genealogie der Moderne, On the Genealogy of Modernity) not only constitutes one of Foucault's greatest contributions to the "history of systems of thought," but it also stands for what might be regarded as the Foucauldian philosophical problematic par excellence, namely, the destiny of human nature after the crisis of modern metaphysics, in particular, after the undermining of modern subjectivity. "Destiny" translates here the prosaic Greek term daimon, which would be diversely conceived as human flourishing (eudaimonia), final purpose (Endzweck), and self-overcoming (Selbstüberwindung) in Aristotelian, Kantian, and Nietzschean conceptions of the human ethos, respectively. The fate of human nature implies thus a "historical ontology of ourselves," as subjects of truth, power, and ethics in self-constituting modes of being that characterize modern individuals, in opposition to, say, their Ancient and Medieval counterparts. Foucault himself stated that the overall goal of his work was not "to analyze the phenomena of power, nor to elaborate the foundations of such an analysis," but rather "to create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects."* The question of who we are translates thus, for Foucault, a basic question that is raised, at once, qua philosophical and qua historical question. Who are we, die Moderne, self-constituted subjects of modernity? Since "there is no pre- and post-archaeology or genealogy in Foucault"(BSH 104), the three axes of savoir (knowledge), pouvoir (power), and subjectivation will be discussed in this study in relation to a genealogy of modern subjectivity, in light of Foucault's readings of Kant (critique) and Nietzsche (power). Foucault's own conception of human nature is thus articulated along the three methodological fields of archaeology, genealogy, and interpretive analytics, as a "radical hermeneutics" of modern subjectivation. It is therefore my assumption that Foucault's reading of Kant and Nietzsche is precisely what accounts for his critique of philosophical anthropology, which, although similar to Martin Heidegger's in many respects, still makes room for an articulation of ethics and political philosophy. What Foucault has termed the "critical enterprise"(OD 28) is precisely what allows for the conception of genealogy as a radical critique that displaces the philosophical discourse of modernity vis-à-vis metaphysics. By critically examining Foucault's reading of Kant and Nietzsche, the book proposes to show that critique and genealogy meet at the very locus where a methodological displacement of metaphysics has been operated, in particular in the critical region that was assigned by modernity to the conception of human nature. Both Kant's critique of dogmatic, speculative metaphysics and Nietzsche's genealogical overcoming of metaphysical morality were directed against foundationalist attempts to articulate a philosophical discourse on God, human nature, and the world. To be sure, only Kant's transcendental criticism meant to displace --and replace-- traditional metaphysics on a methodological level. However, as I propose to show in the second chapter, Nietzsche's perspectivism and aesthetic experimentalism fulfill a similar task in the very attack on metaphysics and its transcendental foundations --as proposed by Kant and later German idealists. Foucault has succeeded in showing how Nietzschean genealogy has contributed to consolidate a historicized conception of human nature, in particular, of human agency, through the critique of metaphysical subjectivity.

The book is divided into five chapters. The first chapter presents a reconstruction of Kant's critique of metaphysics as the setting of truth on new epistemological grounds. This analysis is preceded by a discussion of the Foucauldian articulation of critique and archaelogy, and followed by a study of criticism and the fate of human nature in modern philosophy. It is then shown how Kant's critique of metaphysics made possible the birth of "modern man," based upon a conception of morality that follows the practical use of pure reason. As a being endowed with reason which ought to be rational, man is to fulfill in history (empirical sociability) his moral destination (transcendental freedom) --hence, what Foucault terms the empirico-transcendental doublet. Kant's dualism in anthropology and morality is bridged only by means of a teleology which betrays the historical constitution of its subjectivity. Hence the Kantian articulation of problems of theoretical and practical reason are explored only insofar as they help us understand the paradigm of modern metaphysics, where human nature ceases to be a given representation (e.g., imago dei) and becomes a self-constituted, self-active being. The correlated problems of the unity of practical philosophy, the presupposition of autonomy (or positive freedom), pure practical reason (moral autonomy), the relation of aesthetics and ethics in light of the unity of the three Critiques, and the teleological conception of history are briefly outlined.

The second chapter offers an excursus on Hegel's critique of Kant that will serve as a transition to the third chapter, where the question of how Nietzsche's critique of power undermines the metaphysical foundations of transcendental idealism and its claims to truth is examined. I attempt to highlight the aestheticist dimension of Foucault's strategic post-Hegelian return to Kant, so as to introduce the radicalization operated by Nietzsche's critique of German idealism.

The third chapter takes up Nietzsche's critique of Kant, precisely where the limits of representation led to a moral world view, transforming the critical impetus of pure reason into a humanist dogma of practical reason. Nietzsche's attack upon Kant will be thus articulated in terms of the former's threefold critique of religion, morals, and philosophy. The will to power and the eternal return, nihilism and the genealogy of morals, is focused on with a view to elucidating the problematization of the critique of metaphysics originally undertaken by Kant, at the very foudational level of subjectivity. Nietzsche's critique of Kant's teleology is thus evoked in order to show that genealogy unmasks the truth of modern man in a radical, self-overcoming critique of morality. The knowing subject of Kant's critique is unmasked as the moral subject of a metaphysics that remains bound to the morality of ressentiment, as its will to truth betrays a reactive will to power. The birth of modern man ultimately signals the death of God, and the latter entails man's self-overcoming and his own death.

In the fourth chapter, an excursus on Nietzsche's aestheticist critique of Christianity leads us to the genealogy of modern ethics thematized by Foucault. It is thus demonstrated that the death of God and the correlated theme of the death of man paved the way for the kind of rationalization qua moralization of human life required by the very disciplinary society that would come under attack in Foucault's genealogy of modernity. Secularized humanism becomes now the target of an anti-humanism that takes nihilism seriously --what one may call a "sober nihilism" that resists both modernist and postmodern blackmailing.

In the fifth chapter, I reexamine Foucault's genealogical account of modern ethics, so as to respond to Jürgen Habermas's critique of Foucault expounded in Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne(1985). I argue that Foucault's reading of Kant and Nietzsche are decisive for an understanding of his critique of rationalism and historicism, insofar as the genealogical project is concerned, for the teleological, universalizable conception of subjectivity is precisely what must be unmasked in modern humanist claims to world liberation. In particular, Nietzsche's genealogical critique of Kant is shown to have been appropriated by Foucault in his aestheticist articulation of truth, power, and ethics, with the important difference that Kant's ontology of the present is also invoked by Foucault's permanent critique of normalization and disciplinary power. I conclude with a Foucauldian account of what may be called a non-universalizable, noncognitivist "ethics of self-care," to contrast with messianic and utopian ethics of liberation. ** The fifth chapter is supplemented, in the conclusion, with a brief account of the reception of Foucault's social philosophy among French cultural historians and sociologists of culture, such as Michelle Perrot, Roger Chartier, Jacques Le Goff, Paul Veyne, Michel Maffesoli, and Pierre Bourdieu. It will be shown how, by marking himself off from l'histoire des mentalités and l'histoire des idées, on the one hand, and the Annales school and Marxist structuralism, on the other, Foucault has contributed to the emergent histoire nouvelle (and the nouvelle histoire) that gave rise to new forms of cultural history in contemporary France. Foucault's lasting contribution to social philosophy is shown to parallel his revolutionary approach to theory of history, precisely by historicizing the former and rescuing the sociocultural thrust of the latter.


* "Why Study Power: The Question of the Subject" was originally written in English by Foucault, and incorporated into the afterword on "The Subject and Power." BSH 208.

** The philosophical-anthropological presupposita of Latin American liberationist thought were dealt with in my Master's thesis "Imago Dei et utopie sociale: Essai d'anthropologie postcritique" (unpublished; Faculté Libre de Théologie Réformée, Aix-en-Provence, March 1987).


Nythamar Fernandes de Oliveira was born in Rio de Janeiro, raised in Recife, Brazil, and earned Master's degrees from Aix-en-Provence and Villanova University prior to earning his PhD in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He teaches ethics and political philosophy at Porto Alegre and is the author of the Tractatus ethico-politicus (1999) and Rawls (2003).


Email: [email protected]
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