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On the genealogy of modernity: Foucault’s social philosophy
NYTHAMAR FERNANDES DE OLIVEIRA
This book was originally conceived as a Ph.D. dissertation, defended in 1994 at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, 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. Both archaeology 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, and how the subjects of modernity came into being. 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 shown 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 thus succeeded in showing how Nietzschean genealogy has contributed to consolidating a historicized conception of human nature, beyond humanist and teleological views, as human agency undergoes the critique of metaphysical subjectivity.
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