Knowledge is Made for Cutting


Knowledge is Made for Cutting[1]

1 — Introduction

The point of this essay is to contrast the normative and speculative philosophy of Hegel, as rendered in philosophy of history, et al., against the descriptive and non-speculative analysis of Foucault, as rendered in his genealogical studies — simply put. Notwithstanding, the underpinning theme of this paper is to shed light on the pervasive tension in philosophy between normative and descriptive analysis with Hegel/Foucault as exemplar models to this tension. In spirit of this aforementioned tension, the structure of this paper is to, first and foremost, provide an adequate criticism to Hegel’s philosophy of history by using the application of descriptive theorists (Morton/Latour/Nietzsche) to weaken the sufficient necessity of, respectively, his metaphysical, epistemological and ethical theories (and presuppositions). Secondly, I will argue in favor of a Foucault genealogical reading of history as not simply a competing method to Hegel, but as an altogether replacement of Hegel’s reason guided history for a more tempered and grounded power-knowledge interpretation of history (and human nature).

This essay will be broken into three components: A) Arguing, in order, against Hegel’s metaphysical claims through a radical (albeit logically valid) interpretation of Timothy Morton’s theory of hyper-objectification; against Hegel’s epistemological claims through the descriptive and anthropological analysis of Bruno Latour; and against Hegel’s ethics by using his concept of the ‘wise man’ to pin Hegel as a nihilist, par excellence. B) I will illustrate the Foucault criticisms of Hegel as they are descriptively rendered through Foucault’s power-knowledge concept. And, C), to conclude I will summarize what has been said and underline the key differences between Hegel and Foucault that help justify my thesis:

In consideration of Hegel’s theory of reason-guided-history and in light of the three following criticisms: A) the lack of reasonable efficacy towards the accessibility of the history object (of thought), B) the discordance with the self-evident, self-affirming and self-contradicting epistemological framework of Hegel’s historicism and C) the nihilistic and anti-ethical underpinning of his subject-less history; there is both adequate and sufficient cause to accept the tempered, descriptive and non-assuming Foucault genealogical approach to rendering — with exigence — a speculative philosophy of history.


2.1 — A Critique of Hegel’s Metaphysics

Hegel, for better or worse, structured his metaphysics and epistemology in logical priority and in this regard his epistemology supervenes metaphysics. It is for this reason that I will address his metaphysics prior to his epistemology and, subsequently, I will address this ethics lastly as they are wholly dependent upon accepting his metaphysical/epistemological theories.

There is not any consensus in philosophy, en masse, that accepts the idea of viewing philosophical concepts in context to their time; alas, philosophy must be — so they say — objective and scientific. However, there are specific philosophical endeavors that are logically incapable of objectivity and should always be judged within the context of their development.   In a non-philosophical reading of history and Hegel’s scholarly development you could perceive Hegel’s inquisitive response to the French Revolution and the subsequent buckling of German society that caused a social diremption, as the social conditions that fueled Hegel into desiring to create a philosophy of totality in light of a society that was utterly fragmented (Grumley 11 -13) and with this information alone we could not assess his system as being either valid nor invalid.

For the most part it is seemingly impossible to perceive Hegel’s metaphysics and epistemology as mutually exclusive projects that can be teased apart and argued independently. But, be it as it may, I will simplify things by narrowly defining metaphysics as the philosophical study of the nature of reality/things/objects and in regards to Hegel’s theory of history I will perceive ‘history’ as a conceptual object of thought and I will review Hegel’s relationship with said object independently of any knowledge acquisition.

Timothy Morton, though a post-apocalyptic metaphysical meditation, conceived of the concept of the HyperObject, which he defines as follows:

Hyperobjects have numerous properties in common. They are viscous, which means that they “stick” to beings that are involved with them. They are nonlocal; in other words, any “local manifestation” of a hyperobject is not directly the hyperobject. They involve profoundly different temporalities than the human-scale ones we are used to. […] Hyperobjects occupy a high-dimensional phase space that results in their being invisible to humans for stretches of time. And they exhibit their effects interobjectively; that is, they can be detected in a space that consists of interrelationships between aesthetic properties of objects. The hyperobject is not a function of our knowledge: it’s hyper relative to worms, lemons, and ultraviolet rays, as well as humans. (Morton 2)

Morton uses this category as a way of explaining why humans have difficulty understanding climate change as a totality and he does not explicitly, nor implicitly, refer to history as a HyperObject. Nonetheless, as I will contest to argue, history as a metaphysical object of investigation is a HyperObject par excellence, as it wholly and exhaustibly fits the aforementioned description and, a fortiori, it is the least reducible in metaphysical terms than all the HyperObjects argued by Morton. The crux of this criticism is to say that because History is < 1 > viscous (it rubs up against and ‘sticks’ to objects that are contained within it, such as Hegel himself),< 2 > nonlocal (it does not have any locality, as I cannot say ‘history exists over here, but not over there’), < 3 > has large temporality (an object that spans more than a single human lifetime), < 4 > occupies high-dimensional phase space (to be explained later) and < 5 > relates inter-objectively through aesthetic sensation (also to be explained later); then I can argue that Hegel’s particular metaphysical relationship with History lacked efficacy of ever being fully comprehensive.

The most important characteristics to help explicate Hegel’s inefficacious vantage point is the last two qualities (4 & 5), which are not as self-explanatory as qualities <1> through <3>. In a pre-theoretical view on history it would be absurd to state that history operates on a high-dimensional plane of existence that can remain “invisible to humans for stretches of time”, as this seems akin to arguing that we have periods of timelessness and that is not how this should be read. As argued in quality 5, our relation to history is interobjective[2] (as objects in relation to other objects (inclusive of human objects)) and our epistemological relation to know said objects is aesthetic. To ground this idea a bit, my relation to the HyperObject of Climate Change is not a constant field of awareness, because, for example, if my perception of climate change includes the idea that the earth-temperature is rising then I might relate to the fragment of the whole through its viscous sub-objects like me walking to get the mail in November and realizing that it is still hot enough in November that I can burn my bare feet on the pavement. Climate change may be omnipresent, but my relation to it is only through superficial and chance encounters with interconnected objects (like the pavement) by an aesthetic (non-discursive) knowing.   This means I can feel the effect of climate change (an object effecting an object effecting an object, ad infinitum), but I can never feel or know the HyperObject itself.

When applying this to history it can be analyzed in a simple human perspective: time does not ever stop or change speeds (relatively speaking) in my lifetime, but my awareness of time/history and my aesthetic relation to my own history is something that appears and disappears. For example, I will be more aware of my own history on my birthday than I will any other random day and my 20/30/40/50th birthdays will bring even more awareness than other birthdays. Or, in a bigger picture, the 2016 presidential election in the United States feels like it has greater historical significance than other elections and in this sense, history is making itself more visible than it has in previous years/times/elections.

So for Hegel, in response to the French Revolution and the German cultural diremption, he had a reasonably heightened relation to the visible awareness of History effecting the interobjective space of his reality. Historically speaking, this type of response to the heightened awareness of the times is not unusual, as Althusser clearly illustrated that the majority of huge philosophical movements ran in conjunction (in response) to largely significant historical events (Althusser 15).   Hegel is of no exception to this. This is not to say that Hegel must be wrong, but it is only to draw attention to the vast complexity of the ‘object of thought’ known as history and underline that in light of this complexity we should temper our reading of Hegel and see only a sufficient condition towards his reading of history and, certainly so, not a necessary one.


2.2 — A Critique of Hegel’s Epistemology

Kierkegaard argued against Hegel on a similar ground than I did, but without the heavy conceptualization of the HyperObject and in the simplest formulation Kierkegaard can be paraphrased as stating that Hegel’s theory of history can only be inductively reasoned and therefore his theory cannot be a necessary condition, but merely a sufficient one (at best) (Kierkegaard 75-76) and so it is on the ground of the sufficient conditions of his epistemology that I will critique.

As stated earlier, the underpinning to Hegel’s epistemology is metaphysical and in that sense if I claim that Hegel lacked reasonable efficacy at being able to adequately make inferences from the metaphysical object of ‘history’ then it could be argued that the epistemological claims lose their grounding and collapse into the rubble without need of any further criticism. However, if you subscribe to a heavy dose of lofty idealism and believe that in spite of the aforementioned section there is still a possibility that Hegel had some kernel of intuition and is still accurate in his assessment I will then approach his epistemology from a completely different perspective.

Bruno Latour in We’ve Never Been Modern laid out the groundwork for what is, in essence, a broad strokes criticism against modernity that illustrates that the project of modernity (and by extension the enlightenment (to foreshadow Foucault)) (Latour 35, 142) and the proto-(self inventing (Foucault 1984 42)) modern man was built on an epistemological illusion[3]. Latour does not directly call out Hegel (except by category (dialectics) (ibid. 51,57)), but more specifically keeps his focus on what he qualifies as the point of departure for this period of inquiry: the work of Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle. If Hobbes/Boyle are the catalysts of the bifurcation from the “pre-modern” to “modern” era (ibid. 15) then I will posit that Hegel is the apex of this tradition and in the shadow of Hegel we have remained hitherto upon this crest[4]. Latour carefully and systematically gave a descriptive critique (via anthropological analysis) of what he refers to as the “modern constitution”, which is in essence an implicit epistemological framework that dictates the rules of conduct, as it were, to how modern humans relate to categories of knowledge and how categories relate (or do not relate) to each other (Ibid.). The categories of knowledge are nature, culture and (the bracketed) God (Ibid. 41); and the modes of relation are immanent (in there) and eminent (out there) (ibid. 31) and this framework facilitates or, rather, creates the epistemological allowances to obfuscate clean lines of knowledge by rigidly and absolutely maintaining this modern constitution in every academic discipline and all matters of affairs.

For example, Marx’s ideological theories of super-structure could be reasoned as stating ‘concepts of race’ are social constructions (cultural) and can be changed with material determination (immanence); whereas the Trump supporters (ALT right) would say ‘concepts of race’ are social constructions (cultural) but cannot be changed by any single human determination and henceforth are dictated by outside forces (eminent) — creating an epistemological determinate for maintaining a de facto dichotomy between two opposing views as mutually exclusive and incommensurable. For Hegel’s theory of history, the object of history is ‘natural’ insofar that it is a natural existing phenomenon, but cultural insofar as it is manifestly determined as a product of the state and in both said categories the the relation as such is purely eminent. And, lastly, if that was not enough, Hegel elevated the historical determination into the absolutist container of God (not in the religious sense, but in the formulaic sense of God as a sideline observer that remains mostly uninvolved but now and then tosses in a flag and makes his presence known). This would make Hegel’s historical object — according to Latour — a “quasi object”[5] that was proliferated through the hybrid network[6], which does not make it less of a concern (in the context of this critique), but just more difficult to argue against.

The point of demarcation of the Hegelian apex is twofold, first it would be Hegel breaking from Kant in creating a sharp distinction in the philosophy of history between the human-subject and non-human-subject (Inwood 119-120) or, in other words, inscribing anthropocentrism as a quality that is naturally evident in the historical object; and secondly, Hegel removed the subject from having any determination on the unfolding of history, the immediacy of meaning or as an active agent of contingent force. The crux of this problem, to which Latour can be accredited to explicating, is that this convoluted epistemological framework — to which Hegel systematically exploited — makes arguing against Hegel like a perpetual game of three-card-monte where Hegel can implicitly shift the arguments around a complex network of mutually exclusive network-arguments that maintain efficacy by distinct separation and by the backhanded support of informal logical fallacies. In other words, informal fallacies such as category error, composition, vicious abstractionism, misplaced concretism, red-herring, et al. are all structured to call into question arguments that try to transverse through this network-of-argumentation (of his hybrid produced quasi-object) through a path not designated by the modern constitution.

Hegel is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the sole culprit in championing this illusory mountain and it could be easily argued that Descarte (with much effort) or Kant (with little effort) are much more culpable for establishing the groundwork for this problem. But the reason I point to Hegel and the reason why this is relevant to our conversation at-hand is because it is Hegel who systematically created the most complex variation of the quasi-object and, therefore, elevated the modernist presuppositions by clouding the waters of epistemology; and, secondly, I will posit that Hegel’s theory of history only seems sufficient if you perceive it through the lens of the modern constitution. In other words, Hegel contributed to a very complex network of self-sustainable epistemological networks that hold within it its own critique, but also its own counter-arguments and justification. So at the end of the day you can feel uneasy with Hegel and find many uneasy intuitions that make you want to question him, but every single entry-way into Hegel’s system entraps you into self-affirming Hegel in the process of attempting to disprove him. That is to say, Hegel only works and is sufficiently reasonable as an inductively plausible interpretation of how to understand history if, and only if, you accept the modern presuppositions on blind faith.

Both the Hyperobject (Morton) and Modern constitution (Latour) arguments against Hegel can be easily perceived as polar opposite arguments insofar as the interwoven metaphysical and epistemological components interplay in opposition. As the hyperobject is a metaphysical criticism with epistemological undertones and the modern constitution is the inverse. But, moreover, my reason for structuring the arguments as such is to first and foremost use the concept of the hyper object to draw doubt to Hegel’s reason-guided-history as being a necessary condition from the onset of his argument (arguing from Hegel’s era) and then subsequently, to argue from 2016 looking back as a descriptive argument of modernity I can make the claim that even if there was a such thing as the absolute (Geist), the sufficient evidence as such is merely a self-fulfilling prophecy that only works in-itself and for-itself. You need to accept Hegel to prove Hegel as sufficient, but if we disregard the epistemological plateau that he places this argument upon we can argue that, alas, Hegel’s system is insufficient. As aforementioned, Hegel’s ethics as rendered through his philosophy of history are rooted in accepting his metaphysics and epistemological framework as necessary at best or, at worse, reasonably sufficient. But notwithstanding that I will proceed into criticizing his ethics.


2.3 — A Critique of Hegel’s Ethics

Hegel’s ethics in general and as particularly pertaining to history are — if ever was such a thing — more convoluted and ambiguous than his other claims. The reason for this, I posit, is because Hegel — in short — became entrapped within his own attainment of his project; insofar that his objective in the philosophy of history was to frame a process of approaching history scientifically and with rigid objectivity, which means that Hegel had to reject the subject(ivity) of history (Patios 6) to not underpin himself under the weight of his edifice. While, nonetheless, attempting to not throw out the baby with the bath water by creating a de facto ontological lacuna between objective spirit and subjective agents that facilitates the efficacious allowance of the Sartrean dictum: if there is no god, all things are permitted (Dostoevsky 788)[7]. In other words, returning to Latour, “the transcendental subject became infinitely remote from the world” (Latour 56) and an unnecessary component within the process of proliferating hybrids — the subject no longer mattered as such. But it is in spite of this problem (not in light of it) that Hegel attempted a system of ethics.

To understand Hegel’s solution to this problem we will begin with this quote:

The right which governs the ethical existence of nations is the spirits’s consciousness of itself; the nations are the concepts which the spirit has formed of itself. This it is conception of the spirit which is realized in history (Hegel 1955 51).

That is to say, as Patios interprets, “individuals have no objective role in spirit […] because they are only partly rational beings” but, nonetheless, freedom (with all its ethical implications) can be “historically actualized only through nations” (Patios 22):

[T]he ultimate phase of it’s [spirit’s] consciousness, on which everything depends, is the recognition that man is free. The spirit’s own consciousness must realize itself in the world; the material or soil in which it realized is none other than the general consciousness, the consciousness of the nation (Hegel 1955 52).

So, to understand this in non-Hegelian (sort of) vernacular, we have the following premises to his argument: (a) man is free (b) man is only partly rational (c) consciousness supervenes freedom (d) self-consciousness (freedom/spirit/reason) comes from spirit realized through the nation. Or, in other words, the nation state comes about by the freely willed actions of human agents and it is the said nation state that creates a fully matured consciousness qua spirit and henceforth facilities the full freedom of the individual to be realized. Almost as to say, my freedom as an individual (in isolation) has some sort of partial freedom — a freedom potenia, as it were — and it is from the collective freedoms coalescing to the state that allows full freedom to be realized. It is from this aforementioned paradoxical interplay that I will assess his ethics.

I understand that Hegel’s philosophy of history is not an intentional passageway for analyzing his ethics and it could be said that I am straw-manning him by disregarding the Philosophy of Right (viz. Ethical Life) but, I contest this on the grounds that all of his ethical meditations are predicated on accepting the subject/nation relationship that he lays forward in both history and the attainment of Spirit. In sum, instead of addressing the direct normative ethical formulation I will address the ontological problem of how he arrives at said normative ethical formulation.

I will showcase this in twofold, first by using a brief Nietzsche argument and secondly by illustrating that this problem manifests directly in Hegel through an interpretation of Alexandre Kojéve’s existential reading of Hegel’s concept of the ‘wise man’. Nietzsche coined the phrase “no gods, no masters” (Nietzsche §22, 25-26) which later became both a socialist and feminist political slogan with varying degree of effect. Nietzsche’s intention behind this axiom was to state any and all systems of ethical authority coming from the top down, albeit: God, state, men (in the case of feminism) or money (in the case of the socialist); will become a de facto master which first makes freedom a provisional (and dependent) acquisition and second makes the full and authentic blossoming of ethical action, in actu, non-existent. In this regard, what Hegel is saying (interpreted by Nietzsche): a slave is a freely-willing-agent to whom is fully allowed to engage in their own ethical life by freely allowing their master to qualify the terms upon which they are free. In short, freedom of de facto enslavement engenders freedom.

Hegel however, attempts to — as I interpret — ground this notion (or problem) by injecting the archetype of the ‘wise man’, which, in essence humanizes the aforementioned transcendentally given freedom. But, as I will go on to argue, this formulation only underlines the inherent non-starter nihilistic undertones of the previous Nietzschean criticism. Simply put, as Kojéve reads Hegel, the ‘wise man’ is both a model of moral action to whom we should “conform” (Kojéve 79) and is secondly an agent that is perfect and without human desires and therefore has no need to act (Kojéve 77). Before returning to those paraphrased components from Kojéve I will first take a detour and deconstruct human action.

All human action — regardless of how/why/when/what — in chronological order consists of the following: (a) a will-to-act, (b) a means-to-act and (c) the actualization of said will/means to action (the manifestation of the instrumentation of the means as the product of the will). Moreover, there are two important characteristics of human action: (1) I can argue as David Hume did and state that there is no inherent facilitation of effect from any said cause (Hume 19), which means my will-to-act does not need a means-to-act or an actualization of said action to exist — my will-to-act can exist without completion; (2) any and all human actions (encapsulating all three of the steps I outlined) include unsaid metaphysical, epistemological and ethical assumptions to which states in detail: (a) the object-of-thought to which my will-to-act is to refer is inherently metaphysical, (b) I have knowledge of said-object-of-thought and I know that through said means I can actualize said thought and (c) said action as it becomes real in the world has ethical implications. The only exception to which I will give allowance but no consideration (as its irrelevant to our discussion) would be actions that are purely aesthetic.

So, as we return to our ‘wise man’ it is keen to note that the only method upon which our wise man can be a moral role model is to act and therefore implicitly model/exhibit a system-of-values and this action requires a will-to-act. But, conversely, our ‘wise man’ also has no desirous will because (s)he is perfect and henceforth does not act. An agent who has no will-to-act because they have no values to desire and cannot ascertain the value between ordering a taco or a burrito, for example, is a nihilist par excellence insofar that they are not only without value, but they also do not value having value. A valueless nihilistic agent cannot be a value-modeling moral agent without inserting value-driven willful desire back into the mind of the wise man.

The point that I am attempting to make as I suture Nietzsche and Kojéve together, is if we perceive the subject/nation dynamic as a mirrored (parallel) relationship to the ‘wise man’/regular man (which is a commonplace argumentation style of Hegel) it could be said that our objective nation state, as it were, cannot be both an objective static god-like spirit entity while simultaneously granting freedom and ethical pursuance without the totality of the system regressing into nihilism. Because of a) allowing freedom/ethics to actualize through a transcendental mediator undercuts the full and pure actualization of freedom (hence it drains the value of freedom/ethics) and b) an objective agent cannot be both an objective model of exemplar morality while simultaneously being vapidly hollow of subjective value judgements. Alas, Hegel’s ethics are nothing but an allowance of ‘all is permissible’ but it is only the objective Nation state to whom can permit all its own actions; which are, nonetheless, institutions ran by human agents. This is similar to the structural formulation of fascism in practice insofar that it argues that championing the organic unity of the nation state as a de facto application of championing the parts of the organic whole and completely dismisses the simplistic existentialist idea that freedom cannot be something that is given, rather, it must be self-affirmed and self-actualized by the freely acting agent.


3.1 — Foucault and the ‘History of the Present’

In Foucault’s version of the philosophy of history — although he would’ve never have called it that — he had two practical techniques to which he called an ‘archeology’ and ‘genealogy’. It is my opinion (interpretation) that through Foucault’s academic process he discovered the merits of the genealogical process by means of discovering the flaws in his archeology and to this regard I would consider his archeology to be the precursor to his matured genealogical critique. This is the reason upon which I will reserve my assessment of Foucault to strictly his genealogical analysis.

In 1953, the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai was asked by a journalist about his thoughts on the French Revolution and he promptly quipped, “it’s still too early to tell” (Zizek 207 vii). This is, if anything, the clearest and most concise way of explaining Foucault’s genealogical process. Foucault — borrowing from Nietzsche — called his process “grey” as it was neither black (absolutely unknown) nor white (known absolutely) and a process of perpetual interpretation that attempt to inquire by disconnecting from the traps of presentism and fatalism (historians fallacy) to not allow the line-of-questioning of the inquisition to entrap the process by engulfing/negating possibilities and henceforth handcuffing the historian into the presuppositions of the present (Sembou 31-32)(Foucault 1984 90). The ‘history of the present’ as described by Foucault:

I would like to write the history of this prison, with all the political investments of the body that it gathers together in its closed architecture. Why? Simply because I am interested in the past? No, if one means by that writing a history of the past in terms of the present. Yes, if one means writing the history of the present. (Foucault 1995 30-31).

This is to say that history can only be assessed and understood by using the present as an entry way into the past and, in a sense, trace back the constituent of events which may not necessarily have a unified continuity, but, rather, have what can be summed up as a “discontinuous systematicities”, (Foucault 1981 69). Which is to say that there is not an unified underlying theme to history — such as reason — but it is more structured as systematic processes of different epochs of time with their own system (Sembou 31), or in Foucault’s words: “things are no longer perceived, described, expressed, characterized, classified, and known in the same way” (Foucault 1971 234). This flies in the face of western philosophy’s compulsion with truth by setting forth the argument that notions of truth and appeals thereof are contained with the episteme that represents the culmination of knowledge for a particular epoch.

Foucault’s method is a counter-argument to Hegel in the following ways: A) Hegel argued that history was not something that can be interpreted through the present, whereas Foucault believes that the present is the only valid entry point, B) Hegel argued that the meaning of history is necessary and not something that can change; and C) Hegel believed desire was the driving motivation and Reason was the culminating aggregate of the desirous humans en masse. Critiques A and B were both argued to similar ends (than Foucault) earlier in this essay by (a) the descriptive and anthropological methodology of Latour and (b) the logical inferences of Kierkegaard that illustrate the contingent nature of history as both a sufficient condition of its fulfillment, but also as a fluid representation of the past by means of the culmination of events in the present. With that said, the remainder of this chapter will  speak only to the third critique (C), Foucault’s critique of Reason/Desire.


3.2 — Pouvoir-savoir

The product of Foucault’s genealogical examinations produced what I would interpret as an alternative to Hegel’s ‘desire-driven/reason-guided’ concept of history which was summed up in Foucault as ‘power-knowledge’. First and foremost, it should not be assumed that Foucault had any intention at perceiving power-knowledge as two synonymous terms (a tautology) (Foucault 1997 455); it also cannot be perceived as something we can logically contrast to reason/desire in their actualized methodological unfolding and, lastly, the French/English translation also is of consideration in this analysis (Sembou 37).

Hegel famously stated “the rational is the real and real is the rational” (Hegel 1996 xix) and this quote does several things, but namely it establishes a tautology between ‘the real’ and ‘the rational’ and secondly it gives a transcendental teleology to the transcendental notion of reality. If I was to convert this to Foucault vernacular and state power-knowledge is the real and the real is power-knowledge, this would not work in Hegel’s intentionally insofar that Foucault would not see power-knowledge as a quality of the transcendental category, nor would he consider reality to have a transcendental characteristics and he would not he see the ‘concept of reality’ as either a ‘fixed proposition’ or even a knowable proposition. I could rearrange Hegel to say this:

  1. The transcendental rational is the transcendental reality (and vice versa)
  2. The mortal desire is the mortal reality (and vice versa)

And this breaks apart his ‘idealism’ from his ‘ontology’ (or psychologism) as two separate components and Foucault’s power-knowledge is only a criticism of the latter proposition. By knowledge Foucault means common-sense knowledge that is epoch-contextual and by power he means both power as a noun, as an ‘object-of-thought’ and, lastly, as the infinitive verb form as the efficacious capacity to be power. These two terms (power-knowledge) are interconnected and have no logical priority in the sense that I can say ‘power supervenes knowledge’ or that ‘knowledge supervenes power’. Which also implies, in the same stroke, that ‘power dictates obtainable knowledge and knowledge dictates obtainable power’. For Foucault, knowledge-power in it’s descriptive actualization is wholly contingent in content but seemingly non-contingent in form and in some sense this could be seen as akin to Althusser notion that “ideology has no history” — which is true insofar, according to Althusser, that the form/method upon which channels of power/knowledge structure ideology are ahistorical, whereas the content of any given ideology as such, is contingent (Althusser 75-76).

It could be argued that in Foucault’s resistance to a Hegelian totality he created a de facto totality in his knowledge-power schema in its structural form. This critique is reasonable if we must/want assert some categorical rejection of universal concepts in favor for some disparaging subjective fragmentation. But, however, as I will contest to argue in the final chapter of this essay, the distinction between Hegel/Foucault in their respective theories of history should not be framed in the dichotomy of universal/particular; objective/subjective or totality/fragmented — but, rather, we should address their respective methodology and understand that their concluding totalities came about in completely different perspectives: Hegel used the conditions of the present and an analysis of the past to speculate about the future and derive a normative theory; whereas Foucault traced history back from the entryway of the present and described the way history (dis)connected as a means of understanding the present and without speculation and henceforth derived a descriptive theory — and it is on these grounds that we return to the tension between the normative and the descriptive.

4 — Conclusion: Missing the Totality of the Point

In line with a consistent thought structure which simultaneously skeletalizes and revokes his conception of dialectics, Hegel conceived the relation as well as the mediation between the individual and world spirit as invariant. He too was in bondage to his class, a class forced to perpetuate its dynamic categories lest it perceive the bounds of its continued existence (Adorno 342).

To interpret the brilliant insight of Theodore Adorno in light of the previous chapters, it could be argued that “in line with a consistent thought structure” is to signify the epistemological form of Althusser’s ideological formulation (which is ahistorical). Moreover, “skeletalizes and revokes the conception of dialectics” is to argue that the epistemological framework thereof is weak and built on a house of cards that is self-contradicting as I argued similarly with Latour in 2.2. And, lastly, Hegel’s system in totality is a product of his class (power) and this knowledge-power was used to perpetuate forward and project the power conditions of his reality and the knowledge conditions of his reality forward through his speculative philosophy.

The lynchpin to the argument that Foucault’s system is preferential over Hegel is that Foucault had the foresight to understand (although this idea comes from Hegel) the way upon which you ask history questions will dictate the way upon which history responds. Therefore, the only way to uproot the presuppositions of the present in your analysis of the past is to attempt to — if at all possible — begin without a question and without any preconceived notion of any metaphysical, epistemological and ethical assumptions.   This method may not be possible in some pure objective sense, but that is not the point. The point is that if we are going to theorize about history and use said theory to create theories on the human condition and/or speculate on the future, the process thereof must be delicately cognizant of what fragments of the present we drag into the past. All said and done it could be argued that normative theories shouldn’t have any validity unless rooted in descriptive and empirical examination.

It could be noted that a devout Hegelian could read this essay and take a firm grip of the quasi object and suggest that even if Latour is right and even if we accept that Hegel was wrong, then it could be said that we needed Hegel to arrive at Foucault and Latour, which henceforth proves Hegel right. And, to the same effect, we can invert this scenario and follow the philosophy string backwards in time from Foucault to Hegel and argue (through Foucault) that Hegel used his position of bourgeois power to uproot knowledge systems in favor of his own, which — in the same move — reinforced his power position, thereby giving reasonable efficacy to his knowledge system — in other words, we can also use Hegel to prove Foucault.

The difference in these two perspectives on history as we look forward and conclude this essay is that Foucault did not make any assertions of speculating either on the future — as in accordance to the past — nor did he make any clear resolute prescriptions on the human condition except to show clearly that power and knowledge are more instrumental in forcing contingent waves in history than the reductionist axiom of desire as motivator. In some sense you could say that Hegel used the subject to theorize about the state and henceforth speculate about both the subject/state; whereas Foucault speculated on the conditions of reality by examining the interrelated conditions of the subject/state in their conditions of reality. The key difference is that Hegel used the subject-in-isolation as a point of departure and Foucault had the foresight to understand that there is no such thing. And is for that, among other reasons, that history should be read as Foucault and if ever speculated forward, then with both caution and exigence, shall we proceed.



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[1] From Foucault quote “Knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting” (Foucault 1977 154)

[2] Morton and I use this term in the Bruno Latour sense, which is an attempt to flatten the field of intersubjectivity into interobjectivity and give the semblance of equal ontological consideration of objects in the broadest sense.

[3] Latour quite directly insists that the word “illusion” does not carry enough force at fully explicating the ethos of his project (Latour 40). Latour draws on the Engel’s dictum of “false consciousness” to help illustrate that even within channels of perceived resistance (Marxist socialist revolution) the modernist presuppositions persist within. Also, notably seen within Habermas incommensurability and postmodernist critique (Latour 41, 58).

[4] Latour would most likely call out postmodernism — Derrida specifically — as the ‘apex’ of his critique, but I would contest this position insofar that Derrida (or Habermas) did not proliferate hybrids to any stronger degree of effect than Hegel. In metaphor, it could be said that Habermas turned the table on Hegel (on one axis), whilst Derrida turned it yet again (on another axis), but the table remained a table.

[5] The Latour quasi-object is the designation of an object which contains within it multiple epistemic categories (nature, culture or god) that were created through the process of hybrid proliferation. The quasi-object is the product of dialectical synthesis, but for Latour the error would be that quasi-object is predicated on the presupposition of a dualist view of nature/culture that proceeded the Hegelian merger of the two (or three) categories.

[6] For Latour there are two distinct dichotomies within the modern constitution to which he inscribes as first “the work of purification”, which is the distinct process of creating a firm division between the human (culture) and non-human worlds (nature); and, secondly, the “work of translation” which is the process of mixing the nature/culture into a hybrid network of epistemological precepts (which stands in dichotomous relation to the “work of purification”) (Latour 10-12)

[7] Although famously coined by Fyodor Dostoyevsky as “If there’s no God and no life beyond the grave, doesn’t that mean that men will be allowed to do whatever they want?”, this sentiment can be accredited to Sartre in origin (Zizek 2016)


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