Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Eric Schliesser, 28 March 1979: Foucault on Locke’s World Historical Conceptual Shift (XXXVII),Digressions & Impressions, 5 January 2021

Because most of lecture 11 is a brilliant analysis of the history of criminology and the (sometimes overlapping) significance of Gary Becker’s redefinition of homo oeconomicus, it is easy to miss how Foucault embeds his analysis in a narrative in which the least genius of the tradition, Locke, is a world-historical — “one of the most important mutations, one of the most important theoretical transformations in Western thought since the Middle Ages”* — figure (in Nietzsche’s sense). In my last post (episode 36), I had already observed that lecture 11 is tied by Foucault to the start of the lecture series and Locke’s conception of the liberal art of government.

As an aside, it is striking how conventional Foucault’s philosophical categories (e.g., ‘Western thought;’ ‘British Empiricism;’ ‘Middle Ages’ etc.”) can be sometimes. But as we know, artistic genius in this convention is characterized by the virtuosity of playing with the given constraints. And as Foucault teaches in this very lecture (recall), that fits the definition of rational agency.

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