Foucault News

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

Lee, H. The Empiricist Origin of Biopolitics: Freedom and Potentiality in John Locke
(2021) Philosophia (United States).

DOI: 10.1007/s11406-020-00306-2

Abstract
This article examines John Locke’s theory of subjectivity to challenge the recent critical tendency to associate biopolitics and empiricism. Michel Foucault, most notably among modern theorists of biopolitics, proposes that the Lockean man, or an interest-seeking animal, constitutes the paradigm of a person that remains subject to biopower. Such understanding of empiricism by biopolitical theorists is, however, reductive because Locke’s view of human subjectivity is fundamentally equivocal. As I demonstrate by analyzing his discussion of freedom, action, and desire in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and other writings, Locke admits the possibility for a human being to think and to act freely, although in the process of restricting the capacity for free action. Hence, the theorists’ simplistic view of Locke rather reflects the limits of their own conception of subjectivity, especially their behavioristic premises. As they consider a person as a mere machine of survival without agency and initiative, they preclude the possibility of overcoming biopower at the fundamental level. In demonstrating contradictions and tensions within Locke’s empiricism, this article then proposes the ways in which Locke can show a way beyond the critical impasse in political theory in elucidating (albeit inconsistently) the power of acting against the chain of causality. © 2021, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V. part of Springer Nature.

Author Keywords
Aristotle; Biopolitics; Freedom; Homo economicus; John Locke; Potentiality

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