Anthropology as Critique: Foucault, Kant, and the Metacritical Tradition

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Abstract
While increasing attention has been paid in recent years to the relation between Foucault’s conception of critique and Kant’s, much controversy remains over whether Foucault’s most sustained early engagement with Kant, his dissertation on Kant’s Anthropology, should be read as a wholesale rejection of Kant’s views or as the source of Foucault’s late return to ethics and critique. In this paper, I propose a new reading of the dissertation, considering it alongside 1950s-era archival materials of which I advance the first scholarly appraisal. I argue that Foucault manifests a fundamental ambivalence to Kantian anthropology, rejecting it in theoretical terms while embracing its practical (‘pragmatic’) conception of the subject. Furthermore, I take these texts to collectively evidence Foucault’s attempt to situate himself within the anthropological-critical tradition rather than extricating himself from it. If we interpret Foucault to reject this tradition’s appeal to an essentialized, theoretical conception of subjectivity, what remains of anthropology is its inherent practical reflexivity in structure. Thus, I situate Foucault’s conception of ethics as one’s relation to oneself in continuity with this tradition.
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Archival date: 2019-08-23
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