Explanation and evaluation in Foucault's genealogy of morality

European Journal of Philosophy 31 (3):731-747 (2023)
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Philosophers have cataloged a range of genealogical methods by which different sorts of normative conclusions can be established. Although such methods provide diverging ways of pursuing genealogical inquiry, they typically converge in eschewing historiographic methodology, in favor of a uniquely philosophical approach. In contrast, one genealogist who drew on historiographic methodology is Michel Foucault. This article presents the motivations and advantages of Foucault's genealogical use of such a methodology. It advances two mains claims. First, that Foucault's early 1970s work employs a distinct genealogical method, which borrows from contemporary historiographic models of explanation to expand the range of objects that are proper to genealogical accounts of historical change. I demonstrate how Foucault modifies two central commitments of Nietzsche by broadening the dimensions of genealogical inquiry and explanation. Second, that historical method has normative relevance for genealogy, insofar as different historiographic choices can lead to different normative conclusions. I motivate this second claim by explaining how Foucault's multidimensional genealogical method expands both (a) the range of objects that are subject to evaluative assessment, and (b) the set of possible prescriptive recommendations that follow from such assessment.

Author's Profile

Eli B. Lichtenstein
Lewis & Clark College


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