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Philosophy & Social Criticism

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This paper problematizes the claim that Michel Foucault’s work is normatively lacking and therefore possesses only limited political relevance. While Foucault does not articulate a traditional normative framework for political activity, I argue that his work nonetheless reflects certain normative commitments to, for example, practicing freedom and improving the state of the world. I elucidate these commitments by sketching out Foucault’s notion of critique as a mode of existence charac- terized by practices of the self, arguing that such practices possess political significance within the context of what Foucault refers to as a way of life, and analyzing points of intersection and departure between Kant’s and Foucault’s respective responses to the question ‘What is Enlightenment?’ in order to clarify the connection Foucault makes between self-practices and freedom. Through this analysis I also show that Foucault reconceptualizes normative concepts such as obligation, freedom, autonomy and publicity in non-normalizing, politically compelling ways, and argue that his work opens onto a similar reconceptualization of the notion of political unity. I conclude with a preliminary investigation into the political efficacy of Foucault’s ethos by discussing its relevance specifically for feminist politics.


Published as: Taylor, Dianna. "Practicing Politics with Foucault and Kant: toward a critical life" Philosophy & Social Criticism, 29 (2003): 259-280.

DOI: 10.1177/0191453703029003001