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Knowledge, Power, Truth and Sexuality:
Foucault Situated
in Dooyeweerd

Foucault's thought was radical in several ways - but perhaps not radical enough? The Dutch thinker, Herman Dooyeweerd, coming from a very different direction, generated thought that somewhat prefigures a lot of what Foucault explored. Dooyeweerd's thought would affirm and underpin much of Foucault, but it would also level critique at it. If Foucault's thought is allowed to be thus critiqued, might Dooyeweerd's thought be used to enrich Foucault's? The enrichment might be carried out in such a way as to retain and even strengthen what lay behind Foucault's thought and make it even more fruitful.

Here is a table showing some main areas of Foucault's thought, with a reinterpretation or restatement in Dooyeweerdian terms, followed by how Dooyeweerd would critique it, followed by how Dooyeweerd might be used to enrich Foucault.

Foucault's Thought Affirmed, Critiqued and Enriched by Dooyeweerd
Foucault Dooyeweerdian
Archaeology of knowledge:
We need to dig beneath what people claim as knowledge to find the hidden beliefs.
Foucault has discovered, and so emphasises, the pistic aspect of knowing.
Moreover, all theoretical thought inescapably presupposes religious ground-motives; see Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique.
Foucault is focusing largely on theoretical knowledge and presupposing a theoretical attitude, rather than a pre-theoretical one. There are many other aspects or ways of knowing, and they (can, should) all work in harmony; so integrate Foucault's insights with others.
Genealogy of knowledge:
Knowledge - or, rather, what comes into the public sphere and is accepted as knowledge - must be understood and even evaluated in terms of the human processes of its generation.
The human being has central responsibility in theoretical thinking (see Question 2 of Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique). Foucault is largely focuses on theoretical knowledge and presupposes a theoretical attitude, rather than a pre-theoretical one. 1. Take account of the remainder of Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique, especially question 3, which stresses the presupposition of an Origin of Meaning, and ground-motives, for a more precise exploration of what Foucault has opened up for us. (Dooyeweerd's Origin of Meaning is what the thinking community believes (assumes) to fundamentally determine what is meaningful in their discourse of theoretical thought; might this link to Foucault's "source of significations" of writings?)
2. Note how Dooyeweerd places meaning rather than being or process at the centre, and use insights that follow from this.
3. Take note of multiple aspects, to lend more precision to Foucault's insights.
Power / knowledge:
What is counted as knowledge by society depends on who has and exercises power in that society. Power pervades all. Power is that which achieves things, societally-meaningful things, especially the building of bodies of (accepted) knowledge, knowledge by which society works.
Foucault stresses that power is not necessarily bad; he claims he is just disclosing the way knowledge 'works' as a societal phenomenon.
Power in this sense is primarily of the > aspect, the aspect of achievement and formation. But this is not the formative aspect of individual knowledge, but that of society's knowledge, of the social process of building knowledge, so Foucault's insight might be a pairing of the formative and social aspects of knowing.
The idea that power is not necessarily bad, just the way things are, echoes Dooyeweerd's contention that the aspects pertain and are in themselves enabling and good; it is how we respond to their laws that might be bad.
(to be supplied) Take all aspects into account, including not only the pistic aspect of society's beliefs (as Foucault does to some extent), but also aspects that Foucault seems to have ignored: the > aspect of self-giving love, and the > aspect of beauty and delight.
Discipline and Punishment:
Punishment is political tactic, to achieve something in society. Law becomes instrument (of the rich).
Punishment, which should be led by > norms, becomes led by > ones. This kind of punishment, seen as a way to form society, thus departs from justice. Since the State is seen by Dooyeweerd as juridically qualified (there to promote and generate structures of justice) this formatization of it is heinous. (to be written) Whereas Foucault might merely describe the formatization of the legal, Dooyeweerd provides grounds to critique it. Not only that, but Dooyeweerd provides for good links between the various aspects, including the > and the > but also many more, such as > and > aspects.
Regimes of truth
Each society has its own regime of truth.
Each society values, and finds meaningful, certain aspects (spheres of meaning), perhaps one sphere of meaning above others. It allows that sphere of meaning to dictate its own form and norms. See separate ROT page - which was early and perhaps rather misunderstands some of Foucault, but nevertheless contains some useful insight.
Sexuality as Discourse
Sexuality has always been talked about, not repressed.
(Not sure that this relates to Dooyeweerd much.)
Political spirituality:
We can critique Western modernity only if we adopt a different spirituality.
It is religious ground-motives that drive the dialectical development of society's thinking. Modern thought is grounded in nature-freedom and most modern thought swings between these two poles. No deep critique is possible until a different ground-motive is presupposed. Only the creation, fall, redemption ground-motive is non-dualistic and can allow diversity that coheres.
Four Principles of Research:

Foucault proposed four principles or rules that guided his research, especially into sexuality and power: rules of immanence, continuous variations, double conditioning, polyvalence of discourses. New principles were needed to cope with his belief that power already determines what is deemed 'knowledge' [Sherman 1980,185].

The four rules seem very close to Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique of theoretical thought.

  • The rule of immanence echoes Dooyeweerd's contention that theoretical thinking begins in, and is affected by aspects of, pre-theoretical thinking.
  • The rule of continuous variations, that power is 'matrices of tranformations', echoes Dooyeweerd's idea of law-spheres that pervasively pertain and enable all functioning (and power is our functioning enabled by the formative law-sphere). (Foucault's and Dooyeweerd's conception of 'law' differ.)
  • The rule of double conditioning echoes Kuyper's and Dooyeweerd's idea that each institution in society is sovereign in its own sphere and that each aspect is irreducible to others.
  • The rule of polyvalence of discourses, that discourses both create and undermine power, echoes Dooyeweerd's contention that the lingual and formative aspects are irreducible to each other and there is no causality between them; more widely, it also the diversity of meaningfulness about which discourses concern themselves.



Sherman A. 1980. Michel Foucault: The Will to Truth. Routledge.

This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2010 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 14 October 2010. Last updated: 23 October 2010 began filling table. 30 November 2010 political spirituality, sexuality as discourse. 4 November 2014 Four principles of research; rid counter.