Friday, May 28, 2010

Fichte, Foucault, and Freedom

Žižek offers something different than the usual reading of Fichte (though he appears to largely be following Peter Preuss in this reading), a reading which takes Fichte to be the radical subjective idealist in the line of Kant-Fichte-Schelling-Hegel (already mentioned in the previous sections). Instead, Žižek claims, Fichte recognizes that both materialism and idealism lead to ridiculous conclusions, ones that hinder practical engagement (which Žižek suggests is the main goal of Fichte’s escape from philosophy), “Both materialism and idealism lead to consequences that make practical activity meaningless or impossible” (138). 
  • The first leads to determinism where the human being’s actions are meaningless in that free action is impossible and 
  • the second leads to one being merely a passive observer of their dream making meaning as independent reality impossible.
Thus “Fichte’s wager” (drawing up the image of Pascal, obviously) is that in order to act like “a free moral agent, I have to accept the independent existence of other subjects like me, as well as the existence of a higher spiritual order in which i participate and which is independent of natural determinism” (138). Yet all of this is a leap of faith, one of practical necessity unsupported by theory as such. This, in part, explains a “mysterious subchapter” of Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason where Kant explains how our lack of access to the noumenal realm is what creates the space for human freedom: “In short, the direct access to the noumenal domain would deprive us of the very “spontaneity” which forms the kernel of transcendental freedom” (140). It is only the betweenness of human beings that gives them their freedom as both in and outside of nature, which eventually leads to Žižek’s discussion of anstoß.

Because knowledge is always put to use by fallible human beings in a practical world of competing interests and visions, we are deluding ourselves…if we believe that questions of truth can be disentangled from questions of normative worth and value.  Even what appears to be most self-evidently natural is inevitably situated in a cultural context, and thus, shot through with social meanings and moral ambiguities” (149).  In other words, scientists too are human beings, shaped by specific cultures, language games, and personal proclivities—all of which influence their scientific pursuits and findings.
According to Foucault, with the shift from a religious frame to a scientific frame, the categories of “normal” and “abnormal” not only replace but alter in significant ways what was formerly understood as sin and a fallen state in need not of medical correction but of grace. 
“Once moral and religious discourses are transposed into a scientific key, a whole range of human frailties and fallibilities … are ‘placed under the rule of the normal and the pathological’” (149). 
Of those classified as “abnormal,” Foucault is particularly interested in “children, women, homosexuals, the mentally ill, and the condemned.” For example, in his book, Birth of the Clinic, he provides vivid descriptions of what a mentally ill person undergoes in a mental hospital in order to impress upon us the extreme lengths to which our culture is willing to go in order to try and “eliminate disorder and clean up social messes” (150).
In place of exile or physical torture for illicit acts, the new modes of societal exclusion and punishment, or rather rehabilitation, involve updated, scientifically compatible differentiating techniques.  For example, in contrast to “commemorative accounts” and “genealogies,” one now “becomes known by scientifically defined variances and anomalies” (151).  Instead of legends of brave saints, we produce “distinctively modern epic genres—the psychological autobiography and the carefully monitored and charted case study” (151).  In sum, Schuld states,
“No longer moral transgressions and guilt, no longer honor and shame, no longer action and social consequence, but nature and defect analyzed through rational quantitative study govern the relations of power of those falling outside expected norms, values and behaviors” (151).

In fact, given the logic of the existence of numbers as qualitative phenomena, each of which is connected to wholeness and the Supermind or unus mundus as the one-continuum, her challenge regarding the Matrimandir needs to be seriously ...

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