FOUCAULT AND THE FOUR CAUSES

I think it is worthwhile unpacking Foucault’s concept of « triple determination » deployed at the beginning of LES AVEUX DE LA CHAIR because it may contain a useful key not only to the rest of his analysis but also to its contemporary relevance. Following an indication (page 104) of Deleuze’s eponymously titled FOUCAULT we can see at work in many of Foucault’s discussions analogies or variants of Aristotle’s four causes.

Unfortunately the English translation partially mangles this insight, but Deleuze points out that Foucault’s analyses of processes of subjectivation posit four ontological levels:

1) our material part – this corresponds to Aristotle’s material cause. For the Greeks this consists in bodies and their pleasures (aphrodisia), for the Christians it is the flesh and its desires.

This opposition bodies-pleasures/flesh-desires is still operative today. It is noteworthy that Deleuze finds Foucault to be a little too « Greek » in his preference for the concept of pleasure, and no doubt Foucault found Deleuze a little too « Christian » in his preference for the concept of desire.

2) moral precepts and prescriptions – this corresponds to Aristotle’s efficient cause. In his FOUCAULT Deleuze calls this the level of the « efficient rule » (in the French original, page 111), but the adjective « efficient » is omitted in the English translation (page 104).

Taken together these first two causes, material and efficient, correspond to Foucault’s first « determination »: rule-governed conduct. Deleuze remarks on the multiplicity of meaning encompassed by this level of analysis:

« certainly it is not the same thing if the efficient rule is natural, or divine, or rational, or aesthetic… » (FOUCAULT 104, translation modified).

This is the level of what Badiou calls « bodies-languages », and his analysis of « democratic materialism » can be seen as a critique of the Greek regression embodied by Foucault. No doubt Foucault would have seen in Badiou’s return to the Lacanian concept of desire an even more acute case of Christian regression than the ambiguity he saw in Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of desire.

3) reason or Logos – this corresponds to Aristotle’s formal cause. According to Deleuze this is the level of the relation between subject and truth, and of the subjectivation of truth and knowledge. This subjectivation of truth is equally its incarnation.

This level of truth and its subjectivation is radically weakened in our so-called « post-truth » world. It is clear that Foucault himself was in no way post-truth but that he gives us conceptual resources to analyse this new disposition.

4) union with God – this corresponds to Aristotle’s final cause. Deleuze calls this final level « waiting interiority »

it is from it that the subject waits for, in divers modes, immortality, or eternity, or salvation, or freedom, or death, detachment… » (FOUCAULT 104, translation modified).

This level of the final cause is even more weakened than the preceding level of truth and its subjectivation.

In sum, Foucault’s concept of triple determination is not just an instrument of historical analysis but also serves as part of the « ontology of the present ». The question of the status of the four causes today is still ongoing. The material cause is no longer limited to bodies or flesh, but has become cybernetic and biospheric. Its composition with the efficient cause of codes, rules, regulations and prescriptions has led to the twin dangers of de-regulation and identity politics. The formal cause of the relation of subjects to truth and of the subjectivation of knowledge is undergoing profound changes, of which one pole is the evolution towards a post-truth subject. Finally, the final cause of a shared teleological horizon (or « waiting interiority ») of subjectivation for our goals and expectations is still to be constituted.

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4 commentaires pour FOUCAULT AND THE FOUR CAUSES

  1. Hi Agent
    it is good to see you on tne web. Maybe we can collaborate sharing artcles, iossues, problematics and discussion. We are Laboratorio « archelogia filosofica » après Foucault and Agamben, for politic of destitution…

    J'aime

  2. Wayne Schroeder dit :

    What a gift tying the ever relevant (within limits) Foucault in the context of Deleuze’s Foucault and bringing non-French readers into the new publication. As always, thanks.

    J'aime

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