The Politics of Incommensurability: The Case of Rorty and Foucault

  • Author / Creator
    Showler, Paul
  • Despite their extensive philosophical agreements, the case can be made that Richard Rorty and Michel Foucault were at odds politically. The devout liberal that he was, Rorty struggled continuously to come to grips with what he took to be a sort of radicalism espoused by the French thinker. As a result, Rorty’s critical engagement with Foucault over political matters was always two-sided. On the one hand, he commended the latter’s ability to draw attention to the insidious aspects of contemporary liberal societies. On the other hand, he was critical of Foucault’s apparent disdain for liberal societies and institutions. Though Rorty would often frame this criticism in different ways, he resisted viewing his political disagreement with Foucault as having any philosophical basis. That is, he tended to see Foucault’s radicalism as the result of contingent sociological and biographical factors, rather than as the outcome of philosophical argument. Against this picture, the aim of my thesis is to explain the political disagreement between Foucault and Rorty on the basis of their divergent views concerning conceptual relativism—the idea that there can exist incommensurable conceptual frameworks. In particular, I suggest that whereas Rorty’s pragmatic defense of liberalism is bolstered by his rejection of conceptual relativism as a tenable philosophical thesis, many of Foucault’s more radical-sounding political claims are supported by the version of conceptual relativism that he put forth in his archaeological writings of the 1960’s.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2016
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.