Tag Archives: Philosophy

The Order of Things

13 Jun

The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (French: Les Mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines) is a 1966 book by Michel Foucault. Foucault endeavours to excavate the origins of the human sciences, particularly but not exclusively psychology and sociology. The book opens with an extended discussion of Diego Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas and its complex arrangement of sightlines, hiddenness, and appearance. Then it develops its central claim: that all periods of history have possessed certain underlying conditions of truth that constituted what was acceptable as, for example, scientific discourse. Foucault argues that these conditions of discourse have changed over time, from one period’s episteme to another. Jean Piaget, in Structuralism, compared Foucault’s episteme to Thomas Kuhn’s notion of a paradigm. Foucault demonstrates the parallelisms in the development of three fields: linguistics, biology, and economics. Foucault’s critique has been influential in the field of cultural history. The various shifts in consciousness that he points out in the first chapters of the book have led several scholars, such as Theodore Porter, to scrutinize the bases for knowledge in our present day as well as to critique the projection of modern categories of knowledge onto subjects that remain intrinsically unintelligible, in spite of historical knowledge. The Order of Things brought Foucault to prominence as an intellectual figure in France. A review by Jean-Paul Sartre attacked Foucault as “the last barricade of the bourgeoisie”. Foucault responded, “Poor bourgeoisie; If they needed me as a ‘barricade’, then they had already lost power!”

When one defines “order” as a sorting of priorities, it becomes beautifully clear as to what Foucault is doing here. With virtuoso showmanship, he weaves an intensely complex history of thought. He dips into literature, art, economics and even biology in The Order of Things, possibly one of the most significant, yet most overlooked, works of the twentieth century. Eclipsed by his later work on power and discourse, nonetheless it was The Order of Things that established Foucault’s reputation as an intellectual giant. Pirouetting around the outer edge of language, Foucault unsettles the surface of literary writing. In describing the limitations of our usual taxonomies, he opens the door onto a whole new system of thought, one ripe with what he calls “exotic charm.” Intellectual pyrotechnics from the master of critical thinking, this book is crucial reading for those who wish to gain insight into that odd beast called Postmodernism, and a must for any fan of Foucault.

Things (introducing a new category)

13 Jun

Lee Lozano

Martin Heidegger ( (1889–1976)) is famous for his early analysis of tools, and equally famous for his later reflections on technology. This might suggest an easy literal reading of these themes in his work along the following lines: ‘Heidegger began his career fascinated by low-tech hardware such as hammers and drills, but later took an interest in advanced devices such as hydroelectric dams’. But such a literal interpretation would miss the point, since neither Heidegger’s tool analysis nor his views on technology are limited to a narrow range of specific kinds of entities. When he speaks of ‘tools’, his analysis holds for trees and monkeys no less than for hammers; when he speaks of ‘technology’, he has little to tell us about specific high-tech instruments. In both cases he is more concerned with a general ontology than with a theory of tools or technology. Hence, this article will focus on the basic ontological background of Heidegger’s reflection on these themes; there is more to say about his ontology of things than about his relatively sparse discussions of technology per se.

The tool analysis is probably Heidegger’s most important contribution to philosophy, and contains his other breakthroughs in germinal form. The tool analysis was first published in 1927 in his masterwork Being and Time (Heidegger, 1962) but dates back to his 1919 lecture course during the so-called Freiburg War Emergency Semester (see Heidegger, 2000). Thus, the occasional claims that Heidegger stole the tool analysis from Edmund Husserl’s unpublished works of the early 1920s result from a flawed chronology and can be dismissed without further comment.1 In fact, the tool analysis marks Heidegger’s definitive break with Husserl, not a plagiarism of his teacher.

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