Husserl and Foucault on the historical apriori: teleological and anti-teleological views of history

It is well known that Husserl and Foucault use the striking phrase “the historical apriori” at certain key points in their work. Yet most commentators agree that the two thinkers mean very different things by this expression, and the question is why these two authors would employ the same terms for such different purposes. Instead of pursuing this question directly I want to look from a broader perspective at the views of history that are reflected in the different uses of this expression. Husserl and Foucault may be said to represent teleological and anti-teleological views of history respectively. Foucault often says that phenomenology represents the view to which he is most opposed, and in most of these remarks it is the subject-centered character of phenomenology to which he most objects. But I think he also sees Husserl as the latest representative of a teleological view of history and of knowledge that descends from Hegel and the enlightenment and is characteristic of modernity as a whole. Foucault’s work mounts a full-scale attack on this view of history, and this is one of the ways in which Foucault’s thought contrasts with Husserl’s. I argue that Foucault’s view is anti-teleological rather than simply non-teleological, since almost invariably he develops his view by uprooting the assumptions of his opponents. At the end of the paper I come back to the expression “historical apriori,” as used by Husserl and Foucault, and discuss it briefly in light of what I have said.