Historical Critique or Transcendental Critique in Foucault: Two Kantian Lineages

A growing body of interpretive literature concerning the work of Michel Foucault asserts that Foucault’s critical project is best interpreted in light of various strands of philosophical phenomenology. In this article I dispute this interpretation on both textual and philosophical grounds. It is shown that a core theme of ‘the phenomenological Foucault’ having to do with transcendental inquiry cannot be sustained by a careful reading of Foucault’s texts nor by a careful interpretation of Foucault’s philosophical commitments. It is then shown that this debate in Foucault scholarship has wider ramifications for understanding ‘the critical Foucault’ and the relationship of Foucault’s projects to Kantian critical philosophy. It is argued that Foucault’s work is Kantian at its core insofar as it institutes a critical inquiry into conditions of possibility. But whereas critique for Kant was transcendental in orientation, in Foucault critique becomes historical, and is much the better for it.