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A Foucauldian Critique of Scientific Naturalism: ‘Docile Minds’

Giladi, Paul (2021) A Foucauldian Critique of Scientific Naturalism: ‘Docile Minds’. Critical Horizons, 21 (3). pp. 264-286. ISSN 1440-9917

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Abstract

My aim in this paper is to articulate and challenge a Foucauldian critique of scientific naturalism, and, in particular, a Foucauldian critique of the nomothetic framework underlying the Placement Problem. What I hope to achieve is to bring Foucauldian post-structuralist theory into the conversation concerning scientific naturalism and the Placement Problem. My Foucauldian post-structuralist critique of scientific naturalism questions the relations between our society’s imbrication of economic-political power structures and knowledge in such a way that also effects some constructive critical alignment between Foucault and Habermas, helping to undermine the traditional view of their respective social critiques as incompatible. First, I will outline a brief genealogical backstory for the rise of scientific naturalism, and I will then reconstruct the Placement Problem. In the second part of the paper, I introduce Foucault’s notion of pouvoir-savoir (‘power-knowledge’), namely his account of the interconnection between power and knowledge. I then go on to articulate the Foucauldian critique of scientific naturalism by arguing that the levelling nature of nomothetic rationality and its conservative naturalistic vocabulary involves regulative discourse: anything that resists placeability/locatability is labelled ‘odd’. By being thus visibly marked, ‘odd’ phenomena become ‘queer’ phenomena, which then become ‘problematic’ phenomena. They are, thereby, construed in need of discipline (and even punishment). Understood in this Foucauldian way, the most pressing problem with the disciplinary framework of scientific naturalism is that the erasure of the sui generis features of the normative space of reasons amounts to a debilitating variety of alienation in which humanity is estranged from its pluralist matrix of sense-making practices. Thus, scientific naturalist disciplinarity produces subjected and practised minds, ‘docile’ minds.

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