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>> Hubert Dreyfus, Professor of Philosophy in the Graduate School

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Heidegger and Foucault on the Subject, Agency and Practices

Hubert L. Dreyfus


Whatever their similarities and differences, one thing that Heidegger and Foucault clearly have in common is that both are critical of the Cartesian idea of a self-transparent subject and the related Kantian ideal of autonomous agency. Yet neither denies the importance of human freedom. In Heidegger's early work the subject is reinterpreted as Dasein -- a non autonomous, culturally bound (or thrown) way of being, that can yet change the field of possibilities in which it acts. In middle Heidegger, thinkers alone have the power to disclose a new world, while in later Heidegger, anyone is free to step back from the current world, to enter one of a plurality of worlds, and, thereby, facilitate a change in the practices of one's society. Likewise, for early Foucault, the subject is reduced to a function of discourse; for middle Foucault, writing can open up new worlds, and in later Foucault, freedom is understood as the power to question what is currently taken for granted, plus the capacity to change oneself and, perhaps, one's milieu. In short, while both Heidegger and Foucault reject the Enlightenment idea of an autonomous subject, they have a robust notion of freedom and action. And it will turn out for both thinkers that each person can modify his or her cultural practices by openness to embeddedness in them. All this needs a great deal of explanation. We need to determine, on the one hand, just what each rejects and why, and, on the other, what series of understandings of the self and its possibilities for action each introduces.

I. Early Heidegger's Substitution of Dasein for the Cartesian Subject

Heidegger's determination to break out of the philosophical tradition is focused in his attempt to get beyond the subject/object distinction. Heidegger opposes the Husserlian claim that a person's relation to the world and the things in it must be mediated by something in the person's mind: beliefs, desires, experiences, etc. -- what philosophers call "intentional content." As he puts it:


The idea of a subject which has intentional experiences . . . encapsulated within itself is an absurdity which misconstrues the basic ontological structure of the being that we ourselves are.

He seeks to undermine this view by returning to the phenomenon of everyday skillful activity. He finds that, when everyday coping is going well, one experiences something like what athletes call flow, or playing out of their heads. One does not distinguish one's experience of acting from one's ongoing activity, and therefore one has no experience of oneself as a subject causing that activity.

Phenomenological examination shows that, in a wide variety of situations, human beings are related to the world in an organized purposive manner yet without the constant accompaniment of a subjective state which specifies what the action is aimed at accomplishing. Indeed, at times one is actually surprised when one's action is accomplished, as when one's thoughts are interrupted by one's arrival at the office. A huge amount of our lives -- working, walking, talking, eating, driving, etc. -- is spent in this non-mediated coping mode and only a small part is spent in the deliberate, purposeful, subject/object mode. Yet the reflective is, of course, the mode we tend to notice, and so it has formed our common-sense concept of action and has been studied in detail by philosophers.

To consolidate his rejection of the primacy of the self-sufficient subject, Heidegger rejects the Cartesian terminology which expresses it.


Because the usual separation between a subject with its immanent sphere and an object with its transcendent sphere -- because, in general, the distinction between an inner and an outer is constructive and continually gives occasion for further constructions, we shall in the future no longer speak of a subject, of a subjective sphere, but shall understand the being to whom intentional comportments belong as Dasein. (BP, p. 64)

So far we have seen that in non-deliberate activities we experience ourselves only as an open responsiveness to what solicits our activity. Heidegger now adds that such unthinking activity provides the background both for specific acts of ongoing coping and for deliberately focusing on what is unusual or difficult. The basic idea is that for a particular person to be directed toward a particular piece of equipment, whether using it, perceiving it, or whatever, there must be a correlation between that person's general capacity for skillful coping and the interconnected equipmental whole in which the piece of equipment has a place. For example, when I enter a room I normally cope with the tables, chairs, etc. What enables me to do this is not a set of beliefs about rooms, it is a socialized set of skills for dealing with such equipmental wholes that I have developed by crawling and walking around many rooms.

In Being and Time, Heidegger describes this general coping as familiarity. And just as in ordinary cases of coping, where Dasein is absorbed in its activity with no experiences of itself as an action-directing subject, so when Dasein is simply at home in its situation, there is no separation between Dasein's disclosing comportment and the world disclosed: "Self and world are not two entities, like subject and object . . . but self and world are the basic determination of Dasein itself in the unity of the structure of being-in-the-world".

It is important to realize that our general background coping, our familiarity with the world, is what Being and Time is all about. Indeed, Heidegger says explicitly that "this familiarity with the world . . . goes to make up Dasein's understanding of being." This understanding of being provides a background understanding of what matters and of what it makes sense to do.. Moreover, this background coping gives us a space or a clearing in which things and people can show up as mattering and meaningful for us.


Only this clearing grants and guarantees to human beings a passage to those entities that we ourselves are not, and access to the being that we ourselves are. (PLT 53, G 5 39-40)

Dasein does not produce the clearing by some act of choice. Rather the background coping gives Dasein its sense of what sort of being it is. And since individual Daseins can act only within this background that determines what can show up as making sense to do, Dasein can never be the fully lucid source of its actions postulated by the modern understanding of the subject and of autonomous agency.

II. Early Foucault on the Disappearance of the Subject

Foucault makes a similar discovery. After Madness and Civilization through the period of The Order of Things and The Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault came under the influence of French Structuralism. He was never, strictly speaking, a structuralist since the structures he studied were historical and changed abruptly from epoch to epoch, but he did share with structuralism a determined effort to eliminate the Cartesian subject. He did not deny, any more than did Heidegger, that human beings were conscious and did things. But, like Heidegger, he argued that the subject as a lucid, autonomous agent, was a product of particular practices and so could not have the causal agency our culture attributed to it.

For Foucault, in this period, the subject is a function of discourse. Statements have to be attributed to some speaker, but what is essential about any statement, Foucault argues, is its role in a system of other statements. This role is independent of the psychological fact that the statement was uttered or written by someone. Foucault concludes that "the different forms of speaking subjectivity [are] effects proper to the enunciative field."

In The Order of Things, Foucault undermines our tendency to think that each of us is a self-sufficient, meaning-giving cogito by recounting the history of the construction of the Cartesian subject and the Kantian agent. On Foucault's account both turn out be the product of a "warped" and "twisted" form of reflection he calls the transcendental/empirical double. Foucault notes that when man sees himself as involved in the world and also as a transcendental source of meaning, he enters into a strange relation with his own involvements. His use of language that he does not master, his inherence in a living organism he does not fully penetrate with thought, and the desires that he cannot control must all be taken to be the basis of his ability to think and act. But if man is to be a lucid transcendental source of meaning, this unthought must be ultimately accessible to thought. And if he is to be autonomous, this unthought must be dominated in action. Yet insofar as this unthought in its obscurity is precisely the condition of the possibility of thought and action it can never be fully absorbed into the cogito. Thus the lucid subject is not only undermined by the realization that it is a construction of our modern discursive formation and so has no causal power; the Kantian autonomous agent is an internally contradictory ideal.

Such considerations support Foucault's famous claim that "man," Foucault's name for the autonomous subject, is a recent invention and will soon pass away. Foucault sums up his view in this period in an interview from May 1969.


The death of man is nothing to get particularly excited about. It's one of the visible forms of a much more general decease, if you like. I don't mean by it the death of god but the death of the subject, of the Subject in capital letters, of the subject as origin and foundation of Knowledge, of Liberty, of Language and History.

III. Early Heidegger's Replacement of Kantian Autonomy by Authentic Resoluteness

Foucault is happy simply to look forward to the disappearance of the subject; Heidegger, however, wants to find out what can take its place. If Dasein is "thrown" into cultural practices what becomes of human freedom? This is the question Heidegger faces in Division II of Being and Time.

To begin with, one must accept that there is a structural limit to Dasein's autonomy. Heidegger calls this structural feature existential guilt. Existential guilt does not denote Dasein's moral lapses or its failure to choose for itself; it reveals an essentially unsatisfactory structure definitive of even authentic Dasein. Even if Dasein has done nothing wrong there is something wrong with Dasein -- it can’t be transparent to itself. For example, a particular Dasein does not choose to be brought up as masculine or feminine. Yet what is more important is that each of these roles is so pervasive, so much a part of any skillful comportment and the way various skillful comportments mesh together, that one can never get clear about all any such role implies. One will never be able to accept or reject it in toto. As Heidegger puts it, "Dasein cannot get behind its throwness" (p. 330) [p. 284]. Dasein must act on the basis of taken-for-granted practices that it can never fully grasp.

III. Authentic Resoluteness as a New Source of Freedom

Given its existential guilt Dasein has to give up the goal of Kantian autonomy, but in so doing it gains a new sort of freedom and responsibility. To be authentic, i.e. to own up to its own structure, Dasein must be what Heidegger calls resolute. Dasein must take responsibility for the understanding of being that it embodies but cannot know. For example, men and women must take responsibility for gender roles so pervasive and so much a part of bodily dispositions that they can never be spelled out as a belief system. But precisely in accepting this limit on its lucidity and autonomy, and thereby opening itself to the clearing in which it acts, authentic Dasein gains the possibility of a new, more powerful, freedom.

At this early stage Heidegger holds that Dasein expriences its thrownness and groundlessness in anxiety. If it resolutely holds onto anxiety, that is, if it accepts its ontological limitations, it will give up rigid roles and identities and become sensitive to marginal practices from the past. So, for instance, resolute women will be able to be sensitive to gender practices left in our culture from pioneer days. As Heidegger puts it:


The resoluteness in which Dasein comes back to itself, discloses current factical possibilities of authentic existing, and discloses them in terms of the heritage which that resoluteness, as thrown, takes over. (p. 435) [p. 383]

Marginal possibilities offer the individual non-banal ways of perceiving and responding to the current situation. Heidegger's idea seems to be that, by taking up such marginal practices from the past in its current coping, Dasein can innovate in an otherwise banal and closed world. Thus an individual can contribute to changing the shared world, i.e. the understanding of the issues and what to do about them, for his or her generation.

Freedom to change itself by modifying its background practices is the way Dasein can live a life worth living, even though it can never be a self-sufficient, lucid, autonomous subject. But can Dasein, by abandoning the illusion of subjectivity and autonomy, contribute to changing the structure of the background practices as a whole?

V. The Thinker's Role in the Establishment of Truth

For everyday practices to give meaning to people's lives and unite them in a community something must collect the scattered practices of the group, unify them into coherent possibilities for action, and hold them up to the people. The people can then act and relate themselves to each other in terms of this exemplar. And the object that performs this function best Heidegger calls a work of art. As his illustration of an art work working, Heidegger takes the Greek temple. The temple held up to the Greeks what was important and so established the meaningful differences such a victory and disgrace in respect to which they could orient their actions.

The style of the background practices as a whole change radically each time a culture gets a new art work. After such a change different sorts of human beings and things show up. For the Greeks, what showed up were heroes and slaves and marvelous things; for the Christians, saints and sinners, rewards and temptations. There could not have been saints in Ancient Greece. At best there could have been weak people who let everybody walk all over them. Likewise, there could not have been Greek-style heroes in the Middle Ages. Such people would have been regarded as prideful sinners.

Generalizing the idea of a work of art, Heidegger holds that "there must always be some being in the open [the clearing], something that is, in which the openness takes its stand and attains its constancy" (PLT 61, G 5 48). Let us call such special things cultural paradigms. A cultural paradigm is any being in the clearing that disclose a new world or, by refocusing the current cultural practices can disclose the world anew. Heidegger mentions five types of cultural paradigms--works of art, acts of statements, nearness of a god, and sacrifice of a god, and the words of a thinker-- but, for brevity's sake, we shall concern ourselves only with two, the founding political act and the thinker's words. The U.S. Constitution would count as a cultural paradigm for Heidegger. For it is just the sort of political act that establishes an understanding of what it is to be a state by articulating an understanding already in that culture. Once established, because it is so important to the people whose world it organizes, it becomes the center of a struggle to make it clear, coherent and complete. Heidegger calls this tendency in the practices to move towards clarity the world aspect. But any being resists being completely clarified. Heidegger calls this resitance the world aspect. The struggle between them sets up what he calls an outline which is the specific style of the culture. The struggle between various interpretations of the paradigm makes the culture historical since the present repeatedly reinterprets the past and sets up a new future.

The second cultural paradigm consists in the words of the thinker. The thinker, by being receptive to the current practices (both central and marginal), is able to reconfigure the practices and so bring about a new shared style or understanding of being or can articulate the understanding already in the practices in a diffuse way and so focus a world. Thinkers, in the course of Western history, have named being as physis, poesis, res, creation, and subjectivity/objectivity and standing reserve and have thus contributed to establishing a succession of historical worlds.


In the work, truth is thrown toward the coming preservers, that is, toward an historical group. . . . [It] is the opening up or disclosure of that into which human being as historical is already cast.

Founding such a new beginning, then, requires not genius, but openness and receptivity to the marginal practices:


All creation . . . is a drawing, as of water from a spring. Modern subjectivism, to be sure, immediately misinterprets creation, taking it as the self-sovereign subject's performance of genius.

The new beginning is a founding leap -- an Ur-sprung -- which by way of its grounding in the marginal practices from the past bestows a new clearing.


[T]his unmediated character of a beginning, the peculiarity of a leap out of the unmediable, does not exclude but rather includes the fact that the beginning prepares itself for the longest time and wholly inconspicuously.

Thanks to his total embeddedness in the current style of his culture and by virtue of his receptivity, the thinker has the most radical freedom possible for a human being. Heidegger calls this freedom, freedom to ground. Before we return to the way all human beings can, in effect, be mini-thinkers and change their local worlds, we need to follow a development, parallel to the one we have been following in Heidegger, in the writings of Foucault.

V. The Author's Role in Establishing Discursive Domains

We have seen that when Heidegger eliminated the subject he at the same time introduced the authentic individual. This step has no parallel in the thinking of early Foucault -- an omission he later came to regret. Rather than proposing a unified, relatively stable, resolute Dasein, Foucault was happy to find that the subject was replaced by a dispersed, unstable function. In the same interview on the death of the subject already quoted, Foucault continues:


In the rumbling that shakes us today, perhaps we have to recognize the birth of a world where the subject is not one but split, not sovereign but dependent, not an absolute origin but a function ceaselessly modified.

But just as Heidegger did not long confine himself to the narrow agency of resolute Dasein, so Foucault does not long retain his view of the wholly dispersed agent. Rather, in his essay, "What Is an Author?," Foucault develops the notion of a discourse founder who, like Heidegger's thinker, open up a domain--in this case a domain of discourse.

This essay is usually read as a continuation of Foucault's attack on the subject, and, indeed, in it Foucault like Heidegger rejects the idea of the author as a genius -- a psychological subject whose private meanings and public expressions are crucial to understanding his work and its effects. Rather,


writing unfolds like a game that invariably goes beyond its own rules and transgresses its limits. In writing, the point is not to manifest or exalt the act of writing, nor is it to pin down a subject within language; it is, rather, a question of creating a space into which the writing subject constantly disappears.

The hermeneutic approach to the author as a subject with deep and original meanings has to be rejected since the author is only a social construction. Again, Foucault says of the author.


Critics doubtless try to give this intelligible being a realistic status, by discerning, in the individual, a "deep" motive, a "creative" power, or a "design," the milieu in which writing originates. Nevertheless, these aspects of an individual which we designate as making him an author are only a projection, in more or less psychologizing terms, of the operations that we force texts to undergo.

Foucault thus seeks to "call back into question the absolute character and founding role of the subject."


In short, it is a matter of depriving the subject (or its substitute) of its role as originator, and of analyzing the subject as a variable and complex function of discourse.

But something more powerful than an author emerges from Foucault's analysis. What Foucault discovers is a kind of writer who is able to establish a local clearing which one might call a disclosive space. Foucault calls such figures founders of discursivity. The open a new style of discourse.


They are unique in that they are not just the authors of their own works. They have produced something else: the possibilities and the rules for the formation of other texts. . . . Freud is not just the author of The Interpretation of Dreams or Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious; Marx is not just the author of the Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital: they both have establish an endless possibility of discourse.

A founder of discursivity in opening a disclosive space sets up a struggle of interpretations which starts a new line of history. In contrast to a scientific founder like Galileo, whose work is made obsolete by the new science he opens up, founders of discursivity never loose their importance for their interpreters.


[T]he work of these initiators of discursivity is not situated in the space that science defines; rather, it is the science or the discursive practice which refers back to their work as primary coordinates.

How do the current interpreters relate to the founders? Not, Foucault insists, by looking for the deep truth hidden in their texts. That would be commentary, and he rejects commentary as endless and fruitless:


Commentary questions discourse as to what it says and intended to say; it tries to uncover that deeper meaning of speech that enables it to achieve an identity with itself, supposedly nearer to its essential truth.. For years we have been commenting on the language of our culture from the very point where for centuries we had awaited in vain for the decision of the Word.

Here Foucault seems to be criticizing Heidegger by criticizing Hans-Georg Gadamer's view of interpretation, but this may only show that Gadamer never understood Heidegger.

For Heidegger the cultural paradigm is an inexhaustible object of interpretation, not because the thinker was a genius or the text too full of meanings, but rather because there is a necessary absence in the cultural paradigm. One might think that just because the thinker manifests the current understanding of being, he names what is so pervasive and embodied it cannot be made fully explicit, but even this is a too Hegelian and Gadamarian way to put it. Since what the thinker manifests is the organization of the practices that constitute the background of all intelligibility, what he or she explicitly says in the text cannot be what is important. The understanding of being would pervade the work without being themartized. What is important is the way the thinker's words are attuned to the background. Heidegger's clearest formulation of this difficult claim is in his essay "Reflection in Metaphysics," (1941):


The thinking of thinkers is neither something going on in "heads" nor is it the product of such heads. One can always consider thought historiographically in accordance with such viewpoints, and appeal to the correctness of this consideration. However, one does not thus think thinking as the thinking of being. Recollection of the history of being returns to the claim of the soundless voice of being and to the manner of its attuning.

This attunement to being is not attunement to a positive but hidden truth. Rather the attunement manifests a necessary structural absence.


The thinker can never himself say what is most of all his own. It must remain unsaid, because what is sayable receives its determination from what is not sayable.

Heidegger adds:


The historicity of a thinker, which is not a matter of him but of being, has its measure in the original loyalty of the thinker to his inner limitation. Not to know this inner limitation, not to know it thanks to the nearness of what is unsaid and unsayable, is the hidden gift of being to the rare thinkers who are called to the path of thought.

There is, then, no hidden truth to explicate; the understanding of being is all on the surface in all the practices, and all over the text as its own background of intelligibility. The thinker in his receptivity experiences what is going on in the practices and is able in his work to focus what is going on, but unlike a lucid agent, a thinker is never able to explicitlyu articulate explicitly what he is experiencing. Yet precisely because his work is changing the understanding of being, the thinker is more perceptive than the most lucid subject and more effective than the most persistent agent. Likewise, the interpreter or preserver who returns to such founding thinkers can, by taking up practices from the heritage in a new way, contribute to changing the present practices.

Foucault in "What is an Author?" holds a view close to Heidegger's when he rejects commentary and introduces what he takes to be the right kind of return to the text of a founder of a domain of discursivity.


If we return, it is because of a basic and constructive omission, an omission that is not the result of accident or incomprehension. . . . It is always a return to a text in itself, specifically, to a primary and unadorned text with particular attention to those things registered in the interstices of the text, its gaps and absences.

Foucault also sees the effect such an interpretation can produce:


It follows naturally that this return . . . constantly introduces modifications and that the return to a text is not a historical supplement that would come to fix itself upon the primary discursivity and redouble it in the form of an ornament which, after all, is not essential. Rather, it is an effective and necessary means of transforming discursive practice.

Yet, Foucault seems to agree with Nietzsche and argue against Heidegger when he says, in "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," that genealogy absolutely "opposes itself to the search for 'origins'" (p. 77). How can we understand how Foucault can reject any return to origins as he does in his discussion of Nietzsche and yet advocate a return to origins in the cases of the founders of discursivity? The answer is that what Nietzsche rejects as origins is the same rich truth that Foucault rejects when he rejects commentary, while what Nietzsche proposes is a return to the point of emergence, which Foucault defines as "the entry of forces . . . the leap from the wings to the center stage." This corresponds almost exactly to Heidegger's account of the origin of the work of art as the Ur-sprung, the originating leap-- a leap a thinker's thought brings about when, in that thinker’s saying, marginal practices become central and central practices marginal so that the understanding of being is re-gestalted. Foucault's account sounds like a more violent version of Heidegger's when he says:


If interpretation were the slow exposure of the meaning hidden in an origin, then only metaphysics could interpret the development of humanity. But if interpretation is the violent or surreptitious appropriation of a system of rules, which in itself has no essential [i.e. intrinsic] meaning, in order to impose a direction, to bend it to a new will, to force its participation in a different game, and to subject it to secondary rules, then the development of humanity is a series of interpretations.

These similarities between the thought of Heidegger and Foucault should not surprise us since it is really the Hegelian and Gadamarian metaphysical notion of the continuing, unfolding, of some positive cultural and personal identity that Foucault is opposing here -- a metaphysical construct first defined and opposed by Heidegger.

The notion of the origin as a originating leap, with its account of the emergence of incommensurate worlds, is meant precisely to reject this Hegelian teleological view of the implicit truth gradually becoming explicit. For Foucault's Nietzsche too:


The purpose of history, guided by genealogy, is not to discover the roots of our identity, but to commit itself to its dissipation. It does not seek to define our unique threshold of emergence, the homeland to which metaphysicians promise a return; it seeks to make visible all of those discontinuities that cross us.

There is nonetheless, at this stage, a real difference between Foucault and Heidegger. Just as for Heidegger the nullified self can unify its life in resoluteness, the culture unifies itself each time there is a new beginning. Heidegger thinks that struggle is always stabilized in a world with an overall style, which for a time "gathers together all the paths of destiny." On Foucault's reading of himself and Nietzsche, there is no such tendency to stability.


Historical emergence designates a place of confrontation, but not as a closed field offering the spectacle of a struggle among equals. Rather, as Nietzsche demonstrates in his analysis of good and evil, it is a "non-place," a pure distance, which indicates that the adversaries do not belong to a common space.

The main difference between Heidegger and Foucault, then, is that Foucault sees Nietzsche as affirming a continual instability in the practices defining both the self and the culture, while Heidegger points to the importance of a non-metaphysical but nonetheless essential tendency towards gathering in the practices which he calls appropriation (Ereignis).

As we shall see Foucault is pulled both toward a Heideggerian account of gathering and also towards Nietzschean dispersion. But once we see, in passages like the above, that Foucault is arguing primarily against Hegel and not Heidegger, we will be prepared to understand how the Heideggerian picture of the way marginal practices coalesce to form stable unities comes more and more to dominate Foucault's account of the history of the West. Indeed, if we set aside the question of how stable cultural practices naturally are -- a question on which, if it makes any sense, Foucault and Heidegger deeply differ -- and ask how stable the practices of an epoch can in fact become, we will find Foucault's view approaching Heidegger's as the two thinkers focus their analysis on the understanding of being characteristic of modernity

VII. Heidegger and Foucault on the Modern Subject

[ In his account of modernity, Heidegger begins by telling us that "Metaphysics grounds an age, in that, through a specific interpretation of what is, and through a specific comprehension of truth it gives to that age the basis upon which it is essentially formed." Foucault says more narrowly: "In any given culture and at any given moment, there is only one episteme that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge whether expressed in a theory or silently invested in a practice." Both view the emergence of representation in the Classical Age as the beginning of modernity that finally becomes explicit in Kant's interpretation of man.

Heidegger tells us of a radical transformation in our understanding of being which took place in the 17th century: "What is decisive is that man himself expressly takes up this position as one constituted by himself and that he makes it secure as the footing for a possible development of humanity."

This understanding of man is an understanding of the subject, not just as lucid and autonomous, but as the substitute for God, as the self-certain source of all meaning. The essence of subjectivity after Kant is to be the ground of all intelligibility. It follows for Heidegger that


Man as a rational being of the age of the Enlightenment is no less subject than is man who grasps himself as a nation, wills himself as a Volk, fosters himself as a race, and, finally, empowers himself as lord of the earth.

anthropological definition of technology." Modern technology, Heidegger tells us, is "something completely different and therefore new." It is a new ordering of background practices.

In "The Age of the World Picture," Heidegger interprets this new technological understanding of beings -- let us call it technicity -- by looking at one of its greatest achievements, scientific research. The direction of technological practices, Heidegger tells us, is toward total order for its own sake.


Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately at hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering. Whatever is ordered about in this way has its own standing. We call it standing-reserve [Bestand].

In other words, technicity tends towards the treatment of everything as resources to be ever more efficiently and flexibly ordered.

Heidegger seems to waver on the question whether, as technicity reaches its final stage, it will accentuate subjects and objects or eliminate them. In the end, however, he seems clearly to hold that technicity can most efficiently treat both people and things as resources when it ceases setting meaning-giving subjects over against objectified things. He observes that soon there will be no objects and no subjects, just "a system of information." and human beings will loose all freedom as they are "sucked up as standing reserve."

For Foucault, as for Heidegger, modern practices produce a new subject that is the source of truth, but not the truth about the whole world as in Kantian world picturing. Rather the Foucaultian modern subject is constituted as the source of a deep inner truth about itself.

In The History of Sexuality, Foucault tells a rather unNietzschean continuous story of how the gradual development of confessional practices in the West produced a very stable, unified subject -- a subject Foucault calls the man of desires. Such a subject is not only something self-sufficient standing over against objects as in Descartes, or the source of all meaning as in Kant; rather it is the locus of private desires and intentions over against public actions.

Foucault claims in The Care of the Self that the Christians took over for their own purposes an elaborate technology of self-examination that was already in place by the time of the Stoics. The Stoics separated deeds from their motivating desire and used techniques of self-care to control dangerous desires. But the Christian subject identifies itself not with its public deeds but with his most private intentions, desires, fantasies, and dreams. Moreover, since what one really desires might well be forbidden and therefore disguised in some other desire, this Christian subject has constantly to examine its desires to dredge up its true motivations. Foucault quotes an early confessional manual: "Examine . . . all your thoughts, every word you speak, and all your actions. Examine even unto your dreams, to know if, once awakened, you did not give them your consent. And finally, do not think that in so sensitive and perilous a matter as this, there is anything trivial or insignificant." This is the motto, he claims, of the suspicious, confessing, subjects we have all become.

When these confessional practices linked up with totalizing scientific practices in the early seventeenth century, they produced a new concern for the subject as a sexual being, and finally two centuries later, a science of sexuality that was supposed to hold the clue to human agency. Freud supplies the last stage in this constitution of the hermeneutic sexual subject. He sees the self as a subject that needs to recover the repressed truth of its desires -- the secret of its sexuality. He claims to have developed a science of the subject, understanding sexual desire as a natural kind about which we can discover laws of normal development, functioning and causal effects.

Foucault holds that this claim is unfounded.


The notion of "sex" made it possible to group together, in an artificial unity, anatomical elements, biological functions, conducts, sensations, and pleasures, and it enabled one to make use of this fictitious unity as a causal principle.

There is no such natural kind, Foucault claims. Like the Kantian autonomous subject, the Freudian sexual subject is an artificial construction of, what Foucault calls, Power. Consequently, Foucault says that for us,


[There are] two meanings to the word subject . . . The subject subjugated to the other through control and dependence and the subject attached to its own identity through consciousness or self-knowledge. In both cases the word suggests a form of power that subjugates and subdues.

So power is not exercised by modern subjects; it creates them. Thus the search for meaning is not liberating but enslaving. Just as sex is the illusory source of causation; the successfully analyzed subject is the illusory center of freedom.]

VI. How Can We Free Ourselves From Modern Subjectivity?

Both Heidegger and Foucault maintain that the current why the practices work is to coopt all deviation. Marginal practices are either trivialized or transformed so as to be efficient and enhance life. [Examples of playing with children, and back packing into the wilderness.] Heidegger has a modest proposal as to how, despite the tendency of current practices to coopt all deviation, we can modify, in small ways, the current understanding of being. Human begins should become preservers, that is they should cherish things which gather and focus local practices whether such things be old stone bridges or the latest autobahn overpass:


The old stone bridge's humble brook-crossing gives to the harvest wagon . . . the field path to the road. The highway bridge is tied into the network of long-distance traffic, paced as calculated for maximum yield. Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and fro. . . . [Each] bridge gathers to itself in its own way.

Practices that produce such focal things as a celebratory meal or playing music together resist the push towards dispersion which is the flip side of technicity's tendency toward totalization.

Furthermore, for Heidegger our ability to open ourselves to the gathering of even technological things like the autobahn bridge is a way of getting in sync with the style of our technological practices. This getting in sync reveals our technological practices as a clearing or mode of revealing, not as the way things have to be, and so frees us from the compulsion to challenge all things into total ordering. At the same time it frees us to have a plurality of different local situations of relative stability and order. These various local worlds would be in a loose sort of agreement in multiplicity while resisting total coordination and mobilization. Such a loosely collected plurality of worlds would resemble the polytheistic practices Heidegger admires in the Homeric Greeks.

For late Heidegger, then, the resolute Dasein of Being and Time who can change the practices of its generation, and the thinker who can make marginal practices central has developed into a preserver of local practices -- a mini-thinker who by being open to the way practices gather other practices and resonate with each other, can create a plurality of worlds that resist the totalizing tendencies of technicity.

In the pluralistic later Heidegger there is no more talk of the history of being and hardly any talk of being at all. Indeed, Heidegger came to think that there is an essential antagonism between a unified understanding of being and local worlds. Given the way local worlds establish their own internal coherence that resists any imposition from outside there is bound to be a tension between the glorious cultural paradigm that establishes an understanding of being for a whole culture and the humble inconspicuous things. The shining of one would wash out the shining of the others. The tendency toward one unified world would impede the gathering of local worlds. Already in his "Thing" essay Heidegger goes out of his way to point out that, even though the original meaning of ‘thing’ in German is a gathering to discuss a matter of concern to the community, in the case of the thing thinging, the gathering in question must be self contained. The focal occasion must determine which community concerns are relevant rather than the reverse.

Given this tension, in a late seminar Heidegger abandoned what he had considered up to then his crucial contribution to philosophy, the notion of a single understanding of being and its correlated notion of the ontological difference between being and beings. He remarks that "from the perspective of appropriation [the tendency in the practices to bring things out in their ownmost] it becomes necessary to free thinking from the ontological difference." He continues, "From the perspective of appropriation, [letting-presence] shows itself as the relation of world and thing, a relation which could in a way be understood as the relation of being and beings. But then its peculiar quality would be lost." What presumably would be lost would be the self-enclosed local character of worlds focused by things thinging. It follows that, as mortal disclosers of worlds in the plural, the only comprehensiveness we can hope to achieve is our openness to dwelling in many worlds and the capacity to move among them.

Foucault allows for possible transformation too, but he does not seem to have followed Heidegger's move beyond subjects and objects. Whereas Heidegger, even in the Black Forrest, sensed that we are entering a post-modern world where we will treat ourselves as resources to be enhanced without appeal to subjectivity, Foucault who was teaching in Berkeley and should have known better, seems, rather, to have believed to the end that Christian and Freudian confessional practices and their product, a subject that examines itself for its deep truth and a science of desire, are the most important way bio-power subjectifies and so subjugates us. "The West has managed . . . to bring us almost entirely . . . under the sway of a logic of concupiscence and desire. Whenever it is a question of knowing who we are, it is this logic that henceforth serves as our master key," he tells us.

Anguish over the deep subject so strongly supported in France by Catholic and Freudian practices may be the source of what Foucault, at the end of his life, admitted was his mistaken attempt to avoid questions of agency and individual conduct throughout his work -- at least up to his last book, The Care of the Self. In his last interview he says of his work:


I tried to mark our three types of problems: that of truth, that of power, and that of individual conduct. These three domains of experience can be understood only in relation to each other and only with each other. What hampered me in the preceding books was to have considered the first two experiences without taking into account the third. By bringing this last experience [of individual conduct] to light, I had a guiding thread which didn't need to be justified by resorting to rhetorical methods by which one could avoid one of the three fundamental domains of experience.

Once he acknowledges the need for an ethics, Foucault hopes to break out of the regime of subjectivity by reappropriating the ancient practices of care of the self. In an interview he distinguishes the Greek individual from the modern subject:


Since no Greek thinker ever found a definition of the subject, never looked for one, I would simply say that there was no subject. Which doesn't mean that the Greeks didn't strive to define the conditions of an experience, but it wasn't an experience of the subject; rather, it was of the individual, insofar as he sought to constitute himself through self-mastery.

In The Care of the Self, Foucault describes these practices of self-mastery by means of which the Greek individual sought to transform himself.


It was [the] theme of the care of oneself, consecrated by Socrates, that later philosophy took up again and ultimately placed at the center of that "art of existence" which philosophy claimed to be. . . . Around the care of the self, there developed an entire activity of speaking and writing in which the work of oneself on oneself and communication with others were linked together.

The goal of such care was to work upon oneself so as to produce one's life as a work of art, not to find a deep inner truth.


It was a matter of knowing how to govern one's own life in order to give it the most beautiful form possible (in the eyes of others, of oneself, and of the future generations for whom one could serve as an example).

A self that is work of art will not be a lucid subject, an autonomous agent, nor a locus of deep self-analysis, but it presumably will have its own kind of relative unity and stability. And it will be based on taking over these old Socratic-Stoic practices.

Furthermore, as Alexander Nehamas notes in discussing Foucault's project, making one's life into a work of art can not consist in a retreat into a private subjective world. Art itself is historically situated. Artists always work within the limitations of a tradition handed down to them. What counts as a beautiful or admirable life is determined by current styles and so in return is able to change the sensibilities that make it possible. We have seen that Heidegger’s resistance is a receptive dwelling that preserves things and the practices they focus and keeps them from becoming objects or resources; Foucault proposes an active self-creation that resists letting the self be transformed into a subject. If he had lived to follow out this idea Foucault might have provided an account of how the self, in transforming itself into a work of art, could help to transform or at least displace the current clearing.

Thus in the end Heidegger and Foucault converge on the idea of a human being formed by the current clearing, but at the same time free by virtue of openness to and an understanding of this indebtedness. Each sees that a sensitivity to one’s current style as a style enables one to collect now-marginal practices from the past which in turn allows one to engage in a loosely ordered multiplicity of activities that give life meaning or beauty, while at the same time contributing to slowly changing the totalizing background practices that endanger human freedom.


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