Worlds apart? Sartre, Foucault, and the question of freedom

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Title: Worlds apart? Sartre, Foucault, and the question of freedom
Authors: Brown, Mark Raymond
Date: 2004
Abstract: Readily acknowledged as two of the intellectual giants of twentieth century French thought, Jean-Paul Sartre and Michel Foucault are typically depicted as philosophical opposites. Sartre and Foucault are certainly distinct philosophers, but such a portrayal all too often obscures important similarities in their thought. This thesis, by arguing that Sartre and Foucault are not worlds apart on the question of freedom, attempts to bridge the distance that is commonly regarded to exist between these two. This task is accomplished by bringing to light specific affinities between Sartre and Foucault on the issue of freedom that occur at different junctures in their oeuvres. By proceeding with a critical intention in mind, this thesis provides an interpretative analysis that elucidates three important similarities between Sartre and Foucault: first, it will be shown that when Foucault, in his later thought, unequivocally raises the issue of freedom, he proposes an ethical orientation that is not markedly different from the one suggested by Sartre in his early existentialism. Both Sartre and Foucault put forth an ethical motive that relates to the creativity of the subject. It will be argued that this idea of creative freedom, implicit in Sartre's notion of authentic freedom and explicit in Foucault's proposal for an aesthetics of existence, can be related to an historical idea of artistic freedom, specifically, the autonomy that modern art promises. By showing that the concept of freedom which modern art presumes is a contentious issue, this thesis also argues that the idea of creative freedom in Sartre and Foucault is nothing less than an empty ethical suggestion. By tracing the theme of the gaze in Sartre and Foucault, the next motive will to be show that their thought is motivated by a similar recognition: the notion that humans gaze upon themselves and their world through an objective lens that limits freedom. It will be argued that this insight can be associated with another insight that Sartre and Foucault share: the idea that universal morality is impossible. Although morality, in the eyes of Sartre and Foucault, is impossible, it will be argued that their political activity, while not revealing a universal moral project, nevertheless discloses an ethical impetus. The final convergence that will be presented is that Sartre and Foucault, via different avenues, illustrate that freedom takes place in a socio-historical field that governs and determines its possibilities. Although this conclusion is a result of each thinker's engagement with history, it will be argued that neither Sartre or Foucault presents a convincing way out of this historical nightmare. In fact, by considering the implications of their refusal to introduce an idea of the good into the social field, it will be shown that both reduce the status of freedom to a negative concept.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/29081
http://dx.doi.org/10.20381/ruor-12759
CollectionTh├Ęses, 1910 - 2010 // Theses, 1910 - 2010
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