Hume on Foucault: Some Preliminaries

Cosmos + Taxis 12 (1+2):45-58 (2023)
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Abstract

This paper analyzes two episodes of Foucault’s reading(s) of Hume’s philosophy. In both cases Hume is important to Foucault’s overall argument and aims. In particular, in both Foucault takes a fairly conventional philosophical description of Hume -- as a ‘skeptic’ and ‘empiricist’ -- for granted and shows that these disguise a world-historical significance. In section 1, the paper explores Hume's role in Foucault’s (1966) *The Order of Things*. The paper argues Hume stands in for the hidden role of similarity in the human sciences of the so-called ‘classical period.’ The paper examines Hume’s account of relations which do not fully support Foucault’s claims about Hume. It is proposed that Foucault's reading is motivated by the role Hume plays in Husserl’s philosophy. In section 2, Foucault's treatment of Hume on March 28, 1979, during the eleventh lecture of the series known as *Birth of Biopolitics*, is analyzed. There Foucault ascribes to Hume’s account of the subject the key building blocks that allowed for the development of Benthamite radicalism and homo economicus. The paper situates Foucault’s later analysis of Hume in Foucault’s larger account of the development of the so-called radical (Benthamite) strain of liberalism that, on Foucault's telling, runs through Chicago economics. While Foucault’s account of Hume is anachronistic, this anachronism illuminates the building blocks of modern liberalism.

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Eric Schliesser
University of Amsterdam

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