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Between Nietzsche and Kant: Michel Foucault's reading of ‘What is enlightenment?’

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This essay examines Foucault's stance towards the Enlightenment as formulated in three works he published in the last decade of his life. These works represent a partial modification of Foucault's attitude to the Enlightenment, rather than the dramatic shift claimed by some commentators. In order to substantiate this claim, the essay provides a reconstruction and critical assessment of three articles Foucault devoted to Kant and the Enlightenment, namely, ‘Qu'est-ce que la critique?’ (1978), ‘Kant on Enlightenment and Revolution’ (1983), and ‘What is Enlightenment?’ (1984). It argues that Foucault's reformulation of Enlightenment ideals in terms of an ethos of transgression and an aesthetic of self-fashioning is much closer to Nietzsche's vision of a transvaluation of values than to Kant's notion of maturity and responsibility (Mundigkeit).

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Government, University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL.

Publication date: February 1, 1999

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