24 January 2013


William Cowper on one of his rabbits
Puss grew presently familiar, would leap into my lap, raise himself upon his hinder feet, and bite the hair from my temples. He would suffer me to take him up and to carry him about in my arms, and has more than once fallen asleep upon my knee. He was ill three days, during which time I nursed him, kept him apart from his fellows that they might not molest him (for, like many, other wild animals, they persecute one of their own species that is sick), and by constant care and trying him with a variety of herbs, restored him to perfect health. No creature could be more grateful than my patient after his recovery; a sentiment which he most significantly expressed, by licking my hand, first the back of it, then the palm, then every finger separately, then between all the fingers, as if anxious to leave no part of it unsaluted; a cermony which he never performed but once again upon a similar occasion. Finding him extremely tractable, I made it my custom to carry him always after breakfast into the garden, where he hid himself generally under the leaves of a cucumber vine, sleeping or chewing the cud til evening; in the leaves also of that vine he found a favorite repast. I had not long habituated him to the taste of liberty, before he began to be impatient for the return of the time when he might enjoy it. He would invite me to the garden by drumming upon my knee, and by a look of expresion as it was not possible to misinterpret. If this rhetoric did not immediately succeed, he would take the skirt of my coat between his teeth, and pull at it with all his force. Thus Puss might be said to be perfectly tamed, the shyness of his nature was done away, and one the whole of it visible, by many symptoms which I have not room to enumerate, that he was happier in human society than when shut up with his natural companions ... 
Puss is still living, and has just completed his tenth year, discovering no signs of decay, nor even of age, except that he is grown more discreet and less frolicksome than he was.
Nussbaum on Stoicism and Foucault
What sets philosophy apart from popular religion, dream-interpretation and astrology is its commitment to rational argument. What sets stoicism apart from other forms of philosophical therapy is its very particular commitment to the pupil’s own active exercise of argument. For all these habits and routines are useless if not rational. And the basic motivation behind the whole business is to show respect for what is most worthy in one-self, for what is most truly one-self. One does not do this by anything except good argument. At the end we have not the images of habituation and constraint so prominent in Foucault’s writings, but an image of incredible freedom and lightness, the freedom that comes of understanding that one’s own capabilities and not social status or fortune or rumor or accident are in charge of what is important. The procedures of Stoic argument model a kingdom of free beings – the ancestors (in terms of both content and causal influence) of Kant’s kingdom of ends, a kingdom of beings who are bound to each other not by external links of hierarchy and convention, but by the most profound respect and self-respect, and by their sense of the fundamental commonness in their ends. It is doubtful whether the view of the world contained in Foucault’s work as a whole could admit the possibility of such a kingdom, or its freedom. For Foucault, reason is itself just one among the many masks assumed by political power.
And Midelfort on Foucault
As a mental tone poem Foucault’s work has inspired outpourings from enthusiastic readers and baffled groans from empirically minded skeptics. The most charitable and perhaps most illuminating reading of Foucault’s history sees it as a great idealist portrait of the age of reason as an age of confinement, a time when the self-proclaimedly moral and reasonable saw fit to lock up those who seemed less hardworking, less moral, and less reasonable. Foucault worked at such a level of symbolic abstraction, however, that empirical criticism never much bothered him or has bothered his disciples. If one finds, for example, that Foucault's image of universal confinement is overdrawn for England, Germany, or even for France, why then one has misunderstood what Foucault was using the image to accomplish. If one finds that Foucault betrayed Romantic tendencies and a complacent acceptance of conventional periodization, one is told that one has naively bought into the project of the Enlightenment, with its belief in progress, or that one has overlooked the radical nihilism of the master. Basic to the Foucaultian perspective is a corrosive suspicion that all historical liberations have actually deployed a subtle exercise of power (often state, economic, or sexual power), and that knowledge itself is a function of power (not that knowledge gives one power, but that power constitutes or constructs "knowledge"). ... [F]or historians committed to recapturing the texture of the past, the complexity, variety, and competition of various discursive practices in the past, Foucault's work is a radical and dramatic simplification, a reduction of whole generations, countries, and disciplines to symbolic markers in a moral game whose object is the destabilizing of the present.