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Apr 23, 2009 | #1
Philosophy Paper - What Plato is to Derrida, Aristotle is to Foucault
Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a disciple of Plato (c.427-347BCE, one of the world's most commonly read philosophers and student of Socrates) and studied at Plato's Academy for 20 years. He developed on Plato's philosophical teachings. In the same manner, Jacques Derrida, a French linguist, expanded on Michel Foucault's poststructuralist theory that rules and structures are not given in the world but evolve on the basis of power and knowledge by saying that texts can be 'deconstructed' to discover multiple meanings.
Plato's later works, including the Republic, combine morals, political philosophy, critical study of human knowledge and metaphysics into an interrelated and orderly philosophy. It is primarily from Plato that we get the theory of Forms, in keeping with which the world is just a replication of the wholesome, undying, and ageless world of the Forms (The Internet Encyclopedia). From Plato, we learn that a man is good, because of his involvement in The Good ("anypothon", in Greek). Aristotle discarded the theory of forms ("eidos") as learnt from Plato. For Plato, forms (eidos) were the main concerns and indispensable conditions to make things comprehensible area as against the knowledge obtained through the senses. The main attention of Plato is an ideal society. He makes a plan for a "utopian" society, in his book The Republic, out of his scorn for the conflict in political life (Hacker, 24). This proposal was an attempt to a new society where such problems would be relieved (Hacker 24). Plato tried to heal the sufferings of both human society and human qualities (Hacker 24). Basically what Plato desires to attain is a faultless society. Derrida is not considered with the politics. Though Derrida himself does not grant deconstruction as a method or school of philosophy, or anything beyond reading the text itself, the term has been used by others to depict as Derrida's methods of textual analysis related to finding, identifying, and appreciating the causal that is tacit and implied- suppositions, ideas, and structures making the foundation for idea and belief, for example, in muddling the plain difference made between nature and culture. Deconstruction unsettles an idea like text triggering questions about the borders, the edges, or the boundaries drawn to define its place in the history of ideas, denotations assuming their identity, coming to denote what they denote, by just such a demarcation of frontiers, resisting ideas to each other, defining terms by their distinctions. So deconstructive reading starts by asking about the borders and the limits and how they come to pass.
In Aristotle's metaphysical study of nature and relations of beings, there are only tangible matters (this horse, that goblet, this urn etc.) and in discussion of the specific stuffs we use notions, but the objects - substances - get the main concern before the idea or forms, which we attribute to them. Aristotle built a theory of the good life (eudiamonia) for human beings according to Nichomachean Ethics. He argued that the good life is the most pleasurable one. But that does not mean that the pleasure-hunter's life is the good life. Rather, those who look for pleasure get it from incorrect places, with the consequence of being sidetracked from leading the good life. For Aristotle, Goodness is an indispensable element of the good life. But the good life cannot be related to righteousness since just being righteous is at one with leading an idle life or with misery greatly (Aristotle's Ethics, bcc.ctc.edu). Hence, happiness, which is related to morality, is different from simple pleasure. Moral Virtue is not the ending of life, for it can tone with idleness, unhappiness. He also says that personal good cannot be explained with precise accuracy. Ethics tries to make general values to be used according to the situation within reach (i.e., original conditions). The policy of the average is not a principle of relativism but principle applied to definite state of affairs. For example, the difference between the diet chart for a weight-lifter and a ballerina -- nonetheless, good diet has rules and standards to be applied differently in relation to different original conditions. Pleasure, itself, is a byproduct of action resulting from uninterferred action. As Aristotle articulates, pleasure is the normal adjunct of unhindered actions. It is, per se, neither good nor bad, but something helpful as the consequence of pleasure sharpens the use of that activity.
In his philosophical works like Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, Foucault stresses that the body and sexuality, which result in pleasure, are cultural concepts rather than natural occurrences, as Aristotle found. Since the 17th century, the progress of and attention towards people became the main concerns of the state gradually. New systems of power surfaced centering around the supervision of 'life', that Foucault defines as 'bio-power', a new form of power combined around two poles, one concerned with the management of the life processes of the social mass, controlling such happenings as birth, death, sickness, disease, health, sexual relations and so on and the other pole that Foucault tagged as 'disciplinary power', aiming at the human body as an object to be maneuvered and educated. Foucault's idea that the body and sexuality are cultural creates has attracted the modern by relating power with and the body, albeit some of them have also drawn notice to its supposed weak points. In Discipline and Punish he depicts the way in which the most important method of disciplinary power, that is constant watch to be snatching the mind other than disciplining the body also. This is to generate a psychological condition of 'conscious and permanent visibility' (Foucault 1977: 201), sense of self- alertness that makes the modern individual. Foucault best exposes the systems at work in the building and upholding of the socio-cultural aspect of embodied sexuality. In spite of some significant indications where "bodies and pleasures" might challenge conventional steadiness, Foucault openly describes the striking display of disciplinary methods aimed at the singular body in all its facets, but primarily in its sexual pleasures (Foucault 1979, 1980). He shows that distant from begin in an intuitive, biological ground, sexuality continuously is in a state of vibrant development that is neither programmed nor totally open to intended options. Instead, sexuality is "organized by power in its grip on bodies and their materiality, their forces, energies, sensations and pleasures" (Foucault, 1979: 155).
Thus, it can be said that what Plato is to Derrida, Aristotle is to Foucault, the earlier two philosophers being the forerunners of the latter though separated by centuries. Aristotle, contrasting Plato, was not bothered with improving society. He only wanted to perk up the existing one. Before making a plan for the ideal society, Aristotle advised, in his work, The Politics, that the society itself should achieve the best promising orderliness that could be arrived at (Hacker 71). Aristotle trusted in the deductive method (Hacker 76). Aristotle found the best achievable had been acquired and what could be done was to strive to get better on the existing one. Foucault, too, says that the world is defined by the power relations and can hardly be changed. On the other hand, Derrida tries to deconstruct texts to unearth an utopian society.
Foucault, Michel, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings, 1977-1984, L. Kritzman (ed.), London: Routledge, 1988a.
Power/Knowledge, U.K.: Harvester.
The History of Sexuality, translated by R. Hurley, Penguin Books, 1978.
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan, Harmondsworth: Peregrine, 1977.
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics in Introduction to Aristotle. Trans. Richard McKeon ,New York: The Modern Library, Ch. 1, 1094a, 1-3, 1947.
Plato, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Hacker, Andrew. Political Theory: Philosophy, Ideology, Science. New York: Macmillan, 1961.
Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak, Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974