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Topics in Continental Philosophy (PH995)

Rationality and Power: Heidegger and Foucault

This module will present Heidegger and Foucault as thinkers and critics of the articulation of rationality and power. Both claim that there is an intrinsic power dimension to rationality, and that power is exercised through a specific construction of truth and rationality. In addition, they both claim that in order to understand the nature of our present, it is this articulation that we need to think through. However, the way in which Heidegger and Foucault carry out this task differs.

From the mid-1930s, Heidegger exposes what he believes to be a fundamental complicity between the historical unfolding of “beyng” (Seyn) and the will to power, one that culminates in what he calls “machination” (and, subsequently, “technology”). Metaphysics, and the concepts of rationality and truth on which it rests, he claims, is essentially an operation of control and domination, which leads to “total war” and “devastation.”

For good reasons, Foucault is often considered as the thinker of power relations, who revealed the many ways in which it operates: whether as sovereign, disciplinary, bio-, or pastoral power, it always rests on (or works alongside) specific rationalities, (the law, political economy, penology, psychiatry, etc.), the apparent legitimacy of which lies in its strong commitment to truth.

But beyond this diagnosis, Heidegger and Foucault raise the question of whether thought itself remains irreducibly committed to rationality, truth, and power, or whether it harbours the potential of a life free of those seemingly necessary constraints.

Module Director:

Miguel Beistegui


This module is worth 20 or 30 CATS depending on your programme of study.