For Sure



Extinction Rebellion – Perceived and Planned Obsolescence

Yes, to all of this: First, Rebel Against Yourself – A.C. Stark

And, to add, capitalism is built off of two manipulative conceptions that have become ideologically ubiquitous – these conceptions are 1950’s Americana capitalism at its worst and have become naturalized and unquestioned. Perceived obsolescence and planned obsolescence.

Consumers are trained to perceive of the products they buy as obsolete simply because of changing fashions – there needs to be a revolt against trendy materialistic consumption.

Planned obsolescence, on the other hand, is built into the product – products are built to break, and break in ways that are irreparable – “built for the dump.”

In today’s neoliberal capitalist hegemony, there is absolutely no incentive for corporations, who are legally beholden to their shareholders – not to the consumer and not the public good, to design and build durable products.

Part of the fight is the need for corporations to either be incentivized or regulated to produce durable products. When I say incentivization, I do not mean in the sense of neoliberal corporate welfare.

I mean the public needs to be aware of how they are being manipulated and hold corporations responsible – make the corporations obsolete that continue to flood our planet with trash. These corporations’ incentive should be that the public will allow them to continue to operate.

Why Animal Rights is the Next Frontier for the Left – Emily Atkin, The New Republic

Why Animal Rights is the Next Frontier for the Left – Emily Atkin, The New Republic

This is a very nuanced article on the issue of animal rights. A few points from the article:

And for the sake of these hamburgers, whose future are we gambling with, specifically?

Climate change is a cataclysm for humans everywhere, but it will be felt more keenly by certain humans. It’s well-documented that minorities, people living in poverty, tribal communities, immigrants, and the elderly suffer disproportionately from problems caused by climate change. These populations are less likely to have the resources and amenities that traditionally protect people from extreme weather, such as soundly built structures, air conditioning, and readily accessible health care.

The environmental consequences of animal agriculture also markedly skew against the vulnerable. In the United States, “more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams, close to 2.5 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and more than 800 square miles of bays and estuaries” have poor water quality because of fertilizer runoff partly caused by animal agriculture, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Nutrient pollution has been connected to cancer, birth defects, and the deadly Blue Baby Syndrome—the condition whereby infants deprived of blood oxygen literally turn blue. Water contamination is an especially acute problem for the rural poor, who can’t afford to stockpile bottled water or expensive filtration systems. Fertilizer runoff from meat production has also caused an enormous recurring dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the area’s $600 million fishing industry.

The meat industry is also a disaster for labor. Slaughterhouse workers—mainly immigrants and resettled refugees—often face lifelong injuries from their jobs, and likewise are denied the sort of disposable income necessary to treat them. “They describe punishing rates of production, leaving them with a lifetime of pain and physical problems,” a 2016 NPR report read. “Workers making on average $12.50 an hour, or about $26,000 a year, say they can get fired if their injuries prevent them from working harder; companies report constant employee turnover.” Those injuries aren’t just physical, but also psychological. “The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll,” an Iowa slaughterhouse worker told activist Gail Eisnitz. “Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them.”


Crucially, animal rights activists have to stop comparing the struggle of animals to the struggle of black people in America. Because to many on the old-school human left, animal rights activists aren’t just a bunch of silly vegans. They’re a bunch of racist vegans.


But this comparison is flawed and deeply troubling when you consider how racists have long compared oppressed minority groups to dogs and other animals. “The comparison is calculated to degrade, and it stems from the period when U.S. laws treated enslaved black people as legally equivalent to livestock—categorizing them as subhuman,” Grey and Cleffie write.

It’s no wonder, then, that many on the left believe animal rights activism simply serves as a means for white people to ignore the human rights of black people—who, by the way, continue to be oppressed in America. To some, it often feels that people care more about animals than they do about people of color. Burton, who authored the Buzzfeed op-ed on PETA, recalled a conversation in which a woman told her that “animals are treated better by white people than black human beings are.” In a New York Times op-ed, the African-American writer Roxane Gay mourned the shooting of an unarmed black man while the rest of the world mourned the death of Cecil the Lion.

This is the core problem animal rights groups must atone for, said Will Kymlicka: “We want other social justice movements to accept animal rights, but it means animal-rights groups need to be much more responsible members of the family.” – Emily Atkin, March 14, 2019

Sensory Aspects of Depression in Pearl Jam’s “Black”

I have always found Pearl Jam’s Black incredibly poetic. Take a look:

Black, Pearl Jam – Stone Gossard and Eddie Vedder, lyrics

Hey, oh
Sheets of empty canvas
Untouched sheets of clay
Were laid spread out before me
As her body once did
All five horizons
Revolved around her soul
As the earth to the sun
Now the air I tasted and breathed
Has taken a turn
Oh and all I taught her was everything
Oh I know she gave me all that she wore
And now my bitter hands
Chafe beneath the clouds
Of what was everything
Oh the pictures have
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything
I take a walk outside
I’m surrounded by
Some kids at play
I can feel their laughter
So why do I sear
Oh, and twisted thoughts that spin
Round my head
I’m spinning
Oh, I’m spinning
How quick the sun can, drop away
And now my bitter hands
Cradle broken glass
Of what was everything
All the pictures had
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything
All the love gone bad
Turned my world to black
Tattooed all I see
All that I am
All I’ll be
I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star
In somebody else’s sky
But why
Why can’t it be
Why can’t it be mine


Vin and Sori’s interpretation:

I like Vin and Sori’s interpretation, but want to add to it. This song is about the sensory aspects of depression. It is about falling into a deep depression after losing the person that your world revolves around; losing the person that lights up and sustains your life. Depression is dark and cold, like when the sun is gone; you can’t see through the darkness and you literally feel a coldness to your core, you can’t get warm.

Look at the lyrics again:

Sheets of empty canvas
Untouched sheets of clay
Were laid spread out before me
As her body once did
All five horizons
Revolved around her soul
As the earth to the sun
Now the air I tasted and breathed
Has taken a turn

All five horizons here are the senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Canvas is for a visual rendition of art, by sight, and clay is for sculpting art with one’s hands, by touch. Losing the person that is the sun of your world robs you of your creativity. Depression causes you to lose interest in the things that were once meaningful for you, like creating art. The sheets of canvas are empty and the clay is untouched because without the sun, without the one who lights up and sustains your world, you lose interest in creating art. The sun as the source of your creativity is gone.

All five horizons, all of the five senses, from which you perceive and know your world revolved around that person – your sensory world revolved around that person as the sun. Now the air that you taste, and that you smell when you breath in, has turned foul. Depression causes you to lose your appetite because everything tastes and smells foul to you; everything you taste and smell makes you sick.

Take a look at these lyrics:

And now my bitter hands
Chafe beneath the clouds
Of what was everything
Oh the pictures have
All been washed in black
Tattooed everything

Bitter hands chafe beneath the clouds. The sun is gone, lost behind the clouds, it is dark. Without the sun, it is cold – it is bitter cold and it chafes your hands. You try to get warm by rubbing your hands together, but you can’t. And the more you try, the more you rub your hands raw. That darkness and coldness seeps into your being like a tattoo. It marks you and it is through that darkness and coldness that you view your world. The world literally, and I do mean literally, looks, sounds, feels, tastes, and smells different when you are raw from being marked by such a deep coldness and darkness.

Lastly, these lyrics:

I take a walk outside
I’m surrounded by
Some kids at play
I can feel their laughter
So why do I sear
Oh, and twisted thoughts that spin
Round my head
I’m spinning
Oh, I’m spinning

To “sear” is to scorch, to dry, to wither. Having been marked to your core by depression, the world looks different. Play and laughter look different. The play and laughter of others is painful. It scorches you. Anger is a big part of depression. When you are in such deep pain, the joy of others hurts you and a natural response to being in pain is to get angry. Angry at oneself. Angry that there is something fundamentally wrong with you that makes you unworthy of the sun. Depression causes you to hate yourself. Your thoughts become twisted in self-hate and suicidal ideation. Joy becomes twisted – a calming joy is found when you think that you could, you really could, kill yourself and the pain will finally be over.

This song is about the sensory aspects of depression. It is about how the world looks, sounds, feels, tastes, and smells when perceived and known through a darkness and coldness that is deep set into the core of your being. If you have depression, understanding these sensory aspects may help you understand and thus manage your depression.

Systemic Silencing and Deliberative Democracy

Deliberative democratic theory emphasizes the need for a deliberating public in order to secure a strong democracy. In this vein, theorists seek to explore and establish methods of promoting deliberation. A significant amount of attention has been paid to understanding what institutional procedures and processes would be required in order for public deliberation to most successfully occur. For this paper, I seek to offer a suggestion in this regard. I suggest that deliberative democratic theory ought to further explore the issue of systemic silencing. Deliberation requires listening to and understanding fellow deliberators. Thus far, the ways in which people fail to listen to and understand each other have not been thoroughly explored.[1] I respond to the dearth of theoretical work on this issue by suggesting that an exploration of how speech is silenced could potentially offer significant insights into how to promote deliberation. I begin by considering what it means to communicate and detailing the importance of communication in deliberative democracy. Next, I examine further what it means to listen and understand, as well as the harms failures in communication cause deliberation. I conclude with considering how attention to the issue of silencing, as a failure in communication in which one is either not listened to or not understood, could be beneficial for promoting deliberation.

Deliberative Democratic Theory and Communication

I would like to begin by detailing the importance of communication in deliberative democracy. There is an ontological presupposition subsumed in deliberative democratic theory, namely, that we, human beings, exist as communicative beings. To be a communicative being is to necessarily be dependent upon and inextricably linked with other communicative beings. Hannah Arendt follows Aristotle in distinguishing the central activities of human political existence as action and speech.[2] Human beings are uniquely distinct forms of life because each individual is able to communicate their own individual abstract thought in relation to others who share in a common communicative capacity. Arendt states, “Speech and action reveal this unique distinctness” in that “Through them, men distinguish themselves instead of being merely distinct; they are modes in which human beings appear to each other, not indeed as physical objects, but qua men [sic].”[3] “In acting and speaking,” she states, humans “show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world.”[4]

The communicative capacity that allows humans to disclose themselves also gives them their political nature. Human beings are beings who live together and reveal themselves within a web of already existing human material and psychical relations.[5] This is the situation in which we exist. To exist politically is to publicly decide through persuasion, as opposed to violence, what course of action the community ought to take.[6] Speech is a means of making sense of the common situation in which we exist together, and thus the paramount concern of the citizenry ought to be to talk with each other.[7] What is of importance to Arendt is preserving a public space in which human beings, viewing each other as equals, can come together to speak and act. Human beings are a plurality of uniquely distinct beings who necessarily exist together. Communication in the public realm links in understanding individuals who are separated by differences so as to publicly determine how to resolve the community’s problems.

Communication is crucial for a strong democracy. Benjamin Barber defines strong democracy as “politics in the participatory mode where conflict is resolved in the absence of an independent ground through a participatory process of ongoing, proximate self-legislation and the creation of a political community capable of transforming dependent, private individuals into free citizens and partial and private interests into public goods.”[8] Humans, in their plurality, have no independent value as a ground to judge what they ought to do. Politics is the means of deciding what humans ought to do at the level of the community. Communication is necessary for politics; it is active and ongoing. Barber’s hallmarks of an active and ongoing strong democracy, “common deliberation, common decision, and common work,” are all communicative.[9] Within a diverse citizenry where individuals hold diverging perspectives, the link between deliberating individuals is formed through their common political activity, transforming the diverse citizenry into a community.[10] The common political activity is communicative.

Communication is crucial for deliberative democracy, and to communicate requires understanding. Jürgen Habermas offers a discursive procedure for political action that takes seriously this relation between political action and speech. He defines communicative interactions as “when the participants coordinate their plans of action consensually, with the agreement reached at any point being evaluated in terms of the intersubjective recognition of validity claims.”[11] Communicative interactions appeal to validity claims; claims of objective truth, claims of normative rightness, or claims to an individual’s own subjective sincerity.[12] Claims to normative rightness, claims about what the community ought to do, are primarily what politics is concerned with. He distinguishes strategic action from communicative action, defining communicative action as when “one actor seeks rationally to motivate another by relying on the illocutionary binding/bonding effect of the offer contained in his [sic] speech.”[13] This is crucial. What Habermas is gesturing toward is how communicative interactions are dependent upon an illocutionary bond; a bond is created due to an intersubjective understanding between the interlocutors that their intended action is to rationally motivate each other, not strategically manipulate each other.

Habermas is asserting that communicative action has the intention of rationally motivating one’s interlocutors, as opposed to manipulating them for one’s own interests, and understanding this intent creates a bond between the interlocutors. Thus, Habermas recognizes the interrelationality of communicative political action; it is cooperative and intersubjective where individuals are linked through understanding. However, I suggest that this understanding is not merely the understanding that one’s intention is communicative, as opposed to strategic. Implicit in understanding that one’s intention is communicative is also an appeal to understanding the situated position, the speaker’s socio-political and psychical position, that is being communicated. It is to understand the speaker’s validity claims as well as the socio-political and psychical position of the speaker making these claims.

One is both an individual and a member of the community. Each member is equally afforded the right to communicate, to offer validity claims. However, Habermas asserts that one’s validity claims must be universalizable, which leads to the sole principle for a discursive process; “Only those norms can claim to be valid that meet (or could meet) with the approval of all affected in their capacity as participants in a practical discourse.”[14] It is the verb “affected” in this principle that implies understanding; it implies understanding the position of others. One must understand another’s socio-political and psychical position in order to understand if and how the person will be affected by a particular decision.

Such understanding is also implied in the procedural rules entailed in this principle for the discursive process: 1) “Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in a discourse,” 2) “Everyone is allowed to question any assertion whatever,” 3) “Everyone is allowed to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse,” 4) “Everyone is allowed to express [their] attitudes, desires, and needs,” 5) “No speaker may be prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising [their] rights as” noted in 1-4.[15] People must be equally allowed to speak and act in this process. This is robust conception of freedom of speech where speaking is a disclosure by one member of the community of their situated position, linked with the listening and understanding of other members of the community.

Habermas and Arendt align on this point. Appeals to the community must be based on what is common, what is universalizable. Arendt states, “This sensus communis is what judgment appeals to in everyone, and it is this possible appeal that gives judgments their special validity.”[16] In appealing to the community’s common sense, one is communicating one’s own situated position, a situation that is inextricably embedded in the community, after reflecting on and taking into account all others’ situated positions. This is Arendt’s “enlarged mentality,” in which one simultaneously and impartially holds one’s own perspective in mind along with a proliferation of other perspectives.[17] Habermas would agree with Arendt on this point, but would add that such enlarged mentality requires participating in “everyday communication,” which “makes possible a kind of understanding that is based on claims to validity.”[18] Arendt continues, “The it-pleases-or-displeases-me, which as a feeling seems so utterly private and noncommunicative, is actually rooted in this community sense and is therefore open to communication once it has been transformed by reflection, which takes all others and their feelings into account.”[19] Decisions about what the community ought to do are valid only under conditions of communication in which the individual’s disclosure is linked with listening and understanding. That is, when members of the community understand each other’s situated positions and form a common sense.

Political Harms due to Failures in Listening and Understanding

In the previous section, I explored the importance of communication in deliberative democratic theory. It is through communication that an enlarged mentality and a common sense is formed. It is through communication that one appeals to others via validity claims. It is through communication that validity claims are binding; binding the individual with the community and justifying what ought to be done. Communication is not an act performed in isolation. Communication is a public and political act that secures a strong democracy. To communicate is to be both expressive and receptive; to speak and to listen. Communication is an active interrelation. Arendt’s conception of how speech and action allows one to reveal who they are within the public realm points to significant harms to both individuals and the community due to failures in communication. Failures of communication are failures in listening and understanding those with whom we share in community. One such harm is the harm of a loss of reality.

The assurance of reality, of the world and of who we are, can only be obtained through our communication with “others who see what we see and hear what we hear.”[20] The unique distinctness of human beings proliferates a multiplicity of perspectives. This multiplicity of perspectives is necessary for the assurance of reality. The significance of a multiplicity of perspectives is in how diversity is required in order to be assured of what is fundamental; how diversity is required in order for individual existences to converge in a shared reality. Arendt states, “Only where things can be seen by many in a variety of aspects without changing their identity, so that those who are gathered around them know they see sameness in utter diversity, can worldly reality truly and reliably appear.”[21] Enlarged mentality requires listening to and understanding others’ perspectives, which requires understanding their situated positions. With this enlarged mentality, one can appeal to the common sense of the community. Without listening and understanding, humans cannot converge on what is common, nor can they converge on what is real.

Arendt here is hinting at the importance of listening and understanding through explicating the harms to individuals and the community when failures of listening and understanding arise. Arendt links the disclosure of the individual with the witnessing of the disclosure by others. Where individuals either become completely atomized in isolation or homogenously uniform, “they have been deprived of seeing and hearing others, of being seen and being heard by them.”[22] The harm to the community is the end of the common world that grounds reality, where the community “is seen only under one aspect and is permitted to present itself in only one perspective.”[23] What I have in mind here is how knowledge becomes stunted when one’s discursive community is too narrow. One fails to gain insight into the complexities of the socio-political world when one is locked in either their own head or an echo chamber. In both cases, the same perspective is regurgitated over and over again, in ever more distorted forms. One is unable to discern reality.

This narrowing of perspective can also occur in failures of communication. In failures of communication, when the individual is not listened to or understood, the disclosure of the individual either becomes halted or stunted. Halted when one is unable to reveal oneself because no one is listening, or stunted when the disclosure of oneself is not understood. When the individual’s disclosure is halted or stunted, the community is harmed because it is deprived of the individual’s perspective. Without the proliferation of perspectives, a proliferation that requires listening and understanding, the community becomes unable to be assured of reality; the community cannot converge on what is common.

Barber hints in a similar way at the importance of listening and understanding. Barber’s conception of strong democracy holds civility as a core virtue of democratic politics, conceiving of civility as reciprocal empathy and mutual respect.[24] He states, “Civility is rooted in the idea that consciousness is a socially conditioned intelligence that takes into account the reality of other consciousnesses operating in a shared world.”[25] Civil consciousness takes into account the multiplicity of diverse perspectives of others with whom one exists. There is an interrelation in reciprocity and mutuality – the communicative exchange goes both ways. At the same time, to empathize is to understand, while to respect is to listen. When there is a failure to listen and understand, civility breaks down, and when civility breaks down, democracy breaks down.

McAfee’s “integrative model” of democratic deliberation exemplifies many of these themes, describing how democratic deliberation expands one’s mentality so that one is able to consider how decisions affect the entire community. Democratic deliberation is a form of “community making,” in which deliberators choose how to politically create their community with the understanding that they are unable to “separate political ends from the fact that they are living with other people who are also affected by these policy choices.”[26] McAfee states, “actual public deliberations usually spend a great deal of time developing a public picture of what a problem is and how it affects those in the room and others throughout the political community. As deliberators develop a public understanding of the nature and the many aspects of the problem at hand, they also begin to see themselves as a public.”[27]

What McAfee is describing here is a process of listening and understanding. Deliberation requires that the interlocutors develop an understanding of the multiplicity of perspectives that individuals hold given their distinctly unique situated positions. In choosing and making together, in ongoing political action, the individuals become linked as a public. McAfee continues, “This view distinguishes itself by aiming for integration of multiple, heterogeneous views. […] Because each starts out with a limited picture of how a policy under consideration might affect others, participants deliberate in order to learn.”[28] The process of listening and understanding links individuals into a public through learning and choice. Individuals must listen and understand in order to learn and choose. The ongoing learning and choosing, ongoing political action, is what links individuals into a public, a community.

What it means to “understand” another perspective is not entirely clear in democratic deliberative theory. McAfee’s integrative model aligns with Iris Marion Young’s definition of “understanding.” Young defines it as meaning that “there has been successful expression of experience and perspective, so that other social positions learn, and part of what they understand is that there remains more behind that experience and perspective that transcends their own subjectivity.”[29] Understanding is gaining insight into one’s interlocutors’ perspectives so that one recognizes the partiality of one’s perspective.[30] Such understanding requires one to appeal during deliberation to public values as opposed to self-interest as well as adds to the formation of social knowledge.[31] Failures of listening and understanding, following McAfee and Young, risk disintegrating the public, de-linking individuals, through a stultification of social knowledge formation which in turn truncates the availability of choices to individuals for how to collaboratively make their community.

Systemic Silencing and the Failure of Illocutionary Uptake

In the previous section, I explored the consequences to the democratic deliberative process due to communication failures, failures in listening and understanding. Democratic deliberation requires inclusivity, but communication failures perpetuate exclusivity. Young directs our attention to how deliberative processes can be exclusionary if they are unable to foster a communicative space of listening that aims for understanding. It is not only socio-economic and political inequalities that “prevent people from being equal speakers,” but also “an internalized sense of the right one has to speak or not to speak, and from the devaluation of some people’s style of speech and the elevation of others.”[32] What Young is describing is systemic silencing.

From the perspective of systemic silencing, Young points out that it is largely assumed in deliberative democratic literature that so long as socio-economic and political inequalities are bracketed, that “people’s ways of speaking and understanding will be the same,” which fails to take into account that people are situated in different cultural and social positions.[33] This is a very trenchant critique of Habermas’s position in that he fails to account for how individuals are differentially situated and how existing societal norms are carried over into the deliberative process. Norms of speaking that privilege types of speech that are assertive, articulate, unemotional, formal and general are correlated with socio-economic and political privileges.[34] Young is directing our attention to the importance of recognizing how interlocutors in the deliberative process can be silenced. People are silenced due to a restriction on their speech. This restriction can be self-imposed due to an internalization of society’s norms or it can be other-imposed due to a devaluation of the speaker’s capabilities based on society’s norms.

Systemic silencing is inimical to the realization of equality, an integral requirement for deliberation. All interlocutors must be fully recognized as equal. Following Young, Edana Beauvais argues deliberation requires two forms of equality: universal (or moral) equality and equity.[35] Universal equality is recognizing that humans all share the same moral worth, while equity entails recognizing that our interlocutors are differentially situated based on socio-political and psychical differences.[36] Equity entails recognizing that individuals can be disempowered and marginalized in the deliberative process due to persistent and unresolved structural and systemic inequities, even if universal equality is recognized.[37] Conceiving of the negation of these concepts, both types of inequalities create exclusions in the deliberative process when individuals’ contributions are either not fully considered or flat out ignored because either individuals are considered as morally inferior or their differentially situated position is not considered.[38]

Habermas hints at systemic silencing when he discusses systematically distorted communication. He recognizes how we always bring our own perspectives into the deliberation, we are never neutral observers.[39] Due to this, we are liable to stumble into failures to achieve understanding, what he identifies as “pseudo-communication, where the participants do not recognize any communication disturbances.”[40] Pseudo-communication leads to “a system of reciprocal misunderstandings which, due to the false assumption of consensus, are not recognized as such.”[41] Habermas works through this problem with Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. He directs his attention to how misunderstandings occur due to a desymbolization of meaning causing a dissonance between the individual’s meaning and the public intersubjectively recognized meaning.[42] Alan Gross points out for Habermas that this desymbolization causes the individual to deceive themselves about their communicative intent; they are acting strategically but conceiving of themselves as aiming for mutual understanding.[43] They are acting ideologically. Ideologies are the socio-political “networks of belief that ground self-deception and impede ameliorative change.”[44] Habermas states ideologies are “illusions that are outfitted with the power of common convictions,” and are “subjectively free from constraint” but are nonetheless “illusionary.”[45] Gross points out that it is structural inequalities that create ideologies and ideologies that create systematically distorted communication.[46]

Ideology sets the conditions for another form of systemic silencing. Following Antonio Gramsci, Young is concerned with how participants in a deliberative process perpetuate and justify structural inequalities due to the influence of ideologies that are produced by the very same structural inequalities.[47] Referring to Habermas, Young states that the obscured pervasiveness of systematically distorted communication makes “it difficult to think critically about aspects of [interlocutors’] social relations or alternative possibilities of institutionalization and action.”[48] Ideology is hegemonic when it becomes systemically embedded throughout society, and thus becomes naturalized to the extent that people uncritically think and behave according to its dictates.

Systemic silencing occurs, in this sense, due to the inability of interlocutors to conceptualize, to understand, other perspectives. Perspectives that counter the hegemonic ideology are beyond the conceptual purview of other interlocutors. This inability to conceptualize other perspectives results in a restriction on what is conceived of as social problems, as well as choices for solutions to those problems. As a way to counter this sort of system silencing, Young offers James Bohman’s deliberative theory as a way to test whether ideology has seized the deliberative process. Bohman argues that legitimacy of the process depends on the degree to which interlocutors are able to initiate which problems are to be discussed.[49] I emphatically agree, but I want to add to the discussion by addressing another aspect of the issue. Even if interlocutors are able to initiate which problems are to be discussed, there still remains the issue of the inability of other interlocutors to understand the perspectives that are communicated.

Initiation may afford marginalized interlocutors a space to be listened to, but not necessarily understood. The issue, I suggest, is uptake. Ideology creates conditions that complicate uptake. Some perspectives receive uptake, while others do not. Rea Langton’s work in useful here. Langton follows J.L. Austin’s speech act theory that focuses on speech as action, specifically illocutionary action. Speech is action that occurs within a context, within a situation.[50] It is not action in isolation. Austin distinguishes between locutionary acts that are simply the utterance of sentences with a particular meaning, perlocutionary acts that are the affects of the utterance on hearers, and illocutionary acts that are the intentions of the speaker in uttering the sentence.[51] Langton’s concern is with how illocutionary acts are silenced. I am suggesting that democratic deliberative theorists follow her lead. The interlocutor may be able to take part in the deliberation, uttering a sentence with a particular meaning, but other interlocutors may fail in understanding the intention of the utterance. In doing so, the speaker is silenced.

Langton points out how the powerful are able to do more with their speech, for example, silence the speech of others.[52] She argues there are several ways in which the powerful are able to silence the speech of others. They may restrict the powerless from speaking at all, from perlocutionary acts. They may, however, let the powerless speak; “Let them say whatever they like to whomever they like, but stop that speech from counting as an action […] as the action it was intended to be.”[53] Speech acts occur within situations, within contexts that create conditions for their success or failure. In performing a particular speech act, one is intending to do something; motivate, critique, argue, protest. In order for one’s speech act to do what one is intending, “The speaker will also need to secure ‘uptake’: that is to say, the hearer must recognize that an illocution of a certain kind is being performed.”[54]

Langton’s work is compatible with Young’s concerns with ideology and Beauvais’s work on inequality. Speech acts can subordinate by ranking individuals as morally inferior, thereby legitimating structural inequalities, and depriving individuals of the ability to act.[55] In deliberative processes, one’s presentation of a problem and proposed solution to the problem can be silenced if others fail to understand the speaker’s intent. The speaker may be giving reasons for their position. They may be offering a counter example to a hegemonic ideology by explicating a personal story that reflects their perspective, but their interlocutors fail to understand that they are giving a counter example.[56] This misunderstanding results in a failure to understand the speaker’s perspective. Langton offers Donald Davidson’s example of a stage actor in the middle of scene where he is supposed to be responding to an imagined fire, but an actual fire breaks out.[57] The actor yells, “FIRE!” trying to warn the audience of the danger, but the audience fails to understand the actor’s intent is to warn them and not play a part. The actor has been silenced and the “act of warning has been made unspeakable for him.”[58]

Ideology can set the situation and context for the failure of speech acts. Subordination due to structural inequalities can become hegemonic. In such contexts, there can occur failures of illocutionary uptake that result in failures of understanding the speakers’ perspectives. The ideology itself creates the situation and context for both the speaker’s validity claims and the failure of uptake. The speaker’s perspective is incomprehensible despite the speaker performing the appropriate locutionary act with the appropriate intention. Acts of motivating, critiquing, arguing, and protesting have been made unspeakable by interlocutors who have been ideologically constricted by structural inequalities. As Ishani Maitra argues, silencing is a “distinctly speech-related wrong” in that it deprives an actor of the benefits of speech, e.g. motivating, critiquing, arguing, and protesting, due to ideological beliefs about the actor.[59]


Liberal theorists have dismissed systemic silencing, claiming that the right to free speech does not entail that others actually understand what one is saying.[60] This is understandable given they are operating under conceptions of negative liberty where those whom seek to restrict speech bear the burden of proof for why restriction is necessary.[61] Within liberal theory, speech is individualistic. Speaking does not need to be communicative, it can occur in isolation; “you do not need an audience to make meaningful sounds.”[62] Primacy is given to having no restrictions on one’s ability to speak. There is no corresponding requirement for others to listen to and understand what one is saying. But, as I hope to have conveyed in the first and second sections of this paper, this is not the case with deliberative democratic theory. Deliberative democracy requires listening to and understanding each other’s perspectives.

My aim in this paper was to offer a suggestion to deliberative democratic theorists, using tenants that these theorists hold. My suggestion is that more work ought to be done to understand systemic silencing, because the success of deliberative democracy hinges on interlocutors’ listening to and understanding each other. I have further suggested that Rae Langton’s, and Jennifer Hornsby following Langton, work on systemic silencing could prove beneficial in this regard. Systemic silencing coheres with the work of many thinkers who have promoted deliberative democracy, as well as contributes a different perspective to the discussion. In closing, I would like to share a final quote from Hornsby and Langton that I think exemplifies this assertion:

There is a distinctively human capacity that one has as a member of a speech community: one is able to do things with words (and take others to do them) when others are able to take one to do them (and to do them themselves). Possession of this capacity (which is to participate in illocution) – not just of the ability to produce intelligible sounds and marks (which is to participate in locution) – is necessary for any individual to flourish as a knowledgeable being, and for the spread of knowledge across populations and generations of individuals. It is a capacity that equips human beings with a nonviolent means for reaching decisions, whether on individual or collective action. And that no doubt explains why free speech should so often have been thought not merely to assist in the spread of truth but also to be partially constitutive of democratic arrangements.[63]

[1] Michael Morrell, “Listening and Deliberation,” in The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), pp. 237-50

[2] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998), pp. 24-25

[3] Arendt, p. 176

[4] Ibid., p. 179

[5] Ibid., pp. 183-84

[6] Ibid., p. 26

[7] Ibid., p. 27

[8] Benjamin R. Barber, Strong Democracy (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2004), p. 132

[9] Ibid., p. 133

[10] Ibid., p. 244

[11] Jürgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), p. 58

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., p. 66; 103

[15] Ibid., p. 89

[16] Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 72

[17] Ibid., pp. 42-44

[18] Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, pp. 19; 27

[19] Arendt, Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, p. 72

[20] Ibid., p. 50

[21] Ibid., p. 57

[22] Ibid., p. 58

[23] Ibid.

[24] Barber, p. 223

[25] Ibid.

[26] Nöelle McAfee, “Three Models of Democratic Deliberation,” in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy vol. 18, no. 1 (2004), p. 53

[27] Ibid., p. 53

[28] Ibid.

[29] Iris Marion Young, “Communication and the Other: Beyond Deliberative Democracy,” in Democracy and Difference: Contesting the Boundaries of the Political (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 128

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., p. 128

[32] Ibid., p. 122

[33] Ibid., pp. 122-23

[34] Ibid., p. 124

[35] Beauvais, “Deliberation and Equality,” in The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), p. 146

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid., p. 147

[38] Ibid., p. 148

[39] Habermas, “On Systematically Distorted Communication,” in Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy and the Social Sciences vol. 13, no. 1 (1970), p. 206

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., pp. 208-10

[43] Alan G. Gross, “Systematically Distorted Communication: An Impediment to Social and Political Change,” in Informal Logic vol. 30, no. 4 (2010), p. 338

[44] Ibid., p. 340

[45] Jürgen Habermas, “Hannah Arendt’s Communications Concept of Power,” in Hannah Arendt: Critical Essays (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1994), p. 225

[46] Gross, p. 341

[47] Iris Marion Young, “Activist Challenges to Deliberative Democracy,” in Philosophy of Education (2001), p. 51

[48] Ibid., p. 52

[49] Ibid.

[50] Rae Langton, “Speech Acts and Unspeakable Acts,” in Philosophy & Public Affairs vol. 22, no. 4 (1993), p. 295

[51] Langton, pp. 295-96

[52] Ibid., p. 299

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid., p. 301

[55] Ibid., p. 303

[56] Ishani Maitra, “Silencing Speech,” in Canadian Journal of Philosophy vol. 39, no. 2 (2009), p. 333

[57] Langton, p. 316

[58] Ibid., p. 317

[59] Maitra, pp. 331-35

[60] Jennifer Hornsby and Rae Langton, “Free Speech and Illocution,” in Legal Theory vol. 4 (1998), pp. 35-36

[61] Ibid., p. 35

[62] Ibid., p. 32

[63] Ibid., p. 37

A Quote from Rousseau

“Usurpers always bring about or select troublous times to get passed, under cover of the public terror, destructive laws, which the people would never adopt in cold blood. The moment chosen is one of the surest means of distinguishing the work of the legislator from that of the tyrant.” – Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Book II, 10. The People (Continued), 1762

Rousseau’s claim is that we, the people of a country, ought to be critical and wary of public officials trying to use fear to create laws that will destroy liberty and equality. Fear is used as a means of coercing the people into compliance with laws that will ultimately benefit some at the expense of the common good – fear distracts people from the implementation of detrimental laws. Something to ponder as we consider who to vote for.

Ableism and Suicide

It is incredibly patronizing to classify suicidal people as “weak.” It is not weakness. It is loneliness. It is living in a horrible world full of cruel and callous people. It is not having anyone to talk to because it is not knowing who you can trust, because people hurt you. It is being afraid and feeling unsafe, all of the time. It is the realization that you could disappear and no one would care. It is pain. It is a pain that screams in your head and reverberates throughout your entire body. If you don’t feel this pain, then you have no right to judge suicidal people as weak. You have no idea how much strength it takes to get out of bed and go to work when you feel this pain every moment of every day year after year.

“Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other. Ableism is intertwined in our culture, due to many limiting beliefs about what disability does or does not mean, how able-bodied people learn to treat people with disabilities and how we are often not included at the table for key decisions. Just like most forms of discrimination, ableism often shows its ugly face from nondisabled people with good intentions.” – Leah Smith, Center for Disability Rights (

Foucault’s Nietzschean Meta-Epistemological Critique: The Study of the Body Subjected as Mind


Where in The Order of Things Michel Foucault offers us an archeological account of classical and modern conceptions of what knowledge is, in Discipline and Punish he instead focuses his attention on the construction of the modern knowing subject. Is Foucault’s work epistemological? Epistemology traditionally asks first-order questions concerning what knowledge is and how knowledge is acquired. Meta-epistemology asks second-order questions concerning our ability to know what knowledge is and our ability to know how knowledge is acquired. Foucault is clearly not concerned with first-order normative epistemology. He is not concerned with analyzing what knowledge is, and he is not concerned with what we ought to do in order to arrive at justified beliefs. His work is not proscriptive, but instead is descriptive and critical. What he offers us in Discipline and Punish is a radical critique of the knowing subject. He destabilizes the knowing subject by genealogically describing how the knowing subject is constructed. In doing so, I suggest that he offers us a meta-epistemological critique.

For this paper, I attempt to draw out Foucault’s meta-epistemological critique in Discipline and Punish by, in part, utilizing Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals. I begin by considering Foucault’s conception of the knowing subject, as I read it. What is Foucault’s conception of the knowing subject? How is Foucault’s knowing subject constructed? Next, I consider Foucault’s meta-epistemological descriptive and critical project. What is his project and how does it destabilize the knowing subject? Finally, I consider how Foucault’s project relates to central questions in meta-epistemology. What is Foucault’s response to questions concerning our ability to know what knowledge is; that is, our ability to know the extent of our ability to acquire knowledge, and our ability to know how knowledge is acquired? I argue that Foucault’s meta-epistemological descriptive critique asserts that the disciplines (1) construct the mind, (2) structure and delimit the field of knowledge, and (3) make the body a docile object to be controlled. Thus, I argue, the study of epistemology, for Foucault, is a study of the knowing subject. In other words, epistemology, for Foucault, is the study of the body subjected as mind.

Foucault’s Nietzschean Inspired Conception of the Knowing Subject: The Body Subjected as Mind

What is Foucault’s conception of the knowing subject, and how is Foucault’s knowing subject constructed? The knowing subject is, as I read Foucault’s genealogical account, a construction within a historical process. The knowing subject is a body subjected via knowledge-power relations within a historical process.

If we reflect on the word “subject,” then I think we can gain a fuller understanding of what the knowing subject is and how the knowing subject is constructed for Foucault. As a noun, “subject” relates to a person whom is under another person’s (e.g. sovereign, priest, etc.) rule or control. To be a subject is to be ruled and controlled. However, to be a subject is also to essentially be a mind. It is an essential attribute, the underlying substance, of a thing. It is also “A being (or power) that thinks, knows, or perceives (more fully conscious subject, thinking subject); the conscious mind, esp. as opposed to any objects external to it.”[1] It is also to be an object of attention. It is a person: “under investigation or surveillance” by authorities, or “receiving or requiring medical, surgical, or psychological treatment,” or “suffering from a particular disease,” or “as the object of research or experimentation.”[2] However, “subject” is also “a body of knowledge” in which “one studies or is instructed” “as part of a curriculum for the purpose of examination.”[3]

Subject understood as an adjective is “In a state of subjection or dependence; under the control, rule, or influence of something” or “in a state of subjection to the power, law, command, etc., of another.”[4] As a verb, “subject” means “To make a subject or bring into subjection to the rule, government, power, or service of superior,” as well as “To bring under the operation of an agent, agency, or process; to submit to certain treatment; to cause to undergo or experience something physically.”[5]

For Foucault, as I read him, the knowing subject is a construction that emerges in the historical transition from sovereign power to modern power. In sovereign power, punishment extracts from the body. Crimes against society are crimes against the sovereign in that the sovereign embodies the society. Punishment, states Nietzsche, was due to “anger at some harm or injury, vented on the one who caused it – but this anger is held in check and modified by the idea that every injury has its equivalent and can actually be paid back, even if only through the pain of the culprit.”[6] The offender’s flesh is the site for the sovereign to extract the repentant obedience the offender owes to the sovereign.

There occurs, however, for both Foucault and Nietzsche, a shift in forms of punishment in the transition to modern power. For Nietzsche, “as power increases, a community ceases to take the individual’s transgressions so seriously, because they can no longer be considered as dangerous and destructive to the whole as they were before […] As the power and self-confidence of a community increase, the penal law always becomes more moderate.”[7] Two aspects of Nietzsche’s claim here are important for Foucault: (1) correlation between power and punishment, and (2) the change in the type of punishment. For Foucault, punishment no longer extracts from the body, but instead infuses the body; it “no longer addresses itself to the body,” instead it affects “the soul.”[8] Punishment that “once rained down upon the body” is replaced “by a punishment that acts in depth on the heart, the thoughts, the will, the inclinations.”[9] Foucault states, “The history of this ‘micro-physics’ of the punitive power would then be a genealogy or an element in a genealogy of the modern ‘soul.’”[10] So, for Foucault, punishment against the body may have become more lenient, but the power of the community shifted to a form of punishment that created the modern soul, consciousness, citizen, i.e. subject.

What Foucault presents us with is a history of the construction of the modern “soul,” with “soul” entailing the “subject” in all of its multivalent senses. The subject as the person, as a mind accessed through the body. Foucault states, “it is always the body that is at issue – the body and its forces, their utility and their docility, their distribution and their submission.”[11] It is the body that is subjected. To be a subject (as a noun) is to be subjected (as an adjective and as a verb); subjected as in being constructed as a mind, subjected as in being controlled, subjected as in being an object of examination, observation, classification, and correction. Subjection is a continuous process, not an essential state of being. When Foucault states “The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body,” he is speaking of subjection in this multivalent and continuous sense.[12] The knowing subject is a subjected body; a subjected body that is continuously constructed through its subjection.

Foucault’s Nietzschean Meta-Epistemological Descriptive and Critical Project

How does Foucault destabilize the knowing subject? One point to begin to examine this question is in Nietzsche’s perspectivism. Nietzsche states,

But precisely because we seek knowledge, let us not be ungrateful to such resolute reversals of accustomed perspectives and valuations with which the spirit has, with apparent mischievousness and futility, raged against itself for so long: to see differently in this way for once, to want to see differently, is no small discipline and preparation of the intellect for its future ‘objectivity’ – the latter understood not as ‘contemplation without interest’ (which is a nonsensical absurdity), but as the ability to control one’s Pro and Con and to dispose of them, so that one knows how to employ a variety of perspectives and affective interpretations in the service of knowledge.[13]


Nietzsche’s perspectivism is an epistemological technique. It is a technique that calls on the knower to, first, rally against the ways they have been subjected through discipline to “know” the world, to rally against a position of disinterested “objectivity.” Second, it calls on the knower to want to seek out different ways of positioning themselves as a knower. This want, as I read it, is necessary because it instills in the knower interests and interests are multifaceted and continuous. Third, as knowers have been disciplined to approach knowledge from a position of disinterestedness, it calls on knowers to avoid removing interests in the process of contemplating the world. Instead, knowers are to approach contemplation through a variety of interest positions, considering each position from a multiplicity of divergent, contrary, and conflicting perspectives. Perspectivism, is then, an epistemological technique that treats knowledge as rhizomatic, progressing multidimensionally as opposed to linearly.

In relation to Foucault, power-knowledge is continuous. New forms of discipline emerge to continuously subject the body through the mind. To instill the idea of a knowing subject into humans is a process of continuous subjection. Perspectivism is a technique by which the idea of the knowing subject can be continuously critiqued. Where disinterestedness is intended to solidify the idea of the knowing subject, interestedness fluctuates. “Objectivity” solidifies human thought into a static way of contemplating the world and themselves within the world. Conversely, as interest fluctuates, the stability of human thought fluctuates.

Human thought contemplates the world from everchanging perspectives. Consider, for a moment, Vulcans from Star Trek. Vulcans are completely disinterested, completely within the mindset of logical objectivity. As such, they cognitively inhabit only one perspective. Consider how having a wide variety of interests shift which perspective we take. For example, as one’s interests shift from caring for one’s own needs, to caring for another’s needs, to exploring the natural and nonhuman world, one’s perspectives would shift as well from one’s self, to another, to nonhuman animal ways of inhabiting and engaging with the world. Who the human thinker is in this continuous contemplative movement is never the same. As the human thinker is never the same, the idea of the knowing subject can never be solidified.

For Foucault, the knowing subject is not an ontological entity, but an effect, a construction, of a continuous process. As subjection is a continuous process that occurs beyond the level of awareness, understanding the process is a way to destabilize the process. For both Foucault and Nietzsche, the body is situated in a historical (spatial-temporal) process, and this process is not neutral. It is imbued with power-knowledge relations. In regard to the question of the purpose of punishment, Nietzsche states “purposes and utilities are only signs” within a power relation where the powerful has “imposed upon the character of a function […] the entire history of a ‘thing,’ an organ, a custom, can in this way be a continuous sign-chain of ever new interpretations and adaptations whose causes do not even have to be related to one another but, on the contrary, in some cases succeed and alternate with one another in a purely chance fashion.”[14] This “evolution” is neither a teleological nor a logical process, “but a succession of more or less profound, more less mutually independent processes of subduing, plus the resistances they encounter, the attempts at transformation for the purpose of defense and reaction, and the results of successful counteractions. The form is fluid, but the ‘meaning’ is even more so.”[15] For Nietzsche, the purpose and meaning of punishment is foundationless process that shifts and adapts in response to societal conditions. The illusion of a static purpose and meaning is imposed upon punishment as a method of subjection.

For Foucault, the body is necessarily and “directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it, mark it, train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.”[16] To be sure, Nietzsche’s conception of power is something that one possesses while Foucault’s conception of power is something that is not able to be individually possessed, it is a socio-political force. Nonetheless, for both Nietzsche and Foucault, power is continuous, relational, and fluid. The body is caught up in a continuous and fluid process of power relations that discipline it in particular ways for particular purposes and uses. These methods and effects are signs that can be traced and deciphered to reveal the development of the system of power relations. The body reveals its subjection.

Foucault describes this historical process of subjection through three epochs: “[1] the sovereign and his force, [2] the social body and [3] the administrative apparatus,” each associated with, respectively, the “mark, sign, trace.”[17] The sovereign is further associated with “ceremony,” “the vanquished enemy,” and “the tortured body.”[18] The social body is further associated with “representation,” “the juridical subject in the process of requalification,” and “the soul with its manipulated representations.”[19] The administrative apparatus is further associated with “exercise,” “the individual subjected to immediate coercion,” and “the body subjected to training.”[20]

The modern subjected body emerged from this process. While the sovereign marked the body, it was with the reformers that the “soul,” i.e. mind, emerged. Punishment developed with the reformers to incorporate and give primacy to an entire system of symbolic representations. This system no longer focused on extracting from the body via methods designed to inflict pain, but instead focused on infusing the mind, “or rather a play of representations and sign circulating discreetly but necessarily and evidently in the minds of all.”[21] As Foucault states, the point of application for power “is no longer the body, but the soul,” with the soul understood as the subjected body.[22]

Symbolic representations which linked the idea of offence necessarily with the idea of pain were imbued in the subjected body. Nietzsche describes this technique as “mnemotechnics,” and states, “‘If something is to stay in the memory it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in memory’ – this is the main clause of the oldest (unhappily also the most enduring) psychology on earth.”[23] Every form of torture and sacrifice “has its origin in the instinct that realized that pain is the most powerful aid to mnemonics.”[24] “The severity of the penal code,” he states, “provides an especially significant measure of the degree of effort needed to overcome forgetfulness and to impose a few primitive demands of social existence as present realities” upon the body being subjected.[25] Foucault elaborates on this idea of bodily punishment as a means of inculcating knowledge. Sovereign power, marks of pain, morphs and links to modern power through the epoch of the social body. Marks on one’s body are replaced by signs of punishment that bring to recall the marks. Then, the signs become imbued in the subject to such an extent that the subject subjects themselves.

For Foucault, this is a “natural mechanics” in which the idea of punishment outweighs the idea of crime.[26] The idea of pain is necessarily, automatically, and perpetually linked with the idea of crime through techniques that: (1) focus on the entire population and not just offenders, (2) create mechanisms of surveillance that instill a sense of certainty in the population that the offense will not go unpunished, (3) create an exhaustive code that classifies and defines all offences and fixes their concomitant penalties, and (4) create social mechanisms for observing, examining, documenting, categorizing, and classifying every offender’s individualized “nature.”[27]

The link between the idea of punishment and the idea of crime is a system of symbolic representations that appear as natural in their ubiquity. These “obstacle-signs” must “circulate rapidly and widely; they must be accepted and redistributed by all; they must shape the discourse that each individual has with others and by which crime is forbidden to all by all.”[28] These obstacle-signs will continuously be universally recoded into the social imaginary through their uptake into everyday discourse.[29]

The techniques utilized by the reformers developed once more to become coercive disciplines, these disciplines make biopower possible. The system of power-knowledge relations becomes completely naturalized in this transformation. In becoming naturalized, the system of power-knowledge relations moves to a level beyond awareness. Two particular aspects of disciplinary power are of interest here. The first is the examination. The examination, Foucault states, “manifests the subjection of those who are perceived as objects and the objectification of those who are subjected […] It is not simply at the level of consciousness, of representation and in what one thinks one knows, but at the level of what makes possible the knowledge that is transformed into political investment.”[30] The examination, as in to observe the subjected in order to determine and assign their place in the gradational hierarchy of “ab/normality,” is a technique par excellence that constructs the subjected body. In the examination, thought is turned into an object to be observed, collected, hierarchically classified and categorized, utilized to define the norm, and utilized as a measure for correction.

The second is surveillance. In modern power, the individual becomes the agent of their own subjection; the individual subjects themselves as an object. Foucault states, “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.”[31] Under the threat of constant surveillance, the individual becomes an agent in their own subjection, constructing their own subjected body in accordance with the power-knowledge relations in which they are immersed. The individual becomes both the observer/observed and examiner/examined. The individual hierarchically categorizes and classifies themselves, creates and measures themselves against the norm, and corrects themselves.

Examination and surveillance are two techniques of disciplinary power. Disciplines collectively are spatial-temporal techniques that habituate subjection by training the body. It is a method of training that utilizes the repetition of movement within spatial-temporal parameters.[32] Disciplines utilize techniques that work at the level of micro details, the increasingly smaller spaces and times, to habituate the body in the minutest movements. These techniques seek to construct “the obedient subject, the individual subjected to habits, rules, order, an authority that is exercised continually around him and upon him, and which he must allow to function automatically in him.”[33] The subjected are continuously surveilled or under threat of being surveilled, individualized, examined, hierarchically classified and categorized within a gradation, measured against the distribution norm, and corrected.[34]

Disciplines are techniques that “invest human bodies” as subjects and “subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge.”[35] Foucault states, in reference to incarceration, “the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies.”[36] In other words, the subjected body is a construction of knowledge and an object of knowledge. Furthermore, panoptic observation, a carceral mechanism, “gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behavior; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised.”[37] A proliferation of objects of knowledge emerge within the system of power relations based on the system’s disciplinary mechanisms.

For example, the human sciences were made possible due a “carceral network,” a network of mechanisms such as examination and surveillance that began in the prison system but have become imbued in everyday life throughout the entirety of society. Foucault states, “Knowable man (soul, individuality, consciousness, conduct, whatever it is called) is the object-effect of this analytical investment, of this domination-observation.”[38] The subjected body is both an object and an effect of subjection. The knowable is an object and an effect of the system of power relations in which it is situated.

For Foucault, within the carceral system of modern disciplinary power, knowledge is structured by the system. But, I read Foucault as making an even stronger claim. Knowledge is not only structured by the system, it is also delimited by the system. The system of power-knowledge relations determines what is epistemologically conceivable because it constructs the mind as a subjugated body. The subjected body is both a construction and object of knowledge. Subjects of knowledge emerge from subjection. These aspects occur in accordance with the system of power-knowledge relations, and the ubiquity of this system means that there is no way out. However, given that the process of subjection is continuous, the process can be disrupted, and this is what I take Foucault to be doing. He states, “The critical ontology of ourselves must be considered not, certainly, as a theory, a doctrine, nor even as a permanent body of knowledge that is accumulating; it must be conceived as an attitude, an ethos, a philosophical life in which the critique of what we are is at one and the same time the historical analysis of the limits that are imposed on us and an experiment in the possibility of going beyond them.”[39] Foucault’s critique, his genealogical description, challenges the construction of the subjected body as well as the structuring and delimiting of knowledge through its radical critique of the ongoing construction of the knowing subject.

Foucault’s Meta-Epistemological Descriptive Critique

How is Foucault’s descriptive critique a meta-epistemological challenge? What is Foucault’s response to questions concerning our ability to know what knowledge is and our ability to know how knowledge is acquired? As I read Foucault, the following passage is crucial in understanding his meta-epistemological descriptive critique, thus I cite it in full:

We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations. These ‘power-knowledge relations’ are to be analyzed, therefore, not on the basis of a subject of knowledge who is or is not free in relation to the power system, but, on the contrary, the subject who knows, the objects to be known and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many effects of these fundamental implications of power-knowledge and their historical transformations. In short, it is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that traverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge.[40]


Foucault does not define knowledge because he is not concerned with what “knowledge” is as an abstractly knowable concept. Power and knowledge are continuously co-constituting. The knowing subject, knowable objects, and the possible types of knowledge available to be known are all continuous effects of historical processes imbued with disciplinary power. To be subjected is to be a mind, it is to be controlled, it is to be an object of study. Knowledge in the system of modern disciplinary power, is structured and delimited by the system. No subjected body is outside of these power-knowledge relations, and it is not possible to remove oneself from these power-knowledge relations. If it is the case that the body is subjected in these multivalent ways, and if it is the case that knowledge (whatever it is) is structured and delimited by a system of power relations, then what does it mean for knowledge as traditionally conceived of in epistemology – that is, knowledge as a relation between truth and justified belief?

A Foucauldian response, as I interpret Foucault, would assert that the system of disciplinary power would dictate what is epistemically conceivable within the system. Epistemology, as a study (a subject) of knowledge, is an object of study that emerges within a particular historical process and as such is no less imbued with power-knowledge relations. Within such a system, terms like “knowledge,” “truth,” and “justified belief” are subjected. These terms reveal the subjected body, the knowing subject, a mind, becoming both observed/observer and examined/examiner, hierarchically classifying and categorizing itself, creating and measuring itself against a norm, and correcting itself.

For example, epistemology largely asks “What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for S to know that p?”[41] Largely, to have knowledge of a proposition, p, it must be the case that (1) S believes p, (2) p is true, and (3) S is justified in believing p either based on reasonable evidence or objective probability due to “reliable cognitive processes and faculties.”[42] The first part of the disjunct in the third criteria refers to evidentialism and the second part of the disjunct refers to reliabilism. Evidentialism largely holds that experiences of mental states, such as introspection, perception, memory, intuition, count as reasonable evidence for belief.[43] Reliabilism adds the caveat that such experiences serve to justify belief if and only if the experience results from cognitive processes and faculties that have tended to result in true beliefs, which gives the experience a higher probability of resulting in further true beliefs.[44]

Foucault’s meta-epistemological descriptive critique speaks primarily, as I conceive of it, to the third of these criteria. Epistemological discourse becomes much more involved and complex, but nonetheless, at the core of the study of knowledge is the study of justified beliefs and what makes beliefs justified. However, justified beliefs are based on experiences of mental states; mental states as experienced by the knowing subject, the knowing subject as a construction and effect of power-knowledge relations. Those mental states may indeed be supplemented by reliable cognitive processes and faculties, but all of this nonetheless occurs within a particular system of power-knowledge relations. There is a high probability of an individual acting in a particular way when the person has been subjected to act in that way. One can reliably count on one’s cognitive processes and faculties to perceive in the ways that their cognitive processes and faculties have been disciplined to perceive.

Knowledge (again, whatever it is), in this sense then, is entirely contained within and is a reflection of the system of power relations. If this is the case, in studying epistemology, one is simply studying their own body as it has been subjected as a mind, as a knowing subject. As such, the subject of epistemology is the body subjected as mind.


My aim in this paper has been threefold. First, I aimed to explore what Foucault’s Nietzschean inspired conception of the knowing subject is and how that knowing subject is constructed. Second, I aimed to explore Foucault’s Nietzschean radical, genealogical, meta-epistemological critical description of the knowing subject and suggest how such a description destabilizes the knowing subject. Third, I aimed to explore Foucault’s response to questions concerning our ability to know what knowledge is; our ability to know the extent of our ability to acquire knowledge, and our ability to know how knowledge is acquired. Ultimately, I have argued that, for Foucault, the knowing subject is a continuous construction of power-knowledge relations. These power-knowledge relations (1) construct the mind, (2) structure and delimit the field of knowledge, and (3) make the body a docile object to be controlled. As such, the study of knowledge, epistemology as a subject, is a study of body subjected as mind.

[1] “subject, n.”. OED Online. March 2018. Oxford University Press. (accessed April 15, 2018).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “subject, adj. and adv.”. OED Online. March 2018. Oxford University Press. (accessed April 15, 2018).

[5] “subject, v.”. OED Online. March 2018. Oxford University Press. (accessed April 15, 2018).

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufman and R.J. Hollingdale (New York City: Vintage Books, 1989), p. 63.

[7] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 72.

[8] Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York City: Vintage Books, 1995), p. 16

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., p. 29

[11] Ibid., p. 25

[12] Ibid., p. 30

[13] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 119.

[14] Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, p. 77

[15] Ibid., pp. 77-78

[16] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 25

[17] Ibid., p. 131

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., p. 101

[22] Ibid.

[23] Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, p. 61

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, p. 104

[27] Ibid., pp. 94-96; 99; 104; 126

[28] Ibid., p. 108

[29] Ibid., p. 112

[30] Ibid., pp. 184-185

[31] Ibid., pp. 202-203

[32] Ibid., p. 167

[33] Ibid., p. 129

[34] Ibid., pp. 181; 183; 183

[35] Ibid., pp. 28; 181

[36] Ibid., p. 217

[37] Ibid., p. 204

[38] Ibid., p. 305

[39] Foucault, “What is Enlightenment?” in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York City: The New Press, 1994), p. 319

[40] Ibid., pp. 27-28; italics mine.

[41] Steup, Matthias, “Epistemology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <;

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

Racism and Speciesim, Sistah Vegan, Dr. A. “Breeze” Harper

Love means challenging the status quo. The white vegan movement really needs to understand what Dr. Harper is arguing. White vegans want to make the argument that all forms of oppression are linked under the same logic of oppression – hence analogies between speciesism and racism. Yet, white vegans fail to take seriously how they recreate white supremacist conditions and spaces within the movement because white vegans tend to think that there is one universal way of thinking about veganism. That universalized way of thinking about veganism espoused by white vegans has a history, and that history has been from the perspective of whiteness and masculinism.