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Subject, postmodern critique of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DE023-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

The critique of the subject in late twentieth-century continental philosophy is associated primarily with the work of Foucault, Derrida, Lacan and Deleuze. Driven by philosophical, political and therapeutic concerns, these thinkers question the subject’s ability to declare itself self-evidently independent of the external conditions of its own possibility, such as the language in which it expresses clear and distinct ideas, the body whose deceptions it fears, and the historical or cultural conditions in which it perceives reason or tyranny. Moreover, they fear that the ethical price of such insistence upon absolute self-possession is the exclusion and oppression of social groups whose supposed irrationality or savagery represent the self’s own rejected possibilities for change and discovery. Their work draws upon Marxist, Freudian and Nietzschean insights concerning the dependence of consciousness upon its material conditions, unconscious roots, or constituting ‘outside’. However, their use of these influences is guided by a common fidelity to Kant’s search for the ‘conditions of possibility’ underlying subjective experience, as well as his scepticism regarding our capacity to know the self and its motivations as objects ‘in themselves’.

Citing this article:
Hengehold, Laura. Subject, postmodern critique of, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DE023-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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