The genealogy of abstractive practices


Nietzsche and Foucault have given us the idea of conducting a philosophical genealogy of a practice that varies across history. Foucault’s work also implies that we can view some abstraction as a practice. These points jointly imply that we can conduct a genealogy of “abstractive practices.” Indeed, a good deal of Foucault’s work can be understood as exactly this sort of investigation. But a genealogy of abstractive practice raises a difficult methodological problem. This is the problem of how to determine which definitions of abstraction to use, from amongst the various theoretical accounts of abstraction that we find in the history of thought, to craft our genealogy of abstractive practices. In other words, what will count as an abstractive practice for the purpose of conducting such a genealogy will depend on what we identify as abstraction. This article seeks to expose this problem to demonstrate the methodological difficulties that must be confronted in order to steer a path between ignoring the historical-epistemological limits to the kinds of abstraction we can employ at any given present, on the one hand, and having our sensitivity to these limits halt our historicalphilosophical reflections on abstraction as a historical practice, on the other.

Publication Title

Southern Journal of Philosophy