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Derrida, Foucalt, Plato and Aristotle

Criticism Theory HistoryThere is no shortage of discourse or influence of the famed thinkers, Derrida, Foucault, Plato and Aristotle. Both singularly and in conjunction with one another, virtually volumes have been written discussing their perspectives and even their relationships with one another to a degree. In terms of those relationships, it is sometimes said that Plato is to Derrida as Aristotle is to Foucault. In an effort to analyze this statement, the general thematic related to the individual's respective theory will be analyzed. In short, there is much veracity to the afore mentioned statement and the way in which the patterns of though interact between them makes this proclamation solid enough for a general understanding of their respective positions.

The statement, “Plato is to Derrida as Aristotle is to Foucault” requires a close reading in order to make the necessary critical connections. First and foremost, the relationships between the thinkers can be classified according to time periods. Derrida and Foucault were living and propagating their theses as contemporaries of one another. Similarly, Aristotle was a student of Plato so they too can be considered contemporaries of one another to an extent. In terms of these relationships between contemporaries, each formulated conflicting theses from the other. For example, Derrida was an advocate of deconstructionist thought and Focault was associated with the structuralist movement. In the case of Plato and Aristotle, Plato saw the possibility of a political institution with classes that would not clash with one another that was ruled by the aristocracy. In contrast, Aristotle did not embrace the oligarchy favored by Plato in a favor of a system that was between a democracy and an oligarchy. In essence, Derrida and Foucault were in opposition to one another based on their position much in the same way that Plato and Aristotle for.

When the collision between the doctrines of Derrida and Foucault are weighed against the classical debate present in Plato and Aristotle's doctrine, it can be accurately concluded that Derrida's position is more akin to Plato and Foucault's is more akin to Aristotle's. To better understand this relationship, specific references to their respective works are necessary for critical comparison. The philosophies of Plato and Aristotle differ on many issues (Northeastern 1). One of the most important things on which their differences appear are on their ethical theory (1). In short, Plato sees justice as a human virtue and Aristotle sees happiness as the ultimate goal to pursue (1). According to Plato in The Republic Book II, “...if each person does one thing for which he is naturally suited, does it at the right time, and is released from having to do any of others” better-quality of goods are more likely produced (56).

Aristotle, in contrast has trouble with the aristocratic interpretations of what's best for another person. He has great mistrust of the tyrannical propensities for such an order. He states, “Both oligarch and tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of their arms” (345). In addition, he goes on to continue regarding the nature of the men in positions of governance, “There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters” (601). Justice as an individual human virtue, simply cannot holistically be present in the master and slave model or system of governance. The contexts of pursuing happiness would not produce consistent variables as each individual would have different interpretations that would extend beyond a soul starving for virtue. Aristotle presents a more complex and realistic format than the absolutes but forth by Plato. There is, however, a satisfaction and sense of stability present in establishing absolutes in the human psyche.

As similar phenomenon can be found when considering Derrida and Foucault. In Truth and Power, Foucault takes a stand akin to the Aristotle argument that looks up on those in power or seeking power with scrutiny. Though perhaps not the same argument, his position in the respective debate of his era is more similar to how Aristotle stood against Plato. Foucault states “'s not so much a matter of knowing what external power imposes itself on science, as of what effects of power circulate among scientific statements, what constitutes, as it were, their internal regime of power” (200). Power, in this model, has a disposition to influence things potentially quite negatively thus moving in a direction potentially detrimental to humankind regardless of its perceived legitimacy. The accord between classes or powers, as propagated by Plato, simply would not exist as historically, Foucault believes, chaos has been a result of colliding powers (150).

Derrida, on the other hand, takes on a position more akin to Plato in his respective debate and has actually referenced Plato a great deal during his writings. Derrida, however, during his discourse on Plato, deconstructs the text and actually finds an number of inconsistencies in the dialogue of Plato. As a result, it is important to note that the commonality between Derrida and Plato is not a literal acceptance by Derrida of Plato's doctrine but an overall mood of the role he plays in the Derrida vs. Foucault debate. Derrida, though akin to Plato in this model, is not actually literally subscribing to the same doctrine and this notation is critical for understanding how the relationships between the thinkers work. Derrida, using deconstruction, could do the same thing to virtually any argument that he did to Plato's. In contrast, however, his focus on self reflection or self-consciousness is similar to the innate human desire for virtue that Plato expounds. In contrast, however, justice or virtue would be impossible to achieve by the nature of deconstructionist thought. Like the Plato perspective of aristocracy in the necessity of rule, Derrida does not agree with aristocratic control, however, he does admit that the combination between sovereignty and democracy is a contradiction of terms (Derrida 100).

Describing how “Plato is to Derrida as Aristotle is to Foucault” is somewhat of a cryptic task. In this capacity, it is laden with brevity and hidden meanings that extend far beyond simple literal explanations. In this regard, Derrida does not directly subscribe to Plato's school of thought and Foucault does directly subscribe to all that which Aristotle propagates. In reality, the relationship is much more informal and spirited. Spirit, in this capacity, can be defined as in the same vane or taking on similar qualities. In modern times, the debate between Foucault and Derrida is much like the ancient debates between Plato and Aristotle. If viewed in a classic sense, the way in which Derrida's role is characterized in the contemporary debate would be similar to the role that aristotle played in the classic argument. Similarly, the role in which Foucault plays in his respective debate would be more akin to the position of Aristotle. While the examples provided illustrate how the debate manifests and classifies itself in relationship to the statement relationship, this is only one example. There are countless ways in which the relationships between the famed thinkers can be explored. Furthermore, it is probable that the scope of their respective debates and their individual positions will continue to invoke future philosophers who will also debate the subjects.

Works Cited

Aristotle. The Complete Works of Aristotle. Ed. J. Barnes. New Jersey: Princeton University  Press, 1984.

Derrida, J. -Rouges. New York: Stanford  University Press, 2004.

“Ergon: Plato V. Aristotle.” -Northeastern University.

EssayScam: New Critisicm Literery Theory - Online.

Foucault, M. -The Foucault Reader. Ed. P. Rainbow. New York: Pantheon, 1984.

Plato. -The Republic. New York: Penguin Classics. 1955.

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