Deontological versus Virtue-ethics Morality in Poststructuralism

*** Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from my book review of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish for my Theories of Punishment class. I am posting this to show the end product to those who helped me with the antirepresentationalist theory and how it applied to poststructuralist moral-normative thought.


The most common criticism of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish – and, for that matter, poststructuralism as a theory – is that it fails to articulate moral norms. If Foucault had articulated norms, it would allow an individual the ability to distinguish acceptable from unacceptable forms of power. But without these norms, it would be difficult to answer the critical question of why domination from this power should be resisted. In other words, Foucault didn’t offer an ultimate goal or purpose for this struggle, and left several key questions that didn’t have answers: Why was being a true individual such a noble struggle? Why was submission to the conventions of society such a horrible thing? Foucault’s lack of a stance on moral norms was a severe limitation because there was no objective guide to criticize structures of domination or a way to bring about social change.

Still, it should be pointed out that although morality may be deeply rooted in a world that Foucault believes is entrenched in power, morality can still be our guiding light. Building a moral framework for poststructuralists begins with developing the concept of antirepresentationalism. This principle stands for the idea that people as well as the state shouldn’t make representations that certain “intentional lives” are better or worse than others. Foucault believed that, representationalism – comparing everybody to a norm – had dangerous disciplinary effects because once a norm had been articulated, everyone would be judged as compared to this norm, and this would take away from one’s individuality (which is the only true purpose in life, according to Foucault).

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