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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Pascal’s wager fails

Blaise Pascal, in his Wager Argument, avoids the trend of attempting to prove God’s existence, instead arguing that it is rational to strive to believe that God exists. If humans act rationally and desire maximum utility, then, according to Pascal’s argument, it follows that they must wager for God.

In this paper, I will first explain why Pascal rejects previous attempts to demonstrate God’s existence. I will then define what it means to wager for God, expected utility and rational choice. Then, I will then outline his Wager Argument and explain why one must be compelled to wager for God. Finally, I will present objections to Pascal’s argument, a possible response Pascal would give to these objections, and each reply will be followed by my own reply.

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Ontological argument for the existance of God

St. Anselm, in his Ontological Argument, attempted to prove the necessary existence of God simply by reflecting on the concept of God. By setting up the premise “God exists only in the understanding,” and then going out to disprove this premise, St. Anselm makes a case for the necessary existence of God.

In this paper, I will first explain two of St. Anselm’s logical tools, then state his argument, and then go over each premise he makes. To conclude, I will write about Immanuel Kant’s objection to Anselm’s argument and the best response Anselm could give.

Anselm used a logical tool called Reductio Ad Absurdum (RAA) to prove his theory. RAA sets up an original premise and then sets out to disprove the original premise. Anselm uses this to perfection. His original premise dictates that God exists in the understanding. He then disproves this premise, thus proving that He exists in reality.

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