Notes: Michael Mahon, “Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy: An Introduction”

Mahon, Michael. “Foucault, Nietzsche, Genealogy: An Introduction.” Foucault’s Nietzschean genealogy: truth, power, and the subject, State University of New York Press, Albany, 1992.

Keywords: Genealogy, Theory, Philosophy


“The Nietzsche who is so important to Foucault, first, is Nietzsche the genealogist, the one who problematized truth as intimately entwined with relations of power, who sought a multiplicity of relations of forces at the origin of our taken for granted values and concepts and even the things we experience” (2).

“The problematic of the three genealogical axes—truth, power, and subjectivity—arises from this central theme. By revealing the moral problematization of madness, Nietzsche’s main concerns become Foucault’s own. Power, manifest in the practices of interning the mad, functions positively by constituting mental illness as a phenomenon available to perception” (4).

“If by the origin (Ursprung) one means the locale of something’s primordial truth, essence, or original identity, nothing could be further from what genealogy seeks. The genealogist foregoes any search for such metaphysical fictions and, instead, cultivates the disparate details, events, and accidents found at any beginning… Genealogy is critique of reason because of its commitment to overturn reason’s prejudices in favor of “unity, identity, duration, substance, cause, materiality, and being.” The critique of reason is not a matter of seeking the limits of reason in order to “provide a positive foundation for the possibility of knowing”; instead critique is a historical investigation which unveils reason’s falsifications and reveals the moral will that undergirds it. Genealogy is “effective history” because it avoids the traditional historian’s metaphysical prejudices and relocates everything traditionally considered eternal into a process of becoming” (8).


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