On Historicity and Transcendentality Again. Foucault’s Trajectory from Existential Psychiatry to Historical Epistemology

  • Elisabetta Basso CNRS-École Normale Supérieure (USR 3308-CIRPHLES/CAPHES)


In this paper I focus on the emergence of the concept of the “historical a priori” at the origin of Foucault’s archeology. I emphasize the methodological function of this concept within Foucault’s archaeology, and I maintain that despite the different thesis it entails as compared to its philosophical sources, it pertains to one of the main issues of phenomenology, that is, the problematization of the relation between reality as it appears in its historicity, and transcendentality. I start from the interest of the young Foucault in existential psychiatry, and I focus on the French philosophical context in which Foucault’s Introduction to Ludwig Binswanger’s “Dream and Existence” (1954) was conceived. My aim is to show that the first “phenomenological” phase of Foucault’s work is coherent, from a methodological point of view, with the development of archaeology intended as “historical epistemology.” I conclude by arguing that Foucault’s archaeology is methodologically linked to Canguilhem’s epistemology, in that the latter presents itself as an important attempt at linking together historicity and transcendentality.

Author Biography

Elisabetta Basso, CNRS-École Normale Supérieure (USR 3308-CIRPHLES/CAPHES)
Elisabetta Basso is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre International de Recherches en Philosophie, Lettres, Savoirs (USR 3308-CIRPHLES, CAPHES, CNRS-École Normale Supérieure, Paris). Her research specializations are in Twentieth Century French Philosophy, French Historical Epistemology, History and Epistemology of Psychiatry. She is the author of Michel Foucault e la Daseinsanalnalyse: un’indagine metodologica (Milano: Mimesis, 2007), and articles on the work of Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ludwig Binswanger and the history of phenomenological psychiatry. She is the translator and editor of Michel Foucault’s essay “La psychologie de 1850 à 1950” (in Italian), Ludwig Binswanger’s book, Wandlungen in der Auffassung und Deutung des Traumes. Von den Griechen bis zur Gegenwart (in Italian), and Ludwik Fleck’s essay, “Wissenschaftstheoretische Probleme” (in French). She transcripted Michel Foucault’s manuscripts of the Lectures at Collège de France: “Théorie et institutions pénales (1971-72)” for the French edition directed by Daniel Defert, François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana (Paris: Gallimard-Seuil). She collaborates to the section “Analyse d’ouvrages” of the French journal: Revue d’Histoires des Sciences (CAPHES, Centre d’Archives de Philosophie et d’Édition des Sciences, CNRS-ENS), and she is currently editing a special issue on: “Archives des sciences: médecine et psychiatrie. Un regard épistémologique”. She is member of the École Française de Daseinsanalyse (Archives Husserl - UMR 8547, CNRS-ENS, Paris). From October 2012 she will be employed as a Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral research fellow at the Technische Universität, Berlin (Fakultät I: Geisteswissenschaften, Institut für Philosophie, Literatur- , Wissenschafts- und Technikgeschichte). Her current work focuses on: Phenomenology and Psychiatry: An Epistemological History of the Concept of “Structure”.