The Episteme and the Historical A Priori: On Foucault’s Archaeological Method

Rik Peters


Interpreters of Michel Foucault's 1966 Les mots et les choses have often conflated the terms 'episteme' and 'historical a priori'. This article suggests that the two terms are entirely separate: while 'episteme' refers to the configuration of thought in a given historical period, 'historical a priori' refers to the conditions of unity for a certain field of science within a given period. In his use of the term 'historical a priori', Foucault is thus much closer to Husserl than has hitherto been appreciated. Keeping the two terms separated also sheds new light on the archaeological method that Foucault uses, showing that there is a procedure to get from an archive of texts to the reconstruction of an episteme.


Michel Foucault; Edmund Husserl; archaeology; episteme; historical a priori; method; intellectual history; Thomas Kuhn

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