Two years ago, Jackson Herndon ’18 took Seminar on Foucault, a course taught by Professor of History Thomas Wilson. Over the course of the semester, Herndon became interested in philosophers who stray from the morays of structuralist thought and employ their own distinctive methods of thinking.
This summer, Herndon, through his Emerson Grant, is exploring this concept further, focusing on the work of Marx, Nietzsche and Foucault, philosophers who step outside familiar, logical thinking systems and perceive events beyond their immediate and obvious causes and effects.
“I chose these three philosophers because they are all understood as especially radical figures who think about history in non-traditional ways. They are arrested from what we think of as “common sense,” which is something I find fascinating” Herndon said.
Herndon’s research of historical causation is founded in 12 texts, four from each author. By making connections across philosophers, Herndon hopes to come to a clearer understanding of cause and effect as it appears in their work, as causation is a topic that ties all three minds together.
Hometown: New York, New York
High School: Summit School
“Marx uses a dialectical method of historical study, a system he co-opted from Hegel, while Nietzsche and Foucault both utilize genealogy. All three stray from the daily discourse in important, historically significant ways,” said Herndon.
After he completes his reading, Herndon will compare the thought of the three philosophers with that of anthropologist Clifford Geertz. In his essay “Common Sense as a Cultural System,” Geertz argues that the ways humans construct understanding is culturally relativistic, and that “common sense” is not as straight-forward an idea as many assume it to be. Geertz explores the intricacies of how ideas get passed down and the ways in which this lineage is important.
“Anyone who studies history needs to question historical events and the modes of historical inquiry. This is a point Geertz emphasizes in his essay, and it is something I intend to focus on as I continue my research,” he said.
By the end of the summer, Herndon hopes to have finished his research, and to have begun an essay on the topic. Though only marginally related to his thesis, the work Herndon has done this summer will nonetheless serve as an important foundation of knowledge from which new and related ideas can be derived.