Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

I am merely emphasizing that the fact of "health" is a cultural fact in the broadest sense of the word, a fact that is political, economic, and social as well, a fact that is tied to a certain state of individual and collective consciousness. Every era outlines a "normal" profile of health. Perhaps we should direct ourselves toward a system that defines, in the domain of the abnormal, the pathological, the sicknesses normally covered by society.

I'm very proud that some people think that I'm a danger for the intellectual health of students. When people start thinking of health in intellectual activities, I think there is something wrong. In their opinion I am a dangerous man, since I am a crypto-Marxist, an irrationalist, a nihilist.

It seems to me that the philosophical choice confronting us today is the following. We have to opt either for a critical philosophy which appears as an analytical philosophy of truth in general, or for a critical thought which takes the form of an ontology of ourselves, of present reality. It is this latter form of philosophy which from Hegel to the Frankfurt School, passing through Nietzsche, Max Weber and so on, which has founded a form of reflection to which, of course, I link myself insofar as I can.

No-one is forced to write books, or to spend years elaborating them or to claim to be doing this kind of work. There is no reason to make it obligatory to include footnotes, bibliographies and references. No reason not to choose free reflection on the work of others. It is sufficient to indicate well and clearly what relation one is establishing between one's own work and the work of others.

Sovereignty is exercised within the borders of a territory, discipline is exercised on the bodies of individuals, and security is exercised over a whole population.

The man described for us, whom we are invited to free, is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself. A 'soul' inhabits him and brings him to existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body. The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body.

This notion of the government of men by truth... Elaborating this notion means displacing things a little in relation to the now over-worn and tired theme of power-knowledge. For the history of thought, my analysis was more or less organized, or revolved around, the notion of dominant ideology. If you like, there are in general two successive displacements: then, from the notion of dominant ideology to that of power-knowledge and now, a second displacement from the notion of knowledge-power to the notion of government by the truth... Discarding the notion of knowledge-power the same way as I discarded the notion of dominant ideology. Well, when I say that, I am perfectly devastated (detruite) because it is obvious that you don't discard something you thought yourself in the same way as you discard what others have thought. As a consequence, I will certainly be more indulgent with the notion of knowledge-power than with that of dominant ideology, but it is up to you to criticize me for that.

What bothers and irritates me horribly in France, is that you are obliged to look at the program in advance to know what you can't miss, and you have to arrange your evening as a result.

When one undertakes to correct a prisoner, someone who has been sentenced, one tries to correct the person according to the risk of relapse, of recidivism, that is to say according to what will very soon be called dangerousness ? that is to say, again, a mechanism of security.

I am not at all the sort of philosopher who conducts or wants to conduct a discourse of truth on some science or other. Wanting to lay down the law for each and every science is the project of positivism... Now this role of referee, judge and universal witness is one I absolutely refuse to adopt.

In a sense, I am a moralist, insofar as I believe that one of the tasks, one of the meanings of human existence - the source of human freedom - is never to accept anything as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile. No aspect of reality should be allowed to become a definitive and inhuman law for us. We have to rise up against all forms of power - but not just power in the narrow sense of the word, referring to the power of a government or of one social group over another: these are only a few particular instances of power. Power is anything that tends to render immobile and untouchable those things that are offered to us as real, as true, as good.

It was not a question of an initially timid, technical, and medical breach of a taboo of discourse, speech or expression that had weighed on sexuality from the depths of time and certainly since the seventeenth or eighteenth century. What I think took place around 1850... was not at all a metamorphosis of a practice of censorship, repression, or hypocrisy, but the metamorphosis of a quite positive practice of forced and obligatory confession. I would say that in the West, sexuality is not generally something about which people are silent and that must be kept secret; it is something one has to confess.'

Now the critique of knowledge I would propose does not in fact consist in denouncing what is continually - I was going to say monotonously - oppressive under reason, for after all, believe me, insanity (d‚raison) is just as oppressive. Nor would this political critique of knowledge consist in flushing out the presumption of power in every truth affirmed, for again, believe me, there is just as much abuse of power in the lie or error. The critique I propose consists in determining under what conditions and with what effects a veridiction is exercised, that is to say, once again, a type of formulation falling under particular rules of verification and falsification.

Take the notion of tradition: it is intended to give a special temporal status to a group of phenomena that are both successive and identical (or at least similar); it makes it possible to rethink the dispersion of history in the form of the same; it allows a reduction of the difference proper to every beginning, in order to pursue without discontinuity the endless search for origin.

The most defenseless tenderness and the bloodiest of powers have a similar need of confession. Western man has become a confessing animal.

Thought is not to be sought only in theoretical formulations such as those of philosophy or science; it can and must be analyzed in every manner of speaking, doing or behaving in which the individual appears and acts as subject of learning, as ethical or juridical subject, as subject conscious of himself and others. In this sense, thought is understood as the very form of action - as action insofar as it implies the play of true and false, the acceptance or refusal of rules, the relation to oneself and others. The study of forms of experience can thus proceed from an analysis of "practices" - discursive or not - as long as one qualifies that word to mean the different systems of action insofar as they are inhabited by thought as I have characterized it here.

What bothers me is the quality of French television. It's true! It is one of the best in the world unfortunately!

When, with Rousseau and Pestallozzi, the eighteenth century concerned itself with constituting for the child, with educational rules that followed his development, a world that would be adapted to him, it made it possible to form around children an unreal, abstract, archaic environment that had no relation to the adult world. The whole development of contemporary education, with its irreproachable aim of preserving the child from adult conflicts, accentuates the distance that separates, for a man, his life as a child and his life as an adult. That is to say, by sparing the child conflicts, it exposes him to a major conflict, to the contradiction between his childhood and his real life. If one adds that, in its educational institutions, a culture does not project its reality directly, with all its conflicts and contradictions, but that it reflects it indirectly through the myths that excuse it, justify it, and idealize it in a chimerical coherence; if one adds that in its education a society dreams of its golden age [...] one understands that fixations and pathological regressions are possible only in a given culture, that they multiply to the extent that social forms do not permit the assimilation of the past into the present content of experience.

I am probably not the only one who writes in order to remain faceless. Don't ask me who I am, or tell me to stay the same: that is the bureaucratic morality, which keeps our papers in order. It ought to let us be when it comes to writing.

In Ancient Greek thought what one hoped to gain from reading was not an understanding of what the author meant, but to build up for oneself a toolkit of true propositions which were effectively one's own... It was not a matter of constructing a patchwork of propositions from different places, but of constructing a solid foundation of propositions which could be used as prescriptions, true discourses which were at the same time principles of behavior'.

Let us take the question of power, political power, replacing it within the more general question of governmentality, that is governmentality understood as a strategic field of relations of power in the broadest sense of the term, not simply the political sense. Thus, if one understands by governmentality, a strategic field of power relations which are mobile, transformable and reversible, I think that the reflection on the notion of governmentality cannot help but but pass both theoretically and practically through the element of a subject that is defined by the relation of self to self. While the theory of political power as an institution ordinarily refers to a juridical conception of the subject of law, it seems to me that the analysis of governmentality - that is, the analysis of power as a group of reversible relations - must refer to an ethics of the subject defined by the relation of self to self. Which means quite simply that in the type of analysis that I have been proposing for a while, you will see that relations of power/governmentality/government of self and others/the relation of the self to the self, all of this constitutes a chain, a thread and that it is there, around these notions that one can, I think, articulate the question of politics and the question of ethics.

One can say that the author is an ideological product, since we represent him as the opposite of his historically real function. (When a historically given function is represented in a figure that inverts it, one has an ideological production.) The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.

Tamed, madness preserves all the appearances of its reign. It now takes part in the measures of reason and in the labor of truth. It plays on the surface of things and in the glitter of daylight, over all the workings of appearances, over the ambiguity of reality and illusion, over all that indeterminate web, ever rewoven and broken, which both unites and separates truth and appearance.

The notion of writing, as currently employed, is concerned with neither the act of writing nor the indication ? be it symptom or sign ? of a meaning that someone might have wanted to express. We try, with great effort, to imagine the general condition of each text, the condition of both the space in which it is dispersed and the time in which it unfolds. In current usage, however

To admit that writing is, because of the very history that it made possible, subject to the test of oblivion and repression, seems to represent, in transcendental terms, the religious principle of the hidden meaning (which requires interpretation) and the critical principle of implicit signification, silent determinations, and obscured contents (which give rise to commentary).

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas