Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

If someone were to ask me how I conceive of what I do, I would reply if the strategist is the man who says 'What does this death, this cry, this uprising matter in the grand scale of things and what does a general principle matter to me in the situation in which we find ourselves?' well I don't care whether the strategist is a politician, a historian, a revolutionary, a supporter of the Shah or of the Ayatolla, my theoretical morality is the opposite. It is 'antistrategic': to be respectful when a singularity rises up and intransigent when power infringes on the universal.

It is not a critical history which has as its aim to demonstrate that behind this so-called knowledge there is only mythology, or perhaps nothing at all. My analysis is about the problematization of something which is dependent on our knowledge, ideas, theories, techniques, social relations and economical processes.

Nature, keeping only useless secrets, had placed within reach and in sight of human beings the things it was necessary for them to know.

Since the Fall, man had accepted labor as a penance and for its power to work redemption. It was not a law of nature which forced man to work, but the effect of a curse.

The law averts its face and returns to the shadows the instant one looks at it; when one tries to hear its words, what one catches is a song that is no more than the fatal promise of a future song.

These differences may result from the fact that an author's name is not simply an element in a discourse (capable of being either subject or object, of being replaced by a pronoun, and the like); it performs a certain role with regard to narrative discourse, assuring a classificatory function.

What appears to me to be indispensable is respect for the reader... I dream of books which would be clear enough about the way they go about things for others to use them freely, but without trying either to blur or hide the original sources. Freedom of use and technical transparency are linked.

When man deploys the arbitrary nature of his madness, he confronts the dark necessity of the world; the animal that haunts his nightmares and his nights of privation is his own nature, which will lay bare hell's pitiless truth; the vain images of blind idiocy?such are the world's Magna Scientia; and already, in this disorder, in this mad universe, is prefigured what will be the cruelty of the finale.

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!

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French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas