Michel Foucault


French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas

Author Quotes

My role is to raise question in an effective, genuine way, and to raise them with the greatest possible rigor, with the maximum complexity and difficulty so that a solution doesn't spring from the head of some reformist intellectual or suddenly appear in the head of a party's political bureau.

Scarcity is a state of food shortage that has the property of engendering a process that renews it and, in the absence of another mechanism halting it, tends to extend it and make it more acute. It is a state of scarcity, in fact, that raises prices.

The images of madness are only dream and error, and if the sufferer who is blinded by them appeals to them, it is only to disappear with them in the annihilation to which they are fated.

There is object proof that homosexuality is more interesting than heterosexuality. It's that one knows a considerable number of heterosexuals who would wish to become homosexuals, whereas one knows very few homosexuals who would really like to become heterosexuals.

What all these people are doing is not aggressive; they are inventing new possibilities of pleasure with strange parts of their body ? through the eroticization of the body. I think it's ... a creative enterprise, which has as one of its main features what I call the desexualization of pleasure.

When I was a student in the 1950s, I read Husserl, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty. When you feel an overwhelming influence, you try to open a window. Paradoxically enough, Heidegger is not very difficult for a Frenchman to understand. When every word is an enigma, you are in a not-too-bad position to understand Heidegger. Being and Time is difficult, but the more recent works are clearer. Nietzsche was a revelation to me. I felt that there was someone quite different from what I had been taught. I read him with a great passion and broke with my life, left my job in the asylum, left France: I had the feeling I had been trapped. Through Nietzsche, I had become a stranger to all that.

I am an experimenter and not a theorist. I call a theorist someone who constructs a general system either deductive or analytical, and applies it to different fields in a uniform way. This isn't my case. I am an experimenter in the sense that I write in order to change myself and in order not to think the same thing as before.

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.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

French Philosopher, Social Theorist and Historian of Ideas