Debunking Foucault’s Philosophy 101

Michel Foucault (15 October 1926–25 June 1984) was a French philosopher and a major member of the French Poststructuralist movement, from which emerged modern Postmodernism. Modern Postmodernism contains two influential strands: one from the work of Jacques Derrida and the other from Foucault. The strand associated with Michel Foucault is derived from his work on power, knowledge and a relativist view of truth (for Foucault’s works see below).

Foucault was a radical leftist and a Marxist early in his career, and, even though he later repudiated Marxism, a certain type of Marxist class analysis is evident in his work. In his mature views, Foucault was a left libertarian or anarchist who distrusted all institutions, and who was in some respects a trailblazing advocate of identity politics and minority cultures. Foucault was also a representative of neo-Nietzschean thought in the late 20th century, albeit in rather original ways. Nietzschean irrationalism was a central element of Foucault’s thought, as was his denial of objective truth.

I regard Foucault’s work and Postmodernism in general as deeply flawed and a terrible blight on the intellectual life of the left. The central element of Foucault’s work was his rejection of objective truth – a self-defeating and absurd idea that lies at the heart of all irrationalism.

I collect below my posts criticising Foucault’s philosophy. A number of my critiques of Foucault are based on José Guilherme Merquior’s excellent book Foucault (London; 2nd edn. 1991), which I highly recommend as a critical overview of Foucault’s work.

My posts are as follows:
“A Documentary on Michel Foucault,” February 12, 2015.

“John Searle’s Argument for Objective Truth,” February 14, 2015.

“Foucault’s View of Truth,” February 18, 2015.

“Foucault’s Obscurantism: He Admitted it Himself,” March 4, 2015.

“Foucault’s The Order of Things: A Summary and Critique,” March 6, 2015.

“Foucault’s ‘What is an Author?’: A Critique,” March 7, 2015.

“Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge: A Quick Summary, March 10, 2015.

“A Challenge to Truth Relativists,” March 20, 2015.

“Foucault’s Truth Relativism,” March 25, 2015.

“Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: A Summary and Critique,” April 14, 2015.

“José Guilherme Merquior’s Verdict on Foucault’s Thought,” April 16, 2015.

“Foucault versus Chomsky: The 1971 Debate,” April 18, 2015.

“Foucault on the History of Madness: A Critique,” April 19, 2015.
Foucault’s major works were are as follows:
Structuralist Phase:
Foucault, Michel. 1954. Maladie mentale et personnalité (1st edn.). Presses universitaires de France, Paris.

Foucault, Michel. 1961. Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique. Plon, Paris. 673 p. (the best translation of this appears to be Foucault, Michel. 2006. History of Madness (ed. Jean Khalfa; trans. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa). Routledge, New York, from the 1972 Gallimard edition).

Foucault, Michel. 1962. Maladie mentale et personnalité (2nd rev. edn.). Presses universitaires de France, Paris. Presses universitaires de France, Paris = Foucault, Michel. 1976. Mental Illness and Psychology (trans. Alan Sheridan). Harper and Row, New York.

Foucault, Michel. 1963. Raymond Roussel. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1986. Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel (trans. Charles Ruas). Doubleday, Garden City, NY.

Foucault, Michel. 1963. Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard médical . Presses universitaires de France, Paris. 212 p. = Foucault, Michel. 1973. The Birth of the Clinic (trans. Allan M. Sheridan). Pantheon, New York; and Foucault, Michel. 2003. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (trans. Allan M. Sheridan). Routledge, London. 266 p.

Foucault, Michel. 1964. Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique [abridged version of Folie et déraison: histoire de la folie à l’âge classique 1961]. Union générale d’éditions, Paris. 308 p. = Foucault, Michel. 1965. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (trans. Richard Howard). Pantheon Books, New York. 299 p.; and Foucault, Michel. 2006. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (trans. Richard Howard). Taylor & Francis, London and New York.

Foucault, Michel. 1966. Les mots et les choses. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1973. The Order of Things (trans. Alan Sheridan). Vintage, New York.

Foucault, Michel. 1969. L’archéologie du savoir. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge (trans. Allan Sheridan). Harper and Row, New York.

Poststructuralist (or “Genealogical”) Phase:
Foucault, Michel. 1972. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique [2nd edn.; new preface and appendices]. Gallimard, Paris. 613 p. = Foucault, Michel. 2006. History of Madness (ed. Jean Khalfa; trans. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa). Routledge, New York. 725 p.

Foucault, Michel. 1975. Surveiller et punir. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish (trans. Alan Sheridan). Pantheon, New York.

Foucault’s History of Sexuality:
Foucault, Michel. 1976. Histoire de la sexualité. 1. La volonté de savoir. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality. Volume 1. The Will to Knowledge. (trans. Robert Hurley). Penguin, London.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. Histoire de la sexualité. 2. L’usage des plaisirs. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1985. The History of Sexuality. Volume 2. The Use of Pleasure (trans. Robert Hurley). Pantheon Books, New York.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. Histoire de la sexualité. 3. Le souci de soi.Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1986. The History of Sexuality. Volume 3. The Care of the Self. Pantheon Books, New York.

Foucault, Michel. 2004. Naissance de la biopolitique: cours au Collège de France, 1978–1979 (ed. M. Senellart). Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978 –1979 (ed. by Michel Senellart and trans. Graham Burchell). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Merquior, José Guilherme. 1991. Foucault (2nd edn.). Fontana, London.

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