“The important thing here, I believe, is that truth isn’t outside power, or lacking in power: contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study, truth isn’t the reward of free spirits, the child of protracted solitude, nor the privilege of those who have succeeded in liberating themselves. Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint. And it induces regular effects of power. Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.” (Foucault 1984: 72–73).According to this, truth is “produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint.”
Is there anyone who really believes this nonsense?
We can clearly get numerous straightforward, objective empirical truths as conveyed by synthetic a posteriori propositions in everyday life: e.g., “I am wearing a pair of socks now,” “I have two hands,” “there is no cat sitting on my kitchen table now” etc. Is the empirical fact that I am wearing socks now a truth made “by virtue of multiple forms of constraint”? If so, how? Can any supporter of Foucauldian truth relativism explain this?
As we have seen in the last post, what about historical truths like the Holocaust or Armenian genocide? Were these facts made “by virtue of multiple forms of constraint”? If so, how and why? Isn’t it obvious that the Foucauldian truth relativist would end up like some kind of lunatic Holocaust denier if he took Foucault’s ideas seriously?
This is why I laugh every time someone tells me that Michel Foucault was one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century: if you really pursue the “truth is only made by power” mantra, you would quickly be driven to the most bizarre and, quite frankly, insane conspiracy theories, in your attempts to demonstrate how every truth is just made “by virtue of multiple forms of constraint.”
Foucault, Michel. 1984. “Truth and Power,” in Paul Rabinow (ed.), The Foucault Reader (interview with Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale Pasquino). Pantheon, New York. 51–75.