Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Utter Bankruptcy of Foucault’s Denial of Objective Truth as determined by Reality

There is a perfect story about Foucault that illustrates how absurd and intellectually bankrupt was his idea that objective truth does not exist and that truth is only made by power.

The context is a conversation between Paul Veyne and Foucault in the last year of Foucault’s life when he had AIDS and was displaying the symptoms such as severe cough and fever, and when Foucault’s doctors strongly believed he had AIDS.

Paul Veyne tells the story, as it happened in 1984:
“‘By the way,’ I [viz., Paul Veyne] asked him out of simple curiosity (for the history of medicine is not my dominant passion), ‘does AIDS really exist, or is it a moralizing medical myth?’ ‘Well,’ he [viz., Foucault] replied calmly and after a moment’s reflection, ‘listen. I’ve studied the question closely, I’ve read quite a bit on the subject. Yes, it exists, it’s not a myth. The Americans have studied it very carefully’;” (Veyne 1993: 8).
Here is a man who thought that truth is not determined by an objective reality, but by the operation of power and power relations.

But here Foucault declared to his friend that AIDS existed and was not a myth. That entails that he thought it was a real disease, not some culturally-constructed “truth” made by medical power. And that in turn entails some objective reality in which diseases really do affect human beings.

Foucault’s statement is an objective truth claim. If it was not an objective truth claim, then it was either a meaningless statement or outrageously dishonest. If Foucault really maintained his view that truth is only made by power, he should have said:
“Well, it is true that it is a disease, but only because doctors and their power systems say it is and make it true. But really there is no objective truth about the matter and truth is not made by any objective reality! Therefore AIDS is just another ‘truth’ made by power.”
If he really thought this, he was lying or deeply dishonest to say “it exists, it’s not a myth.”

If he sincerely meant what he said, we can see how quickly Foucault’s claim that truth can only be made by power, not by objective reality, utterly collapses if he really thought that AIDS existed and was a real disease.

Veyne, Paul. 1993. “The Final Foucault and his Ethics” (trans. C. Porter and A. Davidson), Critical Inquiry 20.1: 1–9.


  1. Are you still harping on this?

    You have yet to produce any evidence that Foucault denied the existence of objective truth in the hard sciences.

    Indeed, the above appears to be strong evidence that Foucault DID believe in objective truth in the field of medicine. But you seem unable to swallow that because it doesn't fit with your caricature of his philosophy.

    Please take a step back. Take a deep breath. Put aside your emotional investment in this argument. And reconsider these silly, counterproductive posts.

    1. If you are now admitting that Foucault accepted that there are at least some objective truths determined by an objective reality (in this case in medicine), his whole project is thrown into chaos.

      You claim elsewhere that Foucault just was not interested in questions of objective truth, but if they do exist at least in one area, it follows that in the natural sciences and social sciences and general human knowledge we may well have found objective truths too -- perhaps many of them.

      It also follows that his claim that truths are only made by power in these fields doesn't necessarily follow at all, unless Foucault shows us why we have no reason to think objective truths exist there and why no objective truth claim should be accepted.

      But these are the very questions you say he was never interested in!

    2. "And reconsider these silly, counterproductive posts."

      I am a bit surprised and puzzled by that last sentence, especially by the "counterproductive".

      Whether one agrees or not with the author, whether these posts are "silly" or "clever" (all a matter of opinion, since your claim is that there's no objective truth) why should they be "counterproductive"?

      Counterproductive? To whose purposes?

      I can think of one answer to that question: Maybe they are counterproductive to your purposes.

  2. I'm also confused, LK. The post to which you link concerning the truth matter states that "Foucault does not deny the existence of an objective reality. Instead, Foucault means that we cannot have descriptive completeness." This seems far weaker than the way you state it in this post.

    1. Unlearningecon,

      Quite frankly, the problem lies in the incoherence and absurdity of Foucault's philosophy.

      C. G. Prado, who studied Foucault's views on truth on detail, finds that, yes, he believed in some objective reality, but STILL denied that natural and social sciences find objective truth: instead, truth is produced by power.

      His idea that we cannot have "descriptive completeness" is one of his arguments against objective truth, not for it.

      The fact that you are confused about him should only indicate how outrageously ridiculous this man's philosopher was.

    2. Hey! I studied with CG Prado! He was something of a mentor when I was an undergrad.

      I doubt any prof I had influenced me as much as he did. Carlos helped me get over what he called my "Platonic wish."

  3. Really, LK, why don't you start working with the primary sources? This rant on basis of secondary interpretations is quite tedious.

    1. First, I have read a great deal of Foucault's works, but his obscurity and outrageous inability -- shared by many of these Poststructuralist and Postmodernist buffoons -- to write clear, concise English gets in the way of reading him in the original.

      But more importantly: Are we to assume, then, that no scholarly interpreter of Foucault who has read the man's works in full has ever known what he thought? You act like some religious fanatic who, when confronted with devastating arguments against his sacred text, screams that you must read it all in the original language to really understand it -- a totally unreasonable demand when there are perfectly good summaries of what the text says by people who know it well.

    2. Here is a clear article on a key aspect of Foucault's thought:

      Now. Critique that rather than picking over bits of old interviews.

    3. Quite frankly, it is a bizarre conspiracy theory view of modern history to see the introduction of modern education, vaccination, public health policies, welfare, general laws, or labour laws as nothing more than "an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations".

      Any rational person can see that the objective evidence that vaccination reduces the incidence of diseases is the fundamental motive for state-funded vaccination programs. People in government want to prevent unnecessary suffering.

      Foucault's theories here are like the paranoid Marxist/anarchist conspiracy theory view of government where, for example, in Marxism everything is seen as some bourgeois plot to oppress the working class.

      "The exercise of power in the service of maximizing life carries a dark underside. When the state is invested in protecting the life of the population, when the stakes are life itself, anything can be justified. "

      When your sense of how to "maximise life" is warped and perverted by extreme ideologies like communism or fascism, yes.

      But the Medieval Christian states could do much the same thing to their populations too by religious fanaticism and intolerance: witness the mass killing and persecution of people deemed heretics, e.g, the Albigensian Crusade.