“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 e n able 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).Oh, really?
“‘Truth’ is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation, and operation of statements.
‘Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extends it. A ‘regime’ of truth.
This regime is not merely ideological or superstructural; it was a condition of the formation and development of capitalism. And it’s this same regime which, subject to certain modifications, operates in the socialist countries (I leave open here the question of China, about which I know little). The essential political problem for the intellectual is not to criticize the ideological contents supposedly linked to science, or to ensure that his own scientific practice is accompanied by a correct ideology, but that of ascertaining the possibility of constituting a new politics of truth. The problem is not changing people’s consciousnesses—or what’s in their heads—but the political, economic, institutional regime of the production of truth.
It’s not a matter of emancipating truth from every system of power (which would be a chimera, for truth is already power), but of detaching the power of truth from the forms of hegemony, social, economic, and cultural, within which it operates at the present time.” (Foucault 1984: 74–75).
Is the assertion that the earth has oceans also “produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint”?
And, if I assert the truth that I (namely, a particular individual person on a particular time and date) am wearing socks on my feet right now, or that I had Subway for dinner last night, are these empirical truths “produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint”?
If so, how exactly does our power system brainwash me into thinking that I am wearing socks right now?
By contrast, isn’t it obvious that we believe these assertions because we have massive empirical evidence and direct personal experience demonstrating that they are true?
I don’t think people on the left realise how stupid Foucault’s theories were. In order to believe his nonsensical theories about truth, you’d have to invent multiple conspiracy theories to explain how power systems have supposedly produced thousands upon thousands of every day and prosaic empirical truths we obviously believe are true.
We can see the kind of insanity to which Foucault’s truth relativism leads in an actual conversation between Paul Veyne and Foucault in the last year of Foucault’s life, when the latter had AIDS and was displaying the symptoms of this disease.
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).So 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, and because they use their power to force us to think it is 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 we read the original anecdote again, we get the impression that the idiot Paul Veyne was actually expecting Foucault to give such an answer: in other words, a barking mad conspiracy theory.
But, if Foucault 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.
Foucault, Michel. 1984. The Foucault Reader (ed. Paul Rabinow). Pantheon, New York.
Veyne, Paul. 1993. “The Final Foucault and his Ethics” (trans. C. Porter and A. Davidson), Critical Inquiry 20.1: 1–9.