Western Man’s Knowledge Is A Product Of Endless Interaction Between Desire And

The Individual, For Foucault, Is A “Cultural Ensemble” Where All Thought And
Practice Become Mere Contingencies Of The Social Milieu

Since Foucault’s ideas tend to devalue discursive thought, it is understandable
that his ideas were not held in high regard by Piaget: “Foucault has it in for
man; the human sciences he views as a merely momentary outcome of `mutations,’
`historical a priorities,’ `epistemes’; these follow one another in time, but
their sequence has no rationale.” [Ibid. p.129] Foucault represents a real
threat to Piaget, as he represents a threat to anyone who buys into the
Enlightenment ideas of progress, perfectibility and purposeful rationality.
Foucault’s iconoclastic thought focuses on the individual as a “cultural
ensemble” where all thought and practice become mere contingencies of the social
milieu. For Foucault there is no depth to a person. A person amounts to no more
then the surface attributes of the society that defines him/her. Foucault calls
his investigations into Western knowledge “archaeology of thought,” and what
this archaeology has unearthed is:

“…not man himself, but the systems of rules and systematic distinctions which
account for the transition from one episteme to another, i.e., which explain how
our culture has changed from one code to another, how certain formal conditions
of possible scientific and non-scientific discourses have been replaced
gradually by others.” [Jean-Marie Benoist, The Structural Revolution, 1975, p.

Foucault, in an odd sort of a way, could be described as an “organic Kantian.”
Foucault, however, replaces Kant’s categories of mind as the determining agent
of knowledge with what he calls the “historical a priori”–the conditions of the
possibility for knowledge to arise:

“This a priori is what, in a given period, delimits in the totality of experience a field of knowledge, defines the mode of being of the objects that appear in that field, provides man’s everyday perception with theoretical powers, and defines the conditions in which he can sustain a discourse about things that is recognized to be true.” [Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, 1973, p.

The more common name for the “historical a priori” is episteme, which put
more simply is, “the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the
discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences and
possibly formalized system’s of knowledge.” [John Sturrock, 1979, p. 92]
Epistemes, as Piaget has observed, are arbitrary upsurges, impermanent in
nature, and place no restraints upon thought. But, they do not arise out of

By disregarding any pretense toward a self-determining subject, Foucault has
demonstrated how it is possible to achieve spectacular results in the analysis
of social practices. In his early books of Madness and Civilization (1961),
Birth of the Clinic (1963), and The Order of Things (1966), Foucault analyzed
psychiatry, medicine, and the human sciences respectively, and concluded that,
(according to John Sturrock):

“…the distinctions between madness and sanity, sickness and health, and truth
and error were always a function of the modality of discourse prevailing in
centres of social power at different periods. In Foucault’s view, this modality
was in turn less a product of an autonomous exchange between hypothesis and
observation, or theory and practice, than the basis of whatever theory and
practice prevailed in a given period. And it followed for him that, finally, the
modern history of Western man’s `will to knowledge’ had been less a progressive
development towards `enlightenment’ than a product of an endless interaction
between desire and power within the system of exclusions which made different
kinds of society possible.” [Ibid. p. 91]


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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4 Responses to Foucault/Knowledge/Power

  1. aawwa says:

    I enjoyed your blog today but confess to having to read it three times 🙂

    Can you see any similarity between your blog today and the thoughts of another blogger I follow?
    I may have misunderstood both! Anyway – no harm done!

    • bwinwnbwi says:

      Yes, you did not misunderstand what Foucault is/was saying (and the brain-bustingly-hard above). Thanks for the url. I’m going back to to make a comment and to thank you for turning me on to his/her blog. However, I’m not a disciple of Foucault. In fact, I am not sure I understand his whole message, but I do understand some of his message. The message I am attempting communicate here is that “structure” is responsible for the “why and what” of what Foucault teaches, as it is also responsible for our understanding of same. And, on an even more important level, this structure is responsible for what connects “who we are and what we may become” with Divinity. Thanks so much for your comment. Take care.

      • bulldozer00 says:

        Thanks for stopping by my blog. I started reading Foucault’s “Madness and Civilization” but I didn’t finish it. I just couldn’t get into it and found my mind wandering too much.

  2. bwinwnbwi says:

    Yes, I know that feeling/experience well. Thanks for the comment. Take care.

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