On Wed, 12 Mar 1997, Murray K. Simpson wrote:
> John Ransom wrote:
> > The citations could go on for a long time. Foucault was not "a complete
> > stranger to the game of truth." I flatly do not understand it when someone
> > says that Foucault doesn't say anything about the kind of truth I'm
> > talking about (namely, the traditional conception of truth; the one F is
> > criticizing and bending) and that a discussion of it is irrelevant to
> > Foucault and that if you want to have such discussions you have to go
> > somewhere else because you're not going to find it in him.
> Yes, F. is clearly interested in 'truth'. The issue I think is whether
> his concerns were somehow the same as, or a logical extension of the
> perennial questions of philosophy. This is obviously an important
> matter in terms of identifying the discursive relations and effects of
> his work. A couple of points occur to me:
> 1) F. himself, as in so many matters, seems to have taken a strategic,
> evasive and changing position regarding his relationship with
> philosophy. Someone has already pointed out that 'philosopher' is a
> name which F. eschewed. However in the interview "The masked
> philosopher" (Politics, Philosophy and Culture) he seems to accept it.
> What we might need to think through ( particularly for our own work) is
> what the implications of the different possibilities might be.
I think that's right. One possibility that I find conducive would be
statement along the lines of the following: While not a philosopher in
traditional sense of the word, Foucault without a doubt engages the
perennial issues of philosophy. In one place he says:
"Indeed, truth is no doubt a form of power. And in saying that,
I am only taking up one of the fundamental problems of Western
philosophy when it poses these questions: Why, in fact, are we
attached to truth?" (See "On Power" in _PPC_, p. 107.)
> 2) At any rate, F.'s work does seem to analyse 'truths', not in terms of
> an essential ontological nature, but as facts in themselves, i.e.
> discursively constituted, or more particularly, looking at the specific
> relationships between truth, power, subjects, etc. He does this, as we
> all know, in a very specific way and not in order to derive a general
> theory of truth or power.
I would agree that F is not trying to come up with a general theory of
truth or power, but he directly contributes to a discussion that cannot
avoid such issues. When he says things like "truth is no doubt a form of
power" isn't he trying to dissent from a tradition in Western philosophy
that sees truth as a potentially critical resource in the battle against
power? Also, it really does seem to me that Foucault can't be artificially
cordoned off from this discussion.
> For this reason, I don't think it is entirely
> accurate to see what Foucault was attempting as a direct engagement with
> the philosophical debate about the nature of truth.
> To quote from "The masked philosopher"
> Christian Delacampagne. What becomes of the eternal questions of
> philosophy in this learned society?... Do we still need them, these
> unanswerable questions, these silences before the unknowable?
> Foucault. What is philosophy if not a way of reflecting, not so much on
> what is true and what is false, as on our relationship to truth?
> ...There is no sovereign philosophy, it's true, but a philosophy or
> rather philosophy in activity. The movement by which, not without
> effort and uncertainty, dreams and illusions, one detaches oneself from
> what is accepted as trye and seeks other rules - that is philosophy...
> It should also be added that it is a way of interrogating ourselves: if
> this is the relationship that we have with truth, how must we behave: I
> believe that a considerable and varied amount of work has been done and
> is still being done that alters both our relation to truth and our way
> of behaving... It is understandable that some people should weep over
> the present void and hanker instead, in the world of ideas, after a
> little monarchy. But those who, for once in their lives, have found a
> new tone, a new way of looking, a new way of doing, those people, I
> believe, will never feel the need to lament that the world is error,
> that history is filled with people of no consequence, and that it is
> time for others to keep quiet so that at last the sound of their
> disapproval may be heard... (p. 330)
> Sorry if this seems like soundbite Foucault, but I thought it was
Me, I like specific references and appreciate their inclusion so that we
can check our discussion against the no doubt various possibilities in F's
interviews, essays, and texts. But it doeesn't seem to me that the above
selection supports the claim that F is not attempting a direct engagement
with the philosophical debate about the nature of truth. He asks: "What is
philosophy today?" He asks the same question in "WIE":
[Kant's essay "What is Enlightenment] marks the discreet
entrance into the history of thought of a question that
modern philosophy has not been capable of answering,
but that it has never managed to get rid of, either. And
one that has been repeated in variuos forms for two
centuries now. From Hegel through Nietzsche or Max Weber
to Horkheimer or Habermas, hardly any philosophy has
failed to confront this question, directly or
indirectly . . . . What is modern philosophy? Perhaps
we could respond with an echo: modern philosophy is the
philosophy that is attempting to answer the question
raised so imprudently two centuries ago: *Was ist
Aufklaerung?* (_FR_, 32)
Both Murray's selection and the one from "WIE" above seem to me to point
in the direction of an engagement on F's part with fairly traditional
themes in philosophy.
> Best wishes
> Murray K. Simpson,
> Department of Social Work,
> Frankland Building,
> The University of Dundee,
> Dundee DD1 4HN,
> United Kingdom.
> tel. 01382 344948
> fax. 01382 221512
> e.mail m.k.simpson@xxxxxxxxxxxx