Re: Foucault and Truth

Geraldine Coggins posted a message about being in an analytic department,
reading Foucault as a token continental philosopher, and having
difficulty writing about Foucault, particularly about his "relativism".

Having graduated from a department which was half continental and half
analytic, I had several colleagues who were in the same situation as
Coggins -- except that they had continental friends whom they could ask
questions. What I found was that the analytic students and professors
were continually trying to apply categories (philosophical) to Foucault's
thought that did not work. They kept asking about Foucault's "theory"
and his "relativism" and his "epistemological foundations", etc. It got
some of the continental students quite infuriated and the analytic
students remained frustrated and unsure as to what was going on in
Foucault's writings.

Basically, what Geraldine (and other analytic students) need to do is to
realize that continental philosophers do not function under the same
categories as analytic philosophers. Also, they have quite different
concerns and goals. The terms relativism, epistemology, metaphysics,
Truth, and others I can't recall right now work great in analytic
philosophy, but can't be converted (or translated) into continental
thought. Likewise the terms deconstruction, power, subject, genealogy,
and archaology can't be converted (or translated) into analytic
philosophy. The only way to understand these terms is to completely
immerse yourself in the philosophy (analytic or continental) you are
studying at the time, and try not to "import" outside concepts that do
not belong in that philosophy.

This way, you'll be able to better understand the philosophers you're
reading and not fall into the (typical) problem of giving an incorrect
(or terrible misreading) of an analytic or a continental philosopher.

Having said all that, you will not find a Foucault text which addresses
the question of "relativism" because that is not a term that functions in
continental philosophy. Continentals are doing something different,
which is neither absolutism nor relativism. Foucault in particular is
talking about power relations, or power matrices, in which and through
which all of us function. Our (moral/ethical) choices are not absolutely
determined by these power matrices nor can we be completely relativistic
in our decisions. (How's that for importing foreign terms into a
philosophy?) Anyway, the essays that you want to read are "The Subject
and Power" which is in the Afterword to Dreyfus and Rabinow's MICHEL

Good luck with these issues; they're quite difficult.

Kristin Switala


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