Re: Foucault and Truth

In-Reply-To: ORUNIX:owner-foucault@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx's message of 05-08-95 15:40

Geraldine C. asked for an exposition of "Foucault's relativism". This
has to be one of the most widely disseminated myths about Foucault
(in our society at least): Foucault, the guy who said that Truth is
whatever the authoritative texts in a particular era state is the
truth. --The guy who said Truth is whatever Power says it is. I
hear this kind of stuff time & again, and we really need to clarify
this, I think! Foucault has no interest in epistemology, as far as
I can tell: the question "how can we obtain true knowledge" is not one
that Foucault asked or tried to answer in his work. Rather, he asked
"how does a given statement come to be accepted as truth in a given
historical and social context?"
--These are two different questions, often elided in criticisms of
Foucault. To study empirically--as MF did!--the ways in which certain
texts, certain statements, come to be taken as true or false does not
commit one to a particular position on the ontological status of the
genealogically examined statement. I think you could argue that
Foucault was, in many ways, pretty traditional when it comes to
ontological matters: "There are revolutions, and that is a fact",
(from Foucault, is it useless to revolt?, I think). Also, Foucault
seems to basically accept the established natural sciences and their
claims to truth. Now, does this mean that he thought that a natural
science like physics accurately maps its subject matter in the
ontological realm (realist)? Or that he thought it works well, but
that this did not and could not establish the direct correspondence between
word and reality (pragmatist)?
These are philosophical questions, and I can understand how
philosophers who look at Foucault would like to find out what he had
to say. This kind of analysis, however, wasn't really Foucault's cup
of tea, and certainly not the focus of his work. To sum up, then:
if you want to find out about Foucault's relativism, you'll have to
go to the secondary literature where the myth of Foucault the
Relativist Philosopher has been generated. You won't find it in his
empirical or theoretical work.

Miles Jackson


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