Re: Truth quote

On Tue, 04 Jun 1996 10:12:09 +0100, ccw94@xxxxxxxxxx wrote:

>1) >he strove to show that truth and agency are the
> >>complex effects of specific and analysable mechanisms and
>discursive >>formations.
>2) >I don't subscribe either to the notion that F. denied agency,
>truth, or >meaning.
>3) >We do agree that F. is clearly distinguishing truth from the
>thought of truth in the citation referred above.
>4) >>truth is material, objective, immanent, existing, positive, etc.
>5) >Thus, there is a distinct difference between thought and truth as
>you >have rightly pointed out, which runs through his writing.

>I do find your attempt to contextualise 3 in terms of his previous
>statements problematic, it seems a perversion of the use of the word context
>because Foucault always reserved the right to change his mind. So the idea
>that a pronouncement made in 1984 can be held hostage to ones made earlier
>seems problematic, but I am prepared to debate this as it raises interesting
>issues about F periodisation.

Generally, you are right, but in this specific case I would argue that F. continues
to use similar formulations throughout. e.g. in the same interview, next page
(Dits et Ecrits 4:670):
"Problematisation means neither the represantation of a preexisting object, nor
the creation by discourse of an object that doesn't exist. It is the sum total of
discursive and non discursive practices which causes something to enter the game
of the true and the false and constitutes it as an object of thought..."

What is new is the concept of problematisation, and indeed this is a major change,
which introduces the negative
element of thought inside truth, by which the relation to the object is, I would say,
doubled, relatively to the earlier formulation, but the object is still constituted by
"the sum total of discursive and non discursive practices", and ascription of truth
and falsehood continue to be concieved as a game, even as the whole question of truth
ceases to be the focus of interest. Here is another late citation, (1980) in which he
formulates a conception of truth borrowed from Nietzche:
"Truth is itself part of of the history of discourse and is like an internal effect of
a discourse or a practice" (Dits et Ecrits 4:54)

>More problematic however, is the use of the word truth in the unreferenced
>quote you supplied, I tend to read Foucault here as referring to the
>deployment of the term truth for political/social/cultural ends. This, to
>me, is actually a warning about this form of truth; that is politically
>prescribed truth. Truth, in this reading can actually function as untruth
>and as such is the very point of critique on which he elaborates in the
>piece I get my quote from. That is, a warning of the very danger of a
>political system determining what counts as truth.

I would like to offer a number of objections to this reading. First, that would
suggest that interrelations
between truth and power that F. analysed apply only to some forms of truth
while others are exempt, but it is precisely in order to work outside of this
dichotomy that F. expressed dislike towards the concept of "ideology":

"The notion of ideology appears to me to be difficult to make use of, for three
reasons, the first is that, like it or not, it always stands in virtual opposition
to something else which is supposed to count as truth. Now I believe that the problem
does not consist in drawing the line between that in a discourse which falls under
the category of scientifity or truth, and that which comes under some other category
but in seeing historically how effects of truth are produced within discourses which
in themselves are neither true nor false" ("Truth and Power" In Power/Knowledge 118)

[BTW, the refusal to let the history of science to have a privileged position is not
revoked by the introduction of the later terms, problematisation and thought, an example
>from 1984:
"There is not, on the one hand, a medical knowledge to study in terms of a history
of thought, and below it, the behaviour of the patients, that would be the subject-matter
of a historical ethnology" (Dits et Ecrits 4:654)]

Second, F. denies this distinction in the passage I cited. For the citation opens not with
a positive claim but with a rejection of a claim: "Truth isn't outside power". To
understand what is the force of the word 'truth' in this sentence, one should ask, who
those are who claim, according to F., that truth IS outside power. This is alluded to
next: "..contrary to a myth whose history and functions would repay further study..". Now
I don't know of any long established tradition in philosophy of elsewhere, according to
which "truth" imposed by political power is the reward of free spirits or is outside power.
Such a statement would be self-contradicting. But I do know, and it's fairly easy to locate,
a tradition that claims that "true" truth (unlike ideological "truth") is the reward of those
who can isolate themselves from involvement in the world of power, money etc. This is the
traditional way of conceiving of modern science. So 'truth' in this citation must refer to the
truth claims of scientific discourse in its purest form. This is stengthened by the sentence
that follows just after this citation:
"In societies like ours, the 'political economy' of truth is charachterised by five
important traits. 'Truth' is centered on the form of scientific discourse and the institutions which
produce it." (loc. cit., p. 131)
Third, one paragraph later there is a definition of truth:
"by truth I don't mean the 'ensemble of truths which are to be discovered and accepted' but rather
'the ensemble of rules according to which the true and the false are separated and specific effects
of power attached to the true'", (loc cit, p. 132)
and again
"'Truth' is to be understood as a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution,
circulation and operation of statements" (loc. cit. 133)

The problem, however, is what makes one such system of ordered procedures preferable over another. If you
say its truth, that may well be, but you are either appealing to the discourse itself, in which your move is
circular, or you open another discourse in which two such systems constitute objects upon which one can
generate true and false statements. The second way strikes me as quite in tune with
how F. described his own work as problematisation. But the point is that statements generated in the
meta-discourse will not necessary teach us much about the objects of the first-level discourse. someone
suffering from dellusions will get little benefit from seeing an "archeologer of science".
Gabriel Ash

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