Re: true that there is no truth

On Wed, 12 Mar 1997, Colin Wight wrote:

> Much as I probably disagree with John on many matters (who wants uniformity
> of opinions anyway), I agree 100% with his refutation of the claim that
> questions of truth have nothing to do with Foucault. You do not solve a
> problem simply be redescribing it (which is, of course a critique of all
> discursive idealisms, a position which some members of the Foucault industry
> are prone to assert Foucault held).

Okay, let me try this again. Obviously this is my own reading of the
Foucault: this is what reading all of his books led me to. I don't mean
to imply this is the best or only reading. (Is that good enough for
you LitCrit types?) There are two distinct things about Truth a person
could study, at least. It's important to distinguish them.

(1) The philosophical question. What is truth? How do we obtain it?
How do we distinguish it from falsity? You find little about these
traditional philosophical questions in Foucault's work. And Matt and I
brought up Wittgenstein earlier because he makes a pretty good case that
this sort of philosophical diddling leads us down a dead end.

(2) The empirical question. What is socially accepted as truth? How do
true statements circulate in a society? What sorts of effects do these
true statements have? Again, note that the ontological status of these
statements is completely irrelevant. To understand, say, the history of
sexuality it is not necessary to report how essential sexual types
(say, homosexual/heterosexual) are masked or discovered in discourse;
rather, it is enough to say "At time X people constituted sexual type Y;
this had various ramifications". It is important to emphasize that this
does not commit you to some sort of ontological relativism; Foucault, for
instance, did not out & out reject the idea that genetics had something
to do with sexual orientation ("it's not my field", he said in an
interview). Sexual orientation may be some sort of ontologically valid
essence, it may not; but that's simply irrelevant of an analysis of
discourse from the Foucauldian perspective (again, as I read it).

It is completely true that Foucault redefines the question, and that
doesn't provide an answer. Maybe that's because he finds the question
"what are the social effects of the circulation of true statements"
more interesting and important than philosophical cul-de-sacs such as
"the truth that there is no truth that there is no truth that . . ."

Miles Jackson

  • Re: true that there is no truth
    • From: John Ransom
  • Replies
    Re: true that there is no truth, Colin Wight
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