Re: true that there is no truth

On Fri, 14 Mar 1997, Miles Jackson wrote:

> 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.

I dissent from the claim above. We find plenty about these traditional
philosophical questions in Foucault's work. But I've said that and
provided quotations from Foucault that support (though perhaps do not
definitively prove) my claim; so I won't repeat. One question though:
Unless you don't want to, please explain how Wittgenstein fits into the

> (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 doesn't seem to me that the ontological status is irrelevant.
F's account is self-consciously directed against the more ontological,
foundational, essential reading of human nature. What else is he
criticizing in _HS_ Vol. 1 when he criticizes the "repressive hypothesis"?

In _One-Dimensional Man_ Marcuse criticizes the post-WWII West for
promoting what he calls "false needs" (_ODM_, Beacon Press, 1964, pp.
4-5). The "false" versus "true" needs opposition is an old and familiar
one in a long tradition of critical thought. Needs can only be false or
true relative to some preconceived human essence. Foucault is rejecting
this oppositional, critical strategy. Doubtless, F wants us to be much
more "ontic" in our thinking and much less "ontological." But he's doing
it in opposition to a much more ontologically oriented tradition on the
left (Marx and species being; Freud and the Id; Sartre and authenticity;
Frankfurt School and true needs; etc. etc.). I think he fully wants to
engage that discussion.


> 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
> cqmv@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  • Re: true that there is no truth
    • From: Miles Jackson
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