Re: [Foucault-L] foucault and "human nature"

Or, put another way, the very envirnment in which we live and that, in fact, makes life possible, is also what enables death.

For example, oxygen, which is what makes life on this planet possible, is also poisonous to us, the more we breath, and the more our skin and our bodies are in cantact with it, the more it kills us.

Or, put another way, the fact the we move around our environment, and move thing relative to ourselves within that environment, litterally wears us out. But in order to live with and in this environment, we have to move and move things. So, what enables life also makes possible death.

Thus, the functioning that makes life possible - i.e. the general, everyday, and necessary processes of life - by wearing matter (i.e. our bodies) out, makes death possible .

I think it is important here to avoid any vitalist notion of life; by life I take Foucault to simply mean concrete, everyday existence.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: lord@xxxxxxx
> Sent: Fri, 05 Mar 2010 08:49:34 -0800
> To: foucault-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
> Subject: Re: [Foucault-L] foucault and "human nature"
> On Fri, 2010-03-05 at 15:21 +0000, Matt Wootton wrote:
>> From Kevin's quote, Foucault: "it is well known that the functioning
>> which makes life possible is a
>> functioning which constantly wears matter out, in such a way that it is
>> precisely that which makes possible life which at the same time
>> produces death."
>> I'm curious as to what exactly this means. Anyone care to enlighten?
> I believe that he is more less talking about entropy
> as it pertains to organisms. You could put it this way:
> The molecular structure of an organism, let's say
> a mammal for example, has some interesting properties.
> These properties "play out" in the basic rules of
> physics in such a way that starting from nearly
> nothing (a zygote), less-orderly energy inputs to
> the organism are processed, for a time, to produce
> an organism of ever-increasing complexity. You
> started as a zygote. That zygote was "fed". You
> built more and more cells, eventually differentiating
> them into various organs of highly specialized
> functionality. In short, you became comprised of a
> more and more complex and orderly arrangement of
> matter, becoming ever better at taking energy inputs
> and using them to maintain and further elaborate
> the structure of your molecular arrangement. This
> is one of the hallmarks of "life". At the same time,
> there are relentless laws of thermodynamics and if
> we consider your body and its environment as a whole,
> these laws of thermodynamics predict (demand) that
> there is a limit to how far you can go building up and
> maintaining that orderly complexity. Over time,
> the whole system of you plus your environment must,
> always, tend towards an ultimate disorder - the same
> physical laws that help your zygote grow ensure its
> ultimate dissolution. That is, the very same physics
> that gives you life, ensures your ultimate demise.
> (Sorry. Consider Taoism, if this arrangement bugs you.)
> Some physicists describe this as a bit mysterious.
> It is a large part of the so-called "arrow of time"
> problem. The existence and inevitability of a
> "cooling trend" towards a disorderly ("lifeless")
> state is very well confirmed by experiment - there
> is no doubt about it. And yet, when our best models
> of the fundamental laws of physics are examined (e.g.,
> quantum mechanics and relativity) - those laws are
> symmetric with respect to time. They don't *obviously*
> predict, in and of themselves, the necessity of death -
> the necessity of systems falling into states of disorder.
> One way to describe it is that we see, time and again,
> eggs being broken and scrambled. We've never once
> seen a scrambled egg and broken shell spontaneously
> reassemble itself back into an egg. We've no doubt
> that that is the way of the world - but looking at
> just QM and relativity, we lack any obvious explanation
> of why that should be the case.
> -t
>> --- On Fri, 5/3/10, Kevin Turner <kevin.turner@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
>> From: Kevin Turner <kevin.turner@xxxxxxxxx>
>> Subject: Re: [Foucault-L] foucault and "human nature"
>> To: "Mailing-list" <foucault-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
>> Date: Friday, 5 March, 2010, 7:30
>> There's a passage from an interview that Foucault gave (in 1967, I
>> think), which may help to shed some light on his understanding of "human
>> nature."
>> The passage comes from 'Who are you, Professor Foucault?' in Carrette,
>> J. R. (ed.) Religion and Culture, Manchester, 1999: 87-104, and it
>> reads:
>> We have to resign ourselves to taking, faced with mankind, a position
>> similar to the one taken towards the end of the eighteenth century with
>> regard to other living species, when it was realised that they did not
>> function for someone – neither for themselves, nor for man, nor for God
>> – but that they quite simply functioned. Organisms function. Why do they
>> function? In order to reproduce? Not at all. To keep alive? No more for
>> this reason. They function. They function in a very ambiguous way, in
>> order to live but also in order to die, since it is well known that the
>> functioning which makes life possible is a functioning which constantly
>> wears matter out, in such a way that it is precisely that which makes
>> possible life which at the same time produces death. Species do not
>> function for themselves, nor for man, nor for the greater glory of God;
>> they confine themselves to functioning. The same thing may be said of
>> the human species. Mankind is a species
>> endowed with a nervous system such that to a certain point it can
>> control its functioning. And it is plain that this possibility of
>> control continuously raises the idea that mankind must have a purpose.
>> We discover that purpose insofar as we have the possibility of
>> controlling our own functioning. But this is to turn things around. We
>> tell ourselves: as we have a purpose, we must control our functioning;
>> whereas in reality it is only on the basis of this possibility of
>> control that ideologies, philosophies, systems of metaphysics, religions
>> can appear, which provide a certain image able to focus this possibility
>> of controlling functioning...It is the possibility of control which
>> gives rise to the idea of purpose. But mankind has in reality no
>> purpose, it functions, it controls its own functioning, and it
>> continually creates justifications for this control. We have to resign
>> ourselves to admitting that these are only justifications. Humanism is
>> one of
>> them, the last one’ (RAC: 102).
>> I see no evidence that Foucault ever radically revised this position.
>> Regards,
>> Kevin.
>> _______________________________________________
>> Foucault-L mailing list
>> _______________________________________________
>> Foucault-L mailing list
> _______________________________________________
> Foucault-L mailing list

FREE 3D MARINE AQUARIUM SCREENSAVER - Watch dolphins, sharks & orcas on your desktop!
Check it out at

Re: [Foucault-L] foucault and "human nature", Matt Wootton
Re: [Foucault-L] foucault and "human nature", Thomas Lord
Partial thread listing: