PHILOSOPHY – Michel Foucault

PHILOSOPHY – Michel Foucault


Michel Foucault was a French 20th century philosopher and historian who spent his career forensically criticizing the power of the modern bourgeois capitalist state, including its police, law courts, prisons, doctors and psychiatrists. His goal was to work out nothing less than how power worked and then to change it in the direction of a marxist-anarchist utopia. Though he spent most of his life in libraries and seminar rooms, he was a committedly revolutionary figure. He met with enormous popularity in elite Parisien intellectual circles. Jean-Paul Sartre admired him deeply and he still maintains a wide following among young people studying at university in the prosperous corners of the world. His background, which he was extremely reluctant ever to talk about and tried to prevent journalists from investigating at all costs, was very privileged. Both his parents were inordinately rich coming from a long line of successful surgeons in Poitiers, in west central France. His father, Dr. Paul Foucault, came to represent all that Michel would hate about bourgeois France. Michel had a standard upper class education. He went to elite Jesuit institutions, was an altar boy, and his parents hoped he would become a doctor. But Michel wasn’t quite like other boys. He started self-harming and thinking constantly of suicide. At University, he decorated his bedroom with images of torture by Goya. When he was 22, he tried to commit suicide and was forced by his father, against his will, to see France’s most famous psychiatrist, Jean Delay, at the Hôpital Sainte-Anne in Paris. The doctor wisely diagnosed that a lot of Michel’s distress came from having to keep his homosexuality and, in particular, his interest in extreme sadomasochism away from a censorious society. Gradually, Foucault entered the underground gay scene in France, fell in love with a drug dealer and then took up with a transvestite. For long periods in his twenties, he went to live abroad in Sweden, Poland and Germany, where he felt his sexuality would be less constrained. All the while, Foucault was progressing up the French academic ladder. The seismic event to his intellectual life came in the summer of 1953, when Foucault was 27 and on holiday with a lover in Italy. There, he came across Nietzsche’s book “Untimely Meditations” which contains an essay called “On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life”. In the essay, Nietzsche argued that academics had poisoned our sense of how history should be read and talked. They made it seem as if one should read history in some sort of a disinterested way in order to learn how it all was in the past. But Nietzsche rejected this with sarcastic fury. There was no point learning about the past for its own sake, the only reason to read and study history is to dig out from the past ideas, concepts and examples which can help us to lead a better life in our own times. This essay liberated Foucault intellectually as nothing had until then. Immediately, he changed the direction of his work and decided to become a particular kind of philosophical historian: someone who could look back into the past to help to sort out the urgent issues of his own time. Eight years later, he was ready to publish what’s recognizes as his first masterpiece: “Madness and Civilization”. The standard view is that we now treat people with mental illness in so much more of a humane way than we ever did in the past. After all, we put them in hospitals, give them drugs and get them looked after by people with PhD’s. But this was exactly the attitude that Foucault wished to demolish in “Madness and Civilization.” In the book, he argued that things way back in the Renaissance were actually far better for the mad, than they subsequently became. In the Renaissance, the mad were felt to be different rather than crazy. They were thought to possess a kind of wisdom because they demonstrated the limits of reason. They were revered in many circles and were allowed to wander freely. But then, as Foucault’s historical researches showed him, in the mid 17th century, a new attitude was born that relentlessly medicalized and institutionalized mentally ill people. No longer were they allowed to live alongside the so-called sane, they were taken away from their families and locked up in asylums and seen as people one should try to cure rather than tolerate for just being different. You can recognize a very similar, underlying philosophy in Foucault’s next great book: “The Birth of The Clinic.” His target here was medicine more broadly. He systematically attacked the view that medicine had become more humane with time. He conceded that, of course, we have better drugs and treatments now but he believed that in the 18th century the professional doctor was born and that he was a sinister figure who would look at the patient always with, what Foucault called, the “medical gaze,” denoting a dehumanizing attitude; that looked at a patient just as a set of organs, not a person. One was, under the medical gaze, merely a malfunctioning kidney or liver, not a person to be considered as a whole entity. Next in Foucault’s oeuvre came: “Discipline and Punish.” Here, Foucault did his standard thing on state punishment. Again, the normal view is that the prison and punishing systems of the modern world are so much more humane than they were in the days when people just used to be hung in public squares. Not so, argued Foucault. The problem, he said, is the power now looks kind but isn’t, whereas in the past it clearly wasn’t kind and therefore could encourage open rebellion in protest. Foucault noted that in the past, in an execution, a convict’s body could become a focus of sympathy and admiration, and the executioner rather than the convict, could become the locus of shame. Also, public executions often led to riots in support of the prisoner, but, with the invention of the modern prison system, everything happened in private, behind locked gates; one could no longer see and, therefore resist, state power. That’s what made the modern system of punishment so barbaric and properly primitive in Foucault’s eyes. Foucault’s last work was the multi-volume “History of Sexuality.” In the manoeuvres he performed in relation to sex are again very familiar. Foucault rebelled against the view that we’re all now deeply libarated and at ease with sex. He argued that since the 18th century, we have relentlessly medicalized sex, handing it over to professional sex researchers and scientists. We live in an age of what Foucault called “scientia sexualis” (“science of sexuality”) But Foucault looked back with considerable nostalgia to the cultures of Rome, China and Japan, where he detected the rule of, what he called, an “ars erotica” (“erotic art”), where the whole focus was on how to increase the pleasure of sex rather than merely understand and label it. Once again, modernity was blamed for pretending there’d been progress when there was in fact just the loss of spontaneity and imagination. Foucault wrote the last volume of this work while dying of AIDS, that he had contracted in a San Francisco gay bar. He died in 1984, age 58. Foucault’s lasting contribution is to the way we look at history. There are lots of things in the modern world that we’re constantly being told are “fantastic,” and were apparently very bad in the past; for example education or the media or our communication systems. Foucault encourages us to breakaway from optimistic smugness about now and to go back and see in history many ways of doing things which were perhaps superior. Foucault wasn’t trying to get us to be nostalgic, he wanted us to pick up some lessons of way back in order to improve how we live now. Academic historians have tended to hate Foucault’s work. They think it inaccurate and keep pointing out things he hadn’t quite understood in some document or other, but Foucault didn’t care for total historical accuracy. History for him was just a storehouse of good ideas, and he wanted to raid it rather than keep it pristine and untouched. We should use Foucault as an inspiration to look at the dominant ideas and institutions of our times, and to question them by looking at their histories and evolutions. Foucault did something remarkable: he made history life-enhancing and philosophically rich again. He can be an inspiring figure for our own projects.

100 thoughts on “PHILOSOPHY – Michel Foucault

  1. I was just thinking about that sex part today. There's this grand illusion that there is a human, and I stress the word human, consciousness in society, and awareness of sex is apart of that. It's exactly that however, an illusion. It doesn't actually exist, it's a machination. Society is therefore a disappointment for those that may be aware of reality, a childish charade, a nightmarish hell of idiocy and ruin that one is thrown into. That get's back to the beauty of Foucault's philosophy, his main dissertation, which is that, in fact, society is trapped within this significant illusion, this mental prison. As a result, society is unbelievably lame, essentially, lol.

  2. In Denmark, virtually all students of the humanities are forced to read Foucault at some point. He is by far the most influential intellectual in terms of required reading. Let that sink in.

    In my mind he is a total fraud. I especially hate the way he intentionally obscures his sentences in order to convey as little actual meaning as possible. Also, his ideas on power are unfathomably naive and destructive.
    I really think we need a concerted effort to unmask leftist word salad like Foucault's writings when we see it. Of all the things I've read, he is the worst.

  3. congradulations the over populating equitorial people control most of the northern hemisphere.
    search google for "vape", theubie.com is missing.
    the whole planet os over populating now.

  4. I think that more important than talking about his sexuality is to show the difference between the Genealogical phase of his Works and the Archeological phase. That's what REALLY changed philosophy and social Sciences.

    I am sorry but this was a very poorly done try of covering up Foucault's academic Works. Not even close. C'mon, he used to sit in the most important chair of academic philosophy in Sorbornne, that is like being officially declared the most important academic personality of your ENTIRE GENERATION

  5. wow, I have never been so shocked at a philosopher in less than two minutes. Philosophers are all weird and wonderful people. However, you cannot compare the brutality that existed 2000 years ago when people were being fed to lions as a spectacle to be seen by degenerates, or people being burned at the stake, and now. If I had to choose whether to live during the Dark Ages or 1950's New York, I'd surely choose the latter.

  6. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, developed Daddy issues, had no goals or responsibilities (and thus no meaning), became nihilistic and self-harming, delved into a life of gay 'clubbing' and partying, tried to hide in academia as he had no useful skills, came up with his own warped ideology, and died a deserving death. His life was just one big party where he couldn't provide any useful contribution, so he made shit up. He made no contribution what-so-ever to this world, let alone anything that should be taught to future scholars.

  7. Philosophy built around a sick MTF! And because of this spoiled nut , Umberto Eco had to make a big deal about a got damn Pendulum

  8. I've watched many of these videos and am very impressed by many of the philosophers that are the subjects of these videos. But not this guy. He's another example of articulate buffoonery.

  9. I wouldn’t follow that suicidal failure of a person ever.. Why would anyone admire him after watching this. Ridiculous

  10. A good series given this digital form. It is distorting, neglectful and strange but then so are many contemporary assumptions.

  11. Michel Foucault was a classic degenerate. The exact type both Christians, and Nazis, swore had no place in society.

  12. Foucoult starts with the conclusion: Western society is bad, and people should feel bad (because he felt bad), and then used confirmation bias, cherry picking and cynicism to make his case for it. And still people just as angry at the world as he was use his trickery to justify their lust for societal upheaval. We will suffer because of this insanity.

  13. Another deranged homosexual who sees the world as completely wrong and only by converting all of us to his lifestyle is moral and just

  14. Excellent production values, in support of an insanely evil man, seeking nothing less than the destruction of humanity.

  15. A gay middle class Marxist anarchist?

    I wonder if he realised how much of a unsurprising cliche he would’ve been today…

  16. Marxist anarchist utopia? This is the most wilful misrepresentation of Foucault's thought I have ever encountered

  17. well….all we need to understand from life of Foucault is that he was a survivor. just study his childhood he was forced by parents which lead him toward mental illness and abnormal thoughts. thats why those repressed feelings and thoughts turned into gay and deconstruction the present era. and fight with soft aggression till dearth with AIDS.

  18. Michel Foucault was a natural born degenerate: A person with a disorganized mind. This is an example of why the science of Eugenics came into being.

  19. Nothing good comes out of Marxism. Not to say it doesn't 'borrow' some very interesting ideas. But then it twists them toward its own destructive end. The results of Marxism and Communism speak for themselves.

  20. Apart, perhaps, from the violently anti-Semitic Nietzsche, it is hard to think of somebody so vacuous and incapable of reasoned or humane thought as Foucault – a genuinely nonsensical set of ideas elevated by him into dogmas. For those on this thread who say that this presentation focuses on his sexuality rather than his works, I can only say (a.) Yes I have read his major works, and there is little of merit in them; and (b.) his sexuality and inclinations were a key factor in shaping his unbalanced and inhumane views. Take a few deep breaths and ask yourself honestly if you would sooner live in a feudal or pre-Enlightenment world or the present one? Whether you would like medicine to still consist of leeches, blood-letting and trepanning? Whether you would like a return to public hangings, guillotinings and flogging Etc? Nowhere does the vacuous Foucault (who, as the popular piece of lavatory graffiti says, knew foucault about anything) concede anything to the democratic principle, to the concept of developed civil and legal human rights and to such concepts as charity and the social good. Essentaially, all his neurotic ravings contributed to the world were some half-baked concepts for sophomores to wave about before they pass on to maturity.

  21. It funny how when you learn about someone's private life and childhood suddenly it all makes sense.

    Foucault was just a spoiled little brat rebelling against the authority figures in his life. How pathetic

  22. Because of philosophers like Foucault Western Civilisation has abandoned what made it prosper and dominate the world. Law, order and institutions are the only things separating us from wild animals.

  23. This video places more emphasis on his sexuality and upbringing than on his revolutionary thoughts and works. Disappointing for a supposed “philosophy” channel, but typical.

  24. he was a demagogue and big lier, he exaggerated about the Shah regime and advertised against him just in order to get money from Khomeini
    he met Khomeini and his guys a few times and advertised for them he was a dirty creature

  25. This is the downside of giving everyone a voice. People like you who learned about Foucault not by his writings, but from someone who’s friend’s mailman’s sister read a paragraph of his work and misunderstood it. Foucault was an anti-Marxist. His critique of Marxism is well understood. Down voting this garbage.

  26. This guy is literally just some faggot with mental problems. He was also a pedophile and knowingly spread HIV to several partners some of which were underage.

  27. He was literally just a smart gay guy who wanted to rationalize degeneracy. What an absolute waste of a good mind.

  28. So he hated his father and his first work attacked exactly that, the doctors. Such a cliché. I hate this philosopher. Thank God he died young , but sadly not young enough. We could be spared some books of his.

  29. These videos, alongside being helpful with short introductions to various figures of philosophy, commit a deep ideologogical crime, one that is especially visible in this Foucault. Rather then giving a mere summary of the life of the philisopher, they try to relate his experiences with the philosophy he created, which alters the perception of the audience in an utmost diabolical way. Such thing, just like Foucault argued, pushes the audience to "diagnose" the philisopher according to his past therefore stop trying to understand his philosophy but explain it by his experience thus ultimately making an abstract figure that must have symbolized a philosphy and ideals, a mere figure in history that his behaivour and thoughts are alieneted and only could be explained by his past. In other words, they present the figure from a perspective where we are alienated from his philosophy but more concerned about his personal life. STOP THIS!

  30. as much as I enjoy Foucault , his ideology regarding how the mentally ill should be treated as being eccentric is abit blase. we also have to recognise that the illnesses we observe today are different and do genuinely impede people's ability to function through day to day life, and from my experience working in MH,these illnesses have manifested through REAL trauma and are are very legitimate illnesses that need to be treated (mainly) through psychological intervention.. I do agree however there are people that are abit "mad" that live their lives differently, but they so without it negatively impacting their ability to function and remain healthy.

  31. I can see how Michel Foucault philosophy is hard for americans in this video, maybe because they still trust and support old discourses.

  32. Foucault did not say anything new or profound when he said we should learn lessons from history. This is something that could be said in any discussion in a pub. What he did was to put his ill-considered arguments into language which was deliberately complicated (and often meaningless) so that gullible readers and egotistical academics would be impressed. As for his ideas on letting mad people roam freely, I wonder what he would say to the relatives of people who were murdered by the likes of Sutcliffe, Hindley and the Wests. Lord Longford was, I would think, a big fan of Foucault.

  33. At 3:28 there is a UC Berkeley diploma for a PhD in Parapsychology. Is that legit or a joke? I'm a Cal alum and I know that one guy got a BA in magic.

  34. I like the first part of his program, and the anarchist objective is also something I can appreciate. I do not think the Marxist way to achieve the paradise works well, however.

  35. in 1977 Foucault and many other post-modernist intellectuals at the time signed a petition to remove age of consent laws in France.

  36. Let's throw his sick and dirty life to the trash cause it serves no progress in society and concentrate on his work on KNOWLEDGE AND POWER.

  37. So we're just going to gloss over the fact that one of his "philosophies" was that adults should be allowed to have sex with kids?
    Ok then.

  38. Foucault was nothing more than a privileged (err. Wealthy) white male who through his perceived lack of love from his parents hated the system that gave him his privilege…..mommy and daddy were just too busy

  39. Exodus 20:7 KJV
    Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

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