Discussion: Michel Foucault on Wed. May 19, 2010

Source: Foucault at a lecture in Japan (DR) In Michel Foucault: Une histoire de la vérité, Paris: Syros, 1985, pp. 20-21.

“But then, what is philosophy today – philosophical activity, I mean – if it is not the critical work of thought on itself? And if it does not consist in the endeavour of knowing how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently, rather than legitimating what is already known? There is always something ludicrous in philosophical discourse when it tries, from the outside, to dictate to others, to tell them where their truth is and how to find it, or when it presumes to give them naively positivistic instruction. But it is its right to explore what might be changed, in its own thought, through the practice of a knowledge that is foreign to it. The “essay” – which should be understood as the test by means of which one modifies oneself through the play of truth and not as the simplistic appropriation of others for the purpose of communication – is the living body of philosophy, at least if we assume that philosophy is still what it was in times past, i.e., an “ascesis”, an exercise of the self, in thought.” (trans. mod)   -Michel Foucault.

(1992) [1984]. The Use of Pleasure. The History of Sexuality Volume 2, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, pp. 8-9.

Fellow Philosophers,

Hope all is well with you.

On Wednesday May 19th at 6:10pm in room E&T A420 I will have the privilege of leading a short discussion on one of the most influential French thinkers of the 20th century. Foucault’s influence reaches beyond the discipline of philosophy. In fact, he is often thought of as a historian, sociologist, and a cultural theorist.

Unfortunately, Foucault is not taught in most Philosophy departments today due to the heavy emphasis on the analytical tradition. He can be a bit difficult to digest if you are not familiar with continental writers. However, I think his work is well worth the trouble.

Throughout the several years I have been in and out of school, I have not done enough homework to graduate but have done plenty of reading on my own (maybe too much). I can say that by far Foucault has left the most significant mark on my examined life.

This is the article we will use as a guideline for our discussion:

Please read: http://foucault.info/foucault/biography.html.

When trying to choose a piece by Foucault:

1. I wanted the article to be short enough for most people to have the time to read,

2. I wanted the piece to be introductory but not a biographical piece written by a third party,

3. I wanted Foucault’s writing style and overall project to come through,

4. I also thought that it is fascinating to read a piece written by a philosopher on himself but from a third person perspective.

If you are looking for interesting links to look at in the meantime, here are a few:



Foucault’s extensive bibliography:


Also, if you know a bit more about Foucault and are a fan of Chomsky:

just search YouTube for a video of a debate between them. I might bring this up in our discussion. This debate was more important than most people realize.

Enjoy and see you on 5/19/2010 at 6:10pm in room E&T A420


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