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. So I found the video interesting and then I read the comments and now I'm dissappointed. Turnes out that the video shows a highly inaccurate image of the man's views.

  2. The most important part is missing: the epistemic Foucault (Order of Things, Archelogy of Knowledge).

  3. Talking about mental hospitals in the 70's while displaying drawings of woman chained up by the throat to walls is just completely unfounded and stupid. You use pictures and your little psychological tricks to instill subliminal messages behind the words you are saying. You use pictures and superimpose parts of Focaults life and ideas to present a false reality. School of life is shit, it's just a way people think they can educate themselves very fast instead of being a genuine intellectual, researcher, or philosopher. Just condense everything down into an easily digestable and sellable video for your own profit. Fuck you.

  4. This is an inspirational overview of Foucault and I am encouraged to learn more of this man’s thinking. By the way, PhD’s don’t look after patients, they are generally researchers. Medical Doctors have the qualifications Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, abbreviated in many ways, e.g. MBBS, MB ChB, MB BCh, MB BChir (Cantab), BM BCh (Oxon), BMBS). These are the two first professional degrees in medicine and surgery awarded upon graduation. You mentioned Foucault had a habit of getting his facts wrong, so try not to do the same.

  5. So when a leader misinterprets or misremembers history we lash out of them. But when a philosopher does it, it's somehow revolutionary and admirable? Get fucked, Foucault. You parodied history to further your own self-indulgent and prophetic lies; you were more concerned about making others similar to you instead of genuinely seeking to help them better their lives. Your philosophy only yields pessimism and contempt for anyone who dares to show their competence in any capacity. Because why be competent when you can take history, bin it, and make up your own interpretations and inspire an entire generation to jump off a cliff with you? Sounds like a ton o' fun to me.

  6. We can thank him and Derrida for the postmodernist neo-Marxist Anti-American movement in academia, poisoning a whole generation of children against Free Speech, Real Science, Objectivity, the Natural world, thinking for oneself, genetics, the accumulated knowledge and experience of Western civilization. They won't win. We're on to them now and with Trump in the White House and Republican leadership maybe we can stop this fetid disease.

  7. How can the left be happy if they are angry. We've all heard that "it's all about attitude." They make themselves miserable, and misery loves company. They feel that their misery justifies their anger while unaware that their anger is making them miserable. If you point this fact out to them, their response is anger. It becomes habitual for them to place the blame for their misery on all of those who are successful. They think that wealth should be equally distributed, but they never discuss how they will encourage productivity. It cannot be sustained for very long.

  8. I think i agree with him. Modern medicine and doctor doesn’t work. Because if it did, that phycologist was supposed to either make him less mentally ill or lock him up. He certainly did nothing and let a dumbass to roam around in street.

  9. "I often think it odd that [history] should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention.”

  10. rich boy trying to be a rebel against his dad, like "the voice of the people" he is not the voice of the people, like marx, he is not the common man and cares not about the common man but uses the common man's cause for self righteous virtue signalling purposes in order to attack everyone else, fake revolutionaries ruined the revolution

  11. This is useful but the speed was too fast to understand…if you can post this with a slower speed. The content is awesome otherwise.

  12. New way to look at history? Make conjectures about how things may have been, sight a few examples and go on to attack your own culture. Was he not aware of how gay people were treated under socialist governments of his time? Were mad people really free to roam the countryside in the Middle Ages? I am amazed. It's all bunk. And you have an academia and intelligentsia nurture it along.

  13. He´s admired all over the world, not only the ¨prosperous corners of the world¨, but also in the poorest corners. I am a woman, teacher, immigrant who lives in poverty but who adores Foucault.

  14. focault life represent of leftist,,they are the real schizophrenic people and must not allowed free to disturb quite conservative family

  15. Foucault was so messed up. It is hilarious that Post Modernists reject all grand narratives but accept Marxism, a grand narrative with a horrible history of oppression. This nonsense needs to stop being taught in universities; all it does is make society worse. It amazes me that anyone studies this idiot.

  16. Focault was a let it all hang out nihilist who did not believe in borders or barriers for that matter which led to his early exit from AIDS. Yup Mikey borders and barriers work but do spout on.

  17. I mean, have you ever tried being a doctor? It's a rather technical job and you do tend to see patients are organs to be analyzed, that's literally your role there. I don't get the criticism. Being humane in thid means trying your best to find the malfunctions in the organs and cure them. Inhumane is when you're a shit doctor and just lazy.

  18. This is what the soldiers died for in WWII to have society uphold a suicidal homosexual fascinated with sadomasochism. Go fight for the GAY DISCO and burn in Hell with Foucault.

  19. This is one is my least favorite video of SOL..may be I am biased by the notion that present is better than the past..

  20. You seem to not comprehend anything about Foucault main concept.It is too complex for the simply anglo-Saxon world.

  21. So, he was having issues with his parents and so he extrapolated them to authority, societal norms and day to day life, in which it's all just a rebellion without a certain or a clear goal, other than total liberation of aggressive behaviour against established power, social conformity/order and sexuality.
    I don't know, but this sounds extreme.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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

  29. 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.

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

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

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

  33. 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.

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

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

  36. A gay middle class Marxist anarchist?

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

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

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *