Title

The Systematic Misreading of Michel Foucault.

Authors

Sherri Murata

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2000

Abstract

In the popular media we often find claims that for French philosophers in general, and Michel Foucault in particular, there is no such thing as truth. Foucault's assertion in the 1975 text Discipline and Punish that power and knowledge are inseparable, is taken to mean that all sciences are therefore arbitrary constructs, invented and perpetuated by tyrannical forces. However, Foucault's argument was not that knowledge itself is bad, or more importantly, false, but simply that it can never be disassociated from power relations. Much of the discussion about Foucault in the content of the so-called Science Wars. Alan Sokal, a physicist at New York University, began the war in 1996 with the publication of an article in the magazine Social Text parodying what he calls French post-modern thought. Few of the authors of French philosophy over the last 40 years who explicitly focus on science are referenced, most importantly is Foucault's The Birth of the Clinic. This text explicitly discusses the origin of the medical sciences, and how its development coincided with complex political, social and economic factors. Foucault argues that the traditional history of science chose to ignore the non-scientific conditions within which new ideas were produced to preserve an image of pure experiments, discovery and progress. Critics, such as Sokal, seem to believe that deviating from traditional history and acknowledging external factors somehow undermines existing scientific truth, when in fact, Foucault is exposing the real truth of how those truths came into existence.

Advisor

Warren Montag

Department

ecls

Support

Ford Research Fellowship

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