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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984) was a French-born radical philosopher of Systems who taught at UC Berkeley and died of AIDS. “Everything I do, I do in order that it may be of use.”

Foucault

Michael Foucault

Quotes of Michael Foucault from Google, WikiQuote, BrainyQuote,

Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting.

Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.

There are moments in life where the question of knowing whether one might think otherwise than one thinks and perceive otherwise than one sees is indispensable if one is to continue to observe or reflect

A critique does not consist in saying that things aren’t good the way they are. It consists in seeing on just what type of assumptions, of familiar notions, of established and unexamined ways of thinking the accepted practices are based… To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy.

The language of psychiatry is a monologue of reason about madness

People know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.

What strikes me is the fact that in our society, art has become something which is only related to objects, and not to individuals, or to life.

There are more ideas on earth than intellectuals imagine. And these ideas are more active, stronger, more resistant, more passionate than “politicians” think. We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them.

Death’s annihilation is no longer anything because it was already everything, because life itself was only futility, vain words, a squabble of cap and bells. The head that will become a skull is already empty.

I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write.

Are you going to change yet again, shift your position according to the questions that are put to you, and say that the objections are not really directed at the place from which you are speaking? Are you going to declare yet again that you have never been what you have been reproached with being?

Justice must always question itself, just as society can exist only by means of the work it does on itself and on its institutions.

The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.

Death left its old tragic heaven and became the lyrical core of man: his invisible truth, his visible secret.

The imaginary is not formed in opposition to reality as its denial or compensation; it grows among signs, from book to book, in the interstice of repetitions and commentaries; it is born and takes shape in the interval between books. It is the phenomena of the library.

But the guilty person is only one of the targets of punishment. For punishment is directed above all at others, at all the potentially guilty.

It is the certainty of being punished and not the horrifying spectacle of public punishment that must discourage crime.

There is no glory in punishing.

Maybe the target nowadays is not to discover what we are but to refuse what we are.

I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.


COMMENTS:
It is impressive that so many philosophers talk of the goal of their work being to motivate action. Foucault states this clearly and boldly, “Everything I do, I do in order that it may be of use.” and “Knowledge is not for knowing: knowledge is for cutting.” Part of that work of doing something is the difficult task of changing one’s self and to that problem he says, “The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. I’m no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.” These are the sentiments and world view he picked up from Nietzsche.

“Shift your position according to the questions that are put to you.” This seems to be a primary life tactic for Foucault, and he seems to change what he is saying several times per paragraph and often by the end of a sentence he will be declaring his true meaning to be precisely the opposite from the beginning. The classic Greco-Roman Stoics would strongly disagree with Foucault and would have said he was grasping too desperately at the fleeting peripheral pleasures of life and not enjoying enough those more readily available central ones such as tranquility.

“Desperate acts precipitate desperate results.”