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Falsifying Foucault?

Abstract : « Si la connaissance se donne comme connaissance de la vérité, c’est qu’elle produit la vérité par le jeu d’une falsification première et toujours reconduite qui pose la distinction du vrai et du faux . » Leçons sur la volonté de savoir, Gallimard-Seuil, Paris, 2011 (1re éd. : 1971). "If knowledge is given as knowledge of the truth, it is because it produces the truth by the game of a first, primary falsification renewed again and again which raises the distinction of true and false" [my translation]. Michel Foucault, Lessons on the will to know, Gallimard-Seuil, Paris, 2011 (1st ed .: 1971) I wonder how can Foucault, who refers to Nietzsche as source of inspiration, speak of falsification and deny at the same time objectivity of truth – besides the obvious pun. The challenge of Nietzsche is to contest the objectivity of truth as human desiderata, in such a context Foucault's notion of falsification (of what? falsification of an objective reality?) does either make no sense at all or encodes some other meaning beyond being false – a possible reading would be to take it that Foucault means "distortion", or better “will to deceive “. Perhaps, Foucault's observation amounts to the simple remark that some of the so-called scientific justifications of institutionalized qualifications and anathemas that have important political and socio-economic consequences such as those involving notions as health, disease, or gender do not have the scientific backing they are purported to have (now scientific backing, I guess, must be understood in a rather standard or naïve sense of distinguishing between sciences and pseudo-sciences). This might in some sense be a sensible reflection, and it must be conceded that Foucault had the merit of undertaking extensive and thorough examinations of archives, protocols and reports buried in institutions of various kinds which animated his legendary charming style of writing. Of course, this is quite far away from constituting a revolutionary assault on the notions of (scientific) truth, knowledge and meaning, but, one can say, I think, that his work motivated and still motivates some new approaches to the study of institutional archives. If the reading proposed in the preceding paragraph seems a too meagre result and we are prepared to read Foucault's remarks as involving more thorny epistemological matters, there are of course other ways to delve into them: On one hand I allow me to suggest studying the sceptics of the ancient Greek tradition, or the study of analogical dialectical reasoning within the Arabic Jurisprudence theories of the Middle-Ages (or more generally their theory of Argumentation that has been largely ignored also by the analytic approaches to Argumentation theory and Epistemic Logic), or if one dares to go so far the millenary Jain epistemological lessons on the Art of the Point of View provide plenty to learn from (this constitutes another gap in the recent studies on reasoning and knowledge). On the other one cannot escape the feeling that claims as those of Foucault, though they might be seen as involving interesting questions, many of them have been brought forward without awareness (or perhaps even because of lack of awareness) of the discussions that took place in depth and length in philosophy of logic and knowledge – moreover, as a quick look on nowadays publications bring to the fore, such kind of discussions are nowadays experiencing a creative impulse at a breath-taking pace (particularly so in the context of social sciences). True, analytic philosophers and some philosophers of logic stemming from analytic philosophy quite often ignore history of philosophy or even the history of the science they are purported to study, or more generally philosophical approaches foreign to their own framework – with the result that quite often they produced a rather superficial analysis of the links between knowledge and truth – however, this only points out, that it is time that we start learning each from the other Am I falsifying Foucault? Who knows …
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Contributor : Shahid Rahman <>
Submitted on : Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 3:34:01 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, November 3, 2020 - 9:54:03 AM


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Shahid Rahman. Falsifying Foucault?. 2018. ⟨halshs-01698264v2⟩



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