West Coast Publishing Philosophers Only Book Page

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Edward Said, Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, AFTER FOUCAULT, p. 9.

On the other hand, his weaknesses were quite marked even though, I think, they did not seriously mar the quality and power of his fundamental points. The most striking of his blind spots was, for example, his insouciance about the discrepancies between his basically limited French evidence and his ostensibly universal conclusions. Moreover, he showed no real interest in the relationships his work had with feminist or postcolonial writers facing problems of exclusion, confinement, and domination. Indeed his Eurocentrism was almost total, as if history itself took place only among a group of French and German thinkers. And as the goals of his later work became more private and esoteric, his generalizations appeared even more unrestrained, seeming by implication to scoff at the fussy work done by historians and theorists in fields he had disengaged from their grasp.


Barry Allen, Associate Professor of Philosophy at McMaster University, CRITICAL ESSAYS ON MICHAEL FOUCAULT, p. 75.

Foucault shares philosophy’s traditional bias in favor of a unit of knowledge that is logical, propositional, statement like, and valued for its truth. His conception is completely biased toward knowledge discursively articulated, as statement, definition, measurement, classification, and so on. He cannot see nondiscursive knowledge except as translated into discourse. He admits there is something more to knowledge than statements, mentioning “institutions, techniques, social groups, [and] perceptual organizations.” Yet only discourse synthesizes these into a coherent discursive formation and gives them formal value as knowledge. “[The] prediscursive is still discursive...One remains within the dimensions of discourse.”


Marie-Rose Logan, Assistant Professor of French, Italian, and Humanities at Rice University, AFTER FOUCAULT, p. 103-104.

When reading the essays devoted respectively by George Hupert to The Order of Things and by H. C. Midelford to Madness and Civilization, one is tempted to quip with Allan Megil: “Foucault was an animal of a sort that Anglo-American historians had never seen before.” They perceive Foucault as a fashionable Left Bank thinker whose criteria for historical research were at best questionable; they are quick to point out errors in his information. For instance, Huppert - quite rightly - states that several quotations including those from Belon and Montaigne are “garbled up.” Conversely, Midelfort summons evidence to prove that in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, “many of the mad were in fact confined to small cells of jails or even domestic cages, and not just gate towers as Foucault suggests.” Since he is writing nearly twenty years after the publication of Madness and Civilization, Midelfort has to contend with a wealth of cross-disciplinary responses to Foucault’s book. This he does by taking a harsh stance: “Indeed, in his quest for the essence of an age, its episteme, Foucault seems simply to indulge a whim for arbitrary and witty assertion so often that one wonders why so much attention and praise continue to fall his way.” In his 1973 condemnation of Foucault, Huppert had already anticipated Midelfort’s criticism: “He claims, within the chosen stratum, to understand not this or that idea, movement, or school: he claims total understanding.”



Andrew Sullivan, Editor of the New Republic, VIRTUALLY NORMAL, 1995, p. 88-91.

Moreover, a cultural strategy as a political strategy is a dangerous one for a minority and a small minority at that. Inevitably, the vast majority of the culture will be at best uninterested. In a society where the market rules the culture, majorities win the culture wars. And in a society where the state, pace Foucault actually does exist, where laws are passed according to rules by which the society operates, culture, in any case, is not enough. It may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. To achieve actual results, to end persecution of homosexuals in the military, to allow gay parents to keep their children, to provide basic education about homosexuality in high schools, to prevent murderers of homosexuals from getting lenient treatment, it is necessary to work through the, very channels Foucault and his followers revile. It is necessary to conform to certain disciplines in order to reform them, necessary to speak a certain language before it can say something different, necessary to abandon the anarchy of random resistance if actual homosexuals are to be protected. As Michael Walzer has written of Foucault, he stands nowhere and finds no reasons, Angrily he rattles the bars of the iron cage. But he has no plans or projects for turning the cage into something more like a human home."


Sheldon Wolin, Professor Emeritus of Politics, Princeton University, AFTER FOUCAULT, p. 197.

The futility that emerges as the key characteristic of Foucault’s politics is, I would suggest, not the consequence of an endlessly changing world constituted by mind, but its reflection. Foucault insisted that in adopting a genealogical method he was deliberately choosing to remain at the surface of things, a strategy that was universally applauded by sympathetic interpreters fatigued by the traditional talk about essence and logos. But Foucaldian genealogies - unlike, for example, the logical positivist attack on “metaphysics” - do not puncture linguistic illusions; they simply reduce metaphysical chatter to a historical instance of power/knowledge discourse, more feckless than psychiatry perhaps, but not necessarily its intellectual inferior.


Gary Gutting, “Reason and Philosophy,” CRITICAL ESSAYS ON MICHAEL FOUCAULT, p. 43.

In my view, however, there is no reason to think that accepting Foucault’s reconception of philosophy requires giving up the sorts of investigations that have occupied traditional philosophers. For one thing, I do not see how the Foucaultian can rule out in principle the possibility of our someday actually finding answers to the great, ultimate questions. He cannot base his skepticism about traditional philosophy on anything other than the historical fact that philosophers have for centuries failed to solve the deep problems they have set themselves. To go further and suggest that there is some fundamental feature of the mind or the world that excludes ultimate philosophical truth in principle would be itself a philosophical claim in the traditional mode. Since success in answering traditional philosophical questions is not excluded (however unlikely it may be) and would surely be of immense value, an important lesson of our philosophical past is that such work, even when unsuccessful, has many positive side effects.


Richard Rorty, Professor of Humanities, University of Virginia, TRUTH, POLITICS, AND POSTMODERNISM, SPINOZA LECTURES, 1997, p. 38-40.

There is a point to this suspicion, but not, I think, to the distrust which many admirers of Foucault have for the sort of story which Hegel, Macauley and Acton told: human history as the story of increasing freedom. Foucauldians typically have the same suspicions about narratives of progress as they do about the Enlightenment political project. But both suspicions are unjustified. My own view of narratives of progress is that of Thomas Kuhn: there is no such thing as asymptotic approach to the Truth, but there is progress nevertheless   progress detectable by retrospection. Scientific progress is made when theories which solved certain problems are replaced by theories which solve both those problems and certain other problems, which the earlier theories were unable to solve. On Kuhn's view, Einstein got no closer to the way reality is `in itself' than did Newton, but there is an obvious sense in which he progressed beyond Newton.
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