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Foucault, Michel (1926–84)

linda alcoff

Subject Philosophy » Epistemology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631192589.1993.x


French philosopher, born in Poitiers. If knowledge is the product of historically-specific, contingent modes of inquiry, what effect has this had on our own knowledges? Foucault attempted to answer this question for bodies of knowledge in the human sciences, principally psychiatry, penology and sexology. Influenced by Nietzsche, Bachelard and Canguilhem, Foucault's project was to reveal the ‘positive unconscious of knowledge’, or those hidden but constitutive elements in the background of the process of knowing. These elements remain unexamined when the key to meaning is assumed to be the ‘referent’ of claims or the intentions of a believing subject. Foucault proposed that at a deeper level rules for the constitution of beliefs operate to determine whether statements have meaning and can function within specific discourses. Briefly, a discourse is the conglomeration of statements, concepts, objects and practices produced by an episteme , which is the total set of relations or discursive regularities that set out the possibilities of meaning and truth. These rules are immanent in that they are simple regularities between the elements of a discourse, and they are contingent in that they do not arise from transcendental facts about language or human beings. Foucault's method of ‘archaeology’ attempts to identify these internal relations between discursive elements without reference ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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