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The Philosophy of Michael Foucault

The Philosophy of Michael Foucault

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Published by Edward L Hester
Foucault's concern was to free man from the prison of his programming by the power centers within society. In this sense, he shared with others such as Carl Jung the dream of helping people to wake up, grow up and take their own power.
Foucault's concern was to free man from the prison of his programming by the power centers within society. In this sense, he shared with others such as Carl Jung the dream of helping people to wake up, grow up and take their own power.

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Published by: Edward L Hester on Dec 27, 2009
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07/30/2010

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The Philosophy of Michael Foucault .Foucault’s "philosophy" is about showing us how arbitrary the institutions of culture areand pointing to the freedom we can still find by breaking out of the web of unconscious programming, values and "thinking patterns" inherent in our culture..Foucault argues that one’s time in history, one’s culture, the existing power structureswithin society, and the very structure of information approved and reinforced by this power structure defines and limits the freedom of the self. He wants to show us that wecan get outside that structure of knowledge to freedom. In this freedom to escape our "inherited thought patterns" and the very "structure of language and thought itself" is anexperience of heightened living and consciousness. In a sense, Foucault is talking abouthow we might escape the taboos, rules, values, expectations and morality imposed by our culture on thinking for our selves..In order to pass out of the captivity of his thoughts, the individual must participate indiscourses and analysis of issues which help him to break the hold of language and power. This discourse is conditioned by a number of post-Marxian assumptions about themodern world:.
A deep distrust of the power of institutions to control individual thought and behavior .
Language determines what reality is because it can only conceptualize what is in aculture’s structure of knowledge. The structure of knowledge is itself defined bythe centers of power within a culture. Any discussion of "Truth" therefore iswholly a matter of language. Freedom and the passionate expression of our selvesis not to be found in following the "rules" of culture or by staying within the bounds of any culture’s ideals, beliefs or values..
Truth, like the Self, is not given but made by power and culture. Even our identities are shaped by culture, rules, laws, social norms. Our worldview is"made" by being projected from within on the world without and by coercion..
Society conditions us and coerces us into an "approved Reality and set of approved Truths" in order to produce "normal" people who are willing to conformthemselves to the demands of the institutions of power within society..The aim of analysis is clarity and understanding leading to being a free person andcreating a better world..In this aim, Foucault shows that his real interest is transformation of the individual; theself will become someone other than the "self" defined for him by his time in history or the competing centers of power in his life or time..For Foucault, the structure of knowledge within society at any time reinforces the
 
existing power centers and their self interested points of view. These "structures andorderings" underlying knowledge and information, act to trap the individual within theweb of power and confine the mind. The individual is held "prisoner" by the veryorderings of information and knowledge within his mind and confined to act inaccordance with the interests of the power centers of society. Even morals, values, andideals are defined by the centers of power. This "closes" the thought of individuals to newideas by trapping him in the definitions, concepts, and system of logic employed by those power centers. Language itself becomes a trap confining thought and creativity..Power, to Foucault, is a bad thing with terrible consequences for the psychological healthof people. "Truth" is the desire for power and knowledge that can free us from controland power. The need is for individuals to realize that who they are is not this structuredknowledge or interpretation of history nor is Reality what has been defined for us. Wecan free ourselves through
experience and by breaking out of the thinking patterns of our time
..The unconsciousness of people for Foucault is not a moral issue. It is the responsibility of each of us to free ourselves from the prison into which we have been born. Therefore, theonly people who can free prisoners in jails are the prisoners themselves; the only peoplewho can free those in our insane asylums are the patients themselves; they must realizehow they have allowed themselves to be institutionalized by accepting the definitionsused by the authorities who have put them away. In fact, it is the experience of being in prison which creates criminals, and the experience of being committed for long periods of time in mental hospitals which truly makes the mentally ill "mad." To free ourselves, wemust learn to think outside the approved and popular histories, beliefs, values, morals, philosophies, and logical systems until we find the missed interpretations andunderstandings of what is going on in history (because the "approved" view of Reality isalways one that reinforces the existing and self-interested power centers in society)..We can understand ourselves only through a ’relentless comparison of our experience toknowledge and beliefs. Experience is the testing ground for truth. Discourse, debates,discussion can uncover the discrepancies in self definition. Then, the seekers mightfollow those discrepancies "out" through the gaps in information to explore popular mythto escape the popular world view..Foucault says that finding one’s way to freedom is an art and requires:.
 Not being governed by the beliefs, values or rules of society so as to seek truth.
Detaching one’s self from the jurisdiction of power by dissenting.
Recreating one’s personal history and self .
Studying the fictions of society themselves rather than trying to determine truthfrom fiction. Nothing is absolutely true, even the "self" you believe yourself to be..
 
One must face the limits of the indoctrination one has been given by parents, society, andreligious centers on what is true, right, wrong, taboo, unpatriotic, not responsible etc andsee that these are mostly limits on freedom of the individual so as to control behavior approved by power and the institutions of power in society..Foucault points out that modern mass culture differs from the preceding feudal system inEurope by an invasive technology which enables the centers of power to maintainconstant observation of individuals and to create legal, educational, policing and moralsystems with the aim of controlling the lives of individuals. "Discipline" systems are usedto train people in desired activities, attitudes, self concepts, and moral values."Punishment" systems are used to reinforce these values. And financial and power "reward" systems encourage approved behavior..These power centers all share the aim of producing "normal people" who meet therequirements of industry, the military, and the churches--essentially making the massessuitable for meeting the interests of the centers of power. Those who do not "fit in" aredefined as misfits, insane, criminals, rejects, unpatriotic, depraved, etc. When those whodo not "fit in" ACCEPT these labels, they are condemning themselves. They condemnthemselves because they have been programmed by the structure of knowledge approved by society to accept these judgments as logical and necessary. Those accused of beingcriminal thus are lead by their own logic into agreeing that they are criminals. Thoseaccused of being mentally ill are lead by their own logic into agreeing that they arementally ill..If they realize they have been programmed, individuals can experience "morality" in amarkedly different way than the way morality is espoused by economic, political, or religious authorities in society. Such individuals can point out the "shadow" side of  popular moral judgments and power..He continues:.
...once one steps outside what’s been thought before, once one ventures outside what’s familiar and reassuring, once one tries to invent new concepts for unknown lands, thenmethods and moral systems breakdown and thinking becomes ...’a perilous act,’ aviolence whose first victim is ones self.
 .Those who are able to break out of the thinking patterns approved by the power centerswithin society are then able to articulate a strategy by which others may do so, and this isultimately de-stabilizing to the balance of power in society. Therefore, those power centers will turn on that individual recognizing him as a threat and strive to destroy him before he can disturb their interests. This has happened to many intellectuals throughhistory whose thought lead them outside the prevailing economic, political, moral andcultural values of their time: Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegard and MartinHeidegger are only three examples..On the other hand, the individual who breaks out of the prison of knowledge inherited

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