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MICHEL FOUCAULT: KNOWLEDGE, POWER, AND IDENTITY

Michel Foucault (1926-1984)


Paul-Michel Foucault is a French philosopher historian who was concerned with the development of
ideas of power through the history of institutions and their effect on how we understand identities
through knowledge.
Foucault pioneered an approach towards understanding historical texts in which history is a production
of truth, rather than the conveyance of truth from past events.
Foucault was raised by a family of wealthy surgeons, who opted him to become a physician.
Foucault was a closeted homosexual in his younger years, often causing him anxiety and depression.
Foucault was highly critical of the oppressive role of institution in shaping our conception of identity.
Foucault was a well-known intellectual throughout Europe and America.
Foucault was an advocate of exploring ones identity by understanding how institutions shape our daily
practices.
Moreover, by understanding history, we can understand the success and folly of certain institutions and
their respective agendas.
Foucault succumbed to complications from AIDS in 1984
Genealogy of History
Foucault argued that the study of history is ought to be disinterested and detached.
Rather than offer a grand narrative of explaining monumental points in history that influenced present
developments, Foucault wanted to look at small details such as the practices of insignificant people to
understand the effects of institutions to human activities.
Foucault for example, observed practices involving executions, punishment, diagnosis of mental illness,
medicine, and sexuality as a basis for his study.
By studying these discontinuous details (i.e. documents involving everyday practices), Foucault can point
out that history is not just a series of events triggered by one successful event in the past.
Institutions and the Legitimisation of Knowledge
Foucaults analysis of history relies on historical monuments or goals of institutions that produces
discontinuous effects. These effects, despite their intended goal or outcome, often comes out
differently because of variations in how people appropriate them.
For example, the idea of punishment as a mode of deterrence for would-be-criminals, became more of a
spectacle as opposed to a fearsome event.
Thus, public executions, instead of deterring would be criminals, became a form of entertainment for
the common folk. For some, it allowed other practices to take place.
Moreover, public executions, also allowed individuals to air their support towards the accused. In some
instances, violent protests occur after public executions.
The prison system is a product of suppressing the populace from creating a spectacle out of public
executions.
As a response to deterrence, the form of punishment has evolved into a rehabilitation of the subject
(prisoner) to later integrate them back to society.
Thus, the prison system has become instrumental in spawning various industries and technological
implements to create different identities.
The Panotpicon
The Panotpicon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power
reduced to its ideal form
The panopticon does not simply represent an omni-present form of observation of prisoners, rather, it
represents how the prison system works in and out of the prison.
The idealised manifestation of the panopticon is the power of surveillance that shapes the behavior of
individuals with the gaze of the authority.
From the use of corporeal punishment, rehabilitation, and finally surveillance, the idea of the human
person in history for Foucault is a technology of transforming humanity into docile bodies.
Surveillance
Surveillance is a form of management wherein subjects learn how to manage themselves, by
conditioning people to think that they are being watched, they will behave as if they are watched.
Foucault was very adamant to discourses on history that points towards a perceived end or goal.
The telos or direction of history is always subject to the constant swaying of forces that veers away
from projected trajectories offered by technologies.
While knowledge can give power for those who can control discourses, the technology that is derived
from knowledge can be used in unpredictable ways.
For example, the internet, despite its focus on disseminating information can also be used to
disseminate false information.
Technologies that save lives were actually realized in events that were meant to take away lives.
Freedom, when too much is introduced, can also be made as a tool for oppression.
Homosexuality, for example, in the earlier part of the 20th century, was treated as a mental disorder.
Foucault argues that in the ancient Greek times, the mad or the insane lived with the normal people.
In fact, their status was different in as much as they can see what the others could not see.
In the course of time, the diagnosis of mental illness has become different.
Medieval psychology, for example, diagnosed mental illness as demonic possession.
Today, mental illness, varies in treatment and diagnosis.
In the UK and Europe, the treatment of mental illness leans more on using behavioural conditioning.
In the US, on the other hand, mental illness is treated heavily with medication.
While ADHD is a common phenomenon in the US; in France, ADHD is treated as a behavioral problem as
opposed to it being a physiological problem.
In the Philippines, very few people opt-in for treatments and diagnosis because of the shame involved
in being declared insane.
Foucaults emphasized the fact that over the course of time, people have begun to isolate the mad from
the sane.
Rather than learn from the mad the root cause and effective means of integrating them back to society,
institutions have merely excluded the insane from the sane.
Technology, thus, became a system of managing the insane.
In Foucaults historical analysis of sexuality, he notes that sexuality finds means despite repression
from society and institutions.
He notes, that despite the suppressed treatment of sexuality in the Victorian times, sexuality flourished.
While institutions can somewhat dictate certain sexual practices, individuals will find ways to express
their own technology of sexuality.
This is evinced, for example, in ancient Greece through homosexuality.
Despite being segregated by roles, men and women found ways to explore sexual identities.
Homosexuality was a common practice, since both sexes were detached from each because of the roles
that they played.
Repression, as history would show, only furthers the technologies of caring for ones self.
Foucault advocated the exploration of the self (not only in sexual terms) as opposed to allowing
technologies, knowledge, and power to dictate our identities.
Foucault wanted to turn these technologies as a way of allowing us some sense of autonomy in caring
for ourselves.
Thus, rather than be merely helpless subjects compelled to follow the forces that influence us, we have
the option to become selective in becoming who we want ourselves to be.
Thus, Foucault proposes a technology of understanding ourselves. A technology of caring for oneself.
We are to become our own project rather than become the projects of institutions.

FREEDOM AND PORNOGRAPHY (A case for self-actualization and self-expression)


I defend pornography as an important aspect of freedom of expression, which is essential for
autonomy, self-development, the growth of knowledge and human flourishing. I rebut the allegations
that pornography depraves and corrupts, degrades women, is harmful
to children, exposes third parties to risk of offence or assault, and violates womens civil rights and
liberties. I contend that suppressing pornography would have a range of unintended evil consequences,
including loss of beneficial technology, creeping censorship, black markets, corruption and extensive
social costs.. Danny Frederick
FREDERICK RESPONDS TO FIVE MAJOR CRITICISMS AGAINST PORNOGRAPHY:
Pornography tends to deprave and corrupt those who produce or consume it.
Consumers of pornography will tend to have a perverted vision of sexuality, more so, it exposes those
that are involved in its production to health, crime, and character risks.
It degrades women
Women who are participating in the consumption and production of pornography are degraded because
it portrays them as an object and a lower kind of person subject to humiliating circumstances.
It is harmful to children if they consume it or are used in its production
It exposes third parties to risk of offence or assault
By objectifying the participants in the production of pornography, one exposes third parties or other
people as an object of sexual offence or assault.
It violates womens civil rights and freedom of expression
HERE ARE FREDERICKS INITIAL RESPONSES TO THE FIVE POINTS AGAINST PORNOGRAPHY:
Risks exists in all aspects of life, as an adult, the decision to participate in the production and
consumption of pornography is a free decision which has had its consequences weighed down by
individuals.
Just like participating in a sport is a risk to injury, or participating in charitable activities can cause harm
and even the loss of life, there would be downsides to any activity.
Yet the reason why people still participate in these activities is that its end seems worthwhile for its
participants.
Following the first response, if pornography has the capacity to degrade women, then women, as
consenting adults should decide for themselves whether the degradation is worthwhile.
However, should we take the allegations against pornography to be true, we should take this as an
opportunity to respond and explain the ideology behind pornography.
Despite this, the degradation of women can still be expressed in non-pornographic means. This means
that despite the validity of the argument, the focus should not only be centered on pornography.
While it is true that pornography is dangerous to children, it is also true that there are a lot of things that
are harmful for children that falls on the adults to be responsible when it comes to these matters.
Alcohol, tobacco, medicines, sharp things, anti-vaccination pamphlets, are all present in the
environment. The responsibility to keep children from these possible harm lies with adult supervision.
In the case of pornography, parents should find means of preventing their children from accessing these
forms of media. The responsibility lies with the parents, not with the existence of pornography.
If pornography exposes third parties to risk of offence or assault, then even if this did justify controls
over the production or consumption of pornography; it would do so only where less intrusive ways of
dealing with the problems are not available.
If pornography is a danger to all, and to women, this could be an argument for restricting the freedom of
expression.
DANNY FREDERICK ARGUES SOME POINTS FOR PORNOGRAPHY
A free society is a society that safeguards the freedom of expression
Since pornography is a form of expression of human sexuality it should be allowed to a degree where its
benefits can outweigh its possible risks.
Freedom of expression is a prerequisite of personal development
Adults are self-conscious beings who are entitled to manage their own lives and pursue their own
conception of the good life in their own way. This is made possible by experimentation.
Sex is, for more people, a very important part of life
For many people, sexual relationships, and their integral sexual activities, are central to lifes meaning.
Despite the benefits of pornography, there are still some considerations that we need to take.
Criticisms of pornography is well accepted because it is an expression and are likewise important for its
own development.
Criticism can allow changes in the practice, production, and consumption of pornography.
There are certain circumstances wherein the issue of public safety takes precedence over the freedom
of expression, and that is also applicable to pornography.
SEXUAL EXPLICITNESS AND SEXUAL AROUSAL
Why it matters?
If pornography can arouse sexuality and lead to violence, why do we allow sexually explicit and sexually
arousing materials?
There are materials that are sexually arousing and sexually explicit, that may not necessarily be referred
to as pornography.
A medical manual or text can have sexually explicit content. A movie can be sexually arousing without
being sexually explicit.
Despite this, since sex is a common activity, regardless of whether it is done in front of the camera or
not, then would it be also right to say that the act of sex degrades women?
CAN A DISCOURSE ABOUT SEX DEGRADE US?
While it is possible that certain discourse about sex can be degrading, it does, however, need to be
specific about which discourses can be degrading.
The question of degradation is often addressed by the privacy of sex itself. If it is made present to those
that do not want to see it, then it can be degrading. Since sex as an act and discourse is both private and
personal, pornography, likewise, should also be private.
Despite this, no reason has been given for thinking that sex is properly private and should not be open
for discourse. In fact, no one questions the necessity of pornography becoming a public spectacle,
meaning to say that there is a wide agreement that those who do not want to consume or produce it
should not be forced to do so.
Despite this, the freedom of expression is invoked as an issue when it comes to pornography. There is
also a myriad of media that can depict degrading views on certain individuals, yet they continue to exist
because of the freedom of certain subjects to choose to consume it or produce it.
The fundamental allegation against pornography is that it degrades womens right and freedom and that
it communicates a negative image of women.
Despite this allegation towards pornography as a media that degrades women, a broad array of other
forms of media exist that are also degrading, not only for women, but also for different individuals.
There are films and shows that degrade the perspective of women and men. Opinions such as the claims
that the world is flat, or ideas of racism and bigotry exist. Even the idea of replacing women with men
who think that they can be a better woman exist. These discourses and media exist, mainly because they
have their own right to free expression.
Why then does the depiction of women having sex be a degrading depiction of women when in fact it is
something that both men and women engage in? Moreover, pornography is not limited to simply
portraying women in sexuality.
Does pornography degrade women?
While pornography has many varieties, it can be said that there are certain types of pornography that
does degrade women.
The point of the matter itself is that pornography is a neutral medium, it doesnt generally depict
women alone. Hence, it would be right to say that specific types of pornography are degrading to
women as opposed to saying that pornography itself is degrading to women.
Allegations against pornography would say that it leads to sexual offences is for Frederick,
unsubstantiated and does not have a causal connection between consumption and anti-social behavior.
While some sex offenders use pornography in the commission of crimes, it doesnt necessarily mean a
causal connection exist.
Likewise, certain criminals quote passages from the bible or any other paraphernalia, it doesnt
necessarily mean that the bible itself causes crime. Banning paraphernalia such as knives, because it can
be used in the commission of crime, is a post-hoc fallacy.
Who can consume it?
Pornography, like sex, is not something that children should participate in.
Given that sex is an everyday pleasurable activity, most children will eventually and pleasurably engage
in it as they mature and become adults. Children and sex should be separated in terms of the production
and consumption of pornography.
Pornography is for mature and consenting adults. Children should not be forced, coerced, or allowed to
participate in its production and consumption.
For adults, the consumption of pornography can be liberating since it provides multiple avenues in
exploring human sexuality. Pornography can also provide avenues for general psychological,
anthropological, and academic research. Pornography is also used in fiction and literary works. And, of
course it can be used as an aid for self-understanding. Frederick notes that pornography can give rise to
our own understanding of sexual preferences, without the issue of repressing sexuality, which for him is
unhealthy.
Why pornography is an expression of freedom?
Freedom of expression is to be prized as a condition of a free society and of individual autonomous
development.
The suppression of freedom of expression is bad not only because it denies this good, but also because it
inevitably has a range of unintended evil consequences. There are some odd benefits to the production
and consumption of pornography, for one it stimulated the growth of consumer media and electronics,
as well as the infrastructures of the internet.
The suppression of pornography can lead to other consequences such as the curtailment of the freedom
of expression. If these were denied at an earlier point in time, there wouldnt be any acceptance of
practices such as homosexuality and transsexuality. To add to this, the prohibition of pornography does
not necessarily stop its production and consumption, it only leads to the underground distribution of
goods that can be violent and detrimental to society.
Can suppression stop pornography?
Suppressing pornography would involve a substantial reduction of social wealth. There would be a
significant increase in the criminal justice cost of detection, apprehension, prosecution, and
maintenance of the offenders in prison.
Suppressing pornography can have serious consequences, its consumption and production might not be
monitored and regulated by the state resulting into abuses and mistreatment towards women and other
participants in its industry.
In some countries, pornography is regulated by the government to give opportunities for employment
for both men and women. By suppressing this, these regulations can no longer protect the participants
from crime and abuse.
Also, the issue of public health can be invoked as a problem arising from suppression, exposing women,
men, and even children to the hazards of unregulated sex trade and the production of pornographic
materials.
MARXISM
Karl Marx is a German-Jewish philosopher born on May 5, 1818.
He was born to a well-off family that owned vineyards. His father was a well-known and established
lawyer.
Marx, for the rest of his life, did not work as a manual laborer. Coincidentally, Marx was also poor.
Marxism as an ideology
Marxism is an off-shoot of Karl Marxs critique of economics.
Initially it was a reaction to the proliferation of Capitalism in the early phases of industrialization of
nations. The inspiration came from his experience of English and German capitalism.
Marxs critique developed into systems of governance and economics which we find in the idea of
Communism.
Marxs method was to propose a dialectical materialism, wherein the realization of ones place in
capitalistic societies is agonistic.
Capitalism for Marx and his followers is always in the process of contradicting itself, hence the possibility
of a revolution within the working class is inevitable.
Labour and the Total Man
For Marx, the idea of a human person lies on how humans can realize itself socially through labor.
Work for man is the expression of his being. Not only should work fulfill the basic needs of man, it
should also allow man to achieve a sense of self-realisation.
Humanity achieves self-realisation through the social nature of labour. By producing products that are
valued within society, man is affirmed by his community, which in part, gives meaning to mans
existence.
The Rise of Capitalism
With the introduction of Capitalism, as a theory of economics that opts freedom from government
intervention, man has gradually alienated from the fruits of his own labour.
The alienation from labour is a consequence of the growing need to produce and to consume goods.
With the introduction of machines that minimise labour, the social aspect of labour was eliminated, the
products of machines devaluated the products made by man.
Labourers experienced a competition from these machines, which in turn made them lose their
business.
Capitalism
The alienation of worker lead to the consolidation of work to a bigger and powerful enterprise owned by
the bourgeoisie.
Like powerful landlords, these elite controlled the economy by dominating it with the means of
production.
For example, a weaver or a textile manufacturer in the traditional sense of artisanship and
craftsmanship, would have to compete against machinised production which would sell textiles and
fabrics for a much more cheaper and bigger volume.
Labourers and craftsmen in this sense, had to abandon their work, and be under the capitalist mode of
production.
Consequences of Capitalism
Labour has become an alienating activity under the principles of capitalism. With the emphasis on
producing cheap goods in large volumes, artisans and craftsmen who worked traditionally lost in the
competition because of the monopoly of the means and raw materials for production.
On the plus side, Capitalism has made more products affordable for the average consumer.
However, the affordability of the product, meant that one had to be a part of the system to enjoy its
benefits.
The Ford Model T, for example, is a case wherein a consumer product produced efficiently and cheaply
in huge quantities.
The invention of the assembly line system, has mechanized the process of production in factories.
A labourer, thus, need not know how to build a car, but only perform the task assigned to him that leads
to the production of the car.
Alienation
In his critique of Capitalism, Marx opts that work has been transformed as an alienating process in which
man no longer realizes himself as a social being.
The elimination of progress and recognition in mans work has destroyed the social nature of work.
The Total Man
Man for Marx is ought to be a subject that pursues his own intention without any control from ideals or
social structures.
In other words, man should be able to enjoy his life sensuously while at the same time, must pursue
things that satisfies his need for meaning.
Through labour, man should be able to satisfy his nature as a desiring entity. Not just through ideas, but
also through physical and material things.
It is through this that humanity achieves harmony in social relations, without coming into conflict with
his desires through repression.
Marx further asserts that Capitalism contains within it such contradictions that would later on disrupt its
own function and give rise to Communism.

Communism
Marxs proposal was to eliminate the domination of production by transforming production utilities as a
state-owned utilities.
Thus, factories, lands, and machineries are no longer owned and monopolized by private entities. Thus,
eliminating unfair practices and control over economic production.
Communism does not exactly eliminate the idea of private property, rather, it seeks to dissuade
monopolies of production by transforming the utilities of production into publicly owned properties.
Despite this, communism insists on the possibility of a revolution (be it armed or peaceful) as a way of
overcoming the inequities of capitalism.
The Legacy of Marxism
Communism has been experimented upon by countries such as Russia and China.
Their reading of Marxs work however, focused on the idea of revolution and the maintenance of
control over the people.
The problem with this however, is that this vulgar form of Marxism is against the intrinsic freedom of
any person to exercise their will.
Capitalism vs. Marxism (Socialism)
Despite the potent critique of Marxism, capitalism is of course prevalent and pervasive. But can they
exist together?
It would be problematic to purely conceive of an entirely socialist or Marxist perspective of society,
moreover, without the balance that socialism offers, capitalism itself will not progress and adapt.
Both Capitalism and Marxism looks at the interest of freedom for humans. While Capitalism looks at the
freedom of individuals from government control; Marxism looks at the freedom from economic control.
Both are complimentary in a sense that they look at both aspects of enlarging individual freedom.
Taoism
Taoism is the Chinese philosophical system that tries to understand the way or the path as it is
expressed by nature.
While it is a religion, it does not intend to worship a deity or a religious figure. Rather it tries to
understand the vision of a holistic reality guided by the interactions between opposites.
The founder of Taoism is Lao Zi, a sage that wrote the Tao Te Jing.
The vision of Taoism is to understand the ultimate underlying principle or rule of cause or simply the
way of all things.
The universe for Lao Zi expresses harmony, purpose, order and calm power. What causes suffering and
harm is when we understand the parts without understanding the whole.
Part of this doctrine is to understand the invariables or the rules of changes. For example, when a thing
reaches its extreme, it reverts.
The doctrine of Taoism has three phases:
Preservation of life and avoidance of injury.
2) Discovery of the laws underlying the changes of things in the universe.
3) Transcendence of the world, seeing things from a higher point of view.
As an ethical system, Taoism insist on knowing and trusting the nature of things. By understanding this,
we can avoid harm, pain, suffering, and unhappiness.
Basic Doctrines
The Tao is a concept that is difficult to express, as the Tao Te Jing states: The Tao that can be talked
about is not the true Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The word Tao literally means the way.
The Tao is the all-embracing origin of all things, the first principle from which all appearances arise; it is
the ground of all beings, the underlying reality that sustains the universe and makes ongoing existence
and activity possible.
For Lao Zi, we cannot see the Tao for it is not manifested in the senses, but without Tao, there would be
no consciousness of anything.
The Tao is the way that brings into being, by various stages, the whole creation, physical, mental and
spiritual,
The manifestation of the Tao is its power called Te. Te is the power of the Tao revealed in the world,
together with the virtue that this power brings in anyone or anything that follows the way.
Basic Concepts
Virtue for Taoism is the effortless exertion of genuineness of oneself. It is the avoidance of superficiality,
artificiality, and pretension.
Nature, for the Taoist, is the ultimate expression of the Tao because it does not exert itself artificially.
The only way to know the Tao is through its effects, forces, and consequences. It is the origin of the
Universe, hence the origin of the origin.
The Tao gives birth to the One (Chi). The one give birth to the two. The Two give birth to the three. The
Three give birth to every living thing. All things are held in yin, and carry yang. And they are held
together in the ChI of teeming energy.
Yin and Yang
The two twin forces of yin and yang constitutes the continuous interaction between two opposing
forces.
Yin is the passive element, in some texts it is referred to as the feminine force. It is negative, dark, and
destructive.
Yang is the strong element, positive, light, and constructive.
The constant interaction of the two emanates the cycle of things, death, life, full, empty, etc.
Both are equally important in the action of things.

The interaction between the two is the manifestation of the natural order of things. Things, therefore,
could not be understood separate from others.
A wise person realizes that nothing is absolutely permanent, conditions call up opposite conditions, the
bad produces the good, unfortunate circumstances can change into something good in the future.
It represents the balance of opposites in the universe. When they are equally present, all is calm. When
one is outweighed by the other, there is confusion and disarray.
The Union of Relative Opposites
Taoism believes that if there is one ultimate reality, then strict distinctions are in a sense arbitrary and
misleading. Nothing is purely matter or purely spirit, nothing is completely female or male, bad or good.
The good and bad both exist in an everlasting exchange.
Rain for example is good in time of drought and bad in the time of flood.
Even in flux, the movement of the great Tao, which can be studied in nature and through calm
contemplation.
The chaos and disorder that we can see in things are only apparent, they are interpretations and
judgment from limited perspectives.
The wise person recognizes the working of the Tao and embraces Yin and Yang.
Wu-Wei: The Doctrine of Inaction
Wu-Wei literally means without action. While we do not exactly take the concept literally, it refers to
what we can call as effortless action or an action without action.
The goal of Wu-Wei is to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium or alignment with Tao.
The universe for the Taoist works harmoniously according to its own ways.
When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts the harmony.
Taoism does not identify mans will as the root problem, rather, it asserts that man must place his will in
harmony with the natural universe.
By knowing this, man should align himself to the movement of the world, not resisting it, but flowing his
own will with it.
The Sage is occupied with the unspoken and acts without effort. Teaching without verbosity, producing
without possessing, creating without regard to result, claiming nothing, the Sage has nothing to lose.
Wu Wei has also been translated as creative quietude, or the art of letting-be.
The concept of Wu Wei is often described as performing a selfless act.
In Taoist teaching, the good is unknowable and a selfless act can only be performed by someone in an
egoless state.
Every act is performed by someone in the usual way of things has some kind of reward attached to it
and thus serves as a reinforcement of the ego.
To perform a selfless act one must let go of ones ego and pass into an altered state of consciousness. In
this case, every act is selfless because the ego ceases to exist in ones action.