Biography of French Philosopher Michael Focault

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Born on October, 15th, 1926, Michael Foucault grew to become one of the 20th century’s most renowned philosophers. He was also a notable historian, sociologist and a notable critic and author who not only criticized social institutions such as; the prison system, or the existing political structures but also served to define human sexuality and psychiatry by eliminating all the myths surrounding the two critical subjects. One of the most acclaimed works of Foucault was The Order of Things, a comprehensive genealogical study of the development and structure of economics, natural sciences and linguistics in the 18th and the 19th centuries.

Apart from Order of Things, Foucault wrote extensively producing other renowned works which included; Madness and Unreason: History of Madness in the Classical Age, 1961; his doctorate thesis inspired by his career at a French psychiatrist hospital in the 1950s, the paper asserted the impossibility of separating madness and reason (Rajchman, 324). His book Archaeology of knowledge published in 1969 in which he challenged historical developments of man asserting that, history was defined by the present hence the validity of historical accounts was questionable and needed a totally different approach. In his book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), he seeks to redefine the organization of various power structures deeming them illusionary, and a concealment of the actual power operations (Miller, 123).

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He justifies his point by asserting that all power institutions such as the prison, army, and even the school instil discipline on their respective subjects via both real and illusionary surveillance techniques. The History of Sexuality was a series of books which sought to redefine human sexuality by relating the scientific understanding of humans as social being and the combined limitations of the ethical and moral sections of every individual (Amstrong, 281). The work affirms that pleasure is found in self discipline, regulation and free will, rather than bowing down to moral or ethical laws.

Foucault is known for his originality and representative thought throughout his book the Order of Things.

The book defines the relationship between historical sciences and their products. It mainly asserts that, all periods of history have had to certain extent, a degree of truth which were constituted as acceptable during that period. The opening idea is the comprehensive critical inquiry with the analogy of Diego Velázquez’s painting “Las Meninas.” Critical thinking is the ability to objectively analyze a situation or a circumstance. In the painting, criticality is firstly linked to the philosophical concept of appearance and reality (Focault,8).

The painting process and all its representation are virtual and largely representative; a situation Foucault calls the model. The painter stands on the right side in which he is working on, yet this appears differently to the spectators observing him; while the painter standing in front of the canvas has a clear view of the painting, the spectators at the back only see plain canvas though the painter, is visible to them, a feat that could be non existent if the painter moves too close to the tall canvas. He asserts the limitation of human perception of reality, asserting that only the painter sees whatever painting is on the canvas, other spectators fails to see since they are unable to view the painting.

 The only link between the painting and the spectators is only inferable on the painter’s gaze. Foucault tries to analyze every aspect of the situation, which he calls the model, in which he asks questions, making detailed observation to uncover assumption and define terms based on sound logic and solid evidence; all of which are the epitome of critical thinking.

Critical thinking is further manifested in the description of the statement as Foucault asks pertinent questions; assess every statement and argument in details implying untold sense of curiosity. He distinguishes between objective and material reality asserting that the painting on the canvas is a representation of material reality while the painter at work is a representation of objective reality, (Focault, 4).  He seeks to find new solutions, and analyzes each and every one of his ideas logically. He analyses the paining model with an open mind, willing to examine each assumption, belief and opinion and weighing them against facts. He admits lack of understanding for certain information for example in the introductory part; the spectators are unable to uncover the details of the paintings due to situational limitations.

In the text, like the philosophers mind, Foucault tries to suspend judgement until all facts have been gathered, analyzed and considered. Each aspect of the situation; the painter observing the spectators, the spectators doing likewise, the presence of light which illuminates the face of the painter making the spectators to see him, the same light illuminating the faces of the spectators making the painter to observe them. He also notes that, the mirror in the room could also be a representation of reality since it would still reflect the arrangement of the room by respecting the representation of space, bringing in the philosophical element of doubt. He also notes that certain aspects of the model; such as the brush, the canvas, and the palette forms the material tools of representation. Every aspect of the paining is subject to proof which is examined closely with criticality.

Foucault sees the picture as being only a fragment of lines that serves to represent something in the eyes of the spectators yet its peculiarity. The description of the painting is rather complex a feat Foucault recognizes by asserting that there exists an infinite relation between language and painting (Focault, 6). The painting turns out to be multidimensional, reflecting various aspects of reality. It is imperative to note that, Foucault manages to clearly create a representation of the situation by critically analysing all the elements of the virtual situation although he also develops certain critical gaps which create doubt on this analysis. Criticality is signified throughout the text, in-depth analysis and persistent questioning of all facts present in the situation. He concludes this chapter, asserting that, for a representation to be truly valid and pure, it should be freed from all impeding factors, through an act of pure reason, the foundation of critical thinking and modern philosophical thought.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Timothy J. Michel Foucault: Philosopher. MLN, Vol. 107, No. 5,

Comparative Literature (Dec., 1992), pp. 1035-1036 The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Foucault, Michael. The Order of Things: Archaeology of Human Sciences.

New York: Random House Inc. 1977.

Miller, James. The Passion of Michel Foucault. London: HarperCollins, 1993.

Rajchman, John. Michel Foucault: The Freedom of Philosophy. Boston: John Willey

and Sons Inc, 1985.


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