Michel Foucault
(Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Philosophy of History
Philosophy of Ethics
Philosophy of Society

  • Western societies jail fools, while older societies acknowledged their existence
  • Western societies repress the creative force of madness
  • Western societies torture the minds of criminals, whereas older societies tortured their bodies: prisons are the chief instrument of social control
  • Western societies control individuals by training their minds
  • Western societies are vast mechanisms of supervision and repression
  • Western society has developed "bio-power"
  • Liberal democratic societies are not any less oppressive than totalitarian regimes
  • History is not a monodimensional class struggle, but many parallel social conflicts (prisons, asylums, schools...)
  • We "know" the world through the theories we believe in
  • Epistemes (structures of knowledge) determine our experience in the world (humans are not autonomous sources of knowledge - "man is a recent invention")
  • The objects of science exist only insofar as science exists ("there was no life before biology")
  • Knowledge and power are identical
  • History of sexuality
  • Anatomo-politics (the politics of the human body)
  • Bio-politics (the politics of human population)

"Madness and Civilization"

Leprosy in the late Middle Ages was defeated by two phenomena: the Christian defeat in the Crusades, that cut off the source of the contagion, and the segregation of the victims in leprosaria ("lazar houses"). Death and madness in the early years of the Renaissance: the "Dance of Death" frescoes of the 15th century, Guyot Marchant's "Danse Macabre" (1485), Sebastian Brant's "Das Narrenschiff/ Ship of Fools" (1494), Hieronymus Bosch's "Ship of Fools" (1499), Erasmus' "Praise of Folly" (1509), culminating with Cervantes' "Don Quixote" (1615) and William Shakespeare's "King Lear" (1623).

In the classical age of Greek and Roman tragedy, one can see that madness and passion were considered closely related. There was a continuum leading from passion to madness. Most heroes had strong passion, hence at one end of that continuum there was non-heroism, then somewhere between non-heroism and madness there was heroism, which was the ultimate virtue. Madness was also viewed as a sign of another world.

In the age of the ship of fools, madness was dealth with by expelling the mad people just like criminals, invalids and the poor.

One century later expulsion was replaced by confinement. In the 17th century the English "house of correction", the French "Hospital General" and the German "Zuchthausern", sometimes created to put an end to begging, began to swell dramatically. Basically, society offered mad people and poor people and cripples and so forth an alternative to expulsion: confinement. On one hand society was willing to provide food and lodging, on the other hand it required the beneficiary to sacrifice individual freedom. The "Hospital General" was three things in one: a refuge, a labor camp and a moral institution. Ethics was being linked to labor, almost naturally.

Madness was equated with animal behavior and considered immoral. Madness was also linked to dreams, given the irrational nature of both. Unreason was viewed as a threat to reason. Madness was not the sign of another world but a threat to the world. There was no separation between physical and moral medication.

Psychology introduces a new form of medication: a dialogue with unreason. Neurology will introduce a new form of medication: brain surgery, just like surgery of any other organ.

(Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )