Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, III.1

Lecture of 21st January, 1981.

Foucault discusses dreams in this lecture. They have a particular relation with subjectivity  across cultures, as they seem to be something that belongs in a very strong way to subjectivity, raising questions of the truth of subjectivity and also questions of the way that subjectivity may be misled by illusion. Though it is a cross-cultural question, it is not one independent of culture and Foucault does not even say it arises in all cultures, beginning the lecture with a reference to his own western limited point of view. This may be partly about distancing himself from Freud, or at least suggesting that psychoanalytic theory is to some degree culturally dependent and therefore should be open to revision in different cultural contexts, or maybe as only applying to a limited set of cultures.

Foucault refers to the issue of subjectivity, truth, and dreams, as appearing in Descartes, which of course brings up a topic Foucault addressed in History of Madness and became the theme a famous debate with Derrida, arising out of Derrida’s long review article ‘Cogito and the History of Madness’ (collected in Writing and Difference). Anyway, Foucault suggest the main issue of concern in the background to Descartes is the truth of the truth, the relation between subjectivity and the truth of the world or the truth of the object. The dream poses a threat to this relation, and a possible discordance with the demand of classical (Foucault presumably means early modern here) science for the truth of truth.

The truth of the truth is presumably a reference for the demand that particular truth claims have guarantees to their truth based in scientific method and reasoning. Foucault suggests that in the 18th century the question is one of reality of the truth of truth, starting with Kant and becoming increasingly clear as taken up by Schopenhauer and then Nietzsche. Presumably what Foucault is referring to is a questioning of the reality of scientific claims even given that ‘true’ observations are backed by ‘true’ laws. Kant famously suggest that he is associated with a Copernican Revolution in philosophy in which it is seen that laws of nature come from the structure of the mind/ego rather than from observations. In Schopenhauer that is taken up as a more radical kind of questioning on an objective stable nature since laws of science are representations imposed on the restless changing universal will. Nietzsche suggested that the ‘truth’ sought by science is a moralising urge to find stability and order in nature, of a kind that God (if such a thing existed) would create, but otherwise need not exist. Nietzsche also considered the idea that science might stop as a critical enterprise in arriving at final ‘truths’. Nietzsche regards this as a danger to human creativity, which would lose a major stimulus.

Presumably the reason that Foucault thinks the question becomes progressively more clear is that for Kant there is a thing-in-itself behind the phenomenal appearance of a thing and certainty in science, while for Schopenhauer scientific laws are really imaginary and the ‘thing-in-itself’ can only be an indeterminate will, while for Nietzsche the entire scientific enterprise tries to impose a deep order on the chaos of nature, in which the best part of science is that which accepts changing theories and invention rather than trying to freeze on method and one set of theories as the final truth. So in Kant: absolute laws from the nature of an absolute universal subjectivity. referring to a universe of things in themselves In Schopenhauer: laws are representations of a more variable subjectivity imposed on the indeterminacy of universal will. In Nietzsche: laws are inventions of variable subjectivity referring to a phenomenal richness of nature which can never be captured by laws, and these keep being reinvented. variable subjectivity and chance take over from absolute subjectivity and necessity.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

One thought on “Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, III.1

  1. Pingback: Barry Stocker on Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth | Progressive Geographies

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