Hear Hours of Lectures by Michel Foucault: Recorded in English & French
Between 1961 and 1983
[Foucalt's speech in the video]
"I believe that the human has been If not a bad dream, a specter, at least a very particular figure, very historically determined and situated in our culture. It’s an invention.
In the 19th century and also the first of the 20th century, it is believed that the human was the fundamental reality of our interests.
One had the impression that the search for the truth about man had animated all research, perhaps of science, and for sure of philosophy.
When we look at things more closely, we have to ask if this idea of the human has basically always existed, and always there waiting to be taken up by science, by philosophy.
We have to wonder if this idea isn’t an illusion, an illusion of the 19th century. Until the end of the 18th century, until the French Revolution, we never dealt with the human as such. It’s curious that the notion of humanism that we attribute to the beginning, the notion is very recent.
You can’t find the term ‘humanism’ earlier because humanism is an invention of the late 19th century.
Before the 19th century, it can be said the human didn’t exist.
What existed were a number of problems, a certain number of forms of knowledge and thought, where it was a question of nature, or a question of truth, or a question of movement, a question of order, or a question of the imagination, or a question of representation, etc.
But it wasn’t actually a question of the human.
The human is a figure constituted near the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century which gave rise to what has been and still are called the human sciences.
This new notion of the human invented at the end of the 18th century also gave rise to humanism, the humanism of Marxism, of Existentialism, which are the most obvious expressions at present.
But, I believe that, paradoxically, the development of the human science is now leading to a disappearance of the human rather than an apotheosis of the human. Indeed, this is happening now with the human sciences. The human sciences did not discover the concrete essence of the individual, of kinds of human existence.
On the contrary, when you study, for example, the behavioral structures of family, as Levi Strauss did, or when you study the great European myths, as Dumezil did, or when you study the very history of our knowledge, you discover, not the positive truth in man. What one discovers is great of thought of large formal organizations which are like the ground in which individualities historically appear. Which means that current thought has completely reversed from a few years ago.
I think we are currently experiencing a great break with the 19th and early 20th century.
This break is at the bottom of our experience of not a rejection, but a distance from Sartre. I think that Sartre is a very great philosopher. But Sartre is still a man of the 19th century.
Why? Because Sartere’s whole enterprise is to make man in some way adequate for his own meaning. Satre’s whole enterprise consists in wanting to find what is absolutely authentic in human existence. He wants to bring a back to himself, the possessor of meaning which could escape him. Sartre’s thought is situated in the philosophy of alienation.
We wish to do just the opposite, to show, on the contrary, that what is individual, what is singular, what is properly lived as human is but a kind of glittering surface on top of large formal systems, and our thought must now rebuild those formal systems on which floats every so often the foam and image of man’s own existence.
-Let me ask a question. How can any political outlook atem from your work?
Of course, this is probably the question that is posed to all forms of reflection that are destroying a myth and which have not yet rebuild a new mythology.
For example, for a long time, philosophy ha a kinship with hology.
The role of philosophy was to define morality or what politics, we can and should deduce from the existence of God.
When philosophy and the culture discovered that “God is dead”,
It was immediately proclaimed that everything is permitted. If God is dead, morality isn’t possible. If God is dead, what policy could we adopt?
Experience has shown that moral and political reflection never had been more alive and abundant that it had from the moment of God’s death. And now that man is disappearing, the same question is asked that had been formally raised of God’s death.
If man is dead, all is possible, or more precisely, we’ll be told that all is necessary.
What is discovered in the death of God, what was discovered in the great absence of a supreme being, was a space for freedom.
What is now discovered in disappearance of man is a thin space left by man which must arise in the frame of a kind of necessity, the large network of system to which we belong and is to be necessary. Well, it’s likely that just as there’s a space for freedom left the death of God, for great political and moral systems, like that of Marxism, of Nietzsche, or of Exitentialism can be built.
We may see above this grid of necessities which we are trying to navigate, great political options, great moral options and we have to say that even if we don’t see it, since, after all, no one can prejudge the future.
It doesn’t matter if we don’t. It is being discovered in recent years that literature is no longer made just to entertain, no music just to provide visceral sensations. Well, I wonder if we won’t discover that thought an be used for something other than to prescribe to men what they have to do.
It would be all well and good if thought could think of itself entirely, if thought could uncover what unconscious in the very depths of what we think."
We will start from here to the future.
What will happen after the disappearance of man?