I. Some Fundamental Concepts
Among other things, Foucault aimed to
the history of ideas.
the development of ideas as socially and historically situated. Thus, in contrast to Levi-
Straussian structuralism, which seeks to discover universal unconscious structures,
Foucault sought specific, historically and geographically localized, configurations of
knowledge which he called
A key concept for Foucault is that of the
an underlying matrix of
presuppositions which, in a given period, confines and directs the mind, making only
certain kinds of thoughts thinkable.
Somewhat like Thomas Kuhn’s
as a common structure within which the various, sometimes
conflicting, ideas of individual thinkers, schools and disciplines are formed.
the following example illustrate Foucault’s conception of the
[In] a certain old Chinese encyclopedia .
.. it is written that ‘animals
are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c)
tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h)
included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k)
drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just
broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a very long way off look like
flies.’ In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we
apprehend . . . as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the
limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking
Les mots et les choses
The Order of
In line with his
, Foucault divests the development of ideas of any
notion of either (1) progressive movement, or (2) necessary, predestined development.
How does the following quotation assert these points?
I am not concerned .
.. to describe the progress of knowledge towards
an objectivity in which today's science can finally be recognized; what
I am attempting to bring to light is the epistemological field, the
in which knowledge, apart from all criteria having reference
to its rational value or to its objective forms, grounds its positivity and
thereby manifests a history which is not that of its growing perfection,
but rather that of its conditions of possibility; in this account, what
should appear are those configurations within the
which have given rise to the diverse forms of empirical science. Such
an enterprise is not so much a history, in the traditional meaning of
that word, as an ‘
Les mots et les choses
As the preceding quotation indicates, in his early works Foucault can be seen as
of knowledge in order to dig up the buried layers of