"There is something ludicrous in philosophical discourse," Michel Foucault writes, "when it tries, from the outside, to dictate to others, to tell them where their truth is and how to find it... " (Foucault 1985, 9). In our age of moral relativism and multiculturalism, it is easy to hear in this sentence a simple condemnation of intellectuals who pose as authorities on questions of belief, and it is all too easy to agree; yes, of course, we ought not tell other people what to think. But given the issues, directions, and investments of Foucault's work, especially in The Use of Pleasure where this passage is to be found, I think this sort of soft relativistic reading of him is a great oversimplification, if not a total error. As I see it, Foucault's statement is not so much a disparagement of authority and authoritative pronouncement as it is a gesture toward a philosophical reorientation; Foucault is developing an alternative conception of what philosophical work might be. Within this re-orienting movement, authority ceases to be of very much concern, not because one comes to the realization that there are no authorities (there may well be) but because one ceases to be primarily concerned with pronouncement; that is, the formulation of true propositions is no longer one's primary philosophical goal. And once one ceases to focus one's energy onestablishing the truth of propositions, one is no longer likely to spend much time dictating to others which propositions they should hold true.
Copyright © 2004, University of Illinois Press. This chapter first appeared in Feminism and the Final Foucault.
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McWhorter, Ladelle. "Practicing Practicing." In Feminism and the Final Foucault, edited by Dianna Taylor and Karen Vintges, 143-162. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.