Recently, while rereading some material in The Essential Works of Foucault, I came upon a passage that pulled me up short and then sent me flying from my English translation to the French original. The passage, from an interview in May, 1978, contains one of Foucault’s infamous attempts to sum up his life’s work. It starts with the assertion that “since the beginning,” Foucault has been asking himself a certain question: “What is history, given that there is continually being produced within it a separation of true and false?” He elaborates, then, expanding that question into four sub-questions: (1) “… in what sense is the production and transformation of the true/false division characteristic and decisive for our historicity?”; (2) “… in what specific ways has this relation operated in Western societies…?”; (3) “… what historical knowledge is possible of a history that itself produces the true/false distinction on which such knowledge depends?”; and (4) “… isn’t the most general of political problems the problem of truth?” (QM, 233). The paragraph ends with these extraordinary sentences: “How can one analyze the connection between ways of distinguishing true and false and ways governing oneself and others? The search for a new foundation for each of these practices, in itself and relative to the other, the will to discover a different way of governing oneself through a different way of dividing up true and false—this is what I would call ‘political spirituality’” (QM, 233).

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Copyright © 2003, Philosophy Documentation Center. Article first published online: 2003. DOI: 10.5840/philtoday200347Supplement6

The definitive version is available at: 10.5840/philtoday200347Supplement6

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McWhorter, Ladelle. "Foucault's Political Spirituality." Philosophy Today 47, no. Supplement (2003): 39-44. doi:10.5840/philtoday200347Supplement6.

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