Michel Foucault Quotes

This is a list of my favorite Michel Foucault quotes.

Paul-Michel Foucault was a writer, historian, philosopher and political activist who was born on October 15, 1926 in Poitiers, France and died on June 25, 1984 in Paris, France. Michel Foucault’s work mainly focused on the relationship between power and knowledge and how affect society through societal institutions.

As an author, Michel Foucault wrote books like Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality, Madness and Civilization, The Order of Things, The Archaeology of Knowledge, The Birth of the Clinic, The Birth of Biopolitics, Society Must Be Defended and many others.

Here are some of the best Michel Foucault quotes on love, education, power, truth, death, discourse, knowledge, freedom, sexuality, discipline, punishment, madness, civilization and so much more:

Michel Foucault Quotes On Love

Michel Foucault Quotes On Love

1. The best moment of love is when the lover leaves in the taxi. -Michel Foucault

2. I am hopelessly in love with a memory. An echo from another time, another place.

Michel Foucault

3. True love is first, love which does not conceal, and it does not conceal in two senses. First, it does not conceal because it has nothing to hide. It has nothing shameful which has to be hidden. It does not shun the light. It is willing, and is such that it is always willing to show itself in front of witnesses. It is also a love which does not conceal its aims. True love does not hide the true objective that it seeks to obtain from the one it loves. it is without subterfuge and does not employ roundabout means with its partner. It does not keep itself out of sight of witnesses, or of its partner. True love is love without disguise. -Michel Foucault

4. Second, true love is an unalloyed love, that is to say, without mixture of pleasure and displeasure. It is also a love in which sensual pleasure and the friendship of souls do not intermingle. To that extend it is therefore a pure love because unalloyed. -Michel Foucault

5. Third, true love (alethes eros) is love which is in line with what is right, what is correct. It is a direct (euthus) love. It has nothing contrary to the rule or custom. And finally, true love is love which is never subject to change or becoming. It is an incorruptible love which remains always the same. -Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault Quotes On Education

Michel Foucault Quotes On Education

6. All teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power. -Michel Foucault

7. Schools serve the same social functions as prisons and mental institutions – to define, classify, control, and regulate people. -Michel Foucault

8. Education may well be, as of right, the instrument whereby every individual, in a society like our own, can gain access to any kind of discourse. But we well know that in its distribution, in what it permits and in what it prevents, it follows the well-trodden battle-lines of social conflict. Every educational system is a political means of maintaining or of modifying the appropriation of discourse, with the knowledge and the powers it carries with it.

Michel Foucault

9. The history of thought, of knowledge, of philosophy, of literature seems to be seeking, and discovering, more and more discontinuities, whereas history itself appears to be abandoning the irruption of events in favor of stable structures. -Michel Foucault

10. Knowledge doesn’t really form part of human nature. Conflict, combat, the outcome of the combat, and, consequently, risk and chance are what gives rise to knowledge. Knowledge is not instinctive; it is counter instinctive, just as it is not natural but counter natural. -Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault Quotes On Power

Michel Foucault Quotes On Power

11. Where there is power, there is resistance. -Michel Foucault

12. Power is tolerable only on condition that it mask a substantial part of itself. Its success is proportional to its ability to hide its own mechanisms. -Michel Foucault

13. The strategic adversary is fascism… the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us. -Michel Foucault

14. The university and in a general way, all teaching systems, which appear simply to disseminate knowledge, are made to maintain a certain social class in power; and to exclude the instruments of power of another social class. -Michel Foucault

15. Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.

Michel Foucault

16. In its function, the power to punish is not essentially different from that of curing or educating. -Michel Foucault

17. Power is also exerted over the body, not so much as physical punishment, but as ideological orders. -Michel Foucault

18. The individual, with his identity and characteristics, is the product of a relation of power exercised over bodies, multiplicities, movements, desires, forces. -Michel Foucault

19. If repression has indeed been the fundamental link between power, knowledge, and sexuality since the classical age, it stands to reason that we will not be able to free ourselves from it except at a considerable cost. -Michel Foucault

20. Discipline may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a ‘physics’ or ‘anatomy’ of power, a technology. -Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault Quotes On Truth

Michel Foucault Quotes On Truth

21. Self-attachment is the first sign of madness, but it is because man is attached to himself that he accepts error as truth, lies as reality, violence and ugliness as beauty and justice.

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault Quotes On Death

Michel Foucault Quotes On Death

22. Death left its old tragic heaven and became the lyrical core of man: his invisible truth, his visible secret. -Michel Foucault

23. Death as the destruction of all things no longer had meaning when life was revealed to be a fatuous sequence of empty words, the hollow jingle of a jester’s cap and bells.

Michel Foucault

24. The fear before the absolute limit of death becomes interiorized in a continual process of ionization. -Michel Foucault

25. Sadism is a massive cultural fact that appeared precisely at the end of the eighteenth century and that constitutes one of the greatest conversions of the occidental imagination, madness of desire, the insane delight of love and death in the limitless presumption of appetite. -Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault Quotes On Discourse

Michel Foucault Quotes On Discourse

26. The manifest discourse, therefore, is really no more than the repressive presence of what it does not say; and this ‘not-said’ is a hollow that undermines from within all that is said. -Michel Foucault

27. What, do you imagine that I would take so much trouble and so much pleasure in writing, do you think that I would keep so persistently to my task, if I were not preparing – with a rather shaky hand – a labyrinth into which I can venture, into which I can move my discourse… in which I can lose myself and appear at last to eyes that I will never have to meet again. I am no doubt not the only one who writes in order to have no face. Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write. -Michel Foucault

28. Discourse is not the majestically unfolding manifestation of a thinking, knowing, speaking subject, but, on the contrary, a totality, in which the dispersion of the subject and his discontinuity with himself may be determined.

Michel Foucault

29. Discourse is not life; its time is not your time; in it, you will not be reconciled to death; you may have killed God beneath the weight of all that you have said; but don’t imagine that, with all that you are saying you will make a man that will live longer than he. -Michel Foucault

30. The history of ideas, then, is the discipline of beginnings and ends, the description of obscure continuities and returns, the reconstitution of developments in the linear form of history. But it can also, by that very fact, describe, from one domain to another, the whole interplay of exchanges and intermediaries: it shows how scientific knowledge is diffused, gives rise to philosophical concepts, and takes form perhaps in literary works; it shows how problems, notions, themes may emigrate from the philosophical field where they were formulated to scientific or political discourses; it relates work with institutions, social customs or behavior, techniques, and unrecorded needs and practices; it tries to revive the most elaborate forms of discourse in the concrete landscape, in the midst of the growth and development that witnessed their birth. It becomes therefore the discipline of interferences, the description of the concentric circles that surround works, underline them, relate them to one another, and insert them into whatever they are not. -Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality Quotes

Michel Foucault: The History of Sexuality Quotes

31. There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses. -Michel Foucault

32. Power is tolerable only on condition that it masks a substantial part of itself. Its success is proportional to an ability to hide its own mechanisms. -Michel Foucault

33. Under the authority of a language that had been carefully expurgated so that it was no longer directly named, sex was taken charge of, tracked down as it were, by a discourse that aimed to allow it no obscurity, no respite. -Michel Foucault

34. Resistances do not derive from a few heterogeneous principles; but neither are they a lure or a promise that is of necessity betrayed. They are the odd term in relations of power; they are inscribed in the latter as an irreducible opposite. -Michel Foucault

35. The appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and “psychic hermaphroditism” made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of “perversity”; but it also made possible the formation of a “reverse” discourse: homosexuality began to speak in its own behalf, to demand that its legitimacy or “naturality” be acknowledged, often in the same vocabulary, using the same categories by which it was medically disqualified.

Michel Foucault

36. We demand that sex speak the truth and we demand that it tell us our truth, or rather, the deeply buried truth of that truth about ourselves which we think we possess in our immediate consciousness. -Michel Foucault

37. It is not the activity of the subject of knowledge that produces a corpus of knowledge, useful or resistant to power, but power-knowledge, the processes and struggles that transverse it and of which it is made up, that determines the forms and possible domains of knowledge. -Michel Foucault

38. Through the various discourses, legal sanctions against minor perversions were multiplied; sexual irregularity was annexed to mental illness; from childhood to old age, a norm of sexual development was defined and all the possible deviations were carefully described; pedagogical controls and medical treatments were organized; around the least fantasies, moralists, but especially doctors, brandished the whole emphatic vocabulary of abomination. -Michel Foucault

39. In actual fact. The manifold sexualities – those which appear with the different ages (sexualities of the infant or the child), those which become fixated on particular tastes or practices (the sexuality of the invert, the gerontophile, the fetishist), those which, in a diffuse manner, invest relationships (the sexuality of doctor and patient, teacher and student, psychiatrist and mental patient), those which haunt spaces (the sexuality of the home, the school, the prison)- all form the correlate of exact procedures of power. -Michel Foucault

40. One had to speak of sex; one had to speak publicly and in a manner that was not determined by the division between licit and illicit, even if the speaker maintained the distinction for himself (which is what these solemn and preliminary declarations were intended to show): one had to speak of it as of a thing to be not simply condemned or tolerated but managed, inserted into systems of utility, regulated for the greater good of all, made to function according to an optimum. Sex was not something one simply judged; it was a thing one administered. -Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault: Discipline And Punish Quotes

Michel Foucault: Discipline And Punish Quotes

41. Visibility is a trap. -Michel Foucault

42. There is no glory in punishing. -Michel Foucault

43. The ‘Enlightenment’, which discovered the liberties, also invented the disciplines. -Michel Foucault

44. Punishment of a less immediately physical kind, a certain discretion in the art of inflicting pain, a combination of more subtle, more subdued sufferings, deprived of their visible display, should not all this be treated as a special case, an incidental effect of deeper changes? -Michel Foucault

45. Discipline ‘makes’ individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise. It is not a triumphant power…it is a modest, suspicious power, which functions as a calculated, but permanent economy. -Michel Foucault

46. At the heart of the procedures of discipline, it manifests the subjection of those who are perceived as objects and the objectification of those who are subjected. The superimposition of the power relations and knowledge relations assumes in the examination all its visible brilliance. -Michel Foucault

47. A utopia of judicial reticence: take away life, but prevent the patient from feeling it; deprive the prisoner of all rights, but do not inflict pain; impose penalties free of all pain. Recourse to psycho-pharmacology and to various physiological ‘disconnectors’, even if it is temporary, is a logical consequence of this ‘non-corporal’ penalty. -Michel Foucault

48. Traditionally, power was what was seen, what was shown, and what was manifested…Disciplinary power, on the other hand, is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility. In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen. Their visibility assures the hold of the power that is exercised over them. It is this fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection. And the examination is the technique by which power, instead of emitting the signs of its potency, instead of imposing its mark on its subjects, holds them in a mechanism of objectification. In this space of domination, disciplinary power manifests its potency, essentially by arranging objects. The examination is, as it were, the ceremony of this objectification.

Michel Foucault

49. Today, criminal justice functions and justifies itself only by this perpetual reference to something other than itself, by this unceasing reinscription in non-juridical systems. -Michel Foucault

50. There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations. -Michel Foucault

51. The chronicle of a man, the account of his life, his historiography, written as he lived out his life formed part of the rituals of his power. The disciplinary methods reversed this relation, lowered the threshold of describable individuality and made of this description a means of control and a method of domination. -Michel Foucault

52. The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the social worker-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements. -Michel Foucault

53. The examination combines the techniques of an observing hierarchy and those of a normalizing judgement. It is a normalizing gaze, a surveillance that makes it possible to qualify, to classify and to punish. It establishes over individuals a visibility through which one differentiates them and judges them. That is why, in all the mechanisms of discipline, the examination is highly ritualized. In it are combined the ceremony of power and the form of the experiment, the deployment of force and the establishment of truth. -Michel Foucault

54. Punishment, then, will tend to become the most hidden part of the penal process. This has several consequences: it leaves the domain of more or less everyday perception and enters that of abstract consciousness; its effectiveness is seen as resulting from its inevitability, not from its visible intensity; it is the certainty of being punished and not the horrifying spectacle of public punishment that must discourage crime; the exemplary mechanics of punishment changes its mechanisms. As a result, justice no longer takes public responsibility for the violence that is bound up with its practice. -Michel Foucault

55. But let there be no misunderstanding: it is not that a real man, the object of knowledge, philosophical reflection or technological intervention, has been substituted for the soul, the illusion of theologians. The man described for us, whom we are invited to free, is already in himself the effect of a subjection more profound than himself. A ‘soul’ inhabits him and brings him to existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body. The soul is the effect and instrument of a political anatomy; the soul is the prison of the body. -Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault: Madness And Civilization Quotes

Michel Foucault: Madness And Civilization Quotes

56. What desire can be contrary to nature since it was given to man by nature itself? -Michel Foucault

57. This knowledge, so inaccessible, so formidable, the Fool, in his innocent idiocy, already possesses. -Michel Foucault

58. People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does. -Michel Foucault

59. Self-attachment is the first sign of madness, but it is because man is attached to himself that he accepts error as truth, lies as reality, violence and ugliness as beauty and justice. -Michel Foucault

60. Nervous sufferers are the most irritable, that is, have the most sensibility: tenuousness of fiber, delicacy of organism; but they also have an easily impressionable soul, an unquiet heart, too strong a sympathy for what happens around them. -Michel Foucault

61. And now, if we try to assign a value, in and of itself, outside its relations to the dream and with error, to classical unreason, we must understand it not as reason diseased, or as reason lost or alienated, but quite simply as reason dazzled. -Michel Foucault

62. The marvellous logic of the mad which seems to mock that of the logicians because it resembles it so exactly, or rather because it is exactly the same, and because at the secret heart of madness, at the core of so many errors, so many absurdities, so many words and gestures without consequence, we discover, finally, the hidden perfection of a language. -Michel Foucault

63. Confined on the ship, from which there is no escape, the madman is delivered to the river with its thousand arms, the sea with its thousand roads, to that great uncertainty external to everything. He is a prisoner in the midst of what is the freest, the openest of routes: bound fast at the infinite crossroads. He is the Passenger par excellence: that is, the prisoner of the passage. And the land he will come to is unknown—as is, once he disembarks, the land from which he comes. He has his truth and his homeland only in that fruitless expanse between two countries that cannot belong to him.

Michel Foucault

64. Madness is the false punishment of a false solution, but by its own virtue it brings to light the real problem, which can then be truly resolved. -Michel Foucault

65. Death as the destruction of all things no longer had meaning when life was revealed to be a fatuous sequence of empty words, the hollow jingle of a jester’s cap and bells. -Michel Foucault

66. All life was finally judged by this degree of irritation: abuse of things that were not natural, the sedentary life of cities, novel reading, theatergoing, immoderate thirst for knowledge. -Michel Foucault

67. Matthey, a Geneva physician very close to Rousseau‘s influence, formulates the prospect for all men of reason: ‘Do not glory in your state, if you are wise and civilized men; an instant suffices to disturb and annihilate that supposed wisdom of which you are so proud; an unexpected event, a sharp and sudden emotion of the soul will abruptly change the most reasonable and intelligent man into a raving idiot. -Michel Foucault

68. For the madness of men is a divine spectacle: “In fact, could one make observations from the Moon, as did Menippus, considering the numberless agitations of the Earth, one would think one saw a swarm of flies or gnats fighting among themselves, struggling and laying traps, stealing from one another, playing, gamboling, falling, and dying, and one would not believe the troubles, the tragedies that were produced by such a minute animalcule destined to perish so shortly. -Michel Foucault

69. Once leprosy had gone, and the figure of the leper was no more than a distant memory, these structures still remained. The game of exclusion would be played again, often in these same places, in an oddly similar fashion two or three centuries later. The role of the leper was to be played by the poor and by the vagrant, by prisoners and by the ‘alienated’, and the sort of salvation at stake for both parties in this game of exclusion is the matter of this study. -Michel Foucault

70. A symbolic unity formed by the languor of the fluids, by the darkening of the animal spirits and the shadowy twi­light they spread over the images of things, by the viscosity of the blood that laboriously trickles through the vessels, by the thickening of vapors that have become blackish, deleterious, and acrid, by visceral functions that have be­come slow and somehow slimy-this unity, more a product of sensibility than of thought or theory, gives melancholia its characteristic stamp. -Michel Foucault