The best article I read last weekend is Andrew Scull’s article in the Times of London questioning the scholarship of Michel Foucault, especially the one for his major work, “History of Madness.” Scull points out the fact that the previous English version of this work titled “Madness and Civilization” was shortened and too many chapters were left untranslated thus giving readers an incomplete picture of Foucault’s thesis. However, Scull argues that a thorough reading of “History of Madness” leads to the conclusion that Michel Foucault’s thesis in that work is unsubstantiated by scholarship even though complaisant readers and followers have accepted it. Sugary excerpt:
Foucault’s isolation from the world of facts and scholarship is evident throughout History of Madness. It is as though nearly a century of scholarly work had produced nothing of interest or value for Foucault’s project. What interested him, or shielded him, was selectively mined nineteenth-century sources of dubious provenance. Inevitably, this means that elaborate intellectual constructions are built on the shakiest of empirical foundations, and, not surprisingly, many turn out to be wrong.
I am not a great fan of Foucault, but I wonder whether philosophy is a science and whether the possibility that Michel Foucault’s assertions are unproven makes them irrelevant. In other words, if Andrew Scull happens to be right about the scholarly work upon which Foucault based his readings does it make Foucault’s philosophy irrelevant? I believe that Foucault has remained relevant all of these years because he puts his finger on something that may not have been scientifically provable, but that was essential for it led to important and existential questions.