Summary: Foucault’s View Of Modernity In What Is Enlightenment

Categories: Modernism

Foucault was French thinker, academic, philosopher, sociologist and psychologist who passed away in 1984. His works affected many academics and many thinkers even while he’s in life. According to Best and Kellner, Foucault’s work provides an innovative and comprehensive critique of modernity.’’ (1989, p. 37). So for understanding him, we have to look modernity and enlightenment as its historical progress.

Modernity is a concept that developed in the Enlightenment era. In Enlightenment, the philosophers like Kant believed that under some formulated rules humanity can progress much more that can people imagine.

To understand Foucault, it is necessary to look difference modernism and post-modernism. Modernism starting with Newton's finding of the force of gravity, people thought that there could be an objective reality that would attract and interest everyone.At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, Heisenberg's theory of relativity proved that subatomic particles could be found in different places at the same time. This concept develops subjective reality which is the basis for the post-modern perspective.

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Kant was one of the pioneer of Enlightenment era. He was a pessimist about human character. He believed that human nature has a tendency to choose bad, so for preventing this tendence, we have to certain rules to human practices. This awareness led him to formulate the human mind to replace with religious authority. He wants to replace authority of reason to authority of intelligence.Kant believed that the central government task was to provide freedom, but thought that freedom created a paradox in itself.

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If everyone makes his own wishes without thinking, what makes this action; nor said it would be of no use to the community. Kant advocated the reasoning of reason and reason over which they are captive as people move according to their passions. This logic and reason must be general.

For him, freedom is not the absence of government, a free society is not a society that offers people more opportunities to do everything they imagine. The good state represents the rational element of all of us. The good state should be of a structure that encourages everyone to be more reasonable. The good state manages according to a universally valid will that everyone can be free, so the government is ideally the externalized, institutionalized version of the best parts of ourselves.Foucault disagreed with Kant. He thought that institutions and general rules were not useful for everyone.

According to Best and Kellner ‘’Foucault distinguishes between two post-Renaissance eras: the classical era (1660-1800) and the modern era (1800-1950) .’’(1989: p. 37). According to Best and Kellner Foucault follows Nietzsche’s thoughts about Enlightenment.For Kant, there have to be certain rules for everybody need obey. This was the first starting point for Foucault because he thinks that institutions are a restriction mechanism for people. They say what to think to us while starting school. Institutions like school, courts, prisons are an obedience space for its citizens.For Foucault human constructed concept that design in the 19th century. He thought that modern states based on modernism had a certain pattern of citizens with all the devices of the state.Foucault said that even the punishment gets worse in the Modern era. He gave punishment example about it. In the Medieval era, public executions are a very common type of punish. This type of executions can lead public revolts which can be very problematic for the govern. After the Modern era, governments invented that they can punish people between closed doors so they build prisons.

Even he thinks that there is a very strong connection between knowledge and power. He also thinks that knowledge constructed concept from the people who have power. That’s why he was skeptic about the knowledge which imposes us in state institutions. He never denies that scientific knowledge such as medicine could be beneficial for humankind.


  1. (1989, p. 37). Postmodern Theory, Critical Interrogations, Steven Best and Douglas Kellner Chapter 2 – Foucault and the Critique of Modernity
  2. (1989, p. 37). Postmodern Theory, Critical Interrogations, Steven Best and Douglas Kellner Chapter 2 – Foucault and the Critique of Modernity
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Summary: Foucault’s View Of Modernity In What Is Enlightenment. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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