Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

We choose one philosophical book per month to read. Then we discuss it as a group.

Nominate books to be philosophy book of the month.


June 2017: The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

Post Reply

How do you rate Discipline and Punishment by Michel Foucault?

1 star - poor, recommend against reading it
No votes
2 stars - okay, fair
3 stars - good, recommend it
4 stars - excellent, amazing
Total votes: 5

User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 4197
Joined: January 20th, 2007, 6:24 pm
Favorite Philosopher: Diogenes the Cynic

Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by Scott » February 1st, 2012, 3:11 pm

Please use this topic to discuss the February 2012 philosophy book of the month, Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault.

What do you think of the book? With which points do you agree? With which points do you disagree and why?

Do you have any favorite quotes or short passages from the book that you would like to post?
Online Philosophy Club - Please tell me how to improve this website!

Check it out: Abortion - Not as diametrically divisive as often thought?

User avatar
New Trial Member
Posts: 3
Joined: December 5th, 2011, 11:37 pm

Re: Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by Pipernick » February 3rd, 2012, 12:49 am

Haven't had a chance to get my hands on a copy yet. I am looking forward to the discussion!

Posts: 12
Joined: August 25th, 2010, 6:09 am

Re: Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by Emilybaker » February 7th, 2012, 8:26 am

I think that Foucault produced one of the major contribution to the understanding of modern power. The intellectual revolution contained in The Birth of the Prison shouldn't be underestimated: Foucault points how discipline is imposed on the body, hence creating embodied dispositions to guide the subject's action. Because discipline is experienced as self-imposed, the origin of the power hence exercised is, to a certain extent, disguised. Another breakthrough lies in his analysis of the ubiquity of power: these embodied dispositions are produced on an everyday basis through hygiene habits or the structuring of space etc.
One critic that might nevertheless be addressed to him is that his framework could leave more room to human agency as power, in his account seems inescapable...

Posts: 10
Joined: June 26th, 2009, 1:15 pm

Re: Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by MarkLint » February 8th, 2012, 12:06 pm

I know Scott is likely aware of this, but just to let the rest of you know: The Partially Examined Life podcast covered this in our episode released a few weeks back. The discussion included Columbia post-doc Foucault specialist Katie McIntyre, who gave us a good picture of how this book fits in with his other work, and the discussion focused on Foucault's conception of power relations. Since the release of that episode, we've posted a number of follow-up links and discussions on our blog, e.g. there's another podcast by Historyish on Foucault, a lecture by Rick Rodrick, a video of Foucault talking about the book, some comparisons with Heidegger, and other things, so folks here may want to go check there for some of that to bring into the discussion here if desired (just search "partially examined life;" I'm apparently not authorized to post URLs here).

I think this was a fun book (well, the part of it I read for our podcast, which was maybe 150 pages). The historical details are interesting, even if (as I understand) he has been criticized as a historian for his characterizations of the overall shift he's trying to focus on. As a political work, I find it a bit hysterical: I'm not overly worried myself about our society becoming a panopticon. 1984ish scenarios always assume that someone has the time and energy to give a crap about you and what you do, and I think in our information-overload age, the odds of that happening are slim. Yes, you need to take precautions against identity theft, and stalking perhaps, and not post stupid things on the Internet that future employers will see, and yes, I'm sure it's scary if the government has decided that you're a potential threat (though that's always been the case, even pre-Internet age), but that doesn't add up for me to anything like what Foucault describes.

User avatar
New Trial Member
Posts: 1
Joined: February 15th, 2012, 11:49 am

Re: Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by Kristy77 » February 15th, 2012, 12:14 pm

It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the longer term and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this submit and if I may just I wish to counsel you some fascinating issues or tips. Maybe you could write subsequent articles relating to this article. I wish to read more issues approximately it!

Posts: 105
Joined: December 24th, 2011, 12:54 pm

Re: Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by Scottie » February 19th, 2012, 12:32 am

MarkLint wrote:As a political work, I find it a bit hysterical: I'm not overly worried myself about our society becoming a panopticon. 1984ish scenarios always assume that someone has the time and energy to give a crap about you and what you do, and I think in our information-overload age, the odds of that happening are slim.

I think sometimes people are in the twilight concerning their understanding of the amount of available computing power given over to these tasks. Sure, many of us have "supercomputers" by decade old standards and that's good enough for most folks. The gap between what's available to the military/security state and the consumer is vast and grows more vast each year. Think of the power necessary for a real time heads up display in a fighter jet and then try to think of available power minus those space constraints.

I don't think it's a case of "giving a crap what we do" in that "they" don't really care what I had for lunch yesterday. Data mining is aimed at culling out key words and word combinations which may be parts of salient political discussions. We don't really know the threshold for being considered (worthy?) of being "on the radar". I think that anyone with more than several brain cells to rub together understands that the ruling class has a vested interest in maintaining their pre eminence, at pretty much any cost.
There is no smiley. . .

User avatar
Posts: 196
Joined: February 27th, 2012, 3:25 am
Favorite Philosopher: Jean Baudrillard

Re: Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by Grendel » February 27th, 2012, 7:44 am

Governments do seem to want to steer society towards a panoptica, however Jean Baudrillard in Fatal Strategies mentions (from memory) that the US government asked Exxon for a report on all their global operations. The company responded with a report 250 volumes long that would have taken over a century to read. He says we must put information on a diet. The problem facing any panoptica is the sheer volume of information it will generate and the effort and expense needed to process it. Monitoring the world's emanils sounds fine in practice, but almost 2 billion are sent per day.

User avatar
Posts: 28
Joined: August 13th, 2010, 12:24 am

Re: Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by Love-of-wisdom » February 29th, 2012, 12:00 pm

I'd like to respond to #3 for "The origin of the power hence exercised is, to a certain extent, disguised. "
What "the conception of power relations" is referred to concerning "the self-imposed" and "the disguised"?
If Foucault produced one of the major contribution to the understanding of modern power, then what is the structure of the power where men is posited in Foucault 's writting?

Let's examine these two people the IS and the IFs, so as to evaluate how the "embodied dispositions" to guide our subject's action:

IS and IFs was borne into the world at the same moment in a very different social and cultural environment respectively.
Mr. IS is the son of an illiterate farmer of the third-world, who barely read and think beyond the present-at-hand obsession.
Mr. IFs is the son of a professor who teaches philosophy in a developed country. IFs was properly nurtured and become a professor later. IFs enjoys a good and healthy life. While IS is never educated and followed his father's step become an illiterate farmer, who later committed a serious crime then jailed for his remaining lifetime.

Here it raises a question, if men is borne of equal and free under the natural order, then how come the subject's action and corresponding consequence is so different? What is the "disguised" power to be "self-imposed" upon?

To this point, we need to introduce the second examination:
Suppose our Ms. Emily flips a coin, then which side of the coin would touch the ground must fairly depend on the law of probability, says a physicist Mr. Baker, but how true is that?
A thinker, Mr. Thought-virus shakes his head: nope! it just isn't a matter of mere chance. Because when Emily exerts force on the coin, it is not in a vacuum state. The coin is being bound by space and time in all directions. There are force from the spinning Earth, the sun and the rest cosmic bodies around; there are forces come from the field of dark energy and the space of unknown elements; and there maybe even more... who knows, right?

What Mr. Thought-virus just pointed out is clearly a demonstration of that the idea of " there is some embodied dispositions to guide the subject's action" must not attribute or credit to a single disguised power.
Power relations is not merely self-imposed, or having an origin of the power hence exercised, but can make reference to multiple causes, even infinite exerting forces in relation to each other.

The tragedy of Mr. IS is not begun at his birth. The tragedy of his immediate culture is not begun at the moment of creation of men by Nature. Reality is indeed a co-creation by all elements in multi-facet topology of relations. Emily may ask "what about free will?", "don't culture has free will?" , "aren't individual freely to think and choose?"
Mr. Thought-virus answers: can a coin decide which side it will touch on the ground? The coin may has freedom of will only if it has gained the power of idea, will and autonomous motion without reference to any external force. Again it inevitably ends up at a philosophical paradox.

Therefore, God will laugh whenever Mr. Thought-virus thinks.
The power of God\Men hence exercised is, to a certain extent, disguised as The Truth, while in fact, the paradox.
If we overcome the difficulties of this major cognitive threshold, this world will end, but men is freed, forever :D .

User avatar
Posts: 181
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 8:40 pm

Discipline and punish

Post by HANDSON » July 2nd, 2012, 10:05 am

Foucault's meticulous history of the development of the prison system and the evolution of punishments has me thinking about how necessary enforcement and prosecution is today. Don't get me wrong, I know there is a percentage of the population who are social deviants, that require attention but, I'm thinking the majority, the vast majority of us have significant ingrained ethical and moral behaviors that inhibit breaking the rules. I ask myself, what sort of illegality am I inclined toward that I resist performing because of retributive considerations? I suppose, if enforcement and punishment were suddenly withdrawn I might start stretching traffic rules and then maybe taking advantage of the IRS, but here's my question:

If retribution, punishment was not an issue what sort of advantages would we claim for ourselves? How long would civilization hold together? How long would it take for chaos to ensue?
Belief is truth to the believer.

Posts: 12
Joined: June 6th, 2012, 9:02 am

Re: Discipline and punish

Post by DeadNotSleeping » July 2nd, 2012, 11:19 am

Well, to answer your last question,you could take into account the distant cousin of libertarianism, egoist-anarchy. Egoist-anarchy, if I remember correctly, is the belief that man would sustain himself without laws due to the fact that man is naturally good. So the question expands, is man naturally good or evil? From your first paragraph I get the feeling that you're more optimistic than most, that we really don't want to do bad things. But is that because we are naturally good or because we are afraid of the retribution, or negative reinforcement? All of our laws are based upon negative reinforcement at first glance, but I think that in actuality it's positive reinforcement that allows society to come together and fuse our ethics and personal morals to create a working unit. I don't think that civilization would collapse in the long-run of an absence of laws, but initially if there was some event that caused law-enforcement to disappear that there would be a short-term phase of true anarchy, with the whole raping and pillaging thing happening. Take for instance Hurricane Katrina, after the levies broke there was total anarchy in the streets, but how long would it have lasted if the government had not intervened?

User avatar
Posts: 181
Joined: June 1st, 2012, 8:40 pm

Re: Discussion of Discipline and Punishment

Post by HANDSON » July 4th, 2012, 9:26 am

Perhaps we need to refine our hypotheticals. Let's assume this situation: the sudden elimination of enforcement and therefore punishment for disobeying societies rules occurs outside of a disaster or catastrophe that would take from people their basic needs (as happened with katrina). That is everyone has the food, clothing, shelter and infrastructures they have become used to. Then, how will the average citizen act/react? Where lies the essence of our ethical behaviors?
Belief is truth to the believer.

Post Reply