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Lectures on the Will to Know Lectures at the Collège de France, 1970--1971, and Oedipal Knowledge

Lectures at the Collège de France

Michel Foucault; Edited by Daniel Defert; General Editors: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana; English Series Editor: Arnold I. Davidson; Translated by Graham Burchell




Trade Paperback

320 Pages



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Lectures on the Will to Know reminds us that Michel Foucault's work only ever had one object: truth. Here, he builds on his earlier work, Discipline and Punish, to explore the relationship between tragedy, conflict, and truth-telling. He also explores the different forms of truth-telling, and their relation to power and the law. The publication of Lectures on the Will to Know marks a milestone in Foucault's reception, and it will no longer be possible to read him in the same way as before.


Praise for Lectures on the Will to Know

"Foucault must be reckoned with."—The New York Times Book Review

"Foucault has an alert and sensitive mind that can ignore the familiar surfaces of established intellectual codes and ask new questions . . . He gives dramatic quality to the movement of culture."—The New York Review of Books

"Foucault is quite central to our sense of where we are . . . [His work carries] out, in the noblest way, the promiscuous aim of true culture."—The Nation

"Ideas spark off nearly every page…The words may have been spoken in [the 1970s] but they seem as alive and relevant as if they had been written yesterday."—Bookforum

Table of Contents

Foreword: Francois Ewald Alessandro Fontana
Translator's Note

ONE 9 December 1970
Shift of the theme of knowledge (savoir) towards that of truth. —Elision of the desire to know in the history of philosophy since Aristotle. —Nietzsche restores that exteriority. —Internal and external reading of Book A of the Metaphysics. —The Aristotelian theory of knowledge excludes the transgressive knowledge of Greek tragedy, sophistic knowledge, and Platonic recollection. —Aristotelian curiosity and will to power: two morphologies of knowledge.

TWO 16 December 1970
For an analysis of the de-implication of knowledge and truth. —Obscure primacy of the truth in Aristotle in which desire, truth, and knowledge form a theoretical structure. Spinoza, Kant, and Nietzsche seek to disrupt this systematicity. —Freeing oneself from the "old Chinaman" of Konigsberg, but killing Spinoza. —Nietzsche gets rid of the affiliation of truth and knowledge.

THREE 6 January 1971
The Sophists: their appearance and their exclusion. —History of philosophy in its relations to the truth according to Aristotle. Philosophical discourse cannot have the same status as poetic discourse. —The historical mode of existence of philosophy set for centuries by Aristotle. —The existence of philosophy made possible by the exclusion of the Sophists. —The Sophist as figure. Sophism as technique. —Sophistics manipulates the materiality of words. —The different roles of Plato and Aristotle in the exclusion of the Sophists.

FOUR 13 January 1971
The sophism and true discourse. —How to do the history of apophantic discourse. —Logical versus sophistical manipulation. —Materiality of the statement, materiality of the proposition. Roussel, Brisset, Wolfson, today's sophists. —Plato excludes the figure of the Sophist, Aristotle excludes the technique of the sophism. —The sophism and the relation of discourse to the speaking subject.

FIVE 27 January 1971
Discourses whose function in Greek society comes from being linked to the truth. Judicial discourses, poetic discourses. —Examination of a late document, on the threshold of Hellenistic civilization. —Comparison with the Iliad; a quasi-judicial Homeric dispute. A system of four confrontations. —Sovereignty of the judge and wild sovereignty. —A Homeric judgment, or the famous scene of "Achilles' shield."

SIX 3 February 1971
Hesiod. —Characterization of words of truth in Homer and judicial discourse. —Greek ritual ordeal and Christian Inquisition. —Pleasure and test of truth in masochism. —Hesiod bard of krinein against the dikazein of judges-kings, eaters of gifts. —Dikaion and dike in Hesiod. —Extension of krinein into the Greek juridical space and new type of assertion of the truth. —Draco's legislation and reparation. —Dikaion and order of the world.

SEVEN 10 February 1971
Distribution of the word of truth according to dikazein and krinein. —Appearance of a Hesiodic dikaion as demand for a just order. —Role of the neighbor in the game of justice and injustice. —From ordeal truth to truth-knowledge (savoir). —Contribution of Assyrian and Hittite forms of knowledge. Their transformation in Greece.

EIGHT 17 February 1971
Hesiodic dikaion (continuation). —Tyranny and money: two borrowings from the East. —The Greek transformation: displacement of the truth from ordeal to knowledge; movement of knowledge from the domain of power to that of justice. —Recurrence of two oneiric figures: Saint Anthony and Faust. —Agrarian crisis and political transformations in the seventh and sixth centuries. —Hoplites and peasants. Craft industry. —Homeric truth challenge and Eastern knowledge-power transformed into truth-knowledge.

NINE 24 February 1971
The institution of money. Money or different kinds of money? —The three functions of Greek currency: metathesis of power, simulacrum, social regulation. —Money as establishment of diakaion kai alethes.

TEN 3 March 1971
Nomos. Institution contemporary with the written law and money (nomos and nomisma). —Written law and enunciative ritual (nomos and thesmos). —The four supports of nomos. Corinthian money and Athenian nomos. Hesiodic eunomia and Solonic eunomia. —Economics and politics. The City-State: an absolutely new notion. Caesura between economics and politics. —Return to the simulacrum, money, law. What is a nomos pronounced by no one?

ELEVEN 10 March 1971
The pure and the impure: Homeric ablution as rite of passage. —Reversal of the status of defilement in the seventh and sixth centuries. —Nomos, money, and new religious practices. —Prohibition as democratic substitute for expensive sacrifice. —Democratization and immortality. —Criminality and will to know.

TWELVE 17 March 1971
Crime, purity, truth: a new problematic. —The tragedy of Oedipus. Emergence of visual testimony. —Nomos and purity. Purity, knowledge, power. —Sophocles' Oedipus versus Freud's Oedipus. —What hides the place of the sage. —What is a discursive event? —Usefulness of Nietzsche.

THIRTEEN Lecture On Nietzsche
Knowledge (connaissance) does not have an origin, but a history. Truth too has been invented, but later. —Nietzsche's insouciance in breaking up the implication of knowledge (savoir) and truth. —Subject-object, products and not foundation of knowledge. —Mark, sign, word, logic: instruments and not events of knowledge. —A knowledge deployed in the space of transgression. Interplay of mark, word, and will. Knowledge as lie. —Truth as morality. Is it freedom or violence that connects will and truth? —The paradoxes of the will to truth. Illusion, error, lie as categories of distribution of the untrue truth. —Aristotle and Nietzsche: two paradigms of the will to know.

Course summary

Oedipal Knowledge
In Sophocles' tragedy, Oedipus the King, five types of knowledge confront each other and fit together. The mechanism of the sumbolon, or law of halves, governs the confrontation. —The judicial procedure of inquiry, installed in the sixth and fifth centuries, facing traditional divinatory procedure. —Ignorant Oedipus is the bearer of the tyrant's knowledge (savoir); Oedipus, blazon of the unconscious or old oriental figure of the expert king (roi savant)? —Oedipus the King, or transgres-sive power-knowledge.

Course context
Index of notions
Index of names

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Michel Foucault; Edited by Daniel Defert; General Editors: François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana; English Series Editor: Arnold I. Davidson; Translated by Graham Burchell

  • Michel Foucault (1926–1984) acknowledged as the preeminent philosopher of France in the 1970s and '80s, continues to have enormous impact throughout the world in many disciplines.

    Arnold I. Davidson is a professor at the University of Chicago and the University of Pisa. He is co-editor of the volume Michel Foucault: Philosophie.

    Graham Burchell has written essays on Michel Foucault and is an editor of The Foucault Effect.