10 November 2015

Foucault's Proof of the Soul

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish. NY: Vintage, 1979.

This title used to be a staple of graduate programs in the humanities, although it now seems to have been largely replaced by Edward Said. In it, Foucault discusses the historical and philosophical rise of the modern prison system. It is, undeniably, one of the major works of twentieth century inquiry. More interestingly, in if Foucault proves that the soul exists.

Of course, Foucault requires an inference to make this proof, and it is immediately eviscerated by Occam’s razor, but it is nonetheless the best (perhaps only) logical proof available.

The soul, Foucault explains, must exist because prison creates it. Prison exists to punish, but also to correct the offender. What, then, is being affected by this change? This correction, this changed state, is exhibited in behavior, yes; what cause behavior to change? Well, the soul is changed--that, Foucault says, is the assumption upon which our philosophy of judicial discipline is built.

Never mind that simple learning is a better explanation for behavioral change in an offender. The soul exists, precisely because we require ti to exist as justification for our judicial approach. The soul is necessary to fulfill a function; that function is fulfilled; ergo, the soul exists.