The Changing Meaning of Concepts Throughout History - Nietzsche and Foucault

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In this essay I will summarize how the philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault have recorded how the meanings of certain concepts have changed through history, paying close attention to the texts of Nietzsche's "Good and Evil, Good and Bad" and Foucault's "The Insane". I will also suggest what I believe are the philosophical lessons that they think we can draw from recognizing these changes. In the chapter from his book Madness & Civilization,"The Insane", Michel Foucault charts the changing conceptions of madness from the Renaissance through to the Neo-Classical Age. He notes how during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, though madness was sometimes treated as a personification of evil, it was something that was openly dealt with, the public outrage giving the perceived evil "the powers of example and redemption." (Foucault, P. 66) The mad were neither a source of shame or taboo, " madness was present everywhere and mingled with every experience by its images or its dangers." (Foucault, P. 66) However, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Enlightenment, and the emergence of the 'man of reason' drastically changed people's attitudes towards the insane: '...madness was shown, but on the other side of bars; if present, it was at a distance, under the eyes of a reason that no longer felt any relation to it and that would not compromise itself by too close a resemblance.' (Foucault, P.70) After the Enlightenment a new set of values became prevalent, where reason was now considered the defining characteristic of being human, and therefore it followed that to be unreasonable was to be essentially inhuman. Foucault notes that to the 'enlightened' men of the time: '... (the) animality that rages in madness disposesses man of what is specifically human in him; not in order to deliver him over to other powers, but simply to establish him at the zero degree of his own nature.' (Foucault, P.74) With their new perspective on the world, the people of seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe now "felt a shame in the presence of the inhuman that the Renaissance had never experienced" (Foucault, P.68), the mentally ill were not seen as possessed or evil or ill but as a shameful sideshow, barely more than animals, provoking the "mocking laughter and the insulting pity" (Foucault, P. 69) of the regular spectators who at the time would regularly pay a small fee into the asylums to gawk at them. (Foucault, P.68) Foucault draws further attention to the inhumane treatment of the institutionalized mad during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Considered by their unreasonable behaviour to have fallen into bestiality, and that their "animality, in fact, protected the lunatic from whatever might be fragile, precarious, or sickly in man" (Foucault, P.74), they were treated as such and he records: It was common knowledge until the end of the eighteenth century that the insane could support the miseries of existence indefinitely. There was no need to protect them; they had no need to be covered or warmed. (Foucault, P. 74) Not simply did men of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries seen madness as a fall into bestiality, the frenzied behaviour and irrationality of the madman was to them a shameful lapse into man's basest level. It was important for their self image to disassociate themselves from the mad. Foucault notes that: Madness had become a thing to look at: no longer a monster inside oneself, but an animal with strange mechanisms, a bestiality from which man had long since been suppressed.(Foucault, P. 70) He contrast this to the view of the Church, who slow to take on the burgeoning attitudes of the Enlightenment, still seen madness with a humanity absent from from the attitudes of the 'men of reason'. He suggests the Church found in madness "a difficult but essential lesson: the guilty innocence of the animal in man." (Foucault, P. 82) Foucault seems to be trying to show in his essay,...
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