In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault says that throughout history, humans have desired nothing more than to exert power over one another. Power is not a tangible thing that can be accumulated but a web of tactics which include and imprison the entire world. He says that power and knowledge are interchangeable, and our increased knowledge has only made our use of power more sophisticated. Modern society claims to have become more tolerant and humane, but in reality, it has shifted its focus from controlling a man’s body to controlling his soul. He cites as an example the penal system which has shifted its focus from punishing a criminal’s actions through physical torture to punishing his beliefs through psychological re-training. Man’s methods have changed, but his manipulative ways have not.
Archive for August 2004
Four Reasons for Foucault to Use Pathos
1. By opening his book with a description of the verdict against Damiens, Foucault shocks his readers with the vast cultural differences between the French penal systems of 1757 and 1975. Since his readers probably consider the 1700’s a “civilized” era not far from our own, the book immediately challenges the reader’s assumptions about justice and humanity and opens his mind to the rest of the argument.
2. Foucault describes the execution itself in painstaking detail. The agony and remorse that Damiens feels make the reader identify with him. The reader has difficulty justifying the public execution when he realizes that he and Damiens are both human beings, and their roles might easily be reversed.
3. Arguing from an emotional standpoint is more effective than arguing from a moral one because moral relativism had become very strong by the 1970’s. Foucault’s readers might deny the existence of God and universal truth, but they cannot deny the existence of physical pain. Therefore, they willingly hear his case.
4. The 1970’s were a time of great social activism. During this decade, environmentalism and feminism received unprecedented sympathy from the general public thanks to their great emotional appeal. Foucault, recognizing the spirit of the times, shrewdly uses the same formula hoping for similar results.
Foucault could have also presented his argument logically or ethically. A logical argument would use statistics and historical records to prove that public executions are not an effective deterrent to crime, and government officials abandoned the practice once they realized this. This case would have appealed to his readers’ minds but would not have been as effective as the pathetic argument. Though some people believe the government should be purely pragmatic, the majority feels elected officials should do what is right and just, and they might see capital punishment as just retribution for a horrible crime. Most people consider state-sponsored death an emotional issue. They might dismiss the statistics as “unscientific” or “biased;” never hearing about the horror of medieval torture methods, people would never consider them. They would distance themselves from a logical claim, but Foucault’s emotional one makes the situation personal and thus affects people deeply. An ethical argument would use both reason and emotions, but they would be the thoughts and feelings of one person: Foucault. He might recount his personal experiences with execution so the reader can identify with him. Like the logical argument, this would be effective to some, but many others would follow William James and say, “To each his own.” In this case, pathos is broader and more immediate than ethos. Foucault’s decision to stress the pathetic mode over the logical and ethical styles is a resounding success.
The Newgate Calendar portrays criminals in a manner similar to the media’s portrayal of George W. Bush. As the calendar notes John Smith “made bad connections” as a guard for lord Cutts, the comic strip Doonesbury recently portrayed George Bush holding a luncheon for his former Yale classmates and paying special attention to the dissolute fraternity brothers with which he drank voluminous amounts of alcohol and implied he has not become any more responsible since (P24, p2.) Jack Ketch and Jonathan Wild both resort to crime after acquiring huge debts through extravagant living; Bush detractors in the media claim that Bush’s modus operandi for the war in Iraq was to divert attention from the large budget deficits caused by his tax cuts (P61, p2; P75, p2.) Bush and Wild are both considered “white-collar criminals” who use their money, social status, and affectations of morality to dupe honest people who have suffered terrorism and theft, respectively (P77, p3; P79, p2; P80, p1). The media accuse both Bush and Wild of manipulating the government for their own gains: Bush in the executive branch and Wild in the legal system (P86-P93; P101, p1.) The similarities prove that the Newgate Calendar is as zealous to indict corrupt aristocrats as today’s media is.
Socrates and Euthyphro spend much of this dialogue debating the nature of piety and its relationship with the gods. They do not reach a conclusion on either. They might have had more success if they had reconsidered the nature of the gods. Since the gods had both divine power and human form, the Greeks could worship them and relate to them. Unfortunately, the gods also had human weakness; thus, they often committed abominable and merciless deeds including murder, deceit, adultery, and wanton destruction. Because the gods were not good, goodness could not proceed from them. Therefore, the Greeks could not explain the origin, existence, or justification for piety.
Fortunately, the religion of another culture addressed this difficulty. The Jews, alone among the people of the earth, believed in an all-loving, all-merciful God who is the source of all goodness and whose relationship with His people is as intimate as that of a husband and a wife. Christianity, which proceeded from Judaism, teaches that this Word was made Flesh through Jesus Christ. Like the Greek gods, Jesus had both human form and divine power, but unlike them, he resisted all temptations towards evil and provided a perfect example for how men should live. Therefore, Christian philosophers like St. Thomas Aquinas can proceed into a realm of understanding which Socrates and Euthyphro could not reach. Because there is one God, there can be no disagreements between divine beings over what is right and wrong. Piety is the will of God; it is so inextricably linked with Him that it is a part of Him. Furthermore, the actions of Jesus established a model for all men to follow. Christianity fulfilled the yearnings of the pagan philosophers.