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31 March 2012


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Explain how this is "wrong but true"?

John Protevi

What is the referent of "this" in your question? I think it's pretty clear that the referent of "wrong but true" in my post is Aristotle's reproductive theory when considered from a history of science perspective and from an archaeological perspective. So I don't see what you're asking, as the post just is the explanation of how the seemingly paradoxical combination of "wrong but true" makes sense.

Ed Kazarian

'Wrong but true' seems to me to be a pretty good definition of the major possibility that Foucault's conception of 'episteme' introduces into discourses of knowledge. An interesting* question, and I'm oddly uncertain how to respond to it**, is how we should distinguish this from 'validity' in a more or less logical sense (even if the boundaries of any given 'logic' are determined practically, rather than in principle).

*Possibly there's an obvious answer to this and I'm being obtuse, but it strikes me as interesting at the moment.
** In pre-Power/Knowledge terms, at very least. I think that introducing power into the equation makes the difference much, much clearer.

Jeff Bell

Hi John - Nice post though I think you can make an even stronger claim than "it seems that Foucault would not object to a (Bachelardian / Canguilhemian) history of science."

I think you could say he thought of himself as doing a version of Bachelardian-Canguilhemian history of science, derived in large part from Jean Cavaillès' theory of science as sketched in his long essay, Sur la Logique et la Théorie de la Science. I've recently read Kevin Thompson's nice essay, "Historicity and Transcendentality: Foucault, Cavaillès, and the Phenomenology of the Concept," - - and it has reminded me how important both Cavaillès and Husserl were for Foucault.

Gutting, though I agree with his arguments, does not stress the significance of Cavaillès in his 1989. Thompson notes in particular Foucault's Introduction to the English translation of Canguilhem's The Normal and the Pathological, where Foucault argues that there are two important streams of postwar French thought: there is the philosophies of consciousness, meaning and the subject (i.e., Sartre and Merleau-Ponty) and the philosophy of knowledge, rationality and concepts (i.e., Cavaillès, Bachelard, Koyré, and Canguilhem).

Foucault includes himself in the latter stream, and I would include Deleuze there as well despite some important differences.

John Protevi

Hi Jeff, thanks for the reference to Kevin Thompson's paper. I'll look at that soon and reply when I can.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Funny, I would describe the Aristotle case in question (from Foucault's point of view) not as 'wrong but true', but as 'right but false'. I'd say that wrong and right pertain to justification, and true and false pertain to 'objective' truth value (although that's a very non-Foucault assumption to make...). In that case, Aristotle's account is largely justified within his framework, but it is false by the standards of contemporary science, thus right but false.

By contrast, I'd say that classical Gettier cases are the opposite, i.e. wrong but true. They fail to get appropriate justification, but are true nevertheless.

John Protevi

Hi Catarina, that's very interesting. Foucault never actually says anything like what I say he might say, as he doesn't like to do those kind of "trans-epistemic" statements like that the contemporary biologist might say. But I think he would have to endorse the right of the contemporary biologist to make a trans-epistemic statement.


thanks for this, here is D.Moran on why phenomenology can not be naturalized:

Jeff Bell

Thanks in turn dmf. I don't, however, see the Foucault-Deleuze extension of Husserlian phenomenology by way of Cavaillès as incompatible with naturalism (at least if naturalism is not confused with some form of algorithmic reductionism), but in fact it's very much in the spirit of a Spinozist naturalism of singular essences along the lines that was discussed in the Livingston symposium.

Catarina Dutilh Novaes

Hi John,

Yes, I know that the idea of a trans-epistemic truth-value for a statement is not very much in Foucault's spirit... What I was trying to say, I guess, is that this can be viewed from the point of view of the two dimensions, justification and truth. Gettier statements lack justification (of the appropriate kind) but are true, whereas the idea here might be that there are statements which are fully justified (thus 'right') against the relevant background, and yet false against a currently more salient epistemic background. Rather than necessarily entailing a relativistic conception of knowledge, I think the point is that there is a strong perspectival component, even in Gettier cases ('unbeknownst to him...').

John Protevi

Hello Catarina, yes, that makes perfect sense what you say. I think it's Foucault's Nietzschean background that makes him focus on truth ("the will to truth" and so on).

In any case, I was also interested in the temporality of objects recently constituted / discovered as having been effective in the past: we now know that X (in this case, sperm and egg) is what was at work. But is there temporality involved in Gettier case? There's always a second description but it seems both descriptions are in the same time frame? I'm not sure what relevance this would have, but it just came to me.


Like Catarina, I found the "wrong but true" awkward - possibly just jarring. I had been playing with something along the lines of 'mistaken but appropriate,' although 'appropriate' is used so often to say nothing that I'm not sure I like to use it anymore. a

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