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Michel Foucault, perhaps the greatest intellectual of the latter part of the twentieth century, was able to offer diagnosis after diagnosis of the various social phenomena that have come to be known as the "Modern Industrialized Western World." From the birth of the modern prison system to the birth of modern 'mental illness' as a category to even the birth of medicine as a scientifically reputable field of inquiry, Foucault was able to name the social histories of key institutions that now shape Europe and North America.
The modern prison system, Foucault was able to name as a form of rigid social control in which the types of punishment associated with the medieval period (for example "drawing and quartering," hangings, etc.) were within only less than a century replaced with incarceration. Unlike ordinary social historians who can chart a sociological shift in institutional arrangements, Foucault offers an even more brilliant analysis demonstrating how the shift in institutions was also predicated upon and sustained by a noticeable shift in perception. In short, whereas once the physical body was the object of punishment (e.g. "drawing and quartering" and other barbaric practices) now such torture has been replaced with the human soul (or "psuche" in Greek) as the locus of punishment. Granted, in many ways, this shift was both a product of and sustained by various reform movements (e.g. the Quakers), however, such a shift from corporal to psychic punishment was not a neutral endeavor.
Similarly, in classifying the "mentally ill" Foucault was able to demonstrate that how once the town "madman" was solely a minor ruse, with an increasing secularization of French society, the view of madness as a sign of minor moral vice was soon replaced with madness as a sign of a lack of humanity itself. The madman was no longer free to roam the streets in France shouting his lungs out at imaginary ghosts, but instead was to become incarcerated alongside the criminal and the debtor.
Finally, in the field of modern medicine, Foucault accurately analyzes the shift in 'medical perception' by which modern Western medicine shed much of its Hippocratic theories of opposing vapors, bodily humors, etc. and instead became empirically based upon close scientific examination of the disease itself. Close empirical observation shifted the focus away from the patient and to the disease itself.
Thus, although viewed by many as simply one among many "post-modern" philosophers, Foucault is unique for offering an accurate and astute historical inquiry of the key institutions that have come to define the modern secular Western world, namely the modern prison system, mental illness and medical practice. It is for this reason that Foucault is essential for Christian and non-Christian alike to resist the pressure towards accepting the modern Western version of reality in which the mentally ill are persecuted, political dissenters are imprisoned and medicine is the ultimate free field of self-determination. If one can be healthy physically, avoid the police officer when engaged in political dissent (e.g. anti-war protesting) and can keep the psychotherapist forever labelled as a "quack" then a new, more just secular Western world may arise from the dump-heap of the old secularism.
--RobJKing 22:32, 4 September 2007 (UTC)