How can Foucault’s discourse on madness describe “madness” as neither a subject nor an object?
Michel Foucault constructs a discourse on madness wherein madness is considered as neither a subject nor an object. Subject-object distinction poses a problem within philosophical study in terms of analysis of and discourses on human experience, insofar as things within experience are often divided in terms of whether they are entities in themselves, or whether they consist of subjective experiences and consciousness. Subject-object distinction is concerned with what, within experience, might be either objective or subjective, since a subject has the faculties to observe and think of things as well as speak for itself, while objects are things to be observed and thought of. When something is objectified, it is regarded as an entity with a preassigned identity; therefore, to study madness as an object is to assume that there is something which exists in itself and may be deconstructed in its preassigned state. Ergo, a subject exists for itself insofar as it is constituted by its continuing autonomy and consciousness, while an object exists in itself since it is already determined. Furthermore, if an object is something which is predetermined, then it may be studied as something for which we can obtain true and inherent knowledge. For Foucault, madness does not exist as such an entity. It is, instead, something that exists as concept which is relative to different discourses. Heidegger describes the subject-object distinction as false, and instead suggests the study of being, that which simply is, in terms of modes or states. This sort of understanding proposes a conception of madness wherein madness simply ‘is.’ Furthermore, by turning it into a subject or object, whatever madness itself might be can only be fissured within any attempt at analysis or discourse. Similarly, Foucault dismisses the subject-object distinction as obsolete within his discourse on madness. Rather, discourse is to be thought of as entirely positive as well as in terms of relations and shifts. Madness is therefore thought of in terms of how it is continually constructed within discourses of reason; so, it cannot be an object or a subject. For Foucault, madness could be described as separate from any subject-object distinction: a wild state.
Since Foucault’s method of study is not analytical, he employs the term ‘archaeology’ to describe his historical approach. It is imperative to establish an understanding of how his archaeological method impacts his discourse on madness. Foucault denounces the importance of subject-object distinctions so that he may go on to study madness as continually relative. Once we have established the importance of the role of archaeology within Foucault’s discourse on madness as well as how his discourse on madness is one wherein madness is presented as neither a subject nor an object, we may begin to explore what madness might be for Foucault as well as conceptions of madness and practices subsequent to these conceptions which he criticises vehemently. Foucault studies madness in terms of how it is presented within discourses of reason, the act of separating madness from reason, how madness came to be a social problem and how the problem of madness was treated, the view that madness might be socially constructed within different periods and cultures, and the capture of madness as an object at the disposal of reason. Since, for Foucault, discourse is to be thought of in terms of relations and changes in these relations, he examines the conditions in which madness emerges and transforms within different discourses of reason. An important part of Foucault’s discourse on madness is what is conceived within psychology as a progression away from the concept of madness to a new concept of mental illness, and the psychiatric practices which would result from such a shift.
Essentially, Foucault’s discourse on madness is one that communicates madness as entirely relative; furthermore, he criticises the assumption that any discourse, including his own, is free from instability, incompletion and error. Foucault’s archaeological study is one through which we may gain an understanding of madness as the result of constructions within reason itself, whilst appreciating the problematic nature of the proposal of such a project. Essentially, a history of madness can be conveyed where madness is neither an object nor a subject insofar as conveying a history of how different visions of madness impact scientific and social theories concerning madness as well as the treatment of those considered to be mad.
The Role of Foucault’s Archaeological Method in his Discourse on Madness