Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was an enormously influential French philosopher who wrote, among other things, historical analyses of psychiatry, medicine, the prison system, and the function of sexuality in social organizations. He spent some time during the last years of his life at UC Berkeley, delivering several lectures in English. And happily they were recorded for posterity:
These last lectures are also available on YouTube (in audio format):
One of Foucault’s more controversial and memorable books was Discipline and Punish (1977), which traced the transition from the 18th century use of public torture and execution to–less than 50 years later–the prevalence of much more subtle uses of power, with a focus on incarceration, rehabilitation, prevention, and surveillance. Here he is in 1983 commenting on that book (thanks for the link to Seth Paskin). The Partially Examined Life podcast recently discussed the book with Katharine McIntyre, doctoral candidate at Columbia. Foucault’s image of the panopticon well captures modern privacy concerns in the electronic age.
Finally, we leave you with a Schoolhouse Rock-style presentation of Foucault’s book The History of Sexuality, Volume 1 and some vintage video of Foucault’s 1971 debate with Noam Chomsky. Foucault’s lectures have been added to the Philosophy section of our Free Online Course collection.