We opened the discussion in the Foucault podcast with the question, “are we really free?” I’d just like to take a minute to clarify this question and to raise some problems for Foucault.
First of all, there’s certainly a sense in which Foucault never denied that we’re free. He even says that “freedom is the ontological condition of power,” meaning that power only works to motivate us toward a particular set of behaviors because we’re free to choose within a field of possibilities. In Discipline and Punish, Foucault points out ways in which we are less free than we thought, but it’s not power in general that makes us less free; rather, it’s a specific form that power takes. Discipline is a dominating form of power, one that creates asymmetrical relationships of power in which there is control over the minds and bodies of individuals. It’s this kind of power that Foucault is worried about precisely because it limits our freedom by influencing the choices we make and what we even take to be the field of reasonable possibilities. I think the question I should like to ask of Foucault is not whether or not we are free, but if there can be limitations placed on our freedom that are legitimate.