Chomsky vs Foucault (Full Video)

Students of Linguistics, Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Politics or Philosophy will know how important the following debate is.

The famous Chomsky vs Foucault debate on “Human Nature and Ideal Society” was always available in short version on YouTube but the full debate has never been released until now.

Chomsky is of course the world famous American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, historian, political critic and activist. His accomplishment can only be summarized: He is the most cited living human being on Earth and 8th of all humanity’s history, ranking among the Bible, Freud and Marx; he revolutionized linguistics, been called the father of its modern era; he is the creator of Chomsky hierarchy, the Universal Grammar Theory, the Propaganda Model and the Chomsky–Schützenberger Theorem; he has been repeatedly voted as the most/among the most important intellectuals alive; he’s a famous critic of US foreign policy and an advocate for the political philosophy of Anarchism and Libertarian Socialism.

Foucault was a French philosopher – arguably France’s most famous one-, social theorist, historian of ideas, and literary critic; he was a major figure in the structuralist and post structuralist movements of social theory; he was the most cited source in the first decade of the 21st century; he authored Madness and Civilization, The Birth of the Clinic, The Order of Things, Archeology of Knowledge, Discipline and Punishment, and the History of Sexuality.


The following information was taken from Aphelis :

The video displayed above is a complete 1 hour 11 minutes video recording of the original television program titled “Menselijke Natuur En Ideale Maatschappij” (“Human Nature and Ideal Society”). It took place in November 1971 at the Eindhoven University of Technology, in Nederland, as part of the “International Philosophers Project” initiated by the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation:

The Dutch Broadcasting Foundation in association with the International School of Philosophy at Amersfoort and the Institute of Extra-Mural Education at the University of Utrecht, invited Fons Elders to arrange and moderate a series of four hour-long television debates between some of the world’s most eminent thinkers: Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault; Leszek Kolakowski and Henri Lefèbvre; Alfred Ayer and Arne Naess; John Eccles and Karl Popper. (Fons Elders: Projects)

The Chomsky-Foucault debate was therefor recorded and broadcast by the Dutch National Television. The complete video recording of the program includes opening credits, an introduction by Prof. L. W. Nauta, the entrance of Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault, the debate itself moderated by Dutch philosopher Fons Elders, a period of discussion with the audience and end credits. It was uploaded by user withDefiance on Feb. 25, 2013 (the video available on YouTube is 1:24:52 but the recording, although complete, stops at 1:10:49). For the moment, subtitles are pending. Languages alternate between Dutch, French and English.

It’s important to stress out that two things. First, this is a complete recording of the television program and not of the debate itself. On the television program, the debate was interrupted by Prof. L. W. Nauta for commentary and parts were edited out. Therefor, large sections of the debate that appear in the transcript (which was first published by Fons Elders in 1974) are not included in the complete video recording of the television program. Second, as mentioned earlier, the transcript differs from the actual recording. It was revised by Michel Foucault and material was added. The text of the debate –all available published versions originate from the same source– do not represent an exact representation of what was said on air in 1971 (more below).

A short 12 mins video excerpt of this debate had already been uploaded to YouTube a couple of years ago (it may have originated from the DVD edition of Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media). This excerpt was reproduced by many users, sometimes cut in smaller parts (likely because of prior upload limits imposed by YouTube), and subtitled in a wide variety of language (this video excerpt was also parodied: see “Chomsky-Foucault Debate in 5 seconds”). An animated version of the complete debate based on the transcript and using synthetic voice is also available. However, up until yesterday, the complete video recording was missing.

In an article published in 1999 in the journal Social Theory and Practice, Peter Wilkin introduces the debate in the following way:

In 1971, Dutch television held a series of interviews and discussions with noted intellectuals of the day to discuss a wide range of issues regarding contemporary social and philosophical affairs. Perhaps the most significant of these encounters was the meeting between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault. It brought together arguably the two most prominent Western intellectual-activists of the day in a debate that illustrates clearly the lineage of thought within which each writer is situated. Nominally the discussion was in two parts: the first an examination of the origins or production of knowledge, with particular concern for the natural sciences, the second explicitly focused on the role and practice of oppositional politics within Western capitalist democracies—in part a response to the unfolding Vietnam War. (“Chomsky and Foucault on human nature : an essential difference?” Social Theory & Practice, 25 (2), pp. 177-210)

2 thoughts on “Chomsky vs Foucault (Full Video)

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