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What is the relationship between knowledge and power in the social sciences?

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Enlightenment Rationality: “Science discovers the truth” (Descartes) or “Science produces the truth” (Foucault)?

  1. Briefly explain each philosopher’s answer to knowledge/power relation question.
  2. Compare and contrast their positions; identify the key point(s) of conflict.
  3. State your thesis, e.g. “In this paper I will argue for Descartes’s position, against Foucault’s position…” and specify your criteria for judgment.
  4. Use the film, “One Flew Over the Coo Coo’s Nest” to illustrate & support your thesis.
  5. Use your own educational experience to illustrate and support your thesis. Hence, you might use these question for guidance:
    • What is the objective truth about your mind/intelligence/knowledge?
    • Does your g.p.a. mirror a truth about your or does it produce a truth about you?
    • Has schooling/grading shaped/determined your subjectivity or has it been the path to truth/Enlightenment?


Use the scoring rubric to draft your essay.

Focus on Foucault’s argument on the contingent, historically constructed nature of “knowledge/power relations” (DP, 22-30), in contrast with Descartes argument that the path to truth is knowledge which is free of bias (power relations).

Consider the concept of “paradigm-shift” to explore Descartes’ modern position contrast with Foucault’s post-modern position.

For Foucault, “knowledge/power” relations play out differently in different contexts/caves, all of which share the same endgame, the production of truth for winning power contests. For Descartes, truth is discovered, not produced; therefore, he stands for the paradigm genuinely “outside the cave,” the scientific method.

Skillful, but limited, use of key ideas and/or quotes from the text will be valued.

Think of this as a test of whether you can convey your understanding of these two competing positions rather than a freeform, stream of consciousness opinion paper.

Coherence & thematic focus: A thorough exploration of a particular scene in a movie and your individual educational example will be valued over a spattering of miscellaneous examples and other kinds of “canned” answers, the kind you can buy online.