Now online: the historic Chomsky-Foucault debate.

By Tamara van der Putten

On May 8, 2013

Excerpts from the Foucault-Chomsky debate on human nature and power have circulated online for years — now it’s available in full for the first time.


In 1971, with the Vietnam war in full swing and radical social movements destabilizing the social, political and cultural order throughout the Western world, Dutch philosopher Fons Elders invited two of the world’s leading thinkers — the American linguist and activist Noam Chomsky and the French social theorist Michel Foucault — to debate a thorny and perennial question: is there such a thing as an “innate” human nature, and if so, what are its implications for our ideas about power, justice, revolution, and the shape of the ideal human society?

The resulting dialogue has been described as one of the most original, provocative, and spontaneous exchanges to have occurred between contemporary philosophers, and above all serves as a concise introduction to their basic theories. What begins as a philosophical argument rooted in linguistics (Chomsky) and the theory of knowledge (Foucault), soon evolves into a broader discussion encompassing a wide range of topics, from science, history, and behaviorism to creativity, freedom, and the struggle for justice in the realm of politics.

In his book, The Passion of Michel Foucault, James Miller recounts that, while Chomsky and Foucault prepared for the debate in the preceding hours, “there were already signs that this was not going to be any ordinary debate”:

Hoping to puncture the prim sobriety of the Dutch audience, the program’s host, Fons Elders, a professed anarchist, had obtained a bright red wig, which he tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Foucault to wear. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Chomsky, Foucault had received, in partial payment for his appearance, a large chunk of hashish, which for months afterwards, Foucault and his Parisian friends would jokingly refer to as the “Chomsky hash.” (Ibid., p. 201, hat tip to Aphelis for this quote).

Excerpts from the video of the debate — which was broadcast on Dutch television — have been circulating online for many years, and a book with a (rather liberally) translated transcript of the discussion has been published and republished many times. More recently, however, a full video of the debate has surfaced, allowing ROAR, in collaboration with a group of Dutch anarchists, to assist in a new translation of the debate. With this project completed, we are proud to share the first version of the full Chomsky-Foucault debate with English subtitles.

Special thanks to Anarchistische Groep Nijmegen. Translations from Dutch by withDefiance and Tamara van der Putten; translation from French by Tamara van der Putten.

N.B. Hit the ‘captions’ button if the subtitles don’t show up.

Noam Chomsky (1928): linguist, historian, philosopher, critic and political activist. As the “father of the modern science of language” (linguistics), Chomsky focused on the issue of the innate versus the learned. Over the course of his career, Chomsky evolved into a major critic of US foreign policy (from Vietnam to South America and the Middle East) and the propaganda of the mass media. One of his major works is ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media’, co-written with Edward S. Herman. Chomsky continues to write prolifically today.

Michel Foucault (1926-1984): French philosopher, social theorist, historian and literary critic. In his work, Foucault dealt with the issue of power and how it works in practice; how it influences knowledge; and how it is used as a form of social control. Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions such as psychiatry, social anthropology, the penitentiary system and the history of human sexuality. His works are still very influential in academic circles. One of Foucault’s major works is ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’.





Ten public lectures on philosophy, politics and the arts

Dates: 31 January 2013 until 30 May 2013

Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy and The London Graduate School in collaboration with Art and Philosophy at Central Saint Martins:

The lectures are free: arrive in good time to ensure a seat.

Thursdays, 18.00–20.00
Central Saint Martins University of the Arts London
Lecture Theatre E002
Granary Building
1 Granary Square
London N1C 4AA (Kings Cross tube)

Philosophy and the Black Panthers
31 January 2013
Howard Caygill (CRMEP)

The talk will reflect on the role played by philosophy in forming and articulating the political tactics and strategies of the Black Panthers (originally, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense), the revolutionary African-Amercian organization formed in California in 1966. It will suggest that philosophy provided a position from which the Black Panthers developed a radical politics of race in the USA beyond the religious orientations of the Civil Rights movement and the Nation of Islam. Focusing on the work of Huey Newton, the talk will emphasise the role played by Plato, Nietzsche and Speech Act Theory in the formulation of a politics of visibility and a performative concept of cultural and political intervention. It will also critically consider the reflections of the French writer Jean Genet on the Black Panthers practice of resistance.

The Singularity of Literary Cognition
7 February 2013
Sam Weber (LGS)

Whatever cognition is produced by the reading of literary – and probably more generally artistic – texts is sharply different from that produced by other disciplines. Most, if not all, critics will agree that a literary or artistic interpretation does not provide a universally valid meaning of the work or text being read, but rather something far more singular, more situationally bound, that arises from an encounter. Literary interpretations that matter are those that open the possibility of future encounters by sensitising one to the significance of hitherto neglected details or aspects, focusing as much on the “how” as the “what”. In this respect, literary encounters produce not so much knowledge as acknowledgement of the radical heterogeneity of texts. To that extent they can claim to provide an exemplary experience of singularity that is not without affinities to certain developments in contemporary science.

A Thought of/from the Outside
21 February 2013
Étienne Balibar (CRMEP)

A well-known essay published by Foucault in 1966 on the work of Maurice Blanchot, La pensée du dehors, was translated into English in two different ways: ‘The thought of the outside’, and ‘The thought from outside’. This indicates a deep ambiguity concerning its possible interpretations. Together with the earlier essay on Bataille (‘Preface to Transgression’), the essay forms the metaphysical counterpart to the early ‘archeological’ work, beginning with History of Madness and ending with The Order of Things, centered on the ‘anti-humanist’ doctrine of the elimination of the subject. It is widely supposed that, in his later work, when studying apparatuses of power-knowledge, and when outlining a history of regimes of subjectivation and truth, Foucault had entirely reversed this orientation. The lecture will discuss the enigmatic notion of the ‘outside’ and its relationship to transcendental philosophy, assess the importance of a dialogue with Blanchot in the formation of Foucault’s philosophy, and argue that, contrary to established wisdom, it never ceased to frame the critique of subjectivity in Foucault’s work.

Auto-Immune Narcissism
7 March 2013
Simon Morgan Wortham (LGS)

To what extent does sleep constitute a limit for the philosophical imagination? Why does it recur throughout the text of philosophy as a constant complication for Western thought, despite attempts to downplay its importance as purely physiological, or secondary to the question of dreams and dreaming? How does it change the question of dreams, for instance? This lecture asks such questions by turning to the work of Hegel, Bergson and Freud.

A Critical Theory of Sex
21 March 2013
Stella Sandford (CRMEP)

The sex/gender distinction has been fundamental to Anglophone feminist theory since the 1970s, in various different ways. Many feminists, seeing a direct political advantage in a vocabulary that allowed them to distinguish between what they saw as the biological reality of sex and normative masculinity and femininity, embraced ‘gender’ as a category of analysis. What is the relation of the sex/gender distinction and its theoretical vicissitudes to the social reality of everyday gendered lives? Has the sex/gender distinction ever made waves outside of feminist theory? In this lecture I will argue that the tendency of the popular cultural uses of the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ gives a false impression. The popular concept of sex is not the biological concept but its ideological deployment and as such the social reality of the idea of ‘sex’ is more important than its biological reality. Feminist theory requires a theoretically satisfying account of sex that is adequate to this social reality in order to oppose it. This is the role of a critical theory of sex.

The Postconceptual Condition
18 April 2013
Peter Osborne (CRMEP)

Whither Materialism?
2 May 2013
Catherine Malabou (CRMEP)

Duchamp à Calcutta
16 May 2013
Éric Alliez (CRMEP)

Spider Universe: Lars von Trier
23 May 2013
Scott Wilson (LGS)

Vitalism or Voluntarism?
30 May 2013
Peter Hallward (CRMEP)

Categories: Audience, Central Saint Martins, Events, Staff, Student, Talks


What Have You Learnt so Far?

A review of your lectures this term by Mark Ingham

Wednesday 22 February 9.30 – 10.45 David Fussey Lecture Theatre

The questions that will be asked again will be:

How do you learn? What have you learnt so far? and How have you learnt this? +

What is a Record?


Wordcloud from Dave Courmier’s post on Rhizomatic Learning


Lecture 1 – Introduction – Mark Ingham

Lecture 2 – Works – Vaughan Oliver

Lecture 3 – Surrealist Lecture – Neil Spiller

Lecture 4 – Animation/Drawing – Nic Clear

Lecture 5 – Digital Death – Stacey Pitsillides

Lecture 6 – Evolved, Not Made – Rachel Armstrong


Links: >>>

Take >>> The VARK Questionnaire How Do I Learn Best?


Networked Student


7 Skills students need for their future


15 February | Lecture 5 | Rachel Armstrong

Rachel Armstrong

‘Evolved, not made’

Videos/Images at

Rachel Armstrong innovates and designs sustainable solutions for the built and natural environment using advanced new technologies such as, Synthetic Biology – the rational engineering of living systems – and smart chemistry. Her research prompts a reevaluation of how we think about our homes and cities and raises questions about sustainable development of the built environment. She creates open innovation platforms for academia and industry to address environmental challenges such as carbon capture & recycling, smart ‘living’ materials and sustainable design.

Her award winning research underpins her bold approach to the way that she challenges perceptions, presumptions and established principles related to scientific concepts and the building blocks of life and society. She embodies and promotes new transferrable ways of thinking ‘outside of the box’ and enables others to also develop innovative environmental solutions. Her innovative approaches are outlined in her forthcoming TED Book on Living Architecture.

Watch Rachel Armstrong’s TED Fellows talk, “Creating Carbon-Negative Architecture” >>


Sign up for Twitter to follow Rachel Armstrong (@livingarchitect)

Links >>>


Hylozoic Ground

Stacey Pitsillides

LECTURE on Wednesday 8 February 2012 9.30am DT001

I see an important aspect of researching ‘Digital Death’ to be the opening of these research questions in the form of conversation, to everybody, as it is truly a topic that will continue to have an increasing impact on all our lives. My study seeks to use the systems of spirituality and social behaviour which can exist within the digital world to create design concepts which deal with digital death, as a “social relation” (J.Baudrillard:1993), pushing the boundaries of how we view and deal with death in the digital world.



Links >>>

Next week’s lecture on 1 February | Lecture 3 | Nic Clear

Nic Clear

Nic Clear questions received notions of the future. Are the norms of economic growth the only way society can develop? Does the current economic crisis call into question a future of unlimited growth and/or enable different choices? Drawing on such fields as synthetic space, psychoanalysis, postmordern geography, post–economics, cybernetics, and neurology, as well as interviews with novelist William Gibson, Archigram architect David Greene, and musician Brian Eno.



Links >>>

Ballardian Architecture 2 – Nic Clear

Notes On Drawing Drawings by Nic Clear

Next week’s lecture on  the 25 January | Lecture 2 | will be from the Dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Construction Neil Spiller

Neil Spiller

Neil Spiller is an architect, artist and writer most recently publishing ‘Digital Architecture Now’ and ‘Visionary Architecture: Blueprints of the Modern Imagination’ (Thames & Hudson). He is the Dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Construction at The University of Greenwich. He is also Director of the Advanced Virtual and Technological Architecture Research Group (AVATAR). He is author of several books on architecture and digital culture, including Digital Dreams: Architecture and the New Alchemic Technologies and Cyberreader: Critical Writings for the Digital Era.



Links >>>

Videos of Surrealist Lecture 25.01.2012

Deformography: the poetics of cybridised architecture 

AVATAR – Advanced Virtual and Technological Architecture Research 


9.30am – 10.45am 11.01.2012 – 28.03.2012

Place: Lecture Theatre DT 001 David Fussey – Southwood Site.

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