[Michel Foucault] The Order of Things

  • Title: The Order of Things
  • Author: Michel Foucault
  • Published: 1966
  • Publisher: Routledge (1989)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-415-26737-3

The book is about the episteme of the classical era (17th and 18th centuries) compared with that of the 16th century. In the 16th century, similitudes (resemblances) were the key to the knowledge. Foucault wants to show how differences and identities became more important in the classical period. Some kinds of methods were required to determine differences and provide identities; measurements and the order.

(1) Four Similitudes

  • Convenientia (convene, group, proximity)
  • Aemulatio (emulation, imitation, rival)
  • Analogy
  • Sympathy & Antipathy

(2) Representation and Sign

The sign or symbol of the 16th century stood in itself. It is more than a simple representation of something and has hidden marks to be discovered. In the classical era, signs DO represent. But the meaning of the representation is a little bit different from what we think now. Signs represent within themselves. It is a double representation. The sign is a signifier to its signified, but it also represents that it is representing (it is a signifier).

(3) General Grammar

The general grammar deals with the order of language signs to show how language represents thoughts. Thought represents itself, and that is language. The power of representation is in the order. General grammar seeks the universal language that represents all thoughts.

Universal languages differ:

  • In the 16th century: the primitive language before Babel. It has markers to all objects in the world.
  • In the classical era: the language can represent all possible thoughts
  • In the contemporary era: the language that all people can communicate without translation

(4) Natural History

In the classical period, plants and animals are differentiated and grouped according to the order. The main criteria were the representation rather than the function. Once ordered, plants and animals were named (called by a common noun).

(5) Study of Wealth

The classical era was the period of mercantilism. Previously money (gold) should be as precious as goods to be used as an exchange medium. In the representation era, money (gold) became a symbol, and it represented wealth. Exchanges were encouraged, and by doing so, wealth can be increased.

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