Bentham’s Panopticon

“…Foucault’s “critical philosophy” undermines such claims by exhibiting how they are just the outcome of contingent historical forces, and are not scientifically grounded truths.

Bentham’s Panopticon is, for Foucault, an ideal architectural model of modern disciplinary power. It is a design for a prison, built so that each inmate is separated from and invisible to all the others (in separate “cells”) and each inmate is always visible to a monitor situated in a central tower. Monitors will not in fact always see each inmate; the point is that they could at any time. Since inmates never know whether they are being observed, they must act as if they are always objects of observation. As a result, control is achieved more by the internal monitoring of those controlled than by heavy physical constraints.


Description: Jeremy Bentham’s panoptic prison design showing prisoner in cell kneeling towards central watch tower with altar on top Source: Prison design, not actually built (Foucault, 1975, p. 21) Date: 1840

The principle of the Panopticon can be applied not only to prisons but to any system of disciplinary power (a factory, a hospital, a school). And, in fact, although Bentham himself was never able to build it, its principle has come to pervade every aspect of modern society. It is the instrument through which modern discipline has replaced pre-modern sovereignty (kings, judges) as the fundamental power relation.”

via Excerpt from Foucault entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Language: Great Mediator

“Language has a mediating relationship between our reflection, one another, and our world; and as it is not simply the cries of emotion of an animal, so too it is not a smothering curtain between us and the rest of reality. Language also has a mediating role between God and us.”

— Johann Georg Hamann

Gwen Griffith-Dickson; The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 Ed.), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)