Dig into the PEL archives and you will find a link to aÂ paperÂ by Hubert Dreyfus on Foucault and Heidegger in which he writes that in Foucaultâ€™s early work â€œthe subject is reduced to a function of discourse.â€ Dreyfus is illustrating an important link between these two towering figures - the role of language, which Heidegger called â€œthe house of being.â€Â
Language, in fact, plays such an important role in Foucaultâ€™s epistemology that his notion of the â€œepisteme,â€ which as we will see bears a resemblance to Kuhnâ€™s â€œparadigm,â€ is grounded in such linguistic objects as discourse, statement, and archive. These are just a few of the technical terms Foucault explores inÂ The Archeology of Knowledge, a book he wrote in response to readers ofÂ The Order of ThingsÂ who likened his approach to structuralism. (The conclusion ofÂ ArcheologyÂ consists of an imaginary dialogue written by Foucault between himself and these very critics.)
If Foucault felt this characterization was inadequate, one can only wonder what he thought of Jean Piagetâ€™s likening of the episteme with Kuhnâ€™s concept of paradigm. Both are ways of describing the fact that every period has its own conditions for what is true, what is nonsense, and how best to ask the most meaningful questions. Most importantly, both abandon what Mark in the podcast calls the â€œpre-philosophicalâ€ view of science as â€œteleological.â€
Now, the publication ofÂ The Structure of Scientific RevolutionsÂ (1962) predatesÂ The Order of ThingsÂ by four years, though chances are Kuhn was no influence on Foucault or vice versa. (ThisÂ abstractÂ of a paper on narrative genres insightfully compares the two models.)
My own experience with these thinkers is as a teacher of a high school course on the history of ideas. I try to spend at least one class on theÂ panopticonÂ and Foucault's theories of discipline, which resonate with teenagers for all the reasons you might expect if youâ€™ve ever talked to a teenager. However, though talking about Foucault and the redistribution of power is an easy way to grab attention, when we begin new chapters, turning from, say, the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, we talk about â€œparadigmâ€ shiftsâ€”not episteme shifts. I suspect this has more to do with their respective styles and less to do with the actual content of their major contributions. Whatever the reason for "paradigm" becoming mainstream and "episteme" remaining a specialist term, both are better than "zeitgeist."