Foucault, Jean Bernard Léon, 1819-68, French physicist. Known especially for his research on the speed of light, he determined its velocity in air and found that its speed in water and other media diminished in proportion to the index of refraction. He originated the Foucault pendulum, with which he demonstrated the earth's rotation. He also improved astronomical instruments, especially the telescope; invented (1852) the gyroscope; and investigated the eddy current (known also as the Foucault current), an electric current induced in metal by a moving magnetic field. With Armand Fizeau he took the first clear photograph of the sun. From 1855 he was physicist at the Paris Observatory.
Foucault, Michel, 1926-84, French philosopher and historian. He was professor at the Collège de France (1970-84). He is renowned for historical studies that reveal the sometimes morally disturbing power relations inherent in social practices. Influenced by Nietzsche, he called these studies, such as Madness and Civilization (1961, tr. 1970), "genealogies." Foucault also analyzed systems of knowledge, i.e., individual disciplines in science, such as natural history and economics. He aimed through this "archeology" of knowledge to uncover the unconscious rules guiding such systems and thereby to understand their relations to one another. See his Archeology of Knowledge (1969, tr. 1972) and The Order of Things (1966, tr. 1970). In his last writings, including the History of Sexuality, vol. 2 (1984, tr. 1985), Foucault studied what he called "ethics," namely the self's relationship to itself.

See biography by D. Macey (1993); P. Rabinow, ed., Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1988 (1997-); H. L. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, Michel Foucault (1982); R. Michel, Foucault (1985); D. R. Shumway, Michel Foucault (1992); L. McNay, Foucault: A Critical Introduction (1994); C. G. Prado, Starting with Foucault: An Introduction to Genealogy (1995, repr. 2000); S. J. Hekman, ed., Feminist Interpretations of Michel Foucault (1996); C. Horroacks and Z. Jevtic, Introducing Foucault (1997); P. Barker, Michel Foucault: An Introduction (1998); A. L. Brown, On Foucault: A Critical Introduction (2000); G. Danaher et al., Understanding Foucault (2000); K. A. Robinson, Michel Foucault and the Freedom of Thought (2001); R. M. Strozier, Foucault, Subjectivity, and Identity (2001).

The name Foucault can refer to:

The name Foucauld could refer to Charles de Foucauld.

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