My next Foucault reading covered chapters 4-6 titled “Passion and Delirium,” “Aspects of Madness,” and “Doctors and Patients.” Within this segment of his larger Madness and Civilization, Foucault really begins to present what becomes a central concept within much of his later work, that of “Discourse.” While the term itself may be loosely thrown around in various ways elsewhere, according to Foucault, “discourse” is essentially the conditions present within any given system, structure and/or practice or set of practices which are conducive to the possibility of certain truths to exist and be taken for granted. In other words, “discourse” might be better understood as a way of knowing, a system of knowledge, which enables (or makes possible the experience of) certain things to be understood as “true” and others as “false.”
Throughout the entire work, Foucault explores the various discursive practices concerning issues of madness and of “treatment” that later inform the conception of Psychology and Psychiatry that emerges following the Classical period. In “Passion and Delirium,” for example, he looks at various specific forms of madness as documented in the period, paying particular attention to the differing discourse structures experienced by the afflicted ones called “mad” which cause them to perceive certain unreal things as true. This is of particular interest when considering the emergence of this concept of madness in the “age of reason” which calls the madman he who is without reason when firstly his very labeling as such relies upon reason through which to establish an opposition, and secondly, as Foucault highlights in his concept of the discourse of madness, his experience of understanding certain untrue things as true is dependent upon a discourse structure which operates through an application of reason.
Foucault, Michel. "Passion and Delirium," "Aspects of Madness," "Doctors and Patients." Madness and Civilization : A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Vintage, 1988.