Practices and Sciences of the Self Foucault’s Ethics
…the task was to bring to light the domain where the formation, development, and
transformation of forms experience can situate themselves: that is, a history of thought. By
thought, I mean, what establishes, in a variety of possible forms, the play or true and false, and
which as a consequence constitutes the human being as a subject of learning (connaissance); in
other words, it is the basis for accepting or refusing rules, and constitutes human beings as
social and juridical subjects; it is what establishes the relation with oneself and with others, and
constitutes the human being as ethical subject. (Foucault 1980, p. 334)
Power relations that predate our individual lives make possible, but do not determine, the form
of our subjectivity
It is by means clear which modes of knowledge will be produced, for how long they will be
accepted as legitimate or to what effect they will be adopted by individuals.
Genealogy of ethics
…the problem was: which techne [art] do I have to use in order to live as well as I ought to live?
(Foucault 1980, p. 348)
Who are we?
How have we come to be as moral subjects?
Historical & genealogical examinations of shifting ethical conduct help to understand how
people (at different points in time) are invited and incited to recognize their moral obligations
Foucault’s Ontology of Ethics Across Three Periods Cooper & Blair, 2002
Historical Place & Ethical Substance Mode of Self-forming Telos (ethical
Time (ethical sites) Subjection (moral Activity (ethical ends)
Ancient Greece Body/mind take Youthful shame Exercise: dialectic Good citizen;
care of self during dialogue gymnastics leadership in the
with teacher polis
Imperial Rome Mind/body know Quiet separation Introspection: Ethos: mastery of
thyself from others diaries, letters, the self
before death retreats, listening
Early Christianity Mind/soul Religious Excavation of guilt: Atonement;
renounce the self engagement with confession, coming close to
a master penance, God
History of sexuality provides an overview of the ways in which – through self-discipline or
ascesis – we develop a sense of self or ‘rapport de soi’ (ethics)
Use of ancient systems as a way of opening up the exploration of other possibilities of living or
caring for the self. There is no single, universal basis for ethical action
‘stylizing’ the proper use of one’s pleasures
Ethics was an art
Was one a slave or a master to one’s desires?
Quantity & excess were questioned (not quality or ‘An aesthetics of existence’
type of sexual interaction)
The problem was not one of deviancy but of
excess or moderation
Development of ‘reason’, and through reason, one ‘An arts of living’
was to come closer to the truth
Is sport an ‘arts of living? Why or why not?
Is the desire to win and succeed always promoted ahead of the pleasure of participation?
Is deviancy vilified or moderation valorized in sports?
We don’t have choose between our world and the Greek world…For centuries we have been convinced
that between our ethics, our personal ethics, our everyday life, and the great political and social and
economic structures, there were analytical relations, and that we couldn’t change anything, for instance,
in our sex life or our family life, without ruining our economy, our democracy and so on. I think we have
to get rid of the idea of an analytical or necessary link between ethics and other social and economic or
political structures. (Foucault 1980, p. 350)
Technologies of the Self
Capacity for self-regulation is always a matter of practical ethics, in which we problematize,
monitor, & work on our own conflict
An ethics of the self’s requires a ‘relation to oneself’: 4 components…
An ethical substance (Ontology): which is the aspect or part of myself or my behaviour that is
concerned with moral conduct?
A mode of subjection (Deontology): what is the way in which people are invited or incited to
recognize moral obligations?
Self-forming activities (Ethical Work-Ascetics): What are the means by which we can change
ourselves to become ethical subjects?
A goal or fulfilment (Teleology): who is the kind of being to which we aspire when we behave in
a moral way? Foucault’s Ethical Framework Cooper & Blair 2002
Foucault’s Work Ethical Substance Mode of Self-forming