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Michel Foucault: 1926-1984

LX:91 | Creative Practices

People know what they do; they frequently know why they do what they do; but what they don't know is what what they do does. (187)


Source

Dreyfus, Hubert, Paul Rabinow. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics.  1983. 


Notes

This is a Michel Foucault quote taken from a personal communication referenced in Dreyfus/Rabinow. 

The Session is an element of the Creative Practices framework.


LX:90 | Curiosity

Curiosity is a vice that has been stigmatized in turn by Christianity, by philosophy, and even by a certain conception of science. Curiosity is seen as futility. However, I like the word; it suggests something quite different to me. It evokes “care”; it evokes the care one takes of what exists and what might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilized before it; a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd; a certain determination to throw off familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way; a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is disappearing; a lack of respect for the traditional hierarchies of what is important and fundamental.

I dream of a new age of curiosity. We have the technical means; the desire is there; there is an infinity of things to know; the people capable of doing such work exist. So what is our problem? To little: channels of communication that are too narrow, almost monopolistic, inadequate. We mustn’t adopt a protectionist attitude, to stop “bad” information from invading and stifling the “good.” Rather, we must increase the possibility for movement backward and forward. This would not lead, as people often fear, to uniformity and leveling-down, but, on the contrary, to the simultaneous existence and differentiation of these various networks. (325-6)


Source

Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Suicide;The Most Basic Sphere of Concern is Schooling

Works and Days

Documents


Notes


LX:88 | A Dream of a Kind of Criticism

I can’t help but dream about a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life; it would light fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it. It would multiply not judgments but signs of existence; it would summon them, drag them from their sleep. Perhaps it would invent them sometimes - all the better. All the better. Criticism that hands down sentences sends me to sleep; I’d like a criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination. It would not be sovereign or dressed in red. It would bear the lightning of possible storms. (323)


Source

Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

 The Suicide

Works and Days

 

Documents

  pdf The Socratic Method: What it is and how to use it in the Classroom (22 KB)  


Notes


LX:83 | Stultitia

The practice of the self involves reading, for one could not draw everything from one’s own stock or arm oneself by oneself with the principles of reason that are indispensable for self-conduct: guide or example, the help of others is necessary. But reading and writing must not be dissociated; one ought to “have alternate recourse” to these two pursuits and “blend one with the other.” If too much writing is exhausting (Seneca is thinking of the demands of style), excessive reading has a scattering effect: “In reading of many books is distraction.”1 By going constantly from book to book, without ever stopping, without returning to the hive now and then with one’s supply of nectar - hence without taking notes or constituting a treasure store of reading - one is liable to retain nothing, to spread oneself across different thoughts, and to forget oneself. Writing, as a way of gathering in the reading that was done and of collecting one’s thoughts about it, is an exercise of reason that counters the great deficiency of stultitia, which endless reading may favor. Stultitia is defined by mental agitation, distraction, change of opinions and wishes, and consequently weakness in the face of all the events that may occur; it is also characterized by the fact that it turns the mind toward the future, makes it interested in novel ideas, and prevents it from providing a fixed point for itself in the possession of an acquired truth.2 (211-12)


[1] Seneca, Lettres, vol. 1 (1945), bk. 1, let. 2, §3, p. 6 {vol. 1, let. 2, §3, p. 7}.
[2] Ibid., vol. 2 (1947), bk. 5, let. 52, §§1-2, pp. 41-42 {vol. 1, let. 52, p. 345}. 


Source

Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Hupomnēmata
The Individual Myth

Works and Days

It's Hard To Say 

Documents

 


Notes

See Aretaic for the Vox CPE


LX:82 | Training of the Self By Oneself

No technique, no professional skill can be acquired without exercise; nor can the art of living, the tekhnē tou biou, be learned without an askēsis that should be understood as a training of the self by oneself. This was one of the traditional principles to which the Pythagoreans, the Socratics, the Cynics had long attached a great importance. It seems that, among all the forms taken by this training (which included abstinences, memorizations, self-examinations, meditations, silence, and listening to others), writing - the act of writing for oneself and for others - came, rather late, to play a considerable role. In any case, the texts from the imperial epoch relating to practices of the self placed a good deal of stress on writing. It is necessary to read, Seneca said, but also to write.1 And Epictetus, who offered an exclusively oral teaching, nonetheless emphasizes several times the role of writing as a personal exercise: one should “meditate” (meletan), write (graphein), train one-self (gumnazein): “May these be my thoughts, these my studies, writing or reading, when death comes upon me.”2 Or further: “Let these thoughts be at your command [prokheiron] by night and day: write them, read them, talk of them, to yourself and to your neighbor... if some so-called undesirable even should befall you, the first immediate relief to you will be that it was not unexpected.”3 In these texts by Epictetus, writing appears regularly associated with “meditation,” with that exercise of thought on itself that reactivates what it knows, calls to mind a principle, a rule, or an example, reflects on them, assimilates them, and in this manner prepares itself to face reality. Yet one also sees that writing is associated with the exercise of thought in two different ways. One takes the form of a linear “series”: it goes from meditation to the activity of writing and from there to gumnazein, that is, to training and trial in a real situation - a labor of thought, a labor though writing, a labor in reality. The other is circular: the meditation precedes the notes which enable the rereading which in turn reinitiates the meditation. In any case, whatever the cycle of exercise in which it takes place, writing constitutes an essential stage in the process to which the whole askēsis leads: namely, the fashioning of accepted discourses, recognized as true, into rational principles of action. As an elements of self-training, writing has, to use an expression that one finds in Plutarch, an ethopoietic function: it is an agent of the transformation of truth into ēthos. (208 - 209)


[1] Seneca, Lettres à Lucilius, trans. H. Nublot (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1945-64), vol. 3 (1957), bk. 11, let. 84, §1, p. 121 [Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, with an English translation by Richard M. Gummere (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961), vol. 2, let. 84, p. 277]

[2] Epictetus, Entretiens, trans. J. Souilhé (Paris: Belles Lettres, 1963), vol. 3, bk. 3, ch. 5: “A ceux qui quittent l’école pour raisons de santé,” §11, p. 23 [The Discourses and Manual, trans. P.E. Matheson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1916), vol. 2, bk. 3: “Against those who make illness an excuse for leaving the lecture-room,” p. 20.]

[3] Ibid., bk. 3, ch. 24: “Qu’il ne faut pas s’émouvoir pour ce qui ne depend pas de nous,” §103, p. 109 [ch. 24: “That We Ought Not Spend Our Feelings on Things Beyond Our Power,” p. 99].


Source

Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994.


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Apologia
For in Many Ways Human Nature is in Bondage
Foucault's Objective
Hupomnēmata
Intentional Arc
Ours / Not Ours
Quest for the Invariant
Situated Freedom
Sōphrōn
Take Care of Yourself
The Individual Myth
The Shamans and Sorcerers. The Psychoanalysts. The Artists.
This Permanent Dissonance
What I Am
Introduces Presence, Hollows Out Absence

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

See About


LX:72 | Subjectivity and Truth (The Punitive Society)

In the penal system of the Classical period, one reencounters, mixed together, four great forms of punitive tactics - four forms having different historical origins, each having played if not an exclusive role then a privileged one:

1. exile, cast out, banish, expel beyond the borders, forbid certain places, destroy the home, obliterate the birthplace, confiscate the possessions and properties;
2. arrange a compensation, impose a redemption, convert the damage caused into a debt to repay, turn the offense into a financial obligation;
3. expose, mark, wound, amputate, make a scar, stamp a sign on the face or the shoulder, impose an artificial and visible handicap, torture - in short, seize hold of the body and inscribe upon it the marks of power;
4. confine.

As a hypothesis we may distinguish, in terms of the types of punishment they privileged, banishment societies (Greek society), redemption societies (Germanic societies), marking societies (Western societies at the end of the Middle Ages), and confinement societies - our own?

Ours, but only since the end of the eighteenth century. For one thing is certain: detention and imprisonment do not form part of the European penal system before the great reforms of the years 1780-1820. The jurists of the eighteenth century are unanimous on this point: “Prison is not regarded as a penalty according to our civil law... although the princes, for reasons of State, sometimes go so far as to inflict this penalty, these are decisive blows, and civil courts do not make use of these kinds of sentences” (Serpillon, Code criminel, 1767).i But it can already be said that such an insistence on denying that imprisonment has any penal character indicates a growing uncertainty. In any case, the confinements that are practiced in the seventeenth and eighteenth century remain on the fringe of the penal system, even if they are close by and drawing ever closer.

  • surety confinement, employed by the courts during the investigation of a criminal matter, by the creditor until repayment of the debt, or by the royal power when it fears an enemy. This is not so much a matter of punishing an offense as of making sure of a person.
  • substitute confinement, imposed on someone who doesn’t come under criminal justice (either because of the nature of his offenses, which are only moral or behavioral in nature; or due to a privileged status: the ecclesiastical courts, which since 1629 no longer have the right to pass prison sentences in the strict sense, may order the guilty to withdraw to a monastery; the lettre de cachet is often a means for the privileged to escape criminal justice; women are sent to houses of detention for mistakes that men will pay for on the convict ships).

It should be noted, except in this last case, that this substitute confinement is characterized in general by the fact that it is not decided by judicial authority, that its duration is not set once and for all, and that it depends on a hypothetical purpose - correction. Punishment rather than penalty.

Now, fifty years or so after the great monuments of Classical criminal law (Serpillon, Jousse,ii Muyart de Vonglansiii), prison became the general form of penalty.

In 1831, Rémusat, in a speech to the Chamber, said: “What is the penal system authorized by the new law? It is incarceration in all its forms. Compare in fact the four main penalties that remain in the Penal Code. Forced labor is a form of incarceration. Penal servitude is an open-air prison. Detention, hard labor, and correctional imprisonment are in a way just different names for the same act of punishment.”iv And, Van Meenen, opening the Third Penitentiary Conference at Brussels, recalled the time of his youth when the land was still covered with “wheels, gibbets, gallows, and pillories,” with “skeletons hideously spread.”v It looks as if prison, parapenal punishment, had, at the end of the eighteenth century, made its entry into penal practice and had very quickly occupied the entire space. The Austrian Criminal Code, drafted under Joseph II, offers the most obvious evidence of this immediately triumphant invasion.

The organization of a penal system of confinement is not simply recent, it is enigmatic.

At the very time of its planning, it was the object of vehement criticism - criticism formulated in terms of basic principles; but also formulated with a view to the dysfunctions that prison might induce in the penal system and in society as a whole.

1. Prison prevents judicial authority from supervising and verifying the application of penalties. The law does not penetrate into the prisons, said Decazes in 1818.
2. Prison, by intermingling convicts who are both different and isolated, forms a homogeneous community of criminals who become comrades in confinement and who will remain such on the outside. Prison manufactures a veritable army of domestic enemies.
3. By giving convicts shelter, food, clothing, and often work, prison provides them with a condition preferable at times to that of workers. Not only may it fail to have a dissuasive effect, but it fosters delinquency.
4. Leaving prison are people who are doomed by their habits and by the infamy with which they are stamped to a life of crime.

Right away, then, prison is denounced as an instrument that, in the margins of justice, manufactures those whom that justice will send or send back to prison. The carceral circle is clearly denounced as early as the years 1815-1830. To this criticism there were three successive replies:

  • imagine an alternative to prison which retains its positive effects (the segregation of criminals, their removal from circulation in society) and eliminates its dangerous consequences (their return to circulation). One will take up the old system of transport, which the British had suspended at the time of the War of Independence and reinstated after 1790, in the direction of Australia. The great debates about Botany Bay took place in France around the years 1824-1830. In actual fact, deportation-colonization will never take the place of imprisonment; during the period of the great colonial conquests, it will play a complex role in the controlled circuits of delinquency. A whole ensemble constituted by the groups of more or less voluntary colonists, the colonial regiments, the battalions of Africa, the Foreign Legion, and Cayenne will come to function, during the nineteenth century, in correlation with a penal practice that will remain essentially carceral.
  • reform the internal system of the prison so that it stops manufacturing that army of domestic perils. This is the goal that was pointed to throughout Europe as “penitentiary reform.” We can give as chronological markers for it the Lessons on Prisons by Julius (1828),vi on the one hand, and on the other the Brussels Conference in 1847. This reform includes three main aspects: complete or partial isolation of prisoners inside the prisons (debates about the systems of Auburn and Pennsylvania); moral reform of convicts through work, instruction, religion, rewards, sentence reductions; development of parapenal institutions of prevention, or cooptation, or supervision. Now, these reforms, which the revolutions of 1848 put an end to, did not have the slightest effect on the prison dysfunctions that were denounced in the preceding period;
  • finally, give an anthropological status to the carceral circle; replace the old project of Julius and of Charles Lucasvii (to establish a “science of prisons” capable of giving the architectural, administrative, and pedagogical principles of a “correctional” institution) with a “science of criminals” that would be able to characterize them in their specificity and define the modes of social reaction suited to their case. The class of delinquents, to which the carceral circuit gave at least part of its autonomy and whose isolation and closure it ensured, appears then as a psychosociological deviation. A deviation that comes under a “scientific” discourse (into which will rush psychopathological, psychiatric, psychoanalytic, and sociological analyses); a deviation about which people will wonder if prison constitutes a response or an appropriate treatment.

What prison was reproached for in other terms at the beginning of the nineteenth century (its forming a “marginal” population of “delinquents”) is now considered as an inevitability. Not only is it accepted as a fact, but it is constituted as a primary assumption. The “delinquency” effect produced by prison becomes a delinquency problem to which prison must give a suitable response. A criminological turning of the carceral circle.

It must be asked how such a turning was possible; how effects that were denounced and criticized managed, after all, to be assumed as fundamental data for a scientific analysis of criminality; how it came about that prison, a recent, unstable, criticizable and criticized institution, was planted so deep in the institutional field that the mechanism of its effects could be posited as an anthropological constant; what prison’s ultimate reason for being was; what functional requirement it happened to meet.


[i] F. Serpillon, Code criminel, ou commentaire sur l'ordonnance de 1670 (Lyon: Perisse, 1767), vol. 2, title 35: Des sentences, judgments et arrêts, art. 13, §33, p.1095.

[ii] D. Jousse, Traité de la criminelle de France (Paris: Debure, 1771), 4 vols.

[iii] P. Muyart de Vouglans, Institutes au droit criminel, ou Principes généraux en ces matières (Paris: Breton, 1757).

[iv] C. Rémusat, "Discussion du projet de loi relatif à des réformes dans la législation pénale" (Chambre des deputés, December 1, 1831), Archives parlementaires, 2d ser. (Paris: Dupont, 1889), p. 185.

[v] Van Meenen (Presiding Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Brussels), "Discours d'ouverture du IIecongrès international pénitentiaire" (September 20-23, 1847, Brussels), Débats du Congrès pénitentiare de Bruxelles (Deltombe, 1847), p.20.

[vi] N.H. Julius, Vorselungen über die Gefängnisskunde (Berlin: Stuhr, 1828): Leçons sur les prisons, présentées en forme de cours au public de Berlin en l'année 1827, trans. Lagarmitte (Paris: Levrault, 1831), 2 vols.

[vii] C. Lucas, De la Réforme des prisons, ou de la théorie de l'emprisonnement, de ses principes, de ses moyens et de ses conditions pratiques (Paris: Legrand and Bergouinioux, 1836-1838), 3 vols.


Source

 Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994.


See Also

Lexicon Entries

 

Works and Days

 

Documents

image Code criminel, ou commentaire sur l'ordonnance de 1670

pdf Jury Independence Illustrated (1.40 MB)  


Notes


 

LX:48 | Relations of Power

The analyses I am trying to make bear essentially on relations of power. By this I mean something different from states of domination. Power relations are extremely widespread in human relationships. Now, this means not that political power is everywhere, but that there is in human relationships a whole range of power relations that may come into play among individuals, within families, in pedagogical relationships, political life, and so on. The analysis of power relations is an extremely complex area; one sometimes encounters what may be called situations or states of domination in which the power relations, instead of being mobile, allowing the various participants to adopt strategies modifying them, remain blocked, frozen. When an individual or social group succeeds in blocking a field of power relations, immobilizing them and preventing any reversibility of movement by economic, political, or military means, one is faced with what might be called a state of domination. In such a state, it is certain that practices of freedom do not exist or exist only unilaterally or are extremely constrained and limited. Thus, I agree with you that liberation is sometimes the political or historical condition for a practice of freedom. Taking sexuality as an example, it is clear that a number of liberations required vis-à-vis male power, that liberation was necessary from an oppressive morality concerning heterosexuality as well as homosexuality. But this liberation does not give rise to the happy human being imbued with a sexuality to which the subject could achieve a complete and satisfying relationship. Liberation paves the way for new power relationships, which must be controlled by practices of freedom. (283-4)


Source

Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Foucault's ObjectiveThe Red Ink,A Fundamental Quality of an Act; White

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:29 | The Notion of Liberation

I have always been somewhat suspicious of the notion of liberation, because if it is not treated with precautions and within certain limits, one runs the risk of falling back on the idea that there exists a human nature or base that, as a consequence of certain historical, economic, and social processes, has been concealed, alienated, or imprisoned in and by mechanisms of repression. According to this hypothesis, all that is required is to break these repressive deadlocks and man will be reconciled with himself, rediscover his nature or regain contact with his origin, and reestablish full and positive relationship with himself. I think this idea should not be accepted without scrutiny. I am not trying to say that liberation as such, or this or that form of liberation, does not exist: when a colonized people attempts to liberate itself from its colonizers, this is indeed a practice of liberation in the strict sense. But we know very well, and moreover in this specific case, that this practice of liberation is not in itself sufficient to define the practices of freedom that will still be needed if this people, this society, and these individuals are to be able to define admissible and acceptable forms of existence or political society. This is why I emphasize practices of freedom over processes of liberation; again, the latter indeed have their place, but they do not seem to me to be capable by themselves of defining all the practical forms of freedom. This is precisely the problem I encountered with regard to sexuality: does it make any sense to say, “Let’s liberate our sexuality”? Isn’t the problem rather that of defining the practices of freedom by which one could define what is sexual pleasure and erotic, amorous and passionate relationships with others? This ethical problem of the definition of practices of freedom, it seems to me, is much more important than the rather repetitive affirmation that sexuality or desire must be liberated. (282-3)


Source

Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Reflective Understanding; Foucault's Objective; The Red Ink;A Fundamental Quality of an Act;Pursuit of the Examined Life;White

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes


LX:28 | What I Am

I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think that you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.


Source

Foucault, Michel. “Truth, Power, Self: An Interview with Michel Foucault.”  Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault (1982) 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Training of the Self By Oneself 

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:23 | Hupomnēmata

Hupomnēmata, in the technical sense, could be account books, public registers, or individual notebooks serving as memory aids. Their use as books of life, as guides for conduct, seems to have become a common thing for a whole cultivated public. One wrote down quotes in them, extracts from books, examples, and actions that one had witnessed or read about, reflections or reasonings that one had heard or that had come to mind. They constituted a material record of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering them up as a kind of accumulated treasure for subsequent rereading and meditation. They also formed a raw material for the drafting of more systematic treatises, in which one presented arguments and means for struggling against some weakness (such as anger, envy, gossip, flattery) or for overcoming some difficult circumstance (a grief, an exile, ruin, disgrace). (209-10)

These hupomnēmata should not be thought of simply as a memory support, which might be consulted from time to time, as occasion arose; they are not meant to be substituted for a recollection that may fail. They constitute, rather, a material and a framework for exercises to be carried out frequently: reading, rereading, meditating, conversing with oneself and with others. And this was in order to have them, according to the expression that recurs often, prokheiron, ad manum, in promptu. “Near at hand,” then, not just in the sense that one would be able to recall them into consciousness, but that one should be able to use them, whenever the need was felt, in action. It is a matter of constituting a logos bioēthikos for oneself, an equipment of helpful discourses, capable - as Plutarch says - of elevating the voice and silencing the passions like a master who with one word hushes the growling of dogs. And for that they must not simply be placed in a sort of memory cabinet but deeply lodged in the soul, “planted in it,” says Seneca, and they must form part of ourselves: in short, the soul must make them not merely its own but itself. The writing of the hupomnēmata is an important relay in this subjectivation of discourse.

However personal they may be, these hupomnēmata ought not to be understood as intimate journals or as those accounts of spiritual experience (temptations, struggles, downfalls, and victories) that will be found in later Christian literature. They do not constitute a “narrative of oneself”; they do not have the aim of bringing to the light of day the arcana conscientiae, the oral or written confession of which has a purificatory value. The movement they seek to bring about is the reverse of that: the intent is not to pursue the unspeakable, nor to reveal the hidden, nor to say the unsaid, but on the contrary to capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self. (210-11)


Source

Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

The Place I Have Come To
Training of the Self By Oneself
Stultitia

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

The Lexicon is one example of hupomnēmata that I use as part of my process.

LX:13 | Parrhesia

Etymologically, "parrhesiazesthai" means "to say everything — from "pan" (everything) and "rhema" (that which is said). The one who uses parrhesia, the parrhesiastes, is someone who says everything he has in mind: he does not hide anything, but opens his heart and mind completely to other people through his discourse. In parrhesia, the speaker is supposed to give a complete and exact account of what he has in mind so that the audience is able to comprehend exactly what the speaker thinks. The word "parrhesia" then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. Whereas rhetoric provides the speaker with technical devices to help him prevail upon the minds of his audience (regardless of the rhetorician's own opinion concerning what he says), in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people's mind by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.


Source

Foucault, Michel.  "Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia." University of California, Berkeley.  Oct. - Nov. 1983.  Ed. J. Pearson. 1999. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Creative Activity
The Red Ink
A Fundamental Quality of an Act
Standing Toe to Toe
Apologia 

Works and Days

Parrhesia and the Portrait

Documents

 


Notes

 


 

LX:12 | Take Care of Yourself

The precept of the “care of the self” [souci de soi] was, for the Greeks, one of the main principles of cities, one of the main rules for social and personal conduct and for the art of life. For us now, this notion is rather obscure and faded. When one is asked “What is the most important moral principle in ancient philosophy?” the immediate answer is not “Take care of oneself” but the Delphic principal, gnōthi seauton (“Know yourself”).

Without doubt, our philosophical tradition has overemphasized the latter and forgotten the former. The Delphic principal was not an abstract one concerning life; it was technical advice, a rule to be observed for the consultation of the oracle. “Know yourself” meant “Do not suppose yourself to be a god.” Other commentators suggest that it meant “Be aware of what you really ask when you come to consult the oracle.”  (226)

[...]

There are several reasons why "Know yourself" has obscured "Take care of yourself." First, there has been a profound transformation in the moral principles of Western society. We find it difficult to base rigorous morality and austere principles on the precept that we should give more care of ourselves than to anything else in the world. We are more inclined to see taking care of ourselves as an immortality, as a means of escape from all possible rules. We inherit the tradition of Christian morality which makes self-renunciation the condition for salvation. To know oneself was, paradoxically, a means of self-renunciation.

We also inherit a secular tradition that sees in external law the basis for morality. How then can respect for the self be the basis for morality? We are the inheritors of a social morality that seeks the rules for acceptable behavior in relations with others. Since the sixteenth century, criticism of established morality has been undertaken in the name of the importance of recognizing and knowing the self. Therefore, it is difficult to see the care of the self as compatible with morality. “Know thyself” has obscured “Take care of yourself” because our morality, a morality of asceticism, insists that the self is that which one can reject.

The second reason is that, in theoretical philosophy from Descartes to Husserl, knowledge of the self (the thinking subject) takes on an ever-increasing importance as the first step in the theory of knowledge.

To summarize: There has been an inversion in the hierarchy of the two principles of antiquity, “Take care of yourself” and “Know yourself.” In Greco-Roman culture, knowledge of oneself appeared as the consequence of the care of the self. In the modern world, knowledge of oneself constitutes the fundamental principle.  (228)


Source

Foucault, Michel.  Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth.  Ed. Paul Rabinow. The New Press, 1994. 


See Also

Lexicon Entries

A Fundamental Quality of an ActTraining of the Self By Oneself

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


LX:6 | Foucault's Objective

My objective for more than twenty-five years has been to sketch out a history of the different ways in our culture that humans develop knowledge about themselves: economics, biology, psychiatry, medicine, and penology. The main point is not to accept this knowledge at face value but to analyze these so-called sciences as very specific "truth games" related to specific techniques that human beings use to understand themselves.

As a context, we must understand that there are four major types of these "technologies," each a matrix of practical reason: (1) technologies of production, which permit us to produce, transform, or manipulate things; (2) technologies of sign systems, which permit us to use signs, meanings, symbols, or signification; (3) technologies of power, which determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to certain ends or domination, an objectivizing of the subject; (4) technologies of the self, which permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.

These four types of technologies hardly ever function separately, although each one of them is associated with a certain type of domination. Each implies certain modes of training and modification of individuals, not only in the obvious sense of acquiring certain skills but also in the sense of acquiring certain attitudes. I wanted to show both their specific nature and their constant interaction.  For instance, one sees the relation between manipulating things and domination in Karl Marx's "Capital," where every technique of production requires modification of individual conduct - not only skills but also attitudes. (17-18)


Source

Martin, Luther T., Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton, eds. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault.  University of Massachusetts Press 1988.


See Also

Lexicon Entries

Transition from the Ordinary Rational Knowledge of Morality to the Philosophical
The Notion of Liberation
Principle of Incompletion
Relations of Power
A Fundamental Quality of an Act
Training of the Self By Oneself

Works and Days

 

Documents

 


Notes

 


Parrhesia and the Portrait

The one who uses parrhesia, the parrhesiastes, is someone who says everything he has in mind: he does not hide anything, but opens his heart and mind completely to other people through his discourse.

Michel Foucault | Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia



See Also

Lexicon Entries

Parrhesia
White


Foucault, Michel.  "Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia." University of California, Berkeley.  Oct. - Nov. 1983.  Ed. J. Pearson. 1999.