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Michel Foucault's Conception of Ethics

Keywords: Foucault , Descartes , Nietzcsche , ethics , self technologies , genealogical method , subjectivity.

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Foucault’s conception of ethics is closely related to the political and intellectual structure, dominant in France in his youth. Foucault’s work can be regarded in general as a history of thought. Foucault aims at investigating our position today in the face of the historical foundations of contemporary culture. Hence, Foucault criticizes modern philosophy as well as the intellectual economical and political history of European culture. In the essence of Foucault’s criticism lies the denial of the idea of the constitutive subject, which has dominated the philosophy since Descartes. Foucault’s work is based on Nietzsche’s work which stands simply as a denial of Enlightment’s belief in the reason and in universal principles of humanistic values and rights. Foucault also, regards himself as a follower of Nietzsche and accepts his genealogical method, his conception of power and his views that ethical life is related with the aesthetics of self. We found, in Nietzsche, the foundations of Foucault’s subjectivity and its relation with language. Foucault, instead of developing a normative ethics, which could be true for anyone, is after developing a specific style which stems from individual freedom and intellectual development. For Foucault, ethics is investigating the relationship of the self with itself. Foucault regards ethics as a part of morality, which has the relationship of the self with itself as a subject matter. Foucault, in his conception of ethics does not deny the law of morality, that is, philosophy of morality, nor he denies the importance of the actual behavior of individuals. What Foucault particularly emphasizes is the style of self constituting of the individual as an ethical subject of his/her own actions, that is the style of developing his/her self. In this context, Foucault’s conception of ethics is based on the analysis of the relationship between self technologies and power forces.


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