Paper presented at the 4th Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "Histories of the present"
3 & 4 September 1998, Johannesburg, South Africa


(1) Foucault's genealogy of an anti-theory of the normative ethical subject

Bregham Dalgliesh

Department of Politics, University of Edinburgh,

31 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9JT, Scotland, U.K.; Email: bpd@holyrood.ed.ac.uk.

Many commentators detect two separate though theoretically interrelated problems in Foucault's ethical investigations. Crucially, they interpret genealogy as evidence of Foucault's ontological nihilism. In addition, his conception of power is seen as indicative of the decline in traditional forms of collective politics. Foucault's ethics, critics claim, is akin to a hermetic intellectual retreat characterised by an ascetic subject and a relativistic conception of politics. Hence the imperative to address these discriminating readings of Foucault. One way in which to do this is to see if his conceptualisation of the subject really does leave us theoretically stranded. In other words, to what extent does Foucault's genealogical research add to and inform - rather than negate - our present understanding of who we are as subjects?

Introduction(2)

The reception of Foucault's late-writings has been as varied as it has been influential.(3) His kindest critics, for example, argue that Foucault's main success lay in his role as a historian who is at the same time a critic of power.(4) They read Foucault, contradictions and all, as one of those rare thinkers who pushes one way of thinking to its limits in order to recognise and overcome earlier limitations.(5) In so doing, Foucault is able to avoid the narcissistic complacency of the prophetic intellectual in order to know himself generically in the unthought.(6) Indeed, Foucault on Foucault, as it were, encapsulates these interpretations in L'Usage when he writes:

As to those for whom to work hard, to begin and begin again, to attempt and be mistaken, to go back and rework everything from top to bottom, and still find reason to hesitate from one step to the next - as to those, in short, for whom to work in the midst of uncertainty and apprehension is tantamount to failure, all I can say is that clearly we are not from the same planet. ... There is irony in those efforts one makes to alter one's way of looking at things, to change the boundaries of what one knows and to venture out a ways from there. Did mine actually result in a different way of thinking? Perhaps at most they made it possible to go back through what I was already thinking, to think it differently, and to see what I had done from a new vantage point and in a clearer light. Sure of having traveled (sic) far, one finds that one is looking down on oneself from above. The journey rejuvenates things, and ages the relationship with oneself.(7)

Somewhat less sympathetically, other critics detect several problems in Foucault's investigations and his related ethical concerns. They argue that Foucault's ethics is an ontological cul-de-sac and his method an intellectual U-turn. Thus, Foucault's genealogical method in his late-writings was little more than an attempt to address the ego split and the role of the detached metaphenomenologist of his archaeological period.(8) Norris further argues that shortly before his death in 1984 Foucault was forced to shift from the moral-political bankruptcy of his post-structural genealogy to the ethics of stoical self-fashioning. In this guise, all Foucault could offer in terms of freedom was a thinned down normative commitment.(9) Accordingly, Foucault may well have been in the Heidegger-Nietzsche mould, but he was inferior to them in his style of specific historical analysis.(10) Along with his compatriots Georges Bataille and Jacques Derrida, Foucault was basically a young conservative whose total critique of modernity ultimately turned in on itself.(11)

His critics continue further that Foucault was no more than an engaged, postvanguardist intellectual who employed philosophical history as farce.(12) Lévy even cites Foucault as the cause of the death of the intellectual due to their inability to outlive the decline of the universal (pretensions of philosophy).(13) Hence, Foucault was, as Habermas has notoriously claimed, a cryptonormativist who proposed an escape into the aesthetic and a decentred subjectivity divorced from work and usefulness.(14) Finally, Walzer argues that one of the broader consequences of these developments has been the retreat of the active, politically engaged social critic into the critic-in-small of the academy - Foucault is the archetype - who tends toward intellectual hermeticism and gnostic obscurity.(15)

Well, does Foucault in fact fail to offer us a critical conception of the subject? Is his legacy for ontology the conceptual vacuum which fuels the above criticisms? In the following study we will attempt to address these hostile readings of Foucault by arguing that his genealogy is a normative commitment which results in the critical concept of the ethical subject. So, firstly, how does Foucault conceptualise ethics or the rapport à soi? To answer this, we will examine the precise nature of the technologies of the self outlined in the first part of L'Usage as Foucault's 'anti-theory' of the subject. Thereafter, we will look into the specific epoch of Greek antiquity to see the evaluative differences between Foucault's anti-theory ethical subject and today's codified subject originally implied by Plato's theory of the subject.

Foucault's genealogy of ethics as an 'anti-theory' of the subject

Foucault markets a tri-axial interpretation of experience, which he argues is composed of knowledge, power and the subject.(16) In virtue of his philosophical concern with who we are, he examines experience's third postulate, the moral objectivisation of the subject, for it is here that our historical styles of subjectivity are assembled. It is therefore genealogy which arms Foucault with the material to be critical of our experience of who we are today; that is, the experience of oneself in respect of a code-oriented rather than an ethics-oriented morality wherein a self-disciplining style of subjectivity of conformity to the norm is regurgitated. Ultimately, it is this style which blights our ontological landscape for Foucault, and so it is necessary to examine the genealogical material - ethics - that functions as his criticism of it.

Let us reason, for a moment, why Foucault invites us to read his work on the discourses of sexual activity as a history of ethics rather than morality? Any answer to this question will at the start depend on the philosophical perspective one takes and the precise theoretical point one wants to make. In pondering Foucault's separation of them, it is useful to keep his normative commitment in the foreground, his ethics, which involves the constitution of the ethical subject and their associated style of subjectivity.

At a general level, and given that sexual activity has repeatedly fallen under the spell of our moral wizards, Foucault is concerned with the history of sexual morals. Yet, because of genealogy, he finds it necessary to delve deeper into the conventional history of moral prohibitions. He argues that a unified moral code, what we call morality, stipulates at least two types of normativity. Typically, there is a code of prescriptions, which specifies permitted from forbidden acts. In so doing, it serves as the contextual reference point for an assessment of the subject's behaviour.(17) Foucault describes this as the morality of behaviours, and it assigns a positive or a negative value - Thou shalt, Thou shalt not - to a range of possible behaviours by the subject.(18)

A second type of normativity, one which is seldom "... isolated as such but is, (Foucault) think(s), very important ...," is morality's requirement of the moral conduct of oneself.(19) This details the manner in which one ought to make or, moving along a crude spectrum of liberty, to obey, forge or create, oneself into an ethical subject who acts in respect of the moral code. Foucault suggests there are several factors - essentially four forms of rapport that one can have with oneself - which influence the ethical subject's conduct of themself. Each form will vary historically in the demands it places on the subject to develop their conduct, and the combined effect of each, an ethical subject and their subjectivity, will therefore differ from epoch to epoch, too.(20) Hence, ethics, the rapport à soi, reveal the normative criteria which are implied in the business of making oneself into an ethical subject of one's own behaviour. Finally, it is the genealogy of the subject that uncovers what these rapport à soi are. It is for this reason that the method ought to be seen as the canvass for Foucault's portrayal of the history of ethics. Even more precisely, it is his writing of a history of ethical practices, or what he also calls the technologies of the self.(21)

But what made Foucault theorise the four rapport à soi? It seems that contrary to what one would expect if we were to judge a book by its cover, L'Usage and Le Souci do not have as their primary aim a history, a documentation or an explanation of what our current understanding of sexuality is.(22) Of course, L'Usage started out as a historical study which aimed to plot the evolution of sexuality from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.(23) Eventually, however, the issue of sex began to 'bore' Foucault the more he discovered the dissimilarities in each epoch's problematisation of sexual activity and the subject's ethical relation to it.(24) Maybe we ought to therefore think of Foucault's ethics as a sign of his deeper philosophical and political concern. This quite untypical normalien invites us to consider the pivotal role that the field of sexual activity has played in the formation of the ethical subject's moral experience. In those ethics-oriented, philosophical moralities such as was to be found in antiquity, Foucault calls the abstract procedures which constituted this experience of oneself as an ethical subject the rapport à soi.

However, to reveal exactly what these are involves a complicated argument. Foucault has to look at the broad features which first determine for the western mind that sexual activity is established as a domain of moral valuation and choice. To accomplish this, he starts in L'Usage from the common notion of a general ethic of the chrésis aphrodisión (use of the pleasures). This allows Foucault to map the four interrelated rapport à soi to which it refers. Then, through an examination of several of the crucial practices indigenous to Greek antiquity and particular to the citizen, for example, his health regimen, method of household management and his practice of courtship, Foucault can study how medical and philosophical thought formulates the (historically recurrent) theme of austerity around sexual activity, and in response to which the ethic of the chrésis aphrodisión was developed. Hence, the citizen could only attain virtue insofar as he embodied, through his style of moderation, a quite stringent attitude of austerity in respect of the four major realms of his ethical experience. They are the ethical subject's relation to his body and his wife, and his relation to young boys and the truth. Similarly, the theme of the epimeleia heautou, which was the specific manifestation of the general discourse of moderation in Greek antiquity, was encapsulated as numerous aesthetics of existence in the form of dietetics, economics, erotics and philosophy, respectively.(25)

What, then, does Foucault mean exactly by the four rapport à soi which he says the chrésis aphrodisión relate to? There is, briefly, an ethical substance (substance éthique) and a type of subjection (mode d'assujettissement), which together constitute one's relationship to oneself. Descriptively, the ethical substance deals with the region in the subject's behaviour that is to be assigned ontological primacy, and in virtue of which it becomes the object of one's moral conduct. The ethical substance, as the territory over which ethics presides, is the aspect of our behaviour nominated for moral valuation or judgement.(26) This leads on to the second rapport à soi, the type of subjection, which is the way the subject establishes their relation to moral conduct and thus comes to recognise themself as obliged to practice it. The type of subjection is deontological, and pertains to the form of exposure given by the subject to the ethical substance independent of any specification of it.(27) Together, these two rapport à soi see to the constitution of one's relationship to oneself:

(In) the reflection of the Greeks of the classical period, it does seem that the moral problematization of food, drink and sexual activity was carried out in a rather similar manner. Foods, wines, and relations with women and boys constituted analogous ethical material; they brought forces into play that were natural, but that always tended to be excessive; and they all raised the same question: how could he, how must he 'make use' (chréstai) of this dynamics of pleasure, desires, and acts? A question of right use.(28)

Next, there is an elaboration of one's ethical work (travail éthique) and a teleology of the ethical subject (téléologie), which form the practices of the self.(29) This third rapport à soi details, firstly, the means by which the subject brings their behaviour into compliance with the relevant moral conduct. At the same time, the subject transforms themself into the ethical subject who performs the behaviour demanded by this moral conduct.(30) As such, the ethical work - the subject's elaboration of the type of subjection against their ethical substance, and thus of themself as ethical - is the central location where the philosophical input into ethics occurs.(31) This is due to the means employed by the subject in their process of elaboration. In order to comply with moral conduct, the subject has to master their own behaviour. But the demonstration of one's self-mastery over one's behaviour is dependent on the prior idea of enkrateia, the domination of oneself by oneself, which is realised through various forms of askésis (ascetics). It is here, where practical thought informs the subject's askésis, or one's daily transformation and work on oneself through a savoir-faire, that philosophy guides the subject in their endeavour to be ethical.(32)

The fourth rapport à soi demands something over and above the subject's behaviour being moral in itself, that one merely constitute oneself as an ethical subject. The citizen was advised to follow the principle of logos, which guarantees the circumstantial integration of the subject's ethical behaviour into his moral conduct to establish his vigorous, self-assertive form of freedom. Secondly, this teleological rapport à soi ensured a place at the pinnacle of power in the overall pattern of relations in the polis for the ethical subject and his active form of freedom. There is, then, a clear sense in which the subject has a goal of being to which he aspires. Lastly, it is a teleology where logos, because it is constitutive of the ethical subject, forms (through him) the foundational background to (his exercise of) political power.(33) Foucault therefore writes of the connection between the Greek citizen's freedom, which is ethically generated, and the wider polity:

The freedom that needed establishing and preserving was that of the citizens of a collectivity of course, but it was also, for each of them, a certain form of a relationship of the individual with himself. The organization of the city, the nature of its laws, the forms of education, and the manners in which the leaders conducted themselves obviously were important factors for the behavior of citizens; but conversely, the freedom of individuals, understood as the mastery they were capable of exercising over themselves, was indispensable to the entire state. ... The individual's attitude toward himself, the way in which he ensured his own freedom with regard to himself, and the form of supremacy he maintained over himself were a contributing element to the well-being and good order of the city.(34)

Foucault's genealogy of ethics as a theoretical critique of a theory of the subject

The central issue under the Foucauldian microscope above is the moral framework in Greek antiquity wherein the desiring subject (of pleasure) experiences himself. We have seen, in our examination of the rapport á soi, the abstract formalities of this experience. Of importance here were the rapport á soi of the constitution of his relationship to himself, and those of the supporting practices of the self. It was in the latter, too, that the significance of knowledge became evident: the concrete effect of the rapport á soi, the ethical subject, had, in his process of becoming, to constitute himself as a subject of knowledge. Therefore, upon the success of the ethical stylisation of his subjectivity through conformity to knowledge, the ethical subject of sóphrosyné constituted by this relation assumed his role as a citizen who exercised political power.

A healthy level of inquisitiveness might lead one to deliberate beyond this conception of the subject to what differentiates, for Foucault, one epoch's ethics from another's? How can we evaluate critically 'their' subjectivity against 'our' subjectivity? An answer to this question will initially have to revert back to the generalities of our tentatively explored concept of morality. Indeed, one of the primary challenges for Foucault is to negotiate the appropriate compromise between the musings of the general on sex and the verities of the particular on the self, and out of which his genealogy of the ethical subject emerges.(35) In any event, and as we have already seen, Foucault argues that all unified moral codes contain prescriptions on the morality of behaviour and the morality of conduct. In virtue of their identity with the same morality, he says that in reality neither of these types of normativity can be dissociated from the other. There is no specific moral behaviour that does not in some way refer back to a unified moral code. Also, there is no moral conduct that does not require the fashioning of oneself into an ethical subject in respect of this same morality.(36) Nevertheless, a unified morality can be said to accentuate what Foucault terms either its code-oriented side or its ethics-oriented part.

A code-oriented morality focuses on the morality of behaviours, the code of prescriptions, to the detriment of the morality of conduct. Analytical attention is directed toward the richness of the code, and its ability to encapsulate and assimilate all areas of behaviour. From the perspective of our ontological foreground, what is significant is the authority that enforces, polices and penalises the code and its transgression. As a consequence, the subject submits their morality of conduct to the code. The subject's ethical relationship is to the moral code of prescribed behaviours. That is, the technologies of the self are no more than a question of normalisation, and the subjectivity of the ethical subject is quasi-juridical in style.

In contrast, an ethics-oriented morality emphasises the morality of conduct, the ethical rapport à soi, and sees the morality of behaviour as only rudimentary to its effectiveness. Here, the focus is on the ethical subject's constitution of a relationship to themself rather than to the code, and the relevant practices of the self through which this is done. For the former, the code-oriented morality, respect for the nomoi (laws and customs) are crucial. On the other hand, for the ethics-oriented morality it is the issue of askésis, the techné of the self, which are central and as such become an addition to a commonly accepted morality.(37)

Foucault further underlines the schematic divergence, this time methodologically, between a code-oriented and an ethics-oriented morality. He claims that the culmination of the rapport à soi, the ethical subject's self-elaborated moral conduct or their subjectivity, represents the exteriority of antiquity's pagan, philosophical morality. This is in contrast to the interiority of antiquity's christian, code-oriented morality. There, the quasi-juridical subject's subjectivity is elaborated through codified forms of attention, concern, decipherment, verbalisation, confession, self-accusation, struggle against temptation, renunciation and spiritual combat.(38) There is, Foucault argues, a shift in the moral experience of the subject. In antiquity, moral experience is a practice, a stylisation of liberty, and the aim is to make one's life into an art work where the subject recognises themself, is recognised by others, and whose stylisation will inspire others beyond the ephemerality of existence. Gradually, and as early as Greco-Roman antiquity, this moral experience begins to change. Christianity's religion of the text, its idea of the will of God and its principle of obedience to His representative, the pastor, ensure that the subject's moral experience is transformed into a question of their morality of behaviour.(39) This is why the key to understanding the shift from antiquity to christianity and on through to modernity is, for Foucault, best understood in terms of a restructuration of the forms of relationship to oneself and a transformation of the practices and techniques on which they rest.(40)

On this understanding, the unified codes of interdiction that start in antiquity and continue on through to the present day are stable and constant in their convergence on some basic principles. It is on these recurrent themes of austerity - incorrectly, as Foucault comes to realise - which non-genealogical renditions of moral evolution focus.(41) They juxtapose a liberal and tolerant antiquity with a conservative and authoritarian christianity.(42) However, Foucault's point of departure in L'Usage and Le Souci is to analyse what would appear to be a rich and complex field of historicity in respect of the way the subject is summoned to recognise themself as an ethical subject of their sexual activity. This means, to be sure, addressing the new topic of ethics, and how the form of the ethical subject and the ethical work associated to them were defined, modified and diversified. So, whilst the unified moral code of sexual austerity does not significantly alter between antiquity, christianity and modernity, ethical relations and hence the constitution of the subject does.(43) This is another reason why Foucault is not writing a genealogy of the morals of antiquity, but "... the genealogy of the subject as a subject of ethical actions, ...".(44)

Up to this point, basic evidence has been provided in support of Foucault's normative commitment of ethics. The genealogy of the subject is his construction of a history of ethics, which is itself conditional upon Foucault's analytical demarcation of morality into either a code-oriented morality or an ethics-oriented morality. An epoch's ethics, and its effect of the ethical subject with a specific style of subjectivity, will depend on which one of these aspects holds sway. In the case of the former, the ethical subject is quasi-juridically constituted. The ethical subject is self-disciplining, and subjectivity is normalised. Those who are subject to a code-oriented morality are exposed to the compulsory, unified and universal mode of domination under pastoral christianity. Later, in modernity, one is subjected to disciplinary bio-power's mode of domination.(45) Here, it is the experience of oneself as a subject vis-à-vis religious and scientific norms which, in spite of modernity's radical heterogeneity of discourses, still manufactures subjects who display a similar homogeneous subjectivity of conformity within each one. Foucault's middle-writings on the relations of power implicitly addresses this style of subjectivity.

In comparison, the subject of an ethics-oriented morality is fortunate enough to be self-constituting of their moral conduct. Obviously, this self-stylisation of one's subjectivity intrigues Foucault critically. Not, though, as an alternative. The bittersweet fruit of self-disciplinary subjectivity, normalisation, is not automatically bad. Rather, it is dangerous.(46) Pagan morality, as Foucault torturously came to realise, problematises sexual activity by underscoring the ethics-oriented face of morality. The themes of austerity in antiquity are realised through the moral conduct of the ethical subject, and not in terms of the morality of behaviours characteristic of christianity and modernity. Thus, the pagan problematisation sheds light on where the dangers in today's disciplinary styles of subjectivity might lie.(47)

In other words, Foucault is able through genealogy to reintroduce the problem of the subject. But his curtain call to the subject in his late-writings is not the condition for the possibility of experience, nor, it can be claimed, is it a response to Foucault's critics. Instead, it is due to experience as the rationalisation of a process that results in a subject. Foucault's ethical investigation is into the genesis of how human beings are transformed into subjects. The rapport à soi are thus the procedures by which the subject is produced or, as Foucault argues, they are the procedures which manufacture subjectivity that is itself only one of the possibilities for organising self-consciousness. Hence, the subject, or the problematisation of the constitution of oneself as a subject, was never theorised, as such, in Greek antiquity. Only the conditions in which an experience could take place of oneself as a self - as an individual who wants to constitute themself as their own master - were of interest.(48)

Consider, as an example, the practice of courtship and the discourse of erotics in Greek antiquity. The modern perjoration homosexual would have left the bells silent in Greek antiquity. There, an immoral man was an immoderate man. He was the citizen who, irrespective of the object of his desire, was prone to succumb to his akolasia aphrodisia over and beyond the carefully worked out ethic on their appropriate usage. In the pre-Socratic tradition the love of boys was sanctioned by the law and public opinion, and military and educational institutions. It was also blessed by religion and culture. Contempt was reserved for the man of excess or, where he practised sóphrosyné in his courtship of boys, for those youths he was able to seduce with ease or who showed signs of effeminacy. Today, while the state no longer censures in the main non-heterosexual men (or women), its underwriters nonetheless focus on the (homosexual's) singularity of desire for one's (his) own gender. In contrast, the citizen's desire was not projected in terms of its gender specificity, but in its orientation to what was most noble and beautiful. This conceptualisation of an undifferentiating desire thus formed the theme for the moral problematisation of the practice of courtship, as it was supposed that the love of a boy required a different ethical stylisation to that practised in the love of a woman.(49)

The discourse of erotics thus concerned the boy's courtship by an older man, rather than the other way round.(50) He was called on to practice honour at all costs, and to thereby protect his future reputation as a citizen. In a limited sense, the boy's honour amounted to no more than his avoidance of aischyné - a feeling of shame, and a reputation of contempt and blame brought about by the boy's tendency to yield at random and indiscriminately. Yet, in numerous other ways his honour had to be won. At his most desirable towards the end of his adolescence, the boy's honour was simultaneously at its most fragile, too. It was therefore a measured test of his ethical work, and his honour became a sign of its formation. The boy's bodily demeanour, his gaze, way of talking and quality of acquaintance were all measured and evaluated. Similarly, the development of his sóphrosyné could be detected by the amount of suitors vying for his charms, and his discernment in managing their advancements. His ethical work lay in his ability to neither frustrate all their advances, nor to concede to every proposition that came his way. The boy was simply to show moderation in his practice and timing; that is, to demonstrate his attitude of a relationship with himself.(51)

A boy's conduct therefore related directly to the agonistic field of the akolasia aphrodisia. Secondly, it entailed that he acknowledge, in competition with his peers, the form of this ethical substance, and in respect of which he was to demonstrate his ethical work. In order to realise these imperatives and to safeguard his honour, the boy employed philosophy as a complement to the other tests he was subject to. In combination, his practical exercises and philosophical knowledge aided the boy in his self-managed production of his epimeleia heautou: he needed philosophy to steer his thought, and it was through thought that he practised enkrateia over himself. Foucault sums up the purpose of the discourse of erotics as follows:

In dietetics, it was mainly a question of mastery over oneself and over the violence of a perilous act; in economics, it was a question of the control one had to exercise over oneself in the practice of the authority that one exercised over one's wife. Here, where erotics takes the boy's point of view, the problem is to see how the boy is going to be able to achieve self-mastery in not yielding to others. The point at issue is not the sense of measure that one brings to one's own power, but the best way to measure one's strength against the power of others whilst ensuring one's own mastery over self.(52)

Foucault's genealogy of ethics as a normative critique of a theory of the subject

It is, therefore, not until the Socratic-Platonic discourse of philosophical erotics that the self comes to experience themself as a subject. The effective introduction by Plato of a theory of the subject is in fact the bridge to Le Souci and Greco-Roman antiquity. Much later, in the fifth century A.D. and the beginnings of the christian experience of sexual activity, the inversion of Greek antiquity's self-elaborating self is completed. There is an appropriation of morality by a theory of the subject, and a concomitant centralisation of moral experience onto the subject.(53)

But how does Foucault suggest this Socratic-Platonic inversion took place? In many ways, the discourse of erotics and the practice of courtship just discussed defined the context for the boy's constitution of a relationship to himself, and the training ground for his self-mastery. Nevertheless, the courtship of a boy by an older man, in particular their nocturnal congress, presented the sages of Greek antiquity with a seemingly implacable problem. It was not, other than perhaps in its consummation, that their love dare not speak its name. Rather, it concerned the isomorphism between sexual activity and the social structure of the polis. A sexual model of penetration, of the active man and the passive woman, was readily translated into the citizen's superiority and domination in his government of others. Similarly, the practices of the akolasia aphrodisia and of ruling dealt with synonymous agonistic relations, forces and roles. But when it came to the question of the courtship of a boy, and the eventual probability that he too would be penetrated by his citizen lover, a whole new problematisation of the akolasia aphrodisia developed.

The problem centred on the fact that, because of the valorisation which accrued to the citizen as the active and dominant subject of sexual activity, the ripening body for his penetration could only be a passive object of sexual activity, and hence inferior. Where it involved his wife, concubine, mistress or slaves, whether woman or man, the only concern was to integrate sexual activity into the domain of the regimen or the household in which it was practised. These people were, so it was believed, naturally inferior and inherently unfree. Passivity was to be. And, despite the distaste it leaves in our moral palate, recognition was signified by one's utilisation. Objectification meant one had now become. (Cue Königsberg's time-keeper?)

Conversely, the boy, as a citizen-in-waiting, was merely temporarily inferior in terms of his status of rights and power.(54) Further, he was to become tomorrow's active, dominant and superior citizen, a status in large part determined by his conduct as an adolescent and exactly where he was asked to be passive in his relation with a man. The source of the problematisation of male only sexual relations lay here, in the juxtaposition between its open acceptance and an ethics of male superiority based on a penetrative, male dominating conception of sexual activity. This Foucault reveals as the antinomy of the boy:

On the one hand, young men were recognised as objects of pleasure - and even as the only honourable and legitimate objects among the possible male partners of men: ... But on the other hand, the boy, whose youth must be a training for manhood, could not and must not identify with that role. ... In short, to delight in and be a subject of pleasure with a boy did not cause a problem for the Greeks; but to be an object of pleasure and to acknowledge oneself as such constituted a major difficulty for the boy. The relationship he was expected to establish with himself in order to become a free man, master of himself and capable of prevailing over others, was at variance with a form of relationship in which he would be an object of pleasure for another. This coincidence was ethically necessary.(55)

The boy's anti nomos or antinomy, the flouting of 'customs in conformity to nature's intentions',(56) accounts, undoubtedly, for several prevarications in the reflection on male only sexual relations in Greek antiquity.(57) However, it was the Socratic-Platonic reflection on love, what Foucault calls the discourse of philosophical erotics, which came to the fore over this problematisation. Specifically, this discourse used the citizen's ethical experience of the love of boys, which we saw in our consideration of the practice of courtship, to inaugurate an inquiry into the nature of true love.(58) At the core of this inquiry, conducted primarily through Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus, was the question of the link between the chrésis aphrodisión and the access to truth.

Hence, a subtle change in problematic occurred. The discourse of erotics, as the set of principles by which the boy, through enkrateia, constituted his honour in the practice of courtship, became a discourse of philosophical erotics through which the citizen, via askésis, approached the truth of his being in the practice of true love. From the man's point of view, the pre-Socratic courtship of a boy was the context where, from an initial foundation of his love of the boy's body and soul, he had through askésis to disqualify the ephemeral nature of the bodily love to solely that of his soul. It was in the transformation of the courtship of the boy to the philia of the boy that the relation of eros was supplanted by the synousia of friendship, namely the principle of value in and the ethical goal of a relationship. And, as we realised in the previous section, it was the citizen's enkrateia of his akolasia aphrodisia, whose object was the boy, which fostered this transformation of ephemeral love to a mutual, egalitarian and life-long friendship.(59)

For Foucault, therefore, it is Plato who reproblematises the practice of courtship and the discourse of erotics. Plato, rather than consider the ethical conduct of the boy and man in respect of a pre-existing love, demands to know the origin and precise nature of their love. Plato hereby turns love into an ontological question.(60) It is no longer in the object of love - a concrete subject, the boy - that an epochally specific, communally relevant manifestation of truth, the citizen, matures. Because of Plato, the truth is now to be sought in the abstract of love itself.

This Platonic shift, in the object of love from the practical to the theoretical, therefore leads to a trichotomy of discursive, practical and ethical developments as well. If, as for Plato, the object of love is truth, that is, an end in itself in place of an ethical texture of self-creation, then importance resides in honouring truth itself. The discourse of philosophical erotics is now the citizen's means to apprehend the truth inherent to (his) love. Similarly, there is a move away from the dissymmetry we saw in the practice of courtship. To recollect, the active citizen initiated eros and the passive boy reciprocated in acknowledgement of his lover's benevolence. Plato's idea, in contrast, is of convergence. Eros is a relation to truth, and what is typical to the practice of true love is how both the subject and object of love move in the same direction toward truth.

Thirdly, there is the ethical realignment which the discourse of philosophical erotics and the practice of true love effect. Rather than the constitution of the boy's virtue of sóphrosyné, the ethical question is the citizen's love and wisdom. In their relation of eros, the man and the boy are simultaneously knocking on truth's door. Thus, it is important that the citizen demonstrate that he at least has a foot inside the kingdom of truth, and that he is more enamoured of it than the boy. The citizen ought, in this respect, to be the master of the boy, yet, simultaneously, because he is also a master of himself and is able to renounce eros, the man inverts roles to become the (boy's) object of love. And, if love is a desire for absolute beauty and the body is merely an appearance that diverts our attention en route to its fulfilment, then the ultimate form of beauty is the love of wisdom itself. For the boy, it is the purveyor of this transcendental love, the citizen as the master of truth, who has become the object of his love and who teaches the boy the meaning of sóphrosyné.(61)

The question of the man's relation to truth, and the askésis needed to discover and uphold it, are now the fundamental issues in the post-Socratic practice of (true) love. In this new Platonic ethics of the love of boys, the concern is with the subject and the truth he is capable of, in the double sense of the questioning of his own desire in its being and, of equal importance, his relation to the object of desire recognised as a true being. Clearly, for Foucault, the historical paradox in Greek antiquity - the legitimacy of the love of boys versus the need for the strictest austerity, stricter even than with one's body and wife - is personified in Plato. The result is the constitution in our thought, a theorisation, of the subject in terms of their identity with others. An experience of the subject in their singularity is thus marginalised.

Yet, what is arguably most important to Foucault about post-Socratic Greek antiquity, and which his genealogical investigation of this epoch has uncovered, is the Platonic buy-out of courtship as an, in fact, as the, pre-eminent ethical practice. Platonic love manages to make a nonsense of our consciousness of sexual pleasure and its ethical effect of the stylisation of subjectivity, or the practice of liberty. Socrates' haggling in the agora over the price of truth is recorded by Plato as an exhortation to his fellow citizens to discard the peripheral business of the akolasia aphrodisia. Plato wants to downsize the practice of courtship to the practice of true love. The founder of the Academy reappraises the ethical strategy of the discourse of erotics and proposes in its place the principles of the discourse of philosophical erotics. Further, it is Plato who incites the soul to the core business of love, that of the monopolistic production of the truth of being, rather than the domain of the citizen's ethical elaboration through a stylisation of his chrésis aphrodisión. And, finally, it is Platonic ethics which, although not immediately successful, is the first to incorporate and apply for the patent of the theory of the subject (of desire):

To be sure, except in a few instances, (the Greeks) did not condemn (male love) or prohibit it. And yet it is in the reflection on (sic) love of boys that one sees the principle of "indefinite abstention" formulated; the ideal of a renunciation, which Socrates exemplifies by his faultless resistance of temptation; and the theme that this renunciation has a high spiritual value by itself. In a way that may be surprising at first, one sees the formation, in Greek culture and in connection with the love of boys, of some of the major elements of a sexual ethics that will renounce that love by appealing to the above principle: the requirement of a symmetry and reciprocity in the love relationship; the necessity of a long and arduous struggle with oneself; the gradual purification of a love that is addressed only to being per se, in its truth; and man's inquiry into himself as a subject of desire (my italics).(62)

Conclusions on Foucault's ethical subject

It is Foucault's unravelling of the specificity of Greek antiquity's relations of power and knowledge, and the subject's constitution of himself and his elaboration of a style of subjectivity, which comprise his genealogically derived tour de force. However, it is obviously no secret that sexual ethics in Greek antiquity were based on what Foucault describes as a harsh system of inequalities and constraints. They were problematised in thought as a relationship between the exercise of his freedom, forms of his power, and his access to truth.(63) Certainly, it is not this socio-political system, nor an ethical focus solely on a man's freedom, which Foucault finds appealing and of value in his research.(64) What, in conclusion, does genealogy tell us about Foucault's ethical project?

We have tried to show, firstly, the extent to which genealogy details Foucault's normative commitment. Its revelation of the rapport à soi, that is, Foucault's ethics, demonstrates his clear concern to conceptualise the subject. Indeed, this arguably has always been his philosophical project.(65) However, Foucault is not interested in a sovereign, founding or universal notion of the subject.(66) Just as his intellectual mentors Heidegger and Nietzsche had done before him, Foucault also finds critical mileage in Greek - Classic Greek - antiquity and the reorientations effected by Socrates and Plato.(67) Foucault rejects in his own inimical way the Platonic turn in ethics. He cites it as the origin of the christian and modern, mainly phenomenological and existentialist, fascination with the theory of the subject, and in virtue of whom the great edifices of knowledge have been erected.(68) In contrast, the subject for Foucault is produced through practices of subjection if the code-oriented aspect of morality prevails. Or, as he tries to show in L'Usage and Le Souci, the subject is constituted through practices of liberty where the ethics-oriented aspect of morality is evident. This, it has been claimed, amounts to Foucault's critical project. The ethics of the rapport à soi is, if you will, his anti-theory of the subject, and the actual practice of it in other epochs incites us to expose our own difficulties as self-disciplining subjects.

In other words, there was no attempt made in Greek antiquity to define a set of moral prescriptions for everyone, nor to organise sexual activity as a separate practice governed by its own set of discursive principles. In their place was an ethico-political demand to fashion a beautiful life, being as a " ... purposeful art of a freedom perceived as a power game ... ".(69) Using sexual activity as his exemplary field, Foucault urges us at a minimum to avoid 'a reflection on (it) as a moral domain useful as a means of internalising, justifying or formalising a general set of interdictions applicable to all'. If we take up this challenge, and not solely in respect of the domain of sexual activity, the chance to develop subjectivity through the lessons of an aesthetics of existence will be possible.(70) Hence Foucault's critical engagement via his anti-theory of the subject, or his normative flourishing. Liberty, who we are, is no longer a political but an ethical question.(71)


References

1.

 

2. I would like to thank two colleagues, Barbara Gebhardt and Craig Stewart, for their comments on this paper.

3.A tentative biographical schema will be used here that corresponds to Foucault's early writings (Madness and Civilisation, The Order of Things, and The Archaeology of Knowledge), Foucault's middle writings (Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality, Volume One, and the compilation, Power/Knowledge), and Foucault's late writings (The History of Sexuality, Volume Two, The History of Sexuality, Volume Three, and the essays collected in Politics, Philosophy, Culture and The Foucault Reader).

4. P.Rabinow, "Introduction", in M. Foucault, The Foucault Reader, ed. P.Rabinow, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), pp.3-29, esp. p.27.

5. H.L.Dreyfus and P.Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, With an Afterword by Michel Foucault, (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1982), p.100.

6. P.Bourdieu, "A Free Thinker: 'Do not ask me who I am'", in Paragraph, 5(March), 1985, pp.80-87.

7. M.Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume Two: The Use of Pleasures, trans. R.Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992), p.7 and p.11. Henceforth to be cited as L'Usage, which is an abbreviation of its French title.

8. Dreyfus and Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, pp.87-89 and pp.98-99.

9. C.Norris, "'What is Enlightenment': Foucault on Kant", in C.Norris The Truth About Postmodernism, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), pp.29-99, esp. pp.30-35 and p.47.

10. This argument, which reiterates Rabinow's (1984) point, can be found in M.Gauchet und K.Westerwelle, "Für eine historisch wahre Geschichte des Subjects: Ein Gespräch über die Lage der Intellektuellen, Foucaults Unaufrichtigkeit und die Notwendigkeit des Konflikts", in Merkur: Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken, 44(8), 1990, pp.664-678, esp. pp.673-674.

11. J.Habermas, "Modernity: An incomplete project", in H. Foster (ed.) Postmodern Culture, (London: Pluto Press, 1985), pp.3-15.

12. D.Bell, "Michel Foucault: A Philosopher for all seasons?", in History of European Ideas, 14(3), 1992, pp.331-346, esp. p.344.

13. B-H.Lévy, Éloge des Intellectuels, (Paris: Bernard Grasset, 1987), p.48. Similarly, Byatt alludes to the relativist connotations of 'Foucault and his school'. A.S.Byatt "Belief in the jungle of ideas: review of E.O.Wilson's Consilience", in The Guardian, 29 August 1998.

14. J.Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. by F.Lawrence, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994), pp.242-286.

15. M.Walzer, The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century, (London: Peter Halban, 1989), pp.227-229.

16. In the present case, it involves treating sexual activity as the correlation of a body of knowledge (which combines a field of study, connaissance, with its own concepts, theories and diverse disciplines), a type of normativity (or a collection of rules based on binary differentiation: the permissible versus forbidden, or the normal versus pathological), and a mode of relation to the self (leading to the recognition of oneself as a subject of knowledge and normativity). M.Foucault, "Preface to The History of Sexuality, Volume II", in M. Foucault, The Foucault Reader, ed. P.Rabinow, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), pp.333-339, esp. pp.333-334.

17. "The acts (conduites) are the real behavior of people in relation to the moral code (prescriptions) which is imposed on them." M.Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress", in M. Foucault, The Foucault Reader, ed. P.Rabinow, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), pp.340-372, esp. p.352.

18. Foucault, L'Usage, p.25.

19. Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", p.352.

20. Foucault, L'Usage, p.26.

21. Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", pp.341-42.

22. M.Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume Three: The Care of the Self, trans. R.Hurley (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1990), which is similarly shortened to Le Souci.

23. M.Foucault, "The Return of Morality", in M.Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, ed. L.D. Kritzman and trans. A. Sheridan et. al., (London: Routledge, 1990), pp.242-254, esp. p.252.

24. Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", p.340.

25. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.31-36.

26. In L'Usage and Le Souci, the ethical substance are the akolasia aphrodisia, the self-indulgent pleasures, specifically those experienced during sexual activity. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.32-40.

27. Greek antiquity's ethical substance of the akolasia aphrodisia therefore came up against an imperative of moral conduct which concerned the chrésia (use) one was to make of them. That is, what type of subjection is implied by the moral problematisation of the most acute form of the akolasia aphrodisia, sexual activity? Foucault, L'Usage, p.37.

28. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.48-52, esp. pp.51-52.

29. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.25-28.

30. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.25-27.

31. Foucault calls this ethical work (the translation in L'Usage) l'ascétisme, a self-forming activity or a pratique de soi. Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", p.355.

32. The complete citizen was the man who, through the practices of the self, displayed the virtue sóphrosyné (moderation). But the prerequisite of sóphrosyné, its formal qualification, as it were, was enkrateia, the mastery of himself by himself. The ethical virtue of enkrateia qualified the citizen for the political equivalent of sóphrosyné, and both had similar if slightly different objectives: the care of himself and the care of others, respectively. At the same time, however, the effort, application and training required to achieve these virtues, askésis, was the form of self-training applicable to both the ethical and political realms. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.63-77.

33. In Greek antiquity, the overarching idea, the telos, was a state reached by the citizen through askésis, and was indicated by his exercise of enkrateia over, and his proper chrésia of, the akolasia aphrodisia.

34. Foucault, L'Usage, p.79.

35. "... throughout this study on the sexual morality of pagan and Christian antiquity; ... I had to keep in mind the distinction between the code elements of a morality and the elements of ascesis, neglecting neither their coexistence, their interrelations, their relative autonomy, nor their possible differences of emphasis." Foucault, L'Usage, p.31. For the sense of genealogy as a compromise between sexual morality and the technologies of the self, see Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", p.341.

36. Foucault, L'Usage, p.28.

37. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.29-30.

38. Foucault, L'Usage, p.63.

39. M.Foucault, "An Aesthetics of Existence", in M.Foucault, Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, ed. L.D. Kritzman and trans. A. Sheridan et. al., (London: Routledge, 1990), pp.47-53, esp. p.49.

40. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.31-32. How are we to explain - if at all, as it does not seem to be Foucault's main line of business - these epochal shifts? Why does the ethical subject's subjectivity change between Greek and Greco-Roman antiquity, or pastoral christianity and disciplinary bio-power? After all, the restructuration of the relationship to oneself and the practices of the self are a sign, not a cause, of these transformations. Foucault does offer a partial (non-ethical) explanation, and includes the decline of the polis, namely the end of a status society of class, rank, place and role, and the associated effect on the management of the household. In addition, and essentially related to these political and economic explanations, is the question of the subject's ethical relations. Did Augustus use the new power mechanisms of his political empire to reinforce moral standards? Was the socio-political framework of the Roman empire too impersonal and distant for its citizens to identify their moral conduct with, and hence an explanation of an increase in their level of 'individualism'? Well, no, Foucault rejects these accounts as well. Arguably, his explanation is to do with the system of thought that is ascendant at the time and is manifested as the discursive texture of experience. The philosophical justification for the subject's type of subjection alters from the call for an aesthetic of existence to a rational being, and from immortality to the individual as the sovereign of themself. Hence, the technologies of the self emphasise, respectively, the asymmetries of self-mastery, the symmetries of self-mastery, the techniques of purification and the quest for psychological self-fulfilment. Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", pp.357-358 and pp.370-372; and Foucault, Le Souci, pp.39-43.

41. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.14-15.

42. Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", p.342.

43. These basic principles, or 'quadri-thematics' of sexual austerity, which were common to pagan, christian and modern moralities, are: the expression of a fear, for instance about the consequences of masturbation; an ideal of conduct, usually that of marital fidelity; a threatening image, most obviously of the homosexual's inversion of roles or tendency to have sex with his own sex; and a model of sexual abstention which, in return for one's abstemiousness, promised access to the truth of one's being. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.15-22.

44. Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", pp.355-356.

45. Foucault, L'Usage, p.21.

46. "You see, what I want to do is not the history of solutions, and that's the reason why I don't accept the word alternative. I would like to do the genealogy of problems, of problématiques. My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do." Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", p.343.

47. "The search for styles of existence as different from each other as possible seems to me to be one of the points on which particular groups in the past may have inaugurated searches we are engaged in today. The search for a form of morality acceptable to everybody in the sense that everyone should submit, strikes me as catastrophic." Foucault, "The Return of Morality", pp.253-254.

48. Foucault, "The Return of Morality", p.253.

49. This is why Foucault writes that to love a boy, woman or girl was " ... a matter of taste that could lend itself to humorous treatment, not a matter of topology involving the individual's very nature, the truth of his desire, or the natural legitimacy of his true predilection." Foucault, L'Usage, p.190.

50. Foucault alludes to at least five forms of problematisation which accumulated around the practice of courtship between a man and a boy. There was the pedagogical form of their relationship, where an age differential influenced status. Their relationship was also a ritual; the courting of the young by the old promised both an opportunity to beautify their liaison of asymmetry. Thirdly, relations between a man and a boy took place in the public arena of the agora, in contrast to that between husband and wife in the oikos. A fourth issue was timing, or the limit which determined that the adolescent became a young citizen. Finally, a man's love of a boy approached the purest form of ethical relation possible, in as much as they were independent of institutional constraints and of each other, whilst their love existed in and for itself and not for the polis. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.193-203.

51. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.204-211.

52. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.212.

53. Foucault, "The Return of Morality", pp.252-253.

54. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.214-220.

55. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.221.

56. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.158.

57. It was, for instance, quite natural to be drawn to the beauty of the youthful boy, even though it was at the same time para physin (beyond natural procreation) and feminising of the man. Hence the reticence in the conceptual description of the boy's penetration by the man, and the reluctance to concede the boy's experience of pleasure. By the same token, the discourse of erotics guided the boy as to whom to consent to and why. It also provided the citizen with honour if he ultimately managed to transform his love for the boy into the indispensable social tie of philia. On first appearances, one might wish to point to the start of a disparaging tradition in this respect. However, the problematisations in our times and those under consideration in Greek antiquity are strikingly dissimilar. Today, sexual relations between men is questioned through (a theory of) the subject of desire: how does desire form in a man whose object is another man? In response, desire is conceived structurally, which provides an answer of a lack or ambivalence in the desire of the homosexual. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.221-224.

58. Foucault, L'Usage, p.225.

59. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.229-234.

60. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.235-237.

61. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.237-242.

62. Foucault, L'Usage, p.245.

63. Foucault, L'Usage, p.253.

64. Foucault, "On the Genealogy of Ethics", p.344.

65. "(My goal has been)... to create a history of the different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects. My work has dealt with three modes of objectification which transform human beings into subjects. The first is the modes of inquiry which try to give themselves the status of sciences:... . In the second part of my work, I have studied the objectivizing of the subject in what I shall call 'dividing practices'. ... Finally, I have sought to study - it is my current work - the way a human being turns him- or herself into a subject. ... Thus it is not power, but the subject, which is the general theme of my research." M.Foucault "Afterword: The Subject and Power", in H.L.Dreyfus and P.Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, With an Afterword by Michel Foucault, (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1982), pp.208-226, esp. pp.208-209.

66. Foucault, "An Aesthetics of Existence", pp.50-51.

67. H.L.Dreyfus, "Mini Course on Heideggerian Themes in Foucault: The Self, History and Ontology", Fourth International Graduate Conference, 'European Philosophy: Truth and Experience', The University of Essex, 21 February 1998.

68. M.Foucault, "The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom", in J.Bernauer and D.Rasmussen (eds.), The Final Foucault, (London: The MIT Press, 1991), pp.1-20.

69. Foucault, L'Usage, pp.252-253.

70. "(W)hat I mean by this is a way of life whose moral value did not depend either on one's being in conformity with a code of behaviour, or an effort of purification, but on certain formal principles in the use of the pleasures, in the way one distributed them, in the limits one observed, in the hierarchy one respected. Through the logos, through reason and the relation to truth that governed it, such a life was committed to the maintenance and reproduction of an ontological order; ... ." Foucault, L'Usage, p.89.

71. Although this essay has implicitly emphasised Foucault's discursive style of thinking, that is, his unwillingness to isolate theory from practice, the thrust of the discussion has necessarily been theoretical. Pronouncements, like liberty and who we are now being ethical issues, arguably ought not to be made outwith Foucault's intellectual heritage and context of Europe (western Europe? France? Paris?).


Paper presented at the 4th Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "Histories of the present"
3 & 4 September 1998, Johannesburg, South Africa
critical methods society - www.criticalmethods.org - info@criticalmethods.org