Foucault, Ethical Self-concern and the Other

Cordner, Christopher
December 2008
Philosophia;Dec2008, Vol. 36 Issue 4, p593
Academic Journal
In his later writings on ethics Foucault argues that rapport à soi – the relationship to oneself – is what gives meaning to our commitment to ‘moral behaviour’. In the absence of rapport à soi, Foucault believes, ethical adherence collapses into obedience to rules (‘an authoritarian structure’). I make a case, in broadly Levinasian terms, for saying that the call of ‘the other’ is fundamental to ethics. This prompts the question whether rapport à soi fashions an ethical subject who is unduly self-concerned. Here we confront two apparently irreconcilable pictures of the source of moral demands. I describe one way of trying to reconcile them from a Foucaultian perspective, and I note the limitations in the attempt. I also try to clear away what I think to be a misunderstanding on Foucault’s part about what is at stake in the choice between these pictures. To clarify my critique of Foucault, I also relate it to a similar recent critique of virtue ethics by Thomas Hurka.


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