Foucault – Genealogy of Ethics

January 2013

  1. History of the Project

In Greece and early Christianity they were much more concerned with food than sex. Health was their concern. During the 4th century B.C. the prohibition code of moralists and doctors was the same (health), though for different reasons. The Stoics (moralists) were concerned with the few, the elite, for a beautiful life, while the doctors were concerned with the health of the larger population. And they ways that they talked about being healthy were different.

Living a beautiful life did not require a psychological investigation of the self in order to determine one’s motives. That came about with Christianity. At the same time, it is generally accepted that Christianity brought about austerity, in contrast to the liberally permissive Greeks. Foucault found austerity in the Greeks (Stoics) as well, though it was not as much the focus as “technology of the self,” which lead to the Christian self-investigation.

The Greeks were not very concerned with religion. Most of us today agree that ethics is not founded in religion, but Foucault says we cannot learn from the Greeks. They were in a world so much different than our own. We cannot use their solutions to our problems, which are different problems. Foucault wants to write a genealogy of problems, not solutions. This does not mean that we should do nothing, and that everything is an unsolvable problem. It means that everything we do is dangerous, and we must be hyper-vigilant.

  1. Why the Ancient World Was Not A Golden Age, But What We Can Learn From It Anyway

Homosexuality, many believe, was viewed positively in Greece, but Foucault says it was considered a problem. If it were ok they would have spoken about it in the way that they talked about sex between men and women. But instead they could not justify their behavior. They could not justify the fact that they dominated boys that eventually would become “free citizens,” which was not a problem for them when it came to women and slaves. They refused to imagine reciprocity. The concern was not “is homosexuality natural?” Sex was inherently domination and pleasure. Foucault asks if it is possible to have an ethics of pleasure that takes into account the pleasure of the other. The interviewer suggests that bringing in the pleasure of the other into Greek ethics shouldn’t have been very difficult, but Foucault say the whole hierarchical system would come down. Domination was central to Greek life.

It should also be mentioned that the greeks were more concerned with health than pleasure. The Christian techne of the self can be contrasted with the Greek techne of life, which includes the mastery of the self, slaves, family, and city for the sake of health. The idea of a techne of life is like living a life as an art form. The goal is to live a beautiful life. If one deviated from their ethics one was considered to live an ugly life. Foucault also makes a distinction between living a life as an artform because of knowledge, or purely for art’s sake. If one believes one knows what is right objectively, it is not the same as one who does something purely for the sake of living a beautiful life.

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