Foucault’s ethical turn 1984

May 23, 2007

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) spent most of his life examining the archaeological dimensions of his philosophy of freedom, but at the end of his life as he was dying of HIV related illness he re-examined his concept of freedom with an ethical dimension.

In 1984

“. . . Foucault sought a heightened consciousness of how individuals are embedded in cultural practices, especially in various sorts of power relationships, to enhance individual freedom. In his final interview, he said that he had tried to distinguish “three types of problems of truth, that of power, and that of individual conduct,” but that he had hampered himself by overemphasizing truth and power at the expense of individual conduct (Lotringer RM: 466:1989). Now, he continued, he hoped to break free of mere subjectivity by reappropriating the ancient practices of care of self. These, he said, so not include finding a deep inner truth but rather governing “one’s life in order to give it the most beautiful form possible (Lotringer CT 1989:458 cited in Martin and Barresi 2006:261).”

“[…] In the end, Foucault advocated a return to the project of care for the self and to the constructing of an ethical self. (Martin and Barresi 2006:262).”


Foucault, Michel. 1984. Vol III: Le Souci de soi. Paris: Gallimard.

Foucault, Michel. 1988. ‘The Return of Morality’, in Michel Foucault: Politics, Philosophy, Culture, Interviews and Other Writings 1977–1984, ed. Lawrence Kritzman, trans. Alan Sheridan and others. New York: Routledge, 1988, 242–54.

Foucault, Michel. 1986. ‘Postscript, An Interview with Michel Foucault by Charles Ruas’, in Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel, trans. Charles Ruas. New York: Doubleday, 1986, 169–86.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. Vol III: The Care of the Self. Paris: Gallimard.
‘The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practise of Freedom’, in The Final Foucault, ed. James Bernauer and David Rasmussen. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1988, 1–20.
‘On the Genealogy of Ethics: An Overview of Work in Progress’, in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. J. Harari. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984, 340–72.

Lotringer, S. 1989. Foucault Live: Interviews, 1966-84. Semiotext(e).

Martin, Raymond, Barresi, John. 2006. The Rise and Fall of Soul and Self. New York: Columbia University.

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