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Mark Olssen

Chapter 8 continues the theme of ethical engagement and the senses in which Foucault’s work can be said to support a democratic ethic. It starts by examining the critical commentary of Foucault by the American political theorist Ella Myers, in order to position Foucault in relation to her conception of democratic politics. The second part of the chapter turns its attention to a current of political philosophy in North America, notably Stephen K. White’s ‘weak ontology’ thesis, and the ethic of ‘presumptive generosity’ that White, as well as influential philosophers such as William Connolly and Charles Taylor, have supported. After doing this, Foucault’s relevance for education is explored, and the chapter concludes by seeking to relate continuance ethics to virtue ethics and asking what a Foucauldian ethic for a global world might look like.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
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Mark Olssen

Chapter 9 concludes this study by examining the issues of ethics and the subject. Drawing on writing on normative moral philosophy in relation to Foucault, the chapter introduces and critically examines the themes of personal responsibility, integrity, authenticity, and ethical comportment, drawing especially on the work of Judith Butler. It seeks to ascertain how the individual acts morally and engages ethically in a complex world and what ethical engagement, ethical motivation, and ethical commitment looks like from a Foucauldian point of view.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
Mark Olssen

Chapter 1 starts by examining the thesis advanced by Mark Kelly that Foucault’s research project is intentionally and irreparably non-normative. Contra Kelly, I argue that in important senses, Foucault cannot avoid being normative. Furthermore, I suggest, drawing on writers such as Paul Patton, Nancy Fraser, and Pierre Hadot, that the absence of normative criteria that can ground his project constitutes a major failing of his approach. The chapter then seeks to demonstrate the pervasiveness of the normative as well as to document important researches in the area, which have helped to produce the recent ‘normative turn’ in philosophy.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
Mark Olssen

Chapter 5 restates Foucault’s critique of Hegel and Marx by summarizing the major influences on Foucault’s intellectual development of two of his central teachers, Jean Hyppolite and Louis Althusser. The chapter charts how Foucault’s own position developed in relation to his studies of Hegelian and Marxist philosophy, a position that ultimately rejected all teleological conceptions of history. This included not only those positions associated with Hegel and Marx, but also with the later ‘ethics of recognition’ associated with Charles Taylor, and the ‘ethics of self-realization’ developed by T. H. Green, and influential among the British Hegelians. Foucault’s ethics are beyond Hegel and Marx, whether in their classical or more recent formulations.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
Mark Olssen

Chapter 6 examines the issue of naturalism through the lens of Hobbes and seeks to present a Foucauldian critique which goes ‘beyond nature’, replacing naturalism with constructivism as an approach to ethics. Naturalism, from Foucault’s viewpoint, of the sort that Hobbes is committed to, is simply an alternative route to metaphysics, and asserts postulations that are indemonstrable in an attempt to establish grounds for contentious political, economic, and social philosophical standpoints. The chapter also examines arguments from religion as constituting another form of metaphysics, and, in the closing section, provides a Foucauldian critique of modern social contract theory, as exemplified by John Rawls.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
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Mark Olssen

The Introduction seeks to state the scope and nature of the study in more extended terms, and to establish the importance of historical ontology to Foucault’s complex view of history as necessary to constructing an ethics. After presenting a very schematic survey of complexity theory, it utilizes Alain Badiou’s approach to ethics to construct the contours of the approach that I intend to take with regard to Foucault. It concludes by stating the intention to utilize research in both the Continental and Anglo-American philosophical traditions.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
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Foucault, Canguilhem, Jacob
Mark Olssen

Chapter 2 starts with a brief history of life philosophy and moves to explore Foucault’s enumeration of the concepts of life and error that he finds in Georges Canguilhem’s work. Foucault’s central thesis here is further reinforced in relation to his review and assessment of François Jacob's history of biology. The sense in which life philosophy can ground an immanent metaphysics that maintains a coherent normative focus but that varies contingently in terms of the relation between life and its environment is then explored. It is shown how such a conception also avoids vitalism. Similarities with the view expressed here are then noted in Foucault's writings on life in The History of Sexuality and The Courage of Truth. The implications of a normative conception of life are then briefly canvassed to demonstrate how life sets its own limits, and how the problems associated with moral relativism can be overcome.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
Naturalism, will to power, normativity
Mark Olssen

Chapter 3 considers the senses in which Nietzsche can be classed as a naturalist, and then examines the functions of the will to power as the grounds for an immanent normative conception of life, as well as an objective conception of moral values. The chapter seeks to establish an objective normative conception of life based on Nietzsche's philosophy of the future. The concept of life continuance is added to the Nietzschean lexicon after a critical consideration of his concepts, as expressing both the individualist and collectivist tropes in his philosophy.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
Mark Olssen

Chapter 7 sets out Foucault’s commitment to pluralism as the basis of his democratic approach to politics. The chapter starts by considering Foucault’s conception of power in comparison to Montesquieu’s conception of the ‘separation of powers’ as represented through the lens of the jurist Charles Eisenmann, as well as Louis Althusser’s writings on Montesquieu. It is argued that Montesquieu’s conception, if correctly interpreted, is in important senses homologous to Foucault’s. The chapter reinforces the homology between Foucault and Montesquieu by considering Foucault’s views on Adam Ferguson, in his final lecture in The Birth of Biopolitics (2008). The rest of the chapter utilizes Foucault’s interviews to further focus on how power relates to supporting democracy, ethics, morality, rights, democratic participation, and public engagement, while avoiding fundamentalism.

in Constructing Foucault’s ethics
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Allyn Fives

This chapter charts in detail the development of Shklar’s arguments from the value pluralism of her early work to the value monism of her mature work. And in order to better appreciate what is at stake in this transformation I examine her changing approach to the question of paternalism, and consider this alongside current debates about the different forms of paternalism and their justification. In her early work, as a value pluralist, Shklar claims that we can be left with unresolved conflicts between the value of justice, on the one hand, and educative, perfectionist, and paternalistic commitments, on the other. In her mature work, in contrast, Shklar maintains that we may only ever restrict freedom so as to avoid cruelty and, as a result, she insists that, as a general rule, paternalistic infringements of individual liberty are always unjustified. My reading of Shklar’s work is a novel one, in part because her commentators have not recognised that over time she moves from a value pluralist to a value monist position. It is novel for the further reason that it renders explicit the following assumption: paternalistic treatment of those who lack competence is justified, and it does not violate the liberty of those treated paternalistically.

in Judith Shklar and the liberalism of fear