Answer to a Question on Foucault and the Invisible Hand

I was responding recently to a query from a graduate student back in Britain about Foucault and liberalism, focused around he famous ‘invisible hand’ in Adam Smith, in which self-interest in the market place promotes a general welfare. There is some debate about how important the idea of the ‘invisible hand’ is in Smith, but it is widely used and understood as shorthand for his view that a more ‘liberal’ form of political organisation, with more free trade allows general economic improvements that do some extend flow from self-interest rather than charitable intentions or a public plan, and I levee aside questions about the meaning of the ‘invisible hand’.

I’m  not going to reproduce a private message and a private response as a post, but my response was about the right length for a post, and after some revision, will convey some of my current thoughts on Foucault.

In his treatment of David Hume and Adam Smith, Foucault is connecting them with a model of art of government in which governemnt limits itself, so that the lower level can flourish. That lower level was seen by Smith, Hume, and others, in terms of nature, of a kind of spontaneity that owes nothing to state action (including the invisible hand) , invented laws, or designed institutions, because natural processes make them redundant, or create such designs through the development of human co-operation, without a conscious overall plan. There is some ambiguity in these authors, as assumptions about the dominance and desirability of  ‘natural order’ as the basis of social institutions, are undercut by discussion of the value of institutions and the right kind of state action, but not to the extent that eliminates the natural order aspect.

Foucault is wary of any idea of a natural social order independent of human design, but is also highly wary of rationalistic total designs or constructions that claim to be neutral with regard to power and various kinds of discourse. In his writing on neoliberalism’, he displays some sympathy for the way that a non-moralistic view of economic efficiency, or value, can challenge the impositions of moralistically justified state power, or other expressions of power. One of the things he thinks characterises ‘neoberalism’, at least in its Freiburg University Ordo liberal manifestation. That is in the group of free market Austrian influenced economists in Germany from the 20s, 30s, and 40’s who had some influence on post-war German reconstruction, as Foucault notes, through their ideas on the need for a less statist more market based economic model for post-National Socialist Germany.

The Freiburg/Ordoliberalismus current recognises the role of institutions and rules, which to some extent are designed, in promoting markets.  This is different from the ways totalitarianism might try t encourage economic activity, because it is more rules based and less based on direct forms of intervention. That is basis of  the ‘Ordo’ in Ordoliberalismus. Foucault further emphasises the Husserlian phenomenological influence on Ordoliberalismus and linked the ‘anti-naturalism’ in Husserl’s account of conscciousness with the critique of naturalism in Smith and Hume. That is Foucault looks at Husserl’s criticisms of taking ‘natural’ psychological states as the basis for the philosophy of pure ideas and structures of consciousness  and sees that as entering into ways in which ‘Neoliberalism’ distances itself from that natural order aspects of Hume and Smith.

Foucault’s relationship with liberalism, in all its forms, is shaped by his resistance to idendeifying power with just the legalistic sovereigty of the central state.  ‘Disciplinarity’, as discussed in Discipline and Punish, is emergent or spontaenous in its totality, rather than the product of the design of a sovereign. In that sense it is an example of spontaneous or emergent order in Hayek. For Hayek, generally speaking the spontaneous order formed over time through co-operation between individuals is preferable to state designs and the products of a sovereign political will. However, this must be balanced with Hayek’s acceptance that there are significant areas of legitimate stare activity, which can include income maintenance, basic public services, administrative courts, and stabilisation of the economy, though the total of such activities should be less than what the state stated to take on after about 1870.

‘Disciplinarity’ is not pure spontaneous order, it includes elements that are the consequence of design, as in the prison reforms plans of the Enlightenment and later, even if they always fail to achieve their goal of moral, human, or religious reform and rehabilitation. Disciplinarity is I believe rather ambigouous in the evaluation Foucault gives to it. To some degree it is an expression of the creativity of power, and the formation of a kind of individualism which has some benefits from Foucault’s point of view, but he is certainly arguing for arguing for a critical renewal, as he finds the individuality of disciplinarity too isolating and inclined to rigid internalisaiton of norms.

Foucault was not a complete rejectionist with regard to disciplinarity, or all the other forms of power including biothetics, which is tied up with his account of disciplinarily and neoliberalism,  as he was not  an anarchist, which seems to be the inevitable conclusion of total rejection of power.  Nevertheless, he did certainly the currents of localist and workerist anarchism in French history as a corrective to political and economic power concentrations; and regarded the anarchocapitalism he connected with America, as also offering a challenge to the administrative (disciplinary or bioethical)  power of the state.

Like Foucault, Smith and Hume also had critical attitudes to concentrations of economic power backed by the state, whether feudal-monarchist remnants or more recent developments. They were also very ambiguous between being radical critics of the Whig (I take this to cover Tories as well, who had really accepted the classic Whig agenda by the late 18th century) mercantile-aristocratic liberal leaning British state and being intellectual pillars of it. There is plenty of ambiguity in Foucault, but I think his ambiguity leaned further towards a Tom Paine style radicalism than Smith and Hume tended towards. Though there are some elements of Foucault’s thinning sympathetic to Hayek, consciously or unconsciously, including his account of Ordoliberalismus, the strong sense of opositionism, the wish to be with the marginals and the lower orders (some of the time anyway, no need to pretend that Foucault was not a privileged academic of upper middle class origin, with some very bourgeois and intellectualist aspects to his life style), removes him from the Burkean element in Hayek, the preference for the evolution of traditions and old hierarchies in a more inclusive and open direction over radical challenge.

I should finish by emphasising that there is an element in Hayek, as in Smith and Hume, which is challenging of tradition and sceptical of the self-justification of old elites, so that there is no clean neat line between Hayek or the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers on the one side, and radical anti-conformist, egalitarian challenges to power and tradition, of a kind which clearly motivate Foucault, motivated him so thoroughly he could see the power interests embedded in various forms of state encouraged, or imposed, welfare he labelled as ‘bioethics’, and which have become central to ‘progressive’ politics.



Another Liberty Canon: Foucault

Originally posted on Notes On Liberty:

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French writer on various but related topics of power, knowledge, discourse, history of thought, ethics, politics, and so on. His name to some summons negative associations of French intellectual fashion, incomprehensibility, and refinements of Marxist anti-liberty positions.

However, his influence in various fields has become too lasting, and too much taken up by people who do not fit into the categories just mentioned, for such reactions to be considered adequate. Foucault himself resisted and mocked labels, which was a serious issue for him because in his work he tried to question the absolute authority of any one system of knowledge and the  authority of isolated great thinkers.

He said that once he had written something it was no longer what he thought, which is in part a playful attempt to resist labelling, but also a rather serious point deeply embedded in his thought, about the…

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Michel Foucault, La société punitive: an editorial curiosity (2014)

Barry Stocker:

This post from the Foucault News blog provides an interesting supplement to my recent blogging on Foucault’s Collège de France lectures on the punitive society, from Graham Burchell, who is translating these lectures and has translated many others.

Originally posted on Foucault News:

Michel Foucault, La société punitive: an editorial curiosity

by Graham Burchell, 2014

Graham Burchell is the translator into English of the lectures Foucault delivered at the Collège de France. With thanks to Graham Burchell for sending this note to Foucault News.

Translating Foucault’s Collège de France lectures, La société punitive, I have come across the following curiosity, which, unless I am mistaken, no one has commented on before now. In the “Résumé du cours”, p. 261, discussing the model of talion (lex talionis, an eye for an eye), Foucault remarks that this model was never proposed in a detailed way, but that it did enable different types of punishment to be defined. He then gives, apparently, two examples from Beccaria’s Dei delitti e delle pene. The first is: “Les attentats contre les personnes doivent être punis de peines corporelles (the penalty for violence against…

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Foucault ‘s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, XI.2 & XII

The concluding post

The second half of the lecture of 25th March, 1981

(The last post mistakenly refers to the 18th March instead of the 25th March. This has now been corrected)

I found this part of the lecture to be largely recapitulating material from earlier lecturers, so just a couple of points.

Firstly, an emphasis in Gaius Musonius Rufus (the first century Roman Stoic and member of the Senate) on the idea of the husband of the moral teacher of the wife, her guide to correct living. Foucault emphases the tension with the equality in marriage otherwise emphasised in Musionius Rufus, with regard to adultery and legal status, which in both cases are a departure from earlier antique assumptions. Moral inequality coexists with strict equality in other matters for Musonius Rufus in the ideal marriage, which he also regards as isolated from other social relations, and as the scene of a self-control, self-mastery strong enough to control wayward sexual desire.

Secondly an emphasis in Epictetus (the Greek Stoic educated in Rome by Rufus Musonius) on a self-mastery that goes beyond the Socratic capacity (which Foucault describes with reference to both Xenophon and Plato) to resist desire, calling for a self-mastery that resists the existence of desire, so that no test or Socratic courage is necessary to resist desire for a beautiful boy or woman.

Lecture of 1st April, 1981
This is the concluding lecture in the series. It includes, on a couple of occasions, a definition of one of the terms used by Foucault that has become most famous, ‘governmentality’. How far everyone who brings this terms into their work on social science, history and so on has given much thought to what the term means is unclear to me, and others have commentated on the apparently undefined overuse. Anyway, what Foucault says here, more in the way of a quick definition than a complete elaboration, is that governmentality refers to the government of the self and the government of others.
‘The government of self and others’ is of course the title of Foucault’s 1982-1983 lecture series at the Collège de France and refers to antique ‘governmentality’ there as it does here, so the brief definition does not necessarily cover all of Foucault’s usage. That is a topic I can’t go into right now, but it is at least worth pointing out that here is a definition of governmentality, and it does not seem very connected with the (over)generalised use.

Getting back to to the issues of sexuality, desire, and so on, in this lecture Foucault brings in governmentality, because he is concerned at this point with how the move towards the Stoic understanding of aphrodisias is connected with changes in the nature of antique government. That is the move from republican government in Rome and Greek city states with a en element of democracy and a strong element of competition between aristocrats, to the more imperial, monarchical and despotic forms of government.

Foucault seems mostly concerned with the move from Republic to empire, monarchy despotism in Rome during the first century BCE and for Foucault’s purposes that is conveniently close to a new wave of Graeco-Roman Stoicism, which left more complete texts than the earlier Greek wave, in the first and early second centuries CE, covering Musonius Rufus, Seneca and Epictetus, and which gets another new wind in the second century in the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius even if that is not generally considered one of the most rigorous expressions of Stoic thought. That a Roman Emperor authored a Stoic or Neo-Stoic work, which is a philosophical literary classic is very helpful to Foucault’s argument.
Foucault also refers, much more briefly, to the termination of the full independence of the Greek city-states, as the result of the fourth century BCE expansion of Macedonian power under Philip II confirmed by Alexander the Great. The correlation is very neat in that the first stoic philosopher, Zeno of Citium, was born towards the end of the fourth century BCE, but there are less texts from the first wave of Stoicism, and it is later developments that preoccupy Foucault.

Foucault argues that the republican politics, dominated by competing aristocrats, was suited to the attitude that an active mature man incorporates intimate relations with women and boys, that is with social inferiors, into into his way of living. That activity is very suited to the emphasis on the active political participant who recognises no superior, as all citizens are equal, at least in principle, and is engaged in a constant competition to exercise some power.

The take over by despotic rulers deprives the active competing aristocrats of any political role other than that of administering the state in the ruler’s service. In this situation, demonstrating capacity to govern self and others through relations with boys and women becomes irrelevant, and the self-restraint implicit in the idealisation of marriage becomes more appropriate. In the republican time, it is shameful for a man to have been the ‘passive’ partner in a same sex relationship and is enough to exclude citizens in later life (‘passive’ partners are presumed to be boys/young men seeking favours from older men, and therefore close to prostitutes, if not exactly the same) from office and even from any political activity.

The shame of sexual ‘passivity’ continues in the period of despotism in the way Roman historians, particularly Tacitus and Suetonius, represent ‘bad’ emperors who are shown to lack sexual restraint and ‘passivity’ in literal sexual terms (Nero) or in becoming the instrument of their wife (Claudius). They were thought of as connected with the east, seen as irrational (this particularly applies to Elagabalus/Heliogabalus though he came after Tacitus and Suetonius, and has precedent in the scandal caused by Mark Anthony’s liaison with Cleopatra of Egypt). Marcus Aurelius (again after Tacitus and Suetonius) was seen as good and and as sexually restrained, as fitting with Neo-Stoic writing.

Christianity takes up these Stoic attitudes to sex, the idealisation of restraint and equality within marriage, which are in some degree the product of politics acceding to Foucault, and creates an emphasis on desire or concupiscence, as a dominant feature of human life. This goes back to the earlier integration of sexual themes in the republican aristocracy round activity and government, but gives it a less political context, and a context in which the ideas and practices of subjectivity are forming.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, XI.1

Lecture of 25th March, 1981

Foucault continues  his discussion of the relation between the subjectivity of sexuality, the truth of subjectivity, ad subjectivity in truth. These lectures are concerned with how these themes are illuminated in the shift from pagan Greek thought to Christian thought, which some emphasis on Stoicism and the Christian thought of the third and fourth centuries as the centre of the transition.

In this context, Foucault suggests that while Christianity puts a new emphasis on the value of virginity and chastity, it is less restrictive of aphrodisias in marriage than Stoicism was before it. In the framing of this discussion, Foucault also emphasises that in his view bios has a unity in pre-Christian Greek thought, which is lacking in Christianity, because of the separation Christianity makes between life in this world and life in the next world. There is no such absolute separation in pre-Christian thought. Foucault thinks it is necessary to made this point on the context of discussing tekhne, as it appears in the art of living.

Foucault contrasts the Christian split with Pythagorean remarks that come from the fourth century BCE Black Sea Anatolian philosopher Heraclides Ponticus, and were repeated by later writers, including Diogenes Laertius who seems to be Foucault’s principle source in this matter. What Diogenes Laertius attributed to Heraclides was a three fold division within bios between those born slaves to glory, those who seek wealth, and philosophers who pursue truth. Foucault refers to this as the distinction between a life of politics, a life of wealth, and a life of truth.

We could add to this that the distinction is quite reminiscent of Aristotle’s ethics and politics, where a life of honour in politics is preferable to seeking wealth, but is inferior to a philosophical life. These distinctions are distinctions in self-relation according to Foucault rather than distinctions of status, goal, or activity. They are concerned with the way in which one inserts one’s own liberty, one’s own ends, one’s own project in things themselves, the manner in which one puts them in perspective and uses them. As Heraclides (via Diogenes) suggests all those approaches are part of a panegyric that is a festival where all these approaches can be seen together in relation to the the things that are grasped in common in the world.

There is no Greek equivalent from this time for the modern idea of subjectivity. It is Christianity that provides the framework for what we call subjectivity in three aspects: a relation with the beyond, an operation of conversion, the existence of an authenticity or a deep truth that is the basis of our subjectivity. The idea of bios does not refer to a beyond and does not refer to a conversion, but rather a continuous work on the self by itself. There is no hidden authenticity in bios waiting to be discovered, but rather an unending search.

Bios becomes inserted into the code of Christianity and this cannot be described as rationalisation or ideology, but as the constitution of subjectivity or subjectivation. Foucault seems to suggest that the jurisdictional enters at the same time of Christianity, which is consistent with a general tendency to link Christianity and subjectivation with ‘juridification’, the replacement of the art of life with the enforcement of law, which can be found elsewhere, e.g. the Louvain lectures, Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling. The Function of Avowal in Justice which have just been published in English (University of Chicago Press) and the Collège de France lectures On the Government of the Living (Palgrave 2013).

I previously summarised and commented on the French texts of both in posts of Novembers and December 2012. This a is very large topic, but in brief I find Foucault’s exploration illuminating but with typically schematic elements, and I’m inclined to the think of the tension between statute or state enforced law and relatively less formalised and official forms of living as a constant tensions, something that is constantly repeated in history. Famously we can see a version of it in Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone. I’m not suggesting that Foucault ignores the constant tension, he does perhaps get into some tension of his own between thinking of a series of epistemes and thinking of the repetition of situations.

Foucault shows some awareness of this kind of tension at this point, since he points out the difficulty of saying when their is a break between Christian flesh and pre-Christian aphordisias. The Christian thinking becomes systematised in the third century, but their is a prolongation of some pre-Christian attitudes, such as the relative tolerance of homosexuality (Foucault’s choice of word) until the twelfth century. Foucault’s solution is that the break comes with the change from technologies of the self to technologies of subjectivity in the third and fourth centuries. That break co-exists with prolongation of some older ideas within the matrix of experience, which Foucault suggests is a more apposite term than code.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, X

Lecture of 18th March, 1981

The same code of prohibitions and permissions in sexual ethics is present in the later Stoics and other Graeco-Roman thinkers of the first and second centuries as in the Christian thought of Augustine, of Christianity as it developed from the the fourth century. However, the philosophical and religious discourse was very different. For Augustine the end of marriage and sexual activity is procreation but not out of hıman solidarity. It is further the perfection, which will bring about the return of Christ and to assist the other marital partner in avoiding sin (presumably the sin of non-martial sexual activity).

We should not see the Graeco-Roman intensification of the ideal of marriage as not just the phenomenon of a small elite, but as part of increasing practices and gradual success in imposing the intensification. This leads Foucault into some discussion of the relation between discourse and the real. He develops a distinction between the things that apparently make up existence to which discourse refers, and the truth in a discourse.

The true is more than real and we must ask why there is a true more than the real. The truth is not the same as the real, it is a supplement not present in the real. This is not the question of the truth or falsity of a proposition but the game of true and false that transforms the real. The supplementary game of the truth is not part of the economy of the domain to which it refers (presumably the domain of those aspects of discourse that do not deal with the true), it has a cost that is economic, political, social, and human that leads to sacrifice and war. It is not a useful game.It is  not unitary, scientific, or fundamental.

The games of truth and falsity, or véridiction/veridiction  (presumably not to b confused with Logical Positivist ideas of verification of the meaning and truth of propositions through observation, ‘veridiction’ comes from discussion of the mode of truth in semiotics and narrative, but with a more than semiotic aspect in Foucault), have effects in the real. There is a connection between the real and the game of truth.

There is a politics of truth in the relations between regimes of veridication and human practices. The experience of the subject is where the game of truth induces real effects with regard to sexual practices. The same applies to madness, illness, crime, and other domains. So Foucault suggests a way of thing about the books History of Madness, Birth of the Clinic, Discipline and Punish.

History should not just be about showing that the discourse of ‘philosophes’ (philosophers and related thinkers) reflects real practice, but also the ways in which discourse has gaps, exclusions, and censorship with regard to the real. With regard to the discourse of marriage in antiquity, the exclusion as the value of marriage is intensified, is the accompanying break down of the social fabric of the city with regard to citizenship, politics, public life and hierarchy, as the Graeco-Roman world moves towards monarchical absolutism. The rational logical unity of arguments about marriage in the Stoics are an evasion of the breakdown of the previous social fabric family structure.

Foucault moves onto criticise theories of ‘ideology’ (I presume that in large part this is a criticism of Marx and various forms of Marxism) for referring to the illusions of discourse instead of its real effects. He then moves onto a criticism of Weberian attitudes (which also seem to be criticisms of Hegel’s assumptions about the rationality of the real, though I suppose Hegelians would deny that Hegel sees ideal rationality in the real) towards rationally, with regard to assumptions about the rationality of the real as if the logos in the real (presumably the possibility of referring to it is discourse) which must be rationality. The real is never perfectly rational, that is practices are never completely in accordance with principles. There is a game in the gap between practices and codes, without which there is no real. Presumably Foucault suggests that the game of truth is connected with this gap, where discourse refers to practices and to codes, and the level of match between them.

The distinctions between the  critiques of Hegel, Marx, Marxism, and Weber are not very fixed. Debates about the relations between these four poles (which is already a simplification) are endless. Clearly Frankfurt School Marxism/Critical Theory contains ideas from Weber and specific ways of thinking about the relation between Hegel and Marxism. This also applies to Lukács, who was  member of a circle round Weber. The comments on discourse as evasion clearly has some reference to Althusser, though Althusser remains with notions of the distinction between science and ideology, which are part of what Foucault criticises. The idea of discourse existing in its effects has some elements of Weber in it, who was very concerned with power, charisma, tradition and related terms in his theory and his understanding of societies, as well as with rationality. One thing worth emphasising is that Hegel and Weber are just as much objects of Foucault’s attentions as Marx and Marxism, and there is no reason to think that Marx or Marxism has a privileged status for Foucault in relation to Hegel, Weber or various other currents of non-Marxist thought, though of course Marxist and non-Marxist thought exist in relation to each other.

The  very purist codification within Stoic thinking is accompanied by a game of truth, veridication, the effects of the code in practice (so presumably a continuation of the idea of a game between the code and practices, which is there is truth/veridication) and it is this which is transformed not by Christianity when it appears, but a process within Christianity over time. Foucault suggests, but I don’t think makes it entirely explicit, that questions of truth in discourse are closely related to moral codification, since the label of moral itself involves an assumption about possible real practices, and the real transformation of practices by codes.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, IX

Lecture of 11th March, 1981

Marriage was institutionalised as a public union by Greeks in pre-Roman Egypt (where there was a considerable Greek influence from Alexander the Great’s conquest and from the Macedonian-Greek dynasty of one of Alexander’s generals that ruled Egypt after the death of Alexander. The Augustan laws against adultery followed on from this practice, reinforcing it (is the implication that it had spread from Egypt to Rome, with Egypt only becoming Roman in Augustus’ time, under the very direct control of the Emperor compared with other provinces, as a result of the defeat of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, or is the implication that there were parallel developments in Rome to those in Egypt?).

In Egypt, Foucault refers to the original public marriage contracts as concerned with establishing that the wife can only leave the home with the husband’s permission and is absolutely forbidden to have extra-martial liaisons, while the husband is obliged to support the wife economically and not abuse her. In matters of extramarital liaisons, the husband is forbidden to bring a partner into the household, as a concubine, or to have children by another partner, which in practice means no legally recognised children. Foucault suggests these amount to a prohibition on bigamy.

As Egypt became more Roman than Hellenic (by way of a digression, it is interesting to be reminded that though Egypt like more western parts of North Africa was part of Eastern Rome/Byzantium, it was more latinised than Greece and Anatolia), the restraints on the husband having a permanent mistress or boyfriend, or maintaining a parallel household increased, but never to the extent that extramarital liaisons were ever completely forbidden to the husband. So the Stoic preference for mutual fidelity was never recognised in law, what was recognised was a fidelity of existence, in which the husband could not undermine the family life he had with his legally recognised wife.

Marital law recognised an already existing emphasis in practice on the couple and did not create much new. Roman writers (e.g. letters of Pliny – presumably Pliny the Younger – and the poetry of Stace) , increasingly referred to the value of ‘concordia’ in marriage, an idea that was already in Stoic and other philosophical writings. The idea of marital concord included idealisation of alive together without arguments. Tacitus’ Life of Agricola moves towards the idea of ‘caritas’ in marriage, in which each prefers the other’s welfare to their own. Foucault seems to be saying this is new in non-philosophical writing, but was already part of Stoic writing.

Pliny’s (the Younger) letters to his wife deploy a language of desire previously familiar from writing about non-marital love. Idealised love, the pain of absence and the image of the absent object of love. What really strikes Foucault is that for Pliny (the Younger), the desired one is associated with torture. Foucault suggests this sets up a way of writing about love, which goes up to Marcel Proust’s account of Albertine (that is the love of the narrator for Albertine in In Search of Lost Time, which is to be found in The Captive and The Fugitive). This familiar way of thinking about desire arises in western culture within the family, in relation to the wife, which Foucault implies is in contrast with the way it has often been understood since.

Foucault takes his discussion of changes in practice, changes in law, and changes in discourse about love and marriage, but particularly ‘aphrodisia’ (love and sexual activity) as the opportunity for a discussion about truth and reality. Truth is a game, which is never just a statement of what is real. The game, or language, or truth, arises in the relation between the general facts and the singular situation of saying what is true about them. If we say snow is white, that refers to a reality, but that still leaves the question of why we are making the statement.

Statements do not make anything real, but we have the question of the relations between reality and statements. There is never a complete ontological identity between the reality of discourse, the existence of the discourse, its existence as a discourse that claims to be true, and the real of which it speaks. Foucault begins this discussion of reality, discourse and truth with the question of the status of moral discourse. Saying something should be the case is to suggest that it is not the case, though moral discourse is in some way referring to what is the case, which is very clear with regard to the Pliny the Younger era discussion of marriage, since it refers to real practices and a real intensification of the discourse idealising marriage. The issues about the status of prescriptive discourse parallel those concerning epistemological discourse. There is a necessary ambiguity about the relation between the status of what is said and what is referred to, since the relation both suggests an identity and a difference.

Foucault goes back to the concerns of early work on discourse like the Archaeology of Knowledge and alludes to his later concerns with Enlightenment and ethics, with the way that truthful discourse is variable and is associated with our own relation with our self, what we try to make real in ourselves. The way he interlaces these concerns suggests to me a resistance to any idea of a rupture between an earlier and later Foucault, so that instead there is a process of modulation of concerns there from the beginning.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, VIII

Lecture of 1st March, 1981

Foucault highlights the difference between love for women and love for boys, and the value placed on the man-woman love, particularly man-wife love, in antiquity in the period of Hellentistic-Roman philosophy. He focuses on Plutarch’s discussion of love and sex, in the Dialogue on Love with particular reference to Plutarch’s reactions to Greek texts of the classical period like Plato’s Symposium and Euripides’ tragedy Hyppolitus (I presume that is what Foucault is referring to when he mentions a text called Phèdre, the name of the female character in the play, used to name the plays on the same story by Seneca and Racine) and to Stoic influenced texts of his own time on the art of living. It is the texts of his own time, which are more directed towards marriage as the ideal.

Foucault refers to Christian sexual morality as referring first to pagan sexual morality, of that part of it inside pagan thinking most suitable to Christianity, and then developing its own morality in the fourth and fifth centuries based on the idea of flesh. It is the ‘conjugalisation’ of aphrodisia in later pagan thought, which provides a source for Christianity.

Foucault sets up an investigation of the move towards the ideal of the marital couple with thee parts of the Plutarch dialogue. A part devoted towards the debate between love of boys and love of women, including the marriage of young man Bacchon, a song/elegy to love, and a Platonic debate. Bacchon is pursued by men and by a relatively young widow who is nevertheless older than Bacchon. The pursuit by the woman is comic, but refers to a situation in ancient Greece in which infanticide was more directed at female babies than make babies. In consequence there were less women than men making it necessary for some men to ignore social preferences about marrying a younger woman in order to get get married.

Plutarch plays on the way that the widow’s pursuit of the young man imitates the standard pederastic (it is Foucault who refers to ‘pederasty’ here in acknowledgement of the young, beardless, status of the younger man in the socially expected same sex relations of ancient Greece) situation in which the older more experienced and knowledgeable man pursues the younger less educated and less experienced boy. The widow brings the advantages of experience to the marriage, so that advantage the older man offers the boy. So the ideal of marriage grows out of transferring the same advantages for the younger person of associated with an older person as to be found in the pederastic situation. The pederastic-educational situation of the mature man’s relationship with the boy itself, as Foucault discusses in previous lectures, becomes separated from sexual activity over time so that an ideal pedagogical situation emerges in parallel with the ideal marriage that incorporates some part of the pederastic-pedagogical situation.

The man-boy love itself was always defined as against nature (phusis) in the first place, eros was defined as outside nature so that the pederastic relationship is part of a general interest in being apart from nature in some adventurous and even dangerous place. Being outside nature was not always defined as negative in ancient Greece (Foucault is perhaps thinking of the status of gods, heroes, and divine law here. He is also presumably thinking of late 19th century/fin de siècle ‘decadence’ here, just as elsewhere he compare the antique ‘techne’ of the self with Baudelaire, anarchism, and the like).
The attitudes to love and sex revealed in Plutarch also suggest that the value of homogeneity of marriage between man and woman, according to an antique value given to isomorphism, was compared with the adventurousness of heterogeneity in man-boy relations as a competing ideal. The boy love leads to an attitude of surveillance, care and so on, in a care for the other (something like the care for the self, which is the subject matter of the third volume of the History of Sexuality), so an emphasis on virtue rather than pleasure.

Another concern mentioned in Plutarch is that love for women leads to feminisation. This possible critique of man-woman love is answered by the proponents of man-woman love with the suggestion of hypocrisy by the the proponents of man-boy love who pretend to a non-sexual form of community when clearly there is something sexual, and furthermore that sexual love for women is compatible with the less sexual aspects of man-woman conjugal community emphasised by the proponents of man-boy love. This includes discussion of the opposition or rapport between ‘philia’ (non-sexual love/friendship) and sexual relationships. As the beauty of the boy is emphasised by the man-boy love proponents, they are admitting to a desire which is at the base the same as sexual desire for women.

Plutarch brings in Epicurean materialist- corpuscularianism explanations to emphasise the common physical reaction to beauty. If a non-physical love for boys can come out of this, leading us onto pure ideas (as in Plato) then the same must be case for girls. Plutarch emphasises the sameness of love for boys and girls. Love must feature the same end, sexuality referred to as the goddess Aphrodite, as well as eros, the love that does not necessarily include sexual acts. However, that shared telos, and end goal, of love, does not put boy love and girl love on the same level.
Plutarch uses what Foucault refers to as mythical-historical origin to argue that boy love came later in history, because of the appearance of gymnasia and public places of exercise where naked boys could be observed. Foucault adds something he has already referred to, which is that the boy cannot consent to sexual advances in the same way as a girl in ancient Greece, since the boy is going to be a free citizen, which is not compatible with being an object of love.
Plutarch expresses a dominant view in antiquity, which is that even at periods of relative acceptance of boy love, it was considered unnatural, and that over time this became the same as lacking in virtue, and in the possibilities of care. These was transferred to marriage, in which the male-female relation was put on a more egalitarian basis, signified by the positive view of the widow marrying the younger man, while the man-boy relation was condemned as governed by pleasure rather than virtue.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, VII.2

The difference between the pagan Greek and early Christian view of sexuality was that while both belief that sexual activity was a barrier to trust, for Christianity truth meant the discovery and awareness of sexual desire inside oneself. Awareness of this, and subsequent purification, was necessary to truth. There was an obligation to speak truth of oneself in order to discover the truth of oneself and one’s impurity, followed by a purification which enabled discovery of the truth of being. This gave rise to the relation of subjectivity and truth characteristic of our civilisation. Before that Christian step, there was an increasing sense of the tension between sexuality and truth, which could only be overcome, if at all in marriage. Foucault mentions Cicero (with regard to a passage which Augustine refers to) and Epictetus in this context.

He also mentions Musonius Rufus, referring to him as the master of Seneca, which seems like a slip since he was younger than Seneca, was the teacher of Epictetus, and I can certainly find no reference to a connection between Rufus and Seneca. I presume that Foucault meant to say Epictetus. He is a bit clearer in this lecture than before that Plutarch was not a Stoic, though he shared some of their ideas.

Musonius Rufus is discussed with regard to his view of sex within marriage and adultery. He was part of a move towards the codification of sex within marriage and condemnation of adultery for both men and women. The prevailing earlier attitude was that husbands were free to have sex outside marriage and that adultery was only to condemned when it meant interfering with the property of another man, his family and servants. In Musonius Rufus, sexual activity is to be kept within marriage and condemnation is equal for both men and women if they fail to respect this obligation.

The codification of sexuality within marriage means that sex must have the purpose of procreation and that the man must not treat his wife like a mistress (that is too much sexual pleasure is not appropriate within marriage, and that sex for pleasure is to be indulged in, if at all, outside or before marriage. In the sixteenth century, Montaigne has a lot to say about this in the Essays, and endorses this attitude with some tolerance for adulterous men, which may be part of the context for what Foucault writes here). Musonious Rufus notes that most people show greater tolerance for male misdemeanours in this field, but condemns that attitude. Musonious Rufus elevates the woman to the same juridico-legal level as the man, and lowers the man’s pleasure to that of a woman, in the sense that a man is presumed to have limited pleasure from the sexual act.

The role of children as the end of sexual activity is emphasised, as it will be in Christianity, as is reinforcing the connection between husband and wife, which will also be a Christian theme. Sexual activity becomes part of growing respect between the two in a marriage. There is also a Stoic way of thinking, which continues in Christianity, according to which pleasure in sexual activity should be limited (which takes us back to the husband not treating the wife as a mistress), with particular reference to not seeing each other naked. Sexual acts are expected to be confined to the night and to take place without any lights. This is to avoid later memory of the act and a spread out of the erotic outside its proper limits. The relation between marriage and philosophy is still difficult, but some resolution starts to be possible, as the erotic is confined to marriage and desire becomes an object of analysis, and therefore part of the truth of subjectivity, within this legitimating context.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, VII.1

Lecture of 25th February, 1981.

Foucault suggests that ‘director of conscience’ is better term than philosopher or moralists for the writers on ‘aphrodisia’ he is discussing in the two centuries before Christianity (presumably before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire). This itself seems to incorporate a bit of rather Catholic sounding terminology (director of conscience is a standard way of referring to the role of the priesthood, particularly with regard to confession, though perhaps is more readily applicable to those of the status and wealth to employ a personal priest/confessor) into the pagan world, and is one way of suggesting indirectly that there are pagan moral-philosophical elements in Christianity, or there are some shared elements. It is mostly, but not entirely, the work of Stoics.

Foucault announces that he is introducing the topic of the economy of ‘aphrodisia (the trade offs of pleasures and dangers, the limits necessary to continuing the ‘aphordisia’). There are two aspects: the restriction and localisation of sexual acts within marriage; the codification of those acts themselves not just the institutional and legal aspect. There is a new mistrust towards sexual pleasure. All societies have some kind of restrictive economy, limitations supposed necessary to health and well being, with regard to ‘aphrodisia’. There are three parts of this economy to be discussed: religious, philosophical practice and life, medicine.


Restrictions on sexual activity in Ancient Greek paganism include the virginity of various priestesses, which continued in the vestal virgins of Rome. Religious restrictions could include long periods of abstinence, keeping to the company of those too young or old to be normally regarded as sexual partners, purity while entering a temple, abstinence on the day of making a sacrifice. These religious restriction were lined to a separation between sexual act and dead bodies, presumably sexuality activity too close to making sacrifices (or dealing with the bodies of dead humans waiting for burial) was crossing a dangerous boundary. Truth was linked with purification, so all truth speaking required purification, as in prophetic speech. Communication with the gods required physical purity. Sexual activity had an analogy, or similarity, with death which made it unsuitable for communication with the gods. Presumably sexual purification is particularly important when dealing with death, because of the need to limit the amount of pollution.

In Greek antiquity, philosophy belonged to ‘bios theoretikos’, theoretical life. Sexual activity appeared in contradiction with, or at least incompatible with with theoretical life. It was disturbing to a life of contemplation of truth. The philosophical restrictions on sexual activity go back to the Orphists an Pythagoreans, for sexual activity and the body were in contradiction with the contemplation of truth, since the body şs a material thing which might die, while the soul is devoted to immortality. This attitude towards the dangers of sexual activity was present in all Greek philosophy, but with differences in which there might be complete abstinence or a very practical attitude to sexual desires as why should be dealt with quickly, maybe through acts of self-gratification, or through  a loveless attitude towards satisfying sexual urges.

Sexual pleasure was taken to be in contradiction with philosophy, and the practical life, because of its physical intensity, because of the lack of energy after a brief period of pleasure, and because of the blindness to truth while engaged in the act. Sexual activity was an activity in antique thinking in the same way as politics and philosophy were life activities. Sexual activity was seen as rival to those other activities in the use of energy and concentration of activity. Theoretical life was seen as superior to political and sexual life, because it was more concerned with the self-relation, with self-mastery, and happiness of the  highest kind.

Hippocratic medicine suggested that sexual activity created a heating of all the humours and fluids of the whole body, leading to great tiredness after the act. The body lost what was most active and strong, leading to the risk of death. Other medical schools compared sexual activity with epilepsy. These beliefs lead to the claim that sexual activity should be limited. The link between epilepsy and sex was sometimes metaphorical, sometimes a belief that sexual activity caused epilepsy, and sometimes a belief that sexual activity was the cure for epilepsy. In all cases, epilepsy and sexuality were linked around closeness to death and the blocking of consciousness, so as the opposite of the life contemplation of eternal truths.

The above refers to Subjectivité et Vérité. Cours au Collège de France, 1980-1981. Eds. François Ewald, Allesandro Fontana and Frédéric Gros. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2014