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

Foucault’s Lectures on Subjectivity and Truth, VI

Lecture of 11th February, 1981

Foucault continues the theme from the previous lecture of community in marriage. He largely refers to Stoics, particularly Musonius Rufus (best known as the teacher of Epictetus. Foucault takes the discussion from Aristotle and Xenophon. That is Xenophon’s dialogue on economy and goes up to John of Chrysostom, the 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople. Chrysostom features briefly, and represents a new Christian stage, though that stage does build on Stoicism.

Xenophon represents the end of a way of thinking, so its Xenophon and Chrysostom who define the temporal and conceptual boundaries of what Foucault is considering here. There is more attention paid to Xenophon though and Foucault refers to the dialogue on economy with regard to passages in which a husband addresses a wife on the purposes or marriage. The purpose of marriage, apparently, is not  just to share a bed, but create some broader community in which there are children, children look after the parents in old age, and there is a home. A statement that still has some force in Stoic and Christian thinking since they all regard marriage as a more than sexual relation. For Foucault this represents the end of a tradition, which is also to be found in Aristotle, in the History of Animals and the Nicomachean Ethics. That is the tradition in which marriage is part of nature and part of social life, and does not stand out from either. It is continuous with both, with the nature of animal life and with the communal life of the city-state.

In the Stoic conception, the unity and continuity of marriage with nature and social life is transformed so that marriage is based on nature and is discontinuous with the rest of social life. Foucault also brings in Plutarch, who is not clearly distinguished from the Stoics though he was a Platonist. Foucault refers to Plutarch with regard to a criticism of Epicureanism, which presumably was shared by the Stoics. This refers to the Epicurean attitude to nature. Plutarch criticises the Epicurean view  of atoms moving by chance in the void. This is a form of very weak co-existence quite different from the ways that the Stoics think of nature as including coexistence and combination. The model for Stoics is the coexistence of wine and water, so we can see that their idea of the community of marriage is of a radical level of combination. Radical to the extent that it is very different from the other forms of social connection within the broad community.

Marriage appears in Stoic writing as the union of two bodies in one. What Foucault does not mention here, not at all directly anyway is that this is in part an inversion of Aristotle’s definition of the ideal friendship as one soul in two bodies.  The single body of the Stoic marriage ideal is lacking in Aristotle’s idea of ideal friendship, which excludes both marriage and same sex relations. The move seems to be both a continuation of the Aristotelian ideal of community between two individuals and its transformation in an intense form of union based on a natural human desire to live in couples, that are joined physically in sexual activity as well as in other ways by children and other areas of joint concern and activity. As Foucault does mention in this  lectures, marriage in Aristotle  is the sovereignty of husband over wife, though what he does not mention is that this is  on the model of monarchy (so power moderated by law and virtue). Same sex relations are against nature, for Aristotle, as Foucault does mention elsewhere. This does not allow for the kind of marriage union envisaged by the Stoics, even if Aristotle does think of relations between husband and wife, as those between good rulers and citizens, as a form of friendship.

The Stoic ideal of marriage isolates marriage, as a uniquely close bond, from the other relations in society, as the uniquely natural relation. The bond between two human individuals is not just in friendship, but is primarily in the limit of love (though not to be understood in the sense of the most intense forms of romantic love). In this way, flourishing human life is defined in a less communal and political way in the Stoics than in earlier Greek philosophy, and is even anti-communal since the life in couples is natural in a way that law governed, or political, communities are not. The end of human nature is in the joint life of a couple not a polis. For Musonius Rufus, this union cannot be an interruption to philosophy (an issue discussed in the previous lecture) since it is the most intensely natural of relations, and philosophy itself is based on nature. In this kind of Stoic thinking, attraction  between men and woman has a natural force like the relation between physical elements, which is part of why marriage, or generally living in couples, is based on nature.

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, V

Lecture of 4th February, 1981

Foucault claims that the civilisation that can be designated Christian (the key term here surely), western, or European is unique in its attempt to codify sexuality rather than than use the kind of continuum of evaluations, which exist in Artemidorus and predominated before Christianity. The codification reaches its greatest intensity some time after Artemidorus, from the VIIth to XIIth centuries, and is tied to auricular confession (as in the spoken confession of sins to a priest in Catholic Christianity). The codification is all encompassing including religious commandments, civil law, acts, relations, thoughts, temptations, marriage, and which develops into medical norms.

Foucault criticises the idea of a gradual pagan move towards the kind of morality advocated by Christianity, and argues that Stoicism, and other philosophies, and all the ways of approaching ethics (conduct of living, relation of self with itself in Foucault) builds up another view within, or alongside, existing paganism, particularly strong in some social circles, as an evolution rather than a substitution, and that is a starting point for Christianity. That evolution transforms the role of marriage which had not previously been important, so that it is the only place for sexual activity, making it discontinuous with other areas of social life. It has a central social role, which empties the sexual aspect (in any legitimate sense) of other social relations, as the focus of sexual activity as well as all the social activity focused on marriage.

The pre-Christian attitude emphasis the pleasure of the active partner in sexual acts, and the unimportance of the pleasures of the ‘passive’ partner, which even threatens the active nature of the ‘active’ partner, so that a counter-nature may attach to the active partner in the pleasure of the passive partner. Within Christianity, there is no distinction between the pleasure of the active and passive partners, and pleasure in general is associated with passivity, so is dangerous. The idea of sexual acts without pleasure becomes valued.

The idea of pleasure as passive has earlier roots, which is presumably Foucault referring to the philosophical discussion of pleasure in Plato and Aristotle, and then in Hellenistic philosophy. That would be the ways for Plato and Aristotle that pleasure is inferior to virtue, reason (theoria), judgement (phronesis) and a well lived life. Within that perspective, pursuit of pleasure without limit is dangerous, marking lack of measure, moderation and self-control. Friendship based on pleasure is inferior to friendship based on mutual appreciation of virtue. Pleasure comes from desire, which needs to be controlled by reason-thought operating through will-spirit. Pleasure is passive because it is just the enjoyment of the body, which comes from outside stimulation, from dependency on food, drink, and contact with others.

Foucault considers the choice between marriage and celibacy as it appears in the Hellenistic philosophers, and in the Athenians apart from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, so the Epicurean, Stoic, and Cynic schools, late Platonists like Plutarch and Xenephon, the contemporary of Socrates. Epictetus appears as the main representative of Stoic thinking, and the Hellenistic philosopher who receives the most attention, which may be partly due to the strong influence he had inn early modern European eduction and thinking.

The arguments around marriage centre round the tension between eternal truths and the truth that belongs to marriage as a harmonisation of word and act. Presumably the observation of the agreement to marriage, and then maintaining the marriage, is truthful in the sense that actions are in conformity with promises that are made truthful. The way that marriage is truthful applies to all the ways that we might bear truth in some way on our bodies and in our actions, in the harmonisation of words and acts. In that sense marriage is more normal for the standard requirements of human social life as the Stoics and early Christians recognised. Both those groups thought of marriage as normal, and celibacy as requiring a justification. A justification that was very available given the condition of the world which makes it necessary to have people concerned with eternal truths to a degree that makes marriage unsuitable.

The celibate philosopher can keep eternal truths at the centre of consciousness, undistracted by domestic life. The philosopher may gain time for philosophy from marriage, because of the responsibility the wife takes for looking after the home, and gain benefits from the peace and care provided at home. This enables the man to put use the male role of activity in public life. This has to be balanced against the financial demands, along with demands on time and energy that are associated with a wife, and with children. In addition, the care provided in the marital home makes the man lose autonomy as his own relation with his self is contaminated by dependency on others. Children bring benefits of continuation of the man’s name (an important consideration in ancient culture), but then also create the possibility of shaming him by bad acts (also an important consideration in ancient culture, Aristotle was concerned what a life could not be happy if after death the descendants of that person shamed the family name). Celibacy always brings the advantage of freedom to concentrate on eternal truths and an autonomy that intensifies the ethical consideration of one’s own relation with oneself.

The discussion continues in early Christianity as can be seen in Origen. The argument  for celibacy, for some, has some continuity with Stoicism, as what  is given the most value for observing eternal truths, but also with the idea that the priest is expected to be free of any particular ties with any member of the flock for which he cares. In the pagan and early Christian thinking, it is difficult to see a philosopher or priest as having community with a wife.

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, IV.

Lecture of 28th January, 1981

Foucault distinguishes between the Graeco-Roman concept of aphrodisia, the Christian concept of flesh and the modern concept of sexuality. These are not three domains of distinct objects. They are three modes of experience, that is three modalities of the relation of the self with itself, in the rapport that we have with a particular domain of objects. Foucault is suggesting that the relation with sexual activity is always about a self-relation and about sexual activities which are joined in a changing modality.

Artemidorus did not make moral judgements, but looked at what was favourable or unfavourable in events to come, in the interpretation of dreams which he presumes refers to future events. It is, however, an ethical perception, presumably in the sense that the ethical is what concerned with with relation of the self with itself. Foucault appears to assume a distinction between morality as abstract code, duties which do not change with context or experience, and ethics as more concrete evaluation  of particular acts, and guide to the life as we experience it.  This seems to roughly correspond with the way Hegel understands the difference between ethics and morality, and more recently Bernard Williams. The distinction is not always used in this way though.

The important distinction in Artemidorus, within sexuality, is not between homo- and heterosexuality, but between iso- and hetero-morphism, that is between relations with those of a share social status and those of a different social status. A relation between a mature man and a boy of the same social class is isomorphic, while a relation between a mature man of the higher classes and male slave is heteromorphic. The relation between a man and a woman in marriage is isomorphic, as marriage is a joint status forming situation. Artemidorus inherits an oral tradition (and what seems to be at the end of tradition, or at least a tradition unaffected either by philosophy after Socrates or Christianity). He does not think sexual activity should be restricted to marriage, but that was a view growing in Greek philosophy at that time (we can find it in Aristotle). For Artemidorus, marriage is the most isomorphic relation, but that does not mean that all extramarital sexual activity is condemned.

Ancient law, or the Greek influenced Roman law known to Artemidorus, only entered into adultery where adultery interfered with someone else’s sphere so was not an isomorphic relation. A marred man having sexual relations with a servant woman was isomorphic, because she was part of his domestic sphere. The perspective represented by Artemidorus is that where sexual acts are placed in a hierarchy, and are not morally condemned or commended, but rather might improve or worsen status.

Foucault distinguishes between an ancient Greek idea of nomos and later notions of judicial law, which seems in accordance with a variety of thinkers including Vico, Montesquieu, Hegel, and Nietzsche. Nomos is concerned with divisions of a pre-legal sort, which might or not be reflected in juridical law, (though presumably are a dominating influence on what there is in the way of judicial law)  as in the isomorphic/heteromorphic distinction.

As well as nomos, Artemidorus is concerned with what is active or natural, which provides another source of judgement about what is positive. Nature is apparently most natural where there is activity, which sounds like the view of nature that comes from Aristotle. What is natural and active in sexual activity is what is male and penetrative. That can be penetration of women, boys or slaves. In all three cases, inferior status is linked with sexual ‘passivity’, with the addition of beauty and relative physical weakness for the woman and boy. The penetrating male has a moderated limited pleasured defined by his activity, while the woman or boy has an indefinite limitless pleasure. That leads to the idea in antiquity, lasting into the Middle Ages that the man who runs after women, or boys, is feminised , because he does not limit pleasures. That lingers on in the psychoanalysis of Jung, which regards the Don Juan character as feminised.

The man-boy relation is distinct from the man-woman relationship, not simply with regard to gender, but with regard to the boy as what becomes the man and therefore the complete subject of activity. This relation can be de-eroticised as pedagogy, the man teaching the boy, and that is apparent in Plato. Foucault seems to be hinting that the Socratic-Platonic dialogue is deeply influence by the man-boy erotic relationship as the erotic takes over the physically sexual, and some dialogues have some suggestions of this, particularly Phaedrus. Artemidorus shows a speaking truth to others, but coming from a self-relation which taken far enough undermines the approach of Artemidorus, because it is discovery ıf truth in ourself, taking us towards Platonism and Christianity. Foucault is rather indirect about it, but he does seem to be suggesting that the philosophical tradition emerged, in part at least, from the desexualisation of same sex desire, the move from transfer to sexual experience to transfer of knowledge.

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