In this his aim was not, Edward F. McGushin contends, to develop a new knowledge of the history of philosophy; rather, it was to let himself be transformed by the very activity of thinking. Thus, this work shows us Foucault in the last phase of his life in the act of becoming a philosopher. Here we see how his encounter with ancient philosophy allowed him to experience the practice of philosophy as, to paraphrase Nietzsche, a way of becoming who one is: the work of self-formation that the Greeks called askesis. If his earlier projects represented an attempt to bring to light the relations of power and knowledge that narrowed and limited freedom, then this last project represents his effort to take back that freedom by redefining it in terms of care of the self. Foucault always stressed that modern power functions by producing individual subjects.

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Of course, I do not plan to enumerate or discuss all of the important practices that can be found in the writings of this period. To begin with, I would like to make three preliminary remarks. First, I think that these techniques manifest a very interesting and important shift from that truth game which — in the classical Greek conception of parrhesia — was constituted by the fact that someone was courageous enough to tell the truth to other people.

For there is a shift from that kind of parrhesiastic game to another truth game which now consists in being courageous enough to disclose the truth about oneself. For example, it was a commonplace to say that any kind of art or technique had to be learned by mathesis and askesis — by theoretical knowledge and practical training. And, for instance, when Musonius Rufus says that the art of living, techne tou biou, is like the other arts, i. This techne tou biou, this art of living, demands practice and training: askesis.

Some of them were discussed and criticized, but most of them were well-known. Since most people recognized them, they were usually used without any precise theory about the exercise. For these topics usually function only as a schema or matrix for the spiritual exercise. I now turn to the kinds of exercises where someone had to examine the truth about himself, and tell this truth to someone else. They are naturally long-suffering, if only the mind desists from weakening them.

This should be summoned to give an account of itself every day. What fault have you resisted? In what respects are you better? Can anything be more excellent that this practice of thoroughly sifting the whole day? And how delightful the sleep that follows this self-examination—how tranquil it is, how deep and untroubled, when the soul has either praised or admonished itself, and when this secret examiner and critic of self has given report of its own character!

I avail myself of this privilege, and every day I plead my cause before the bar of self. When the light has been removed from sight, and my wife, long aware of my habit, has become silent, I scan the whole of my day and retrace all my deeds and words. I conceal nothing from myself, I omit nothing. For why should I shrink from any of my mistakes, when I may commune thus with my self?

You reproved that man more frankly than you ought, and consequently you have not so much mended him as offended him. In the future, consider not only the truth of what you say, but also whether the man to whom you are speaking can endure the truth. Before they went to sleep, the Pythagoreans had to perform this kind of examination, recollecting the faults they had committed during the day.

Such faults consisted in those sorts of behavior which transgressed the very strict rules of the Pythagorean Schools.

And the purpose of this examination, at least in the Pythagorean tradition, was to purify the soul. Seneca relates this practice, however, not to Pythagorean custom, but to Quintus Sextius — who was one of the advocates of Stoicism in Rome at the end of the First Century B. And it seems that this exercise, despite its purely Pythagorean origin, was utilized and praised by several philosophical sects and schools: the Epicureans, Stoics, Cynics, and others.

There are references in Epictetus, for example, to this kind of exercise. But if we look at the text more closely, I think we can see some interesting differences. What kind of operation is Seneca actually performing in this exercise? What is the practical matrix he uses and applies in relation to himself?

Closer scrutiny shows, however, that it is a question of something different from the court, or from judicial procedure. So Seneca is not exactly a judge passing sentence upon himself. It is more of an administrative scene than a judiciary one. He reproaches himself for very different things. He has criticized someone, but instead of his criticism helping the man, it has hurt him.

Or he criticizes himself for being disgusted by people who were, in any case, incapable of understanding him.

He criticizes himself for not keeping the aim of his actions in mind, for not seeing that it is useless to blame someone if the criticism given will not improve things, and so on. The point of the fault concerns a practical error in his behavior since he was unable to establish an effective rational relation between the principles of conduct he knows, and the behavior he actually engaged in.

Seneca also does not react to his own errors as if they were sins. He does not punish himself; there is nothing like penance. The retracing of his mistakes has as its object the reactivation of practical rules of behavior which, now reinforced, may be useful for future occasions. Seneca does not analyze his responsibility or feelings of guilt; it is not, for him, a question of purifying himself of these faults.

Rather, he engages in a kind of administrative scrutiny which enables him to reactivate various rules and maxim in order to make them more vivid, permanent, and effective for future behavior. It is a state where the mind is independent of any kind of external event, and is free as well from any internal excitation or agitation that could induce an involuntary movement of mind. Thus it denotes stability, self-sovereignty, and independence.

At the beginning of the De tranquillitate animi, Annaeus Serenus asks Seneca for a consultation. For both Seneca and Serenus there is no incompatibility between philosophy and a political career since a philosophical life is not merely an alternative to a political life. Rather, philosophy must accompany a political life in order to provide a moral framework for public activity. Serenus, who was initially an Epicurean, later turned towards Stoicism.

But even after he became a Stoic, he felt uncomfortable; for he had the impression that he was not able to improve himself, that he had reached a dead end, and was unable to make any progress. I should note that for the Old Stoa, for Zeno of Citium, for example, when a person knew the doctrines of the Stoic philosophy he did not really need to progress anymore, for he has thereby succeeded in becoming a Stoic. What is interesting here is the idea of progress occurring as a new development in the evolution of Stoicism.

Serenus knows the Stoic doctrine and its practical rules, but still lacks tranquillitas. And it is in this state of unrest that he turns to Seneca and asks him for help. And it exhibits a model or pattern for a type of self-examination. Serenus examines what he is or what he has accomplished at the moment when he requests this consultation: SERENUS: When I made examination of myself, it became evident, Seneca, that some of my vices are uncovered and displayed so openly that I can put my hand upon them, some are more hidden and lurk in a corner, some are not always present but recur at intervals; and I should say that the last are by far the most troublesome, being like roving enemies that spring upon one when the opportunity offers, and allow one neither to be ready as in war, nor to be off guard as in peace.

We shall see that he discloses no secret faults, no shameful desires, nothing like that. It is something entirely different from a Christian confession. I am well aware also that the virtues that struggle for outward show, I mean for position and the fame of eloquence and all that comes under the verdict of others, do grow stronger as time passes —both those that provide real strength and those that trick us out with a sort of dye with a view to pleasing, must wait long years until gradually length of time develops color— but I greatly fear that habit, which brings stability to most things, may cause this fault of mine to become more deeply implanted.

Of things evil as well as good long intercourse induces love. Serenus tells us that the truth about himself that he will now expose is descriptive of the malady he suffers from. And from these general remarks and other indications he gives later on, we can see that this malady is compared throughout to the seasickness caused by being aboard a boat which no longer advances, but rolls and pitches at sea.

Serenus is afraid of remaining at sea in this condition, in full view of the dry land which remains inaccessible to him. The organization of the themes Serenus describes, with its implicit and, as we shall see, its explicit metaphorical reference to being at sea, involves the traditional association in moral — political philosophy of medicine and piloting a boat or navigation — which we have already seen.

Here we also have the same three elements: a moral-philosophical problem, reference to medicine, and reference to piloting. Serenus is on the way towards acquiring the truth like a ship at sea in sight of dry land. But because he lacks complete self-possession or self-mastery, he has the feeling that he cannot advance. Perhaps because he is too weak, perhaps his course is not a good one. The boat cannot advance because it is rocking. Here we have an oscillating motion of rocking which prevents the movement of the mind from advancing towards the truth, towards steadiness, towards the ground.

Coming from a long abandonment to thrift, luxury has poured around me the wealth of its splendor, and echoed around me on every side. My sight falters a little, for I can lift up my heart towards it more easily than my eyes. And so I come back, not worse, but sadder, and I do not walk among my paltry possessions with head erect as before, and there enters a secret sting and the doubt whether the other life is not better. None of these things changes me, yet none of them fails to disturb me.

Ready and determined, I follow Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus, of whom none the less not one failed to urge others to do so. Will you not give up striving to keep posterity silent about you? You were born for death; a silent funeral is less troublesome! And so to pass the time, write something in simple style, for your own use, not for publication; they that study for the day have less need to labour.

Not to indulge longer in details, I am all things attended by this weakness of good intention. In fact I fear that I am gradually losing ground, or, what causes me even more worry, that I am hanging like one who is always on the verge of falling, and that perhaps I am in a more serious condition than I myself perceive; for we take a favorable view of our private matters, and partiality always hampers our judgment. I fancy that many men would have arrived at wisdom if they had not fancied that they had already arrived, if they had not dissembled about certain traits in their character and passed by others with their eyes shut.

For there is no reason for you to suppose that the adulation of other people is more ruinous to us than our own. Who dares to tell himself the truth?

I know that these mental disturbances of mine are not dangerous and give no promise of a storm; to express what I complain of in apt metaphor, I am distressed, not by a tempest, but by sea-sickness. Do you, then, take from me this trouble, whatever it be, and rush to the rescue of one who is struggling in full sight of land. And it also seem to be in a great disorder, a mess of details. But behind this apparent disorder you can easily discern the real organization of the text.

There are three basic parts to the discourse. So the three themes treated in these paragraphs are 1 private or domestic life; 2 public life; and 3 immortality or afterlife. He thereby also shows what he considers unimportant and to which he is indifferent. He does not have great material needs in his domestic life, for he is not attached to luxury.

In the second paragraph he says he is not enslaved by ambition, he does not want a great political career, but to be of service to others.

You can see that in this way Serenus draws up a balance sheet of his choices, of his freedom, and the result is not bad at all.

Indeed, it is quite positive. Serenus is attached to what is natural, to what is necessary, to what is useful either for himself or his friends , and is usually indifferent to the rest. And his account also shows us the precise topic of his examination, which is: what are the things that are important to me, and what are the things to which I am indifferent? And he considers important things which really are important.


Foucault's Askesis

The material is for personal use only; commercial use is not permitted. More recent studies include Han and Paras The most exciting dimension of this book lies in the reconfiguring of Foucault as a philosopher who is resolutely parrhesiastic, and contextualizing the ethical investigations of his last writings as a profoundly self-reflexive activity. In his books, lecture courses, and interviews, Foucault is attempting to recall what philosophy once was in order to show what it has become and intimate the possibilities that lie before it.



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