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Aiming to practice freedom : a constitutivist approach to Foucault’s ethics

Moore, M A (2021) Aiming to practice freedom : a constitutivist approach to Foucault’s ethics. PhD thesis, University of Essex.

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Abstract

In a 1984 interview, Michel Foucault introduced a distinction between two forms of freedom: freedom as the ontological condition of ethics, and ethics as the “practice of freedom” informed by reflection. This text suggests that a good understanding of Foucault’s thoughts on freedom would require accounts of both ontological freedom and practices of freedom, but the secondary literature currently suffers from a shortage of work on these topics. This thesis attempts to fill this gap in the literature by offering a new account of practices of freedom which also shows the connection with ontological freedom. Drawing inspiration from the constitutivist approach to meta-ethics, I suggest that Foucault’s notion of the practice of freedom is best understood by identifying the “constitutive aims” of the practice, in other words, the aims that make an agent’s activity a practice of freedom. Such a framework allows us to understand how Foucault can make specific ethical suggestions without committing himself to substantive moral claims and also allows us to apply the notion of practices of freedom to a broad range of real-life examples. I first offer a new account of ontological freedom and then, using a constitutivist approach, engage in a close reading of Foucault’s work in order to identify the constitutive aim(s) of practices of freedom. With the aims in view, I demonstrate what it means to successfully practice freedom and then apply the account in two close readings of historical individuals. The first, on Socrates as presented in the Platonic dialogues, shows that we can apply our account of the practice of freedom to existing individuals. The second, on Oscar Wilde, argues that Wilde’s experience of agency in the practice of freedom was middle-voiced, rather than active, and thereby allows us to loosen the assumed connection between practices of freedom and active agency.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities > Philosophy and Art History, School of
Depositing User: Michael Moore
Date Deposited: 26 Jan 2021 11:22
Last Modified: 26 Jan 2021 11:22
URI: http://repository.essex.ac.uk/id/eprint/29622

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