The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the College de France, 1982-1983

The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the College de France, 1982-1983

by Michel Foucault

This lecture, given by Michel Foucault at the Collège de France, launches an inquiry into the notion of parresia and continues his rereading of ancient philosophy. Through the study of this notion of truth-telling, of speaking out freely, Foucault re-examines Greek citizenship, showing how the courage of the truth forms the forgotten ethical basis of

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This lecture, given by Michel Foucault at the Collège de France, launches an inquiry into the notion of parresia and continues his rereading of ancient philosophy. Through the study of this notion of truth-telling, of speaking out freely, Foucault re-examines Greek citizenship, showing how the courage of the truth forms the forgotten ethical basis of Athenian democracy. The figure of the philosopher king, the condemnation of writing, and Socrates' rejection of political involvement are some of the many topics of ancient philosophy revisited here.

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“[Foucault] has an alert and sensitive mind that can ignore the familiar surfaces of established intellectual codes and ask new questions...[He] gives dramatic quality to the movement of culture.” —The New York Review of Books

“Foucault is quite central to our sense of where we are...” —The Nation

“These lectures offer important insights into the evolution of the primary focus of Foucault's later work - the relationship between power and knowledge.” —Library Journal

“Ideas spark off nearly every page...The words may have been spoken in [the 1970s] but they seem as alive and relevant as if they had been written yesterday.” —Bookforum

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Lectures at the College de France Series, #7
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The Government of Self and Others

Lectures at the College de France 1982-1983

By Michel Foucault, Frédéric Gros, Graham Burchell


Copyright © 2008 Éditions du Seuil/Gallimard
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6170-7


5 JANUARY 1983: First hour

Remarks on method.~Study of Kant's text: What is Enlightenment? ~ Conditions of publication: journals. ~ The encounter between Christian Aufklärung and Jewish Haskala: freedom of conscience. ~ Philosophy and present reality. ~ The question of the Revolution. ~ Two critical filiations.

FIRST OF ALL I would like to tell you how much I appreciate your regular attendance. I would also like to say that it is often rather difficult giving a series of lectures like this without the possibility of comebacks or discussion, and not knowing whether what one is saying finds an echo in those who are working on a thesis or a master's degree, whether it provides them with possibilities for reflection and work. On the other hand, you know that in this institution, where the rules are very liberal, we cannot give closed seminars, reserved for just a few auditors. So I won't be doing that this year. All the same, what I would like, not so much for you but selfishly for myself, is to be able to meet, Off-Broadway, outside of the lectures, with those of you who could possibly discuss the subjects I will be talking about this year, or that I have talked about elsewhere and previously. So, maybe we can wait until one or two lectures have taken place before organizing this small group, or at any rate this small informal meeting external to the lectures themselves and to the institution strictly speaking. Either next week or in two weeks' time I will suggest a time and place. Unfortunately I do not want to offer this to everyone, since we would end up back in the [present] situation. But, once again, I would ask those working on something precise in the university framework and who would like the possibility of discussion, that, if they wish, we meet together at a place I will suggest. Once again, this is not something exclusive directed against the general public, which is absolutely entitled, like any French citizen, to benefit, if one can put it like that, from the teaching given here.

I think this year's lectures will be a bit disjointed and scattered. I would like to take up some of the themes I have cut across or touched on over the last years, even over the ten or maybe twelve years I have been teaching here. As a general indication, I would just like to remind you of some, I don't say themes or principles, but reference points that I have fixed for myself in my work.

In this general project, which goes under the sign, if not the title, of "the history of thought," my problem has been to do something rather different from the quite legitimate activity of most historians of ideas. In any case, I wanted to differentiate myself from two entirely legitimate methods. I wanted to differentiate myself first of all from what we may call, and is called, the history of mentalities, which, to characterize it completely schematically, would be a history situated on an axis going from the analysis of actual forms of behavior to the possible accompanying expressions which may precede them, follow them, translate them, prescribe them, disguise them, or justify them, and so forth. On the other hand, I also wanted to differentiate myself from what could be called a history of representations or of representational systems, that is to say, a history which would have, could have, or may have two objectives. One would be the analysis of representational functions. By "the analysis of representational functions" I mean the analysis of the possible role played by representations either in relation to the object represented, or in relation to the subject who represents them to him or herself — let's say an analysis of ideologies. And then I think the other pole of a possible analysis of representations is the analysis of the representational values of a system of representations, that is to say, the analysis of representations in terms of a knowledge (connaissance) — of a content of knowledge, or of a rule, or a form of knowledge — which is taken to be a criterion of truth, or at any rate a truth — reference point in relation to which one can determine the representational value of this or that system of thought understood as a system of representations of a given object. Well, between these two possibilities, these two themes — that of a history of mentalities and that of a history of representations — what I have tried to do is a history of thought. And by "thought" I meant an analysis of what could be called focal points of experience in which forms of a possible knowledge (savoir), normative frameworks of behavior for individuals, and potential modes of existence for possible subjects are linked together. These three elements — forms of a possible knowledge, normative frameworks of behavior, and potential modes of existence for possible subjects — these three things, or rather their joint articulation, can be called, I think, "focal point of experience."

Anyway, this was the perspective in which, a long time ago, I tried to analyze something like madness, which, for me, was not to be taken as an unchanging object throughout history on which systems of representation with variable representational functions and values have been brought to bear. Nor, for me, was this history a way of studying attitudes towards madness that may have existed down the centuries or at a given point in time. Rather, it involved trying to study madness as experience within our culture, and grasping madness, first of all, as a point from which a series of more or less heterogeneous forms of knowledge were formed whose forms of development had to be analyzed: madness as the matrix of bodies of knowledge which may be of a strictly medical nature, but which may also be psychiatric, psychological, sociological, and so on. Second, to the extent that madness is a form of knowledge, it was also a set of norms, both norms against which madness could be picked out as a phenomenon of deviance within society, and, at the same time, norms of behavior for normal individuals, for doctors, psychiatric personnel, and so on in relation to this phenomenon of madness. Finally, third, this perspective involved studying madness insofar as this experience of madness defined the constitution of a certain mode of being of the normal subject, as opposed to and in relation to the mad subject. It was these three aspects, these three dimensions of the experience of madness (form of knowledge, matrix of forms of behavior, constitution of the subject's modes of being) that I more or less successfully and effectively tried to link together.

We can say that the work I tried to do after this consisted in studying each of these three areas in turn in order to see what further work needed to be done on the methods and concepts for analyzing them, first as dimensions of an experience, and then insofar as they were to be linked together.

First of all I tried to study the formation of forms of knowledge with particular regard to seventeenth and eighteenth century empirical sciences like natural history, general grammar, and economics. For me, these were only an example for the analysis of the formation of forms of knowledge (savoirs). It seemed to me that if one really wanted to study experience as the matrix for the formation of forms of knowledge, one should not analyze the development or progress of particular bodies of knowledge, but rather one should identify the discursive practices which were able to constitute the matrices of possible bodies of knowledge, and study the rules, the game of true and false, and, more generally, the forms of veridiction in these discursive practices. In short, it was a matter of shifting the axis of the history of the contents of knowledge towards the analysis of forms of knowledge, of the discursive practices that organize and constitute the matrix element of these forms of knowledge, and studying these discursive practices as regulated forms of veridiction. For some time I have tried to bring about a shift from the contents of knowledge to forms of knowledge, and from forms of knowledge to discursive practices and rules of veridiction.

Second, it was then a matter of analyzing, let's say, the normative matrices of behavior. Here the shift did not consist in analyzing Power with a capital "P", or even institutions of power, or the general or institutional forms of domination. Rather, it meant studying the techniques and procedures by which one sets about conducting the conduct of others. That is to say, I tried to pose the question of norms of behavior first of all in terms of power, and of power that one exercises, and to analyze this power as a field of procedures of government. Here again the shift consisted in passing from analysis of the norm to analysis of the exercise of power, and passing from analysis of the exercise of power to the procedures of, let's say, governmentality. In this case my example was criminality and the disciplines.

Finally, the third area involved analyzing the constitution of the subject's mode of being. Here, instead of referring to a theory of the subject, it seemed to me that one should try to analyze the different forms by which the individual is led to constitute him or herself as subject. Taking the example of sexual behavior and the history of sexual morality, I tried to see how and through what concrete forms of the relation to self the individual was called upon to constitute him or herself as the moral subject of his or her sexual conduct. In other words, once again this involved bringing about a shift from the question of the subject to the analysis of forms of subjectivation, and to the analysis of these forms of subjectivation through the techniques/technologies of the relation to self, or, if you like, through what could be called the pragmatics of self.

Replacing the history of knowledge with the historical analysis of forms of veridiction, replacing the history of domination with the historical analysis of procedures of governmentality, and replacing the theory of the subject or the history of subjectivity with the historical analysis of the pragmatics of self and the forms it has taken, are the different approaches by which I have tried to define to some degree the possibility of the history of what could be called "experiences." The experience of madness, the experience of disease, the experience of criminality, and the experience of sexuality are, I think, important focal points of experiences in our culture. This then is the route I have tried to follow and that quite frankly it was necessary to try to reconstruct for you, if only to take a bearing on where we are. But you knew this already.

Having explored these three dimensions somewhat, it was natural that in the course of these explorations, which I systematize rather arbitrarily since I will come back to them, certain things were dropped or left to one side which nevertheless appeared to me to be interesting and maybe posed new problems. What I would like to do this year is retrace some of the paths already followed, taking up again a few points, such as, for example, what I said to you last year about parresia, true discourse in the political realm. It seemed to me that this study would make it possible to see, to tighten up a bit, the problem of the relations between government of self and government of others, to see the genesis, the genealogy, if not of political discourse in general, the object of which is essentially government by the Prince, at least of a certain form of political discourse whose object would be government of the Prince, of the Prince's soul by the counselor, the philosopher, the pedagogue responsible for forming his soul. True discourse, discourse of truth addressed to the Prince and the Prince's soul will be one of my first themes. I would also like to take up the things I said, two or three years ago I think, concerning the art of government in the sixteenth century. I am not sure exactly what I will do, but I would like to take up again these still open dossiers. I say "dossiers," a very solemn term, but it is really a matter of tracks which I have just come across and followed for a while, and then left to one side, poorly marked out.

This week I would like to start with, how to put it, not exactly an excursus: a little epigraph (exergue). As epigraph, I would like to study a text which may not be situated exactly within the reference points I will choose for most of this year. Nevertheless, it appears to me to be very exactly in line with, and to formulate in rigorous terms, one of the important problems that I would like to talk about, which is precisely this relationship between the government of self and the government of others. And, on the other hand, it seems to me that it not only talks about this subject itself, but it does so in a way with which — without too much, [or rather], with a little vanity — I can associate myself. It is a text which is something of a blazon, a fetish for me, which I have already spoken about several times, and which I would like to examine a bit more closely today. This text, if you like, bears some relation to what I am talking about, and I would really like the way in which I talk about it to have some connection with it. The text is, of course, Kant's Was ist Aufklärung?

As you know, Kant wrote the text in September 1784 and it was published in the Berlinische Monatsschrift in December 1784. First of all I would just like to recall very briefly the conditions and dates of its publication. There is absolutely nothing extraordinary in Kant publishing a text like this in a journal. You know that a large part of his theoretical activity consisted in publishing articles, reviews, and contributions in certain journals. It was in the Berlinische Monatsschrift that, the previous month, November 1784, he published a text which, somewhat expanded, became the Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View. The following year, 1785, he published his Definition of the concept of race in the same journal; in 1786 he also published his Conjectural Beginning of Human History in this journal. He also wrote in other journals: in the Allgemeine Literaturzeitung he published a review of a book by Herder; in the Teutsche Merkur in 1788 he published On the Use of Teleological Principles in Philosophy, and so on.

However, the reason we should keep in mind the fact that the text was published in a journal is that, as you will see, the text on the Aufklärung brings into play, as one of its central concepts, or as one of the sets of concepts, the notion of public, of Publikum. This notion of Publikum means, first of all, the concrete, institutional, or at any rate established relationship between the writer (the qualified writer, translated in French as savant; Gelehrter; man of culture), and the reader (considered as any individual). The function of this relationship between reader and writer, the analysis of this relationship — the conditions under which this relationship can and should be established and developed — will constitute the essential axis of Kant's analysis of Aufklärung. In a sense, his notion of Aufklärung, the way he analyzes it, is nothing other than the explanation of this relationship between the Gelehrter (the man of culture, the savant who writes) and the reader who reads. Now it is obvious that in this relationship between the writer ... "it is obvious," no it is not obvious. What is interesting is that in the eighteenth century this relationship between writer and reader — I will come back to the content of this relationship later, I am just pointing out its importance — was not established so much through the university, which goes without saying, nor was it established through the book, but much more through those forms of expression which were at the same time forms of intellectual communities constituted by journals and by the societies or academies which published them. It is these societies, [these] academies, and these journals also, which give a concrete form to the relationship between, let's say, expertise and reading in the free and universal form of the circulation of written discourse. Consequently, these journals, societies, and academies constitute the authority — so important historically, in the eighteenth century, and to which Kant attaches such importance in his text — which [corresponds to] this notion of public. The public was not, of course, the university public which is established during the nineteenth century when the universities are reformed. Nor, obviously, is it the kind of public we think of today when we carry out sociological analyses of the media. The public is a reality established and delineated by the existence of institutions like learned societies, academies, and journals, and what circulates within this framework. One of the interesting things about the text, and at any rate the reason I was keen to mention that it was published in this kind of journal, that it was part of this kind of publication, is that it puts the notion of the public, to which the publication is addressed, at the very heart of its analysis. This was the first reason for stressing this context, this problem of the time and place of the text.


Excerpted from The Government of Self and Others by Michel Foucault, Frédéric Gros, Graham Burchell. Copyright © 2008 Éditions du Seuil/Gallimard. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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Meet the Author

Michel Foucault acknowledged as the preeminent philosopher of France in the 1970s and 1980s, continues to have enormous impact throughout the world in many disciplines. He died in 1984.

Arnold I. Davidson (Editor) is the Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, and Professor of the History of Political Philosophy at the University of Pisa. He is co-editor of the volume Michel Foucault: Philosophie. He lives in Chicago.

Graham Burchell (Translator) is the translator, and has written essays on Michel Foucault. He is an Editor of The Foucault Effect.

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