The strategic thinker

Ali Rivzi asks:

I am wrestling with two short quotes from Veyne in order to understand what it exactly means to say that Foucault was a strategic thinker [not every body would agree].

He uses two quotes from Paul Veyne, who he describes as a very close friend of Foucault’s.

But Rivzi goes on to quote another Foucault-related scholar, Pierre Hadot, and how Hadot questioned some of Foucault’s “misinterpretations” of the Greeks. This parallels the recent storm over History of Madness and its accuracy.

Hadot analyses some of the misinterpretations carried out by Foucault while attributing the idea of exercise of self in thought to ancients. Hadot specifically mentions the following misconstrual of Greek thought. Firstly Hadot questions Foucault’s attribution of the notion of the joy of “another pleasure” to Seneca or Stoics in general. The reason being the fact that “if the Stoics set store by the word gaudium, the word ‘joy’, this was precisely because they refused to introduce the principle of pleasure into moral life. For them happiness did not consist in pleasure but in virtue itself, which is seen as being its own reward” (Hadot 1992 p. 226). Second reason Hadot gives for doubting Foucault’s interpretation is that according to Hadot, Foucault’s conception of self is quite different (and at oggerheads with) the Stoic conception of self. For “Stoics did not find joy in the ‘self’ but, as Seneca says, ‘in the best part of the self’” and ‘the ‘best part’ of the self is ultimately a transcendent self. Seneca does not find joy just in ‘Seneca’, but by transcending Seneca, by discovering that he has a reason in himself, a part of the universal Reason which is within all men and the cosmos itself” (ibid. translation amended).

But then Rivzi continues with further comments by Hadot to the effect that Foucault knew what he was doing in “glossing” these aspects for a specific, strategic purpose: that of avoiding universal man and instead promoting the aesthetics of oneself.

To accept this however, Hadot has to say that Foucault was offering a model of a way of life. The problem with this is that in the Rabinow/Dreyfus interview Foucault makes it clear that we cannot learn anything as a model for how we live our lives from the ancient Greeks!

4 Responses

  1. My reading of the Rabinow/Dreyfus interview is not that we cannot learn anything from the ancient Greek model of caring for the self, but rather that its elements, such as working on the self, constituting the self, and so on, would need to reacquire a contemporary meaning. I would make a distinction between taking the Greek model and transplanting it fully formed into the contemporary context, and secondly taking key elements of the Greek practice and through giving them a contemporary meaning making them a model for an ethics in the present. In this interview I think Foucault is arguing against the former move and arguing for the latter move. When Hadot says that Foucault was offering a model for a way of life I think he meant in the latter sense, of key elements that could offer a model which reactivated.

  2. Thanks Jeremy and Mill. I agree with what Mill says. I only want to add that Hadot might be using model in the sense of providing “living exempla” (I am not aware of the original French words Hadot used).

  3. Hi Ali- I’m not familar with the term ‘living exempla’. I just did a search and located a paper by: Paul Veyne and others in Critical Inquiry (1993). I’m interested in this area at the moment so I think I’ll check it out.

  4. Hi Mil, the phrase “living exempla” comes straight from Veyne (and I think it occurs in the article you are referring to).

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