Peter Lucas, Foucault and Subjection, In Ethics and Self-Knowledge
Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy, 2011, Volume 26, Part 2, 167-181.
A sceptical essentialist ethic of self-interpretation, founded on an obligation to avoid the mendacity involved in inducing deficient self-conceptions in others, looks to have significant normative force. But how might it apply outside of the personal relationships investigated by Sartre, in a broader social context, in which self-conscious sadism (and masochism) seems to be uncommon? This chapter addresses this question with reference to the work of Michel Foucault. Although Foucault rejected key elements of phenomenology, his account of the power effects of disciplinary technologies has clear parallels with Sartre’s account of sadism in concrete relations with others. At the same time, he emphasises that disciplinary power does not require an agent, and may be diffused throughout social institutions. Foucault did not regard himself as an ethicist, in any conventional sense; but in highlighting the price we pay for scientific self-knowledge, his findings have clear implications for those whose professional roles involve the acquisition and deployment of such knowledge.