Ethics and the ontology of freedom: problematization and responsiveness in Foucault and Deleuze

Erinn Cunniff Gilson


Both Foucault and Deleuze define ethics as a form of creative activity.  Yet, given certain ontological features indicated by both thinkers, ethics must be more than just creative and critical activity.  Forgoing a transcendent ground for ethics, the ontological condition of ethics – what Foucault calls liberté and Deleuze calls the plane of immanence – is an opening for change that makes possible normalizing modes of existence as well transformative ones.  In this context, ethics must be a practice that comprehends the dangers of such open-ended creation.  The concept of problematization, emphasized by Foucault and Deleuze, leads to an enhanced understanding of their conception of ethics.  On this understanding, ethics is a practice of problematization requiring a determination and assessment of the most pressing problems to which one must respond rather than attempt to solve once and for all.  Ethics is necessarily a responsive engagement with the problems of one’s present.


Foucault; Deleuze; ethics; problematization; responsiveness; freedom; critique

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