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


  • Erinn Cunniff Gilson University of North Florida



Foucault, Deleuze, ethics, problematization, responsiveness, freedom, critique


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.

Author Biography

Erinn Cunniff Gilson, University of North Florida

Erinn Gilson is assistant professor of philosophy at the University of North Florida. She is the author of The Ethics of Vulnerability: a feminist analysis of social life and practice (Routledge, 2014). Her research centers on feminist theory, contemporary European philosophy, and social philosophy, and focuses on the nature of vulnerability, its relationship to responsibility and responsiveness, and the ethical and social implications of various modes of failure. Recently, she has been exploring these themes in relation to questions about food and sexuality.




How to Cite

Gilson, E. C. (2014). Ethics and the ontology of freedom: problematization and responsiveness in Foucault and Deleuze. Foucault Studies, (17), 76–98.



Special Issue on Foucault and Deleuze