Time for Foucault? Reflections on the Roman Self from Seneca to Augustine

  • James I. Porter University of California, Berkeley
Keywords: Self, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Heraclitus, Augustine, Cosmos, Stoicism


The essay approaches the idea of the self as this was most often formulated in antiquity from Heraclitus to Augustine—not as the object of self-fashioning and self-care, but as an irresolvable problem that was a productive if disconcerting source of inquiry. The self is less cultivated than it is “unbounded,” less wedded to regimes of truth and discovery than it is exposed, precariously, to crises of identity and coherence in the face of a constantly changing and unfathomable world. The self on this view of it does not conform to the accounts that are given by Foucault, Hadot, or Gill. Readings of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Augustine are used to support this first attempt at an alternative picture of the self in antiquity.


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Special Issue on Foucault and Roman Antiquity: Foucault's Rome