Philosophical Practice as Self-modification: An Essay on Michel Foucault’s Critical Engagement with Philosophy

  • Sverre Raffnsøe
  • Morten Thaning
  • Marius Gudmand-Høyer
Keywords: Philosophy, history of ideas, ascēsis, transgression, historicity of revolt, potentiality, virtuality, knowledge, truth-telling, Platonism, Cynicism, Enlightenment, Kant, Baudelaire, French Revolution, Iranian Revolution

Abstract

This essay argues that what makes Michel Foucault’s oeuvre not only stand apart but also cohere is an assiduous philosophical practice taking the form of an ongoing yet concrete self-modification in the medium of thought. Part I gives an account of three essential aspects of Foucault’s conception of philosophical activity. Beginning with his famous characterization of philosophy in terms of ascēsis, it moves on to articulate his characterization of philosophical practice as a distinct form of meditation, differing from both Cartesian meditation and Hegelian meditation, as it aims to stand vigil for the day to come and operates as a preface to transgression. Part II begins the articulation of crucial traits left implicit in this understanding of philosophy by turning to Foucault’s in-depth investigation of philosophy in Antiquity during his lectures at the Collège de France in the 1980s. First, it develops how philosophy here begins to constitute and distinguish itself by establishing itself as an activity that has a privileged relationship to truth and truth-telling as an unremitting, existentially determining challenge for the philosopher. Further, it instantiates how Platonism elaborates the need for a sustained ‘auto-ascetic’ ethical non-compliant differentiation as the condition of possibility for accessing and stating truth, and then describes how the assertion of an ethical differentiation and attitude in Cynicism takes the form of an insistent combat for another world in this world. Finally, it underlines how the ethical-practical philosophical work upon oneself in Antiquity is developed in an ongoing critical and political exchange with others. Part III indicates how ethical differentiation according to Foucault remains an essential precondition for the practice of philosophy and is further developed in the modern age. This is particularly perspicuous in Kant’s determination of the Enlightenment, in the attitude of modernity exemplified by Baudelaire, and in the history of revolt since the beginning of early Modernity. On this background, Part IV develops how philosophy as an ongoing meditative practice of self-modification leads to an affirmative critique, confirming the virtuality of this world in order to investigate the potentiality in the examined. In this manner, the essay presents Foucault’s philosophical practice as well as an outline of the history of ideas of a seemingly alternate, yet still agenda-setting conception of philosophical practice today.

Author Biographies

Sverre Raffnsøe
Sverre Raffnsøe, Dr. Phil. (Dr. Habil.)ProfessorDepartment of Management, Politics and PhilosophyCopenhagen Business SchoolDenmarksra.mpp@cbs.dkwww.raffnsøe.comSverre Raffnsøe, Dr. Phil. (Dr. Habil.), is Professor of Philosophy at Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School. He is Editor-in-Chief of Foucault Studies and the author of books and articles on management philosophy, philosophical aesthetics, social philosophy and recent French and German philosophy. Recent books include Michel Foucault: A Research Companion. Philosophy as Diagnosis of the Present (Palgrave 2016) and Philosophy of the Anthropocene: The Human Turn (Palgrave 2016). Recent articles are: “The Foucault Effect in organization studies” (Organization Studies, 2018) and “What is critique? Critical turns in the age of criticism” (Outlines. Critical Practice Studies 18:2, 2017). Open access publications can be found at:http://cbs.academia.edu/SverreRaffnsøe, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sverre_Raffnsoe http://www.raffnsøe.com.
Morten Thaning
Morten Thaning, PhDAssociate ProfessorDepartment of Management, Politics and Philosophy,Copenhagen Business SchoolDenmarkmst.mpp@cbs.dkMorten S. Thaning, PhD (philosophy) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School. His philosophical research focuses on the concepts of objectivity, rationality, judgement and freedom. He is the author of The Problem of Objectivity in Gadamer’s Hermeneutics and McDowell’s Empiricism (Springer Verlag 2015), and co-author of Michel Foucault: A Research Companion. Philosophy as Diagnosis of the Present (Palgrave 2016). Most recently, he has co-edited the volume In the Light of Experience (Oxford University Press 2018).
Marius Gudmand-Høyer
Marius Gudmand-HøyerAssociate ProfessorDepartment of Management, Politics and Philosophy,Copenhagen Business SchoolDenmarkmgh.mpp@cbs.dkMarius Gudmand-Høyer, PhD, is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School. He is co-editor of Foucault Studies and co-author of Michel Foucault: A Research Companion. Philosophy as Diagnosis of the Present (Palgrave 2016). His research concerns contemporary conduct of conduct, the history of how to manage and gain relevant knowledge of hard problems such as mental illness or suicide, as well as current conceptions of the human in the borderland between the humanities and other forms of science. 

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Published
2018-10-22
Section
Special Issue on Foucault and Philosophical Practice