mardi 22 mai 2012
[...] What is perhaps most striking about Foucault’s turn to the ethics of the care of the self is not simply its contrast with, and opposition to, biopolitical ethics (and consequent avoidance of the paradox of the relation of capacity and power), but also that these two central and related dimensions of it also compose the core of Stanley Cavell’s understanding of moral perfectionism. First, the province of moral perfectionism is directed to that dimension of moral life that Foucault refers to as ethics. Commenting on the cinematic comedies of remarriage he addresses as illustrations of moral perfectionism, Cavell notes : ’The issues the principal pair in these films confront each other with are formulated less well by questions concerning what they ought to do, what it would be best or right for them to do, than by the question of how they shall live their lives, what kind of persons they aspire to be.’ More particularly, Cavell explicates this dimension of moral life in terms of ’the aesthetic dimension of (moral) judgment’, relating moral perfectionism to the (artistic) activity of self-formation that Foucault glosses with the thought that we ’should relate the kind of relation one has to oneself to a creative activity’ and which he, like Cavell, relates to Nietzsche’s understanding of autonomy as becoming what one is. Second, moral perfectionism, as Cavell presents it, directly links philosophy and spirituality in the same way as the ethics of care of the self in Foucault’s presentation of it. Cavell’s identification of moral perfectionism with Wittgenstein’s philosophical work is informed crucially by the sense that Wittgenstein’s mode of reflection ‘wishes to prevent understanding which is unaccompanied by inner change’ , while Cavell’s elucidation of Emerson’s thinking as exemplary of the attitude of moral perfectionism highlights the centrality of conversion and transfiguration to access to, and the effects of, truth. Crucially, this attitude – or relation to oneself - does not aim to eliminate the conflicting forces within the self (e.g., desires) but to govern them such that they serve ‘the objective of living or manifesting in one’s life an ethos of freedom’, where ‘the ethos of freedom in question is an agonal ethos, an ethos that celebrates freedom not, or not exclusively, as unobstructed or unopposed thinking and doing but as a triumph over conflicting and antagonistic forces within the self’ although any such triumph is temporary in that Cavell, as Foucault, conceives of the modern mode of moral perfectionism as necessarily processual rather than teleological in character, that is, the activity of ‘becoming what one is’ does not have an endpoint in some perfect state of self-realization but, rather, is an ongoing process of struggle - as Foucault has it ’we are always in the position of beginning again’.
David Owen & Clare Woodford