AmericanUniversity professor Jane Flax gave a talk yesterday entitled “Soul Service: The Politics and Ethics of Practicing Michel Foucault’s Care of the Self,” as part of the InterdisciplinaryHumanitiesCenter’s series, “Value of Care.”

A professor in the departments of philosophy and religion at AmericanUniversity and a trained psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, Jane Flax focused on examining French philosopher Michel Foucault’s theory of “care of the self” and the idea of personal “subjectivity.” According to Flax, self-care is related to the state of others, just as freedom is dependent on responses to others’ actions.

“For Foucault, freedom is inter-relational and inter-subjectional. We act on the actions of others. We can only be free in relation to others. How shall this be conducted? You have no choice but to act on the actions of others, which enables us to practice and develop our own subjectivity,” Flax said.

Flax said Foucalt’s idea of self care moves away from the extremes of narcissism and personal denunciation. In Foucault’s theory, ethos is a way of life — a way of constructing one’s self, rather than abiding to constructed codes of morality.

This theory on the care of the self addresses the question of “How shall we live?” Foucault said, and he said an analysis of this theory can be made by examining the kinds of practices needed to have successful personal and interpersonal relationships.

“For Foucault, ethics is different than morality. In morality, there is a code of principles and rules of how one should behave. Sets of moral rules is not a way of life [because] ethics is very much a ‘how’ process, constituting and reconstituting a set of practices that are ongoing. You’re never going to arrive at the end — ethics is something you have to practice your entire life and adherence to a set of rules is not going to answer this ‘how’ question.”

According to Flax, many modern philosophers view the modern world as having no universal set of rules on the best way to live shared by all people. Instead there is more of a plurality of beliefs that guide ethics rather than anchor ethics in universal standards and laws.

Chair of the Feminist Studies Department Eileen Boris commended Flax’s discussion and interactive discussion on the development of society.

“In her free-wheeling and exuberant pedagogy, Jane Flax models for us the creation of inter-subjective relations that we should all live by and play out in building a community,” Boris said.



This story is a Daily Nexus online exclusive.