Philosophical Care of the Self (Foucault)

Socrates advised Alcibiades to take advantage of his youth to take care of himself. […] The movement by which the soul turns to itself is a movement in which one’s gaze is drawn “aloft” – towards the divine element, towards essences and the supracelestial world in which they are visible. […]

When applying oneself to oneself became an adult practice that must be undertaken throughout one’s life, its pedagogical role tends to give way to other functions.

First of all, a critical function. The practice of the self must enable one to rid oneself of all one’s bad habits and all the false opinions one may get from the crowd or from bad teachers, as well as from parents and associates. To “unlearn” (de-discere) is an important task of the culture of the self.

b. But it also has a function of struggle. The practice of the self is conceived as an ongoing battle. It is not just a matter of training a man of courage for the future. The individual must be given the weapons and the courage that will enable him to fight all his life. […]

c. But most of all this culture of the self has a curative and therapeutic function. It is much closer to the medical model than to the pedagogical model. Of course, we should remember certain very ancient facts of Greek culture: the existence of a notion like pathos, which signifies the soul’s passion as well as the body’s illness; the extent of a metaphorical field that allows expressions like nursing, curing, amputating, scarifying, and purging to be applied to both the body and the soul. We should also remember the principle, familiar to Epicureans, Cynics, and Stoics, that the role of philosophy is to cure the diseases of the soul. Plutarch could say that philosophy and medicine are mia khora, a single region, a single domain.

Foucault. Graham Burchell’s translation of The Hermeneutics of the Subject, 2005, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 494-6.

 

Author: Luis de Miranda

Crealectician, PhD, author, philosophical counselor

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