Ethical Invention in Sartre and Foucault: Courage, Freedom, Transformation

Foucault Studies 27 (27):95-115 (2019)
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This article explores the concept of ethical invention in both Jean-Paul Sartre’s and Michel Foucault’s later lectures and interviews, showing that a courageous disposition to invent or transform plays a key role in both thinkers’ visions of ethics. Three of Sartre’s post-Critique of Dialectical Reason lectures on ethics are examined: Morality and History, The Rome Lecture, and A Plea for Intellectuals. It is shown that ethical invention for Sartre requires the use of our freedom to transcend our current circumstances, a willingness to break away from harmful ideologies, and directing our free praxis towards the goal of universal humanism. Examining several of Foucault’s interviews alongside his lecture series The Government of Self and Others and The Courage of Truth, it is shown that ethical invention for Foucault requires a rejection of necessities or inevitabilities in our current landscape, a willingness to reshape our current beliefs, and a philosophical way of life that results in an alteration of the relationship to self and others. For both thinkers, ethical invention should be preceded by a critical reflection on ourselves in our historical moment. Both argue that ethical invention requires a rejection of the inherent value of our world and realization that the conditions of possibility for being subjects are malleable. Last, it is shown that both philosophers specifically call philosophers or intellectuals to invent.



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Kimberly Engels
Molloy College

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