Ethics, politics and the transformative possibilities of the self in Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault

Philosophy and Social Criticism 44 (2):200-225 (2018)
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Abstract

A wave of interest in Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault as bio-political thinkers was initiated by publication of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer. The intellectual connection of these two figures is, however, broader than their bio-political considerations. Arendt and Foucault both offer detailed accounts of an ethico-political self. Both Arendt’s and Foucault’s later work explores the meaning of living ethically and politically. By examining the relationship between self, ethics and politics, I suggest there are two general points of convergence in Arendt and Foucault regarding the ethico-political self: a shared suspicion of ethical or political systems presented as universally applicable; the attempt to undermine prescriptive moral and political models by fostering a dynamic and critical self-relationship. In the shared attempt to develop a dynamic ethico-political attitude Arendt and Foucault present their respective alternatives to universally applicable moral and political structures, which both consider to be potentially dangerous.

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