Ethics and subjectivity: Practices of self-governance in the late lectures of michel foucault

Nancy Luxon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Contemporary accounts of individual self-formation struggle to articulate a mode of subjectivity not determined by relations of power. In response to this dilemma, Foucault's late lectures on the ancient ethical practices of "fearless speech" (parrhesia) offer a model of ethical self-governance that educates individuals to ethical and political engagement. Rooted in the psychological capacities of curiosity and resolve, such self-governance equips individuals with a "disposition to steadiness" that orients individuals in the face of uncertainty. The practices of parrhesia accomplish this task without fabricating a distinction between internal soul and external body; by creating not a "body of knowledge" but a "body of practices"; and without reference to an external order such as nature, custom, tradition, or religion. The result is an "expressive subject" defined through expressive practices sustained by a simultaneous relationship to herself and to others. Individuals develop themselves not through their ability to "dare to know" but as those who "dare to act".

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-402
Number of pages26
JournalPolitical Theory
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2008

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Ethics
  • Foucault
  • Parrhesia
  • Self-governance
  • Subjectivity


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