Foucault and ethical universality

Inquiry 47 (6):580 – 596 (2004)
Abstract
Foucault's resistance to a universalist ethics, especially in his later writings, is well-known. Foucault thinks that ethical universalism presupposes a shared human essence, and that this presupposition makes it a straitjacket, an attempt to force people to conform to an externally imposed 'pattern'. Foucault's hostility may be warranted for one - perhaps the usual - conception of ethical universality. But there are other conceptions of ethical universality that are not vulnerable to Foucault's criticism, and that are ethically and culturally important. I set out one such conception, and show why it matters. Paul Patton has argued that Foucault is best read as grounding his analyses of power in a 'conception of human being' traceable to Nietzsche. I explain why this does not amount to the ethical universalism that I sketch below.
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