Foucault Among the Stoics: Oikeiosis and Counter-Conduct

Foucault Studies 21:22-51 (2016)


This paper explores the relation of Foucault’s notion of counter-conduct to the Stoic notion of oikeiosis. Initially, oikeisosis is set against Platonic homoiosis, specifically as discussed in the Alcibiades, which provides what Foucault calls the “Platonic model” of conduct. The paper examines what Foucault means by “care of the self” and points to its difference from the Delphic maxim “know yourself” that centered on a principle of homoiosis, or ethical transcendence. Noting how the problematic of care of the self leads to what Foucault calls “the government of conduct,” the paper considers the possibility of “counter-conduct.” Given that Foucault has argued that the autonomy of conduct has been rendered invisible through its “juridification,” this paper proceeds with a genealogy of the codification of morals in natural law theory. This culminates with the sixteenth century return to Stoicism in the person of Grotius. Showing that a certain conception of counter-conduct present in Gerson is transformed in natural law theory into a juridical grounding of the government of conduct, this paper draws out the immanent relation of conduct and counter-conduct in the notion of appropriation. Arguing that Grotius has fundamentally misunderstood the concept of oikeiosis, which he takes from Cicero and which subtends his theory of appropriation, this paper suggests that a return to the early Stoic formulation of oikeiosis allows for a rethinking of the problem of the government of conduct. A certain moralization of action, irreducible to codification that is present in early Stoic thought provides a model of “counter-conduct.” Ultimately, “care of the self,” as it is given in Stoic philosophy, relates the subject of action to the principle of ethical immanence that grounds Foucault’s critique of the subject.

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