The Preservation and Ownership of the Body

In Gail Weiss & Honi Fern Haber (eds.), Perspectives on Embodiment: The Intersections of Nature and Culture. Routledge. pp. 233--261 (1999)

Thomas Tierney
College of Wooster
In this essay I will examine the changing historical relationship between two fundamentally modern concepts: self-preservation and self-ownership. These two concepts have served a dual function in modernity. On the one hand, they are crucial parts of the theoretical underpinning of liberalism: the natural law of self-preservation is the foundation of the rational inclination to form civil society (e.g., Hobbes); and self-ownership provides the foundation for the liberal (i.e., Lockean) notion of private property. But on the other hand, these two concepts serve much more than a theoretical purpose; they also perform a duty in what I would like to call, borrowing Foucault's phrase, a modern technology of the self. At this level, the concepts of self-ownership and self-preservation shape individuals to follow certain routines in their behavior, to treat their bodies in specific ways, to organize their time in a particular fashion. In performing these routines, individuals participate in the collection and dissemination of that knowledge of individual bodies and groups of bodies which, as Foucault and Arendt in their different ways revealed, is endemic to modernity.
Keywords self-preservation  self-ownership  Locke  Hobbes  body
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