Nietzsche and Foucault on the Genealogy of Ethical Subjectivity

Dissertation, University of Kansas (2001)

This dissertation examines Friedrich Nietzsche's and Michel Foucault's genealogical accounts of ethical subjectivity, of the historical constitution of human beings as ethical subjects, and the primary purpose of the dissertation is to establish the relationship between their genealogical methods on one hand, and their critiques of ethical subjectivity on the other. Contrary to the received view of Nietzsche and Foucault, the dissertation contends that Nietzschean genealogy and Foucauldian genealogy are distinct methods which result in different, but complementary and mutually problematic critiques of ethical subjectivity. Nietzschean genealogy and Foucauldian genealogy presuppose different notions of power which generate radical critiques of ethical subjectivity, but which ultimately compromise the visions of ethical self-transformation with which each of their critiques concludes. ;To this end, the dissertation centers on an explanation and assessment of three issues: the genesis, nature, and critical force of genealogy in both Nietzsche and Foucault; the role of "will to power" in Nietzsche's critique of ethical subjectivity; and the role of "strategical power" in Foucault's critique of ethical subjectivity. First, I argue that Nietzschean genealogy and Foucauldian genealogy originate in analogous antecedent methods , but are distinct insofar as they presuppose different notions of power which translate into different though equally radical strategies of critique. Secondly, I reconstruct the development of Nietzsche's critique of ethical subjectivity from Human, All Too Human to The Genealogy of Morals, and argue that for Nietzsche ethical subjectivity is a product of will to power but essentially consists of a pathological and nihilistic configuration of it. Thirdly, I reconstruct the development of Foucault's critique of ethical subjectivity from Discipline and Punish through the entire History of Sexuality, and argue that for Foucault strategical power objectifies and normalizes modern ethical subjects in ways that are anticipated by ancient Greek and Roman ethics. ;Finally, the dissertation demonstrates that Nietzsche's and Foucault's genealogical critiques of ethical subjectivity are complementary, but suffer from similar performative contradictions. Nietzsche and Foucault brilliantly illuminate the significance of power in the historical constitution of ethical subjectivity, but their respective notions of power militate against the positive visions of ethical self-transformation with which each of their critiques concludes in response to the perils of ethical subjectivity
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