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Abstract

The goal of this dissertation is to bring into view the systematicity and explanatory force of Foucault’s ethical views, thereby filling important gaps in Foucault scholarship and in contemporary ethical discourse. The dissertation itself takes the form of an enquiry into the place and role of the notion of an aesthetics of existence in Foucault’s philosophical and ethical views. The method of enquiry is a reconstruction of the development of Fou- cault’s ethical, intellectual and political project, as well as of the conceptual framework and methodology that he developed in order to bring it to fruition. Particular attention is paid to Nietzsche’s influence on Foucault’s reconceptualization of the notions of truth, history and subjectivity in the early 1950s, and to the analysis of the relationship between subjectivity and truth that he carried out in the last stage of his career, from 1978 to 1984. The result of this work reveals that Foucault’s ethical views are based on novel conceptions of freedom, and of the normative structure of rational agency, and of the binding force of norms (of the kind of relation between individuals and norms that calls for the former to comply with the latter). On Foucault’s view, the ethical life today is not to be conceived as a life characterized by compliance with a code of norms which individuals are bound to obey by virtue of constitutive facts about the kinds of creatures that they are. The ethical life is to be conceived as a life characterized by the individual’s active, reflexive and sustained engagement in the project of constituting herself as an autonomous subject through the continued practice of piecemeal critique of both her ways of thinking and being, and of the ways in which she is called upon to think and to be within her culture.

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