South African Journal of Philosophy

Log in or Register to get access to full text downloads.

Remember me or Register

DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT Open Access  DOWNLOAD FULL TEXT Subscription or Fee Access

The meta-physics of Foucault's ethics: succeeding where Levinas fails

AB Hofmeyr


This essay aims to critically assess the later Foucault's ethical turn by using Levinas's ethical metaphysics as critical yardstick. Foucault's notion of ethical subjectivity constitutes a site of resistance against externally imposed subjugating subject identities. Apart from a practice of freedom, Foucault also insists that it engenders the subject with a generous responsiveness towards others. Despite Foucault's other-aspirations, it seems probable that care of the self would fall short ethically when compared to Levinas's insistence upon an unconditional openness towards the Other. Upon closer investigation, however, we find that Levinas's ethical metaphysics is founded upon phenomenological analyses of our immanent 'economic' existence here and now in the world. Although he maintains that metaphysics or 'transcendence, the welcoming of the other by the same' (Levinas, 1979:43/13) is primary, the immanent process of the subject's 'auto-personification' (ibid., p.147/120) serves as a necessary condition for the possibility of becoming ethical, of welcoming the Other. Moreover, contrary to Foucault's self-caring subject, who actively partakes in its own ethical self-formation, Levinas's existent has no educable ethical sensibility. It is powerless against the gravitational pull of its egoism, condemned to a hopeless amorality unless the Other intervenes and saves it from itself. I shall therefore argue that Foucault's account of ethical self-becoming invests the subject with a meta-physical potential, which it is denied by Levinas's ethical metaphysics.

South African Journal of Philosophy Vol. 25(2) 2006: 113-125
AJOL African Journals Online