自我的科技 03

Technologies of the Self 自我的科技 03

Michel Foucault 傅柯

Summary 結語

In traditional political life, oral culture was largely dominant, and therefore rhetoric was important. But the development of the administrative structures and the bureaucracy of the imperial period increased the amount and role of writing in the political sphere. In Plato’s writings, dialogue gave way to the literary pseudo-dialogue. But by the Hellenistic age, writing prevailed, and real dialectic passed to correspondence. Taking care of oneself became linked to a constant writing activity. The self is something to write about, a theme or object (subject) of writing activity. That is not a modern trait born of the Reformation or of romanticism; it is one of the most ancient Western traditions. It was well established and deeply rooted when Augustine started writing his Confessions.


The new concern with self involved a new experience of self. The new form of the experience of the self is to be seen in the first and second century when introspection becomes more and more detailed. A relation developed between writing and vigilance. Attention was paid to nuances of life, mood, and reading, and the experience of oneself was intensified and widened by virtue of this act of writing. A whole field of experience opened which earlier was absent.


One can compare Cicero to the later Seneca or Marcu Aurelius. We see, for example, Seneca’s and Marcus’s meticulous concern with the details of daily life, with the movements of the spirit, with self-analysis. Everything in the imperial period is present in Marcus Aurelius’s letter of 144-45 A.D. to Fronto:


Hail, my sweetest of masters.


We are well. I slept somewhat late owing to my slight cold, which seems now to have subsided. So from five A.M. till 9, I spent the time partly reading some of Cato’s Agriculture, partly in writing not quite such wretched stuff, by heavens, as yesterday. Then, after paying my respects to my father, I relieved my throat, I will not say by gargling – though the word gargarisso is, I believe, found in Novius and elsewhere – but by swallowing honey water as far as the gullet and ejecting it again. After easing my throat I went off to my father and attended him at a sacrifice. Then we went to luncheon. What do you think we ate? A wee bit of bread, though I saw others devouring beans, onions, and herrings full of roe. We then worked hard at grape-gathering, and had a good sweat, and were merry and, as the poet says, “still left some clusters hanging high as gleanings of the vintage.” After six-o’clock we came home.


I did but little work and that to no purpose. Then I had a long chat with my little mother as she sat on the bed. My talk was this: “What do you think my Fronto is now doing?” Then she: “And what do you think my Gratia is doing?” Then : “And what do you think our little sparrow, the wee Gratia, is doing?” Whilst we were chattering in this way and disputing which of us loved the one or other of you two the better, the gong sounded, an intimation that my father had gone to his bath. So we had supper after we had bathed in the oil-press room; I do not mean bathed in the oil-press room, but when we had bathed, had supper there, and we enjoyed hearing the yokels chaffing one another. After coming back, before I turn over and snore, I get my task done and give my dearest of masters an account of the day’s doings, and if I could miss him more, I would not grudge wasting away a little more. Farewell, my Fronto, wherever you are, most honeysweet, my love, my delight. How is it between you and me? I love you and you are away.


This letter presents a description of everyday life. All the details of taking care of oneself are here, all the unimportant things he has done. Cicero tells only important things, but in Aurelius’s letter these details are important because they are you – what you thought, what you felt.


The relation between the body and the soul is interesting too. For the Stoics, the body was not so important, but Marcus Aurelius speaks of himself, his health, what he has eaten, his sore throat. This is quite characteristic of the ambiguity about the body in this cultivation of the self. Theoretically, the culture is soul-orientated, but all the concerns of the body take on a huge importance. In Pliny and Seneca there is great hypochondria. They retreat to the countryside. They have intellectual activities but rural activities as well. They eat and engage in the activity of peasants. The importance of the rural retreat in this letter is that nature helps put one in contact with oneself.


There is also a love relationship with Aurelius and Fronto, one between a twenty-four and a forty-year old man. Ars erotica is the theme of discussion. Homosexual love was important in this period and carried over into Christian monasticism.


Finally, in the last lines, there is an allusion to the examination of conscience at the end of the day. Aurelius goes to bed and looks in the notebook to see what he was going to do and how it corresponds to what he did. The letter is the transcription of that examination of conscience. It stresses what you did, not what you thought. That is the difference between practice in the Hellenistic and imperial periods and later monastic practice. In Seneca too there are only deeds, not thoughts. But it does prefigure Christian confession.


This genre of epistles shows a side apart from the philosophy of the era. The examination of conscience begins with this letter writing. Diary writing comes later. It dates from the Christian Era and focuses on the notion of the struggle of the soul.



In my discussion of Plato’s Alcibiades, I have isolated three major themes: first, the relation between care for oneself and care for the political life; second, the relation between taking care of the self and defective education; and third, the relation between taking care of oneself and knowing oneself. Whereas we saw in the Alcibiades the close relation between “Take care of yourself” and “Know yourself”, taking care of yourself eventually became absorbed into knowing yourself.


We can see three themes in Plato, also in the Hellenistic period, and four to five centuries later in Seneca, Plutarch, Epicetus, and the like. If the problems are the same, the solutions and themes are quite different and, in some cases, the opposite of the Platonic meanings.


First, to be concerned with self in the Hellenistic and Roman periods is not exclusively a preparation for political life. Care of the self has become a universal principle. One must leave politics to take better care of the self.


Second, the concern with oneself is not just obligatory for young people concerned with their education; it is a way of living for everybody throughout their lives.


Third, even if self-knowledge plays an important role in taking care of oneself, it involves other relationships as well.


I want to discuss briefly the first two points: the universality of the care of the self independent of political life, and the care of the self throughout one’s life.


1. A medical model was substituted for Plato’s pedagogical model. The care of the self isn’t another kind of pedagogy; it has to become permanent medical care. Permanent medical care is one of the central features of the care of the self. One must become the doctor of oneself.


2. Since we have to take care throughout, the objective is no longer to get prepared for adult, or for another life, but to get prepared for a certain complete achievement of life. This achievement is complete at the moment just prior to death – of old age as completion – is an inversion of the traditional Greek values on youth.


3. Lastly, we have the various practices to which cultivation of self has given rise and the relation of self knowledge to these.


In Alcibiades, the soul had a mirror relation to itself, which relates to the concept of memory and justifies dialogue as a method of discovering truth in the soul. But, from the time of Plato to the Hellenistic age, the relationship between care of the self and knowledge of the self changed. We may note two perspectives.


In the philosophical movements of Stoicism in the imperial period there is a different conception of truth and memory, and another method of examining the self. First, we see the disappearance of dialogue and the increasing importance of a new pedagogical relationship – a new pedagogical game where the master/teacher speaks and doesn’t ask questions and the disciple doesn’t answer but must listen and keep silent. A culture of silence becomes more and more important. In Pythagorean culture, disciples kept silent for five years as a pedagogical rule. They didn’t ask questions or speak up during the lesson, but they developed the art of listening. This is the positive condition for acquiring truth. The tradition is picked up during the imperial period, where we see the beginning of the culture of silence and the art of listening rather than the cultivation of dialogue as in Plato


To learn the art of listening, we have to read Plutarch’s treatise on the art of listening to lectures (Peri tou akouein). At the beginning of this treatise, Plutarch says that, following schooling, we have to learn to listen to logos throughout our adult life. The art of listening is crucial so you can tell what is true and what is dissimulation, what is rhetorical truth and what is falsehood in the discourse of the rhetoricans. Listening is linked to the fact that you’re not under the control of the masters but you must listen to logos. You keep silent at the lecture. You think about it afterward. This is the art of listening to the voice of the master and the voice of reason in yourself.


The advice may seem banal, but I think it’s important. In his treatise On the Contemplative Life, Philo of Alexandria describes banquets of silence, not debauched banquets with wine, boys, revelry, and dialogue. There is instead a teacher who gives a monologue on the interpretation of the Bible and a very precise indication of the way people must listen (De Vita Cont. 77). For example, they must always assume the same posture when listening. The morphology of this notion is an interesting theme in monasticism and pedagogy henceforth.


In Plato the themes of contemplation of self and care of self are related dialectically through dialogue. Now in the imperial period we have themes of, on one side, the obligation of listening to truth and, on the other side, of looking and listening to the self for the truth within. The difference between the one era and the other is one of the great signs of the disappearance of the dialectical structure.


What was an examination of conscience in this culture, and how does one look at oneself? For the Pythagoreans, the examination of conscience had to do with purification. Since sleep was related to death as a kind of encounter with the gods, you had to purify yourself before going to sleep. Remembering the dead was an exercise for the memory. But in the Hellenistic and the early imperial periods, you see this practice acquitting new values and signification. There are several relevant texts: Seneca’s De Ira, and De Tranquilitate and the beginning of Marcus Aurelius’s fourth book of Meditations.



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