Session Title

The History of Ethics: Continuations of Foucault's Final Project

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Special Session

Organizer Name

Ian Cornelius

Organizer Affiliation

Yale Univ.

Presider Name

Ian Cornelius

Paper Title 1

The Uses of Mary: Self-Formation and Ethics in Old French and Anglo-French Marian Miracles

Presenter 1 Name

Claire M. Waters

Presenter 1 Affiliation

Univ. of Virginia

Paper Title 2

Unjust Stewards and the Ethics of Stewardship in Piers Plowman C.9

Presenter 2 Name

Rosemary O'Neill

Presenter 2 Affiliation

Kenyon College

Paper Title 3

The Government of Self and Others

Presenter 3 Name

Fiona Somerset

Presenter 3 Affiliation

Univ. of Connecticut

Start Date

11-5-2013 3:30 PM

Session Location

Valley II 202

Description

From 1977 to 1984, Michel Foucault developed a vast historical study which he would eventually name a "genealogy of ethics". The full scope, detail, and significance of Foucault's work on this project are only gradually becoming visible, in the still incomplete edition of his Collège de France lectures (1997- ). The papers in this session undertake a critical continuation of Foucault's project: the historical study of systems of ethics.

Recall how Foucault defined this problem: the object of his study was neither behaviors nor moral codes, neither mores nor morals. Or again, he was concerned primarily with neither the fact of what people do, nor the syllabus of what people perhaps thought they ought to do. What Foucault meant by "ethics" was instead the practical means by which people have sought to put these two things in concrete relation with one another. How, he asked, have different historical communities set about adjusting their behaviors relative to their moral codes? This is the question which Foucault explored in the second and third volumes of his History of Sexuality and, more directly, in the final five years of his lectures at the Collège de France. Crucially, the Collège de France lectures also investigate links between the "government of self" and related questions of political leadership, counsel, and the "government of others." Papers in this session will extend his project through studies of medieval materials.

This is, therefore, not a "theory" session. Nor is its goal to sort through Foucault's statements about the Middle Ages and separate the true from the false. Nor, finally, is the goal to uncover the repressed contribution which the Middle Ages may have made to the formation of Foucault's thought. Instead, this session is conceived as a forum for cultural historians and literary scholars to present concrete research which, in addition, engages the methods, concepts, and problems which Foucault developed in the course of his studies of the ethical systems of premodern Europe.

Possible materials include but are not limited to the following: monastic rules, manuals and treatises on correct Christian living, sermons, conduct manuals, medical treatises, and advice to princes.

Papers might pose the following questions:

* in what capacity are individuals called upon to engage in the work of caring for, shaping, or governing oneself? (e.g. as Christian, as king, as young aristocratic male, as human, as saint or martyr)

* what classes of people are inducted into this ethical work? (e.g. aristocracy, laity, men or women, all Christians, a chosen few)

* by whom is one called to this work? (e.g. parish priest, private chaplain, spiritual director, parent, tutor)

* what specific techniques or practices are employed in ethical work? (e.g. confession, physical mortification, meditation, memorization, conversation)

* to what parts or aspects of oneself does one address this ethical work? How must the self be conceived or constituted, such that it is possible to perform ethical work on it? (e.g. soul, flesh, will, intellect, passions)

* what is the goal or end of ethical work? (e.g. salvation, obedience, governance of other people)

These questions, formulated by Foucault (Essential Works, vol. 1, pp. 263-65), constitute a sort of research questionnaire for study of systems of ethics. Finally, if this session dispenses with Foucault's concept of "genealogy", this is because it is not conceived as a contribution to the history of the present. Rather than setting out to locate dis/continuities between the Middle Ages and today, this session simply provides a forum for presentation of research on a few of the various ethical systems which were elaborated in course of the Middle Ages.

-- Ian Cornelius (ian.cornelius@yale.edu)

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May 11th, 3:30 PM

The History of Ethics: Continuations of Foucault's Final Project

Valley II 202

From 1977 to 1984, Michel Foucault developed a vast historical study which he would eventually name a "genealogy of ethics". The full scope, detail, and significance of Foucault's work on this project are only gradually becoming visible, in the still incomplete edition of his Collège de France lectures (1997- ). The papers in this session undertake a critical continuation of Foucault's project: the historical study of systems of ethics.

Recall how Foucault defined this problem: the object of his study was neither behaviors nor moral codes, neither mores nor morals. Or again, he was concerned primarily with neither the fact of what people do, nor the syllabus of what people perhaps thought they ought to do. What Foucault meant by "ethics" was instead the practical means by which people have sought to put these two things in concrete relation with one another. How, he asked, have different historical communities set about adjusting their behaviors relative to their moral codes? This is the question which Foucault explored in the second and third volumes of his History of Sexuality and, more directly, in the final five years of his lectures at the Collège de France. Crucially, the Collège de France lectures also investigate links between the "government of self" and related questions of political leadership, counsel, and the "government of others." Papers in this session will extend his project through studies of medieval materials.

This is, therefore, not a "theory" session. Nor is its goal to sort through Foucault's statements about the Middle Ages and separate the true from the false. Nor, finally, is the goal to uncover the repressed contribution which the Middle Ages may have made to the formation of Foucault's thought. Instead, this session is conceived as a forum for cultural historians and literary scholars to present concrete research which, in addition, engages the methods, concepts, and problems which Foucault developed in the course of his studies of the ethical systems of premodern Europe.

Possible materials include but are not limited to the following: monastic rules, manuals and treatises on correct Christian living, sermons, conduct manuals, medical treatises, and advice to princes.

Papers might pose the following questions:

* in what capacity are individuals called upon to engage in the work of caring for, shaping, or governing oneself? (e.g. as Christian, as king, as young aristocratic male, as human, as saint or martyr)

* what classes of people are inducted into this ethical work? (e.g. aristocracy, laity, men or women, all Christians, a chosen few)

* by whom is one called to this work? (e.g. parish priest, private chaplain, spiritual director, parent, tutor)

* what specific techniques or practices are employed in ethical work? (e.g. confession, physical mortification, meditation, memorization, conversation)

* to what parts or aspects of oneself does one address this ethical work? How must the self be conceived or constituted, such that it is possible to perform ethical work on it? (e.g. soul, flesh, will, intellect, passions)

* what is the goal or end of ethical work? (e.g. salvation, obedience, governance of other people)

These questions, formulated by Foucault (Essential Works, vol. 1, pp. 263-65), constitute a sort of research questionnaire for study of systems of ethics. Finally, if this session dispenses with Foucault's concept of "genealogy", this is because it is not conceived as a contribution to the history of the present. Rather than setting out to locate dis/continuities between the Middle Ages and today, this session simply provides a forum for presentation of research on a few of the various ethical systems which were elaborated in course of the Middle Ages.

-- Ian Cornelius (ian.cornelius@yale.edu)