Technologies of the Self

Lectures at University of Vermont in October 1982
— Foucault, Michel. Technologies of the Self.” Lectures at University of Vermont Oct. 1982, in Technologies of the Self, 16-49. Univ. of Mass­a­chu­sets Press, 1988.


When I be­gan to study the rules, du­ties, and pro­hi­bi­tions of sex­u­al­ity, the in­ter­dic­tions and re­stric­tions as­so­ci­ated with it, I was con­cerned not sim­ply with the acts that were per­mit­ted and for­bid­den but with the feel­ings rep­re­sented, the thoughts, the de­sires one might ex­pe­ri­ence, the dri­ves to seek within the self any hid­den feel­ing, any move­ment of the soul, any de­sire dis­guised un­der il­lu­sory forms. There is a very sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence be­tween in­ter­dic­tions about sex­u­al­ity and other forms of in­ter­dic­tion. Unlike other in­ter­dic­tions, sex­ual in­ter­dic­tions are con­stantly con­nected with the oblig­a­tion to tell the truth about one­self.

Two facts may be ob­jected: first, that con­fes­sion played an im­por­tant part in pe­nal and re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions for all of­fenses, not only in sex. But the task of an­a­lyz­ing one’s sex­ual de­sire is al­ways more im­por­tant than an­a­lyz­ing any other kind of sin.

I am also aware of the sec­ond ob­jec­tion: that sex­ual be­hav­ior more than any other was sub­mit­ted to very strict rules of se­crecy, de­cency, and mod­esty so that sex­u­al­ity is re­lated in a strange and com­plex way both to ver­bal pro­hi­bi­tion and to the oblig­a­tion to tell the truth, of hid­ing what one does, and of de­ci­pher­ing who one is.

The as­so­ci­a­tion of pro­hi­bi­tion and strong in­ci­ta­tions to speak is a con­stant fea­ture of our cul­ture. The theme of the re­nun­ci­a­tion of the flesh was linked to the con­fes­sion of the monk to the ab­bot, to telling the ab­bot every­thing that he had in mind.

I con­ceived of a rather odd pro­ject: not the evo­lu­tion of sex­ual be­hav­ior but the pro­jec­tion of a his­tory of the link be­tween the oblig­a­tion to tell the truth and the pro­hi­bi­tions against sex­u­al­ity. I asked: How had the sub­ject been com­pelled to de­ci­pher him­self in re­gard to what was for­bid­den? It is a ques­tion of the re­la­tion be­tween as­ceti­cism and truth.

Max Weber posed the ques­tion: If one wants to be­have ra­tio­nally and reg­u­late one’s ac­tion ac­cord­ing to true prin­ci­ples, what part of one’s self should one re­nounce? What is the as­cetic price of rea­son? To what kind of as­ceti­cism should one sub­mit? I posed the op­po­site ques­tion: How have cer­tain kinds of in­ter­dic­tions re­quired the price of cer­tain kinds of knowl­edge about one­self? What must one know about one­self in or­der to be will­ing to re­nounce any­thing?

Thus I ar­rived at the hermeneu­tics of tech­nolo­gies of the self in pa­gan and early Christian prac­tice. I en­coun­tered cer­tain dif­fi­cul­ties in this study be­cause these prac­tices are not well known. First, Christianity has al­ways been more in­ter­ested in the his­tory of its be­liefs than in the his­tory of real prac­tices. Second, such a hermeneu­tics was never or­ga­nized into a body of doc­trine like tex­tual hermeneu­tics. Third, the hermeneu­tics of the self has been con­fused with the­olo­gies of the soul-con­cu­pis­cence, sin, and the fall from grace. Fourth, a hermeneu­tics of the self has been dif­fused across Western cul­ture through nu­mer­ous chan­nels and in­te­grated with var­i­ous types of at­ti­tudes and ex­pe­ri­ence so that it is dif­fi­cult to iso­late and sep­a­rate it from our own spon­ta­neous ex­pe­ri­ences.


My ob­jec­tive for more than twenty-five years has been to sketch out a his­tory of the dif­fer­ent ways in our cul­ture that hu­mans de­velop knowl­edge about them­selves: eco­nom­ics, bi­ol­ogy, psy­chi­a­try, med­i­cine, and penol­ogy. The main point is not to ac­cept this knowl­edge at face value but to an­a­lyze these so-called sci­ences as very spe­cific truth games” re­lated to spe­cific tech­niques that hu­man be­ings use to un­der­stand them­selves.

As a con­text, we must un­der­stand that there are four ma­jor types of these technologies,” each a ma­trix of prac­ti­cal rea­son: (I) tech­nolo­gies of pro­duc­tion, which per­mit us to pro­duce, trans­form, or ma­nip­u­late things; (2) tech­nolo­gies of sign sys­tems, which per­mit us to use signs, mean­ings, sym­bols, or sig­ni­fi­ca­tion; (3) tech­nolo­gies of power, which de­ter­mine the con­duct of in­di­vid­u­als and sub­mit them to cer­tain ends or dom­i­na­tion, an ob­jec­tiviz­ing of the sub­ject; (4) tech­nolo­gies of the self, which per­mit in­di­vid­u­als to ef­fect by their own means or with the help of oth­ers a cer­tain num­ber of op­er­a­tions on their own bod­ies and souls, thoughts, con­duct, and way of be­ing, so as to trans­form I them­selves in or­der to at­tain a cer­tain state of hap­pi­ness, pu­rity, wis­dom, per­fec­tion, or im­mor­tal­ity.

These four types of tech­nolo­gies hardly ever func­tion sep­a­rately, al­though each one of them is as­so­ci­ated with a cer­tain I type of dom­i­na­tion. Each im­plies cer­tain modes of train­ing and mod­i­fi­ca­tion of in­di­vid­u­als, not only in the ob­vi­ous sense of ac­quir­ing cer­tain skills but also in the sense of ac­quir­ing cer­tain at­ti­tudes. I wanted to show both their spe­cific na­ture and their con­stant in­ter­ac­tion. For in­stance, one sees the re­la­tion be­tween ma­nip­u­lat­ing things and dom­i­na­tion in Karl Marx’s Capital, where every tech­nique of pro­duc­tion re­quires mod­i­fi­ca­tion of in­di­vid­ual con­duct not only skills but also at­ti­tudes.

Usually the first two tech­nolo­gies are used in the study of the sci­ences and lin­guis­tics. It is the last two, the tech­nolo­gies of dom­i­na­tion and self, which have most kept my at­ten­tion. I have at­tempted a his­tory of the or­ga­ni­za­tion of knowl­edge. with re­spect to both dom­i­na­tion and the self. For ex­am­ple, I stud­ied mad­ness not in terms of the cri­te­ria of for­mal sci­ences but to show how a type of man­age­ment of in­di­vid­u­als in­side and out­side of asy­lums was made pos­si­ble by this strange dis­course. This con­tact be­tween the tech­nolo­gies of dom­i­na­tion of oth­ers and those of the self I call gov­ern­men­tal­ity.

Perhaps I’ve in­sisted too much in the tech­nol­ogy of dom­i­na­tion and power. I am more and more in­ter­ested in the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween one­self and oth­ers and in the tech­nolo­gies of in­di­vid­ual dom­i­na­tion, the his­tory of how an in­di­vid­ual acts upon him­self, in the tech­nol­ogy of self.


I wish to sketch out the de­vel­op­ment of the hermeneu­tics of the self in two dif­fer­ent con­texts which are his­tor­i­cally con­tigu­ous: (1) Greco-Roman phi­los­o­phy in the first two cen­turies A.D. of the early Roman Empire and (2) Christian spir­i­tu­al­ity and the monas­tic prin­ci­ples de­vel­oped in the fourth and fifth cen­turies of the late Roman Empire.

Moreover, I wish to dis­cuss the sub­ject not only in the­ory but in re­la­tion to a set of prac­tices in late an­tiq­uity. These prac­tices were con­sti­tuted in Greek as epime­lesthai sautou, to take care of your­self”, the con­cern with self”, to be con­cerned, to take care of your­self”.

The pre­cept to be con­cerned with one­self” was, for the Greeks, one of the main prin­ci­ples of cities, one of the main rules for so­cial and per­sonal con­duct and for the art of life. For us now this no­tion is rather ob­scure and faded. When one is asked What is the most im­por­tant moral prin­ci­ple in an­cient phi­los­o­phy?” the im­me­di­ate an­swer is not, Take care of one­self” but the Delphic prin­ci­ple, gnothi sau­ton (“Know your­self”).

Perhaps our philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion has overem­pha­sized the lat­ter and for­got­ten the for­mer. The Delphic prin­ci­ple was not an ab­stract one con­cern­ing life; it was tech­ni­cal ad­vice, a rule to be ob­served for the con­sul­ta­tion of the or­a­cle. Know your­self” meant Do not Suppose your­self to be a god”. Other com­men­ta­tors sug­gest that it meant Be aware of what you re­ally ask when you come to con­sult the or­a­cle”.

In Greek and Roman texts, the in­junc­tion of hav­ing to know your­self as al­ways as­so­ci­ated with the other prin­ci­ple of hav­ing too take care of your­self, and it was that need to care for one­self that brought the Delphic maxim into op­er­a­tion. It is im­plicit in all Greek and Roman cul­ture and has been ex­plicit since Plato’s Alcibiades I. In the Socratic di­a­logues, in Xenophon, Hippocrates, and in the Neoplatonist tra­di­tion from Albinus on, one had to be con­cerned with one­self. One had to oc­cupy one­self with one­self be­fore the Delphic prin­ci­ple was brought into ac­tion. There was a sub­or­di­na­tion of the sec­ond prin­ci­ple to the for­mer. I have three or four ex­am­ples of this.

In Plato’s Apology, 29, Socrates pre­sents him­self be­fore his judges as a mas­ter of epimeleia heautou. You are not ashamed to care for the ac­qui­si­tion of wealth and for rep­u­ta­tion and honor,” he tells them, but you do not con­cern your­selves with your­selves, that is, with wisdom, truth and the per­fec­tion of the soul.” He, on the other hand, watches over the cit­i­zens to make sure they oc­cupy them­selves with them­selves.

Socrates says three im­por­tant things with re­gard to his in­vi­ta­tion to oth­ers to oc­cupy them­selves with them­selves: (1) His mis­sion was con­ferred on him by the gods, and he won’t aban­don it ex­cept with his last breath. (2) For this task he de­mands no re­ward; he is dis­in­ter­ested; he per­forms it out of benev­o­lence. (3) His mis­sion is use­ful for the city more use­ful than the Athenians mil­i­tary vic­tory at Olympia - be­cause in teach­ing peo­ple too oc­cupy them­selves with them­selves, he teaches them to oc­cupy them­selves with the city.

Eight cen­turies later, one finds the same no­tion and the same phrase in Gregory of Nyssa’s trea­tise, On Virginity, but with an en­tirely dif­fer­ent mean­ing. Gregory did not mean the move­ment by which one takes care of one­self and the city; he meant the move­ment by which one re­nounces the world and mar­riage and de­taches one­self from the flesh and, with vir­gin­ity of heart and body, re­cov­ers the im­mor­tal­ity of which one has been de­prived. In com­men­tat­ing on the para­ble of the drachma (Luke 15:8 - 10), Gregory ex­horts one to light the lamp and turn the house over and search, un­til gleam­ing in the shadow one sees the drachma within. In or­der to re­cover the ef­fi­cacy which God has printed on one’s soul and which the body has tar­nished, one must take care of one­self and search every cor­ner of the soul (De Virg. 12). We can see that Christian as­ceti­cism, like an­cient phi­los­o­phy, places it­self un­der the same sign of con­cern with one­self. The oblig­a­tion to know one­self is one of the el­e­ments of its cen­tral pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. Between these two ex­tremes - Socrates and Gregory of Nyssa - tak­ing care of one­self con­sti­tuted not only a prin­ci­ple but also a con­stant prac­tice.

I have two more ex­am­ples. The first Epicurean text to serve as a man­ual of morals was the Letter to Menoeceus (Diogenes Laërtius 10.122 - 38). Epicurus writes that it is never too early, never too late, to oc­cupy one­self with one’s soul. One should phi­los­o­phize when one is young and also when one is old. It was a task to be car­ried on through­out life. Teachings about every­day life were or­ga­nized around tak­ing care of one­self in or­der to help every mem­ber of the group with the mu­tual work of sal­va­tion.

Another ex­am­ple comes from an Alexandrian text, On the Contemplative Life, by Philo of Alexandria. He de­scribes an ob­scure, enig­matic group on the pe­riph­ery of Hellenistic and Hebraic cul­ture called the Therapeutae, marked by its re­li­gios­ity. It was an aus­tere com­mu­nity, de­voted to read­ing, to heal­ing med­i­ta­tion, to in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive prayer, and to meet­ing for a spir­i­tual ban­quet (agapä, feast”). These prac­tices stemmed from the prin­ci­ple task, con­cern for one­self (De Vita Cont. 36).

This is the point of de­par­ture for some pos­si­ble analy­sis for the care of the self in an­cient cul­ture. I would like to an­a­lyze the re­la­tion be­tween care and self-knowl­edge, the re­la­tion found in Greco-Roman and Christion tra­di­tions be­tween the care of one­self and the too well-known prin­ci­ple Know your­self”. As there are dif­fer­ent forms of care, there are dif­fer­ent forms of self.


There are sev­eral rea­sons why Know your­self” has ob­scured Take care of your­self”. First, there has been a pro­found trans­for­ma­tion in the moral prin­ci­ples of Western so­ci­ety. We find it dif­fi­cult to base rig­or­ous moral­ity and aus­tere prin­ci­ples on the pre­cept that we should give our­selves more care than any­thing else in the world. We are more in­clined to see tak­ing care of our­selves as an im­moral­ity, as a means of es­cape from all pos­si­ble rules. We in­herit the tra­di­tion of Christian moral­ity which makes self-re­nun­ci­a­tion the con­di­tion for sal­va­tion. To know one­self was para­dox­i­cally the way to self-re­nun­ci­a­tion.

We also in­herit a sec­u­lar tra­di­tion which re­spects ex­ter­nal law as the ba­sis for moral­ity. How then can re­spect for the self be the ba­sis for moral­ity? We are the in­her­i­tors of a so­cial moral­ity which seeks the rules for ac­cept­able be­hav­ior in re­la­tions with oth­ers. Since the six­teenth cen­tury, crit­i­cism of es­tab­lished moral­ity has been un­der­taken in the name of the im­por­tance of rec­og­niz­ing and know­ing the self. Therefore, it is dif­fi­cult to see con­cern with one­self as com­pat­i­ble with moral­ity. Know thy­self” has ob­scured Take care of your­self” be­cause our moral­ity, a moral­ity of as­ceti­cism, in­sists that the self is that which one can re­ject.

The sec­ond rea­son is that, in the­o­ret­i­cal phi­los­o­phy from Descartes to Husserl, knowl­edge of the self (the think­ing sub­ject) takes on an ever-in­creas­ing im­por­tance as the first step in the the­ory of knowl­edge.

To sum­ma­rize: There has been an in­ver­sion be­tween the hi­er­ar­chy of the two prin­ci­ples of an­tiq­uity, Take care of your­self” and Know thy­self”. In Greco-Roman cul­ture knowl­edge of one­self ap­peared as the con­se­quence of tak­ing care of your­self. In the mod­ern world, knowl­edge of one­self con­sti­tutes the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple.


The first philo­soph­i­cal elab­o­ra­tion of the con­cern with tak­ing care of one­self that I wish to con­sider is found in Plato’s Alcibiades I. The date of its writ­ing is un­cer­tain, and it may be a spu­ri­ous Platonic di­a­logue. It is not my in­ten­tion to study dates but to point the prin­ci­pal fea­tures of the care of self which is the cen­ter of the di­a­logue.

The Neoplatonists in the third or fourth cen­tury A.D. show the sig­nif­i­cance given to this di­a­logue and the im­por­tance it as­sumed in the clas­si­cal tra­di­tion. They wanted to or­ga­nize Plato’s di­a­logues as ped­a­gogy and as the ma­trix for en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge. They con­sid­ered Alcibiades to be the first di­a­logue of Plato, the first to be read, the first to be stud­ied. It was arche. In the sec­ond cen­tury Albinus said that every gifted young man who wanted to stand apart from pol­i­tics and prac­tice virtue should study the Alcibiades. It pro­vided the point of de­par­ture and a pro­gram for all Platonic phi­los­o­phy. Taking care of one­self” was its first prin­ci­ple. I would like to an­a­lyze the care of self in the Alcibiades I in terms of three as­pects.

1. How is this ques­tion in­tro­duced into the di­a­logue? What are the rea­sons Alcibiades and Socrates are brought to the no­tion of tak­ing care of one’s self?
Alcibiades is about to be­gin his pub­lic and po­lit­i­cal life. He wishes to speak be­fore the peo­ple and be all-pow­er­ful in the city. He is not sat­is­fied with his tra­di­tional sta­tus, with the priv­i­leges of his birth and her­itage. He wishes to gain per­sonal power over all oth­ers both in­side and out­side the city. At this point of in­ter­sec­tion and trans­for­ma­tion, Socrates in­ter­venes and de­clares his love for Alcibiades. Alcibiades can no longer be the beloved; he must be­come a lover. He must be­come ac­tive in the po­lit­i­cal and the love game. Thus, there is a di­alect be­tween po­lit­i­cal and erotic dis­course. Alcibiades makes his tran­si­tion in spe­cific ways in both pol­i­tics and love.

An am­biva­lence is ev­i­dent in Alcibiade’s po­lit­i­cal and erotic vo­cab­u­lary. During his ado­les­cence Alcibiades was de­sir­able and had many ad­mir­ers, but now that his beard is grow­ing, his lovers dis­ap­pear. Earlier, he had re­jected them all in the bloom of his beauty be­cause he wanted to be dom­i­nant, not dom­i­nated. He did not wish to be dom­i­nated by youth, but now he wants to dom­i­nate oth­ers. This is the mo­ment Socrates ap­pears, and he suc­ceeds where oth­ers have failed: He will make Alcibiades sub­mit, but in a dif­fer­ent sense. They make a pact - Alcibiades will sub­mit to his lover. Socrates, not in a phys­i­cal but in a spir­i­tual sense. The in­ter­sec­tion of po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion and philo­soph­i­cal love is taking care of one­self”.

2. In that re­la­tion­ship, why should Alcibiades be con­cerned with him­self, and why is Socrates con­cerned with that con­cern of Alcibiades? Socrates asks Alcibiades about his per­sonal ca­pac­ity and the na­ture of his am­bi­tion. Does he know the mean­ing of the rule of law, of jus­tice or con­cord?
Alcibiades clearly knows noth­ing. Socrates calls upon him to com­pare his ed­u­ca­tion with that of the Persian and Spartan kings, his ri­vals. Spartan and Persian princes have teach­ers in Wisdom, Justice, Temperance, and Courage. By com­par­i­son, Alcibiades’ ed­u­ca­tion is like that of an old, ig­no­rant slave. He does­n’t know these things so he can’t ap­ply him­self to knowl­edge. But, says Socrates, it’s not too late. To help him gain the up­per hand - to ac­quire techne - Alcibiades must ap­ply him­self, he must take care of him­self. But Alcibiades does­n’t know to what he must ap­ply him­self. What is this knowl­edge he seeks? He is em­bar­rassed and con­fused. Socrates calls upon him to take heart.

In 127d of the Alcibiades we find the first ap­pear­ance of the phrase, epime­lesthai sautou. Concern for the self al­ways refers to an ac­tive po­lit­i­cal and erotic state. Epimelesthai ex­presses some­thing much more se­ri­ous than the sim­ple fact of pay­ing at­ten­tion. It in­volves var­i­ous things: tak­ing pains with one’s hold­ings and one’s health. It is al­ways a real ac­tiv­ity and not just at­ti­tude. It is used in ref­er­ence to the ac­tiv­ity of a farmer tend­ing his fields, his cat­tle, and his house, or to the job of the king in tak­ing care of his city and cit­i­zens, or to the wor­ship of an­ces­tors or gods, or as a med­ical term to sig­nify the fact of car­ing. It is highly sig­nif­i­cant that the con­cern for the self in Alcibiades I is di­rectly re­lated to a de­fec­tive ped­a­gogy, one which con­cerns po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tion and a spe­cific mo­ment of life.

3. The rest of the text is de­voted to an analy­sis of this no­tion of epime­lesthai, taking pains with one­self”. It is di­vided into two ques­tions: What is this self of which one has to take care. and of what does that care con­sist?
First, what is the self (129b)? Self is a re­flec­tive pro­noun, and it has two mean­ings. Auto means the same”, but it also con­veys the no­tion of iden­tity. The lat­ter mean­ing shifts the ques­tion from What is this self?” to What is the plateau on which I shall find my iden­tity?”

Alcibiades tries to find the self in a di­alec­ti­cal move­ment. When you take care of the body, you don’t take care of the self. The self is not cloth­ing, tools, or pos­ses­sions. It is to be found in the prin­ci­ple which uses these tools, a prin­ci­ple not of the body but of the soul. You have to worry about your soul - that is the prin­ci­ple ac­tiv­ity of car­ing for your­self. The care of the self is the care of the ac­tiv­ity and not the care of the soul-as-sub­stance.

The sec­ond ques­tion is: How must we take care of this prin­ci­ple of ac­tiv­ity, the soul? Of what does this care con­sist? One must know of what the soul con­sists. The soul can­not know it­self ex­cept by look­ing at it­self in a sim­i­lar el­e­ment, a mir­ror. Thus, it must con­tem­plate the di­vine el­e­ment. In this di­vine con­tem­pla­tion, the soul will be able to dis­cover rules serve as a ba­sis for be­hav­ior and po­lit­i­cal ac­tion. The ef­fort of the soul to know it­self is the prin­ci­ple on which just po­lit­i­cal ac­tion can be founded, and Alcibiades will be a good politi­cians in­so­far as he con­tem­plates his soul in the di­vine el­e­ment.

Often the dis­cus­sion grav­i­tates around and is phrased in terms of the Delphic prin­ci­ple, Know your­self”. To take care of one­self con­sists of know­ing one­self. Knowing one­self be­comes the ob­ject of the quest of con­cern for self. Being oc­cu­pied with one­self and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties are linked. The di­a­logue ends when Alcibiades knows he must take care of him­self by ex­am­in­ing his soul.

This early text il­lu­mi­nates the his­tor­i­cal back­ground of the pre­cept taking care of one­self” and sets out four main prob­lems that en­dure through­out an­tiq­uity, al­though the so­lu­tions of­fered of­ten dif­fer from those in Plato’s Alcibiades.

First, there is the prob­lem of the re­la­tion be­tween be­ing oc­cu­pied with one­self and po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity. In the later Hellenistic and im­pe­r­ial pe­ri­ods, the ques­tion is pre­sented in an al­ter­na­tive way: When is it bet­ter to turn away from po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity to con­cern one­self with one­self?

Second, there is a prob­lem of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween be­ing oc­cu­pied with one­self and ped­a­gogy. For Socrates, oc­cu­py­ing one­self if the duty of a young man, but later in the Hellenistic pe­riod it is seen as a per­ma­nent duty of one’s whole life.

Third, there is a prob­lem of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween con­cern for one­self and the knowl­edge of one­self. Plato gave pri­or­ity to the Delphic maxim, Know your­self”. The priv­i­leged po­si­tion of Know your­self” is char­ac­ter­is­tic of all Platonists. Later, in the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman pe­ri­ods, this is re­versed. The ac­cent was not on the knowl­edge of the self but on the con­cern with one­self. The lat­ter was given an au­ton­omy and even a pre-em­i­nence as a philo­soph­i­cal is­sue.

Fourth, there is the prob­lem of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the care of the self and philo­soph­i­cal love, of the re­la­tion to the mas­ter.

In the Hellenistic and im­pe­r­ial pe­ri­ods, the Socratic no­tion of taking care of one­self” be­came a com­mon, uni­ver­sal philo­soph­i­cal theme. Care of the self” was ac­cepted by Epicurus and his fol­low­ers, by the Cynics, and by such Stoics as Seneca, Rufus, and Galen. The Pythagoreans gave at­ten­tion to the no­tion of an or­dered life in com­mon. This theme of tak­ing care of one­self was not ab­stract ad­vice but a wide­spread ac­tiv­ity, a net­work of oblig­a­tions and ser­vices to the soul. Following Epicurus him­self, the Epicureans be­lieved that its never too late to oc­cupy one­self with one­self. The Stoics say you must at­tend to the self, retire into the self and stay there.” Lucian par­o­died the no­tion. It was an ex­tremely wide­spread ac­tiv­ity and it brought about com­pe­ti­tion be­tween rhetori­cians and those who turned to­ward them­selves, par­tic­u­larly over the ques­tion of the mas­ter.

There were char­la­tans, of course. But cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als took it se­ri­ously. It was gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edged that it was good to be re­flec­tive, at least briefly. Pliny ad­vises a friend to set aside a few mo­ments a day, or sev­eral weeks or months, for a re­treat into him­self. This was an ac­tive leisure - to study, to read, to pre­pare for mis­for­tune or death. It was a med­i­ta­tion and a prepa­ra­tion.

Writing was also im­por­tant in the cul­ture of tak­ing care of one­self. One of the main fea­tures of tak­ing care in­volved tak­ing notes on one­self to be reread, writ­ing trea­tises and let­ters to friends to help them, and keep­ing note­books in or­der to re­ac­ti­vate for one­self the truths on needed. Socrate’s let­ters are an ex­am­ple of this self-ex­er­cise

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 I: 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 honey-sweet, 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 bu 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, 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 I, 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 tea­tise 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.

Seneca’s De Ira (book 3) con­tains some traces of the old tra­di­tion. He de­scribes an ex­am­i­na­tion of con­science. The same thing was rec­om­mended by the Epicureans, and the prac­tice was rooted in the Pythagorean tra­di­tion. The goal was pu­rifi­ca­tion of the con­science us­ing a mnemonic de­vice. Do good things, have a good ex­am­i­na­tion of the self, and a good sleep fol­lows to­gether with good dreams, which is con­tact with the gods.

Seneca seems to use ju­ridi­cal lan­guage, and it seems that the self is both the judge and the ac­cused. Seneca is the judge and pros­e­cutes the self so that the ex­am­i­na­tion is a kind of trial. But if you look closer, it’s rather dif­fer­ent than a court. Seneca uses terms re­lated not to ju­ridi­cal but to ad­min­is­tra­tive prac­tices, as when a comp­trol­ler looks at the books or when a build­ing in­spec­tor ex­am­ines a build­ing. Self-examination is tak­ing stock. Faults are sim­ply good in­ten­tions left un­done. The rule is a means of do­ing some­thing cor­rectly, not judg­ing what has hap­pened in the past. Later, Christian con­fes­sion will look for bad in­ten­tions.

It is this ad­min­is­tra­tive view of life much more than the ju­ridi­cal model that is im­por­tant. Seneca is­n’t a judge who has to pun­ish but a stock-tak­ing ad­min­is­tra­tor. He is a per­ma­nent ad­min­is­tra­tor of him­self, not a judge of his past. He sees that every­thing has been done cor­rectly fol­low­ing the rule but not he law. It is not real faults for which he re­proaches him­self but rather his lack of suc­cess. His er­rors are of strat­egy, not of moral char­ac­ter. He wants to make ad­just­ments be­tween what he wanted to do and what he had done and re­ac­ti­vate the rules of con­duct, not ex­ca­vate his guilt. In Christian con­fes­sion, the pen­i­tent is obliged to mem­o­rize laws but does so in or­der to dis­cover his sins.

For Seneca it is­n’t a ques­tion of dis­cov­er­ing truth in the sub­ject but of re­mem­ber­ing truth, re­cov­er­ing a truth which has been for­got­ten. Second, the sub­ject does­n’t for­get him­self, his na­ture, ori­gin, or his su­per­nat­ural affin­ity, but the rules of con­duct, what he ought to have done. Third, the rec­ol­lec­tion of er­rors com­mit­ted in the day mea­sures the dis­tinc­tion be­tween what has been done and what should have been done. Fourth, the sub­ject is not the op­er­at­ing ground for the process of de­ci­pher­ing but is the point where rules of con­duct come to­gether in mem­ory. The sub­ject con­sti­tutes the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween acts which have to be reg­u­lated and rules for what ought to be done. This is quite dif­fer­ent from the Platonic con­cep­tion and from the Christian con­cep­tion of con­science.

The Stoics spir­i­tu­al­ized the no­tion of ana­chore­sis, the re­treat of an army, the hid­ing of an es­caped slave from his mas­ter, or the re­treat into the coun­try away from the towns, as in Marcus Aurelius’s coun­try re­treat. A re­treat into the coun­try be­comes a spir­i­tual re­treat into one­self. It is a gen­eral at­ti­tude and also a pre­cise act every day; you re­tire into the self to dis­cover - but not to dis­cover faults and deep feel­ings, only to re­mem­ber rules of ac­tion, the main laws of be­hav­ior. It is mnemotech­ni­cal for­mula.


I have spo­ken of three Stoic tech­niques of the self: let­ters to friends and dis­clo­sure of self; ex­am­i­na­tion of self and con­science, in­clud­ing a re­view of what was done, of what should have been done, and com­par­i­son of the two. Now I want to con­sider the third Stoic tech­nique, aske­sis, not a dis­clo­sure of the se­cret self but a re­mem­ber­ing.

For Plato, one must dis­cover the truth that is within one. For the Stoics, truth is not in one­self but in the lo­goi, the teach­ing of the teach­ers. One mem­o­rizes what one has heard, con­vert­ing the state­ments one hears into rules of con­duct. The sub­jec­tiviza­tion of truth is the aim of these tech­niques. During the im­pe­r­ial pe­riod , one could­n’t as­sim­i­late eth­i­cal prin­ci­ples with­out a the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work such as sci­ence, as for ex­am­ple in Lucretius’s De Rerum Naturae. There are struc­tural ques­tions un­der­ly­ing the prac­tice of the ex­am­i­na­tion of the self every night. I want to un­der­score the fact that in Stoicism it’s not the de­ci­pher­ing of the self, not the means to dis­close se­crecy, which is im­por­tant; it’s the mem­ory of what you’ve done and what you’ve had to do.

In Christianity as­ceti­cism al­ways refers to a cer­tain re­nun­ci­a­tion of the self and of re­al­ity be­cause most of the time your self is a part of that re­al­ity you have to re­nounce in or­der to get ac­cess to an­other level of re­al­ity. This move to at­tain the re­nun­ci­a­tion of the self dis­tin­guishes Christian as­ceti­cism.

In the philo­soph­i­cal tra­di­tion dom­i­nated by Stoicism, aske­sis means not re­nun­ci­a­tion but the pro­gres­sive con­sid­er­a­tion of self, or mas­tery over one­self, ob­tained not through the re­nun­ci­a­tion of re­al­ity but through the ac­qui­si­tion and as­sim­i­la­tion of truth. It has as its fi­nal aim not prepa­ra­tion for an­other re­al­ity but ac­cess to the re­al­ity of this world. The Greek word for this is paraskeuazõ (“to get pre­pared”). It is a set of prac­tices by which one can ac­quire, as­sim­i­late, and trans­form truth into a per­ma­nent prin­ci­ple of ac­tion. Alethia be­comes ethos. It is a process of be­com­ing more sub­jec­tive.

What are the prin­ci­ple fea­tures of aske­sis? They in­clude ex­er­cises in which the sub­ject puts him­self into a sit­u­a­tion in which he can ver­ify whether he can con­front events and use the dis­course with which he is armed. It is a ques­tion of test­ing the prepa­ra­tion. Is this truth as­sim­i­lated enough to be­come ethics so that we can be­have as we must when an event pre­sents it­self?

The Greeks char­ac­ter­ized the two poles of those ex­er­cises by the terms melete and gym­na­sia. Melete means meditation”, ac­cord­ing to the Latin trans­la­tion, med­i­ta­tio. It has the same root as epime­lesthai. It is a rather vague term, a tech­ni­cal term bor­rowed from rhetoric. Melete is the work one un­der­took in or­der to pre­pare a dis­course or an im­pro­vi­sa­tion by think­ing over use­ful terms and ar­gu­ments. You had to an­tic­i­pate the real sit­u­a­tion through di­a­logue in your thoughts. The philo­soph­i­cal med­i­ta­tion is this kind of med­i­ta­tion: It is com­posed of mem­o­riz­ing re­sponses and re­ac­ti­vat­ing those mem­o­ries by plac­ing one­self in a sit­u­a­tion where one can imag­ine how one would re­act. One judges the rea­son­ing one should use in an imag­i­nary ex­er­cise (“Let us sup­pose…) in or­der to test an ac­tion or event (for ex­am­ple, How would I re­act?”). Imagining the ar­tic­u­la­tion of pos­si­ble events to test how you would re­act - that’s med­i­ta­tion.

The most fa­mous ex­er­cise of med­i­ta­tion is the pre­med­i­ta­tio mal­lo­rum as prac­ticed by the Stoics. It is an eth­i­cal, imag­i­nary ex­pe­ri­ence. In ap­pear­ance it’s a rather dark and pes­simistic vi­sion about ei­detic re­duc­tion.

The Stoics de­vel­oped three ei­detic re­duc­tions of fu­ture mis­for­tune. First, it is not a ques­tion of imag­in­ing the fu­ture as it is likely to turn out but to imag­ine the worst which can hap­pen, even if there’s lit­tle chance that it will turn out that way - the worst as cer­tainty, as ac­tu­al­iz­ing what could hap­pen, not as cal­cu­la­tion of prob­a­bil­ity. Second, one should­n’t en­vis­age things as pos­si­bly tak­ing place in the dis­tant fu­ture but as al­ready ac­tual and in the process of tak­ing place. For ex­am­ple, imag­in­ing not that one might be ex­iled but rather that one is al­ready ex­iled, sub­jected to tor­ture, and dy­ing. Third, one does this not in or­der to ex­pe­ri­ence inar­tic­u­late suf­fer­ings but in or­der to con­vince one­self that they are not real ills. The re­duc­tion of all that is pos­si­ble, of all the du­ra­tion and of all the mis­for­tunes, re­veals not some­thing bad but what we have to ac­cept. It con­sists of hav­ing at the same time the fu­ture and the pre­sent event. The Epicureans were hos­tile to it be­cause they thought it was use­less. They thought it bet­ter to rec­ol­lect and mem­o­rize past plea­sures in or­der to de­rive plea­sure from pre­sent events.

At the op­po­site pole is gym­na­sia (“to train one­self”). While med­i­ta­tio is an imag­i­nary ex­pe­ri­ence that trains thought, gym­na­sia is train­ing in a real sit­u­a­tion, even if it’s been ar­ti­fi­cially in­duced. There is a long tra­di­tion be­hind this: sex­ual ab­sti­nence, phys­i­cal pri­va­tion, and other rit­u­als of pu­rifi­ca­tion.

Those prac­tices of ab­sti­nence have other mean­ings than pu­rifi­ca­tion or wit­ness­ing de­monic force, as in Pythagoras and Socrates. In the cul­ture of the Stoics, their func­tion is to es­tab­lish and test the in­de­pen­dence of the in­di­vid­ual with re­gard to the ex­ter­nal world. For ex­am­ple, in Plutarch’s De Genio Socratis, one gives one­self over to very hard sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Or one temps one­self by plac­ing one­self in front of many tan­ta­liz­ing dishes and then re­nounc­ing these ap­pe­tiz­ing dishes. Then you call your slaves and give them the dishes, and you take the meal pre­pared for the slaves. Another ex­am­ple is Seneca’s eigh­teenth let­ter to Lucilius. He pre­pares for a great feast day by acts of mor­ti­fi­ca­tion of the flesh in or­der to con­vince him­self that poverty is not an evil and he can en­dure it.

Between these poles of train­ing in thought and train­ing in re­al­ity, melete and gym­na­sia, there are a whole se­ries of in­ter­me­di­ate pos­si­bil­i­ties. Epictetus pro­vides the best ex­am­ple of the mid­dle ground be­tween these poles. He wants to watch per­pet­u­ally over rep­re­sen­ta­tions, a tech­nique which cul­mi­nates in Freud. There are two metaphors im­por­tant from his point of view: the night watch­man, who does­n’t ad­mit any­one into town if that per­son can’t prove who he is (we must be watchman” over the flux of thought), and the money changer, who ver­i­fies the au­then­tic­ity of cur­rency, looks at it, weighs and ver­i­fies it. We have to be money chang­ers of our own rep­re­sen­ta­tions of our thoughts, vig­i­lantly test­ing them, ver­i­fy­ing them, their metal, weight, ef­figy.

The same metaphor of the money changer is found in the Stoics and in early Christian lit­er­a­ture but with dif­fer­ent mean­ings. When Epictetus says you have to be a money changer, he means as soon as an idea comes to mind you have to think of the rules you must ap­ply to eval­u­ate. For John Cassian, be­ing a money changer and look­ing at your thoughts means some­thing very dif­fer­ent: It means you must try to de­ci­pher it, at the root of the move­ment which brings you the rep­re­sen­ta­tions, there is or is not con­cu­pis­cence or de­sire - if your in­no­cent thought has evil ori­gins; if you have some­thing un­der­ly­ing which is the great se­ducer, which is per­haps hid­den, the money of your thought.

In Epictetus there are two ex­er­cises: so­phis­tic and eth­i­cal. The first are ex­er­cises bor­rowed from school: ques­tion-and-an­swer games. This must be an eth­i­cal game; that is, it must teach a moral les­son. The sec­ond are more am­bu­la­tory ex­er­cises. In the morn­ing you go for a walk, and you test your re­ac­tions to that walk. The pur­pose of both ex­er­cises is con­trol of rep­re­sen­ta­tions, not the de­ci­pher­ing of truth. They are re­minders about con­form­ing to the rules in the face of ad­ver­sity. A pre-Freudian ma­chine of cen­sor­ship is de­scribed word for word in the tests of Epictetus and Cassian. For Epictetus, the con­trol of rep­re­sen­ta­tions means not de­ci­pher­ing but re­call­ing prin­ci­ples of act­ing and thus see­ing, through self-ex­am­i­na­tion, if they gov­ern your life. It is a kind of per­ma­nent self-ex­am­i­na­tion. You have to be your own cen­sor. The med­i­ta­tion on death is the cul­mi­na­tion of all these ex­er­cises.

In ad­di­tion to let­ters, ex­am­i­na­tion, and aske­sis, we must now evoke a fourth tech­nique in the ex­am­i­na­tion of the self, the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of dreams. It was to have an im­por­tant des­tiny in the nine­teenth cen­tury, but it oc­cu­pied a rel­a­tively mar­ginal po­si­tion in the an­cient world. Philosophers had an am­biva­lent at­ti­tude to­ward the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of dreams. Most Stoics are crit­i­cal and skep­ti­cal about such in­ter­pre­ta­tion. But there is still the pop­u­lar and gen­eral prac­tice of it. There were ex­perts who were able to in­ter­pret dreams, in­clud­ing Pythagoras and some of the Stoics, and some ex­perts who wrote books to teach peo­ple to in­ter­pret their own dreams. There were huge amounts of lit­er­a­ture on how to do it, but the only sur­viv­ing man­ual The Interpretation of Dreams by Artemidorus (second cen­tury A.D.). Dream in­ter­pre­ta­tion was im­por­tant be­cause in an­tiq­uity the mean­ing of a dream was an an­nounce­ment of a fu­ture event.

I should men­tion two other doc­u­ments deal­ing with the im­por­tance of dream in­ter­pre­ta­tion for every­day life. The first is by Synesius of Cyrene in the fourth cen­tury A.D. He was well known and cul­ti­vated. Even though he was not a Christian, he asked to be a bishop. His re­marks on dreams are in­ter­est­ing, for pub­lic div­ina­tion was for­bid­den in or­der to spare the em­peror bad news. Therefore, one had to in­ter­pret one’s own dreams; one had to be a self-in­ter­preter. To do it, one had to re­mem­ber not only one’s dreams but the events be­fore and af­ter. One had to record what hap­pened every day, both the life of the day and the life of the night.

Aelius Aristides’ Sacred Discourses, writ­ten in the sec­ond cen­tury, records his dreams and ex­plains how to in­ter­pret them. He be­lieved that in the in­ter­pre­ta­tion of dreams we re­ceive ad­vice from the gods about reme­dies for ill­ness. With this work, we are at the cross­ing point of two kinds of dis­courses. It is­n’t the writ­ing of self’s daily ac­tiv­i­ties that is the ma­trix of the Sacred Discourses but the rit­ual in­scrip­tion of praises to the gods that have healed one.


I wish to ex­am­ine the scheme of one of the main tech­niques of the self in early Christianity and what it was as a truth game. To do so, I must look at the tran­si­tion from pa­gan to Christian cul­ture in which it is pos­si­ble to see clear-cut con­ti­nu­ities and dis­con­ti­nu­ities.

Christianity is not only a sal­va­tion re­li­gion, it is a con­fes­sional re­li­gion. It im­poses very strict oblig­a­tions of truth, dogma, and canon, more so than do the pa­gan re­li­gions. Truth oblig­a­tions to be­lieve this or that were and are still very nu­mer­ous. The duty to ac­cept a set of oblig­a­tions, to hold cer­tain books as per­ma­nent truth, to ac­cept au­thor­i­tar­ian de­ci­sions in mat­ters of truth, not only to be­lieve cer­tain things but to show that one be­lieves, and to ac­cept in­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity are all char­ac­ter­is­tic of Christianity.

Christianity re­quires an­ther form of truth oblig­a­tion dif­fer­ent from faith. Each per­son has the duty to know who he is, that is, to try to know what is hap­pen­ing in­side him, to ac­knowl­edge faults, to rec­og­nize temp­ta­tions, to lo­cate de­sires, and every­one is obliged to dis­close these things to ei­ther to God or to oth­ers in the com­mu­nity and hence to bear pub­lic or pri­vate wit­ness against one­self. The truth oblig­a­tions of faith and the self are linked to­gether. This link per­mits a pu­rifi­ca­tion of the soul im­pos­si­ble with­out self-knowl­edge.

It’s not the same in the Catholic as in the Reform tra­di­tion. But the main fea­tures of both are an en­sem­ble of truth oblig­a­tions deal­ing with faith, books, dogma, and one deal­ing with truth, heart and soul. Access to truth can­not be con­ceived of with­out pu­rity of the soul. Purity of the soul is the con­se­quence of self-knowl­edge and a con­di­tion for un­der­stand­ing the text; in Augustine: Quis facit ver­tatem (to make truth in one­self, to get ac­cess to the light).

I’d like to an­a­lyze the ways by which, in or­der to get ac­cess to the light, the church con­ceived of il­lu­mi­na­tion: the dis­clo­sure of the self. The sacra­ment of penance and the con­fes­sion of sins are rather late in­no­va­tions. Christians of the first cen­turies had dif­fer­ent forms for dis­cov­er­ing and de­ci­pher­ing truth about them­selves. One of the two main forms of those dis­clo­sures can be char­ac­ter­ized by the word ex­o­molo­ge­sis, or recognition of fact”. Even the Latin fa­thers used this Greek term with no ex­act trans­la­tion. For Christians it meant to rec­og­nize pub­licly the truth of their faith or to rec­og­nize pub­licly that they were Christians.

The word also had a pen­i­ten­tial mean­ing. When a sin­ner seeks penance, he must visit a bishop and ask for it. In early Christianity, pen­i­tence was not an act or a rit­ual but a sta­tus im­posed on some­body who had com­mit­ted very se­ri­ous sins.

Exomologesis was a rit­ual of rec­og­niz­ing one­self as a sin­ner and a pen­i­tent. It had sev­eral char­ac­ter­is­tics. First, you were pen­i­tent for four to ten years, and this sta­tus af­fected your life. There was fast­ing, and there were rules about cloth­ing and pro­hi­bi­tions about sex. The in­di­vid­ual was marked so he could­n’t live the same life as oth­ers. Even af­ter his rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, he suf­fered from a num­ber of pro­hi­bi­tions; for ex­am­ple, he could not marry or be­come a priest.

Within this sta­tus you find the oblig­a­tion of ex­o­molo­ge­sis. The sin­ner seeks his penance. He vis­its the bishop and asks the bishop to im­pose on him the sta­tus of a pen­i­tent. He must ex­plain why he wants the sta­tus, and he has to ex­plain his faults. This was not a con­fes­sion; it was a con­di­tion of the sta­tus. Later, in the me­dieval pe­riod, ex­o­molo­ge­sis be­came a rit­ual which took place at the end of the pe­riod of penance just be­fore rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. This cer­e­mony placed him among the other Christians. Of this recog­ni­tion cer­e­mony, Tertullian says that wear­ing a hair shirt and ashes, wretchedly dressed, the sin­ner stands hum­bled be­fore the church. Then he pros­trates him­self and kisses the brethren’s knees (On Repentance 9 - 12). Exomologesis is not a ver­bal be­hav­ior but the dra­matic recog­ni­tion of one’s sta­tus as a pen­i­tent. Much later, in the Epistles of Jerome, there is a de­scrip­tion of the pen­i­tence of Fabiola, a Roman lady. During these days, Fabiola was in the ranks of pen­i­tents. People wept with her, lend­ing drama to her pub­lic chas­tise­ment.

Recognition also des­ig­nates the en­tire process that the pen­i­tent ex­pe­ri­ences in this sta­tus over the years. He is the ag­gre­gate of man­i­fested pen­i­ten­tial be­hav­ior, of self-pun­ish­ment as well as of self-rev­e­la­tion. The acts by which he pun­ishes him­self are in­dis­tin­guish­able from the acts by which he re­veals him­self. Self-punishment and the vol­un­tary ex­pres­sion of the self are bound to­gether. This link is ev­i­dent in many writ­ings. Cyprian, for ex­am­ple, talks of ex­hi­bi­tions of shame and mod­esty. Penance is not nom­i­nal but dra­matic.

To prove suf­fer­ing, to show shame, to make vis­i­ble hu­mil­ity and ex­hibit mod­esty - these are the main fea­tures of pun­ish­ment.
Penitence in early Christianity is a way of life acted out at all times by ac­cept­ing the oblig­a­tion to dis­close one­self. It must be vis­i­bly rep­re­sented and ac­com­pa­nied by oth­ers who rec­og­nize the rit­ual. This ap­proach en­dured un­til the fif­teenth and six­teenth cen­turies.

Tertullian uses the term pub­li­ca­tio sui to char­ac­ter­ize ex­o­molo­ge­sis. Publicatio sui is re­lated to Seneca’s daily self-ex­am­i­na­tion, which was, how­ever, com­pletely pri­vate. For Seneca, ex­o­molo­ge­sis or puli­ca­tio sui does­n’t im­ply ver­bal analy­sis of deeds or thoughts; it is only a so­matic and sym­bolic ex­pres­sion. What was pri­vate for the Stoics was pub­lic for the Christians.

What were its func­tions? First, this pub­li­ca­tion was a way to rub out sin and to re­store the pu­rity ac­quired by bap­tism.
Second, it was also to show a sin­ner as he is. That’s the para­dox at the heart of ex­o­molo­ge­sis; it rubs out the sin and yet re­veals the sin­ner. The greater part of the act of pen­i­tence was not telling the truth of sin but show­ing the true sin­ful be­ing of the sin­ner. It was not a way for the sin­ner to ex­plain his sins but a way to pre­sent him­self as a sin­ner.

Why should show­ing forth ef­face the sins? Exposé is the heart of ex­o­molo­ge­sis. In the Christianity of the first cen­turies, Christian au­thors had re­course to three mod­els to ex­plain the re­la­tion be­tween the para­dox of rub­bing out sins and dis­clos­ing one­self.

The first is the med­ical model: One must show one’s wounds in or­der to be cured. Another model, which was less fre­quent, was the tri­bunal model of judge­ment. One al­ways ap­peases one’s judge by con­fess­ing faults. The sin­ner plays dev­il’s ad­vo­cate, as will the devil on the Day of Judgement.

The most im­por­tant model used to ex­plain ex­o­molo­ge­sis was the model of death, of tor­ture, or of mar­tyr­dom. The the­o­ries and prac­tices of penance were elab­o­rated around the prob­lem of the man who prefers to die rather than to com­pro­mise or aban­don the faith. The way the mar­tyr faces death is the model for the pen­i­tent. For the re­lapsed to be rein­te­grated into the church, he must ex­pose him­self vol­un­tar­ily to rit­ual mar­tyr­dom. Penance is the af­fect of change, of rup­ture with self, past and world. It’s a way to show that you are able to re­nounce life and self, to show that you can face and ac­cept death. Penitence of sin does­n’t have as its tar­get the es­tab­lish­ing of an iden­tity but serves in­stead to mark the re­fusal of the self, the break­ing away from self: Ego non sum, ego. This for­mula is at the heart of pub­li­ca­tio sui. It rep­re­sents a break with one’s past iden­tity. These os­ten­ta­tious ges­tures have the func­tion of show­ing the truth of the state of be­ing the sin­ner. Self-revelation is at the same time self-de­struc­tion.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween Stoic and Christian tra­di­tions is that in the Stoic tra­di­tion ex­am­i­na­tion of the self, judge­ment, and dis­ci­pline show the way to self-knowl­edge by su­per­im­pos­ing truth about self through mem­ory, that is, by mem­o­riz­ing the rules. In ex­o­molo­ge­sis, the pen­i­tent su­per­im­poses truth about self by vi­o­lent rup­ture and dis­so­ci­a­tion. It is im­por­tant to em­pha­size that this ex­o­molo­ge­sis is not ver­bal. It is sym­bolic, rit­ual, and the­atri­cal.


During the fourth cen­tury we find a very dif­fer­ent tech­nol­ogy for the dis­clo­sure of the self, exagoreeu­sis, much less fa­mous than ex­o­molo­ge­sis but more im­por­tant. This one is rem­i­nis­cent of the ver­bal­iz­ing ex­er­cises in re­la­tion to a teacher/​mas­ter of the pa­gan philo­soph­i­cal schools. We can see the trans­fer of sev­eral Stoic tech­nolo­gies of the self to Christian spir­i­tual tech­niques.

At least one ex­am­ple of self-ex­am­i­na­tion, pro­posed by John Chrysostom, was ex­actly the same form and the same ad­min­is­tra­tive char­ac­ter as that de­scribed by Seneca in De Ira. In the morn­ing we must take ac­count of our ex­penses, and in the evening we must ask our­selves to ren­der ac­count of our con­duct of our­selves, to ex­am­ine what is to our ad­van­tage and what is prej­u­di­cial against us, with prayers in­stead of in­dis­crete words. That is ex­actly the Senecan style of self-ex­am­i­na­tion. It also im­por­tant to note that this self-ex­am­i­na­tion is rare in Christian lit­er­a­ture.

The well-de­vel­oped and elab­o­rated prac­tice of the self-ex­am­i­na­tion in monas­tic Christianity is dif­fer­ent from the Senecan self-ex­am­i­na­tion and very dif­fer­ent from the Chryssostom and from ex­o­molo­ge­sis. This new kind of prac­tice must be un­der­stood from the point of view of two prin­ci­ples of Christian spir­i­tu­al­ity : obe­di­ence and con­tem­pla­tion.

In Seneca, the re­la­tion­ship of the dis­ci­ple with the mas­ter was im­por­tant, but it was in­stru­men­tal and pro­fes­sional. It was founded on the ca­pac­ity of the mas­ter to lead the dis­ci­ple to a happy and au­tonomous life through good ad­vice. The re­la­tion­ship would end when the dis­ci­ple got ac­cess to that life.

For a long se­ries of rea­sons, obe­di­ence has a very dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter in monas­tic life. It dif­fers from the Greco-Roman type of re­la­tion to the mas­ter in the sense that obe­di­ence is­n’t based just upon a need for self-im­prove­ment but must bear on all as­pects of a monk’s life. There is no el­e­ment in the life of the of the monk which may es­cape from this fun­da­men­tal and per­ma­nent re­la­tion of to­tal obe­di­ence to the mas­ter. John Cassian re­peats an old prin­ci­ple from the ori­en­tal tra­di­tion: Everything the monk does with­out per­mis­sion of his mas­ter con­sti­tutes a theft.” Here obe­di­ence is com­plete con­trol of be­hav­ior by the mas­ter, not a fi­nal au­tonomous state. It is a sac­ri­fice of the self, of the sub­jec­t’s own will. This is the new tech­nol­ogy of the self.

The monk must have the per­mis­sion of his di­rec­tor to do any­thing, even die. Everything he does with­out per­mis­sion is steal­ing. There is not a sin­gle mo­ment when the monk can be au­tonomous. Even when he be­comes a di­rec­tor him­self, he must re­tain the spirit of obe­di­ence. He must keep the spirit of obe­di­ence as a per­ma­nent sac­ri­fice of the com­plete con­trol of be­hav­ior by the mas­ter. The self must con­sti­tute self through obe­di­ence.

The sec­ond fea­ture of monas­tic life is that con­tem­pla­tion is con­sid­ered the supreme good. It is the oblig­a­tion of the monk to turn his thoughts con­tin­u­ously to that point which is God and to make sure that his heart is pure enough to see God. The goal is per­ma­nent con­tem­pla­tion of God.

The tech­nol­ogy of the self, which de­vel­oped from obe­di­ence and con­tem­pla­tion in the monastery, pre­sents some pe­cu­liar char­ac­ter­is­tics. Cassian gives a rather clear ex­po­si­tion of this tech­nol­ogy of the self, a prin­ci­ple of self-ex­am­i­na­tion which he bor­rowed from the Syrian and Egyptian monas­tic tra­di­tions.

This tech­nol­ogy of self-ex­am­i­na­tion of Oriental ori­gins, dom­i­nated by obe­di­ence and con­tem­pla­tion, is much more con­cerned with the thought than with ac­tion. Seneca had placed his stress on ac­tion. With Cassian the ob­ject is not past ac­tions of the day; it’s the pre­sent thoughts. Since the monk must con­tin­u­ously turn his thoughts to­ward God, he must scru­ti­nize the ac­tual course of his thought. This scrutiny thus has as its ob­ject the per­ma­nent dis­crim­i­na­tion be­tween thoughts which lead to­ward God and those which don’t. This con­tin­ual con­cern with the pre­sent is dif­fer­ent from the Senecan mem­o­riza­tion of deeds and their cor­re­spon­dence with rules. It is what the Greeks re­ferred to with a pe­jo­ra­tive word: lo­gis­moi (“cogitations, rea­son­ing, cal­cu­lat­ing thought”).

There is an et­y­mol­ogy of lo­gis­moi in Cassian, but I don’t know if it’s sound co-ag­i­ta­tiones. The spirit is polukine­tos, perpetually mov­ing” (First Conference of Abbot Serenus 4). In Cassian, per­pet­ual mo­bil­ity of spirit is the spir­it’s weak­ness. It dis­tracts one from con­tem­pla­tion of God (First Conference of Abbot Nesterus 13)

The scrutiny of con­science con­sists of try­ing to im­mo­bi­lize con­scious­ness, to elim­i­nate move­ments of the spirit that di­vert one from God. That means that we have to ex­am­ine any thought which pre­sents it­self to con­scious­ness to see the re­la­tion be­tween act and thought, truth and re­al­ity, to see if there is any­thing in this thought which will move our spirit, pro­voke our de­sire, turn our spirit away from God. The scrutiny is based on the idea of a se­cret con­cu­pis­cence.

There are three ma­jor types of self-ex­am­i­na­tion: first, self-ex­am­i­na­tion with re­spect to thoughts in cor­re­spon­dence to re­al­ity (Cartesian); sec­ond, self-ex­am­i­na­tion with re­spect to the way our thoughts re­late to rules (Senecan), third, the ex­am­i­na­tion of self with re­spect to the re­la­tion be­tween the hid­den thought and an in­ner im­pu­rity. At this mo­ment be­gins the Christian hermeneu­tics of the self with its de­ci­pher­ing of in­ner thoughts. It im­plies that there is some­thing hid­den in our­selves and that we are al­ways in a self-il­lu­sion which hides the se­cret.

In or­der to make this kind of scrutiny, Cassian says we have to care for our­selves, to at­test our thoughts di­rectly. He gives three analo­gies. First is the anal­ogy of the mill (First Conference of Abbot Moses 18). Thoughts are like grains, and con­scious­ness is the mill store. It is our role as the miller to sort out amongst the grains those which are bad and those which can be ad­mit­ted to the mill store to give the good flour and good bread of our sal­va­tion.

Second, Cassian makes mil­i­tary analo­gies (First Conference of Abbot Serenus 5). He uses the anal­ogy of the of­fi­cer who or­ders the good sol­diers to march to the right, the bad to the left. We must act like of­fi­cers who di­vide sol­diers into two files, the good and the bad.

Third, he uses the anal­ogy of a money changer (First Conference of Abbot Moses 20 - 22). Conscience is the money changer of the self. It must ex­am­ine coins, their ef­figy, their metal, where they came from. It must weigh them to see if they have been ill used. As there is the im­age of the em­peror on money, so must the im­age of God be on our thoughts. We must ver­ify the qual­ity of the thought: This ef­figy of God, is it real? What is its de­gree of pu­rity? Is it mixed with de­sire or con­cu­pis­cence? Thus, we find the same im­age as in Seneca, but with a dif­fer­ent mean­ing.

Since we have as our role to be a per­ma­nent money changer of our­selves, how is it pos­si­ble to make this dis­crim­i­na­tion and rec­og­nize if a thought is of good qual­ity? How can this discrimination” ac­tively be done? There is only one way: to tell all thoughts to our di­rec­tor, to be obe­di­ent to our mas­ter in all things, to en­gage in the per­ma­nent ver­bal­iza­tion of all our thoughts. In Cassian, self-ex­am­i­na­tion is sub­or­di­nated to obe­di­ence and the per­ma­nent ver­bal­iza­tion of thoughts. Neither is true of Stoicism. By telling him­self not only his thoughts but also the small­est move­ments of con­scious­ness, his in­ten­tions, the monk stands in a hermeneu­tic re­la­tion not only to the mas­ter but to him­self. This ver­bal­iza­tion is the touch­stone or the money of thought.

Why is con­fes­sion able to as­sume this hermeneu­ti­cal role? How can we be the hermeneuts of our­selves in speak­ing and tran­scrib­ing all of our thoughts? Confession per­mits the mas­ter to know be­cause of his greater ex­pe­ri­ence and wis­dom and there­fore to give bet­ter ad­vice. Even if the mas­ter, in his role as a dis­crim­i­nat­ing power, does­n’t say any­thing, the fact that the thought has been ex­pressed will have an ef­fect of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Cassian gives an ex­am­ple of the monk who stole bread. At first he can’t tell. The dif­fer­ence be­tween good and evil thoughts is that evil thoughts can’t be ex­pressed with­out dif­fi­culty, for evil is hid­den and un-stated. Because evil thoughts can­not be ex­pressed with­out dif­fi­culty and shame, the cos­mo­log­i­cal dif­fer­ence be­tween light and dark, be­tween ver­bal­iza­tion and sin, se­crecy and si­lence, be­tween God and the devil, may not emerge. Then the monk pros­trates him­self and con­fesses. Only when he con­fesses ver­bally does the devil go out of him. The ver­bal ex­pres­sion is the cru­cial mo­ment (Second Conference of Abbot Moses II). Confession is a mark of truth. This idea of the per­ma­nent ver­bal is only an ideal. It is never com­pletely pos­si­ble. But the price of per­ma­nent ver­bal was to make every­thing that could­n’t be ex­pressed into a sin.

In con­clu­sion, in the Christianity of the first cen­turies, there are two main forms of dis­clos­ing self, of show­ing the truth about one­self. The first is ex­o­molo­ge­sis, or a dra­matic ex­pres­sion of the sit­u­a­tion of the pen­i­tent as sin­ner which makes man­i­fest his sta­tus as sin­ner. The sec­ond is what was called in the spir­i­tual lit­er­a­ture exagore­sis. This is an an­a­lyt­i­cal and con­tin­ual ver­bal­iza­tion of thoughts car­ried on in the re­la­tion of com­plete obe­di­ence to some­one else. This re­la­tion is mod­elled on the re­nun­ci­a­tion of one’s own will and of one’s own self.

There is a great dif­fer­ence be­tween ex­o­molo­ge­sis and exagoreusis; yet we have to un­der­score the fact that there is one im­por­tant el­e­ment in com­mon: You can­not dis­close with­out re­nounc­ing. Exomologesis had as its model mar­tyr­dom. In ex­o­molo­ge­sis, the sin­ner had to kill” him­self through as­cetic mac­er­a­tions. Whether through mar­tyr­dom or through obe­di­ence to a mas­ter, dis­clo­sure of self is the re­nun­ci­a­tion of one’s own self. In exagore­sis, on the other hand, you show that, in per­ma­nently obey­ing the mas­ter, you are re­nounc­ing your will and your­self. This prac­tice con­tin­ues from the be­gin­ning of Christianity to the sev­en­teenth cen­tury. The in­au­gu­ra­tion of penance in the in the thir­teenth cen­tury is an im­por­tant step in its rise.

This theme of self-re­nun­ci­a­tion is very im­por­tant. Throughout Christianity there is a cor­re­la­tion be­tween dis­clo­sure of the self, dra­matic or ver­bal­ized, and the re­nun­ci­a­tion of self. My hy­poth­e­sis from look­ing at these two tech­niques is that it’s the sec­ond one, ver­bal­iza­tion, which be­comes more im­por­tant. From the eigh­teenth cen­tury to the pre­sent, the tech­niques of ver­bal­iza­tion have been rein­serted in a dif­fer­ent con­text by the so called hu­man sci­ences in or­der to use them with­out re­nun­ci­a­tion of the self but to con­sti­tute, pos­i­tively, a new self. To use these tech­niques with­out re­nounc­ing one­self con­sti­tutes a de­ci­sive break.

This lec­ture was fol­lowed by an in­ter­view con­ducted by R. Martin on October 25th, 1982.