25. Foucault's Ontology and Epistemology of Ethics

  1. Christopher Falzon2,
  2. Timothy O'Leary3 and
  3. Jana Sawicki4
  1. James D. Faubion

Published Online: 5 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781118324905.ch25

A Companion to Foucault

A Companion to Foucault

How to Cite

Faubion, J. D. (2013) Foucault's Ontology and Epistemology of Ethics, in A Companion to Foucault (eds C. Falzon, T. O'Leary and J. Sawicki), John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781118324905.ch25

Editor Information

  1. 2

    University of Newcastle, Australia

  2. 3

    University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

  3. 4

    Williams College, USA

Author Information

  1. Department of Anthropology, Rice University, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 FEB 2013
  2. Published Print: 12 MAR 2013

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9781444334067

Online ISBN: 9781118324905



  • epistemology;
  • ethics;
  • Foucault;
  • ontology;
  • philosophy


Foucault characterizes ethics as “the reflexive practice of freedom”. He does not have the ambitions of the usual moral philosopher. Foucault develops a robust conceptual apparatus appropriate to the ethical domain, but he does not seek an exhaustive stipulation of its invariant features. Instead, he explores and elucidates the problematics of the reflexive practice of freedom that genealogically connect an extended family of ethical systems. His exploration is increasingly confined within the boundaries of what the author identifies as an analytical triangle that connects self-care, the governance of others, and parrhesia. The triangle coalesces first in the third volume of The History of Sexuality and specifically in Foucault's treatment of gnothi seauton – the Pythian imperative to “know thyself.” It is the most effective frame through which to assess both the content and the limits of what with qualification can be cast as Foucault's ontology and epistemology of ethics.