Morten Thaning (Copenhagen Business School): “Ungovernable: Reassessing Foucault’s ethics in light of Agamben’s Pauline conception of use”

Morten Thaning

Associate Professor of Philosophy, Department of Management, Politics, and Philosophy, Copenhagen Business School

Ungovernable: Reassessing Foucault’s Ethics in Light of Agamben’s Pauline Conception of Use

Tuesday, October 11, 5:00pm, MMC Library

In the final volume of his Homo Sacer series, The use of bodies, Agamben claims that for Foucault ethics never escapes the horizon of governmentality and therefore his conception of ethics is ‘strategic’. In light of this criticism, motivated by Agamben’s Pauline conception of ‘use’, we reassess the status and function of ethics in Foucault’s late lectures. We investigate how Foucault’s approach to ethics develops from his treatment of liberal governmentality and also how its methodological foundation is developed in an interpretation of truth-telling in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Our interpretation emphasizes the ambiguous status of ethics in Foucault’s late work: On the one hand, Agamben is right that Foucault assigns an irreducible strategic function to ethics thereby connecting it intrinsically to governmentality. On the other hand, Agamben overlooks how Foucault’s interpretation of Sophocles implies a conception of governmentality which emphasizes how ethical practices cannot be captured solely in strategic terms. Foucault’s ‘anarcheological’ approach thus articulates a dimension of ethics that remains, using Agamben’s own terms, ‘ungovernable’ and therefore also genuinely creative. Even so, Foucault’s approach to ethics remains in Agamben’s perspective on the deepest level faced with an antinomy that Agamben seeks to mediate with his Pauline conception of ‘inoperativity’.

The Workshop on the Philosophy of Religions is committed to maintaining itself as a fully accessible and inclusive workshop.  Please contact Workshop Coordinator Matthew Peterson ( in order to make any arrangements necessary to facilitate your participation in workshop events.