Category Archives: phil 449

Polarity of Self – CONT’D

(CONT’D of : )

Indeed, I must get to the core of what it is that I mean by Intuitive Self.

Foucault alludes to the Greek and Roman’s shaping of the self by the self through philosophical precepts such as Epicureanism and Stoicism.

Now, I sense that today’s Ideal Self (that I’ve elaborated earlier) has grown into an equivalent for the Stoicism and Epicureanism of the time – except first; there isn’t a choice to be made (such as; which philosophies speaks to me the most), and second – the self ideal isn’t fortuitous for the human specie, in that it suppresses our nature and uses it to serve external purposes. Therefore, my argument comes in play, as perhaps optimistic – but questions how Stoicism and Epicureanism came to be in the first place.

Naturally, I must be seeing something in Foucault that does allude to the “Intuitive self,” and what eventually supported my intuition was on page p.136 of HS Vol.3: “… a sort of animalization […] that is, a subordination, as strict as possible, of the soul’s desire to the body’s needs…” Here Foucault aims at the precepts of Stoicism.

So perhaps there is a more accurate term for the “intuitive self” – at least one that doesn’t allude to the same light as the G & R one, because first: we aren’t Greek or Roman, second: we live in B.C. and third: 2000 years or so later. Along that line, there is an acceptance, a certain “facing of” that both F. and N. emphasize in regards to our current situation. They both support the idea that one, we can’t deny our history, nor what has happened, and where it has lead us. And two; everything that’s happen since the G & R isn’t all bad.

Thus, I clarify that the “Intuitive Self” could be, and is better contemporarily defined as a return to the individual. Indeed, Foucault’s ethics for instance, does not consists of a “Walden” adventure (Thoreau) – that is; we should not (nor can we) be independent from the cultural and social ideals inflicted upon the individual through discourses, but simply conscious of them. As he develops on page 142: “ He must address a discourse of Truth to himself.” These discourses of Truth I call Ideals, Nietzsche calls them Abstractions and Metaphors in “On Truth and Lies […]”.

Foucault elucidates how the mechanisms of power have learned to target our most vulnerable sensibilities with such discourses: Sex and morality are examples. And that’s all the more the case today; as the process of socialization occurs at an even earlier age. (Lacan’s Mirror stage)

As a consequence, the ideal self is intensified, and required to be held upon all the more. In this light, I sense that something is being hidden from us, and that could truly be: our intuitive nature. That is, I sense we are entering an age of consciousness in which we realize how far away we’ve been brought, or lead to believe, and a return to our nature is more than necessary, therefore all the more repressed by the authoritative agency. Occurrences of revolts against the ideal are such as the 60’s sexual liberation movement, or today’s mistrust in regards to governments with the whole Edward Snowden scenario.

So if Foucault claims that we are free insofar as there is the possibility of changing the power relations we find ourselves in; could it be that this possibility is this intuitive nature? By such I don’t mean that of animalistic nature, but rather of a human one; a “natural philosophy.”

The point is, Foucault goes on with his metaphor of the “night watchman” and stresses how we must constantly inspect what is, and what is of no value to me. This makes me think of Nietzsche’s “self-criticism” in the light of stripping ourselves down to our true self. So could it be, that without being normative, Foucault’s philosophy supports the qualities of the specie.

What those qualities might be: Subjectivity.

As for how Stoicism and Epicureanism came about? They did so through a single individual who, because what was available did not suffice his personal agenda, consequently had to rely on and trust his subjectivity. With time, certain philosophies became a collectively shared subjectivity; such as Stoicism and Epicureanism.

So without being explicit, could it be that Foucault asks for “a return to the individual.” Because as I’ve understood from N.’s GM – that’s what he seems to be targeting in his viewer, his or her individuality in the light of claiming it sovereign. Could that be the case in Foucault? A return to the individual, a need for a new philosophy, a new subjectivity – and a forsaking of the objective ideals?

The panopticon in modern society

For Foucault, the emergence of the prison system represents society’s transition into a more organized and effective power structure. Much of the reason for this is that the prison system emerged at the same time as other disciplines (the social sciences). These new disciplines gave a new understanding of social relations, which in turn, conditioned society to look at human affairs through the lens of these new fields of study. As a result personal thought/personal opinion became more repressive in the face of experts who began telling society what to think.

The genius of the panopticon as an image of the emerging prison system is the way in which it identifies everything of which Foucault is describing about the structure of power through the organization of bodies.  As described in Discipline and Punish, the modern prison system gave birth to the ‘modern soul’, which subsequently led to a new process of discipline embodied in the  ‘examination’ of the criminal. In my opinion (maybe Foucault’s as well) the purpose of this was to feed the social sciences which in turn operate as beacons of knowledge in society, beacons that not only inform the public but condition they’re perceptions. In the face of experts, people stop thinking for themselves: they are conditioned to believe that if they are not experts, then they should forgo they’re own reasoning on particular subjects because after all the experts know better. This works beautifully in forming docile bodies: people are no longer governed by themselves but by the disciplines that permeate society. Once this division is set up, the public begins to see the disciplines as not only beacons of knowledge, but of ‘truth’. Once this is instilled into the public, the division between normality and abnormality(not only psychological but also social(lized)) is created and power becomes hegemonic: powerful actors no longer have to convince the public of their views because it is done through social conditioning. People begin to pursue the disciplines and as a result conform to its order. The content of this ‘order’ is filled by a set of do’s and don’t(s)that individuals not only abide by but regulate within other citizens. This is how the panopticon manifests in modern society. The image (panopticon) captures a state of surveillance in which the inmates are always aware of being potentially watched and as a result conform to the order of the prison. As discussed by Foucault, as well as the class, the same can be said about society: institutions (hospitals, schools, factories, etc..) condition people to accept the attributed ‘mechanics of operation’ that come with them and as a result conform to that system. This means that the panopticon operates through people; people themselves become the panopticon because they operate as reinforcers of the status quo(as defined through the institutions). This means everybody is constantly being monitored and any deviation from the norm is likely to arouse suspicion.

Examples of Foucault’s Project of Problematization: the written and spoken word

(Although it was not assigned I ended up reading the final twelve pages of chapter two of Discipline and Punish, and thought it might be interesting/useful to make a blog post about some aspect of it as I found it very interesting).

I think that Foucault’s project of problematization becomes especially salient in his descriptions of how one or another method of communication, construed in the broadest sense of the term, can both be used to promote and undermine a given institution. One exemplary example which Foucault uses to illustrate the multiplicitous nature of methods of communication is the operation of the written or spoken word in promoting or undermining the penal system viz. the last words of the condemned or “gallows speeches”. At the moment of the execution, the condemned was given another opportunity to speak, not to proclaim his innocence but to acknowledge the crime and justice of his conviction. The victim was made to legitimate the torture he had undergone, consecrating his own punishment by proclaiming the heinousness of his crimes. Whether the speeches were actually delivered or merely fictional, (in many cases, Foucault suggests, the latter was likely), the speeches were circulated and served as exhortation against crime. Sometimes, accounts of crimes and the lives of infamous criminals were even published as propaganda before the advent of a trial, to “force the hand of a court that was expected of being too tolerant”. Just as the written and spoken word could help to enforce the penal system, however, these methods of communication could also help to harm it. The condemned man was sometimes transformed into a kind of hero by the sheer extent of his widely advertised crimes and subsequent repentance; if the condemned man was shown to be repentant, is was as if he had come through some process of purification. In addition, Foucault argues, the struggle of the condemned man against the law and the powerful titles associated with the latter was a struggle with which the common man could easily identify; it was viewed as a magnified version of the tiny struggles “that passed unperceived in everyday life” (67). In this way the criminal was almost entirely transformed into a positive hero. Thus, the written or spoken word justified justice but also glorified the criminal. Just to provide a present day example of the latter, one might mention the particular fascination which contemporary American culture seems to take in the lives and notorious deeds of serial killers and other notable criminals. Whether or not these criminals are portrayed in a positive or negative light, there seems to be a blatant fetishism of the condemned man which suggests that the common individual finds something in the latter to perhaps relate to. Notably, musical artist Sufjan Stevens wrote a song about John Wayne Gacy Junior, an especially publicized serial killer, in which I believe he tries to alleviate some of the confusion surrounding the sympathy and attention offered to such a criminal and which compliments Foucault’s genealogical analysis:

Subsequently, Foucault suggests, the literature of crime is a paradigmatic locus in which the multiplicitous natures of the written word can be seen to do battle through two pure minds belonging to the criminal and the detective. While the detective generally triumphs, crime literature also glorifies the criminal for his crime is portrayed much like a fine art that can only be the work of an exceptional nature; the criminal was wicked but also intelligent and subsequently powerful. One needn’t search very far for an example; the struggle between the genius detective Sherlock Holmes and his equally intelligent adversary, the criminal mastermind, Professor James Moriarty, has experienced a cultural resurgence in the past ten years with two movies and two separate television series.

Punishment as Redemption: Life and Death

I’m curious as to what other cultural elements allowed for this transformation of public executions to the more “humane” forms of punishment. For some reason, suggesting that Western societies were adopting more humane approaches to punishment just seems a little too general. What I find interesting is the notion of redemption through death, as illustrated with Damiens and various others killed by the state. The specific need for a designated role, the “confessors,” surely suggests that apart from the act of punishment, there is a secondary element of punishment that involves God, which comes in the form of a confession. When Damiens cries, “Pardon, Lord,” he somehow appeases the crowd and the executioners with his pleas. While the confessors are there to secure an apology for the state, there is a significant religious portion to the confession itself, hence the crucifixes and priests. So, as the state has already committed to the criminal’s execution, they also have a secondary commitment to unite the criminal with God before they perish. In this sense, redemption comes through death. A perfect example would be Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony where the victim’s crime is inscribed in their body for numerous hours, and right before they die they have a chance to read what their offence was, which allows them to fully conceptualize what their death signifies. Again, redemption through death. We still witness small remnants of these old procedures with the death penalty when inmates are given a prayer and encouraged to confess their sins to both God and the witnesses.

Modern forms of punishment are directed in the here and now: corrective measures by rehabilitating the soul. Redemption does not come with death, but comes with a long sentence isolated from society with the hopes of one day reacquainting themselves with the community. In other words, redemption comes with time. With all this said, why did this transformation occur? A change in values is not really an adequate answer. I’m almost inclined to think that this transformation is linked to the withering away of religious authority as a centralized sovereign power. It would be wrong to suggest that the Enlightenment was just a period of religious critiques–a notion many scholars subscribe to. However, in the case of the transformation of punishment, there is a striking parallel between the disintegration of religious authority and new forms of punishment. The most significant change, however, would seem to be the reappraisal of redemption as a means of restorative peace. Why? 

Foucault’s Chapter “The Body of the Condemned” : Going-in and Getting-out

This chapter is a great read. The way Foucault illustrates the “subsidiary authorities” is what really stands out for me. Foucault illuminates these figures, or machines as such, as extensions of the all powerful judges, whose fate the criminal is normally under. However, as Foucault states:

“Small-scale legal systems and parallel judges have multiplied around the principal judgement: psychiatric or psychological experts, magistrates concerned with the implementation of sentences, educationalists, members of the prison service, all fragment the legal power to punish” (p. 21).

This is very true when examining the criminal justice system and the various degrees of criminal assessments. However, what I found interesting was how this is the “going-in” process. There remains to be a “going-through” and “getting-out” process when understanding legal authority. Im speaking here of parol boards, CO’s, parole officers, probation officers, etc, etc. The “going-through” process has its structure in place, which Foucault brings up with the Panopticon and its instruments. The “getting-out” process, however, is the most difficult of all. Hence, high-rates of recidivism. Yet, at this stage the blame is always directed towards the individual and not the subsidiary judges. If a prisoner violates his or her parole with a positive drug test, breach of curfew, or breach of all the other numerous limitations that are imposed on the parolee, they are immediately reprimanded by one of the most dangerous subsidiary judges of the criminal justice system: the parole officer.

The parole officer makes weekly, sometimes daily, write ups on their new “client,” detailing their behaviour, progress, failures, or degree of motivation in the parolee’s new life on the outside. So much power is in the parole officer’s hands that one phone call and the parolee is arrested, brought up on new charges, and since they are recent parolees, they are essentially left without any form of representation to plead their case as is done in formal courts. This can turn a petty sentence into “hard time.” The stigma of the criminal is their worst nightmare when trying to make it on the outside. This element, I believe, is greatly overlooked, yet falls in the same apparatus Foucault articulates. When I say overlooked I do not necessarily mean by Foucault, for I believe he illustrates these elements quite well (at least well enough for me to make the connection, which by definition reserves all similar functions); I am simply trying to illuminate the differences and hardships between “going-in” and “getting-out.”

Nietzsche and Phenemenology: Egological vs. Non-Egological

I have never heard Nietzsche mentioned in the context of phenomenology but he says several things in The Genealogy of Morality which seem to be relevant to the phenomenological debate concerning egological versus non-egological conceptions of the self in support of the latter position. To provide some background for anyone who has never encountered the aforementioned concepts, phenomenology, broadly, is the study of the structures of consciousness from the first person perspective. Phenomenologists who support an egological view of the self posit the existence of an ego or an “I” that stands behind or pervades all of conscious experience to account for the unity/continuity of our conscious experiences. Phenomenologists who support a non-egological view of the self, by contrast, suppose the positing of a pervasive ego or “I” to be unnecessary; conscious experiences, they claim, are self-unifying and the ego or “I” only appears reflectively . Subsequently, Nietzsche famously claims that “there is no being behind the doing, effecting, becoming; the doer is simply fabricated into the doing -the doing is everything”. Nietzsche seems to reject the introduction of a pervasive “I”, thus I wonder if, from a phenomenological perspective, he could not be said to be supporting a non-egological account of the self. He says several things in the first section of the preface which also seem to support this idea. He compares conscious experience, for instance, to the toll of a bell which we only hear after the final stroke has fallen; only after the experience has already occurred can the “I” appear in reflection and take possession of the latter, deciding what it was or what it meant: “[like a] self-absorbed person onto whose ear the bell has just boomed its twelve strokes of noon suddenly awakens and wonders “what did it actually toll just now?” so we rub our ears afterwards and ask, completely amazed, completely disconcerted, “what did we actually experience just now?” still more: “who are we actually?” and count up, afterwards, as stated, all twelve quavering bell strokes of our experience, of our life, of our being- alas! and miscount in the process…” In addition, Nietzsche, like proponents of the non-egological perspective, leaves room for the potential of misinterpretation and/or alienation from one’s experiences which can arise in reflection; we remain “unknown to ourselves, we knowers…strangers to ourselves, we do not understand ourselves”. 

What do you think? Would Nietzsche support a non-egological view of consciousness?

The Sovereign Individual in Popular Culture: One Piece and Monkey D. Luffy, the Pirate King

Time for some fun.

There was some discussion in class in the previous week concerning whether or not we thought that Nietzsche’s sovereign individual, as ideal, could ever be realized. I cannot recall whether the class came to any consensus on the matter but the debate led me to ponder whether I could actually think of anyone in my list of family members, friends, and more distant acquaintances who I thought embodied this ideal; alas, I could think of no one. I could, however, think of plenty of fictional characters who I would bestow with this label. One of my primary interests in philosophy is examining new mediums in which philosophy might find or has already found expression; not everyone has the patience or the ability to read through a dry analytic philosophical text to extract those few precious and salient points. Subsequently, I suspect that Nietzsche, who uses a wide variety of rhetorical devices to persuade his audience of his position, would be sympathetic to this interest; as David Owen says, “as a philosophical writer, Nietzsche does not limit his reflective engagement with morality to the provision of good arguments but extends this engagement to considerations of how best to exhibit and mobilize the force of the reasons he offers”. Consequently, I think Nietzsche would be quite pleased to find that the ideal of the sovereign individual, whether he is realizable or not, has become pertinent in popular culture, at least in one particular medium. At the risk to revealing too much about myself I will tell you that the medium I have in mind is animation and the fictional character is a boy named Monkey D. Luffy.

Luffy is the protagonist in a series called One Piece by Eiichiro Oda which is both a comic and an animated television program; Luffy’s ambition is to be the King of the Pirates. Duly, I would be extremely surprised if no one in my seminar had heard of him. With seventy-two volumes and over six hundred episodes, One Piece has been going strong for fifteen years. Hundreds of thousands of people engage with One Piece, many of them children who emulate the characters, especially Luffy upon who the spotlight is generally fixed. Significantly, Luffy, as far as I can tell, is a perfect fictional embodiment of the sovereign individual, which, as I hope most people realize in this day and age, unless they are in the habit of underestimating popular culture, is no small thing

 What makes Luffy a sovereign individual? To start with, Luffy is depicted as a wholly autonomous character, even as a young child. Flashbacks in the series reveal that Luffy and his brothers, Ace and Sabo, grew up among a group of retired mountain bandits, the head of which is their foster mother, Dadan; Dadan is merely a figurehead, however. The boys neither listen to her nor live under the same roof as her; they live on their own in a giant treefort which they built in the forest on the outskirts of town, gathering their own food for survival, and stealing money from local criminals which they are saving to buy a pirate ship.

Besides asserting his financial and comestible autonomy, Luffy also asserts his ambition to become the King of the Pirates despite his grandfather Garp’s threats and relentless insistence that it is imperative for Luffy to join the Marines. Consequently, Luffy goes on to pursue his own ambitions, gathering a ship, a crew, and going on extraordinary adventures.

Like Nietzsche’s sovereign individual, Luffy places a significant amount of importance on his freedom. In one instance, for example, Luffy’s mentor, Silvers Rayleigh, asks him why he wants to be the pirate king; Luffy tells him that “I don’t want to conquer anything; it’s just that the person with the most freedom on the sea is the pirate king”.  Above all else, Luffy values and desires freedom, a sentiment which is expressed in his ultimate ambition to become the pirate king.

In addition, although never explicitly stated, it is no stretch to say that Luffy, like Nietzsche’s sovereign individual has a “proud consciousness of power and freedom.” Luffy lives his life in the manner that he desires without regret indicative of his awareness of his freedom. He frequently proclaims that in setting himself upon becoming that King of the Pirates, he does not care if he dies trying: “if I die trying then at least I tried!” In addition, Luffy overcomes nearly every enemy he intends to defeat. Notably, one of his favourite catch phrases is “I’m going to kick your ass,” and when Luffy asserts this, the audience can be assured that he will do just that. Consequently, in only a short amount of time, Luffy becomes one of the most wanted pirates on the seas owing to the immense havoc that his abilities create. Among the enemies who Luffy takes down are included a group of elite government agents who threatened his crew and two of the seven warlords of the seas, very powerful pirates associated with the government. Despite his wanted status, however, Luffy is utterly fearless and when not confronting an enemy, more or less carefree suggesting that he is also aware of his strength.

Like the sovereign individual, Luffy is not bound by moral rules as customary constraints but as the freely endorsed commitments through which he gives expression in his own character. While the world government and the Marines often call pirates “bad” and “evil” these customary classifications have no import for Luffy. While on Fishman Island, for instance, the mermaid princess Shirahoshi asks Luffy if being a pirate makes him a bad person: “Luffy, since you’re a pirate, does that make you a bad person?” Luffy merely responds by saying “Dunno. Decide that for yourself”. Later on in the story arc, the citizens of Fishman Island, confused as to where the allegiances of the Luffy and his crew lie pose a similar question; they ask “are you friends or foes of Fishman Island?” Luffy simply responds by telling them “whether we’re friend or foe is up to you to decide”. For Luffy, actions speak louder than words or rather, the doing is the being, and it is through his actions that he defines himself and creates his own moral values, suggesting that other people do the same.

In another incident, Luffy encounters a powerful enemy on the sky island, Skypiea, named Eneru who insists that he is a God. Eneru wantonly causes destruction, however, leading Luffy to scoff, “quit calling yourself a God! What kind of God destroys everything and saves nothing?” Although Eneru insists that he is a God, Luffy argues that his actions attest otherwise; it is actions for Luffy which have real import, not words.


Finally, Luffy, like the sovereign individual, is a man who keeps his promises: “one’s deeds are criterial of one’s intentions thus for the sovereign individual it is essential to a promise’s being made in good faith that the agent intend to act on it and that he does indeed do so”. Luffy makes several important promises in the series. One of the promises that he makes is a promise to save his brother, Ace, from execution after Ace was captured by the World Government. Consequently, Luffy goes to extraordinary lengths to keep this promise, breaking into the allegedly impenetrable prison, Impel Down, and engaging in a dangerous war at the Navy base, Marineford; in both of these incidents, Luffy comes very close to dying. Luffy does not save his brother, however, his actions, according to Owen’s criteria, are excusable. Owen admits two excuses for a promise being broken; in the first case, honouring one’s commitment is causally impossible due to circumstances beyond one’s control hence one cannot physically do what is required. In the second case, keeping a promise is normatively impossible due to circumstances beyond one’s control so one must not ethically do what is required. The circumstances that lead up to Ace’s death are causally out of Luffy’s control, thus, he is excused viz the first case. Luffy intended to keep his promise but despite his best efforts, it was simply impossible. Ace is killed by an Akainu, a navy Admiral who overpowers him.

Furthermore, like Nietzsche’s sovereign individual, Luffy, in failing to keep a promise, “acknowledges a debt to addressee of [his] commitment and that reparations be due”. When Luffy made a promise to save his brother Ace, he made a promise both to his brother and to himself. Luffy could not repay Ace for his failure so instead inflicts physical and emotional punishment on himself as reparation. Luffy “willingly bears [the] responsibility for[the] damage when his commitment could not be kept”. In addition, he makes a further promise to himself that he will “protect everything”. Owen mentions that what counts as keeping a promise for a sovereign individual “cannot be fully specified in advance and independently of a particular way of keeping it” and indeed, the specifications of Luffy’s promise are vague and only realized later in the series.  Regardless, it is clear that actions, for Luffy, have ethical purchase and salience.


In contrast, the enemies who Luffy faces are often deceitful, dishonest, and do not keep their promises. As Owen states, “the sovereign individual, as the positive role of Nietzsche’s contrast refers to the condition of self-mastery or full competence to represent oneself to the rest of the world. At the negative pole…is the liar who breaks his words the moment he utters it”.  The fishman pirate Arlong, for example, promised Luffy’s navigator, Nami, that he would let her friends and family go free if she collected 100 000 000 berries, which are the currency used in Luffy’s world. Arlong, while insisting that “fishmen always keep their promises when it comes to money” pays a corrupt marine captain, Nezumi, to confiscate all of the money Nami had been saving. Arlong is too powerful for Nami or any of the other Straw Hat pirates to beat so Luffy comes to the rescue and demands reparation from Arlong.


Consequently, there is a sense in which Luffy’s position as Captain of the Straw Hat Pirates could be said to be symbolic of his characterization as a sovereign individual. As Nietzsche says, the sovereign individual has the “the prerogative to promise..[which is the] privilege of responsibility”. Luffy, as Captain, has sworn to protect the all the other members of his crew, a responsibility which he alone has the privilege to bear.

In conclusion, whether Nietzsche’s ideal of the sovereign individual is realizable is questionable, however, it seems clear to the ideal is alive and well in popular culture which I think says something important about the ideal itself. Namely, that it is an ideal, not just for Nietzsche, but for many people, of many different ages, in many different countries. The demographics for One Piece attest to this; Monkey D. Luffy is a likeable protagonist, inspiring people to define themselves through their actions and re-evaluate their moral values. What are good and bad? “I dunno, you decide”.

Perhaps the immense presence of the sovereign individual in popular culture means that it is an ideal that can be realized in the future or one that has already been realized. What do you think? Can you think of any other fictional characters or real people who embody Nietzsche’s ideal of the sovereign individual?