I teach philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London. As well as contributing to a number of undergraduate courses, I am available to supervise graduate students who want to work on topics connected to my research interests. I also teach a MA course, 'Cultivation of Self', that can be taken as part of the Royal Holloway MA programme.
Cultivation of the Self
In the late twentieth century, Anglophone and Francophone philosophy witnessed parallel trends in ethics, both drawing on aspects of ancient philosophy, focused on self-cultivation. The idea that ethics ought to be about the cultivation of a certain character rather than individual moral acts is now a well-established theme in both traditions. In the Anglophone context, ‘virtue ethics’ turned to Aristotle for inspiration, while in France Foucault’s ‘care of the self’ drew on Hellenistic and Greco-Roman practices. This course will examine both of these traditions, exploring common ground and differences, as well as criticisms that have been levelled against both.
Weeks 1-4 will focus on the Anglophone tradition. Perceived problems with modern moral philosophy (1. Anscombe) led to a return to Aristotle in search of an alternative model focused on virtue (2. MacIntyre). This led to the rise of what is now known as ‘virtue ethics’ (3. Foot). In more recent years the debate has moved forwards, paying greater attention to the eudaimonistic context in which ancient discussions of virtue took place (4. Russell).
Weeks 5-10 will examine the Francophone tradition, where the motivations were quite different, inspired on the one hand by trying to grasp the existential features of ancient philosophy (5. Hadot) and on the other by trying to comprehend the development of modern conceptions of the subject (6. Foucault). In this tradition much attention has been paid to specific techniques and practices drawn from Greco-Roman philosophy (7-8. Foucault). There has also been critical discussion of the motivations for engaging in this ‘aesthetics of existence’ (9. Hadot), as well as attempts to defend it as part of a positive political strategy (10. Foucault).
Core Reading (* = most important)
*Crisp, R., and Slote, M., eds, Virtue Ethics (Oxford, 1997)
Foucault, M., The Care of the Self (Penguin, 1988)
*Foucault, M., Ethics, Essential Works 1 (Penguin, 1997)
*Hadot, P., Philosophy as a Way of Life (Blackwell, 1995)
MacIntyre, A., After Virtue (Duckworth, 1981)
Nussbuam, M., The Therapy of Desire (Princeton, 1994)
Russell, D., Happiness for Humans (Oxford, 2013)
Anscombe, ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ (in Crisp & Slote); further reading: Williams, ‘Morality, the Peculiar Institution’ (in ibid.)
MacIntyre, ‘The Nature of the Virtues’ (in Crisp & Slote, from After Virtue); further reading: the rest of After Virtue
Foot, ‘Virtues and Vices’ (in Crisp & Slote); further reading: Louden, ‘On Some Vices of Virtue Ethics’ (in ibid.)
Russell, ‘Virtue and Happiness’ (in Happiness for Humans, Oxf. Schol. Online); further reading: the rest of Happiness for Humans
Hadot, ‘Spiritual Exercises’ (in Philosophy as a Way of Life); further reading: Hadot, ‘Philosophy as a Way of Life’ (in ibid.)
Foucault, ‘On the Genealogy of Ethics’ (in Ethics); further reading: ‘The Cultivation of the Self’, in The Care of the Self
Foucault, ‘Technologies of the Self’ (in Ethics)
Foucault, ‘Self Writing’ (in Ethics)
Hadot, ‘Reflections on the Idea of the Cultivation of the Self’ (in Philosophy as a Way of Life); further reading: Nussbaum, ‘Introduction’, in The Therapy of Desire
Foucault, ‘The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom’ (in Ethics)