Constructing Foucault's ethics

A poststructuralist moral theory for the twenty-first century

By Mark Olssen

Constructing Foucault's ethics


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-5660-0
  • Pages: 360
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: June 2021
  • BIC Category: PHILOSOPHY / Movements / Post-Structuralism, Humanities / Social & political philosophy, PHILOSOPHY / Ethics & Moral Philosophy, Social Theory, Ethics & moral philosophy, Deconstructionism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Ethics & Moral Philosophy, PHILOSOPHY / Criticism


In popularizing the term 'speaking truth to power', now widely used throughout the world, Michel Foucault established the basis upon which a new ethics can be constructed. This is the thesis that Mark Olssen advances in Constructing Foucault's ethics. Olssen not only 'speaks truth' to existing moral and ethical theories that have dominated western philosophy since Plato, but also shows how, by using Foucault's insights, an alternative ethical and moral theory can be established that both avoids the pitfalls of postmodern relativism and simultaneously grounds ethical, moral, and political discourse for the present age.

Taking the late 'ethical turn' in the philosopher's thought as its starting point, this ambitious study seeks to construct an ethics beyond anything Foucault ever attempted while remaining consistent with his core postulates. In doing so it advances the concept of 'life continuance', which expresses a normative orientation to the future in terms of the quest for survival and well-being, giving rise to irreducible normative values as part of the discursive order of events. This approach is explored in contrast with a range of other, established systems, from the Kantian to the Marxist to contract ethics and utilitarianism.


'Fascinating... one of the best books on Foucault.'
Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh

'Mark Olssen's book is both sympathetic and adventurous. It remains true to Foucault's attitude and style but also moves beyond him to think about and explore what a set of foucauldian normative concepts might look like and how they might be made use of. This is very much the direction Foucault might have moved if he had lived longer. The book is a major contribution to foucauldian scholarship.'
Stephen J. Ball, Emeritus Professor of Sociology of Education, University College London

'This is a truly impressive and timely book that takes Foucault's work as a starting point to develop an ethics founded on a "continuance" of life. There are clear implications for our age, especially in understanding how we should think about climate change. The book emphasises that Foucault was not a relativist in any crude sense. It builds on Mark Olssen's previous work to make an important contribution.'
Hugh Lauder, Professor of Education and Political Economy, University of Bath


1 Foucault and normativity
2 Life and error: Foucault, Canguilhem, Jacob
3 Nietzsche's life philosophy: naturalism, will to power, normativity
4 Continuance ethics, objectivity, Kant
5 Foucault, Hegel, Marx
6 Hobbes, God, and modern social contract theory
7 A politics of pluralism
8 Democracy, education, global ethics
9 Ethical comportment


Mark Olssen is Emeritus Professor of Political Theory and Higher Education Policy in the Department of Politics at the University of Surrey

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