Friday, January 25, 2013

ethics and ethical subjects

In short, for an action to be “moral,” it must not be reducible to an act or a series of acts conforming to a rule, a law, or a value. Of course all moral action involves a relationship with the reality in which it is carried out, and a relationship with the self. The latter is not simply “self-awareness” but self-formation as an “ethical subject,” a process in which the individual delimits that part of himself that will form the object of his moral practice, defines his position relative to the precept he will follow, and decides on a certain mode of being that will serve as his moral goal. And this requires him to act upon himself, to monitor, test, improve, and transform himself. (Foucault, The Use of Pleasure, p. 28)

These lines crystallized the paper on faculty ethical responsibilities in the era of precariousness. I took the 4700 words I had yesterday, cut about 600, rearranged everything in the last 7 pages after inserting this quotation and some discussion of Foucault's ethics, wrote an additional 800 words, then cut 400 more. So, after 5 hours of work on this thing today, I've now got 4400 words. Sometimes it feels like I'm writing backwards.

Here's a weird thought: if Foucault were at all committed to Enlightenment notions of Reason, one could take this "ethical subject" stuff to mean something closely approximating Kohlberg's rational stage of moral development -- the one he found so little evidence anybody ever actually achieved. After all, Foucault is suggesting that ethics is a matter of deliberately, and in everyday practice, forming oneself as a certain kind of moral subject, and not rule-following.

(By the way, music cue: Queen, "I Want to Break Free.")

In the paper I argue that tenuous-track faculty can do, and do, exactly this, through the very active groups that form the nucleus of the contingent faculty movement in North America: COCAL and New Faculty Majority being two of the most prominent. I do not argue, but I think I could, that many or most tenure-track faculty typically do not engage in the work of ethics. This makes sense to me, because if your identity is in line with the prevailing regime of power, your identity is not problematic. By this, I think I mean something very insulting like white male professors aren't good candidates to be ethical faculty. And I'm okay with that, especially since I'm not a professor.

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