Did Foucault Do Ethics? The "Ethical Turn", Neoliberalism, and the Problem of Truth


This paper argues against a common misunderstanding of Foucault's work. Even after the release of his lectures at the Collège de France, which ran throughout the 1970s until his death in 1984, he is still often taken to have made an "ethical" turn toward the end of his life. As opposed to his genealogies of power published in the 1970s, which are relentlessly suspicious of claims of individual agency, his final monographs focus on the ethical self-formation of free individuals. I suggest that this basic misinterpretation makes possible interpretations of Foucault's work as being sympathetic to neoliberal government, by linking the ethical turn to a "liberal" or "neoliberal" turn in his thought. I present a case against the ethical turn by arguing that Foucault's main focus, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, is a concern for the ways in which we become obligated by truth.


Arts, Languages, and Philosophy

Keywords and Phrases

Veridiction; Governmentality; Biopolitics; Foucault; Ethics; Truth; Neoliberalism

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Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version


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Publication Date

01 Jan 2018