The concept problematization refers to a methodological approach employed by Michael Foucault in his studies. Problematization simply refers to the process of establishing how and why a certain phenomenon, behavior, or processes became a problem in society. It also aims to probe how various solutions employed to solve a particular problem have been developed and how these particular solutions are another form of a problem by critically conducting a historical analysis and active engagement of what Foucault refers to a game of truths (Barnett, 2015: p.1). Problematization is a historiographical commitment that was undertaken by Foucault genealogical study of Greek sexuality (Nilson, 2016). The genealogical expedition carried out by Foucault aimed to provide a historical analysis of ethical formation processes of the self among the Greeks based on their sexual conduct. In an attempt to understand the evolution of societal morals and construction of ethics that governs the self, Foucault sees ancient Greece as the society that offers a blueprint towards discovering factors underlying ethical formation processes as he pursues what he calls history of the truth. When Foucault was being interviewed by Rabinow, he points out that the problematization methodology had placed him in a vantage point for him to see clearly ethical formation processes as he was working on The History of Sexuality Volume 2 study (Michel, 1991: p.342). Therefore, the thrust of this paper is to critically analyze the relationship between problematization and ethical self-formation and the second portion of the paper will seek to justify that moral action must make reference to processes of ethical self-formation. The arguments of this paper will be mainly anchored on the History of Sexuality Volume 2 by Foucault.
Problematization and Ethical Self-Formation
Close interaction with Foucault’s arguments
Close interaction with Foucault’s arguments as pointed out in the History of Sexuality Volume 2, one is likely to establish a relationship between problematization and ethical self-formation. Information of the self, Foucault argues that technologies employed here offer a path towards the creation of a new ethical subject rather than freeing a latent subject (Colin, 2013: p.529). Utilization of Foucault’s ideas information of ethics of self-formation has come to be known as the Foucault’s ethical formation. In the assessment of the existing relationship between problematization and ethics of self-formation, the arguments in this paper are going to be arranged on the basis of the four notions considered by Foucault in explaining self-formation ethics which are Aphrodisia, Chresis, Self-mastery, and Freedom and truth (Michel, 1987: p.10).
Aphrodisia refers to the activities that aim to elicit pleasure. This notion argues that one is likely to understand what constitutes ethical conduct within sexual conduct (Michel, 1987: p.11). Foucault holds the Greeks viewed sexual activities aimed at eliciting pleasure were based on a unity of desire-act-pleasure which as intended by nature (Michel, 1991: p343). This natural unity was used as an object of moral reflection. It is on this moral reflection now Foucault calls for the employment of problematization approach. This was the first step towards the ethical self-formation process. As an individual starts to reflect on his morals a thinking process is automatically triggered. The self is then required to detach itself from the emotion that is causing trouble. The emotion is established as an object and then reflected on as a problem. Foucault holds that in this first step of ethical formation of the self, after problematization of the identified object, for the behaviour or action to enter into the thinking process the self has to create numerous factors that will make the object uncertain, make it lose its importance or its familiarization. The reason being, the created factors will evoke difficulties around it.
Ethical conduct of the Greeks
For instance, the Greeks were concerned more about their ethical conduct than anything else. They always sought to develop an aesthetic ethics framework for individuals who were considered elites of the society (Michel, 1991: p 341) who feared to be disposed of their energy (Michel, 1991: p 346) which could make them unable to fulfill their roles to the city, companions, and the entire society. Upon moral reflection, they could identify an impediment which will be objectified and then problematized. As a case in point, some individuals developed health problems due to excessive sexual activities. These individuals were considered to have developed a bad reputation and were referred to as hubris (Michel, 1991: p 349). After problematization which was as a form of ethical diagnosis, they were diagnosed with the inability to control their sexual desires. As Foucault argues that the self can be moulded into a new subject artistically, these individuals were required to create their new self by forming new ethics. Therefore, in his work, Foucault clearly demonstrates that there is a relationship between problematization and ethics of self-formation in the first step.
b) Use or “Chresis”
This is Foucault’s second notion which is portrayed as well as the second step in the process of ethical formation of the self. According to Foucault, this notion enables an individual to perceive the subjection mode, the process that one had to endure in order to be able to control his pleasures. This is the second phase in the formation of desired ethics. At this juncture, from Foucault’s perspective, the individual had to undertake a particular ethical work to transform the self. Throughout his work, Foucault argues that we should not just embrace what is predetermined by nature, we should perceive ourselves as art projects or artwork which can be moulded as we wish if we have to be true to ourselves (Arnold, 1986: p.226).
The main goal according to Foucault is to achieve the desired ethical goal. For example, after realizing the problem is the inability to control sexual pleasures or desires, the higher goal of the individual here while undertaking the ethical work is to develop the ability to regulate desires. Foucault sees this ethical goal to be in two ways. One, the individual has to understand its purposes which he calls telos, and two, aesthetics of existence which means appreciation of beauty and nature. Telos or purpose establishes the process or the ethical work than an individual needs to endure to create a new ethical subject. Telos locates this process through engagement in what Foucault refers to the game of truth in relation to specific problematizations that had been identified in step one. The aesthetics of existence, on the other hand, are critical as they invite ethical subjects in focusing on the process of creating the desired ethical self in a stylized and reinstated engagement with the activities that had been problematized (Arnold, 1986: p.227).
Basing this stage on our example. Individuals who wished to renounce their unwanted ethical conduct has to undergo some form of therapy. They had to stare at a beautiful girl or boy without desiring. This process is what Foucault refers to ethical work that will eventually transform the individual. The problematized activity here is the inability to control sexual desires which have to be stabilized to ascertain that one has transformed ethically.
This third notion can be equated to the third step in the ethical self-formation process. According to Foucault, self-mastery critical in enabling an individual to understand the objective of the ethical work being undertaken. He further argues that this should be carried out with uttermost respect to oneself if the individual has the desire to transform into an ethical subject. The self-mastery notion refers to active engagement in the process of acquiring the self-mastery skill. Foucault argues that this is a prerequisite in the neutralization of the ethical behaviour that the self wants to get rid of. This is simply oneself ethical formation process that is undertaken by oneself with the required sheer will. Foucault further argues that one will become a master of himself and an ethical subject by developing a combative attitude towards unethical conduct hence portraying ethical conduct as a power battle (Colin, 2013: p.532). Individual domination to self leads to the subjection of pleasures. Foucault uses the analogy of domestic and civic life to describe the relationship between domination and submission. He holds that self-mastery is governing yourself domestically the same way you could govern a city (Colin, 2013: p.533)
In relation to our example, in this step, the individual who wished to dominate his pleasures had to endure the processes of staring at an attractive boy or girl without desiring until he was sure that he had dominated his pleasures. This required self-determination, the individual had to do it for himself with respect and self-motivation.
d) Freedom and Truth
Also termed as moderation by Foucault, freedom and truth is the last stage in the ethical self-formation process. In this stage, the individual is now viewed as an ethical subject. This state is acquired through relentless exercises and by restraining from pleasure activities. Foucault argues that this stage is characterized by freedom and truth, the ultimate goal that signifies that one has truly undergone an ethical transformation. The kind of freedom referred by Foucault is freedom from one’s passions and power over the self and others. This was an acknowledged way of becoming a man with self-respect among the Greeks. Foucault argues that inability to control pleasures was a sign of weakness that was being demonstrated by females hence leading to their submission (Michel, 1989: p.304)
Lastly, based on our example, after staring sessions to a beautiful girl or boy without desiring and one was sure to have acquired the self-mastery skill it marked the end of sessions and a realization of the ethical transformation process.
This entire process of ethical transformation process has been with ethical transformation process among the Christians. For instance, in Christianity, an individual has to confess and adhere to interdictions imposed on him just like the sexual austerity among the Greeks. Therefore, Foucault sums it all up that we are not given the self, we create it artistically. However, Foucault’s ideas in ethical self-formation appear to create some tension in the two paths associated with ethical work processes. Telos simply identifies an already idealized process for the formation of the ethical self while the aesthetics of existence puts emphasis on coming up with something new. This appears to provoke some confusions (Arnold, 2005: p.142).
Accounts of Moral Action Must Make Reference to Ethical Formation Processes
Morality simply refers to a set of rules and values that guides the action of an individual. These rules and values are recommended to us by the social system or set forth to us through explicit instruction. They are diffused with the aim of achieving uniformity in the social system. Morality also refers to the behaviour of the self in relation to ethical formation processes. Individuals are assessed by the manner in which they comply or fail to comply with the prescribed rules and values in society (Nilson, 2016).
Foucault was able to determine the morality of the Greeks by doing a historical analysis of their ethical formation processes. Similarly, for us to establish whether the action is moral or immoral we have to make references to ethical formation processes. For instance, Foucault holds that a philosopher who became sexually attracted to a boy but did not touch the boy (Michel, 1991: p.353) his action termed moral and lauded. The action of the philosopher was judged on his ethical formation processes. Foucault established that philosophers were known to undertake sexual austerity measures so as to lead a beautiful life and to be intense in their daily activities (Michel, 1991: p.349) which were part of the telos hence making it easy to justify the action.
Secondly, there is no uniformity in self-ethical formation processes. Individuals may transform ethically at any given time to what he/she desires. For instance, pagans and Christians do not undergo similar ethical formation processes hence what will be termed a moral action amongst pagans maybe termed amoral amongst Christians. Therefore, to avoid any kind of ambiguity that results from universalism it is important to make a reference of a moral action to the ethical formation processes of that particular individual (Michel, 1987: p.41).
Thirdly, we are able to understand the people around us better. Ethical formation processes show us the motives behind a particular action. For example, in Foucault’s study, he established that philosophers restrained from sex for more intensity in life and appreciation of beauty (Michel, 1991: p349) compared to the king of Cyprus who refrained from multiple sexual relationships to as a way of helping him fulfil his duties as a leader. Having a better understanding of individuals and their actions will help in avoiding conflicts that arise out of social relations.
Lastly, referencing moral actions to ethical formation processes will help us solve ethical problems in society. For instance, for use to transform ethically have to be aware of what we need to change first by problematizing it. The self-reflection, critical thinking, and problematization will be possible when our moral actions are counter checked with our ethical formation processes before deciding on how will design our self-mastery intervention since the ethics of esthetics existence require that create new ethical transformation processes (Mark, 2013: p.518).
There is a relationship between problematization and ethical self-formation processes. The entire processes of ethical transformation depend on problematization. A self-reflection has to be made which is followed by intensive critical thinking in the identification of the object to be problematized before ethical work commences. Foucault argues that ethical transformation is an individual journey which requires one to have self-discipline and respect. The entire processes of transformation undergo four stages which are; aphrodisia, chresis, self-mastery, and freedom and truth. The ultimate goal of this process is to emancipate an individual from being a slave of his passions. Also, it is important for us to reference moral actions with ethical formation processes because by doing so we are able to understand ourselves and the people around us better hence promoting our social relations.
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