Volume 4, Issue 2, Fall 2015
The Care of the Self in Early Modern Philosophy and Science
Spinoza as an Exemplar of Foucault’s Spirituality and Technologies of the Self
Practices of the self are prominent in Spinoza, both in the Ethics and On the Emendation of the Intellect. The same can be said of Descartes, e.g., his Discourse on the Method. What, if anything, distinguishes their practices of the self? Michel Foucault’s concept of “spirituality” isolates how Spinoza’s practices are relatively unusual in the early modern era. Spirituality, as defined by Foucault in The Hermeneutics of the Subject, requires changes in the ethical subject before one can begin philosophizing, and claims to result in a complete transfiguration or perfection of the subject. Both these characteristics are present in Spinoza’s Emendation while both are lacking in Descartes’ Discourse. Turning to the Ethics’ practices of the self, I show how affects can be moderated through other affects, and that this text establishes a thorough training of the self which will strengthen one’s overall power well into the future. My treatment of the Ethics differs in emphasis from many other readings which focus on reason’s power over affects, or on cognitive therapy which moderates individual affects to lessen current sadness. In both works, Spinoza’s practices of the self promise significant changes to those who undergo them.