Volume 12, Issue 1/2, 2009
Art, Praxis, and Social Transformation
Kenneth W. Stikkers
The “Art of Living”
Aesthetics of Existence in Foucault and American Philosophy
In volumes two and three of The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault recovers an ancient ethical tradition of “aesthetics of existence,” or “art of living”—the “elaboration of one’s own life as a personal work of art”—centered on the notion of “care of the self.” This ethic invites one to think of one’s life as one’s primary
work of art, and hence is a matter strictly of personal choice and freedom, while the codified ethics characterizing Christianity and modernity are matters of universal obligation. The paper demonstrates 1) that the “art of living” has been a central theme in the American philosophical tradition at least since Thoreau, 2)
that many of the positive features of Foucault’s presentation of such an ethic are found throughout that tradition, and 3) that the American tradition, especially Dewey, resolved more successfully than Foucault some of the problems in aesthetics of existence.