Philosophy & Social Criticism Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes, Foucault and the right to die
Thomas F. Tierney Philosophy Social Criticism 2006; 32; 601 DOI: 10.1177/0191453706064899 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Thomas F. Tierney

Suicidal thoughts
Hobbes, Foucault and the right to die

Abstract Liberal articulations of the right to die generally focus on balancing individual rights against state interests, but this approach does not take full advantage of the disruptive potential of this contested right. This article develops an alternative to the liberal approach to the right to die by engaging the seemingly discordant philosophical perspectives of Michel Foucault and Thomas Hobbes. Despite Foucault’s objections, a rapprochement between these perspectives is established by focusing on their shared emphasis on the role that death plays in the order of modernity. After the article has established the complementarity of Foucault and Hobbes, Hobbes’ unique stance toward suicide is first viewed in the context of the early-modern hostility toward suicide, and then contrasted with Foucault’s Stoic-inspired affirmation of suicide. This comparison of these two philosophers’ positions on suicide opens to contestation dimensions of modern subjects that remain undisturbed by liberal approaches to the right to die. Key words bio-power · Michel Foucault · governmentality · Thomas Hobbes · liberalism · right to die · self-preservation · Seneca · Stoicism · suicide

[N]ecessity of nature maketh men to will and desire bonum sibi, that which is good for themselves, and to avoid that which is hurtful; but most of all, the terrible enemy of nature, death, from whom we expect both the loss of all power, and also the greatest of bodily pains in the losing; it is not against reason, that a man doth all he can to preserve his own body and limbs both from death and pain. (Hobbes, 1640[1839]: 83) [I]f you take proper care of yourself, that is, if you know ontologically what you are, if you know what you are capable of . . . if you know what things you should and should not fear, if you know what you can reasonably hope for and on the other hand what things should not matter to you, if you

PHILOSOPHY & SOCIAL CRITICISM • vol 32 no 5 • pp. 601–638
Copyright © 2006 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi) DOI: 10.1177/0191453706064899


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602 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5)
know, finally, that you should not be afraid of death – if you know all this, you cannot abuse your power over others. Thus there is no danger. (Foucault, 1984[1997a]: 288)

Of the many bio-ethical dilemmas that have appeared on the moral horizon of medically advanced cultures over the last three decades, one of the most visible and divisive issues is the recently asserted ‘right to die’.1 This right usually appears in public discourse in the form of physician-assisted suicide (PAS) and/or the related practice of euthanasia, but also includes the less controversial right to refuse life-saving treatment. While the right to refuse medically necessary treatment has been widely accepted for decades, the right to hasten one’s death with the help of a physician, either through assisted suicide or euthanasia, was contested in the legislative and judicial forums of many nations during the last decade of the 20th century. Australia, Canada, Columbia, England, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Sweden and the United States all dealt with attempts to legalize PAS and/or euthanasia during the 1990s. Although none of these nations legalized either form of life-terminating act, the Northern Territory of Australia authorized both PAS and euthanasia in 1996, but the Australian Senate quickly overturned the policy in 1997.2 In the United States, the citizens of Oregon legalized PAS in 1994 through the ballot initiative known as the Death with Dignity Act, and in 1996 defeated a repeal measure; the law went into effect in 1997, making Oregon the only American state in which assisted suicide is legal. Holland has, of course, been the center of attention in discussions of PAS and euthanasia. Since 1973 the Dutch allowed, and gradually formalized, an exception to the national prohibitions against killing and assisted suicide, and in 2001 the Netherlands became the first nation to legalize both PAS and euthanasia when it passed the Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide (Review Procedures) Act.3 The next year Belgium followed the Dutch example, in part, and legalized euthanasia but not PAS (Watson, 2001: 1024). Recently, Switzerland has become Europe’s center for ‘suicide tourism’ due to a unique provision of its 1942 law against assisted suicide, which allows anyone to assist in a suicide for altruistic reasons (Hurst and Mauron, 2003: 271–3). Clearly, the right to die will continue to be a hotly contested topic of public discourse in the near future. Since the right to die usually appears in a juridical context in liberal democratic cultures, involving legislatures and/or courts, the issue is normally addressed as a question of balancing the right of individuals to end their lives in a manner of their own choosing, against the state’s interest in preserving life. For instance, in 1997 the US Supreme Court

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. Thomas Scanlon and Judith Jarvis Thompson – filed an amicus curaie brief in these cases. and link this work with his earlier analysis of the birth of modern medicine. This balancing act between the rights of individuals and the interests of the state may indeed be required by the liberal juridical paradigm. . 2008 . and argue that not only is Leviathan compatible with Foucault’s perspective on the nature of modern power. In developing this genealogical approach I will. and unanimously upheld the state prohibitions of assisted suicide.. however. The Dream Team predictably argued that ‘[a] person’s interest in following his own convictions at the end of life is so central a part of the more general right to make “intimate and personal choices” for himself that a failure to protect that particular interest [from state interference] would undermine the general right altogether’ (Dworkin et al. but the combination of these two perspectives reveals crucial facets of the modern subject that are implicated in the assertion Downloaded from http://psc.sagepub. 730). In order to cultivate some of the disruptive and hopeful possibilities that the newly asserted right to die presents within this particular configuration of power.S. unsurprisingly. course lectures and interviews from the second half of the 1970s.” . and also published their ‘Philosophers’ Brief’ in The New York Review of Books. After discussing the role that death plays in Foucault’s analysis of modernity I will turn. but it misses the opportunity this bio-ethical issue presents both for revealing the way in which medical power and legal power are bound together in a particular relationship to death in modernity. even for those who are near death’ (521 U. to the political theory of Thomas Hobbes. My primary aim in this section will be to emphasize how a crucial inversion in the status of death occurred both in the exercise of power and the development of medicine in modernity.603 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault heard two cases in which state prohibitions against assisted suicide were challenged by a group of physicians and terminally ill patients. but rather on the changing nature of the subject that can assert such a right. In the majority opinion Chief Justice Rehnquist emphasized that states have an ‘“unqualified interest in the preservation of human life. 1997: 27) – Ronald Dworkin.4 Six prominent liberal philosophers whom Michael Sandel dubbed the ‘Dream Team’ (Sandel. rely to a great degree on Michel Foucault’s perspective on the unique nature of modern forms of power. 1997: 44). Thomas Nagel. I will offer an alternative perspective to liberalism that focuses not on the question of whether this contested right should be sanctioned by the law. and for fostering reconsideration of the role that this juridico-medical power plays in shaping and ordering the identities of modern individuals. In the first section of this article I will examine the conception of power that Foucault articulated in his publications. perhaps more surprisingly. 728. The court ultimately rejected that at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. John Rawls. Robert Nozick.

silenced and marginalized that which did not fit within the order that was established through its exercise. Therefore. before I can engage their perspectives I will have to answer Foucault’s objections to taking Hobbes’ political theory seriously. and relied heavily on militaristic images of war.sagepub. 1997: xv–xvi). In Discipline and Punish (1975[1979]). Death. Foucault at first adopted a Nietzschean stance that saw power relations as a struggle among competing forces. and were ‘fragments of research. Foucault had already begun to reconsider this Nietzschean conception of power by the time Discipline and Punish was published. Downloaded from http://psc. he announced in his 1975–6 course at the Collège de France that his previous investigations ‘never added up to a coherent body of work’.and late-modern thinkers. This combination may be surprising because. I will examine Hobbes’ prescient position on suicide in the context of the 17th-century suicide debate. as Paul Rabinow recently remarked. Foucault argued that disciplinary techniques do not simply repress criminality. and in particular. the right to die should no longer appear simply as a matter of balance between the individual and the state. we must hear the distant roar of battle’ (1979: 308). and then contrast Hobbes’ stance toward suicide with Foucault’s admittedly extreme position. After establishing this rapprochement between these early. Looking back on this body of work. In this earlier work he primarily treated power as a repressive force that excluded. His dissatisfaction with the earlier work turned on his recognition of the inadequacy of the implicit conception of power that informed his important analyses of those disciplines that rendered human being into an object of knowledge. the effect and instrument of complex power relations. 2008 . none of which was completed. To move beyond this limited understanding of power. and none of which was followed through’ (2003: 3. bodies and forces subjected by multiple mechanisms of “incarceration”. ‘Foucault never seriously entertained a view of the individual as bearer of natural rights’ (Rabinow. he was explicitly and emphatically dismissive of Hobbes’ natural rights theory. and concluded the book with the following image: ‘In this central and centralized humanity. but rather produce dangerous individuals. for instance.604 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) of the right to at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. such as the delinquent. but should instead raise unsettling questions about the very nature of modern subjects. objects for discourses that are in themselves elements for this strategy. however. From the Hobbesian/Foucauldian perspective developed here. and 1980c: 78). medicine and bio-power In the mid-1970s Foucault underwent something of a crisis regarding his earlier publications.

both because. productive form of power that does not so much restrict or limit dangerous activity. . 2008 . Death could be inflicted directly on subjects only as a punishment for injuries or threats to the sovereign. Foucault clearly moved beyond the repressive and militaristic conceptions of power. . But in that period between the Renaissance and the 19th century. and presented it as the culmination of a gradual reversal of the traditional form of power that had been exercised by medieval sovereigns. ‘one of the characteristic privileges of sovereign power was the right to decide life and death’ (1980a: 135). and multiply it.’ claimed Foucault.605 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault and in his courses from 1975 through 1979 he struggled to develop a conception of power adequate to the task of understanding the ways in which lives have been ordered in modernity. as promote or facilitate socially valuable behavior. that endeavors to administer. In describing the historical emergence of bio-power Foucault focused on the relation between death and power. ‘For a long at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. it is still insufficiently elaborated – I would even go so far as to say that it is not elaborated at all – and also because I think that the twin notions of ‘repression’ and ‘war’ have to be considerably modified and ultimately. death could be directly or indirectly inflicted by the state only to the extent Downloaded from http://psc. subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations. perhaps. and could be inflicted indirectly when the sovereign compelled subjects to risk their lives in his defense. but works instead through the dissemination of standards and norms derived from the study of populations by the ‘human sciences’ and other surveillance techniques. Now. now presents itself as the counterpart of a power that exerts a positive influence on life. and 1980c: 92) With the introduction of the concept of bio-power in the first volume of The History of Sexuality (1976[1980a]). . (1980a: 136–7) With the emergence of this positive. or develop its life. a ‘very profound transformation of these mechanisms of power’ has occurred: This death that was based on the right of the sovereign is now manifested as simply the reverse of the right of the social body to ensure. optimize. .5 As he remarked in his 1975–6 course: It is obvious that everything I have said to you in previous years is inscribed within the struggle-repression schema. which he called the ‘Classical Age’. maintain. non-repressive form of power. . I was eventually forced to reconsider it. By biopower he was referring to a positive. . . in many respects. the sovereign’s seemingly absolute right to kill subjects took a ‘considerably diminished form’ as liberal political theory established limits on the exercise of sovereign power. But this formidable power of death . . Since the classical age. as I tried to apply it. (2003: 17.sagepub. however. abandoned. This positive form of power does not operate primarily through laws or interdictions issued by sovereign authority.

Foucault attributed the birth of this ‘anatomico-clinical gaze’ to Marie-François-Xavier Bichat. work. (1996b: 197) And while The Birth of the Clinic has been accurately characterized as the ‘most neglected of Foucault’s works’ (Jones and Porter. Around the turn of the century. Open up a few corpses: you will dissipate at once the darkness that observation alone could not dissipate. offer you a succession of incoherent phenomena. who posed the following challenge to his fellow physicians: . and all is confusion for you in the symptoms which.606 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) that it promoted the life and interests of the social body. you have taken notes at patients’ bedsides on affections of the heart. criminology.sagepub. Foucault revealed in The Birth of the Clinic that the normalizing power of modern medicine also developed out of a fundamental reorientation in the relationship between medical knowledge and death. and Armstrong. especially. also 12. on the subject of sexuality. refusing to yield up their meaning. sociology. medicine. the ‘great break in the history of Western medicine’ occurred as physicians directed their gaze at that ‘great dark threat in which [the doctor’s] knowledge and skill were abolished’ – death (1973a: 146). Foucault claimed. which is the major form of power. in schools. in The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (1963[1973a]). crime. (quoted in Foucault. Although Foucault’s only sustained treatment of medicine was published very early in his career. Power was no longer manifested primarily through the sporadic. Its effects can be seen everywhere: in the family. For just as bio-power emerged out of a transformation in the relationship between power and death. in courts of law. A sort of juridico-medical complex is presently being constituted. . in factories. the ‘knowledge of life was based on the essence of living’ and ‘an immemorial slope as old as men’s fear turned the eyes of doctors towards the elimination of disease. 2008 . rather than those of the sovereign or state. towards cure. it makes it work. he was nevertheless keenly aware of the role that medicine played in the network of power relations that he uncovered in the late 1970s. it plugs into it. 1973a: 146) Downloaded from http://psc. however. 1994: 31. and the gastric viscera.6 this early examination of medicine fits quite well with his later claims about bio-power. psychiatry and. Prior to the 19th century. As he put it in a 1976 interview: Medical power is at the heart of the society of at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. 1997: 19–20). . Medicine has taken on a general social function: it infiltrates law. for twenty years. towards life’ (1973a: 145–6). ceremonial imposition of death. from morning to night. the lungs. education. but was instead exercised in a more constant manner through the shaping of the minds and bodies of individuals by the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in disciplines like psychology.

and noted that the former could continue after the expiration of the latter. and that of death. skeletal and organ systems. Pathological anatomy revealed that death. Bichat also discovered that death itself was not an event that occurred at a single point in time. But Bichat’s primary interest was in studying how disease affected these constitutive tissues and spread throughout the body by way of them. but instead ‘has a teeming presence that analysis may divide into time and space’. 1973a: 141). respectively). and identifying 21 different tissues that constitute the structure of the body. In this work he not only distinguished ‘organic’ and ‘animal’ life (i. 1968: 21–2). death was no longer something beyond life and medicine – the great dark Other – but was instead ‘turned for the first time into a technical instrument that provides a grasp on the truth of life and the nature of its illness. and lungs (Ackerknecht. brain.607 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault Dissections had. begins well before the complete death of the organism. been carried out in splendid fashion during the Renaissance. Death [became] the great analyst that shows the connexions by unfolding them. on the one hand. he called for a pathological anatomy that traced the course of disease throughout the dead body. 1968: 21–3). minuscule. revealing features of human anatomy that had been obscured by the lasting influence of classical Galenic medical theory. 1973a: 142). nervous. or the process of mortification. as celebrated anatomists like Vesalius and Fallopius performed in lavish public anatomy theaters. their signs intersected in indecipherable disorder’ (Foucault. Bichat himself contributed to structural anatomy by breaking these various systems and organs down into even more basic components. partial deaths continue to dissociate the islets of life that still subsist’ (Foucault. rather. of course. 2008 . Bichat responded to this epistemological problem by subjecting the process of death to an even more focused gaze in his Recherches physiologiques sur la vie et la mort (1800). and Downloaded from http://psc. ‘If the traces of the disease happened to bite into the corpse. but he also identified three different sites from which death could begin: the heart. on the other. muscular.sagepub. which was ‘the first large scale experimental. This novel conception of death as something temporally and spatially divisible initially caused serious epistemological problems for medicine. But what Bichat was proposing at the turn of the 19th century was something altogether different than a structural anatomy that mapped the venal.e. With this anatomical illumination of the mortification process.’ Foucault at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. ‘then no evidence could distinguish absolutely between what belonged to it and what to death. physiological examination of death’ (Ackerknecht. due to the confusion it introduced between the spatio-temporal course of disease. providing ‘the concrete forms of its unity’ (Foucault. and ‘long after the death of the individual. vegetative and conscious life. 1973a: 128). In following the course of disease throughout the body.

medicine and death is some indication of Downloaded from http://psc.sagepub. and for centuries had been linked to a ‘metaphysic of evil’ (Foucault. . death is endlessly repeated. ‘the word decomposition must be allowed to stagger under the weight of its meaning’ (Foucault. however. Foucault also recognized that the anatomical illumination of death provided an epistemological model for all those sciences that objectify ‘man’. positive medicine marked. what seems to be missing from Foucault’s account of this shifting relationship between power. Foucault emphasized that modern medicine. As he put it. . but instead became a positively known phenomenon. ‘[S]een in relation to death. 2008 . yet reassuring face of his finitude. . disease had been seen as something exterior and threatening to life. that its first scientific discourse concerning the individual had to pass through this stage of death. . . Hence. in it. in himself and by himself. After the pathological-anatomical gaze was directed through the corpse. 1973a: 196). Western man could constitute himself in his own eyes as an object of science. he grasped himself within his language. Like death. and gave himself.608 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) bursts open the wonders of genesis in the rigour of decomposition: and’. full form of his finitude. Once death was dissected. it also speaks to him of that technical world that is the armed. This is because medicine offers modern man the obstinate. and cannot possibly embrace death. the beginning of that fundamental relation that binds modern man to his original finitude. Foucault insisted. only in the opening created by his own at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. (1973a: 197. the nature of disease also underwent a significant transformation. ‘disease becomes exhaustively legible. . On the contrary. the fundamental place of medicine in the overall architecture of the human sciences. positive. disease was no longer approached as the negation of health. was grounded precisely in a positive relation to death: It will no doubt remain a decisive fact about our culture. 1973a: 144). medicine assumed a crucial role in the exercise of this new form of power by turning toward death to establish a foundation for the human sciences that underlie bio-power. but it is also exorcized.7 However. also 144) And beyond grounding the medical gaze. a discursive existence.’ Foucault noted. open without remainder to the sovereign dissection of language and of the gaze’ (1973a: 196). (1973a: 197–8) So as sovereign power turned away from the threat of death and the scaffold in the early-modern period and gave way to a positive form of power that administered life. and although it ceaselessly reminds man of the limit that he bears within him. at the empirical level. unlike its predecessors. Foucault’s account of the origins of modern medicine stands in stark contrast to those in the medical community and elsewhere who today respond to the assertion of the right to die by claiming that medicine is concerned solely with the preservation of life.

Along with these important changes in medicine and sovereignty that Foucault identified as occurring around the turn of the 19th century. 1962: 299–311). there was also an earlier preparatory transformation in the modern subject’s stance toward death. existential experience of death in Being and Time: ‘It is in that perception of death that the individual finds himself. In fact. liberalism never questioned the essential principle of the ‘juridical-political code’ of the king. he did mention certain paths that he would investigate more fully later in his at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. Foucault’s dismissal of Hobbes One might expect that early-modern political theory would play an important role in Foucault’s account of the emergence of bio-power. However. but already visible approach of death. the experience of individuality in modern culture is bound up with that of death’ (1973a: 197). For instance. Indeed. Foucault was also acutely. but this occurred in a realm that Foucault was reluctant to consider either early or late in his career – the domain of classical liberal political theory. the dull. he concluded The Birth of the Clinic by proclaiming that ‘[g]enerally speaking. as well as the objectification. escaping from a monotonous.sagepub. of human subjects. emphasis added. 2008 . in the slow. by Downloaded from http://psc. and also mentioned in passing several artistic and literary manifestations of that 19th-century voice that spoke ‘obstinately of death’ (1973a: 171). Foucault intimated that the opening of the discursive space of the corpse powerfully influenced the subjectivization.8 Without developing any of these themes. average life. Beyond the objectification of human being. he linked death with eroticism and noted the contemporaneity of Bichat and Sade. aware of the role that the anatomical understanding of death played in the constitution of the self-consciousness of modern individuals. But it would certainly be a mistake to limit what he has to say about death in The Birth of the Clinic to an archaeological treatment of discursive practices. Heidegger. since liberalism helped limit the scope of the sovereign’s power by shifting the foundation of power from the monarch to the subjects. Although Foucault did not explore the subjective dimensions of this black border in The Birth of the Clinic. a black border isolates it and gives it the style of its own truth’ (1973a: 171. common life becomes an individuality at last. 88). which held ‘that power always had to be exercised in the form of law’ (1980a: 86. halfsubterranean. if elliptically. cf.609 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault the individual’s subjective experience of death. he offered in this early text a description of the modern relation between death and self-consciousness that sounded very much like Heidegger’s description of an authentic. Furthermore.

on the other. It was in this context that Foucault declared: What Hobbes calls the war of every man against every man is no sense a real historical war. and to assess the risk that he himself would run if he resorted to force. and of the use to which the Norman Conquest was being put by other 17th-century English theorists. and 1980d: 18) Foucault was certainly correct in excluding Hobbes from the line of thought he was examining in this course. some insight into his difficulty with him is provided by the published class lectures and résumés from the mid. it was his claims about the warlike state of nature that led Foucault to declare Hobbes a false paternity. and 1980d: 18). in particular (2003: 98. liberalism masked the ways in which the subject was shaped and incited to act through the wide variety of non-legal disciplines. Although Foucault never offered any sustained criticism of Hobbes. 110–11). for alternative translations. Consequently. on the contrary. ‘Must we follow Hobbes in seeing it as the transfer to the prince of the natural right possessed by every individual to defend his life even if this meant the death of others?’ (1980a: 135). On Foucault’s reading. rights-bearing subject. 2008 . the first law of Downloaded from http://psc. is established not by the fact of warlike domination but. in his discussion of the classical sovereign’s mitigated power of life and death in The History of Sexuality. Foucault was most bothered not by Hobbes’ classic articulation of the juridical. For Hobbes. (2003: 270. . rather. when Foucault was trying to articulate a conception of power that went beyond both the traditional terms of the juridical subject. institutions and techniques that constitute bio-power.9 In his attempt to develop a conception of power adequate to modernity. as well as the Nietzschean alternative that he had embraced. all of whom evoked passionate memories of specific historical conflicts and sought to rejoin those ancient struggles as the foundation of their political thought (2003: 267–2). but he was emphatically dismissive of Hobbes. 1997c: 63. Foucault generally ignored the dominant figures of 17th-century liberalism. 1975–6: ‘We must begin by ruling out certain false paternities. for Hobbes. see 1997c: 63.sagepub. on the one hand. Coke.610 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) focusing primarily on the juridical relation between individual bearers of rights. cf. it is nonwar that founds the State and gives it its at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. In his 1975–6 course Foucault was tracing the lineage of the militaristic conception of power through figures like late 1970s. and the state. Boulainvilliers and Du Buat-Nancay. also 92. but a play of presentations that allows every man to evaluate the threat that every man represents to him. . Sovereignty . Foucault asked. In fact. Especially Hobbes’ (2003: 270. And he answered that question in the résumé of the course he offered at the Collège de France in the winter of the same year. Hobbes was an adversary of such ‘political historicism’ in general. as one might expect. by a calculation that makes it possible to avoid war. to evaluate the willingness of others to fight.

and follow it’ (Hobbes. Hobbes was at best a classical theorist of sovereignty who was on the way toward governmentality. it remained at the stage of the formulation of general principles of public law. . For one of the insights provided by Foucault’s reconceptualization of power was that ‘rather than asking ideal subjects what part of themselves or their powers they have surrendered in order to let themselves become subjects. we have to look at how relations of subjugation can manufacture subjects’ (2003: 265. Even though Foucault explicitly emphasized that this process of subjugation would be ‘precisely the opposite of what Hobbes was trying to do in Leviathan’ (2003: 28. . to reconcile itself with the theory of sovereignty by attempting to derive the ruling principles of an art of government from a renewed version of the theory of sovereignty – and this is where those seventeenth-century jurists come into the picture who formalize or ritualize the theory of the contract. with its reflection on the relationship between ruler and subjects. . But although contract theory. Here the context was not an investigation of the origins of the militaristic conception of power. 1997c: 59. However.611 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault nature was ‘to seek Peace.sagepub. cf. but our primary concern is not ‘to discover how a multiplicity of individuals Downloaded from http://psc. 1980c: 97–8). Foucault found Hobbes to be of little value and discouraged any serious consideration of his role in laying the foundation of modern forms of power. two years later. I will argue that the Hobbesian subject is perfectly suited. and 1980d: 15). I think Foucault overlooked certain dimensions of Hobbes’ thought that not only illuminate the relation between death and power in modernity. cf. and was at worst an opponent of the warlike conception of power that was developed by other early-modern theorists. played a very important role in theories of public at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. in practice. in 1978. as is evidenced by the case of Hobbes (even though what Hobbes was aiming to discover was the ruling principles of an art of government). therefore. in this instance he was somewhat more generous and nuanced in his explanation of Hobbes’ limited relevance for understanding governmentality: This art of government tried. for the exercise of bio-power in a system of governmentality. (1991: 98) From Foucault’s perspective. 1962: 104). if not a prerequisite. but rather an examination of the larger historical shift from sovereignty to governmentality. but also complement Foucault’s own analysis of this relationship in interesting ways. In order to reveal Hobbes’ crucial contribution to the juridico-medical complex of modernity we must look rather closely at Leviathan (1651). In either context. Although this is the same context as the conclusion of the first volume of The History of Sexuality. However. Foucault once again took up Hobbes in the well-known lecture ‘Governmentality’. where Foucault first dismissed Hobbes. my admittedly presumptuous claim is that Hobbes is most illuminating precisely in regard to this manufacturing of subjects. so to speak. 2008 . Indeed.

While I agree with Foucault’s observation that the founding of the Hobbesian state was actually a choice to avoid war. how strong or wise soever he be. 103). In his famous description of life in this state. individuals were constantly at risk of losing their lives in a violent confrontation due to two fundamental features of the Hobbesian subject – its natural right to do whatever it thought would promote its life (1962: 103). no individual in this state had such an advantage that it could hope to intimidate another into forfeiting its natural right to anything it desired. ‘every man. but prematurely as well. 1980c: 97–8). Rather. of living out the time. So in Hobbes’ state of nature people not only died violently. as well as its vanity – that Hobbes concluded the state of nature was a state of war. also 100. and that it did so in a temporal context. which is what Foucault found to be the import of Leviathan (2003: 29. Hobbes said it is ‘solitary. primarily vanity. we will follow Foucault’s advice to cut off the head of the king more closely than he himself did (1980b: 121). Bio-power and the Hobbesian subject In Hobbes’ well-known state of nature. and this natural competition was intensified by the passions. In other words. to use Hobbes’ term. poor. What I would like to stress about Hobbes’ state of nature. 2008 . 1980c: 98).612 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) and wills can be shaped into a single will or even a single body that is supposedly animated by a soul known as sovereignty’. against every man’ (1962: 101.sagepub. It is because of the interplay of these features of the subject – its natural right and equality. Consequently.10 Because of their natural parity. cf.11 and turned into a life-and-death struggle. I think he passed a little too quickly over Hobbes’ account of the transition from the state of nature to civil society. and the rough mental and physical equality that existed among subjects in this state of nature (1962: 98–9). however. cf. and at another point in the text he said that in the state of natural equality ‘there can be no security to any man. when individuals in this state came to desire a common object they became competitors. the bodies that are constituted as subjects by power-effects’ (2003: 29. and short’ (1962: 100. brutish. For Hobbes claimed that the possibility of Downloaded from http://psc. nasty. and read Leviathan in terms of subjects rather than sovereigns. One of the problems or ‘incommodities’ of the state of nature. which nature ordinarily alloweth men to live’ (1962: 103). is not simply its constant threat of violence. emphasis added). but rather the fact that this violence very poignantly raised the issue of human at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. was that the lives of people in that state tended to be of short duration. our concern is to trace in Hobbes’ political thought the inscription of such rights in the ‘multiple peripheral bodies.

. . by which a man is forbidden to do that. which is destructive of his life. This distinction becomes clear when one compares Hobbes’ corporeal conception of self-preservation with Cicero’s description of the Stoic doctrine of self-love: [S]ince love of self is implanted by nature in all men. . these passions and reason were imbued with a sense of mortality. partly in his reason’ (1962: 102). lex naturalis. And very often it is appropriate for the Wise Man to abandon life at a moment when he is enjoying supreme happiness. a law of nature was not just an obligation or limitation that humans naturally recognize. if an opportunity offers for making a timely exit. while the Stoics were concerned with preserving something other than the body.613 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault leaving the natural state of war was grounded ‘partly in the [subject’s] passions. and like the state of nature. . . Hobbes offered a generic definition of such laws which was surprisingly specific: A LAW OF NATURE. one was forbidden to omit doing. In his discussion of the laws of nature. when he possesses or sees in prospect a majority of the contrary things. corporeal existence. for Hobbes there was never a good reason to abandon one’s life. it was rather a limitation on the fundamental right to do what one thought would best preserve one’s life. is a matter of seizing the right moment.) Downloaded from http://psc. which means life in harmony with nature. For the Stoic view is that happiness. it is appropriate for him to depart from life. (1967: III. 279–81) For the Stoics. (1962: 103) In general. or as Hobbes put it. is a precept or general rule. For Hobbes. the primary objective of this law of nature was to preserve physical. . that which one thought would best preserve or prolong one’s life. According to the very idea of natural law one could not reasonably exercise this right in a manner that would actually lead to one’s death. Reason helped lead out of the state of nature by revealing to the subject natural laws which acted as limitations on the exercise of the natural right to do and take whatever one wanted. and furthermore one must do. the law of self-preservation or self-love did not preclude the possibility of sacrificing one’s life in order to preserve one’s virtue or tranquility. In comparison with its Stoic predecessor. When a man’s circumstances contain a preponderance of things in accordance with nature. found out by reason. it is appropriate for him to remain alive. by which he thinketh it may be best preserved. 60–1. So that Wisdom her very self upon occasion bids the Wise Man to leave her. 2008 . both the foolish and the wise alike will choose what is in accordance with nature and reject the contrary. or taketh away the means of preserving the same. (I will discuss this Stoic willingness to choose death over life in more detail later in this article. but as we will see.sagepub. Hobbes’ conception of the natural law of self-preservation was uniquely modern. and to omit at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. therefore.

could cause individuals to ignore the dictates of reason and put their lives at risk. .614 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) Given Hobbes’ corporeal conception of the law of nature. it became terrifyingly aware of the implications of such struggles. bellicose individuals so often ascribed to Hobbes. the depiction of the potential for violence in nature indicates that there was certainly much more to the Hobbesian subject than reason alone. but rather the dynamic relationship between the rational pursuit of self-preservation and the more mundane. and not the aggressive.12 For once the Hobbesian subject engaged in and survived the life-and-death struggle that erupted out of material competition. such as vanity. For after civil society succeeded. but I want to emphasize that the more moderate and persistent fear of a premature death was crucial in supporting ‘the foresight of their own preservation’ that Hobbes identified as ‘[t]he final cause. these subjects could be counted onto quickly.sagepub. tepid fear of a premature death. Leo Strauss’ gloss on the fear of death in Hobbes’ theory is instructive here: ‘The struggle for pre-eminence. about “trifles”. For such Hobbesian subjects could be counted upon to take whatever steps were required to defer death and prolong their lives. and help promote peace. . 2008 . in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves. it was the fear of a premature death that rendered individuals responsive to the many shifting strategies of self-preservation that were.13 This face-to-face confrontation with the possibility of a violent death was. in eliminating the threat of violence from the lives of certain populations. but there were certain other passions that could come to the aid of reason at such dangerous moments. Some passions. Indeed. Foucault appears correct in describing Hobbesian subjects as calculative beings who were rationally inclined to avoid war. As modern medicine produced new knowledge and techniques for maintaining and preserving life. ‘the passion which brings man to reason’ (1952: 18). in which we see them live in commonwealths’ (1962: 129). and were precisely the sort of individuals who were fit for the exercise of bio-power. or design of men . and without any Downloaded from http://psc. developed and deployed in the juridico-medical order of modernity. Strauss’ emphasis on the terrifying fear of a violent death is appropriate for explaining the transition from the state of nature into civil society. has become a life-and-death struggle. Foremost among these peace-keeping passions was the fear of violent death (1962: 100). However. In this way natural man happens unforeseen upon the danger of death. end. in this way he comes to know this primary and greatest and supreme evil in the moment of being irresistibly driven to fall back before death in order to struggle for his life’ (1952: 20–1). from my perspective the most notable feature of Hobbes’ political theory is not the tension Strauss identified between base vanity and the justified fear of a violent death (1952: 18).com at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. however imperfectly. and continue to be. according to Strauss.

After all. . and was sure nobody heard him. at his first rising he walk’d out and climb’d any Hill within his reach. but also sang in this manner for the same reason: He had alwayes bookes of prick-song lyeing on his table . which could be justified by the fear of a violent death. (Aubrey. His health had been poor until he reached the age of 40. 352) Hobbes’ personal behavior in regard to his health. [Hobbes] did twice or thrice a yeare play at tennis (at about 75 he did it)’. alter their behavior and habits according to these new standards. and the Afternoon to his Studies. . and consequently his regimen consisted primarily of vigorous exercise that produced a ‘great sweat’. the reason Hobbes regularly engaged in sweaty exercise and rubdowns was because these ‘he did believe would make him live two or three yeares the longer’ (1898: I. 2008 . by some Exercise or other to be in a Sweat’ (quoted in Rogow. one of the distinctive features of modern culture is the tremendous extension of human life expectancy that has been accomplished largely through the development of medical knowledge and at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. or if the Weather was not dry. which at night. a lifelong admirer who dedicated far more space to Hobbes’ life than any other of his Brief Lives. 347). Hobbes also governed himself on a daily basis according to the fear of a premature death. Hobbes’ regimen was based on the idea. According to Aubrey. quite common in the 17th century. According to one first-hand account.sagepub. and enjoyed generally good health for the next five decades of his long life (Aubrey. 1986: 226). 1898: I. he fatigued himself within doors. And therefore.615 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault coercion. when he was abed. After such exercise. that as people age they come to have too much moisture and not enough heat. 1898: I. and the dores made fast. as well as his theoretical portrayal of a rational subject that is governed by the fear of death. 351). Hobbes’ ‘profess’d Rule of Health was to dedicate the Morning to his Health. and remain exceedingly concerned about their health and quite willing to spend time and money to follow the latest regimental advice disseminated by Downloaded from http://psc. Aside from his notorious flight to France during the Civil Wars. and conduced much to prolong his life. he sang aloud (not that he had a very good voice) but for his health’s sake: he did beleeve it did his lunges good. may appear unexceptional today. Reasonable individuals have been eager participants in this modern project of death deferral. And John Aubrey. but at that point he began following a strict regimen. and took the preservation of his health as a serious personal responsibility. Hobbes himself lived his life largely in accordance with this objective of deferring death as long as possible. Hobbes’ routine was to ‘then give the servant some money to rubbe him’. noted that ‘[b]esides his dayly walking. And he not only vigorously exercised to extend his life.

and what is not necessary to eternal salvation’. From Plato – who had Socrates proclaim in the Phaedo that ‘as the true philosophers are ever studying death. in contrast. they have the licence that Naaman had. ‘Of a Christian Commonwealth’. 2008 . And in regard to the subjects. and need not put themselves into danger for it’ (1962: 436). and invisible. Indeed. from Socrates to Thomas More. marks a crucial divergence from the long trace of the western philosophical and religious tradition. death is the least terrible’ (1973: 499) – to Calvin – who claimed that Christians should ‘ardently long for death. he recognized that there was something beyond the limit of death. to them. For Hobbes. it is important to note that this stance toward death as something fearsome.14 This willingness to sacrifice one’s life was. 290) – death was treated not as something to be feared and avoided at any cost. Downloaded from http://psc. and Hobbes went to great lengths to minimize the problems posed by this traditional ideal. which should be deferred as long as possible. Hobbes argued that Christian subjects did not need to die for that faith. However. Although Hobbes did not discuss the possibility of immortality in the first two parts of Leviathan. it is internal. faith in Christ. of all men. martyrdom was a particularly vexing issue. death had been portrayed in that moral tradition as a passage to another. Hobbes’ conclusion was that ‘[a]ll that is NECESSARY to salvation is contained in two virtues. in regard to the prevailing stance toward death and health. Hobbes claimed that as ‘for their faith. invisible belief. but only maintain their inner. of course. it seems fair to say that we are all Hobbesian now. but as something that a truly virtuous person would gladly embrace when honor or faith required it. So even if an ‘infidel sovereign’ was foolish enough to demand of his or her subjects that they renounce their faith. and constantly meditate upon it’ (1845: II. an ideal that few would ever attain. so he offered a lesson to help believers ‘to distinguish well between what is. opened up the politically disruptive possibility of at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. but the moral heroes of the western tradition. then it were madness to obey it’ (1962: 424). were martyrs of one sort or another. and obedience to Laws’ (1962: 425). and should. At one point he conceded that if the sovereign issued a command that ‘cannot be obeyed.sagepub. While this lesson still left open the possibility of the law’s demanding that a person renounce his or her faith. more important realm outside of time (Epicurus being a notable exception to this rule). such a voluntary relinquishment of one’s time on earth flew in the face of Hobbes’ dictum that people can.616 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) medical and fitness authorities. do anything possible to save their earthly lives. in the third part. In general. of course. without [the subject] being damned to eternal death. Hobbes counseled sovereigns against ever putting their subjects in a position where they would have to choose between saving their earthly or their immortal lives. However. Such recognition.

com at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. and in the 13th century they could no longer be buried in hallowed ground (Williams. 1948: 27–34. face down in a grave dug in a highway or a crossroads. Hobbes and the 17th-century suicide debate In general. that the Hobbesian subject was a harbinger of precisely the sort of health-conscious. Various interpretations of the significance of such roadside burials have Downloaded from http://psc. 2008 . for instance. [and] were believed to be restless and malevolent’ (MacDonald and Murphy.617 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault Hobbes’ position on martyrdom. 1972: 133–4). In the 17th century.sagepub. . and Fedden. due to the controversy that surrounded the very meaning of the natural law of selfpreservation upon which Hobbes. Calvin urged on Christians. the bodies of suicides were sometimes hung on gibbets and allowed to rot. and some radical mullahs urge today on Islamists. derived from pre-Christian folklore. the naked body was buried at night. In England. These degrading additions varied from region to region. . however. also 474–8). but they usually had to do with the liminal aspect of the suicide. like his concern with health and longevity. and in Hobbes’ personal behavior. were added to the religious sanctions. Foucault’s objections notwithstanding. In Leviathan. death-deferring individuals that would be produced and governed by bio-power. as well as other liberal philosophers. This tradition began with Augustine’s determination in the 5th century that the taking of one’s life violated the biblical injunction against murder (Augustine. In the 6th century suicides were denied Christian burial rights. 1990: 89. grounded their conceptions of rational individuality. the Hobbesian subject was a radical and disturbing image. More frequently. there is no vestige of that traditional longing for death that Plato urged on philosophers. This controversy is revealed most clearly in regard to an issue that was even more disturbing than martyrdom for 17th-century liberals – suicide. also see Alvarez. has left its mark on modern western subjects. I would like to suggest. as even those who profess religious faith today respond with incredulity to the growing number of young Islamic men and women who are eager to die for their faith in the struggle against the infidel West. and a wooden stake was driven through the body pinning it to that spot. 1966: 257–8. attitudes toward suicide in early-modern Europe were shaped by the traditional Christian condemnation of the termination of one’s own life as the sin of ‘self-murder’. Indeed. 1990: 47). The ghosts of these unfortunate individuals were thought to be ‘on an eternally unfinished journey . who had chosen to abandon the community of the living but was denied entry into the community of the dead. Over the course of the Middle Ages the punishments grew more severe as ignominious burial practices.

1972: 141. also see Alvarez. and even leases on the land that they had worked were forfeited to the crown or to the holder of a royal patent who possessed the right to such windfalls in a particular place’ (MacDonald and Murphy.618 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) been offered. Williams. if a death was suspected of being a suicide the coroner was required to convene a jury of local citizens to posthumously determine whether the individual was guilty of felo de se (literally. household items. such as beliefs that constant traffic would help to keep the ghost down. 1972: 137–9). In certain cities. 1990: 64–5. 1966: 261–4. such as Metz and Strasburg. Although these various medieval punishments of suicide were available throughout the early-modern period. and Fedden. although the forfeiture law remained in place until 1870 (Alvarez. MacDonald and Murphy. In England. The French law against suicide remained in effect until 1770. the property of the suicide was confiscated by the Crown. the Middle Ages also saw the emergence of the legal punishment of the suicide’s heirs through forfeiture laws that confiscated some. Crocker. 1978: 372). but that ‘[t]he rigour with which the law against suicide was Downloaded from http://psc. Murphy claim that these punishments were infrequently employed prior to 1500. and in some parts of France the bodies were burned or tossed on public refuse heaps. along with the degrading burial practices. which ‘for the first time grouped suicide with the major crimes of heresy and lèse-majesté’ (Crocker.sagepub. a felony of oneself). if not all. money. 1990: 15–18. or was non compos mentis (not of sound mind). Along with this degrading treatment of the body of the suicide. Michael MacDonald and Terence R. Alvarez. 2008 . 1972: 223). In Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England. 1966: 259–62. 1972: 190–2). 1952: 50. and the forfeiture laws lapsed with the Revolution (Fedden. the bodies were placed in barrels and set adrift down rivers (Williams. In England. 1990: 65–6. In France as well. and this practice. of the suicide’s property. 1952: 50. or the ghost would become confused by the various roads. or the sign of the cross would help dispel any evil energy emanating from the corpse of the suicide. 1990: 64– at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. when the degradations of the body were abolished and proper burials allowed for suicides. the last recorded ignominious burial of a suicide occurred in 1823. and Fedden. they were not uniformly imposed from the 16th through the 18th centuries. where they were hung on chains and left to rot. and Fedden. debts owed to them. also see Williams. These legal punishments of suicide lasted well into the modern period. If the verdict was felo de se not only was the body denied a Christian burial. Fedden. but that person’s ‘moveable goods. including tools. 1966: 257–61. and therefore not subject to punishment. 1972: 139–41. 192–3). In France and Germany suicides were often dragged through the streets to a place of execution. 1990: 15–19. was codified in the Ordonnance criminelle de 1670. and Noon.

in the totality of its attitude. as the punishments of suicide waned. As Lester Crocker noted. in response to what he perceived as a suicide epidemic that was sweeping across England ( at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16.619 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault enforced in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries distinguishes this period from the centuries before and afterwards’ (1990: 16). although the terms of this debate shifted over time. From the 16th through the 18th centuries. To provide a sense of the significance of Hobbes’ contribution to this debate. the terms of the debate shifted to self-ownership. and concluded that self-murder was more heinous than any other crime. but he combined this traditional judgment with the natural law of self-preservation. 1988: unpaginated preface. the year Leviathan was published.sagepub. Lifes Preservative Against Self-Killing or. but his position on suicide was actually a precursor of the more lenient attitude that would eventually prevail throughout Europe. I will contrast two of the earliest sustained arguments for and against suicide that appeared in the 17th century. but in the 18th century this hostility began to flag (1952: 224–7). the Oxford English Dictionary claims that the word ‘suicide’ first appeared as a less pejorative alternative to self-murder in 1651. 2008 . During the late 16th and 17th centuries. however. including the murder of another: Downloaded from http://psc. The conceptual shift from self-preservation to self-ownership is beyond the scope of this article. when the punitive attitude waxed throughout Europe. philosophers. ‘seventeenth-century France. 1961: 30). suicide was discussed primarily in terms of the natural law of self-preservation.16 My concern here lies primarily with the unique position that Hobbes’ conception of corporeal self-preservation held in the earlymodern suicide debate. and Sprott. 1972: 183–5. In 1637 the Puritan cleric John Sym published the first full-length English treatise against suicide. the pattern they identify is generally true for much of Europe. corporeally understood. severely condemned suicide’. Although MacDonald and Murphy’s study focuses on England. In his extensive argument Sym relied quite heavily on Augustine’s claim that the Fifth Commandment prohibited the murder of oneself as well as others. essayists and learned gentlemen were engaged in a very heated debate about suicide. and the frequency and severity of the punishments diminished throughout the 18th century until the legal punishments were ultimately repealed. and then position Hobbes in relation to these other voices. while in the 18th century. Hobbes’ political theory emerged toward the end of the era of severity. An Useful Treatise Concerning Life and Self-Murder. clerics.15 To appreciate the prescience of Hobbes’ stance toward suicide. one must have some sense of the larger discursive context in which the practice was addressed. They identify the period between 1500 and 1660 as the ‘era of severity’ in the punishment of suicide. also see Fedden. In fact. and note that after that point suicide became ‘secularized’.

This category of indirect self-murder involves behavioral requirements that were very much like those Hobbes followed in his personal life. wherby it transcends. while Hobbes’ embrace of this concept was free from any such tension. such as the excessive use of food or drink. and deaths that resulted from omission. to a mans own life & self. In other words. In the late 16th century Montaigne published essays that endorsed some prominent Roman suicides (one of which I will briefly discuss at the end of this article). to destroy himselfe. armes a man to turne upon others. under the unwieldy title of Biathanatos: A Declaration of that Paradoxe. there were at that time a few voices raised in opposition to the punishment of self-murder.620 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) Here is now the speciall difference of this sort of murder. for that self-preservation. as if it were a thing not to bee supposed possible. but there is an important difference in the justification Hobbes and Sym relied upon to support such behavior. He further divided this category of indirect self-murder into deaths that occurred due to commission. such as refusals of necessary medicine or surgery. and at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16.sagepub. or association with dangerous individuals. Although Sym’s hostility to suicide was indicative of the punitive attitude that prevailed in the 16th and 17th centuries. who by nature is most bound to preserve himselfe. and the desire to add a few years to his earthly life. that it may never be otherwise. and consists in restraint of the act of killing. For Sym would have his readers avoid dangerous commissions and omissions in order to escape the sin of self-murder. Downloaded from http://psc. Sym’s embrace of corporeal selfpreservation involved a tension with his other-worldly commitments. a young poet but not yet cleric. unlawfully invading him to kill him. which is the greatest and cruellest act of hostility in the world: when a man. thereby preserving their souls. And this sinne of all others is most against the Law of nature. which he defined as the intentional pursuit of some good by means that expose one to mortal danger ‘without any respect. which he identified as ‘direct self-murder’. each of which deals with a specific type of law that might be used to ground the prohibition against suicide: the law of nature. Sym also used the natural law of selfpreservation to condemn the much broader category of ‘indirect selfmurder’. the horriblenes whereof is so monstrous. and is distinguished from all other murders. 2008 . reflects upon himselfe. the law of reason. or Thesis. while Hobbes followed such advice on the basis of his rational commitment to the natural law of self-preservation. that we read no law made against it. This work is divided into three parts. in regard of its individual object. that Self-homicide is not so Naturally Sinne. or refusals to flee from avoidable dangers (1988: 91–100). or expectation of death thereupon ensuing’ (1988: 85–6). but the first treatise-length defense of suicide was written in 1608 by John Donne. (1988: 53–4) Beyond outlawing the conscious taking of one’s own life. such as taking care of his health and fleeing the Civil Wars.

Since Donne could not imagine that the sensitive law of nature would be invoked to ground the prohibition of suicide. but he also noted that as it applied to humans this law was not a simple matter (1930: 49). however. Hobbes was much less hesitant than Sym to fully embrace the consequences of the corporeal conception of self-preservation. . .621 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault the law of God. Only the first part concerns us here. when a man is desired. but explicitly excepted martyrdom from the prohibition against self-murder. ‘I think this is not the [sensitive] law of nature which these abhorrers of SELF-HOMICIDE complaine to bee violated by that Act’. In fact. but found this an insufficient foundation as well. Religion. Donne assumed that the natural law argument against the practice relied more upon the rational dimension than the sensitive. this sensitive dimension ‘doth naturally lead and conduce to’ the rational dimension. that then hee doe it not. and in regard to the natural law Donne ‘confessed’ that self-preservation was its foundation. because they cannot compare degrees of obligation and distinctions of duties and offices.sagepub. Donne seems to have correctly understood the implications of such a corporeal natural law argument. Now this law of nature . which are as contrarie to the Law of sensitive Nature’ (1930: 39). and affectation of Martyrdome. and explicitly challenged the traditional ideal of martyrdom by arguing that no one ever need die for their faith. he concentrated on the rational law of nature. the implications would indeed be much more radical than these opponents understood. which he described as ‘that light which God hath afforded us of his eternall law. and which is usually called recta ratio. also see 149–52). ‘For so they might as well accuse all discipline and austeritie. As he understood that dimension of natural law which applied exclusively to humans. In humans. . although he therefore doe die’ (1988: 149. or corporeal. it actually imposed duties and obligations that Downloaded from http://psc. aspect of natural at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. According to Donne. . 39). is onely in man and in him directed upon Piety. and Donne claimed that ‘it extends to beasts more then [sic] to us. As we saw earlier. Donne argued. 2008 . or threatened to doe any sinne forbidden by Gods word. as we can’ (1930: 44–5). and argued that ‘a man ought to expose his life to death. but he could not imagine that the abhorrers of suicide would go that far in their opposition. In regard to suicide. Sociablenesse. For he recognized that if the opposition to suicide was grounded in the sensitive. The sensitive law of nature is equivalent to corporeal self-preservation. which he identified as the ‘sensitive’ and ‘rational’ laws of nature (1930: 38). and such for as it reacheth to the preservation both of Species and individuals’ (1930: 38. in causes concerning religion . Sym did not follow the logic of corporeal self-preservation to this conclusion. natural law was comprised of two separate yet related elements. commanded.

Unfortunately. For Donne. as well to reencourage men to a just contempt of this life. ‘[t]he like danger is in deducing consequences from this naturall Law. as also to rectify. even though such a choice hindered the preservation of the species (1930: 45). Donne’s conception of the rational element of self-preservation was closer to that of the Stoics and pre-modern Christians than it was to Hobbes. 2008 . although unlike Hobbes. though the body perish. Sprott. Sym held a corporeal conception of self-preservation that was very close to that of Hobbes. this traditional dimension of Biathanatos is often overlooked by those who (over-)emphasize the individualistic and relativistic dimensions of Donne’s book. things may. and wash again their same. Donne wrote Biathanatos precisely to challenge the modern. and herald it as one of the earliest articulations of a uniquely modern stance toward suicide (e. or as a violation of that law. we might be to our selves the stewards of Gods benefits. but rather by their different interpretations of the natural law of self-preservation. Fedden. to oppose this defensative.g. as Hobbes in effect did. Suicide was a violation of both scriptural and natural law. 1990: 176–7). or virtue. And far from treating martyrdom as an exception to the law of self-preservation. 1972: 182. as Sym did. 135–6. who religiously assuring themselves that in some cases. corporeal notion of self-preservation held by those who attack suicide. is a Self-preservation. or that of the species. He cited celibacy as an example of a morally appropriate choice for some individuals. which doth not so rigorously. and the Ministers of his mercifull Justice. as well as to comfort those who could not. he also tried to simultaneously maintain the other-worldly ethos of Christianity.sagepub. suicide could sometimes be the best choice for an individual. By the same token. Donne argued. took precedence over the mere prolongation of the life of the flesh. and to restore them to their nature. and consequently he could endorse both self-preservation and suicide without contradiction. and urgently. cause individuals to neglect their own corporeal preservation. Donne instead argued that ‘the desire of Martyrdome. of Selfe-preservation. abide by the increasingly strident screeds against selfdestruction that were generated by that concept: I thought it therefore needfull. because thereby out of our election our best part is advanc’d’ (1930: 49).com at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. the preservation of the soul. 1961: 23. but that by the Law of Nature it selfe. in good conscience. on occasion. Donne’s and Sym’s divergence over the issue of suicide is best explained not by any difference in their commitment to Christianity. and Alvarez. as did the Stoics. (1930: 216) Downloaded from http://psc. when wee were destitute of other meanes. also 20–1. and Sym therefore condemned it as the most heinous crime imaginable. and illimitedly binde. In all these cases. On his own account. if it would allow him or her to preserve something higher than mere physical existence. However. which is a desire of supreame happiness in the next life by the loss of this. yea must neglect themselves for others’ (1930: 46).622 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) could.

he also had no moral compunction about claiming that individuals ought to do whatever was Downloaded from http://psc. For Hobbes had no doubt that all living things aim at their own preservation. it is to be presumed that he is not compos mentis. and necessarily the Intention of every Man aimeth at somewhat. but from Donne’s moderate position as well. much less to kill himself. which is good to himself. Ironically. ‘How can that be proved of a Man dead. (1971: 116–17) When the student replied that it was necessary to prove that individuals were compos mentis before they could be deemed felo de se. was distinct not only from Sym’s hostile stance. or so much Malice towards himself. methinks. if he kill himself. he took a position on suicide that was actually closer to that of Donne. This is a hard place. but simply declared that the law of self-preservation precluded the exercise of natural right in a manner that would cause one’s death. therefore. Although Hobbes apparently considered suicide when he fell ill while finishing Leviathan in France (Stephen. 1991: 26–33. Given his non-corporeal conception of self-preservation. the philosopher wondered. and Sym. although for very different reasons than those offered in Biathanatos (see Stoffell. one might expect him to have shared Sym’s extreme hostility toward self-murder. Hobbes’ moderate stance toward suicide can be explained precisely by his unalloyed embrace of the corporeal law of selfpreservation. but by some inward torment or Apprehension of somewhat worse than Death. Hobbes did not feel compelled to punish this violation. but surprisingly. 1990: 141). which was written between 1662 and 1675 and published posthumously in 1681. and before you take it for Common-Law it had need to be clear’d’ (1971: 117). and because his commitment to the other-worldly ethos of Christianity was rhetorical at best.sagepub. and MacDonald and Murphy. Hobbes discussed suicide in the context of a conversation concerning felonies. Hobbes’ lenient position on suicide.623 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault Since Hobbes’ understanding of self-preservation was closer to Sym’s than Donne’s. Donne could allow that suicide might be a form of self-preservation in some circumstances. understood it. recognized suicide as felo de se. for naturally. 1904: 41). 2008 . but statutory law as well.17 he did not spend much time discussing this issue in that book. that a little before his death he spake as other men used to do. When the law student claimed that not only the common law. in A Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England. Distracted. the philosopher responded by saying: I conceive not how any Man can bear Animum felleum. as to hurt himself voluntarily. and tendeth to his preservation: and therefore. especially if it cannot be proved by any Witnesses. but for Hobbes suicide was clearly a violation of the law of selfpreservation in the corporeal sense in which at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. Yet unlike Sym and the many other 17th-century condemners of suicide. However.

and Rogers et al. For aside from the growing numbers of individuals who now consider suicide as an individual right. and by the end of the 18th century the general judgment of suicide was close to the lenient position struck by Hobbes over a century earlier.sagepub. certain challenges to this governmental stance toward suicide have appeared. was clearly evidence of some form of mental illness or imbalance. studies of American mental health professionals and counselors found that over 80 per cent thought suicide could indeed be a rational choice in certain circumstances (Werth and Liddle. 1994: 440–8. and he could not imagine punishing anyone whose mind was so deranged that he or she could actually end their own life. the hostility against suicide waned. 2008 . however. the mental health professions themselves also seem to be modifying their position on suicide. But for Sym there was still a fundamental ambivalence between the other-worldly ethos he shared with Donne. As the corporeal understanding of self-preservation gradually eclipsed the other-worldly ethos of Christianity. since the criteria for allowable suicides under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. as well as the criteria for ‘rational suicide’ identified in surveys of mental health professionals. Suicide was one point on which the corporeal law of self-preservation and the Augustinian Christian ethos were in agreement. Suicide came to be ‘regarded as a secular calamity – the consequence of mental disease – rather than a diabolical crime’.624 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) required to preserve their earthly lives. therefore. This humane Hobbesian stance toward suicide. I would like to suggest. But the legal and medical recognition of the reasonableness of suicide alone poses no significant challenge to the system of at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. indicating that the prevailing order of corporeal preservation may be on the verge of a fundamental transformation. but rather by mental health professionals who aimed at maintaining a healthy. fits quite well with the exercise of bio-power in a system of governmentality. In the 1990s.. and consequently ‘more and more juries returned verdicts that labelled suicides as innocent mad people’ (1990: 133). Since Hobbesian subjects could be counted upon to pursue corporeal preservation without any compunction whatsoever. In the last decade of the 20th century.18 Suicides performed under such requirements. and Sym’s exceedingly harsh judgment of suicide allowed him to resolve that inherent tension between the two ethical registers he was trying to embrace. rather than a symptom of mental illness. productive population. require that the suicide request be verified as reasonable by a physician and/or mental health professional. 2001: 369). Suicide. suicide was best viewed as a medical problem that should be treated not by punishments inflicted by agents of the sovereign. according to MacDonald and Murphy. and the corporeal conception of self-preservation that was ascending in the 17th century. far from Downloaded from http://psc.

2008 . ‘Generally speaking. and ended the interview with the suggestion. We live in a world in which the medical and pharmaceutical accompaniment of death deprives it of much of its pain and drama’ (1988: 177). . in fact. Foucault on suicide In a 1983 interview that was published in English as ‘Social Security’. Downloaded from http://psc. I’d set up an institute where people who wanted to die could come and spend a weekend.’ Foucault remarked. can the social security system contribute to an ethics of the human person?’. he was nevertheless disturbed by the meaninglessness of the current experience. as if by obliteration. enjoying themselves as far as possible. During this interview he described the current experience of death. indirectly indicating how far we have come since the 17th-century concern with establishing a theoretical foundation upon which the security state could be erected. . If I won a few billion francs in the national lottery. Foucault answered: The idea of bringing together individuals and the decision-making centers ought to involve. so that they lose consciousness entirely in a few hours. and lead ultimately to the medicalization of suicide. if not in some accident. and employed terms quite different than those famously fearsome phrases used by Hobbes. whose life is ordered upon the imperative of corporeal preservation. ‘How. Foucault emphasized that ‘the decisions made ought to be the effect of a kind of ethical consensus so that the individual may recognize himself in the decisions made and in the values that inspired them’ (1988: 174). While Foucault cautioned against nostalgia for a more authentic experience of death that probably never existed. ‘people die under a blanket of drugs. What Foucault had in mind for such meaning and beauty was intimated earlier in the interview.625 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault challenging the juridico-medical complex of modernity. would instead render suicide a safe practice. In response to questions about the best approach for limiting demands on the health care at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. when he discussed the issue of suicide. a few days. or a few weeks: they are obliterated. . a recognized right for everybody to kill himself when he wishes in decent conditions. ‘Let’s try rather to give meaning and beauty to death-obliteration’ (1988: 177). When the interviewer asked. perhaps with the help of drugs. at least as a consequence. it is helpful to contrast Foucault’s latemodern position on suicide with the modern one of Hobbes.19 In order to take greater advantage of the opportunity that this recently asserted right provides for a fundamental reconsideration of the subject of governmentality. Foucault discussed the necessity of limiting the level of security that the state could be expected to provide individuals. a week or a month.sagepub. and then disappear.

but not necessarily more authentic. for instance.20 Downloaded from http://psc. ‘One has to prepare it. 1993: 54–5). shave it into a work without spectators. emerged out of an aesthetic concern with the nature of one’s life. lives. This aesthetic sensibility was clearly. get advice on it. but rather the enhancement of one’s entire life through the careful planning and consideration of how one would eventually end one’s life. . while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of juridico-medical authority that is aimed at preserving life.sagepub. in which Foucault criticized the common judgment that ‘homosexuals often commit suicide’ (1996a: 295). find the ingredients. ‘Yes’ (1988: 176). ‘The Simplest of Pleasures’. While it may be tempting to draw a link between the right to die movement and Foucault’s off-hand remarks about a ‘right’ to kill oneself in some sort of suicide institute. The primary benefit he identified with suicide was not release from a ‘bad’ death. anticipatory consideration of one’s chosen death can help individuals to live more reflective. which is that the deliberate. Foucault’s claims about suicide. . He himself tried to commit suicide more than once while a student at the École Normale. the liberal argument for the right to die is concerned with providing to individuals enough control over their deaths so they can avoid a painful and/or degrading demise. which above all the rest deserves the greatest attention – not that it shouldn’t worry you (or comfort you) – but rather so that you can make of it a fathomless pleasure whose patient and relentless preparation will enlighten all of your life’ (1996a: 296). As mentioned in the introduction to this article. 2008 . 1991: 26–7. as well as the suicide centers he would suggest later in the ‘Social Security’ interview (1988: 296–7). arrange the details. bit by bit. ‘A right to suicide?’ Foucault simply replied. in contrast. they should not detract from what I take to be the most important aspect of Foucault’s stance toward suicide. as well as biographers later on. there is an important difference between his position and the liberal one articulated by.’ Suicide should be recognized as ‘an extremely unique experience . perhaps facetiously.’ he claimed. and Miller. displayed in a brief 1979 essay on suicide. choose it. ‘decorate it. as liberals tend to argue. the Dream Team. if somewhat hyperbolically. As possible ways of ending one’s life Foucault mentioned. Whether or not he was serious about these extreme suggestions. relied on this same psychological account of the gay proclivity toward suicide (Eribon. imagine it. ‘[s]uicide festivals or orgies’. Foucault scornfully dismissed this ‘ludicrous account’ in which ‘suicide and homosexuals are portrayed so as to make each other look bad’.com at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. rather than the circumstances of one’s death.626 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) When the interviewer queried. just for that shortest little moment of life. one which exists only for oneself. and the immediate explanation offered by mental health professionals. and preferred instead to ‘see what there is to say in favor of suicide’ (1996a: 295).

and turned to precisely these ancient schools of thought in his last courses and publications from the early 1980s. Foucault found ‘at the apex of all these exercises . 1987: 9). a training for it’. at one point an interviewer asked about the relation between Foucault’s recent interest in the care of the self and a theme that concerned him throughout his career: ‘But doesn’t the human condition. however. Epicurean and Stoic texts. rather. in terms of its finitude. His 1981–2 course at the Collège de France. (1997b: 105) There is an obviously important difference between thinking about one’s eventual death. Seneca. Among the various techniques employed in shaping subjects in the ancient world. The Care of the Self. play a very important role here? . the fear of death. 2008 . It seems to me that this problem of finitude is very important. in particular. however. but Foucault claimed in ‘The Simplest of Pleasures’ that ‘[t]he philosophies that promise to teach us what to think about death and how to die bore me to tears’ (1996a: 296). appeared in his 1981–2 course. Unfortunately for our purposes. of finitude. for an alternative translation.627 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault Of at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. encouraged the former while condemning the latter. of being hurt. and thinking about taking one’s life. and also figured prominently in his last publication. Although this late interview was concerned primarily with the second and third volumes of The History of Sexuality. . passions and desires. titled ‘The Ethics of the Concern for Self as a Practice of Freedom’.sagepub. He eventually overcame this boredom. ‘was devoted to the formation of the theme of the hermeneutic of the self’. where this Roman Stoic was frequently cited to provide examples of the ancient imperative to perpetually cultivate oneself (1986: 39–68). In his course résumé Foucault described this technique in terms that starkly distinguish it from the use to which Hobbes put the thought of death in the 17th century: What accounts for the particular value of the death meditation is not just the fact that it anticipates what is generally held to be the greatest misfortune. such as Platonism. is at the heart of the care for self’ (1997a: 289. if not suicide. in advance as it were. Stoicism. for instance. it offers the possibility of looking back. on the other. explicitly linked the melete thanatou and suicide. see Foucault. the discussion of Seneca in The Care of the Self was focused largely on sexual pleasures. on one’s life. and many ancient schools of thought. the famous melete thanatou – a meditation on death or. . many ancient schools of thought taught the benefits of reflection upon one’s death. it is not just that it enables one to convince oneself that death is not an evil.21 Foucault responded to this crucial Downloaded from http://psc. and examined Platonic. However. on the one hand. . and Foucault was keenly interested in this school in the last years of his life. . Foucault did discuss Seneca’s stance toward death in an important interview conducted just five months before he died. and not on the melete thanatou or suicide.

or publications from the 1980s. become almost a desire for death. and Foucault would likely concur with Seneca’s judgment that ‘[i]t is a great man who not Downloaded from http://psc. is different from the desire for death one finds among Christians. courses. let it break the chain of its slavery. let us hasten toward the end. Seneca wrote: Nowhere should we indulge the soul more than in dying. on the place one occupies among others. cf. his claims about suicide in ‘The Simplest of Pleasures’ were remarkably similar to the advice Seneca offered in letters to his friend Lucilius. and that the reputation one leaves behind is the only afterlife one can expect. his death only himself. on with it. 1987: 9) Although there certainly is room to challenge Foucault’s claims about the Stoic stance toward death and the afterlife. particularly that of the Stoics. and Alvarez. and not as a punishment that needs to be avenged by a savior. who expect salvation through death. It is like the movement to rush through life to the point where there is no longer anything ahead but the possibility of death. however. as in Christianity. up to a point. for example. when nothing more can happen. (Seneca. as in Hobbesian modernity. while Foucault claimed that one’s suicide is a project that ‘exists only for oneself’. While Seneca’s longing for death was particularly intriguing to Foucault. This type of moment before at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. 1990: 80) Both also seemed to agree that one ought to think about. . also see Motto. For instance.sagepub. let us hurry and get old.628 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) question by contrasting the Greco-Roman stance toward death. 1958: 204. it is interesting to note the importance of the theme. . . 2008 . and whatever sort he likes is best. It can be centered totally on the acceptance of death – this will become quite evident in late Stoicism – and can even. and be ready to perform (rather than commit). In Seneca. 1973: 76. . given that one takes care of oneself in one’s own life. in a way upsets or at least disturbs the balance of the care of the self. A man’s life should satisfy other people as well. Among the Greeks and Romans. the care of the self can be centered entirely on oneself. with that of Christianity: Christianity. (1997a: 289. so that we may thereby come back to ourselves. by presenting salvation as occurring beyond life. . Although Foucault did not discuss Seneca’s stance toward suicide in any of the interviews. not to mention the value that the Stoics placed upon worldly reputation. one’s suicide. this is not the place to engage in these quarrels. . What is crucial for our purposes is that Foucault clearly appreciated Stoicism’s undeniable acceptance of death as an unavoidable and natural part of life. or as an evil that needs to be postponed as long as possible. on what one does. it is important to note that Seneca also emphatically endorsed suicide as a crucial facet of the care of the self. Let it go as it lists: if it craves the sword or the noose or some potion that constricts the veins.

1987: 6). But he emphasized that reflecting about whether or not one should continue living was training that ‘must one day be put to use’ (1958: 205). estimable.sagepub. as when he described suicide as ‘break[ing] through the trammels of human bondage’. because one might never face circumstances that would test these characteristics. . What Foucault said of the melete thanatou holds true for the meditation on suicide as well – ‘it is a way of making death actual in life. the Stoics embraced this conception of working on oneself. . however. . Seneca frequently employed the language of liberation in discussing suicide. was reflected as an ethics’ (1997a: 283–4. cf. had ‘always been somewhat suspicious of the notion of liberation’ because it implied there was some essential self that could be emancipated (1997a: 282. or loved ones. beautiful. in his criticism of those ‘professed philosophers who assert that . but to the extent that Seneca thought that reflection on suicide was itself a source of freedom. memorable. . Foucault. and Seneca thought that the technique of reflecting on how and when one would perform suicide was crucial to the formation of an exemplary life. . 1987: 3–4). He emphasized that ‘extensive work by the self on the self is required for this practice of freedom to take shape in an ethos that is good. . In fact. there is nevertheless a particular tension between Seneca and Foucault in regard to one aspect of suicide – its emancipatory at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. Foucault would certainly concur. and exemplary’ (1997a: 286. he advised Lucilius that ‘it is most essential to keep our end in mind. Foucault would part company with the sage and treat such a death as a termination rather than a liberation. For both believed that the practice of thinking about the trajectory and shape one’s life has taken. For instance. Seneca argued that ‘[t]he man who says this does not see that he has blocked his road to freedom’ (1958: 204). ‘may prove futile’. health. but still in the sense of liberation. for the end Nature has decreed’. or wrote that ‘a scalpel opens the way out to the great emancipation’ (1958: 205). Other exercises’. . Certainly. 2008 . honorable. in order to determine whether one should continue to live. provided a valuable opportunity to periodically judge the quality of one’s life. At other points he used the language of freedom. Despite this shared appreciation of the benefits of planning how one would end one’s life under certain circumstances.629 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault only orders his own death but contrives it’ (1958: 207). He preferred instead to ‘emphasize practices of freedom over processes of liberation’. . . It tends to make one live each Downloaded from http://psc. cf. cf. So to the extent that Seneca thought the act of suicide was an emancipation of the individual from a burdensome or vexing life. and in clarifying his conception of freedom he explicitly endorsed the Greco-Roman model in which ‘the care of the self was the mode in which individual freedom . 1987: 2). such as the anticipation of losing one’s wealth. we must wait .

1958: 251). (1958: 202) Without doubt. If it would be difficult to continue living a good and beautiful life. And for Seneca. death is an appropriate choice when illness or age has brought a person close to death and robbed him or her of the ability to take care of his or her own bodily functions. I am going to dismiss the remains of my soul by a happy end. both in the realm of medicine and in the exercise of power. Montaigne approvingly recounted Sextus Pompeius’ account of the suicide of an elderly. she justified her decision by saying: ‘For my part. then suicide may be the appropriate choice. . A provocative example of just such a suicide was provided by the essayist Montaigne. whether or not death is imminent. In his essay ‘The Custom of the Isle of Cea’ (1573–4). such meditation was crucial in instilling in individuals the central lesson of Stoicism: Living is not the good. instead of the circumstances of one’s death. how. He will always think of life in terms of quality. but such quality is determined by the conditions of a person’s impending death. lest the desire to live too long may make me see one of her contrary faces. 2008 . is reflected in Cicero’s shocking claim that Stoics frequently judged it best to end their lives at a moment of ‘supreme happiness’.com at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. Although Sextus Pompeius tried to convince her to abandon her publicly announced intention of taking her own life.sagepub. on the other hand. According to these current arguments. leaving two daughters of my own and a legion of grandchildren’ (Montaigne. with whom. . On Foucault’s account the illumination of death by pathological anatomy provided an epistemological Downloaded from http://psc. but were rather focused upon the moral and aesthetic quality of the life the person had actually lived. The qualityof-life considerations Seneca and Foucault thought relevant for the suicide decision. many contemporary arguments for the right to die also emphasize ‘quality of life’. He will observe where he is to live. This emphasis on the moral and aesthetic quality of one’s life. having always experienced the favorable face of Fortune. experience worldly pleasures or interact meaningfully with others. not quantity. lives as long as he should.22 Conclusion Over the course of his career Foucault revealed that modernity is grounded in a dual inversion in the status of death. were not determined by the conditions of a person’s imminent death. respected woman of authority from this island. The wise man .630 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) day as if it were the last’ (1997b: 104). and is fundamentally different than the determination of quality that Seneca and Foucault had in mind. but living well. and what he is to do. not as long as he can. who preceded Donne in challenging the punitive attitude toward suicide that emerged at the outset of modernity.

Recently. rationalization and medicalization of suicide will render it a safe practice within the administrative parameters of the juridico-medical order. but rather a prolonged. the complementary roles that the imperative of corporeal preservation and medical authority have played in governing Hobbesian subjects. that Hobbes’ political theory reflects a third inversion of the status of death that is integrally related to those inversions identified by Foucault. those we have tried to live by’. .. the right to die movement ironically seeks to establish the right to medical assistance in suicide and/or euthanasia. and opens to contestation. among the most significant events of life’ (1997: 44). For these liberals. as did Hobbes’ political theory. I have tried to show. and such subjects were therefore precisely the sort who were amenable to governmental techniques and strategies that aimed at promoting the health and longevity of the population. the Hobbesian subject feared death and sought to preserve life above all else.23 While the Dream Team claims that ‘[m]ost of us see death – whatever we think will follow it – as the final act of life’s drama. the current assertion of the right to die throws into relief. The death feared by liberal proponents of the right to die. This goal of gaining control over death will likely be unfulfilled as the legalization. ‘[d]eath is . gradual death that is the promise/threat offered by modern medical culture. Rather. however. over Foucault’s objections. on the fear of death. their emphasis is on preventing ‘the convictions of others [being] forced on us in our most vulnerable moment’ (Dworkin et al. Hobbesian stance toward death (as something to be deferred as long as possible) and suicide (as the result of mental illness). but the return of the public discussion of suicide at the turn of the 21st century provides a more fertile opportunity than any other bio-ethical issue for a fundamental challenge to the juridico-medical complex of modernity. do indeed challenge the modern. but if one cannot control that event the quality of one’s life is significantly diminished. but for the human sciences in general. Liberal arguments for the right to at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. . and we want that last act to reflect our own convictions. but that is not my primary objection to liberal claims about the right to die. the success of the modern project of death deferral has generated a variety of divisive bio-ethical dilemmas. 2008 .631 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault foundation not only for medicine. 1997: 44). When considered in the context of the early-modern suicide debate.sagepub. premature death that terrified Hobbes in the 17th century. but these arguments still rely. In order to manage this fear of a death that is controlled and imposed by medical authority. such as that offered by the Dream Team. as urged in the Platonic/Christian tradition. Downloaded from http://psc. Rather than longing for death. and the knowledge generated by these disciplines helped facilitate the transition from the sovereign’s power of life and death to the positive. productive form of power that administers and optimizes life in modernity. is not the violent.

As a supplement. 1997: 49. see Beam. 2 One of the leading proponents of PAS and euthanasia in Australia is Dr. Foucault’s Stoic-inspired stance toward suicide can help reveal certain hopeful possibilities that are overlooked in the current discussion of this right. would generate greater possibilities for the ‘practices of freedom’. the self that ought to be preserved is not simply the body. but the character of the life of that embodied self. to the standard liberal arguments for the right to die. Hendin. For as Seneca. Singer. 2003. and the Health-Conscious Subject’. Death’. if not an alternative. live in order to avoid death. this liberal stance can only offer the quite likely hollow promise of providing control over one’s death. may seem scandalous to those of us who. and the way one’s life was going. like Hobbes. For a more complete and less damning examination Downloaded from http://psc. while the Foucauldian/ Stoic stance offers the possibility of living a more deliberate. than will bald assertions of the liberal right to end one’s life with a physician’s help when death is already at hand. in the Foucauldian sense. Although I am certainly not offering her as an example that ought to necessarily be followed. Donne and Foucault all understood. 2000: 148. see: Smith. 3 ‘Dutch Upper House Backs Aided-Suicide’. 3. Medicine. 11 April 2001: sec. and Welie. and leaves unchallenged the role of medical authority in shaping those convictions. reflection upon the suicide of the woman from Cea might help us late-moderns recognize the extent to which we are governed by the imperative of corporeal preservation that underlies the medicalized culture of modernity.632 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) my concern is that by focusing on controlling one’s death this liberal perspective does not foster critical reflection upon those convictions by which one lives one’s life. 2008 . reflective life that will nevertheless always remain beyond one’s control. At best. The College of Wooster. Mydans. 1994: 138–9. 2000: 109–11. p. For critical discussions of the Dutch practice of euthanasia and PAS.sagepub. thoughtful suicide of this woman who chose to end her life at a point when things were going quite well. McInerney. 75–8. Montaigne. Wooster. Jack Kevorkian. 1992: 423–7. and her faculties remained intact. A. and ERGO!: 2005. who is often portrayed as Australia’s equivalent of America’s ‘Dr. But to imagine living one’s life with such an intense concern about one’s character. OH. The calm. USA PSC Notes 1 This article is derived from fragments of several chapters of a larger project that is tentatively titled ‘The Government(ality) of Health: at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. The New York Times. Philip Nitschke. 1997: 3.

Delacroix and Gericault. Singer. 1952: 6–29. Nietzsche. including note 3 on p. 1978: 372. in Foucault. 1997: xv–xvii. Several scholars have identified earlier appearances of suicide. Foucault examined the role that equality played in Hobbes’ account of the natural state of war.g. 1998. In the realm of painting Foucault listed Goya. Battin. 179–80. For Hobbes’ description of vanity and the violence engendered by this passion. 1994. 702) and Vacco v. e. no doubt. see MacDonald and Murphy. 2000. Foucault’s most protracted engagement with Hobbes was in his lecture from 4 February 1976. the ‘continual fear. see Gordon. Quill et al. however. but did not mention David.S. 1994: 151–6. see 1962: 99. for Hobbes claimed that since mortal conflict is always a threatening possibility in the state of nature. and Noon. 1993: 1196–9. 2003: 89–111. of course.S. Leo Strauss demonstrated at length how the competition that occured in Hobbes’ state of nature expanded into a life-anddeath struggle in the presence of this uncontrolled appetite. see Pijnenborg et al. he mentioned Baudelaire. but found it strange that ‘many who boast of being Christians. see Foucault. I link Foucault’s early claims from The Birth of the Clinic concerning the significance of pathological anatomy. to use Hobbes’ term. (521 U. 1994: 130–44. or passion. see Strauss. 1990: 145–6. and the Desastres de Soya’ (1973a: 195). in Tierney. In the 16th century Calvin recognized the emergence of Christian subjects of the sort Hobbes envisioned. I think Strauss was justified in emphasizing the centrality of death in Hobbes’ understanding of the transition from the state of nature to civil society. although I believe that he too belongs in this group.633 Tierney: Suicidal thoughts: Hobbes and Foucault of the Dutch experience with medically assisted death. or ‘commodious living’. are so afraid of it that they tremble at the very mention of it as a thing ominous and dreadful’ (1845: II. For a thorough discussion of Foucault’s reconsideration of his conception of power during the second half of the 1970s. I have written about these passions elsewhere. 793). 2008 . for a shorter discussion see Rabinow. (521 U. instead of thus longing for death. Concerning the light by which Bichat illuminated the ‘abyss of illness’. In literature. see Jones and at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16. with his later concept of governmentality. 145. The status of The Birth of the Clinic does seem to be changing in certain fields. Washington et al. 2003: 402–5. Foucault wrote that it is ‘the same light. of vanity. see Tierney. and Battin. Rose. and Armstrong. v. Juliette. 1994: 10–11. British historians and sociologists of medicine have begun to reconsider their initial hostility to this text. and these may be grouped together as the desire for convenience. 1990: 68. 290). Alvarez. There are other passions besides the fear of death that lead people out of the state of nature. 1993: 174–5. 2003: 90–1. and danger of violent death’ is the ‘worst of all’ the incommodities of the natural state of war (1962: 100). 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Downloaded from http://psc. Glucksberg et al. that illuminates the 120 Journees of Sodome.sagepub. 2002: 178–9.. Holderlin and. In particular.

800–127. 17 That Hobbes was not personally opposed to suicide is also indicated in a letter he wrote to the physician Guy Patin. it was the impossibility of experiencing one’s own death. authentic form of existence (see Heidegger. there is an important difference that separates Foucault’s and Heidegger’s positions. malignly at CONCORDIA UNIV LIBRARY on December 16.sagepub. which evoked a mood of anxiety that goaded individuals to live a more deliberate. Foucault. 1999. painless death imposed too early on the aged and infirm by medical authority within advanced cultures. 20 Although this emphasis on the thought of death as a spur to a more deliberate. see Hardwig. 2008 . language and labor – into the specialized fields of biology. as an ‘analytic of finitude’ (1973b: 312–18). with the quasi-Heideggerian ‘anxiety’ about being kept alive in a state of obliviousness that motivates many supporters of the right to die. 1997: 73. where Foucault characterized the modern project of turning the fundamental limitations of human existence – life. see Werth and Cobia. except that the premature death these opponents fear is not a violent death at the hands of another in a state of nature. 21 The issue of finitude was a dominant theme in Foucault’s early publications.634 Philosophy & Social Criticism 32 (5) 16 I discuss the shifting relationship between self-preservation and selfownership in Tierney. and Prado. and the thought of death as the impossibility of any being-in-the-world whatsoever.995. Aside from its centrality in The Birth of the Clinic. or rather. PSC Downloaded from http://psc. 127. 1999: 30–6. 23 Opponents of the right to die rely on the fear of a premature death that is similar to the fear that animated Hobbes’ political theory. 1991: 28. for criteria for rational suicide. For Heidegger. 1997. 1997: 71–2. see Tierney. 18 See Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act (1995). reflective life is related to Heidegger’s claims about the existential experience of death and authentic existence in Being and Time. indicating that he would rather die than repeat the experience of passing kidney stones. Elsewhere I have contrasted this quasi-Hobbesian fear that informs much of the opposition to the right to die. John Hardwig expressed a stance toward suicide that is somewhat similar to that of the woman from Cea. claimed that one ought to envision and imagine one’s death in its specificity. at least in ‘The Simplest of Pleasures’. see Stoffell. Oregon Revised Statutes. finitude also figured prominently in The Order of Things (1966[1973b]). Also see Salem. 19 I make such an argument in Tierney. 2003: 207–10. 1962: secs 50–3: 293–311). On the other hand. but rather a peaceful. 22 In his frequently misinterpreted. linguistics and economics. essay ‘Is There a Duty to Die?’. 1995: 231–40.

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