Fulfilling Foucault’s Dream: Gandhi as Modern Exemplar of Epimeleia Heautou and Parrhesia

by Max Cooper

Editor’s Preface: This essay is the second of three by Max Cooper comparing similarities between Gandhi and Michel Foucault. The first we posted 1 June and can be accessed via his Author’s Page, by clicking on his byline. Part Three will follow in a few days. Please also consult the Editor’s Note at the end for biographical information. JG

Cover art courtesy Semiotext(e)

We will here explore Foucault’s interests in the final years of his life in two particular ethico-spiritual practices native to ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophy: epimeliea heautou, the care of the self, and parrhesia, fearless truth-telling. Foucault saw such disciplines as important foundations for an ethical life; lamenting that such foundations could not be found in the modern age, he wished to draw attention to these practices in the hope that they might somehow be revived. We will argue here that Foucault need not have looked back over two thousand years to the ancient Greeks and Hellenes for examples of these practices, but could have found virtually identical practices in the life of Gandhi in his own century. We will suggest ultimately that Gandhi represented precisely the modern practitioner of epimeleia heautou and parrhesia that Foucault was looking for.

Examining certain classicist scholars’ criticisms of Foucault on his interpretation of these practices, we will entertain the striking possibility that Gandhi may have come closer to exemplifying these ancient practices and beliefs than Foucault did to explaining them. Next, we will examine Foucault’s intriguing distinction between ancient and modern philosophy as pertains to the care of the self: most ancient philosophers, Foucault suggested, viewed the attainment of knowledge as possible only after one had performed painstaking preparatory work on oneself; this often took the form of particular “spiritual practices.” Foucault felt that modern philosophy since Descartes had lost this emphasis on preparation for knowledge, to its own great detriment. We suggest that Gandhi, through his rigorous programme of self-purification performed with the goal of realizing Absolute Truth, embodies almost precisely the characteristics of epimeleia heautou that Foucault drew attention to in his classical sources: again, Foucault could have taken heart in Gandhi’s example.

We finally argue that Gandhi, through his uncompromising aspiration to speak truth in every situation, also manifests the ancient philosophical ideal of parrhesia (the fearless telling of truth), to the extent that we may call him a modern parrhesiastes. We suggest that Foucauldian and ancient scholars, and all others wishing with the late Foucault to discover a return to truth, integrity, and spiritual discipline today, would do well to look at the life of Gandhi as an instructive example of the live application of these ethical and epistemological principles in a modern context.

Foucault on Epimeleia Heautou, Care of the Self: His Contemporaries’ Critiques

In the final years of his life, Foucault became intensely interested in the ancient Greek and Hellenic philosophical ideal of epimeleia heautou, the “care of the self,” increasingly believing that modern thought had neglected ancient philosophy’s crucial dictum that one must “take care of oneself.” Importantly, some of Foucault’s contemporaries, scholars of ancient thought, criticized Foucault for interpreting the goals of these practices in what they felt were overly “aesthetic” terms; these scholars argued that Foucault had missed the central characteristic of epimeleia heautou entailing a transcendence of one’s personal self and an understanding of one’s inseparability from existence as a whole. These scholars criticized Foucault for leaving out precisely those aspects of ‘care of the self’, which Gandhi emphasized as integral to knowledge of his own true self, and which we argued [in Part I] differentiated Gandhi’s concept of the true self from Foucault’s.

The leading writer to suggest these shortcomings in Foucault’s interpretation of epimeleia heautou has been the French scholar of ancient philosophy Pierre Hadot. (1) As Arnold I. Davidson, following Hadot, relates, Foucault emphasized the ancient Hellenistic philosophers’ valuation of “the experience of a pleasure that one takes in oneself.” As Foucault wrote: “The individual who has finally succeeded in gaining access to himself is, for himself, an object of pleasure” (2). We may immediately see this emphasis on the pleasure obtained through self-work to suggest working on oneself aesthetically: we feel pleasure when we partake of something aesthetically attractive (we may reflect on how intuitively we combine these terms in calling something ‘aesthetically pleasing’); while art has a variety of goals, perhaps its foremost is to provide aesthetic pleasure. (3) Foucault’s interpretation thus suggests the ancient practice of epimeliea heautou follows precisely the mode by which Foucault sought to change himself through his own work – the aesthetic one. Foucault lent support to this interpretation, of pleasure as the principal end of epimeleia heautou, with a quote from the Roman philosopher Seneca:

Disce gaudere, learn how to feel joy,’ says Seneca to Lucilius: ‘I do not wish you ever to be deprived of gladness. I would have it born in your house; and it is born there, if only it is inside of you . . . for it will never fail you when once you have found its source . . . look toward the true good, and rejoice only in that which comes from your own store. But what do I mean by ‘your own store’? I mean your very self and the best part of you.’ (4)

Foucault could perhaps be excused for taking Seneca to be speaking in largely aesthetic terms. “Learn how to feel joy . . . rejoice only in that which comes from your own store,” can easily be taken to suggest a Foucauldian aesthetic cultivation of the self and the resulting enjoyment of the fruits this may bear; we do often closely associate the words ‘joy’ and ‘rejoicing’ with pleasure.

However, Davidson and Hadot argue that it is misleading for Foucault to characterize the joy Seneca describes as “a form of pleasure.” This is because, as Hadot has convincingly argued, “Seneca opposes pleasure and joy – voluptas and gaudium.” (5) Davidson and Hadot suggest that joy for Seneca is not a joy associated with the individual self, but rather one flowing from a wider notion of the self: “Seneca finds his joy not in his self per se, but in that ‘best part of the self’ that Seneca identifies with perfect reason and, ultimately, with divine reason.” (6) Seneca speaks of a joy springing not from a rejoicing in what we ordinarily view as our self – the body or personality – but flowing rather from the self’s most divine aspect. Furthermore, as Davidson translates Hadot:

The ‘best part’ of oneself, then, is ultimately a transcendent self. Seneca does not find his joy in ‘Seneca,’ but by transcending Seneca; by discovering that he has in him a reason that is part of a universal Reason, that is within all human beings and within the cosmos itself. (7)

Hadot argues that Seneca through his philosophical practice sought to transcend (the personal, individual) ‘Seneca,’ with the purpose of finding within himself the part he shares with a universal Reason, which is within all humanity and the cosmos. This must immediately remind us of Gandhi’s wish to transcend (the personal, individual) ‘Gandhi,’ in order to view himself as identified with all life, which is within all beings and the cosmos. Hadot insists that a crucial element of epimeleia heautou is a consciousness of being part of this cosmic whole:

Hadot has argued that an essential element of the psychic content of the spiritual exercises of ancient philosophy is ‘the feeling of belonging to a Whole,’ what he often describes as a cosmic consciousness, a consciousness of being part of the cosmic whole. This consciousness is summarized in Seneca’s four words Toti se inserens mundo (Plunging oneself into the totality of the world). (8)

Hadot and Davidson, among other scholars, feel that Foucault misses an essential element of these ancient practices – the transcendence of the individual self to “Plunge oneself into the totality of the world.” This plunging must again remind us of Gandhi’s desire to merge his identity into the “limitless ocean” of life. It appears that Hadot and Davidson criticize Foucault for leaving out precisely those aspects of the ancients’ care of the self that characterize Gandhi’s own care for himself, in service of his own self-realization.

In the first Foucault essay we tried to imagine Gandhi’s opinion, informed by his advaitic metaphysics, of Foucault’s desired aesthetic transformation of the self: we suggested that he may have seen such a focus as being at least frivolous, and even pernicious due to an attendant risk of obscuring the true self. In a similar way, Hadot became concerned that “Foucault was suggesting ‘a culture of the self that is too [purely] aesthetic.’” In other words, Hadot wrote, “I fear a new form of dandyism, a version for the end of the twentieth century” (9). Hadot felt that Foucault’s interpretation of epimeleia heautou lacked real depth because it left out the crucial focus on cosmic consciousness. It was for this reason that he feared Foucault’s interpretation might not be able to inform a genuine ethical engagement with the world but could lead instead to mere ‘dandyism.’ Hadot’s concerns seem to mirror those we imagined Gandhi would have, were we to have his opinion on Foucault’s aesthetic model of the care of the self.

We are not in a position to say with certainty who is more correct – Foucault or his critics – regarding the precisely accurate interpretation of epimeleia heautou in ancient philosophy. The present writer, not himself a scholar of ancient philosophy, is insufficiently versed in ancient Greek and Latin to pass a suitably informed judgement. He tends however, with Davidson, to see Hadot’s position as more persuasive; one reason is that we can easily see how Foucault’s deep personal interest in the aesthetic care of the self could motivate him to project this reading (consciously or unconsciously) onto his ancient sources. As Davidson writes: “I do think that Hadot’s interpretation of these ancient texts is the historically accurate interpretation. Foucault’s interpretations are, I believe, motivated, at least in part, by his specific interest in the history of the present, by, for example, his interest in the nature of . . . askesis [‘an exercise of oneself in the activity of thought’ (10)] and by his insistence . . . on linking the ascetic and the aesthetic.” (11)

Gandhi’s Absolute/Relative Truth Distinction

We must now analyze Gandhi’s conception of Truth, upon which we saw he placed supreme importance; we will later examine this alongside Foucault’s fascination in the final years of his life with truthfulness as a moral activity, particularly the ancient Greek practice of fearless truth-telling or parrhesia. We saw for Gandhi the significance of Truth – he declared, “I worship God as Truth only” (12). Actually, Gandhi worshipped God as “Absolute Truth” in particular; he made what was for him an important distinction between “Absolute Truth” (or “God”) and “relative truth” (“the relative truth of our conception”). Gandhi suggested the realization of Absolute Truth or God to be extremely difficult, describing it as something he had not yet achieved himself: “I worship God as Truth only I have not yet found Him, but I am seeking after Him.” What so far kept him from fully finding this Truth, Gandhi said, were his own passions: “it is the evil passions within that keep me so far from Him, and yet I cannot get away from them.” In view of Gandhi’s rigorously self-disciplined life, we must assume complete realization of this Absolute Truth to be difficult indeed. But for Gandhi, one cannot realize Absolute Truth without deep self-purification: working on oneself, eliminating worldly passions such as greed, lust, and anger, and acting selflessly rather than for personal gain; one must forget the body, drop the ego, and ‘make oneself zero’ if one wishes to know God.

However, until this lofty goal is reached, Gandhi held that one still could – and should – hold by “the relative truth of our [i.e., one’s own] conception.” We are to rely on this truth in the meanwhile until we realize Absolute Truth; relative truth is both an ethical code for acting within the world as well as a path to the ultimate goal of Absolute Truth. Thus Gandhi wrote, “as long as I have not realized this Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it. That relative truth must, meanwhile, be my beacon, my shield and buckler” (13). Relative truth is for Gandhi his beacon – providing him some light with which to penetrate the darkness of this world’s endemic untruth and delusion – and his shield and buckler – providing him with protection.

Now while this begins to explain these truths ethically (how they can inform how we act in the world), one might wonder how to understand Gandhi’s truths metaphysically. We can explain this as follows: Absolute Truth is that Truth analogous to the omniscient knowledge of God; because it comes from a universal perspective rather than one particular point of view, this truth is infallible. Just as all-knowing God cannot be incorrect, so too the understanding of one who realizes the Absolute Truth must be correct because it is not limited by the boundaries of individual perspective. To fully understand the Absolute Truth would be something akin to having the awareness of a God or demi-god. However, we can imagine that this is of course profoundly difficult to attain: it necessitates (at the very least) a radical disowning of the personal ego; one must “die to” one’s old individual perspective if one wishes to approach the eternal life of this universal divine consciousness. In lieu of this, the majority of us (who have not realized Absolute Truth) may instead simply hold to the relative truth of our conception: “relative truth” is the truth relative to our particular position in the world and our individual life experience: the truth as it appears to us, from our necessarily limited perspective. Because relative to our station in life, this relative truth may at times (and does quite often, as a look at worldly life soon attests) clash with the held truths of other individuals: even two sincere people may disagree as to the real truth of a given matter; even the most genuine relative truth may remain imperfect and fallible.

Having not yet realized Absolute Truth or God, Gandhi commits himself to the strict observation at least of relative truth. This will entail “truthfulness in word,” “truthfulness in thought” (14), and also “truth[fulness] in action” (15). Gandhi commits to speak, think, and act from the relative truth of his conception in every situation he faces. He does this for its own value as well as in an effort to reach the higher Absolute Truth or God. Thus the realization of the highest Truth does not come easy for Gandhi: it requires observation of strict truthfulness in the everyday events of life, which itself of course necessitates rigorous self-discipline.

Foucault and “Philosophy as a Way of Life”

Foucault emphasized that an important aspect of epimeleia heautou was that, for most ancient philosophers, access to knowledge was not considered something universally available to anyone who could think. These philosophers held rather that to attain knowledge one had to undertake as preparatory work certain disciplinary or “spiritual” practices: before one could know anything of importance, one first had to take care of oneself. These ancients had highlighted two important but distinct philosophical mottos: epimeleia heautou (‘take care of yourself’), and gnothi seauton (‘know yourself’). Foucault was concerned with modern thought’s apparent discarding of epimeleia, care, in favour of an exclusive focus on gnosis, knowledge. Whereas the ancient philosophers had emphasized both of these, modern philosophy seemed to stress knowledge alone; modern philosophy, Foucault pointed out, appeared to utterly neglect the ancient principle that one should take care of oneself.

Foucault sought to discover what had brought about this change, and ultimately located what he felt to have been a major “archaeological shift” in the philosophy of Descartes. Foucault saw what he called “the Cartesian moment” as being characterized “by philosophically requalifying the gnothi seauton and by discrediting the epimeleia heautou” (16). As Stone comments on Foucault’s analysis: “At the heart of the Cartesian moment is the belief that self-knowledge is a given” (17); Descartes feels himself to have proved this in his Second Meditation. “From this self-knowledge, one can then proceed, with certainty, to knowledge of God, mathematics and even the physical world itself. What is missing here, Foucault points out, is the ancient notion of care of the self” (18). Descartes felt that the truth of himself, God, and the entire universe was potentially available to him through the simple use of his mind. Descartes suggested no need for preparatory work on himself in advance of obtaining his knowledge (as he dramatized it, he simply sat one day in his stove-heated room and thought). Foucault sees the Cartesian moment as representing the crucial break in this regard between ancient and modern philosophy – the philosophical privileging of knowledge alone and the end of any perceived necessity for first taking care of oneself.

Foucault defined what is missing from philosophy since Descartes as “spirituality” (19). Foucault did not use this term strictly to refer to one’s religious practices (as it is often understood today), though he maintained that sense as one mode of the term (20): he defined spirituality as “the search, practice, and experience through which the subject carries out the necessary transformations on himself in order to have access to the truth” (21). As Foucault (and many of his contemporaries including Hadot) described it, ancient philosophy “was the pursuit of the kind of life that would lead to knowledge, not just an analysis of what could be known and how one could know it” (22). Ancient philosophers sought to find how one should live, not merely what one could know, and felt moreover that the observation of spiritual practices was a necessary precursor in any case to any attainment of knowledge.

Both Gandhi and Foucault exemplify the ancient principle that philosophy should not be a mere search for knowledge, but should involve work on the self. Foucault claimed to seek through his philosophical work not only to obtain “a certain amount of knowledgeableness,” but to effect his own self-transformation. Gandhi too, while apparently working in the political field, declared that he was always working on himself; he also betrayed a constant and near-obsessive concern with how he himself should live. In common with Foucault’s picture of epimeleia heautou, Gandhi also saw work on himself as necessary for him to access knowledge or truth – he felt that it would be impossible for him to realize Absolute Truth until he had conquered his own “evil passions” (see above). Gandhi, like the ancient practitioners of care of the self, believed that serious self-purification was a necessary pre-condition for realizing the highest knowledge; he had to take care of himself if he hoped to glimpse Absolute Truth. Moreover, as we saw in Part I, the part of himself that Gandhi had to take care of was the divine element within – the “best part of him[self]” as Seneca would have called it.

Radical Truth-Telling: Parrhesia

This leads us to examine Foucault’s deep late interest in the ancient philosophical practice of uncompromising truth telling, which the Greeks called parrhesia: “For several years prior to his death,” Stone notes, “Foucault was obsessed with the question of truth-telling as a moral activity” (23). Foucault defined parrhesia as “verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty” (24). Parrhesia involves a personal relationship: it is not merely logical or epistemic truth, but truth as relates to one’s personal ethical code. The practitioner of parrhesia (the parrhesiastes) risks his own life out of the duty he recognizes to speak the truth. Foucault felt that there was great value in this uncompromising personal relationship to truth: it was because he was concerned with the apparent absence of any such value in modern thought that he sought to investigate “what parrhesia is, how it was used,” and moreover “what hope there is for us in the modern age to reclaim it as a philosophical practice” (25).

Explaining the importance of parrhesia for the ancients, Foucault emphasized three points: First, “ancient philosophy was not separate from how one was to live one’s life”; and

Parrhesia was key to the living of a philosophical life. The ancient thinkers concerned themselves not just with truth-telling (dire-vrai) but also with the true life (la vraie vie). The question of the true life, for the most part, is missing in the modern philosophical age. (26)

Second, philosophy in the ancient period “never stopped addressing, in one way or another, those who governed” (27): Foucault argued that a crucial feature of parrhesiastic philosophy was its role in advising and maintaining dialogue with the politics of its day. As he described it, “philosophy is a form of life; it is also a kind of office – at once both public and private – of political counsel” (28). Third,

The ancient thinkers did not limit their work to the classroom. Any audience could be the audience of a philosophical discourse, and any location could become a philosophical classroom. Philosophy was a public enterprise, never a subject taught in school to a select band of people or a solitary armchair contemplation of thought experiments; its goal was to improve people’s souls. The philosopher had ‘the courage to tell the truth to others in order to guide them in their own conduct.’ (29)

Foucault emphasized that philosophy in antiquity had not been a mere academic subject – taught in school and then gradually forgotten, along with French or Calculus, as one left such things behind to begin “real” work – but a way for people to live their lives. Not merely theoretical work to be discussed in essays and seminars, it was practical wisdom intended to affect people’s entire lives, and to improve their souls.

Gandhi as Modern Parrhesiastes?

Gandhi represents precisely the modern example of parrhesia that Foucault despaired of finding. First, though, we should note one perhaps obvious objection to our nomination: while Foucault’s research was primarily on ancient philosophers, Gandhi is not frequently identified as a “philosopher”; Gandhi was labelled variously throughout his life, most famously being given the title of “Mahatma,” or “great soul,” by his admirers, although he did not enjoy this: “Often the title has deeply pained me; and there is not a moment I can recall when it may be said to have tickled me” (30). Later, when some described him as a “saint losing himself in politics,” he remarked to his friend Polak that, actually, “I am a politician trying my hardest to become a saint” (31). Gandhi was called many things; while not often explicitly called a “philosopher,” our exploration in Part I showed nothing if not that his life was deeply thought out and philosophical enough for him to earn the title. These generic concerns thus should not impede our analysis.

Whatever one calls Gandhi, he shared many qualities with the ancient parrhesiastes. First, Gandhi deeply embodied the first precept of parrhesia listed above: “ancient [parrhesiastic] philosophy was not separate from how one was to live one’s life” (32). When the Shanti Sena peace brigade secretary wrote Gandhi asking for an inspirational message, he replied simply, “My life is my message” (33). Two years earlier, Gandhi gave a similar reply to a Chicago journalist asking for a message for the American people: “My life is its own message. If it is not, then nothing I can now write will fulfil the purpose” (34). For Gandhi, mere theory or discussion was secondary: his message – his philosophy of truth and nonviolence – had to be reduced to practice in every aspect of his life, if it was to be any message at all. As he advised one interviewer, “You must watch my life, how I live, eat, sit, talk, behave in general. The sum total of all those in me is my religion” (35). For Gandhi, just as for the ancient parrhesiastes, his work and philosophy could not be divorced from the minutest aspect of his daily life.

Gandhi notably fits also the second attribute Foucault highlighted about the parrhesiastes: that they constantly addressed “in one way or another, those who governed” (36). This is a constant throughout all of Gandhi’s worldly projects: beginning with his satyagraha campaigns in South Africa, and continuing through his increasingly bold and extensive campaigns in India, he was constantly addressing the colonial powers. In this direction, we may note another crucial aspect of the parrhesiastes that Foucault highlights: “Foucault claims that parrhesia is the result of a moral decision to tell the truth, even if doing so is dangerous” (37). Gandhi risked danger in so often speaking the truth to power, as we can see by his frequent imprisonment at the hands of the colonial government. His fearless speaking of his convictions ultimately brought about his own death, at the hands of one of his own countrymen who disagreed with his opinions.

The third characteristic of ancient parrhesiastic philosophy – that “any audience could be the audience of a philosophical discourse, and any location could become a philosophical classroom”; that “philosophy was a public enterprise” not taught merely to “a select band of people” (38) – perhaps fits Gandhi best of all. Gandhi presented his “experiments with truth” to the general public for them to undertake themselves. He conducted these “[not] in the closet, but in the open,” because he “[had] all along believed that what is possible for one is possible for all” (39), describing only experiments that even children could understand: “Only those matters of religion that can be comprehended as much by children as by older people will be included in this story” (40). Gandhi’s addressing of children is a far cry from most “philosophers” today, whose work most commonly addresses fellow academics, or students rigorously trained in their field.

Gandhi was also a pioneer in opposing the orthodox exclusivity surrounding his own Hindu tradition’s sacred texts: such texts were meant to be read only by members of the higher castes (and in antiquity even the mere hearing of these was forbidden to the lowest castes). Gandhi however introduced his own Gujarati translation of the Bhagavad Gita with the assertion that “this rendering is designed for women, the commercial class, the so-called Sudras [lowest of the four castes], and the like, who have little or no literary equipment, who have neither the time nor the desire to read the Gita in the original, and yet who stand in need of its support” (41). Even when it meant going beyond the usual boundaries of his own religious tradition, Gandhi epitomized the parrhesiastic ideal of teaching not to “a select band of people,” but rather for all – “to improve [all] people’s souls.”

Objection: Gandhi as Voice of All the People, Not Lone Voice in the Wilderness

Critics might offer another objection to our attempt to call Gandhi a parrhesiastes: the ancient parrhesiastes, as described by Foucault, was generally a solitary individual confronting larger institutions or state exercises of tyranny – a ‘lone voice in the wilderness,’ as it were. Typifying this is Foucault’s example, given in his final lecture series (1983-84), of the aged Solon’s “taking a stand,” a story frequently recounted in Greek literature: witnessing the rise of Pisistratus’s personal tyranny in Athens, Solon decides to speak out against the tyrant at the assembly. Solon is the only citizen with the courage to speak out, and Foucault describes the implicit message of his speech as: “I am wiser than those who have failed to understand the designs of Pisistratus, and I am more courageous than those who have understood but remain silent out of fear” (42). Solon’s position is dangerous precisely because he is the only citizen with the courage to stand up against the tyrant. And indeed, he remains the only one – “after Solon’s speech . . . the Council replies that in fact Solon is going mad (mainesthai)”. (43)

Gandhi’s fearless speaking of truth to power looks to have come in a different situation. Certainly he still courageously put himself in danger of harm from the colonial government; however, while the ancient parrhesiastes were lone voices of reason generally even among their fellow citizens, Gandhi’s was not a lone voice among his people. His stance against colonial rule was in harmony with that of the vast majority of India; his fearless telling of truth came in the context of a massive nationwide independence movement wherein almost all of his fellow citizens shared his general position and sentiments. Furthermore, one might suggest his method of nonviolence to be less extreme, and perhaps to put his person at less risk of harm, than some of his contemporaries’ more physically violent revolutionary methods.

However, we might suggest other ways in which Gandhi was more of a parrhesiastes even in relation to his own people. We can see this in his willingness not only to denounce foreign British rule, but also to speak out in unpopular criticism of the independence movement itself. This is evident as early as his 1909 Hind Swaraj, at a time when Gandhi was unique within the movement in his advocacy of strict nonviolence (ahimsa); other independence leaders generally advocated revolution based on more or less violent resistance. Also understandably prominent within the movement were emotions of anger towards the English. At this time, Gandhi took the surprising stance of urging his countrymen to be more co-operative towards their occupiers:

I can never subscribe to the statement that all Englishmen are bad. . . . We who seek justice will have to do justice to others. . . . if we shun every Englishman as an enemy, Home Rule will be delayed. But if we are just to them, we shall receive their support in our progress towards the goal. (44)

The fictional interlocutor of Hind Swaraj (representing the voices of other independence leaders) responds: “All this seems to me at present to be simply nonsensical. English support and the obtaining of Home Rule are two contradictory things . . . You have prejudiced me against you by discoursing on English help. I would, therefore, beseech you not to continue this subject” (45). This indeed was the attitude of most of Gandhi’s countrymen and colleagues: reluctance even to listen to such a surprising suggestion. For a nation – and indeed, a world – which had never before witnessed nonviolent revolution on a scale so large, the notion that being “just” to the English – in order to receive their support – must understandably have seemed naive and nonsensical.

Gandhi does not stop there. When his interlocutor expounds his position on military strength: “We must own our navy, our army, and we must have our own splendour, and then will India’s voice ring through the world” (46), Gandhi responds, “[in effect you mean that] we want English rule without the Englishman. You want the tiger’s nature, but not the tiger; that is to say, you would make India English, and, when it becomes English, it will be called not Hindustan but Englistan. This is not the Swaraj that I want” (47). At this time, most Indians dreamed of an India that was a strong military power like England. This was understandable – how were they to throw off the strong and heavy shackles of colonial rule without physical force? Gandhi, however, dreamed of another solution, and was willing to speak his conviction on this whether his colleagues and fellow citizens agreed with him or not. Gandhi in some respect is thus a double parrhesiastes – speaking his truths not only to his nation’s occupiers, but also from the first speaking what he must have known would be his baffling and unpopular views without reservation to his own people.

Foucault need not have despaired of finding a parrhesiastes in the modern age. Rather than looking back resignedly over twenty centuries to ancient Greece and Rome, he might have looked more optimistically to twentieth century India, and found Gandhi exemplifying these same epistemological and ethical philosophical principles he held so dear. Gandhi strikingly shares with these ancient philosophers both the characteristics of the parrhesiastes and an emphasis on epimeleia heautou – believing that spiritual exercises in care of the self are necessary forerunners for the attainment of the highest knowledge. Moreover, if the criticisms of Davidson and Hadot are correct, Gandhi might have come closer to genuinely exemplifying the ancient principles of epimeleia heautou than even Foucault himself could have appreciated, due to Foucault’s own controversial interpretation of these practices through his own aesthetic lens. We might suggest then one more description of the Mahatma; besides great soul, politician, philosopher, or saint, perhaps he is also the foremost modern embodiment of two little-understood ancient ideals: epimeleia heautou and parrhesia.

Endnotes: (Max Cooper)

(1) Hadot’s most specific critique on this matter comes in an article available only in the French, “Refléxions sur la notion de ‘culture de soi,’” in Michel Foucault, Philosophe, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1989, a language of which our knowledge is not sufficient for philosophical analysis. We thus are working from Arnold I. Davidson’s article in English which provides an excellent summary and discussion of Hadot’s arguments (Davidson, “Ethics as Ascetics,” Cambridge Companion to Michel Foucault, 2nd edition. Ed. Garry Gutting. 121-147. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.

(2) Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vol. III: The Care of the Self. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon, 1986; p. 41; from Davidson, “Ethics as Ascetics,” p. 128.

(3) We might recall for instance Wordsworth’s famous definition of poetry: writing whose end is “to produce excitement in co-existence with an overbalance of pleasure”, Preface to Lyrical Ballads 3. His short manifesto of poetry employs the words “pleasure” and “pleasurable” over twenty-five times; cf. Preface to Lyrical Ballads.

(4) Foucault. Care of the Self; p. 43; quoted in Davidson, p. 128.

(5) Davidson, p. 129.

(6) Ibid, p. 129.

(7) Hadot, Pierre. “Refléxions sur la notion de ‘culture de soi,’” in Michel Foucault, Philosophe. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1989, p. 262; quoted in Davidson, p. 129.

(8) Davidson, p. 129.

(9) Davidson, p. 130; Hadot, p. 267.

(10) We take this definition of askesis from Lisa Downing, The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault , Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008, p. 96.

(11) Davidson, p. 144 n. 23.

(12) Gandhi, Mohandas K. An Autobiography: or The Story of My Experiments With Truth. Trans. Mahadev Desai. 1929. London: Penguin Books, 2001, p. 15.

(13) Ibid, p. 15.

(14) Ibid, p. 15.

(15) Gandhi, Mohandas K. Mahatma Gandhi: The Essential Writings. Ed. Judith M. Brown. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 45.

(16) Foucault, Michel. The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981-1982, Ed. F. Gros, Trans. G. Burchell. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005; p. 14; from Stone, Brad Elliot. “Subjectivity and Truth.” Michel Foucault: Key Concepts. Edited by Dianna Taylor. Durham, UK: Acumen, 2011, pp. 144-145.

(17) Stone, p. 145.

(18) Ibid, p. 145.

(19) Ibid, p. 145.

(20) Ibid, p. 145.

(21) Gandhi, Mohandas K. ‘Hind Swarajand Other Writings: Centenary Edition. Ed. Anthony J. Parel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 15

(22) Stone, p. 145.

(23) Stone, p. 146.

(24). Foucault, Michel. Fearless Speech. J. Pearson, ed. New York: Semiotext(e), 2001, p. 12. N.B.: Collected 1983 University of California Lectures at Berkeley; quoted in Stone, p. 147.

(25) Stone, p. 147.

(26) Stone, pp. 147-148.

(27) Foucault, Michel. Le gouvernement de soi et des autres: Cours au Collège de France, 1982-1983. Paris: Seuil/Gallimard, 2008; p. 316; quoted in Stone, p. 148.

(28) Foucault, Le gouvernement de soi et des autres, p. 317; from Stone, p. 148.

(29) Stone, p. 148; final quotation from Foucault, Le gouvernement de soi, p. 318.

(30) Gandhi, Autobiography, p. 14.

(31) Polak, Hy. S.L. “The Wisdom of Gandhi.” In Mahatma Gandhi: Essays and Reflections, ed. by S. Radhakrishnan. Mumbai: Jaico, 1957; 2010 reprint; Google Books, p. 228.

(32) Stone, p. 147.

(33) Gandhi, Rajmohan. Gandhi: The Man, His People, and The Empire. Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2007 (Accessed through Google Books), p. 615.

(34) Ibid, p. 615.

(35) from Easwaran, Eknath. Gandhi The Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World. 1972. Tomales, California: Nilgiri Press, 2011, p. 155.

(36) Stone p. 147; Foucault, Le gouvernement de soi et des autres, p. 316.

(37) Stone, p. 151.

(38) Ibid, p. 148.

(39) Gandhi, Autobiography, p. 14.

(40) Ibid, p. 14.

(41) Gandhi, Mohandas K. Introduction. The Bhagavad Gita According to Gandhi. Text and commentary trans. from Gujarati. Ed. John Strohmeier. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2009, p. xvi.

(42) Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vol. III: The Care of the Self. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Pantheon, 1986, p. 76.

(43) Ibid, p. 77.

(44) Gandhi, Mohandas K. ‘Hind Swarajand Other Writings: Centenary Edition. Ed. Anthony J. Parel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009, p. 17.

(45) Ibid, p. 17.

(46) Ibid, p. 27.

(47) Ibid, p. 27.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Max Cooper writes on Indian Philosophy and Religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, Comparative East-West Philosophy, American and English literature, and Gandhian studies. Much of his work can be found on his academia.edu page. This paper completed: University of Delhi, July 2013.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi