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Toward a feminist ethic of the self in dialogue with Mary Astell and Michel Foucault

Webb, Simone; (2021) Toward a feminist ethic of the self in dialogue with Mary Astell and Michel Foucault. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis puts the later work of Michael Foucault (1926-1984) into dialogue with the early-modern feminist philosopher Mary Astell (1666-1731). I read Astell’s key texts through the framework of care of the self and ethic of the self which Foucault develops in his later lectures, interviews, and other texts. I show how she is situated within the same tradition which Foucault identifies in the history of philosophy while at the same time gendering that tradition and turning it to feminist ends. Through my reading of the two philosophers I consider what they can offer a modern feminist ethic of the self. I draw out the potential of Astell’s regimen for women in the modern world, using its limitations as opportunities to interrogate and develop. My argument is that we could, today, benefit from a feminism which focuses on women’s ethical selves, and a structured askesis to facilitate self-transformation. The thesis comprises five chapters. Chapter One reads Astell’s Serious Proposal through Foucault’s lens of “care of the self”, arguing that Astell presents a feminist ethic of care for the self. Chapter Two examines Astell’s “practices of the self”, attending especially to her bodily practices and her practices of withdrawal and meditation. Chapter Three concerns philosophy as a spirituality and critical practice of the self in Astell’s work. Chapter Four addresses the relationship between self and other in Astell and Foucault, focusing particularly on the role of friendship as fundamental to an ethic of the self. Chapter Five considers the role of religion in Astell’s ethic of the self. Each chapter considers the relationship between Astell’s ethic and comparable modern experiences. I conclude by considering a possible model for a feminist ethic of the self drawn from Astell’s regimen, and by offering a critique of the project as a whole.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Toward a feminist ethic of the self in dialogue with Mary Astell and Michel Foucault
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10119457
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