For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

On The Government of the Living: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1979-1980

by Foucault, M (2014)


With these lectures Foucault inaugurates his investigations of truth-telling in the ethical domain of practices of techniques of the self. How and why, he asks, does the government of men require those subject to power to be subjects who must tell the truth about themselves?

Key Passage

LAST WEEK I TRIED to explain the passage in Tertullian, from chapter six of De paenitentia , in which he said that we are not immersed in the baptismal waters in order to be purified, but that we are already purified deep in our hearts when we arrive at baptism. I think this passage, which I have tried to clarify by other passages from De paenitentia or from De baptismo , points to a series of important distinctions in Tertullian. The idea that one must arrive at baptism already purified, and so the idea that it is not baptism that, in and by itself alone, in the effectuation of the rite, ensures purification, but that we will be able to see our sins remitted only if we are purified, implies a number of distinctions. First of all, there is the distinction between the work, the labor, as Tertullian says, that the soul exercises or must exercise on itself in order to purify itself— human work therefore— and the divine operation of the remission of sins. It is not the remission of sins that purifies us. So there is a distinction between these two operations. There is a distinction also between catechesis as the teaching of truths, as initiation into the truths of the faith and the fundamental rules of the Christian life, and, on the other hand, the penitential discipline, paenitentiae disciplina , as Tertullian says, which is understood as work, as labor by which the soul learns to free itself from evil, to resist and combat it, to throw it off now, but also to train itself in order to be able to struggle in the future, even after baptism, against the insidious assaults of the devil and all the possibilities of relapse. (p.143)


Foucault, Foucauldian, Truth, Government, Postmodern, Poststructuralism, Religious Views On Work, Tertullian


On the Government of the Living, Foucault Citations

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