The Courage of Truth: The Government of Self and Others II: First Lecture February 1st 1984 - Collège de France

— Foucault, Michel. The Courage of Truth.” First Lecture 1 February 1984 In Lectures at the Collège de France 1983-1984, translated by G. Burchell, 1-22. Picador, 1984.

First Lecture - February 1st 1984 - 2 hours. Audio recordings

1 FEBRUARY 1984 First hour

This year I would like to continue with the theme of parrhêsia, truth-telling, that I began to talk about last year. The lectures I would like to give will no doubt be somewhat disjointed because they deal with things that I would like to have done with, as it were, in order to return, after this several years long Greco-Latin trip”, to some contemporary problems which I will deal with either in the second part of the course, or possibly in the form of a working seminar.

Well then, I shall remind you of something. You know that the rules are that the lectures of the Collège are and must be public. So it is quite right that anyone, French citizens or otherwise, has the right to come and listen to them. The Collège professors are obliged to report regularly on their research in these public lectures. However, this principle poses problems and raises a number of difficulties, because the work, the research one may undertake—especially [with regard to] questions like those I dealt with previously [and] to which I would now like to return, that is to say the analysis of certain practices and institutions in modern society—increasingly involves collective work which, of course, can only be pursued in the form of a closed seminar, and not in a room like this and with such a large public. I am not going to hide from you the fact that I shall raise the problem of whether it is possible, whether it may be institutionally acceptable to divide the work I am doing here between public lectures—which, once again, are part of the job and of your rights—and lectures which would be restricted to small working groups with some students or researchers who have a more specialized interest in the question being studied. The public lectures would be, as it were, the exoteric version of the somewhat more esoteric work in a group. In any case, I don’t know how many public lectures I will give or for how long. So, if you like, let’s get going and then we’ll see.

This year I would like to continue the study of free-spokenness (franc-parler), of parrhêsia as modality of truth-telling. I will restate the general idea for those of you who were not here last year. It is absolutely true that the analysis of the specific structures of those discourses which claim to be and are accepted as true discourse is both interesting and important. Broadly speaking, we could call the analysis of these structures an epistemological analysis. On the other hand, it seemed to me that it would be equally interesting to analyze the conditions and forms of the type of act by which the subject manifests himself when speaking the truth, by which I mean, thinks of himself and is recognized by others as speaking the truth. Rather than analyzing the forms by which a discourse is recognized as true, this would involve analyzing the form in which, in his act of telling the truth, the individual constitutes himself and is constituted by others as a subject of a discourse of truth, the form in which he presents himself to himself and to others as someone who tells the truth, the form of the subject telling the truth. In contrast with the study of epistemological structures, the analysis of this domain could be called the study of alethurgic” forms. I am using here a word which I commented on last year or two years ago. Etymologically, alethurgy would be the production of truth, the act by which truth is manifested. So, let’s leave the kind of analysis which focuses on epistemological structure” to one side and begin to analyze alethurgic forms.” This is the framework in which I am studying the notion and practice of parrhêsia, but for those of you who were not here I would like to recall how I arrived at this problem. I came to it from the old, traditional question, which is at the very heart of Western philosophy, of the relations between subject and truth, a question which I posed, which I took up first of all in classical, usual, and traditional terms, that is to say: on the basis of what practices and through what types of discourse have we tried to tell the truth about the subject? Thus: on the basis of what practices, through what types of discourse have we tried to tell the truth about the mad subject or the delinquent subject? On the basis of what discursive practices was the speaking, laboring, and living subject constituted as a possible object of knowledge (savoir)? This was the field of study that I tried to cover for a period.

And then I tried to envisage this same question of subject/truth relations in another form: not that of the discourse of truth in which the truth about the subject can be told, but that of the discourse of truth which the subject is likely and able to speak about himself, which may be, for example, avowal, confession, or examination of conscience. This was the analysis of the subject’s true discourse about himself, and it was easy to see the importance of this discourse for penal practices or in the domain of the experience of sexuality.

This theme, this problem led me, in previous years’ lectures, to [attempt] the historical analysis of practices of telling the truth about oneself. In undertaking this analysis I noticed something unexpected. To be more precise, I shall say that it is easy to note the great importance of the principle that one should tell the truth about oneself in all of ancient morality and in Greek and Roman culture. In support and as illustration of the importance of this principle in ancient culture, we can cite such frequently, constantly, continually recommended practices [as] the examination of conscience prescribed by the Pythagoreans or Stoics, of which Seneca provides such elaborate examples, and which are found again in Marcus Aurelius. We can also cite practices like correspondence, the exchange of moral, spiritual letters, examples of which can be found in Seneca, Pliny the Younger, Fronto, and Marcus Aurelius. We can also cite, again as illustration of this principle one should tell the truth about oneself,” other, perhaps less well-known practices which have left fewer traces, like the notebooks, the kinds of journals which people were recommended to keep about themselves, either for the recollection and meditation of things one has experienced or read, or to record one’s dreams when waking up.

So it is quite easy to locate a very clear and solid set of practices in ancient culture which involve telling the truth about oneself. These practices are certainly not unknown and I make no claim to having discovered them; that is not my intention. But I think there is a consistent tendency to analyze these forms of practices of telling the truth about oneself by relating them, as it were, to a central axis which is, of course—and entirely legitimately—the Socratic principle of know yourself”: they are then seen as the illustration, the implementation, the concrete exemplification of the principle of gnôthi seauton. But I think it would be interesting to situate these practices in a broader context defined by a principle of which the gnôthi seauton is itself only an implication. This principle—I think I tried to bring this out in the lectures I gave two years ago—is that of epimeleia heautou (care of self, application to oneself). This precept, which is so archaic, so ancient in Greek and Roman culture, and which in Platonic texts, and [more] precisely in the Socratic dialogues, is regularly associated with the gnôthi seauton, this principle (epimelê seautô: take care of yourself) gave rise, I think, to the development of what could be called a culture of self” in which a whole set of practices of self are formulated, developed, worked out, and transmitted. Studying these practices of self as the historical framework in which the injunction one should tell the truth about oneself” developed, I saw a figure emerge who was constantly present as the indispensable partner, at any rate the almost necessary helper in this obligation to tell the truth about oneself. To put it more clearly and concretely, I shall say: we do not have to wait until Christianity, until the institutionalization of the confession at the start of the thirteenth century, until the organization and installation of a pastoral power, for the practice of telling the truth about oneself to rely upon and appeal to the presence of the other person who listens and enjoins one to speak, and who speaks himself. In ancient culture, and therefore well before Christianity, telling the truth about oneself was an activity involving several people, an activity with other people, and even more precisely an activity with one other person, a practice for two. And it was this other person who is present, and necessarily present in the practice of telling the truth about oneself, which caught and held my attention.

The status and presence of this other person who is so necessary for me to be able to tell the truth about myself obviously poses some problems. It is not so easy to analyze, for if it is true that we are relatively familiar with the other who is necessary for telling the truth about oneself in Christian culture, in which he takes the institutional form of the confessor or spiritual director, and if it is fairly easy to spot this other person in modern culture, whose status and functions should no doubt be analyzed more precisely—this other person who is indispensable for me to be able to tell the truth about myself, whether in the role of doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychoanalyst—on the other hand, in ancient culture, where this role is nevertheless well attested, we have to acknowledge that its status is much more variable, vague, much less clear cut and institutionalized. In ancient culture this other who is necessary for me to be able to tell the truth about myself might be a professional philosopher, but he could be anybody. You recall, for example, the passage in Galen on the cure of errors and passions, in which he says that to tell the truth about oneself and to know oneself we need someone else whom we can pick up almost anywhere, so long as he is old enough and serious. This person may be a professional philosopher, or he may be just anybody. He may be a teacher who is more or less part of an institutionalized pedagogical structure (Epictetus directed a school), but he may be a personal friend, or a lover. He may be a provisional guide for a young man who is not yet fully mature, who has not yet made his basic choices in life, who is not yet the full master of himself, but he may also be a permanent adviser who will accompany someone throughout his life and guide him until death. You recall, for example, the Cynic Demetrius who was the counselor of Thrasea Paetus, an important figure in Roman political life in the middle of the first century, and who served him as counselor until the day of his death, until his suicide—since Demetrius was present at the suicide of Thrasea Paetus and conversed with him until his last breath about the immortality of the soul, naturally in the manner of the Socratic dialogue.

The status of this other person is variable therefore. Nor is it any easier to isolate and define his role, his practice, since in one respect it is connected with and leans on pedagogy, but it is also guidance of the soul. It may also be a sort of political advice. But equally the role may be presented metaphorically and even manifest itself and take shape as a sort medical practice, since it is a question of taking care of the soul and of fixing a regimen of life, which includes, of course, the regimen of passions, but also the dietary regimen, and the mode of life in all its aspects.

However, even if the role of this other person who is indispensable for telling the truth about oneself is uncertain or, if you like, polyvalent, even if it appears with a number of different aspects and profiles— medical, political, and pedagogical— which mean that it is not always easy to grasp exactly what his role is, even so, whatever his role, status, function, and profile may be, this other has, or rather should have a particular kind of qualification in order to be the real and effective partner of truth-telling about self. And this qualification, unlike the confessor’s or spiritual director’s in Christian culture, is not given by an institution and does not refer to the possession and exercise of specific spiritual powers. Nor is it, as in modern culture, an institutional qualification guaranteeing a psychological, psychiatric, or psychoanalytic knowledge. The qualification required by this uncertain, rather vague, and variable character is a practice, a certain way of speaking which is called, precisely, parrhêsia (free-spokenness).

To be sure, it has now become quite difficult for us to recapture this notion of parrhêsia, of speaking out freely, constitutive of the figure of this other person who is indispensable for me to be able to tell the truth about myself. But it has nonetheless left many traces in the Latin and Greek texts. In the first place, it has obviously left traces in the fairly frequent use of the word, and then also through references to the notion even when the word itself is not used. We find many examples, in Seneca in particular, where the practice of parrhêsia is very clearly picked out in descriptions and characterizations, practically without the word being used, if only because of the difficulties the Latins had translating the word parrhêsia itself. Apart from these occurrences of the word or references to the notion, there are also some texts which are more or less wholly devoted to the notion of parrhêsia. From the first century before Jesus Christ, there is the text of the Epicurean Philodemus, who wrote a Peri parrhêsia, a large part of which is sadly lost. But there is also Plutarch’s treatise, How to Distinguish the Flatterer from the Friend, which is entirely taken up with an analysis of parrhêsia, or rather of the two opposed, conflicting practices of flattery, on the one hand, and parrhêsia (free-spokenness) on the other. There is Galen’s text, which I referred to a moment ago, on the cure of errors and passions, in which a whole section is devoted to parrhêsia and to the choice of the person who is rightly qualified as being able and having to use this free-spokenness so that the individual can, in turn, tell the truth about himself and constitute himself as subject telling the truth about himself. So this is how I was led to focus on this notion of parrhêsia as a constitutive component of truth-telling about self or, more precisely, as the element which qualifies the other person who is necessary in the game and obligation of speaking the truth about self.

You may recall that last year I undertook the analysis of this free- spokenness, of the practice of parrhêsia, and of the character able to employ parrhêsia, who is called the parrhêsiast (parrhêsiastes)—the word appears later. The study of parrhêsia and of the parrhêsiastes in the culture of self in Antiquity is obviously a sort of prehistory of those practices which are organized and developed later around some famous couples: the penitent and the confessor, the person being guided and the spiritual director, the sick person and the psychiatrist, the patient and the psychoanalyst. It was, in a sense, this prehistory that I was trying to write.

Only then, while studying this parrhêsiastic practice in this perspective, as the prehistory of these famous couples, I became aware again of something which rather surprised me and which I had not foreseen. Although parrhêsia is an important notion in the domain of spiritual direction, spiritual guidance, or soul counseling, and however important it may be in Hellenistic and Roman literature in particular, it is important to recognize that its origin lies elsewhere, that it is not essentially, fundamentally, or primarily in the practice of spiritual guidance that it emerges.

Last year I tried to show you that the notion of parrhêsia was first of all and fundamentally a political notion. And this analysis of parrhêsia as a political notion, as a political concept, clearly took me away somewhat from my immediate project: the ancient history of practices of telling the truth about oneself. However, on the other hand, this drawback was compensated for by the fact that by taking up again or undertaking the analysis of parrhêsia in the field of political practices, I drew a bit closer to a theme which, after all, has always been present in my analysis of the relations between the subject and truth: that of relations of power and their role in the interplay between the subject and truth. With the notion of parrhêsia, originally rooted in political practice and the problematization of democracy, then later diverging towards the sphere of personal ethics and the formation of the moral subject, with this notion with political roots and its divergence into morality, we have, to put things very schematically—and this is what interested me, why I stopped to look at this and am still focusing on it—the possibility of posing the question of the subject and truth from the point of view of the practice of what could be called the government of oneself and others. And thus we come back to the theme of government which I studied some years ago. It seems to me that by examining the notion of parrhêsia we can see how the analysis of modes of veridiction, the study of techniques of governmentality, and the identification of forms of practice of self interweave. Connecting together modes of veridiction, techniques of governmentality, and practices of the self is basically what I have always been trying to do.

And to the extent that this involves the analysis of relations between modes of veridiction, techniques of governmentality, and forms of practice of self, you can see that to depict this kind of research as an attempt to reduce knowledge (savoir) to power, to make it the mask of power in structures, where there is no place for a subject, is purely and simply a caricature. What is involved, rather, is the analysis of complex relations between three distinct elements none of which can be reduced to or absorbed by the others, but whose relations are constitutive of each other. These three elements are: forms of knowledge (savoirs), studied in terms of their specific modes of veridiction; relations of power, not studied as an emanation of a substantial and invasive power, but in the procedures by which people’s conduct is governed; and finally the modes of formation of the subject through practices of self. It seems to me that by carrying out this triple theoretical shift—from the theme of acquired knowledge to that of veridiction, from the theme of domination to that of governmentality, and from the theme of the individual to that of the practices of self—we can study the relations between truth, power, and subject without ever reducing each of them to the others.

Now, having recalled this general trajectory, I would like [to mention briefly some of the essential elements which characterize parrhêsia and the parrhêsiastic role. Very briefly, for a few minutes, and once again [for the benefit of] those who were not here, I shall go back over some things I have already said (I apologize to those who will be hearing this again), and then I would like, as quickly as possible, to move on to another way of envisaging the same notion of parrhêsia.

You recall that, etymologically, parrhêsia is the activity that consists in saying everything: pan rema. Parrhêsiasthai is telling all.” The parrhêsiastês is the person who says everything. Thus, as an example, in his discourse On the Embassy, Demosthenes says: It is necessary to speak with parrhêsia, without holding back at anything, without concealing anything. Similarly, in the First Phillipic he takes up exactly the same term and says: I will tell you what I think without concealing anything. The parrhêsiast is the person who tells all.

But we should immediately add the clarification that this word parrhêsia may be employed with two values. I think we find it used in a pejorative sense, first in Aristophanes, and afterwards very commonly, even in Christian literature. Used in a pejorative sense, parrhêsia does indeed consist in saying everything, but in the sense of saying anything (anything that comes to mind, anything that serves the cause one is defending, anything that serves the passion or interest driving the person who is speaking). The parrhêsiast then becomes and appears as the impenitent chatterbox, someone who cannot restrain himself or, at any rate, someone who cannot index-link his discourse to a principle of rationality and truth. There is an example of this use of the term parrhêsia in a pejorative sense (saying everything, saying anything, saying whatever comes to mind without reference to any principle of reason or truth) in Socrates, in the discourse entitled Busiris in which Isocrates says that, unlike the poets who ascribe everything and anything, absolutely every and any qualities and defects to the gods, one should not say everything about them. Similarly, in Book VIII of The Republic (I will give you the exact reference shortly because I will come back to this text) there is the description of the bad democratic city, which is all motley, fragmented, and dispersed between different interests, passions, and individuals who do not agree with each other. This bad democratic city practices parrhêsia: anyone can say anything.

But the word parrhêsia is also employed in a positive sense, and then parrhêsia consists in telling the truth without concealment, reserve, empty manner of speech, or rhetorical ornament which might encode or hide it. Telling all” is then: telling the truth without hiding any part of it, without hiding it behind anything. In the Second Philippic, Demosthenes thus says that, unlike bad parrhêsiasts who say anything and do not index their discourses to reason, he, Demosthenes, does not want to speak without reason, he does not want to resort to insults” and exchange blow for blow” (you know, those infamous disputes in which anything is said so long as it may harm the adversary and be useful to one’s own cause). He does not want to do this, but rather he wants to tell the truth (ta alethe: things that are true) with parrhêsia (meta parrhêsias). Moreover, he adds: I will conceal nothing (oukh apokhrupsomai). To hide nothing and say what is true is to practice parrhêsia. Parrhesia is therefore telling all,” but tied to the truth: telling the whole truth, hiding nothing of the truth, telling the truth without hiding it behind anything.

However, I don’t think this suffices as a description and definition of this notion of parrhêsia. In fact —leaving aside the negative senses of the term for the moment— in addition to the rule of telling all and the rule of truth, two supplementary conditions are required for us to be able to speak of parrhêsia in the positive sense of the term. Not only must this truth really be the personal opinion of the person who is speaking, but he must say it as being what he thinks, [and not] reluctantly — and this is what makes him a parrhêsiast. The parrhêsiast gives his opinion, he says what he thinks, he personally signs, as it were, the truth he states, he binds himself to this truth, and he is consequently bound to it and by it. But this is not enough. For after all, a teacher, a grammarian or a geometer, may say something true about the grammar or geometry they teach, a truth which they believe, which they think. And yet we will not call this parrhêsia. We will not say that the geometer and grammarian are parrhêsiasts when they teach truths which they believe. For there to be parrhêsia, you recall—I stressed this last year—the subject must be taking some kind of risk [in speaking[ this truth which he signs as his opinion, his thought, his belief, a risk which concerns his relationship with the person to whom he is speaking. For there to be parrhêsia, in speaking the truth one must open up, establish, and confront the risk of offending the other person, of irritating him, of making him angry and provoking him to conduct which may even be extremely violent. So it is the truth subject to risk of violence. For example, in the First Philippic, after having said that he is speaking meta parrhêsias (with frankness), Demosthenes [adds]: I am well aware that, by employing this frankness, I do not know what the consequences will be for me of the things I have just said.

In short, parrhêsia, the act of truth, requires: first, the manifestation of a fundamental bond between the truth spoken and the thought of the person who spoke it; [second], a challenge to the bond between the two interlocutors (the person who speaks the truth and the person to whom this truth is addressed). Hence this new feature of parrhêsia: it involves some form of courage, the minimal form of which consists in the parrhêsiast taking the risk of breaking and ending the relationship to the other person which was precisely what made his discourse possible. In a way, the parrhêsiast always risks undermining that relationship which is the condition of possibility of his discourse. This is very clear in parrhêsia as spiritual guidance, for example, which can only exist if there is friendship, and where the employment of truth in this spiritual guidance is precisely in danger of bringing into question and breaking the relationship of friendship which made this discourse of truth possible.

But in some cases this courage may also take a maximal form when one has to accept that, if one is to tell the truth, not only may one’s personal, friendly relationship with the person to whom one is speaking be brought into question, but one may even be risking one’s life. When Plato goes to see Dionysius the Elder—this is recounted in Plutarch—he tells him truths which so offend the tyrant that he conceives the plan, which in fact he does not put into execution, of killing Plato. But Plato fundamentally knew and accepted this risk. Parrhesia therefore not only puts the relationship between the person who speaks and the person to whom he addresses the truth at risk, but it may go so far as to put the very life of the person who speaks at risk, at least if his interlocutor has power over him and cannot bear being told the truth. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle lays stress on the connection between parrhêsia and courage when he links what he calls megalopsukhia (greatness of soul) to the practice of parrhêsia.

Only —and this is the last feature I would like to recall briefly— parrhêsia may be organized, developed, and stabilized in what could be called a parrhêsiastic game. For if the parrhêsiast is someone who, by telling the truth, the whole truth, regardless of any other consideration, risks bringing his relationship to the other into question, and even risks his life, on the other hand, the person to whom this truth is told—whether this is the assembled people deliberating on the best decisions to take, or the Prince, the tyrant or king to whom advice must be given, or the friend one is guiding—this person (people, king, friend), if he wants to play the role proposed to him by the parrhêsiast in telling him the truth, must accept the truth, however much it may hurt generally accepted opinion in the Assembly, the Prince’s passions or interests, or the individual’s ignorance or blindness. The people, the Prince, and the individual must accept the game of parrhêsia; they must play it themselves and recognize that they have to listen to the person who takes the risk of telling them the truth. Thus the true game of parrhêsia will be established on the basis of this kind of pact which means that if the parrhêsiast demonstrates his courage by telling the truth despite and regardless of everything, the person to whom this parrhêsia is addressed will have to demonstrate his greatness of soul by accepting being told the truth. This kind of pact, between the person who takes the risk of telling the truth and the person who agrees to listen to it, is at the heart of what could be called the parrhêsiastic game.

So, in two words, parrhêsia is the courage of the truth in the person who speaks and who, regardless of everything, takes the risk of telling the whole truth that he thinks, but it is also the interlocutor’s courage in agreeing to accept the hurtful truth that he hears.

You can see then how the practice of parrhêsia is opposed to the art of rhetoric in every respect. Very schematically, we can say that rhetoric, as it was defined and practiced in Antiquity, is basically a technique concerning the way that things are said, but does not in any way determine the relations between the person who speaks and what he says. Rhetoric is an art, a technique, a set of processes which enable the person speaking to say something which may not be what he thinks at all, but whose effect will be to produce convictions, induce certain conducts, or instill certain beliefs in the person [to whom he speaks]. In other words, rhetoric does not involve any bond of belief between the person speaking and what he [states]. The good rhetorician, the good rhetor is the man who may well say, and who is perfectly capable of saying, something completely different from what he knows, believes, and thinks, but of saying it in such a way that, in the final analysis, what he says—which is not what he believes, thinks, or knows— becomes what those he has spoken to think, believe, and think they know. The connection between the person speaking and what he says is broken in rhetoric, but the effect of rhetoric is to establish a constraining bond between what is said and the person or persons to whom it is said. You can see that from this point of view rhetoric is the exact opposite of parrhêsia, [which entails on the contrary a] strong, manifest, evident foundation between the person speaking and what he says, since he must openly express his thought, and you can see that in parrhêsia there is no question of saying anything other than what one thinks. Parrhesia therefore establishes a strong, necessary, and constitutive bond between the person speaking and what he says, but it exposes to risk the bond between the person speaking and the person to whom he speaks. For, after all, it is always possible that the person to whom one is speaking will not welcome what one says. He may take offence at what one says, he may reject it and even punish or take revenge on the person who has told him the truth. So rhetoric does not entail any bond between the person speaking and what is said, but aims to establish a constraining bond, a bond of power between what is said and the person to whom it is said. Parrhesia, on the other hand, involves a strong and constitutive bond between the person speaking and what he says, and, through the effect of the truth, of the injuries of truth, it opens up the possibility of the bond between the person speaking and the person to whom he has spoken being broken. Let’s say, very schematically, that the rhetorician is, or at any rate may well be an effective liar who constrains others. The parrbesiast, on the contrary, is the courageous teller of a truth by which he puts himself and his relationship with the other at risk.

These are all things which I spoke to you about last year. I would like now to move on a bit and note straightaway that we should not think of parrhêsia as a sort of well-defined technique in a counter-balancing and symmetrical relation to rhetoric. We should not think that in Antiquity, facing the rhetorician who was a professional, a technician, and facing rhetoric, which was a technique and required an apprenticeship, there was a parrhêsiast and a parrhêsia which would also be [… Michel Foucault is interrupted at this point by pop music from one of the cassette recorders. We hear a member of the audience rush to their machine. M.F.: I think you are mistaken. It is at least Michael Jackson? Too bad.”].

The parrhêsiast is not a professional. And parrhêsia is after all something other than a technique or a skill, although it has technical aspects. Parrhesia is not a skill; it is something which is harder to define. It is a stance, a way of being which is akin to a virtue, a mode of action. Parrhesia involves ways of acting, means brought together with a view to an end, and in this respect it has, of course, something to do with technique, but it is also a role which is useful, valuable, and indispensable for the city and for individuals. Parrhesia should be regarded as a modality of truth-telling, rather than [as a] technique [like] rhetoric. To arrive at a better definition we can contrast it with other basic modalities of truth-telling found in Antiquity, and which will no doubt be found, in displaced and different guises and forms, in other societies, as well as our own. Basing ourselves on the clear understandings which Antiquity has left us about these things, we may define four basic modalities of truth-telling.

First, the truth-telling of prophecy. I will not try here to analyze what the prophets said, (the structures, as it were, of what was said by prophets), but rather the way in which the prophet constitutes himself and is recognized by others as a subject speaking the truth. Evidently, the prophet, like the parrhêsiast, is someone who tells the truth. But I think that what fundamentally characterizes the prophet’s truth-telling, his veridiction, is that the prophet’s posture is one of mediation. The prophet, by definition, does not speak in his own name. He speaks for another voice; his mouth serves as intermediary for a voice which speaks from elsewhere. The prophet, usually, transmits the word of God. The discourse he articulates and utters is not his own. He addresses a truth to men which comes from elsewhere. The prophet’s position is intermediary in another sense in that he is between the present and the future. The second characteristic of the prophet’s intermediary position is that he reveals what time conceals from humans, what no human gaze could see and no human ear could hear without him. Prophetic truth-telling is also intermediary in that, in one way of course, the prophet reveals, shows, or sheds light on what is hidden from men, but in another way, or rather at the same time, he does not reveal without being obscure, and he does not disclose without enveloping what he says in the form of the riddle. Hence prophecy basically never gives any univocal and clear prescription. It does not bluntly speak the pure, transparent truth. Even when the prophet says what is to be done, one still has to ask oneself whether one has really understood, whether one may not still be blind; one still has to question, hesitate, and interpret.

Now parrhêsia contrasts with these different characteristics of prophetic truth-telling in each of these precise respects. You can see then that the parrhêsiast is the opposite of the prophet in that the prophet does not speak for himself, but in the name of someone else, and he articulates a voice which is not his own. In contrast, the parrhêsiast, by definition, speaks in his own name. It is essential that he expresses his own opinion, thought, and conviction. He must put his name to his words; this is the price of his frankness. The prophet does not have to be frank, even when he tells the truth. Second, the parrhêsiast does not foretell the future. Certainly, he reveals and discloses what people’s blindness prevents them from seeing, but he does not unveil the future. He unveils what is. The parrhêsiast does not help people somehow to step beyond some threshold in the ontological structure of the human being and of time which separates them from their future. He helps them in their blindness, but their blindness about what they are, about themselves, and so not the blindness due to an ontological structure, but due to some moral fault, distraction, or lack of discipline, the consequence of inattention, laxity, or weakness. It is in this interplay between human beings and their blindness due to inattention, complacency, weakness, and moral distraction that the parrhêsiast performs his role, which, as you can see, is consequently a revelatory role very different from that of the prophet, who stands at the point where human finitude and the structure of time are conjoined. Third, the parrhêsiast, again by definition, and unlike the prophet, does not speak in riddles. On the contrary, he says things as clearly and directly as possible, without any disguise or rhetorical embellishment, so that his words may immediately be given their prescriptive value. The parrhêsiast leaves nothing to interpretation. Certainly, he leaves something to be done: he leaves the person he addresses with the tough task of having the courage to accept this truth, to recognize it, and to make it a principle of conduct. He leaves this moral task, but, unlike the prophet, he does not leave the difficult duty of interpretation.

Second, I think we can also contrast parrhêsiastic truth-telling with another mode of truth-telling which was very important in Antiquity, doubtless even more important for ancient philosophy than prophetic truth-telling: the truth-telling of wisdom. As you know, the sage —and in this he is unlike the prophet we have just been talking about—speaks in his own name. And even if this wisdom may have been inspired by a god, or passed on to him by a tradition, by a more or less esoteric teaching, the sage is nevertheless present in what he says, present in his truth-telling. The wisdom he expresses really is his own wisdom. The sage manifests his mode of being wise in what he says and, to that extent, although he has a certain intermediary function between timeless, traditional wisdom and the person he addresses, unlike the prophet, he is not just a mouthpiece. He is himself wise, a sage, and his mode of being wise as his personal mode of being qualifies him as a sage, and qualifies him to speak the discourse of wisdom. To that extent, insofar as he is present in his wise discourse and manifests his mode of being wise in his wise discourse, he is much closer to the parrhêsiast than to the prophet. But the sage—and this is what characterizes him, at least through some of the traits that we can find in the ancient literature—keeps his wisdom in a state of essential withdrawal, or at least reserve. Basically, the sage is wise in and for himself, and does not need to speak. He is not forced to speak, nothing obliges him to share his wisdom, to teach it, or demonstrate it. This accounts for what might be termed his structural silence. And if he speaks, it is only because he is appealed to by someone’s questions, or by an urgent situation of the city. This also explains why his answers—and then in this respect he may well be like the prophet and often imitate and speak like him—may well be enigmatic and leave those he addresses ignorant or uncertain about what he has actually said. Another characteristic of the truth-telling of wisdom is that wisdom says what is, unlike prophecy where what is said is what will be. The sage says what is, that is to say, he tells of the being of the world and of things. And if this telling the truth of the being of the world and of things has prescriptive value, it is not [in] the form of advice linked to a conjuncture, but in the form of a general principle of conduct.

These characteristics of the sage can be read and rediscovered in the text in which Diogenes Laertius portrays Heraclitus; it is a late text, but one of the richest in various kinds of information. First, Heraclitus lived in an essential withdrawal. He lived in silence. And Diogenes Laertius recalls the moment at which and why the break took place between Heraclitus and the Ephesians. The Ephesians had exiled his friend, Hermodorus, precisely because he was wise and better than them. They said: We want there to be no one among us who is better than us.” And if there is someone who is better than us, let him go and live elsewhere. The Ephesians could not bear the superiority of precisely someone who tells the truth. They drove out the parrhêsiast. They drove out Hermodorus, who was obliged to leave, forced into the exile with which they punished the person capable of telling the truth. Heraclitus, for his part, responded with voluntary withdrawal. Since the Ephesians have punished the best among them with exile, well, he says, all the others, who are less worthy, should be put to death. And since they are not put to death, I will be the one to leave. And from that time on, when asked to give laws to the city, he refused. Because, he says, the city is already dominated by a ponera politeia (a bad mode of political life). So he withdraws himself and —in a famous image— plays knucklebones with children. To those who are indignant at him playing knucklebones with children, he replies: Why are you surprised, rascals, isn’t this more worthwhile than administering the republic with you [met’humon politeuesthai: than conducting political life with you; M.F.]?” He retires to the mountains, practicing contempt of men (misanthropon). And when asked why he remained silent, he replied: I keep quiet so that you may chatter.” Diogenes Laertius relates that in this retirement Heraclitus wrote his Poem in deliberately obscure terms so that only those who were capable could read it and so that he, Heraclitus, could not be despised for being read by all and sundry.

The figure and characteristics of the parrhêsiast stand in contrast with this role, this characterization of the sage, who basically remains silent, only speaks when he really wants to, and [only] in riddles. The parrhêsiast is not someone who is fundamentally reserved. On the contrary, it is his duty, obligation, responsibility, and task to speak, and he has no right to shirk this task. We will see this precisely with Socrates, who recalls it frequently in the Apology: the god has given him this office of stopping men, taking them aside, and questioning them. And he will never abandon this office. Even under the threat of death, he will carry out his task until the end, until his final breath. Whereas the sage keeps silent and responds only sparingly, as little as possible, to the questions he may be asked, the parrhêsiast is the unlimited, permanent, unbearable questioner. Second, whereas the sage is the person who, against the background of an essential silence, speaks in riddles, the parrhêsiast must speak, and he must speak as clearly as possible. And finally, whereas the sage says what is, but in the form of the very being of things and of the world, the parrhêsiast intervenes, says what is, but in terms of the singularity of individuals, situations, and conjunctures. His specific role is not to tell of the being of nature and things. In the analysis of parrhêsia we will constantly find this opposition between useless knowledge which speaks of the being of things and the world, on the one hand, and on the other the parrhêsiast’s truth-telling which is always applied, questions, and is directed to individuals and situations in order to say what they are in reality, to tell individuals the truth of themselves hidden from their own eyes, to reveal to them their present situation, their character, failings, the value of their conduct, and the possible consequences of their decisions. The parrhêsiast does not reveal what is to his interlocutor; he discloses or helps him to recognize what he is.

Finally, the third modality of truth-telling which can be contrasted with the parrhêsiast’s truth-telling is that of the professor, the technician, [the teacher]. The prophet, the sage, the person who teaches.

[So, if you like, because maybe some of you are a bit weary from listening and others from not hearing, some from sitting down and others from standing, and me at any rate from speaking, we will stop for five or ten minutes. And then we will meet again shortly, OK? I will try to finish around 11.15. Thank you.] 


1 FEBRUARY 1984  Second hour 

I have tried then to pick out the relationships and differences between the parrhêsiastic mode of truth-telling and, first, the prophetic mode of truth-telling, and then that of wisdom. And now I would like to indicate, very schematically and allusively, some of the relations between parrhêsiastic veridiction and the veridiction of someone who teaches -I would prefer to say, basically, of the technician. These characters (the doctor, the musician, the shoemaker, the carpenter, the teacher of armed combat, the gymnastics teacher), frequently mentioned by Plato in his Socratic and other dialogues, possess a knowledge characterized as tekhnê, know-how, that is to say, entailing particular items of knowledge, but taking shape in a practice and involving, for their apprenticeship, not only a theoretical knowledge, but a whole exercise (a whole askesis or melete). They possess this knowledge, they profess it, and they are capable of teaching it to others. The technician, who possesses a tekhnê, has learned it, and is capable of teaching it, is someone obliged to speak the truth, or at any rate to formulate what he knows and pass it on to others; and, of course, this distinguishes him from the sage. After all, the technician has a certain duty to speak. He is obliged, in a way, to tell the knowledge he possesses and the truth he knows, because this knowledge and truth are linked to a whole weight of tradition. This man of tekhnê would not himself have been able to learn anything and today would know nothing at all, or very little, if there had not been, before him, a technician (tekhnites) like him, who had taught him, whose pupil he had been, and who had been his teacher. And just as he would not have learned anything if someone had not previously told him what they knew, so, in the same way, he will have to pass on his knowledge so that it does not die with him.

So, in this idea of someone with knowledge of tekhnê, someone who has received this knowledge and must pass it on, there is the principle of an obligation to speak which is not found in the sage but is found in the parrhêsiast. But clearly, this teacher, this man of tekhnê, of expertise and teaching, does not take any risk in the truth-telling he has received and must pass on, and this is what distinguishes him from the parrhêsiast. Everyone knows, and I know first of all, that you do not need courage to teach. On the contrary, the person who teaches establishes, or at any rate hopes or sometimes wants to establish a bond of shared knowledge, of heritage, of tradition, and possibly also of personal recognition or friendship, between himself and the person or persons who listen to him. Anyway, this truth-telling establishes a filiation in the domain of knowledge. Now we have seen that the parrhêsiast, to the contrary, takes a risk. He risks the relationship he has with the person to whom he speaks. And in speaking the truth, far from establishing this positive bond of shared knowledge, heritage, filiation, gratitude, or friendship, he may instead provoke the other’s anger, antagonize an enemy, he may arouse the hostility of the city, or, if he is speaking the truth to a bad and tyrannical sovereign, he may provoke vengeance and punishment. And he may go so far as to risk his life, since he may pay with his life for the truth he has told. Whereas, in the case of the technician’s truth-telling, teaching ensures the survival of knowledge, the person who practices parrhêsia risks death. The technician’s and teacher’s truth-telling brings together and binds; the parrhêsiast’s truth-telling risks hostility, war, hatred, and death. And if the parrhêsiast’s truth may unite and reconcile, when it is accepted and the other person agrees to the pact and plays the game of parrhêsia, this is only after it has opened up an essential, fundamental, and structurally necessary moment of the possibility of hatred and a rupture.

We can say then, very schematically, that the parrhêsiast is not the prophet who speaks the truth when he reveals fate enigmatically in the name of someone else. The parrhêsiast is not a sage who, when he wants to and against the background of his silence, tells of being and nature (phusis) in the name of wisdom. The parrhêsiast is not the professor or teacher, the expert who speaks of tekhnê in the name of a tradition. So he does not speak of fate, being, or tekhnê. Rather, inasmuch as he takes the risk of provoking war with others, rather than solidifying the traditional bond, like the teacher, by [speaking] in his own name and perfectly clearly, [unlike the] prophet who speaks in the name of someone else, [inasmuch as] finally [he tells] the truth of what is in the singular form of individuals and situations, and not the truth of being and the nature of things, the parrhêsiast brings into play the true discourse of what the Greeks called êthos.

Fate has a modality of veridiction which is found in prophecy. Being has a modality of veridiction found in the sage. Tekhne has a modality of veridiction found in the technician, the professor, the teacher, the expert. And finally, êthos has its veridiction in the speech of the parrhêsiast and the game of parrhêsia. Prophecy, wisdom, teaching, and parrhêsia are, I think, four modes of veridiction which, [first], involve different personages, second, call for different modes of speech, and third, relate to different domains (fate, being, tekhnê, êthos).

Actually, in this survey I am not essentially defining four historically distinct social types. I do not mean that there were four professions or four social types in ancient civilization: the prophet, the sage, the teacher, and the parrhêsiast. Certainly, it may be that these four major modalities of truth-telling (prophetic, wise, technical, and ethical or parrhêsiastic) correspond to quite distinct institutions, or practices, or personages. One of the reasons why the example of Antiquity is privileged is precisely that it enables us to separate out, as it were, these different [modalities] of truth-telling, these different modes of veridiction. Because, in Antiquity, they are fairly clearly distinguished and embodied, formulated, and almost institutionalized in different forms. There is the prophetic function, which was quite clearly defined and institutionalized. The character of the sage was also quite clearly picked out (see the portrait of Heraclitus). You see the teacher, the technician, the man of tekhnê appear very clearly in the Socratic dialogues (the Sophists were precisely these kinds of technicians and teachers who claimed to have a universal function). As for the parrhêsiast, his specific profile appears very clearly —we will come back to this next week— with Socrates, and then with Diogenes and a series of other philosophers. However, as distinct as these roles may be, and even if at certain times, and in certain societies or civilizations, you see these four functions taken on, as it were, by very clearly distinct institutions or characters, it is important to note that fundamentally these are not social characters or roles. I insist on this; I would like to stress it: they are essentially modes of veridiction. It sometimes happens, and it will happen very often, even more often than not, that these modes of veridiction are combined with each other, and we find them in forms of discourse, types of institutions, and social characters which mix the modes of veridiction with each other.

Already you can see how Socrates puts together elements of prophecy, wisdom, teaching, and parrhêsia. Socrates is the parrhêsiast. But you recall: who gave him his function as parrhêsiast, his mission to question people, to take them by the sleeve and tell them: Take some care of yourself? It was the Delphic god, the prophetic authority which returned this verdict. When asked who was the wisest man in Greece, it replied: Socrates. And it was in order to honor this prophecy, and also to honor the Delphic god laying down the principle of know yourself,” that Socrates undertook his mission. His function as parrhêsiast is not therefore unrelated to this prophetic function, from which he nevertheless maintains his distinctness. Equally, although a parrhêsiast, Socrates has a relationship with wisdom. This is evident in several traits: his personal virtue, his self control, his abstention from all pleasures, his endurance in the face of all kinds of suffering, and his ability to detach himself from the world. You recall the famous scene in which Socrates becomes insensible, remaining immobile, impervious to the cold when he was a soldier at war. We should also not forget that Socrates has that, in a sense even more important feature of wisdom, which is a particular kind of silence, regardless of everything. Because Socrates does not speak, he does not deliver speeches, he does not say spontaneously what he knows. On the contrary, he claims to be someone who does not know, and who, not knowing and knowing only that he does not know, will remain reserved and silent, confining himself to questioning. Questioning is, if you like, a particular way of combining the essential reserve of the sage, who remains silent, with the duty of parrhêsia (that is to say, the duty to challenge and speak). Except that the sage remains silent because he knows and has the right not to speak of his knowledge, whereas Socrates remains silent by saying that he does not know, and by questioning everyone and anyone in the manner of the parrhêsiast. So here again you can see that the parrhêsiastic feature combines with the features of wisdom. And finally, of course, there is the relationship with the technician, the teacher. The Socratic problem is how to teach the virtue and knowledge required to live well or also to govern the city properly. You recall the Alcibiades. You recall too —we will come back to this next week— the end of the Laches, where Socrates agrees to teach the sons of Lysimachus and [Melesias] to take care of themselves. So Socrates is the parrhêsiast, but, once again, with a permanent, essential relationship to prophetic veridiction, the veridiction of wisdom, and the technical veridiction of teaching.

So, prophecy, wisdom, teaching, technique, and parrhêsia should be seen much more as fundamental modes of truth-telling than as characters. There is the modality which speaks enigmatically about that which is hidden from every human being. There is the modality of truth-telling which speaks apodictically about being, phusis, and the order of things. There is the veridiction which speaks demonstratively about kinds of knowledge and expertise. There is finally the veridiction which speaks polemically about individuals and situations. These four modes of truth-telling are, I believe, absolutely fundamental for the analysis of discourse to the extent that, in discourse, the subject who tells the truth is constituted for himself and for others. I think that since Greek culture, the subject who tells the truth takes these four possible forms: he is either prophet, or sage, or technician, or parrhêsiast. It would be interesting to investigate how these four modalities, which, again, once and for all, are not identified with roles or characters, are combined in different cultures, societies, or civilizations in different modes of discursivity, in what could be called the different regimes of truth” found in different societies.

It seems to me —at any rate, this is what I have tried to show you, however schematically— that in Greek culture at the end of the fifth and the beginning of the fourth century B.C.E. we can find these four major modes of veridiction distributed in a kind of rectangle: that of prophecy and fate, that of wisdom and being, that of teaching and tekhnê, and that of parrhêsia and êthos. But if these four modalities are thus quite clearly decipherable, separable, and separated from each other at this time, one of the features of the history of ancient philosophy (and also no doubt of ancient culture generally) is that there is a tendency for the mode of truth-telling characteristic of wisdom and the mode of truth-telling characteristic of parrhêsia to come together, join together, to link up with each other in a sort of philosophical modality of truth-telling which is very different from prophetic truth-telling as well as from the teaching of tekhnai, of which rhetoric is an example. We will see a philosophical truth-telling separating off, or anyway the development of a philosophical truth-telling which will ever more insistently claim to speak of being or the nature of things only to the extent that this truth-telling concerns, is relevant for, is able to articulate and found a truth-telling about êthos in the form of parrhêsia. And to that extent, we can say that, only up to a certain point, of course, wisdom and parrhêsia merge. Anyway, it is as though they are attracted to each other, that there is something like a phenomenon of gravitation of wisdom and parrhêsia, a gravitation which manifests itself in the famous characters of philosophers telling the truth of things, but above all telling their truth to men, throughout Hellenistic and Roman, or Greco-Roman culture. If you like, there is the possibility of an analysis of a history of the regime of truth concerning the relations between parrhêsia and wisdom.

If we take up again these four major fundamental modes I have been talking about, we could say that medieval Christianity produced other groupings. Greco-Roman philosophy brought together the modalities of parrhêsia and wisdom. It seems to me that in medieval Christianity we see another type of grouping bringing together the prophetic and parrhêsiastic modalities. The two modalities of telling the truth about the future (about what is hidden from men by virtue of their finitude and the structure of time, about what awaits men and the imminence of the still hidden event), and then telling the truth to men about what they are, were brought together in a number of particular [types] of discourses, and also institutions. I am thinking of preaching and preachers, and especially of those preachers, starting with the Franciscans and Dominicans, who played an absolutely major role across the Western world and through-out the Middle Ages in the perpetuation, but also renewal and transformation [of] the experience of threat for the medieval world. These great preachers played the role of both prophet and parrhêsiast in that society. Those who speak of the threatening imminence of the future, of the Kingdom of the Last Day, of the Final Judgment, or of approaching death, at the same time tell men what they are, and tell them frankly, with complete parrhêsia, what their faults and crimes are, and in what respects and how they must change their mode of being.

Counterposed to this, it seems to me that the same medieval society, the same medieval civilization tended to bring together the other two modes of veridiction: that of wisdom, which tells of the being of things and their nature, and that of teaching. Telling the truth of being and telling the truth of knowledge was the task of an institution which was as specific to the Middle Ages as was preaching: the University. Preaching and the University appear to me to be institutions specific to the Middle Ages, in which we see the functions I have spoken about grouping together, in pairs, and defining a regime of veridiction, a regime of truth-telling, which is very different from the regime we could find in the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman world, where instead it was and wisdom that were combined.

And what about the modern epoch, you may ask? I don’t really know. It would no doubt have to be analyzed. We could say perhaps —but these are hypotheses, not even hypotheses: some almost incoherent remarks— that you find the prophetic modality of truth-telling in some political discourses, in revolutionary discourse. In modern society, revolutionary discourse, like all prophetic discourse, speaks in the name of someone else, speaks in order to tell of a future which, up to a point, already has the form of fate. The ontological modality of truth-telling, which speaks of the being of things, would no doubt be found in a certain modality of philosophical discourse. The technical modality of truth-telling is organized much more around science than teaching, or at any rate around a complex formed by scientific and research institutions and teaching institutions. And the parrhêsiastic modality has, I believe, precisely disappeared as such, and we no longer find it except where it is grafted on or underpinned by one of these three modalities. Revolutionary discourse plays the role of parrhêsiastic discourse when it takes the form of a critique of existing society. Philosophical discourse as analysis, as reflection on human finitude and criticism of everything which may exceed the limits of human finitude, whether in the realm of knowledge or the realm of morality, plays the role of parrhêsia to some extent. And when scientific discourse is deployed as criticism of prejudices, of existing forms of knowledge, of dominant institutions, of current ways of doing things —and it cannot avoid doing this, in its very development— it plays this parrhêsiastic role. That’s what I wanted to say to you. 

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