Practice of par­rhe­sia: Discourse & Truth, Problematization of Parrhesia - Six lec­tures given by Michel Foucault at the University of California at Berkeley, Oct-Nov. 1983

— Foucault, Michel. Practice of par­rhe­sia in Discourse & Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia, 1999.

Socratic Parrhesia

I would now like to an­a­lyze a new form of par­rhe­sia which was emerg­ing and de­vel­op­ing even be­fore Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. There are, of course, im­por­tant sim­i­lar­i­ties and anal­o­gous re­la­tion­ships be­tween the po­lit­i­cal par­rhe­sia we have been ex­am­in­ing and this new form of par­rhe­sia. But in spite of these sim­i­lar­i­ties, a num­ber of spe­cific fea­tures, di­rectly re­lated to the fig­ure of Socrates, char­ac­ter­ize and dif­fer­en­ti­ate this new Socratic Parrhesia.

In se­lect­ing a tes­ti­mony about Socrates as a par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ure, I have cho­sen Plato’s Laches (or On Courage”) and this, for sev­eral rea­sons. First, al­though this Platonic di­a­logue, the Laches, is rather short, the word parrhesia” ap­pears three times [178a5, 179c1, 189a1] — which is rather a lot when one takes into ac­count how in­fre­quently Plato uses the word.

At the be­gin­ning of the di­a­logue, it is also in­ter­est­ing to note that the dif­fer­ent par­tic­i­pants are char­ac­ter­ized by their par­rhe­sia. Lysimachus and Melesias, two of the par­tic­i­pants, say that they will speak their minds freely, us­ing par­rhe­sia to con­fess that they have done or ac­com­plished noth­ing very im­por­tant, glo­ri­ous, or spe­cial in their own lives. And they make this con­fes­sion to two other older cit­i­zens, Laches and Nicias (both of them quite fa­mous gen­er­als) in the hope that they, too, will speak openly and frankly — for they are old enough, in­flu­en­tial enough, and glo­ri­ous enough to be frank and not hide what they truly think. But this pas­sage [178a5] is not the main one I would like to quote since it em­ploys par­rhe­sia in an every­day sense, and is not an in­stance of Socratic par­rhe­sia.

From a strictly the­o­ret­i­cal point of view the di­a­logue is a fail­ure be­cause no one in the di­a­logue is able to give a ra­tio­nal, true, and sat­is­fac­tory de­f­i­n­i­tion of courage” — which is the topic of the piece. But in spite of the fact that even Socrates him­self is not able to give such a de­f­i­n­i­tion, at the end of the di­a­logue Nicias, Laches, Lysimachus, and Melesias all agree that Socrates would be the best teacher for their sons. And so Lysimachus and Melesias ask him to adopt this role. Socrates ac­cepts, say­ing that every­one should try to take care of him­self and of his sons [201b4]. And here you find a no­tion which, as some of you know, I like a lot: the con­cept of epimeleia heautou”, the care of the self”. We have, then, I think, a move­ment vis­i­ble through­out this di­a­logue from the par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ure of Socrates to the prob­lem of the care of the self.

Before we read the spe­cific pas­sages in the text that I would like to quote, how­ever, we need to re­call the sit­u­a­tion at the be­gin­ning of the di­a­logue. But since the Laches is very com­plex and in­ter­wo­ven, I shall do so only briefly and schemat­i­cally.

Two el­derly men, Lysimachus and Melesias, are con­cerned about the kind of ed­u­ca­tion they should give to their sons. Both of them be­long to em­i­nent Athenian fam­i­lies; Lysimachus is the son of Aristeides the Just” and Melesias is the son of Thucydides the Elder. But al­though their own fa­thers were il­lus­tri­ous in their own day, Lysimachus and Melesias have ac­com­plished noth­ing very spe­cial or glo­ri­ous in their own lives: no im­por­tant mil­i­tary cam­paigns, no sig­nif­i­cant po­lit­i­cal roles. They use par­rhe­sia to ad­mit this pub­licly. And they have also asked them­selves the ques­tion, how is it that from such a good genos, from such good stock, from such a no­ble fam­ily, they were both un­able to dis­tin­guish them­selves?” Clearly, as their own ex­pe­ri­ence shows, hav­ing a high birth and be­long­ing to a no­ble Athenian house are not suf­fi­cient to en­dow some­one with the ap­ti­tude and the abil­ity to as­sume a promi­nent po­si­tion or role in the city. They re­al­ize that some­thing more is needed, viz., ed­u­ca­tion.

But what kind of ed­u­ca­tion? When we con­sider that the dra­matic date of theLaches is around the end of the Fifth Century, at a time when a great many in­di­vid­u­als — most of them pre­sent­ing them­selves as sophists — claimed that they could pro­vide young peo­ple with a good ed­u­ca­tion, we can rec­og­nize here a prob­lem­atic which is com­mon to a num­ber of Platonic di­a­logues. The ed­u­ca­tional tech­niques that were be­ing pro­pounded around this time of­ten dealt with sev­eral as­pects of ed­u­ca­tion, e.g., rhetoric (learning how to ad­dress a jury or a po­lit­i­cal as­sem­bly), var­i­ous so­phis­tic tech­niques, and oc­ca­sion­ally mil­i­tary ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing. In Athens at this time there was also a ma­jor prob­lem be­ing de­bated re­gard­ing the best way to ed­u­cate and train the in­fantry sol­diers — who were largely in­fe­rior to the Spartan ho­plites. And all of the po­lit­i­cal, so­cial, and in­sti­tu­tional con­cerns about ed­u­ca­tion, which for, the gen­eral con­text of this di­a­logue, are re­lated to the prob­lem of par­rhe­sia. In the po­lit­i­cal field we saw that there was a need for a par­rhe­si­astes who could speak the truth about po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions and de­ci­sions, and the prob­lem there was know­ing how to rec­og­nize such a truth-teller. In its ba­sic form, this same prob­lem now reap­pears in the field of ed­u­ca­tion. For if you your­self are not well-ed­u­cated, how then can you de­cide what con­sti­tutes a good ed­u­ca­tion? And if peo­ple are to be ed­u­cated, they must re­ceive the truth from a com­pe­tent teacher. But how can we dis­tin­guish the good, truth-telling teach­ers from the bad or inessen­tial ones?

It is in or­der to help them come to such a de­ci­sion that Lysimachus and Melesius ask Nicias and Laches to wit­ness a per­for­mance given by Stesilaus— a man who claims to be a teacher of ho­plo­machia or the art of fight­ing with heavy arms. This teacher is an ath­lete, tech­ni­cian, ac­tor, and artist. Which means that al­though he is very skill­ful in han­dling weapons, he does not use his skill to ac­tu­ally fight the en­emy, but only to make money by giv­ing pub­lic per­for­mances and teach­ing the young men. The man is a kind of sophist for the mar­tial arts. After see­ing his skills demon­strated in this pub­lic per­for­mance, how­ever, nei­ther Lysimachus nor Melesius is able to de­cide whether this sort of skill in fight­ing would con­sti­tute part of a good ed­u­ca­tion. So they turn to well-known fig­ures of their time, Nicias and Laches, and ask their ad­vice [178a-181d].

Nicias is an ex­pe­ri­enced mil­i­tary gen­eral who won sev­eral vic­to­ries on the bat­tle­field, and was an im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal leader. Laches is also a re­spected gen­eral, al­though he does not play as sig­nif­i­cant a role in Athenian pol­i­tics. Both of them give their opin­ions about Stesilaus’ demon­stra­tion and it turns out that they are in com­plete dis­agree­ment re­gard­ing the value of this mil­i­tary skill. Nicias thinks that this mil­i­tary tech­ni­cian has done well, and that his skill may be able to pro­vide the young with a good mil­i­tary ed­u­ca­tion [181e-182d]. Laches dis­agrees and ar­gues that the Spartans — who are the best sol­diers in Greece— never have re­course to such teach­ers. Moreover, he thinks that Stesilaus is not a sol­dier since he has never won any real vic­to­ries in bat­tle [182d-184c] Through this dis­agree­ment we see that not only or­di­nary cit­i­zens with­out any spe­cial qual­i­ties are un­able to de­cide what is the best kind of ed­u­ca­tion, and who is able to teach skills worth learn­ing, but even those who have long mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, like Nicias and Laches, can­not come to a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion.

In the end, how­ever, Nicias and Laches both agree that de­spite their fame, their im­por­tant role in Athenian af­fairs, their age, their ex­pe­ri­ence, and so on, they should re­fer to Socrates — who has been there all along — to see what he thinks. And af­ter Socrates re­minds them that ed­u­ca­tion con­cerns the care of the soul [185d], Nicias ex­plains why he will al­low his soul to be tested” by Socrates, i.e., why he will play the Socratic par­rhe­si­as­tic game. And this ex­pla­na­tion of Nicias is, I think, a por­trayal of Socrates as a par­rhe­si­astes:

NICIAS : You strike me as not be­ing aware that, who­ever comes into close con­tact with Socrates and has any talk with him face to face, is bound to be drawn round and round by him in the course of the ar­gu­ment — though it may have started at first on a quite dif­fer­ent theme — and can­not stop un­til he is led into giv­ing an ac­count of him­self, of the man­ner in which he now spends his days, and of the kind of life he has lived hith­erto ;and when once he has been led into that, Socrates will never let him go un­til he has thor­oughly and prop­erly put all his ways to the test. Now I am ac­cus­tomed to him, and so I know that one is bound to be thus treated by him, and fur­ther, that I my­self shall cer­tainly get the same treat­ment also. For I de­light, Lysimachus, in con­vers­ing with the man, and see no harm in our be­ing re­minded of any past and pre­sent mis­do­ing: nay, one must needs take more care­ful though for the rest of one’s life, if one does not fly from his words but is will­ing, as Solon said, and zeal­ous to learn as long as one lives, and does not ex­pect to get good sense by the mere ar­rival of old age. So to me there is noth­ing un­usual, or un­pleas­ant ei­ther, in be­ing tried and tested by Socrates; in fact, I knew pretty well all the time that our ar­gu­ment would not be about the boys if Socrates were pre­sent, but about our­selves. Let me there­fore re­peat that there is no ob­jec­tion on my part to hold­ing a de­bate with Socrates af­ter the fash­ion that he likes”

Nicias’ speech de­scribes the par­rhe­si­as­tic game of Socrates from the point of view of the one who is tested”. But un­like the par­rhe­si­astes who ad­dresses the demos in the Assembly, for ex­am­ple, here we have a par­rhe­si­as­tic game which re­quires a per­sonal, face to face re­la­tion­ship. Thus the be­gin­ning of the quote states: whoever comes into close con­tact with Socrates and has any talk with him face to face”[187e]. Socrates’ in­ter­locu­tor must get in touch with him, es­tab­lish some prox­im­ity to him in or­der to play the par­rhe­si­as­tic game. That is the first point.

Secondly, in this re­la­tion­ship to Socrates, the lis­tener is led by Socrates’ dis­course. The pas­siv­ity of the Socratic hearer, how­ever, is not the same kind of pas­siv­ity as that of a lis­tener in the Assembly. The pas­siv­ity of a lis­tener in the po­lit­i­cal par­rhe­si­as­tic game con­sists in be­ing per­suaded by what he lis­tens to. Here, the lis­tener is led by the Socratic lo­gos into giving an ac­count” — di­donai lo­gon — of him­self, of the man­ner in which he now spends his days, and of the kind of life he has lived hith­erto” [187e -188a]. Because we are in­clined to read such texts through the glasses of our Christian cul­ture, how­ever, we might in­ter­pret this de­scrip­tion of the Socratic game as a prac­tice where the one who is be­ing led by Socrates’ dis­course must give an au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ac­count of his life, or a con­fes­sion of his faults. But such an in­ter­pre­ta­tion would miss the real mean­ing of the text. For when we com­pare this pas­sage with sim­i­lar de­scrip­tions of Socrates’ method of ex­am­i­na­tion — as in the Apology, Alcibiades Major, or the Gorgias, Where we also find the idea that to be led by the Socrates lo­gos is to give an ac­count” of one­self — we see very clearly that what is in­volved is not a con­fes­sional au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. In Plato’s or Xenophon’s por­tray­als of him, we never see Socrates re­quir­ing an ex­am­i­na­tion of con­science or a con­fes­sion of sins. Here, giv­ing an ac­count of your life, your bios, is also not to give a nar­ra­tive of the his­tor­i­cal events that have taken place in your life, but rather to demon­strate whether you are able to show that there is a re­la­tion be­tween the ra­tio­nal dis­course, the lo­gos, you are able to use, and the way that you live. Socrates is in­quir­ing into the way that lo­gos gives form to a per­son’s style of life; for he is in­ter­ested in dis­cov­er­ing whether there is a har­monic re­la­tion be­tween the two. Later on in this same di­a­logue [190d-194b] for ex­am­ple, when Socrates asks Laches to give the rea­son for his courage, he does not want a nar­ra­tive of Laches’ ex­ploits in the Peloponnesian War, but for Laches to at­tempt to dis­close the lo­gos which gives ra­tio­nal, in­tel­li­gi­ble form to his courage. Socrates’ role, then, is to ask for a ra­tio­nal ac­count­ing of a per­son’s life.

This role is char­ac­ter­ized in the text as that of a basanos” or touchstone” which tests the de­gree of ac­cord be­tween a per­son’s life and its prin­ci­ple of in­tel­li­gi­bil­ity or lo­gos: Socrates will never let [his lis­tener] go un­til he has thor­oughly and prop­erly put all his ways to the test [188a]. The Greek word basanos” refers to a touchstone”, i.e., a black stone which is used to test the gen­uine­ness of gold by ex­am­in­ing the streak left on the stone when touched” by the gold in ques­tion. Similarly, Socrates’ basanic” role en­ables him to de­ter­mine the true na­ture of the re­la­tion be­tween the lo­gos and bios of those who come into con­tact with him.

Then, in the sec­ond part of this quo­ta­tion, Nicias ex­plains that as a re­sult of Socrates’ ex­am­i­na­tion one be­comes will­ing to care for the man­ner in which he lives the rest of his life, want­ing now to live in the best pos­si­ble way; and this will­ing­ness takes the form of a zeal to learn and to ed­u­cate one­self no mat­ter what one’s age.

Laches’ speech, which im­me­di­ately fol­lows, de­scribes Socrates’ par­rhe­si­as­tic game from the per­spec­tive of one who has in­quired into Socrates’ role as a touch­stone. For the prob­lem arises of know­ing how we can be sure that Socrates him­self is a good basanos for test­ing the re­la­tion be­tween lo­gos and bios in his lis­ten­er’s life.

LACHES: I have but a sin­gle mind, Nicias, in re­gard to dis­cus­sions, or if you like, a dou­ble rather than a sin­gle one. For you might think me a lover, and yet also a hater, of dis­cus­sions: for when I hear a man dis­cussing virtue or any kind of wis­dom, one who is truly a man and wor­thy of his ar­gu­ment, I am ex­ceed­ingly de­lighted; I take the speaker and his speech to­gether, and ob­serve how they sort and har­mo­nize with each other. Such a man is ex­actly what I un­der­stand by musical”, he has tuned him­self with the fairest har­mony, not that of a lyre or other en­ter­tain­ing in­stru­ment, but has made a true con­cord of his own life be­tween his words and his deeds, not in the Ionian, no , nor in the Phrygian nor in the Lydian, but sim­ply in the Dorian mode, which is the sole Hellenic har­mony. Such a man makes me re­joice with his ut­ter­ance, and any­one would judge me then a lover of dis­cus­sion, so ea­gerly do I take in what he says: but a man who shows the op­po­site char­ac­ter gives me pain, and the bet­ter he seems to speak, the more I am pained, with the re­sult, in this case, that I am judged a hater of dis­cus­sion. Now of Socrates’ words I have no ex­pe­ri­ence, but for­merly , I fancy, I have made trial of his deeds; and there I found him liv­ing up to any fine words how­ever freely spo­ken. So if he has that gift as well, his wish is mine, and I should be very glad to be cross-ex­am­i­nated by such a man, and should not chafe at learn­ing

As you can see, this speech in part an­swers the ques­tion of how to de­ter­mine the vis­i­ble cri­te­ria, the per­sonal qual­i­ties, which en­ti­tle Socrates to as­sume the role of the basanos of other peo­ple’s lives. From in­for­ma­tion given at the be­gin­ning of the Laches we have learned that by the dra­matic date of the di­a­logue, Socrates is not very well-known, that he is not re­garded as an em­i­nent cit­i­zen, that he is younger than Nicias and Laches, and that he has no spe­cial com­pe­tence in the field of mil­i­tary train­ing — with this ex­cep­tion: he ex­hib­ited great courage in the bat­tle at Delium where Laches was the com­mand­ing gen­eral. Why, then, would two fa­mous and older gen­er­als sub­mit to Socrates’ cross-ex­am­i­na­tions? Laches, who is not as in­ter­ested in philo­soph­i­cal or po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions, and who prefers deeds to words through­out the di­a­logue (in con­trast to Nicias), gives the an­swer. For he says that there is a har­monic re­la­tion be­tween what Socrates says an what he does, be­tween his words (logoi) and his deeds (erga). Thus, not only is Socrates him­self able to give an ac­count of his own life, such an ac­count is al­ready vis­i­ble in his be­hav­ior since there is not the slight­est dis­crep­ancy be­tween what he says and what he does. He is a mousikos aner”. In Greek cul­ture, and in most of Plato’s other di­a­logues, the phrase mousikos aner” de­notes a per­son who is de­voted to the Muses — a cul­tured per­son of the lib­eral arts. Here the phrase refers to some­one who ex­hibits a kind of on­to­log­i­cal har­mony where the lo­gos and bios of such a per­son is in har­monic ac­cord. And this har­monic re­la­tion is also a Dorian har­mony.

As you know, there were four kinds of Greek har­mony: the Lydian mode which Plato dis­likes be­cause it is too solemn; the Phrygian mode which Plato as­so­ci­ates with the pas­sions; the Ionian mode which is too soft and ef­fem­i­nate; and the Dorian mode which is coura­geous.

The har­mony be­tween word and deed in Socrates’ life is Dorian, and was man­i­fested in the courage he showed at Delium. This har­monic ac­cord is what dis­tin­guishes Socrates from a sophist: the Sophist can give very fine and beau­ti­ful dis­courses on courage, but is not coura­geous him­self. This ac­cord is also why Laches can say of Socrates: I found him liv­ing up to any fine words how­ever freely spo­ken”. Socrates is able to use ra­tio­nal, eth­i­cally valu­able, fine, and beau­ti­ful dis­course; but un­like the sophist, he can use par­rhe­sia and speak freely be­cause what he says ac­cords ex­actly with what he thinks, and what he thinks ac­cords ex­actly with what he does. And so Socrates — who is truly free and coura­geous — can there­fore func­tion as a par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ure. Just as was the case in the po­lit­i­cal field, the par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ure of Socrates also dis­closes the truth in speak­ing, is coura­geous in his life an in his speech, and con­fronts his lis­ten­er’s opin­ion in a crit­i­cal man­ner.

But Socratic par­rhe­sia dif­fers from po­lit­i­cal par­rhe­sia in a num­ber of ways. It ap­pears in a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship be­tween two hu­man be­ings, and not in the par­rhe­si­astes’ re­la­tion to the demos, or the king. And in ad­di­tion to the re­la­tion­ships we no­ticed be­tween lo­gos, truth, and courage in po­lit­i­cal par­rhe­sia, with Socrates a new el­e­ment now emerges, viz., bios. Bios is the fo­cus of Socratic par­rhe­sia. On Socrates’ or the philoso­pher’s side, the bios-lo­gos re­la­tion is a Dorian har­mony which grounds Socrates’ par­rhe­si­as­tic role, and which, at the same time, con­sti­tutes the vis­i­ble cri­te­rion for his func­tion as the basanos or touch­stone. On the in­ter­locu­tor’s side, the bios-lo­gos re­la­tion is dis­closed when the in­ter­locu­tor gives an ac­count of his life, and its har­mony tested by con­tact with Socrates. Since he pos­sesses in his re­la­tion to truth all the qual­i­ties that need to be dis­closed in the in­ter­locu­tor, Socrates can test the re­la­tion to truth of the in­ter­locu­tor’s ex­is­tence. The aim of this Socratic par­rhe­si­as­tic ac­tiv­ity, then, is to lead the in­ter­locu­tor to the choice of that kind of life (bios) that will be in Dorian-harmonic ac­cord with lo­gos, virtue, courage, and truth.

In Euripides’ Ion we saw the prob­lema­ti­za­tion of par­rhe­sia in the form of a game be­tween lo­gos, truth, and genos (birth) in the re­la­tions be­tween the gods and mor­tals; and Ion’s par­rhe­si­as­tic role was grounded in a myth­i­cal ge­neal­ogy de­scended from Athens. In the realm of po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions the prob­lema­ti­za­tion of par­rhe­sia in­volved a game be­tween lo­gos, truth, and nomos (law); and the par­rhe­si­astes was needed to dis­close those truths which would en­sure the sal­va­tion of wel­fare of the city. Parrhesia here was the per­sonal qual­ity of an ad­vi­sor to the king. And now with Socrates the prob­lema­ti­za­tion of par­rhe­sia takes the form of a game be­tween lo­gos, truth, and bios (life) in the realm of a per­sonal teach­ing re­la­tion be­tween two hu­man be­ings. And the truth that the par­rhe­si­as­tic dis­course dis­closes is the truth of some­one’s life, i.e., the kind of re­la­tion some­one has to truth: how he con­sti­tutes him­self as some­one who has to know the truth through math­e­sis, and how this re­la­tion to truth is on­to­log­i­cally and eth­i­cally man­i­fest in his own life. Parrhesia, in turn, be­comes an on­to­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tic of the basanos, whose har­monic re­la­tion to truth can func­tion as a touch­stone. The ob­jec­tive of the cross-ex­am­i­na­tions Socrates con­ducts in his role of the touch­stone, then, is to test the spe­cific re­la­tion to truth of the oth­er’s ex­is­tence.

In Euripides’ Ion, par­rhe­sia was op­posed to Apollo’s si­lence; in the po­lit­i­cal sphere par­rhe­sia was op­posed to the demos’ will, or to those who flat­ter the de­sires of the ma­jor­ity or the monarch. In this third, Socratic-philosophical game, par­rhe­sia is op­posed to self-ig­no­rance and the false teach­ings of the sophists.

Socrates’ role as a basanos ap­pears very clearly in the Laches; but in other Platonic texts — the Apology, for ex­am­ple — this role is pre­sented as a mis­sion as­signed to Socrates by the orac­u­lar de­ity at Delphi, viz., Apollo — the same god who kept silent in Ion. And just as Apollo’s or­a­cle was open to all who wished to con­sult it , so Socrates of­fered him­self up to any­one as a ques­tioner. The Delphic or­a­cle was also so enig­matic and ob­scure that one could not un­der­stand it with­out know­ing what sort of ques­tion one was ask­ing, and what kind of mean­ing the orac­u­lar pro­nounce­ment could take in one’s life. Similarly, Socrates’ dis­course re­quires that one over­come self-ig­no­rance about one’s own sit­u­a­tion. But of course, there are ma­jor dif­fer­ences. For ex­am­ple, the or­a­cle fore­told what would hap­pen to you, whereas Socratic par­rhe­sia means to dis­close who you are — not your re­la­tion to fu­ture events, but your pre­sent re­la­tion to truth.

I do not mean to im­ply that there is any strict chrono­log­i­cal pro­gres­sion among the var­i­ous forms of par­rhe­sia we have noted. Euripides died in 407 BC and Socrates was put to death in 399 BC. In an­cient cul­ture the con­tin­u­a­tion of ideas and themes is also more pro­nounced. And we are also quite lim­ited in the num­ber of doc­u­ments avail­able from this pe­riod. So there is no pre­cise chronol­ogy. The forms of par­rhe­sia we see in Euripides did not gen­er­ate a very long tra­di­tion. And as the Hellenistic monar­chies grew and de­vel­oped, po­lit­i­cal par­rhe­sia in­creas­ingly as­sumed the form of a per­sonal re­la­tion be­tween the monarch and his ad­vi­sors, thereby com­ing closer to Socratic form. Increased em­pha­sis was placed on the royal art of states­man­ship and the moral ed­u­ca­tion of the king. And the Socratic type of par­rhe­sia had a long tra­di­tion through the Cynics and other Socratic Schools. So the di­vi­sions are al­most con­tem­po­rary when then ap­pear, but the his­tor­i­cal des­tiny of the three are not the same.

In Plato, and in what we know of Socrates through Plato, a ma­jor prob­lem con­cerns the at­tempt to de­ter­mine how to bring he po­lit­i­cal par­rhe­sia in­volv­ing lo­gos, truth, and nomos so that it co­in­cides with the eth­i­cal par­rhe­sia in­volv­ing lo­gos, truth, and bios. How can philo­soph­i­cal truth and moral virtue re­late to the city through the nomos? You see this is­sue in the Apology, the Crito, the Republic, and in the laws. There is a very in­ter­est­ing text in the laws, for ex­am­ple, where Plato says that even in the city ruled by good laws there is still a need for some­one who will use par­rhe­sia to tell the cit­i­zens what moral con­duct they must ob­serve. Plato dis­tin­guishes be­tween the Gardians of the Laws and the par­rhe­si­astes, who does not mon­i­tor the ap­pli­ca­tion of the laws, but, like Socrates, speaks the truth about the good of the city, and gives ad­vice from an eth­i­cal, philo­soph­i­cal stand­point. And, as far as I know, it is the only text in Plato where the one who uses par­rhe­sia is a kind of po­lit­i­cal fig­ure in the field of the law.

In the Cynic tra­di­tion — which also de­rives from Socrates — the prob­lem­atic re­la­tion be­tween nomos and bios will be­come a di­rect op­po­si­tion. For in this tra­di­tion, the Cynic philoso­pher is re­garded as the only one ca­pa­ble of as­sum­ing the role of the par­rhe­si­astes. And , as we shall see in the case of Diogenes, he must adopt a per­ma­nent neg­a­tive and crit­i­cal at­ti­tude to­wards any kind of po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tion, and to­wards any kind of nomos.

Last time we met we an­a­lyzed some texts from Plato’s Laches where we saw the emer­gence, with Socrates, of a new philosophical” par­rhe­sia very dif­fer­ent from the pre­vi­ous forms we ex­am­ined. In the Laches we had a game with five main play­ers. Two of them, Lysimachus and Melesius, were well-born Athenian cit­i­zens from no­ble houses who were un­able to as­sume a par­rhe­si­as­tic role — for they did not know how to ed­u­cate their own chil­dren, Laches and Nicias, who were also un­able to play the role of par­rhe­si­astes. Laches and Nicias, in turn, were then obliged to ap­peal to Socrates for help, who ap­pears as the real par­rhe­si­as­tic fig­ure. So we can see in these tran­si­tional moves a suc­ces­sive dis­place­ment of the par­rhe­si­as­tic role from the well-born Athenian and the po­lit­i­cal leader -who for­merly pos­sessed the role- to the philoso­pher, Socrates. Taking the Laches as our point of de­par­ture, we can now ob­serve in Greco-Roman cul­ture the rise and de­vel­op­ment of this new kind of par­rhe­sia which, I think, can be char­ac­ter­ized as fol­lows.

First, this par­rhe­sia is philo­soph­i­cal, and has been put into prac­tice for cen­turies by the philoso­phers. Indeed, a large part of the philo­soph­i­cal ac­tiv­ity that tran­spired in Greco-Roman cul­ture re­quired play­ing cer­tain par­rhe­si­as­tic games. Very schemat­i­cally, I think that this philo­soph­i­cal role in­volved three types of par­rhe­si­as­tic ac­tiv­ity, all of them re­lated to one an­other. Insofar as the philoso­pher had to dis­cover and to teach cer­tain truths about the world, na­ture, etc., he or she as­sumed a epis­temic role. Taking a stand to­wards the city, the laws, po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, and so on, re­quired, in ad­di­tion, a po­lit­i­cal role. And par­rhe­si­as­tic ac­tiv­ity also en­deav­ored to elab­o­rate the na­ture of the re­la­tion­ships be­tween truth and one’s style of life, or truth and an ethics and aes­thet­ics of the self. Parrhesia as it ap­pears in the field of philo­soph­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in Greco-Roman cul­ture is not pri­mar­ily a con­cept or theme, but a prac­tice which tries to shape the spe­cific re­la­tions in­di­vid­u­als have to them­selves. And I think that our own moral sub­jec­tiv­ity is rooted, at least in part, in these prac­tices. More pre­cisely, I think that the de­ci­sive cri­te­rion which iden­ti­fies the par­rhe­si­astes is not to be found in his birth, nor in his cit­i­zen­ship, nor in his in­tel­lec­tual com­pe­tence, but in the har­mony which ex­ists be­tween his lo­gos and his bios.

Secondly, the tar­get of this new par­rhe­sia is not to per­suade the Assembly, but to con­vince some­one that he must take care of him­self and of oth­ers; and this means that he must change his life. This theme of chang­ing one’s life, of con­ver­sion, be­comes very im­por­tant from the Fourth Century BC to the be­gin­nings of Christianity. It is es­sen­tial to philo­soph­i­cal par­rhe­si­as­tic prac­tices. Of course con­ver­sion is not com­pletely dif­fer­ent from the change of mind that an or­a­tor, us­ing his par­rhe­sia, wished to bring about when he asked his fel­low cit­i­zens to wake up, to refuse what they pre­vi­ously ac­cepted, or to ac­cept what they pre­vi­ously re­fused. But in philo­soph­i­cal prac­tice the no­tion of chang­ing one’s mind takes on a more gen­eral and ex­panded mean­ing since it is no longer just a mat­ter of al­ter­ing one’s be­lief or opin­ion, but of chang­ing one’s style of life, one’s re­la­tion to oth­ers, and one’s re­la­tion to one­self.

Thirdly, these new par­rhe­si­as­tic prac­tices im­ply a com­plex set of con­nec­tions be­tween the self and truth. For not only are these prac­tices sup­posed to en­dow the in­di­vid­ual with self-knowl­edge, this self-knowl­edge in turn is sup­posed to grant ac­cess to truth for fur­ther knowl­edge. The cir­cle im­plied in know­ing the truth about one­self in or­der to know the truth is char­ac­ter­is­tic of par­rhe­si­as­tic prac­tice since the Fourth Century, and has been one of the prob­lem­atic enig­mas of Western Thought e.g., as in Descartes or Kant.

And a fi­nal point I would like to un­der­score about this philo­soph­i­cal par­rhe­sia is that it has re­course to nu­mer­ous tech­niques quite dif­fer­ent from the tech­niques of per­sua­sive dis­course pre­vi­ously uti­lized; and it is no longer specif­i­cally linked to the agora, or to the king’s court, but can now be uti­lized in nu­mer­ous di­verse places.

The prac­tice of par­rhe­sia

In this ses­sion and next week — in the last sem­i­nar meet­ing — I would like to an­a­lyze philo­soph­i­cal par­rhe­sia from the stand­point of its prac­tices. By the”prac­tice” of par­rhe­sia I mean two things: first, the use of par­rhe­sia in spe­cific types of hu­man re­la­tion­ships (which I shall ad­dress this evening); and sec­ondly, the pro­ce­dures and tech­niques em­ployed in such re­la­tion­ships (which will be the topic of our last ses­sion).

Because of the lack of time, and to as­sist on the clar­ity of the pre­sen­ta­tion, I would like to dis­tin­guish three kinds of hu­man re­la­tion­ships which are im­plied in the use of this new philo­soph­i­cal par­rhe­sia. But, of course, this is only a gen­eral schema, for there are sev­eral in­ter­me­di­ate forms.

First, par­rhe­sia oc­curs as an ac­tiv­ity in the frame­work of small groups of peo­ple, or in the con­text of com­mu­nity life. Secondly, par­rhe­sia can be see in hu­man re­la­tion­ships oc­cur­ring in the frame­work of pub­lic life. And fi­nally, par­rhe­sia oc­curs in the con­text of in­di­vid­ual per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. More specif­i­cally, we can say that par­rhe­sia as a fea­ture of com­mu­nity life was highly re­garded by the Epicureans; par­rhe­sia as a pub­lic ac­tiv­ity or pub­lic demon­stra­tion was a sig­nif­i­cant as­pect of Cynicism, as well as that type of phi­los­o­phy that was a mix­ture of Cynicism and Stoicism; and par­rhe­sia as an as­pect of per­sonal re­la­tion­ships is found more fre­quently ei­ther in Stoicism or in a gen­er­al­ized or com­mon Stoicism char­ac­ter­is­tic of such writ­ers as Plutarch.

Parrhesia and Community Life: Epictetus

Although the Epicureans, with the im­por­tance they gave to friend­ship, em­pha­sized com­mu­nity life more than other philoso­phers at this time, nonethe­less one can also find some stoic groups, as well as Stoic or Stoico-Cynic philoso­phers who acted as moral and po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sors to var­i­ous cir­cles and aris­to­cratic clubs. For ex­am­ple, Musonius Rufus was spir­i­tual ad­vi­sor to Nero’s cousin, Rubellius Plautus, and his cir­cle; and the Stoico-Cynic philoso­pher Demetrius was ad­vi­sor to a lib­eral anti-aris­to­cratic group around Thrasea Paetus. Thrasea Paetus, a ro­man sen­a­tor, com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter be­ing con­demned to death by the sen­ate dur­ing Nero’s reign. And Demetrius was the régis­seur, I would say, of his sui­cide. So be­sides the com­mu­nity life of the Epicureans there are other in­ter­me­di­ate forms.

There is also the very in­ter­est­ing case of Epictetus. Epictetus was a Stoic for whom the prac­tice of speak­ing openly and frankly was also very im­por­tant. He di­rected a school about which we know a few things from the four sur­viv­ing vol­umes of Epictetus’ Discourses as recorded by Arrian. We know, for ex­am­ple, that Epictetus’ school was lo­cated at Nicopolis in a per­ma­nent struc­ture which en­abled stu­dents to share in a real com­mu­nity life. Public lec­tures and teach­ing ses­sions were given where the pub­lic was in­vited, and where in­di­vid­u­als could ask ques­tions — al­though some­times such in­di­vid­u­als were mocked and twit­ted by the mas­ters. We also know that Epictetus con­ducted both pub­lic con­ver­sa­tions and in­ter­views. His school was a kind of école nor­male for those who wanted to be­come philoso­phers or moral ad­vi­sors.

So when I tell you that philo­soph­i­cal par­rhe­sia oc­curs as an ac­tiv­ity in three types of re­la­tion­ship, it must be clear that the forms I have cho­sen are only guid­ing ex­am­ples; the ac­tual prac­tices were, of course, much more com­pli­cated and in­ter­re­lated.

First, then, the ex­am­ple of the Epicurean groups re­gard­ing the prac­tice of par­rhe­sia in com­mu­nity life. Unfortunately, we know very few things about the Epicurean com­mu­ni­ties, and even less about the par­rhe­si­as­tic prac­tices in these com­mu­ni­ties — which ex­plains the brevity of my ex­po­si­tion. But we do have a text en­ti­tled On Frank Speaking writ­ten by Philodemus (who is record­ing the lec­tures of Zeno of Sidon). The text is not com­plete in its en­tirety, but the ex­ist­ing man­u­script pieces come from the ru­ins of the Epicurean li­brary dis­cov­ered at Herculaneum near the end of the Nineteenth Century. What has been pre­served is very frag­men­tary and rather ob­scure; and I must con­fess that with­out some com­men­tary from the Italian scholar, Marcello Gigante, I would not have un­der­stood much of this frag­men­tary Greek text.

I would like to un­der­line the fol­low­ing points from this trea­tise. 
First, Philodemus re­gards par­rhe­sia not only as a qual­ity, virtue, or per­sonal at­ti­tude, but also as a techne com­pa­ra­ble both to the art of med­i­cine and to the art of pi­lot­ing a boat. As you know, the com­par­i­son be­tween med­i­cine and nav­i­ga­tion is a very tra­di­tional one in Greek cul­ture. But even with­out this ref­er­ence to par­rhe­sia, the com­par­i­son of med­i­cine and nav­i­ga­tion is in­ter­est­ing for the fol­low­ing two rea­sons.

(1) The rea­son why the pi­lot’s techne of nav­i­ga­tion is sim­i­lar to the physi­cian’s techne of med­i­cine is that in both cases, the nec­es­sary the­o­ret­i­cal knowl­edge re­quired also de­mands prac­ti­cal train­ing in or­der to be use­ful. Furthermore, in or­der to put these tech­niques to work, one has to take into ac­count not only the gen­eral rules and prin­ci­ples of the art, but also par­tic­u­lar data which are al­ways spe­cific to a given sit­u­a­tion. One must take into ac­count the par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances, and also what the Greeks called the kairos”, or the crit­i­cal mo­ment. The con­cept of the kairos — the de­ci­sive or cru­cial mo­ment or op­por­tu­nity — has al­ways had a sig­nif­i­cant role in Greek though for epis­te­mo­log­i­cal, moral and tech­ni­cal rea­sons. What is of in­ter­est here is that since Philodemus is now as­so­ci­at­ing par­rhe­sia with pi­lot­ing and med­i­cine, it is also be­ing re­garded as a tech­nique which deals with in­di­vid­ual cases, spe­cific sit­u­a­tions, and the choice of the kairos or de­ci­sive mo­ment. Utilizing our mod­ern vo­cab­u­lary, we can say that nav­i­ga­tion, med­i­cine, and the prac­tice of par­rhe­sia are all clinical tech­niques’.

(2) Another rea­son why the Greeks of­ten as­so­ci­ated med­i­cine and nav­i­ga­tion is that in the case of both tech­niques, one per­son (the pi­lot or physi­cian) must make the de­ci­sions, give or­ders and in­struc­tions, ex­er­cise power and au­thor­ity, while the oth­ers — the crew, the pa­tient, the staff — must obey if the de­sired end is to be achieved. Hence nav­i­ga­tion and med­i­cine are also both re­lated to pol­i­tics. For in pol­i­tics the choice of the op­por­tu­nity, the best mo­ment, is also cru­cial; and some­one is also sup­posed to be more com­pe­tent than the oth­ers — and there­fore has the right to give the or­ders that the oth­ers must obey. In pol­i­tics, then, there are in­dis­pens­able tech­niques which lie at the root of states­man­ship con­sid­ered as the art of gov­ern­ing peo­ple.

If I men­tion this an­cient affin­ity be­tween med­i­cine, nav­i­ga­tion, and pol­i­tics, it is in or­der to in­di­cate that with the ad­di­tion of the par­rhe­si­as­tic tech­niques of spiritual guid­ance’, a cor­pus of in­ter­re­lated clin­i­cal tech­nai was con­sti­tuted dur­ing the Hellenistic pe­riod. Of course, the techne of pi­lot­ing or nav­i­ga­tion is pri­mar­ily of metaphor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. But an analy­sis of the var­i­ous re­la­tions which Greco-Roman cul­ture be­lieved ex­isted be­tween the three clin­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties of med­i­cine, pol­i­tics, and the prac­tice of par­rhe­sia would be im­por­tant.

Several cen­turies later, Gregory of Nazianzus would call spir­i­tual guid­ance the technique of tech­niques’— ars ar­tium’, techne tech­non’. This ex­pres­sion is sig­nif­i­cant since states­man­ship or po­lit­i­cal techne was pre­vi­ously re­garded as the techne tech­non or the Royal Art. But from the Fourth Century A. D. to the Seventeenth Century in Europe, the ex­pres­sion techne tech­non’ usu­ally refers to spir­i­tual guid­ance as the most sig­nif­i­cant clin­i­cal tech­nique. This char­ac­teri-za­tion of par­rhe­sia as a techne in re­la­tion to med­i­cine, pi­lot­ing, and pol­i­tics is in­dica­tive of the trans­for­ma­tion of par­rhe­sia into a philo­soph­i­cal prac­tice. From the physi­cian’s art of gov­ern­ing pa­tients and the king’s art of gov­ern­ing the city and its sub­jects, we move to the philoso­pher’s art of gov­ern­ing him­self and act­ing as a kind of spiritual guide’ for other peo­ple.

Another as­pect of Philodemus’ text con­cerns the ref­er­ences it con­tains about the struc­ture of the Epicurean com­mu­ni­ties; but com­men­ta­tors on Philodemus dis­agree about the ex­act form, com­plex­ity, and hi­er­ar­chi­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion of such com­mu­ni­ties. DeWitt thinks that the ex­ist­ing hi­er­ar­chy was very well-es­tab­lished and com­plex; whereas Gigante thinks that it was much sim­pler. It seems that there were at least two cat­e­gories of teach­ers and two types of teach­ing in the Epicurean schools and groups.

There was classroom’ teach­ing where a teacher ad­dressed a group of stu­dents; and there was also in­struc­tion in the form of per­sonal in­ter­views where a teacher would give ad­vice and pre­cepts to in­di­vid­ual com­mu­nity mem­bers. Whereas the lower-ranked teach­ers only taught classes, the higher-level teach­ers both taught classes and gave per­sonal in­ter­views. Thus a dis­tinc­tion was drawn be­tween gen­eral teach­ing and per­sonal in­struc­tion or guid­ance. This dis­tinc­tion is not a dif­fer­ence in con­tent, as be­tween the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal sub­ject mat­ters— es­pe­cially since stud­ies in physics, cos­mol­ogy, and nat­ural law had eth­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance for the Epicureans. Nor is it a dif­fer­ence in in­struc­tion con­trast­ing eth­i­cal the­ory with its prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion. Rather the dif­fer­ence marks a dis­tinc­tion in the ped­a­gog­i­cal re­la­tion­ship be­tween teacher and dis­ci­ple or stu­dent. In the Socratic sit­u­a­tion, there was one pro­ce­dure which en­abled the in­ter­locu­tor to dis­cover thee truth about him­self, the re­la­tion of his bios to lo­gos; and this same pro­ce­dure, at the same time, also en­abled him to gain ac­cess to ad­di­tional truths (about the world, ideas, the na­ture of the soul, and so on). With the Epicurean schools, how­ever, there is the ped­a­gog­i­cal re­la­tion of guid­ance where the mas­ter helps the dis­ci­ple to dis­cover the truth about him­self, but there is now, in ad­di­tion, a form of authoritarian’ teach­ing in a col­lec­tive re­la­tion where some­one speaks the truth to a group of oth­ers. These two types of teach­ing be­came a per­ma­nent fea­ture of west­ern cul­ture. And in the Epicurean schools we know that it was the role of the spiritual guide’ for oth­ers that was more highly val­ued that that of group lec­turer.

I do not wish to con­clude the dis­cus­sion of Philodemus’ text with­out men­tion­ing a prac­tice which they en­gaged in— what we might call mutual con­fes­sion’ in a group. Some of the frag­ments in­di­cate that there were group con­fes­sions or meet­ings where each of the com­mu­nity mem­bers in turn would dis­close their thoughts, faults, mis­be­hav­ior, and so on. We know very lit­tle about such meet­ings, but re­fer­ring to this prac­tice Philodemus uses an in­ter­est­ing ex­pres­sion. He speaks of this prac­tice as the sal­va­tion by one an­oth­er’ — to di’ al­lelon sozesthai’. The word sozesthai’ — to save one­self — in the Epicurean tra­di­tion means to gain ac­cess to a good, beau­ti­ful, and happy life. It does not re­fer to any kind of af­ter­life or di­vine judg­ment. In one’s own sal­va­tion, other mem­bers of the Epicurean com­mu­nity [The Garden] have a de­ci­sive role to play as nec­es­sary agents en­abling one to dis­cover the truth about one­self, and in help­ing one to gain ac­cess to a happy life ? Hence the very im­por­tant em­pha­sis on friend­ship in the Epicurean groups.

Parrhesia and Public Life: the Cynics

Now I would like to move on to the prac­tice of par­rhe­sia in pub­lic life through the ex­am­ple of the Cynic philoso­phers. In the case of the Epicurean com­mu­ni­ties, we know very lit­tle about their style of life but have some idea of their doc­trine as it is ex­pressed in var­i­ous texts. With the Cynics the sit­u­a­tion is ex­actly re­versed; for we know very lit­tle about Cynic doc­trine — even if there ever was such an ex­plicit doc­trine. But we do pos­sess nu­mer­ous tes­ti­monies re­gard­ing the Cynic way of life. And there is noth­ing sur­pris­ing about this state of af­fairs; for even though Cynic philoso­phers wrote books just like other philoso­phers, they were far more in­ter­ested in choos­ing and prac­tic­ing a cer­tain way of life.

A his­tor­i­cal prob­lem con­cern­ing the ori­gin of Cynicism is this. Most of the Cynics from the First Century B. C. and there­after re­fer to ei­ther Diogenes or Antisthenes as the founder of the Cynic phi­los­o­phy, and though these founder of Cynicism they re­late them­selves back to the teach­ings of Socrates. According to Farrand Sayre, how­ever, the Cynic Sect ap­peared only in the Second Century B. C. , or two cen­turies af­ter Socrates’ death. We might be a bit skep­ti­cal about a tra­di­tional ex­pla­na­tion given for the rise of the Cynic Sects — an ex­pla­na­tion which has been given so of­ten to ac­count for so many other phe­nom­ena; but it is that Cynicism is a neg­a­tive form of ag­gres­sive in­di­vid­u­al­ism which arose with the col­lapse of the po­lit­i­cal struc­tures of the an­cient world. A more in­ter­est­ing ac­count is given by Sayre, who ex­plains the ap­pear­ance of the Cynics on the Greek philo­soph­i­cal scene as a con­se­quence of ex­pand­ing con­quest of the Macedonian Empire. More specif­i­cally, he notes that with Alexander’s con­quests var­i­ous Indian philoso­phies -especially the monas­tic and as­cetic teach­ing of Indian Sects like the Gymnosophists- be­came more fa­mil­iar to the Greeks.

Regardless of what we can de­ter­mine about the ori­gins of Cynicism, it is a fact that the Cynics were very nu­mer­ous and in­flu­en­tial from the end of the First Century B.C. to the Fourth Century A. D. Thus in A. D. 165 Lucian — who did not like the Cynics — writes:”The city swarms with these ver­min, par­tic­u­larly those who pro­fess the tenets of Diogenes, Antisthenes, and Crates.” It seems, in fact, that the self-styled Cynics’ were so nu­mer­ous that the Emperor Julian, in his at­tempt to re­vive clas­si­cal Greek cul­ture, wrote a lam­poon against them scorn­ing their ig­no­rance, their coarse­ness, and por­tray­ing them as a dan­ger for the Empire and for Greco-Roman cul­ture. One of the rea­sons why Julian treated the Cynics so harshly was due to their gen­eral re­sem­blance to the early Christians. And some of the sim­i­lar­i­ties may have been more than mere su­per­fi­cial re­sem­blance. For ex­am­ple, Peregrinus (a well-known Cynic at the end of the Second Century A. D. ) was con­sid­ered a kind of saint by his Cynic fol­low­ers, es­pe­cially by those who re­garded his death as a heroic em­u­la­tion of the death of Heracles. To dis­play his Cynic in­dif­fer­ence to death, Peregrinus com­mit­ted sui­cide by cre­mat­ing him­self im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the Olympic Games of A.D. 167. Lucian, who wit­nessed the event, gives a satir­i­cal, de­ri­sive ac­count. Julian was also dis­ap­pointed that the Cynics were not able to rep­re­sent an­cient Greco-Roman cul­ture, for he hoped that there would be some­thing like a pop­u­lar philo­soph­i­cal move­ment which would com­pete with Christianity.

The high value which the Cynics at­trib­uted to a per­son’s way of life does not mean that they had no in­ter­est in the­o­ret­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, but re­flects their view that the man­ner in which a per­son lived was a touch­stone of his or her re­la­tion to truth — as we saw was also the case in the Socratic tra­di­tion. The con­clu­sion they drew from this Socratic idea, how­ever, was that in or­der to pro­claim the truths they ac­cepted in a man­ner that would be ac­ces­si­ble to every­one, they though that their teach­ings had to con­sist in a very pub­lic, vis­i­ble, spec­tac­u­lar, provoca­tive, and some­times scan­dalous way of life. The Cynics thus taught by way of ex­am­ples and the ex­pla­na­tions as­so­ci­ated with them. They wanted their own lives to be a bla­zon of es­sen­tial truths which would then serve as a guide­line, or as an ex­am­ple for oth­ers to fol­low. But there is noth­ing in this Cynic em­pha­sis on phi­los­o­phy as an art of life which is alien to Greek phi­los­o­phy. So even if we ac­cept Sayre’s hy­poth­e­sis about the Indian philo­soph­i­cal in­flu­ence on Cynic doc­trine and prac­tice, we must still rec­og­nize that the Cynic at­ti­tude is, in its ba­sic form, just an ex­tremely rad­i­cal ver­sion of the very Greek con­cep­tion of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween one’s way of life and knowl­edge of the truth. The Cynic idea that a per­son is noth­ing else but his re­la­tion to truth, and that this re­la­tion to truth takes shape or is given form in his own life — that is com­pletely Greek.

In the Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic tra­di­tions, philoso­phers re­ferred mainly to a doc­trine, text, or at least to some the­o­ret­i­cal prin­ci­ples for their phi­los­o­phy. In the Epicurean tra­di­tion, the fol­low­ers of Epicurus re­fer both to a doc­trine and also to the per­sonal ex­am­ple set by Epicurus — whom every Epicurean tried to im­i­tate. Epicurus orig­i­nated the doc­trine and was also a per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of it. But now in the Cynic tra­di­tion, the main ref­er­ences for the phi­los­o­phy are not to the texts or doc­trines, but to ex­em­plary lives. Personal ex­am­ples were also im­por­tant in other philo­soph­i­cal schools, but in the Cynic move­ment — where there were no es­tab­lished texts, no set­tled, rec­og­niz­able doc­trine — ref­er­ence was al­ways made to cer­tain real or myth­i­cal per­son­al­i­ties who were taken to be the sources of Cynicism as a mode of life. Such per­son­al­i­ties were the start­ing point for Cynic re­flec­tion and com­men­tary. The myth­i­cal char­ac­ters re­ferred to in­cluded Heracles [Hercules], Odysseus [Ulysses], and Diogenes. Diogenes was an ac­tual, his­tor­i­cal fig­ure, but his life be­came so leg­endary that he de­vel­oped into a kind of myth as anec­dotes, scan­dals, etc., were added to his his­tor­i­cal life. About his ac­tual life we do not know all that much, but it is clear that he be­came a kind of philo­soph­i­cal hero. Plato, Aristotle, Zeno of Citiun, etc., were philo­soph­i­cal au­thors and au­thor­i­ties, for ex­am­ple; but they were not con­sid­ered he­roes. Epicurus was both a philo­soph­i­cal au­thor and treated by his fol­low­ers as a kind of hero. But Diogenes was pri­mar­ily a heroic fig­ure. the idea that a philoso­pher’s life should be ex­em­plary and heroic is im­por­tant in un­der­stand­ing the re­la­tion­ship of Cynicism to Christianity, as well as for un­der­stand­ing Cynic par­rhe­sia as a pub­lic ac­tiv­ity.

This brings us to Cynic par­rhe­sia. The main types of par­rhe­si­as­tic prac­tice uti­lized by the Cynics were: (1) crit­i­cal preach­ing; (2) scan­dalous be­hav­ior; and (3) what I shall call the provocative di­a­logue.”

Critical Preaching

First, the crit­i­cal preach­ing of the Cynics. Preaching is a form of con­tin­u­ous dis­course. And, as you know, most of the early philoso­phers — es­pe­cially the Stoics — would oc­ca­sion­ally de­liver speeches where they pre­sented their doc­trines. Usually, how­ever they would lec­ture in front of a rather small au­di­ence. The Cynics, in con­trast, dis­liked this kind of elit­ist ex­clu­sion and pre­ferred to ad­dress a large crowd. For ex­am­ple, they liked to speak in a the­ater, or at a place where peo­ple had gath­ered for a feast, re­li­gious event, ath­letic con­test, etc. They would some­times stand up in the mid­dle of a the­ater au­di­ence and de­liver a speech. This pub­lic preach­ing was not their own in­no­va­tion, for we have tes­ti­monies of sim­i­lar prac­tices as early as the Fifth Century B.C. Some of the sophists we see in the Platonic di­a­logues, for ex­am­ple, also en­gage in preach­ing to some ex­tent. Cynic preach­ing, how­ever, had its own spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics, and is his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant since it en­abled philo­soph­i­cal themes about one’s way of life to be­come pop­u­lar, i.e., to come to the at­ten­tion of peo­ple who stood out­side the philo­soph­i­cal elect. From this per­spec­tive, Cynic preach­ing about free­dom, the re­nun­ci­a­tion of lux­ury, Cynic crit­i­cisms of po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions; and ex­ist­ing moral codes, and so on, also opened the way for some Christian themes. But Christian pros­e­lytes not only spoke about themes which were of­ten sim­i­lar to the Cynics; they also took over the prac­tice of preach­ing.

Preaching is still one of the main forms of truth-telling prac­ticed in our so­ci­ety, and it in­volves the idea that the truth must be told and taught not only to the best mem­bers of the so­ci­ety, or to an ex­clu­sive group, but to every­one.

There is, how­ever, very lit­tle pos­i­tive doc­trine in Cynic preach­ing: no di­rect af­fir­ma­tion of the good or bad. Instead, the Cynics re­fer to free­dom (eleutheria) and self-suf­fi­ciency (autarkeia) as the ba­sic cri­te­ria by which to as­sess and kind of be­hav­ior or mode of life. For the Cynics, the main con­di­tion for hu­man hap­pi­ness is au­tarkeia, self-suf­fi­ciency or in­de­pen­dence, where what you need to have or what you de­cide to do is de­pen­dent on noth­ing other than you your­self. As, a con­se­quence — since the Cynics had the most rad­i­cal of at­ti­tudes — they pre­ferred a com­pletely nat­ural life-style. A nat­ural life was sup­posed to elim­i­nate all of the de­pen­den­cies in­tro­duced by cul­ture, so­ci­ety, civ­i­liza­tion, opin­ion, and so on. Consequently, most of their preach­ing seems to have been di­rected against so­cial in­sti­tu­tions, the ar­bi­trari­ness of rules of law, and any sort of life-style that was de­pen­dent upon such in­sti­tu­tions or laws. In short, their preach­ing was against all so­cial in­sti­tu­tions in­so­far as such in­sti­tu­tions hin­dered one’s free­dom and in­de­pen­dence.

Scandalous Behavior

Cynic par­rhe­sia also had re­course to scan­dalous be­hav­ior or at­ti­tudes which called into ques­tion col­lec­tive habits, opin­ions, stan­dards of de­cency, in­sti­tu­tional rules, and so on. Several pro­ce­dures were used. One of them was the in­ver­sion of roles, as can be seen from Dio Chrysostom’s Fourth Discourse where the fa­mous en­counter be­tween Diogenes and Alexander is de­picted. This en­counter, which was of­ten re­ferred to by the Cynics, does not take place in the pri­vacy of Alexander’s court but in the street, in the open. The king stands up while Diogenes sits back in his bar­rel. Diogenes or­ders Alexander to step out of his light so that he can bask in the sun. Ordering Alexander to step aside so that the sun’ s light can reach Diogenes is an af­fir­ma­tion of the di­rect and nat­ural re­la­tion the philoso­pher has to the sun in con­trast to the myth­i­cal ge­neal­ogy whereby the king, as de­scended from a god, was sup­posed to per­son­ify the sun.

The Cynics also em­ployed the tech­nique of dis­plac­ing or trans­pos­ing a rule from a do­main where the rule was ac­cepted to a do­main where it was not in or­der to show how ar­bi­trary the rule was. Once, dur­ing the ath­letic con­tests and horse-races of the Isthmian fes­ti­val, Diogenes — who was both­er­ing every­one with his frank re­marks — took a crown of pine and put it on his head as if he had been vic­to­ri­ous in an ath­letic com­pe­ti­tion. And the mag­is­trates were very happy about this ges­ture be­cause they thought it was, at last, a good oc­ca­sion to pun­ish him, to ex­clude him, to get rid of him. But he ex­plained that he placed a crown upon his head be­cause he had won a much more dif­fi­cult vic­tory against poverty, ex­ile, de­sire, and his own vices than ath­letes who were vic­to­ri­ous in wrestling, run­ning, and hurl­ing a dis­cus. And later on dur­ing the games, he saw two horses fight­ing and kick­ing each other un­til one of them ran off. So Diogenes went up and put a crown on the head of the horse who stood its ground . These two sym­met­ri­cal dis­place­ments have the ef­fect of rais­ing the ques­tion: What are you re­ally do­ing when you award some­one with a crown in the Isthmian games? For if the crown is awarded to some­one as a moral vic­tory, then Diogenes de­serves a crown. But if it is only a ques­tion of su­pe­rior phys­i­cal strength, then there is no rea­son why the horse should not be given a crown.

Cynic par­rhe­sia in its scan­dalous as­pects also uti­lized the prac­tice of bring­ing to­gether two rules of be­hav­ior which seem con­tra­dic­tory and re­mote from one an­other. For ex­am­ple, re­gard­ing the prob­lem of bod­ily needs. You eat. There is no scan­dal in eat­ing, so you can eat in pub­lic (although, for the Greeks, this is not ob­vi­ous and Diogenes was some­times re­proached for eat­ing in the agora). Since Diogenes ate in the agora, he thought that there was no rea­son why he should not also mas­tur­bate in the agora; for in both cases he was sat­is­fy­ing a bod­ily need (adding that he wished it were as easy to ban­ish hunger by rub­bing the belly”) . Well, I will not try to con­ceal the shame­less­ness (anaideia) of the Cynics as a scan­dalous prac­tice or tech­nique.

As you know, the word cynic” comes from the Greek word mean­ing dog-like” (kynikoi); and Diogenes was called The Dog”. In fact, the first and only con­tem­po­rary ref­er­ence to Diogenes is found in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, where Aristotle does not even men­tion the name Diogenes” but just call him , The Dog”. The no­ble philoso­phers of Greece, who usu­ally com­prised an elite group, al­most al­ways dis­re­garded the Cynics.

Provocative Dialogue

The Cynics also used an­other par­rhe­si­as­tic tech­nique, viz., the provocative di­a­logue”. To give you a more pre­cise ex­am­ple of this type of di­a­logue — which de­rives from Socratic par­rhe­sia — I have cho­sen a pas­sage from the Fourth Discourse on Kingship of Dio Chrysostom of Prusa (c.A.D.40-110).

Do you all know who Dio Chrysostom is? Well, he is a very in­ter­est­ing guy from the last half of the First Century and the be­gin­ning of the Second Century of our era. He was born at Prusa in Asia Minor of a wealthy Roman fam­ily who played a promi­nent role in the city-life. Dio’s fam­ily was typ­i­cal of the af­flu­ent provin­cial no­ta­bles that pro­duced so many writ­ers, of­fi­cers, gen­er­als, even em­per­ors, for the Roman Empire. He came to Rome pos­si­bly as a pro­fes­sional rhetori­cian, but there are some dis­putes about this. An American scholar, C.P. Jones, has writ­ten a very in­ter­est­ing book about Dio Chrysostom which de­picts the so­cial life of an in­tel­lec­tual in the Roman Empire of Dio’s time. In Rome Dio Chrysostom be­came ac­quainted with Musonius Rufus, the Stoic philoso­pher, and pos­si­bly through him he be­came in­volved with some lib­eral cir­cles gen­er­ally op­posed to per­sonal tyrranic power. He was sub­se­quently ex­iled by Domitian — who dis­liked his views — and thus he be­gan a wan­der­ing life where he adopted the cos­tume and the at­ti­tudes of the Cynics for sev­eral years. When he was fi­nally au­tho­rized to re­turn to Rome fol­low­ing Domitian’s as­sas­si­na­tion, he started a new ca­reer. His for­mer for­tune was re­turned to him, and he be­came a wealthy and fa­mous teacher. For a while, how­ever, he had the life-style, the at­ti­tude, the habits, and the philo­soph­i­cal views of a Cynic philoso­pher. But we must keep in mind the fact that Dio Chrysostom was not a pure” cynic; and per­haps with his in­tel­lec­tual back­ground his de­pic­tion of the Cynic par­rhe­si­as­tic game puts it closer to the Socratic tra­di­tion than most of the ac­tual Cynic prac­tices.

In the Fourth Discourse of Dio Chrysostom I think you can find all three forms of Cynic par­rhe­sia. The end of the Discourse is a kind of preach­ing, and through­out there are ref­er­ences to Diogenes’ scan­dalous be­hav­ior and ex­am­ples il­lus­trat­ing the provoca­tive di­a­logue of Diogenes with Alexander. The topic of the Discourse is the fa­mous en­counter be­tween Diogenes and Alexander the Great which ac­tu­ally took place at Corinth. The Discourse be­gins with Dio’s thoughts con­cern­ing this meet­ing (1-14) then a fic­tional di­a­logue fol­lows por­tray­ing the na­ture of Diogenes’ and Alexander’s con­ver­sa­tion (15-81) and the Discourse ends with a long, con­tin­u­ous dis­cus­sion — fic­tion­ally nar­rated by Diogenes — re­gard­ing three types of faulty and self-de­lud­ing styles of life (82-139).

At the very be­gin­ning of the Discourse, Dio crit­i­cizes those who pre­sent the meet­ing of Diogenes and Alexander as an en­counter be­tween equals: one man fa­mous for his lead­er­ship and mil­i­tary vic­to­ries, the other fa­mous for his free and self-suf­fi­cient life-style, and his aus­tere and nat­u­ral­is­tic moral virtue. Dio does not want peo­ple to praise Alexander just be­cause he, as a pow­er­ful king, did not dis­re­gard a poor guy like Diogenes. He in­sists that Alexander ac­tu­ally felt in­fe­rior to Diogenes, and was also a bit en­vi­ous of his rep­u­ta­tion; for un­like Alexander, who wanted to con­quer the world, Diogenes did not need any­thing to do what he wanted to do :

[Alexander] him­self needed his Macedonian pha­lanx, his Thessalian cav­alry, Thracians, Paeonians, and many oth­ers if he was to go where he wished and get what he de­sired; but Diogenes went forth un­at­tended in per­fect safety by night as well as by day whith­er­so­ever he cared to go. Again, he him­self re­quired huge sums of gold and sil­ver to carry out any of his pro­jects; and what is more, if he ex­pected to keep the Macedonians and the other Greeks sub­mis­sive, must time and again curry fa­vor of their rulers and the gen­eral pop­u­lace by words and gifts; whereas Diogenes ca­joled no man by flat­tery, but told every­body the truth and, even though he pos­sessed not a sin­gle drachma, suc­ceeded in do­ing as he pleased, failed in noth­ing he set be­fore him­self, was the only man who lived the life he con­sid­ered the best and hap­pi­est, and would not have ac­cepted Alexander’s throne or the wealth of the Medes and Persians in ex­change for his own poverty.

So it is clear that Diogenes ap­pears here as the mas­ter of truth; and from this point of view, Alexander is both in­fe­rior to him, and is aware of this in­fe­ri­or­ity. But al­though Alexander has some vices and faults of char­ac­ter, he is not a bad king, and he chooses to play Diogenes’ par­rhe­si­as­tic game:

So the king came up to [Diogenes] as he sat there and greeted him, whereas the other looked up at him with a ter­ri­ble glare like that of a lion and or­dered him to step aside a lit­tle, for Diogenes hap­pened to be warm­ing him­self in the sun. Now Alexander was at once de­lighted with the man’s bold­ness and com­po­sure in not be­ing awestruck in his pres­ence. For it is some­how nat­ural for the coura­geous to love the coura­geous, while cow­ards eye them with mis­giv­ing and hate them as en­e­mies, but wel­come the base and like them. And so to the one class truth and frank­ness [parrhesia] are the most agree­able things in the world, to the other, flat­tery and de­ceit. The lat­ter lend a will­ing ear to those who in their in­ter­course seek to please, the for­mer, to those who have re­gard for the truth.

The Cynic par­rhe­si­as­tic game which be­gins is, in some re­spects, not un­like the Socratic di­a­logue since there is an ex­change of ques­tions and an­swers. But there are at least two sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences. First, in the Cynic par­rhe­si­as­tic game it is Alexander who tends to ask the ques­tions and Diogenes, the philoso­pher, who an­swers — which is the re­verse of the Socratic di­a­logue. Secondly, whereas Socrates plays with his in­ter­locu­tor’s ig­no­rance, Diogenes wants to hurt Alexander’s pride. For ex­am­ple, at the be­gin­ning of the ex­change, Diogenes calls Alexander a bas­tard (181), and tells him that some­one who claim to be a king is not so very dif­fer­ent from a child who, af­ter win­ning a game, puts a crown on his head and de­clares that he is king [47-49]. Of course, all that is not very pleas­ant for Alexander to hear. But that’s Diogenes’ game: hit­ting his in­ter­locu­tor’s pride, forc­ing him to rec­og­nize that he is not what he claims to be which is some­thing quite dif­fer­ent from the Socratic at­tempt to show some­one that he is ig­no­rant of what he claims to know. In the Socratic di­a­logues, you some­times see that some­one’s pride has been hurt when he is com­pelled to rec­og­nize that he does not know what he claims to know. For ex­am­ple, when Callicles is led to an aware­ness of his ig­no­rance, he re­nounces all dis­cus­sion be­cause his pride has been hurt. But this is only a side ef­fect, as it were, of the main tar­get of Socratic irony, which is: to show some­one that he is ig­no­rant of his own ig­no­rance. In the case of Diogenes, how­ever, pride is the main tar­get, and the ig­no­rance/​knowl­edge game is a side ef­fect.

From these at­tacks on an in­ter­locu­tor’s pride, you see that the in­ter­locu­tor is brought to the limit of the first par­rhe­si­as­tic con­tract, viz., to agree to play the game, to choose to en­gage in dis­cus­sion. Alexander is will­ing to en­gage Diogenes in dis­cus­sion, to ac­cept his in­so­lence and in­sults, but there is a limit. And every time that Alexander feels in­sulted by Diogenes, he be­comes an­gry and is close to quit­ting off , even to bru­tal­iz­ing Diogenes. So you see that the Cynic par­rhe­si­as­tic game is played at the very lim­its of the par­rhe­si­as­tic con­tract. It bor­ders on trans­gres­sion be­cause the par­rhe­si­astes may have made too many in­sult­ing re­marks. Here is an ex­am­ple of this play at the limit of the par­rhe­si­as­tic agree­ment to en­gage in dis­cus­sion:

… [Diogenes] went on to tell the king that he did not even pos­sess the badge of roy­alty. . .”And what badge is that?” said Alexander. It is the badge of the bees, he replied, that the king wears. Have you not heard that there is a king among the bees, made so by na­ture, who does not hold of­fice by virtue of what you peo­ple who trace your de­scent from Heracles call in­her­i­tance? What is this badge ?” in­quired Alexander. Have you not heard farm­ers say, asked the other, that this is the only bee that has no sting since he re­quires no weapon against any­one? For no other bee will chal­lenge his right to be king or fight him when he has this badge. I have an idea, how­ever, that you not only go about fully armed but even sleep that way. Do you not know,” he con­tin­ued, that is a sign of fear in a man for him to carry arms? And no man who is afraid would ever have a chance to be­come king any more than a slave would.

Diogenes rea­sons: if you bear arms, you are afraid. No one who is afraid can be a king. So, since Alexander bears arms he can­not be a real king. And, of course, Alexander is not very pleased by this logic, and Dio con­tin­ues: At these words Alexander came near hurl­ing his spear”. That ges­ture, of course, would have been the rup­ture, the trans­gres­sion, of the par­rhe­si­as­tic game. When the di­a­logue ar­rives at this point, there are two pos­si­bil­i­ties avail­able to Diogenes for bring­ing Alexander back into the game. One way is the fol­low­ing. Diogenes says, in ef­fect, Well, all­right. I know that you are out­raged and you are also free. You have both the abil­ity and the le­gal sanc­tion to kill me. But will you be coura­geous enough to hear the truth from me, or are you such a cow­ard that you must kill me?’ And, for ex­am­ple, af­ter Diogenes in­sults Alexander at one point in the di­a­logue, he tells him:

… In view of what I say rage and prance about … and think me the great­est black­guard and slan­der me to the world and, if it be your plea­sure, run me through with your spear; for I am the only man from whom you will get the truth, and you will learn it from no one else. For all are less hon­est than I am and more servile.”

Diogenes thus vol­un­tar­ily angers Alexander, and then says, Well, you can kill me; but if you do so, no­body else will tell you the truth.’ And there is an ex­change, a new par­rhe­si­as­tic con­tract is drawn up with a new limit im­posed by Diogenes: ei­ther you kill me, or you’ll know the truth. This kind of coura­geous blackmailing’ of the in­ter­locu­tor in the name of truth makes a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion upon Alexander: Then was Alexander amazed at the courage and fear­less­ness of the man” [76]. So Alexander de­cides to stay in the game, and a new agree­ment is thereby achieved.

Another means Diogenes em­ploys for bring­ing Alexander back into the game is more sub­tle than the pre­vi­ous chal­lenge: Diogenes also uses trick­ery. This trick­ery is dif­fer­ent from Socratic irony; for, as you all know, in Socratic irony, Socrates feigns to be as ig­no­rant as his in­ter­locu­tor so that his in­ter­locu­tor would not be ashamed of dis­clos­ing his own ig­no­rance, and thus not re­ply to Socrates’ ques­tions. That, at least, was the prin­ci­ple of Socratic irony. Diogenes’ trick is some­what dif­fer­ent; for at the mo­ment when his in­ter­locu­tor is about to ter­mi­nate the ex­change, Diogenes says some­thing which his in­ter­locu­tor be­lieves is com­pli­men­tary. For ex­am­ple, af­ter Diogenes calls Alexander a bas­tard — which was not very well-re­ceived by Alexander — Diogenes tells him:

… is it not olympias who said that Philip is not your fa­ther, as it hap­pens, but a dragon or Ammon or some god or other or demigod or wild an­i­mal? And yet in that case you would cer­tainly be a bas­tard.”

Thereupon Alexander smiled and was pleased as never be­fore, think­ing that Diogenes, so far from be­ing rude, was the most tact­ful of men and the only one who re­ally knew how to pay a com­pli­ment.

Whereas the Socratic di­a­logue traces an in­tri­cate and wind­ing path from an ig­no­rant un­der­stand­ing to an aware­ness of ig­no­rance, the Cynic di­a­logue is much more like a fight, a bat­tle, or a war, with peaks of great agres­siv­ity and mo­ments of peace­ful calm — peace­ful ex­changes which, of course, are ad­di­tional traps for the in­ter­locu­tor. In the Fourth Discourse Dio Chrysostom ex­plains the ra­tio­nale be­hind this strat­egy of mix­ing ag­gres­siv­ity and sweet­ness; Diogenes asks Alexander:

Have you not heard the Libyan myth ? And the king replied that he had not. Then Diogenes told him with zest and charm, be­cause he wanted to put him in a good hu­mor, just as nurses, af­ter giv­ing the chil­dren a whip­ping, tell them a story to com­fort and please them.

And a bit fur­ther on, Dio adds:

When Diogenes per­ceived that [Alexander] was greatly ex­cited and quite keyed up in mind with ex­pectancy, he toyed with him and pulled him about in the hope that some­how he might be moved from his pride and thirst for glory and be able to sober up a lit­tle. For he no­ticed that at one mo­ment he was de­lighted, and at an­other grieved, at the same thing, and that his soul was as un­set­tled as the weather at the sol­stices when both rain and sun­shine come from the very same cloud.

Diogenes’ charm, how­ever, is only a means of ad­vanc­ing the game and of prepar­ing the way for ad­di­tional ag­gres­sive ex­changes. Thus, af­ter Diogenes pleases Alexander with his re­marks about his bastard’ ge­neal­ogy, and con­sid­ers the pos­si­bil­ity that Alexander might be the son of Zeus, he goes even fur­ther: he tells Alexander that when Zeus has a son, he gives his son marks of his di­vine birth. Of course, Alexander thinks that he has such marks. Alexander then asks Diogenes how one can be a good king. And Diogenes re­ply is a purely moral por­trayal of king­ship:

No one can be a bad king any more than he can be a bad good man; for the king is the best one among men, since he is most brave and right­eous and hu­mane, and can­not be over­come by any toil or by any ap­petite. Or do you think a man is a char­i­o­teer if he can not drive, or that one is a pi­lot if he is ig­no­rant of steer­ing, or is a physi­cian if he knows not how to cure? It is im­pos­si­ble, nay, though all the Greeks and bar­bar­ians ac­claim him as such and load him with di­adems and scepters and tiaras like so many neck­laces that are put on cast­away chil­dren lest they fail of recog­ni­tion. Therefore, just as one can­not pi­lot ex­cept af­ter the man­ner of pi­lots, so no one can be king ex­cept in a kingly way.”

We see here the anal­ogy of states­man­ship with nav­i­ga­tion and med­i­cine that we have al­ready noted. As the son of Zeus,” Alexander thinks that he has marks or signs to show that he is a king with a di­vine birth. But Diogenes shows Alexander that the truly royal char­ac­ter is not linked to spe­cial sta­tus, birth, power, and so on. Rather, the only way of be­ing a true king is to be­have like one. And when Alexander asks how he might learn this art of king­ship, Diogenes tells him that it can­not be learned, for one is no­ble by na­ture [26-31].

Here the game reaches a point where Alexander does not be­come con­scious of his lack of knowl­edge, as in a Socratic di­a­logue. He dis­cov­ers, in­stead, that he is not in any way what he thought he was — viz., a king by royal birth, with marks of his di­vine sta­tus, or king be­cause of his su­pe­rior power, and so on. He is brought to a point where Diogenes tells him that the only way to be a real king is to adopt the same type of ethos as the Cynic philoso­pher. And at this point in the ex­change there is noth­ing more for Alexander to say.

In the case of Socratic di­a­logue, it also some­times hap­pens that when the per­son Socrates has been ques­tion­ing no longer knows what to say, Socrates re­sumes the dis­course by pre­sent­ing a pos­i­tive the­sis, and then the di­a­logue ends. In this text by Dio Chrysostom, Diogenes be­gins a con­tin­u­ous dis­course; how­ever his dis­cus­sion does not pre­sent the truth of a pos­i­tive the­sis, but is con­tent to give a pre­cise de­scrip­tion of three faulty modes of life linked to the royal char­ac­ter. The first one is de­voted to wealth, the sec­ond to phys­i­cal plea­sure, and the third to glory and po­lit­i­cal power. And these three life-styles are per­son­i­fied by three dai­mones or spir­its.

The con­cept of the dai­mon was pop­u­lar in Greek cul­ture, and also be­came a philo­soph­i­cal con­cept — in Plutarch, for ex­am­ple. The fight against evil dai­mones in Christian as­ceti­cism has pre­cur­sors in the Cynic tra­di­tion. Incidentally, the con­cept of the demon” has been elab­o­rated in an ex­cel­lent ar­ti­cle in the Dictionnaire de Spiritualite’ [F.Vandenbrouke vol3, 1957]

Diogenes gives an in­di­ca­tion of the three dai­mones which Alexander must fight through­out his life, and which con­sti­tute the tar­get of a per­ma­nent spiritual strug­gle” — combat spir­ituel”. Of course, this phrase does not oc­cur in Dio’s text; for here it is not so much a spe­cific con­tent which is spe­cific and im­por­tant, but the idea of a par­rhe­si­as­tic prac­tice which en­ables some­one to fight a spir­i­tual war within him­self.

And I think we can also see in the ag­gres­sive en­counter be­tween Alexander and Diogenes a strug­gle oc­cur­ring be­tween two kinds of power: po­lit­i­cal power and the power of truth. In this strug­gle, the par­rhe­si­astes ac­cepts and con­fronts a per­ma­nent dan­ger: Diogenes ex­poses him­self to Alexander’s power from the be­gin­ning to the end of the Discourse. And the main ef­fect of this par­rhe­si­as­tic strug­gle with power is not to bring the in­ter­locu­tor to a new truth, or to a new level of self-aware­ness; it is to lead the in­ter­locu­tor to in­ter­nal­ize this par­rhe­si­as­tic strug­gle — to fight within him­self against his own faults, and to be with him­self in the same way that Diogenes was with him.

Parrhesia and Personal Relationships: Plutarch and Galen

I would now like to an­a­lyze the par­rhe­si­as­tic game in the frame­work of per­sonal re­la­tion­ships, se­lect­ing some ex­am­ples from Plutarch and Galen which I think il­lus­trate some of the tech­ni­cal prob­lems which can arise.

In Plutarch there is a text which is ex­plic­itly de­voted to the prob­lem of par­rhe­sia. Addressing cer­tain as­pects of the par­rhe­si­as­tic prob­lem, Plutarch tries to an­swer the ques­tion: How is it pos­si­ble to rec­og­nize a true par­rhe­si­astes or truth-teller ?’ And sim­i­larly: How is it pos­si­ble to dis­tin­guish a par­rhe­si­astes from a flat­terer ?’ The ti­tle of this text, which comes from Plutarch’s Moralia, is How to tell a Flatterer from a Friend”.

I think we need to un­der­line sev­eral points from this es­say. First, why do we need, in our per­sonal lives, to have some friend who plays the role of a par­rhe­si­astes of a truth-teller ? The rea­son Plutarch gives is found in the pre­dom­i­nant kind of re­la­tion­ship we of­ten have to our­selves, viz., a re­la­tion of philautia or self-love”. This re­la­tion of self-love is, for us, the ground of a per­sis­tent il­lu­sion about what we re­ally are :

It is be­cause of this self-love that every­body is him­self his own fore­most and great­est flat­terer, and hence finds no dif­fi­culty in ad­mit­ting the out­sider to wit­ness with him and to con­firm his own con­ceits and de­sires. For the man who is spo­ken of with op­pro­brium as a lover of flat­ter­ers is in high de­gree a lover of self, and, be­cause of his kindly feel­ing to­ward him­self, he de­sires and con­ceives him­self to be en­dowed with all man­ner of good qual­i­ties; but al­though the de­sire for these is not un­nat­ural, yet the con­ceit that one pos­sesses them is dan­ger­ous and must be care­fully avoided. Now If Truth is a thing di­vine, and, as Plato puts it, the ori­gin of all good for gods and all good for men” [Laws,730c], then the flat­terer is in all like­li­hood an en­emy to the gods and par­tic­u­larly to the Pythian god. For the flat­terer al­ways takes a po­si­tion over against the maxim Know Thyself,” by cre­at­ing in every man de­cep­tion to­wards him­self and ig­no­rance both of him­self and of the good and evil that con­cerns him­self; the good he ren­ders de­fec­tive and in­com­plete, and the evil wholly im­pos­si­ble to amend.

We are our own flat­ter­ers, and it is in or­der to dis­con­nect this spon­ta­neous re­la­tion we have to our­selves, to rid our­selves of our phi­lau­tia, that we need a par­rhe­si­astes. But it is dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize and to ac­cept a par­rhe­si­astes. For not only is it dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish a true par­rhe­si­astes from a flat­terer; be­cause of our phi­lau­tia we are also not in­ter­ested in rec­og­niz­ing a par­rhe­si­astes. So at stake in this text is the prob­lem of de­ter­min­ing the in­du­bitable cri­te­ria which en­ables us to dis­tin­guish the gen­uine par­rhe­si­astes we need so badly to rid our­selves of our own phi­lau­tia from the flat­terer who plays the part of friend with the grav­ity of trage­dian” [50e] . And this im­plies that we are in pos­ses­sion of a kind of semiology” of the real par­rhe­si­astes. To an­swer the ques­tion: How can we rec­og­nize a true par­rhe­si­astes?’ Plutarch pro­poses two ma­jor cri­te­ria. First, there is a con­for­mity be­tween what the real truth-teller says with how he be­haves — and here you rec­og­nize the Socratic har­mony of the Laches, where Laches ex­plains that he could trust Socrates as a truth-teller about courage since he saw that Socrates re­ally was coura­geous at Deliun, and thus, that he ex­hib­ited a har­mo­nious ac­cord be­tween what he said and what he did.There is also a sec­ond cri­te­rion, which is: the per­ma­nence, the con­ti­nu­ity, the sta­bil­ity and steadi­ness of the true par­rhe­si­astes, the true friend, re­gard­ing his choices, his opin­ions, and his thoughts:

… it is nec­es­sary to ob­serve the uni­for­mity and per­ma­nence of his tastes, whether he al­ways takes de­light in the same things, and com­mends al­ways the same things, and whether he di­rects and or­dains his own life ac­cord­ing to one pat­tern, as be­comes a free­born man and a lover of con­ge­nial friend­ship and in­ti­macy; for such is the con­duct of a friend. But the flat­terer, since he has no abid­ing place of char­ac­ter to dwell in, and since he Leads a life not of his own choos­ing but an­oth­er’s, mould­ing and adapt­ing him­self to suit an­other, is not sim­ple, not one, but vari­able and many in one, and, like wa­ter that is poured into one re­cep­ta­cle af­ter an­other, he is con­stantly on the move from place to place,and changes his shape to fit his re­ceiver.

Of course there are a lot of other very in­ter­est­ing things about this es­say. But I would like to un­der­score two ma­jor themes. First, the theme of self-delu­sion, and its link with phi­lau­tia — which is not some­thing com­pletely new. But in Plutarch’s text you can see that his no­tion of self-delu­sion as a con­se­quence of self-love is clearly dif­fer­ent from be­ing in a state of ig­no­rance about one’s own lack of self-knowl­edge — a state which Socrates at­tempted to over­come. Plutarch’s con­cep­tion em­pha­sizes the fact that not only are we un­able to know that we know noth­ing, but we are also un­able to know, ex­actly, what we are. And I think that this theme of self-delu­sion be­comes in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in Hellenistic cul­ture. In Plutarch’s pe­riod it is some­thing re­ally sig­nif­i­cant.

A sec­ond theme which I would like to stress is the steadi­ness of mind. This is also not some­thing new, but for late Stoicism the no­tion of steadi­ness takes on great im­por­tance. And there is an ob­vi­ous re­la­tion be­tween these two themes — the theme of self-delu­sion and the theme of con­stancy or per­sis­tency of mind. For de­stroy­ing self-delu­sion and ac­quir­ing and main­tain­ing con­ti­nu­ity of mind are two ethico-moral ac­tiv­i­ties which are linked to one an­other. The self-delu­sion which pre­vents you from know­ing who or what you are, and all the shifts in your thoughts, feel­ings, and opin­ions which force you to move from one thought to an­other, one feel­ing to an­other, or one opin­ion to an­other, demon­strate this link­age. For if you are able to dis­cern ex­actly what you are, then you will stick to the same point, and you will not be moved by any­thing. If you are moved by any sort of stim­u­la­tion, feel­ing, pas­sion, etc., then you are not able to stay close to your­self, you are de­pen­dent upon some­thing else, you are dri­ven to dif­fer­ent con­cerns, and con­se­quently you are not able to main­tain com­plete self-pos­ses­sion.

These two el­e­ments — be­ing de­luded about your­self and be­ing moved by changes in the world and in your thoughts — both de­vel­oped and gained sig­nif­i­cance in the Christian tra­di­tion. In early Christian spir­i­tu­al­ity, Satan is of­ten rep­re­sented as the agent both of self-delu­sion (as op­posed to the re­nun­ci­a­tion of self) and of the mo­bil­ity of mind — the in­sta­bil­ity or un­steadi­ness of the soul as op­posed to fir­mi­tas in the con­tem­pla­tion of God. Fastening one’s mind to God was a way, first, of re­nounc­ing one’s self so as to elim­i­nate any kind of self-delu­sion. And it was also a way to ac­quire an eth­i­cal and an on­to­log­i­cal steadi­ness. So I think, that we can see in Plutarch’s text — in the analy­sis of the re­la­tion be­tween par­rhe­sia and flat­tery — some el­e­ments which also be­came sig­nif­i­cant for the Christian tra­di­tion.

I would like to re­fer now, very briefly, to a text by Galen [A.D.130-200] — the fa­mous physi­cian at the end of the Second Century — where you can see the same prob­lem: how is it pos­si­ble to rec­og­nize a real par­rhe­si­astes? Galen raises this ques­tion :in his es­say The Diagnosis and Cure of the Soul’s Passions”, where he ex­plains that in or­der for a man to free him­self from his pas­sions, he needs a par­rhe­si­astes; for just as in Plutarch a cen­tury pre­vi­ously, phi­lau­tia, self-love, is the root of self-delu­sion:

… we see the faults of oth­ers but re­main blind to those which con­cern our­selves. All men ad­mit the truth of this and, fur­ther­more, Plato gives the rea­son for it [Laws,731e]. He says that the lover is blind in the case of the ob­ject of his love. If, there­fore, each of us loves him­self most of all, he must be blind in his own case… There are pas­sions of the soul which every­body knows: anger, wrath, fear, grief, envy, and vi­o­lent lust. In my opin­ion, ex­ces­sive ve­he­mence in lov­ing or hat­ing any­thing is also a pas­sion; I think the say­ing moderation is best’ is cor­rect, since no im­mod­er­ate ac­tion is good. How, then, could a man cut out these pas­sions if he did not first know that he had them? But as we said, it is im­pos­si­ble to know them, since we love our­selves to ex­cess. Even if this say­ing will not per­mit you to judge your­self, it does al­low that you can judge oth­ers whom you nei­ther love nor hate. Whenever you hear any­one in town be­ing praised be­cause he flat­ters no man, as­so­ci­ate with that man and judge from your own ex­pe­ri­ence whether he is the sort of man they say he is…
When a man does not greet the pow­er­ful and wealthy by name, when he does not visit them, when he does not dine with them, when he lives a dis­ci­plined life, ex­pect that man to speak the truth; try, too, to come to a deeper knowl­edge of what kind of man he is (and this comes about through long as­so­ci­a­tion). If you find such a man, sum­mon him and talk with him one day in pri­vate; ask him to re­veal straight­away what­ever of the above men­tioned pas­sions he may see in you. Tell him you will be most grate­ful for this ser­vice and that you will look on him as your de­liv­erer more than if he had saved you from an ill­ness of the body. Have him promise to re­veal it when­ever he sees you af­fected by any of the pas­sions I have men­tioned.

It is in­ter­est­ing to note that in this text, the par­rhe­si­astes — which every­one needs in or­der to get rid of his own self-delu­sion — does not need to be a friend, some­one you know some­one with whom you are ac­quainted. And this, I think, con­sti­tutes a very im­por­tant dif­fer­ence be­tween Galen and Plutarch. In Plutarch, Seneca, and the tra­di­tion which de­rives from Socrates, the par­rhe­si­astes al­ways needs to be a friend. And this friend re­la­tion was al­ways at the root of the par­rhe­si­as­tic game. As far as I know, for the first time with Galen, the par­rhe­si­astes no longer needs to be a friend. Indeed, it is much bet­ter, Galen tells us, that the par­rhe­si­astes be some­one whom you do not know in or­der for him to be com­pletely neu­tral. A good truth-teller who gives you hon­est coun­sel about your­self does not hate you, but he does not love you ei­ther. A good par­rhe­si­astes is some­one with whom you have pre­vi­ously had no par­tic­u­lar re­la­tion­ship.

But of course you can­not choose him at ran­dom. You must check some cri­te­ria in or­der to know whether he re­ally is ca­pa­ble of re­veal­ing your faults. And for this you must have heard of him. Does he have a good rep­u­ta­tion? Is he old enough? Is he rich enough? It is very im­por­tant that the one who plays the role of the par­rhe­si­astes be at least as rich, or richer than you are. For if he is poor and you are rich, then the chances will be greater that he will be a flat­terer — since it is now in his in­ter­est to do so.

The Cynics, of course, would have said that some­one who is rich, who has a pos­i­tive re­la­tion to wealth, can­not re­ally be wise; so it is not worth­while se­lect­ing him as a par­rhe­si­astes. Galen’s idea of se­lect­ing some­one who is richer than you to act as your truth-teller would seem ridicu­lous to a Cynic.

But it is also in­ter­est­ing to note that in this es­say, the truth-teller does not need to be a physi­cian or doc­tor. For in spite of the fact that Galen him­self was a physi­cian, was of­ten obliged to cure’ the ex­ces­sive pas­sions of oth­ers, and of­ten suc­ceeded in do­ing so, he does not re­quire of a par­rhe­si­astes that he be a doc­tor, or that he pos­sess the abil­ity to cure you of your pas­sions. All that is re­quired is that he be able to tell you the truth about your­self.

But it is still not enough to know that the truth-teller is old enough, rich enough, and has a good rep­u­ta­tion. He must also be tested. And Galen gives a pro­gram for test­ing the po­ten­tial par­rhe­si­astes. For ex­am­ple, you must ask him ques­tions about him­self and see how he re­sponds to de­ter­mine whether he will be se­vere enough for the role. You have to be sus­pi­cious when the would-be par­rhe­si­astes con­grat­u­lates you, when he is not se­vere enough, and so on.

Galen does not elab­o­rate upon the pre­cise role of the par­rhe­si­astes in The Diagnosis and Cure of the Soul’s Passions”; he only gives a few ex­am­ples of the sort of ad­vice he him­self gave while as­sum­ing this role for oth­ers. But, to sum­ma­rize the fore­go­ing, in this text the re­la­tion­ship be­tween par­rhe­sia and friend­ship no longer seems to ob­tain, and there is a kind of trial or ex­am­i­na­tion re­quired of the po­ten­tial parhe­si­astes by his patron’ or client’.

I apol­o­gize for be­ing so brief about these texts from Plutarch and Galen; but they are not very dif­fi­cult to read, only dif­fi­cult to find.