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

— Foucault, Michel. Concluding Remarks to the Seminar in Discourse & Truth: the Problematization of Parrhesia, 1999.

And now a few words about this sem­i­nar.

The point of de­par­ture. My in­ten­tion was not to deal with the prob­lem of truth, but with the prob­lem of truth-teller or truth-telling as an ac­tiv­ity. By this I mean that, for me, it was not a ques­tion of an­a­lyz­ing the in­ter­nal or ex­ter­nal cri­te­ria that would en­able the Greeks and Romans, or any­one else, to rec­og­nize whether a state­ment or propo­si­tion is true or not. At is­sue for me was rather the at­tempt to con­sider truth-telling as a spe­cific ac­tiv­ity, or as a role.

But even in the frame­work of this gen­eral ques­tion of the role of the truth-teller in a so­ci­ety, there were sev­eral pos­si­ble ways to con­duct the analy­sis. For in­stance, I could have com­pared the role and sta­tus of the truth-tellers in Greek so­ci­ety, Christian so­ci­eties, non-Chris­t­ian so­ci­eties — the role of the prophet as a truth-teller, the role of the or­a­cle as a truth-teller, the role of the poet, of the ex­pert, of the preacher, and so on.

But, in fact, my in­ten­tion was not to con­duct a so­ci­o­log­i­cal de­scrip­tion of the dif­fer­ent pos­si­ble roles for truth-tellers in dif­fer­ent so­ci­eties. What I wanted to an­a­lyze was how the truth-teller’s role was var­i­ously prob­lema­tized in Greek phi­los­o­phy. And what I wanted to show you was that if Greek phi­los­o­phy has raised the ques­tion of truth from the point of view of the cri­te­ria for true state­ments and sound rea­son­ing, this same Greek phi­los­o­phy has also raised the prob­lem of truth from the point of view of truth-telling as an ac­tiv­ity. It has raised ques­tions like: Who is able to tell the truth? What are the moral, the eth­i­cal, and the spir­i­tual con­di­tions which en­ti­tle some­one to pre­sent him­self as, and to be con­sid­ered as, a truth-teller? About what top­ics is it im­por­tant to tell the truth? (About the world? About na­ture? About the city? About be­hav­ior? About man? ) What are the con­se­quences of telling the truth? What are its an­tic­i­pated pos­i­tive ef­fects for the city, for the city’s rulers, for the in­di­vid­ual, etc.? And fi­nally: what is the re­la­tion be­tween the ac­tiv­ity of truth-telling and the ex­er­cise of power, or should these ac­tiv­i­ties be com­pletely in­de­pen­dent and kept sep­a­rate? Are they sep­a­ra­ble, or do they re­quire one an­other? These four ques­tions about truth-telling as an ac­tiv­ity — who is able to tell the truth, about what, with what con­se­quences, and with what re­la­tion to power — seem to have emerged as philo­soph­i­cal prob­lems to­wards the end of the Fifth Century around Socrates, es­pe­cially through his con­fronta­tions with the Sophists about pol­i­tics, rhetorics, and ethics.

And I would say that the prob­lema­ti­za­tion of truth which char­ac­ter­izes both the end of Presocratic phi­los­o­phy and the be­gin­ning of the kind of phi­los­o­phy which is still ours to­day, this prob­lema­ti­za­tion of truth has two sides, two ma­jor as­pects. One side is con­cerned with in­sur­ing that the process of rea­son­ing is cor­rect in de­ter­min­ing whether a state­ment is true (or con­cern it­self with our abil­ity to gain ac­cess to the truth). And the other side is con­cerned with the ques­tion: what is the im­por­tance for the in­di­vid­ual and for the so­ci­ety of telling the truth, of know­ing the truth, of hav­ing peo­ple who tell the truth, as well as know­ing how to rec­og­nize them. With that side which is con­cerned with de­ter­min­ing how to in­sure that a state­ment is true we have the roots of the great tra­di­tion in Western phi­los­o­phy which I would like to call the analytics of truth”. And on the other side, con­cerned with the ques­tion of the im­por­tance of telling the truth, know­ing who is able to tell the truth, and know­ing why we should tell the truth, we have the roots of what we could call the critical” tra­di­tion in the West. And here you will rec­og­nize one of my tar­gets in this sem­i­nar, namely, to con­struct a ge­neal­ogy of the crit­i­cal at­ti­tude in the Western phi­los­o­phy. That con­sti­tuted the gen­eral ob­jec­tive tar­get of this sem­i­nar.

From the method­olog­i­cal point of view, I would like to un­der­score the fol­low­ing theme. As you may have no­ticed, I uti­lized the word problematization” fre­quently in this sem­i­nar with­out pro­vid­ing you with an ex­pla­na­tion of its mean­ing. I told you very briefly that what I in­tended to an­a­lyze in most of my work was nei­ther past peo­ple’s be­hav­ior (which is some­thing that be­longs to the field of so­cial his­tory), nor ideas in their rep­re­sen­ta­tive val­ues. What I tried to do from the be­gin­ning was to an­a­lyze the process of problematization” — which means: how and why cer­tain things (behavior, phe­nom­ena, processes) be­came a prob­lem. Why, for ex­am­ple, cer­tain forms of be­hav­ior were char­ac­ter­ized and clas­si­fied as madness” while other sim­i­lar forms were com­pletely ne­glected at a given his­tor­i­cal mo­ment; the same thing for crime and delin­quency, the same ques­tion of prob­lema­ti­za­tion for sex­u­al­ity.

Some peo­ple have in­ter­preted this type of analy­sis as a form of historical ide­al­ism”, but I think that such an analy­sis is com­pletely dif­fer­ent. For when I say that I am study­ing the problematization” of mad­ness, crime, or sex­u­al­ity, it is not a way of deny­ing the re­al­ity of such phe­nom­ena . On the con­trary, I have tried to show that it was pre­cisely some real ex­is­tent in the world which was the tar­get of so­cial reg­u­la­tion at a given mo­ment. The ques­tion I raise is this one: how and why were very dif­fer­ent things in the world gath­erer to­gether, char­ac­ter­ized, an­a­lyzed, and treated as, for ex­am­ple, mental ill­ness”? What are the el­e­ments which are rel­e­vant for a given problematization”? And even if I won’t say that what is char­ac­ter­ized as schizophrenia” cor­re­sponds to some­thing real in the world, this has noth­ing to do with ide­al­ism. For I think there is a re­la­tion be­tween the thing which is prob­lema­tized and the process of prob­lema­ti­za­tion. The prob­lema­ti­za­tion is an answer” to a con­crete sit­u­a­tion which is real.

There is also a mis­taken in­ter­pre­ta­tion ac­cord­ing to which my analy­sis of a given prob­lema­ti­za­tion is with­out any his­tor­i­cal con­text, as if it were a spon­ta­neous process com­ing from any­where. In fact, how­ever, I have tried to show, for in­stance, that the new prob­lema­ti­za­tion of ill­ness or phys­i­cal dis­ease at the end of the 18th Century was very di­rectly linked to a mod­i­fi­ca­tion in var­i­ous prac­tices, or to the de­vel­op­ment of a new so­cial re­ac­tion to dis­eases, or to the chal­lenge posed by cer­tain processes, and so on. But we have to un­der­stand very clearly, I think, that a given prob­lema­ti­za­tion is not an ef­fect or con­se­quence of a his­tor­i­cal con­text or sit­u­a­tion, but is an an­swer given by def­i­nite in­di­vid­u­als (although you may find this same an­swer given in a se­ries of texts, and at a cer­tain point the an­swer may be­come so gen­eral that it also be­comes anony­mous).

For ex­am­ple, with re­gard to the way that par­rhe­sia was prob­lema­tized at a given mo­ment, we can see that there are spe­cific Socratic-Platonic an­swers to the ques­tions: How can we rec­og­nize some­one as a par­rhe­si­astes? What is the im­por­tance of hav­ing a par­rhe­si­astes in the city? What is the train­ing of a good par­rhe­si­astes? — an­swers which were given by Socrates or Plato. These an­swers are not col­lec­tive ones from any sort of col­lec­tive un­con­scious. And the fact that an an­swer is nei­ther a rep­re­sen­ta­tion nor an ef­fect of a sit­u­a­tion does not mean that it an­swers to noth­ing, that it is pure dream, or an anti-creation”. A prob­lema­ti­za­tion is al­ways a kind of cre­ation; but a cre­ation in the sense that, given a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion, you can­not in­fer that this kind of prob­lema­ti­za­tion will fol­low. Given a cer­tain prob­lema­ti­za­tion, you can only un­der­stand why this kind of an­swer ap­pears as a re­ply to some con­crete and spe­cific as­pect of the world. There is the re­la­tion of though and re­al­ity in the process of prob­lema­ti­za­tion. And that is the rea­son why I think that it is pos­si­ble to give an an­swer —the orig­i­nal, spe­cific, and sin­gu­lar an­swer of thought— to a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion. And it is this kind of spe­cific re­la­tion be­tween truth and re­al­ity which I tried to an­a­lyze in the var­i­ous prob­lema­ti­za­tions of par­rhe­sia.