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.