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Michel Foucault “The Government of Self and Others”

Foucault, Michel 2011. The Government of Self and Others. Lectures at the Collège de France 1982-1983. New York: Palgrave Macmillan: Picador.


12 january 1983, first hour

The first theoretical displacement to be made was this transition, this shift from the development of bodies of knowledge to the analysis of forms of veridiction. The second theoretical displacement to be carried out consists in freeing oneself from any would-be general Theory of Power (with all the capital letters), or from explanations in terms of Domination in general, when analyzing the normativity of behavior, and in trying instead to bring out the history and analysis of procedures and technologies of governmental-ity. Finally, the third displacement consists, I think, in passing from a theory of the subject, on the basis of which one would try to bring out the different modes of being of subjectivity in their historicity, to the analysis of the modalities and techniques of the relation to self, or again to the history of this pragmatics of the subject in its different forms, some examples of which I tried to give you last year. So: analysis of forms of veridiction; analysis of procedures of governmentality; and analysis of the pragmatics of the subject and techniques of the self. These, then, are the three displacements that I have outlined. (41-42)

This is what I would like to say something about this year: truth-telling in procedures of government and the constitution of [an] individual as subject for himself and for others. (42)

[…] one cannot attend to oneself, take care of oneself, without a relationship to another person. And the role of this other is precisely to tell the truth, to tell the whole truth, or at any rate to tell all the truth that is necessary, and to tell it in a cer-tain form which is precisely parresia, which once again is translated as free-spokenness  (franc-parler). (43)

Truth-telling by the other, as an essential component of how he governs us, is one of the essential conditions for us to be able to form the right kind of relationship to ourselves that will give us virtue and happiness. (45)

Well, I think that in a way this is an exemplary scene of parresia: a man stands up to a tyrant and tells him the truth. (50)

Well, in the first place parrēsia is the fact of telling the truth. (51)

The parrhesiast is someone who tells the truth and consequently distinguishes himself from any untruthfulness and flat-tery. Parresiazesthai, that is to say, the truth. But it is clear that it is not just any way of telling the truth. […] Parresia is a particular way of telling the truth. (52)

In parre–sia however, as if it were a veritable anti-irony, the person who tells the truth throws the truth in the face of his interlocutor, a truth which is so violent, so abrupt, and said in such a peremptory and definitive way that the person facing him can only fall silent, or choke with fury, or change to a different register, which in the cas of Dionysius is the attempt to murder Plato. (54)

Let’s say that parresia is a way of telling the truth, and we have to find out what this way of telling the truth is. But this way of telling the truth does not fall within the province of eristic and an art of debate, or of pedagogy and an art of teaching, or of rhetoric and an art of persuasion, or of an art of demonstration. […] It is not found in what could be called discursive strategies. In what, then, does it consist, since it does not consist in the discourse itself and its structures? (55)

[…] there is always parresia when telling the truth takes place in conditions such that the fact of telling the truth, and the fact of having told it, will, may, or must entail costly consequences for those who have told it. In other words, if we want to analyze the nature of parre–sia, I do not think we should look to the internal structure of the discourse, or to the aim which the true discourse seeks to achieve vis-à-vis the interlocutor, but to the speaker, or rather to the risk that truth-telling opens up for the speaker. We should look for parre–sia in the effect that its specific truth-telling may have on the speaker, in the possible backlash on the speaker from the effect it has on the interlocutor. (56)

We have here, if you like […] the point at which subjects willingly undertake to tell the truth, while willingly and explicitly accetping that this truth-telling could cost them their life. (56)


12 january 1983, second hour

However, there is a major and crucial difference. In a performative utterance, the given elements of the situation are such that when the utterance is made, the effect which follows is known and ordered in advance, it is codified, and this is precisely what constitutes the performative character of the utterance. In parresia, on the other hand, whatever the usual, familiar and quasi-institutionalized character of the situation in which it is effectuated, what makes it parresia is that the introduction, the irruption of the true discourse determines an open situation, or rather opens the situation and makes possible effects which are, precisely, not known. Parresia does not produce a codified effect; it opens up an unspecified risk. (62)

[…] we can say that there is parresia when the statement of this truth constitutes an irruptive event opening up an unidefined or poorly defined risk for the subject who speaks. (63)

[…] what makes parresia, is that not only is this difference not possible, but parresia is always a sort of formulation of the truth at two levels. A first level is that of the statement of the truth itself (at this point, as in the performative, on says the thing, and that’s that). The second level of the parrhesiastic act, the parrhesiastic enunciation is the affirmation that in fact one genuinely thinks, judges, and considers the truth on is saying to be genuinely true. (64)

What characterizes a parrhesiastic utterance […] is not the fact that the speaking subject has this or that status. […] What characterizes the parrhesiastic utterance is precisely that, apart from the status and anything that could codify and define the situation, the parrhesiast is someone who emphasizes his own freedom as an individual speaking. (65)

[…] it is not the subject’s social, institutional status that we find at the heart of parresia; it is his courage. (66)

Parresia – and I am summarizing here […] – is therefore a certain way of speaking. More precisely, it is a way of telling the truth. Third, it is a way of telling the truth that lays one open to a risk by the very fact that one tells the truth. Fourth, parresia is a way of opening up this risk linked to truth-telling by, as it were, constituting oneself to the statement of the truth and to the act of stating the truth. Finally, parresia is a way of binding oneself to oneself in the statement of truth, of freely binding oneself to oneself, and in the form of a courageous act. Parresia is the free courage by which one binds oneself in the act of telling the truth. Or again, parresia is the ethics of truth-telling as an action which is risky and free. To that extent, if we give this rather broad and general definition to the word „parresia“ – which was rendered as „free-spokenness“ (franc-parler) when its use was limited to spiritual direction – I think we can proposes to translate it as „veridicity“ (véridicité). (66)

In parresia, in one way or another both the statement and the act of enunciation affect the subject’s mode of being […] I think it is this retroaction – such that the event of the utterance affects the subject’s mode of being, or that, in producing the event of the utterance the subject modifies, or affirms, or anyway determines and clarifies his mode of being insofar as he speaks – that characterizes a type of facts of discourse which are completely different from those dealt with by pragmatics. The analysis of these facts of discourse, which show how the very event of the enunciation may affect the enunciator’s being, is what we could call – removing all the pathos from the word – the „dramatics“ of discourse. (68)

So what I would like to do this year is a history of the discourse of governmentality which would follow the thread of this dramatics of true discourse, which would try to locate some of the major forms of the dramatics of true discourse. (69)

What is this person who arises within society and says: I am telling the truth, and I am telling the truth in the name of the revolution that I am going to make and that we will make together? (70)

First, parresia as a political structure. […] We find parresia, that is to say, the freedom for cirizens to speak, and of course to speak in the political field, understood as much from the abstract point of view (political activity) as very concretely: the right, even of someone who does not hold any particular office and is not a magistrate, to get up and speak in the meeting of the Assembly, tell the truth, or claim and assert that one is telling the truth. This is parresia: a political structure. (71)


19 january, first hour

To have committed an injustice founds the justice of not speaking. Therefore he will not speak. (90)


19 january, second hour

What con-stitutes the field peculiar to parresia is this political risk of a discourse which leaves room free for other discourse and assumes the task, not of bending others to one’s will, but of persuading them. (105)

Parre-sia consists in making use of logos in the polis—logos  in the sense of true, reasonable discourse, discourse which per-suades, and discourse which may confront other discourse and will triumph only through the weight of its truth and the effectiveness of its persuasion—parre-sia consists in making use of this true, reasonable, agonistic discourse, this discourse of debate, in the field of the  polis. And, once again, neither the effective exercise of tyrannical power nor the simple status of citizen can give this parre-sia. (105)

It is simply belonging to the land, autochthony, being rooted in the soil, this historical continuity based on a territory, which alone can give parre-sia. In other words, the question of parre-sia corresponds to an historical problem, to an extremely precise political problem at the time when Euripides writes Ion. (105)


29 january, second hour

It involves a sort of agonistic discourse. For someone who is both the victim of an injustice and completely weak, the only means of combat is a discourse which is agonistic but constructed around this unequal structure. (133)

The discourse, through someone weak, and despite this weakness, takes the risk of reproaching someone powerful for his injustice, is called, precisely, parresia. (133-134)

This was my reason for stressing this, because there is a fundamental ambiguity here. Once again, this ambiguity is not in the word parresia, which is not used here [Ion], but concerns two forms of discourse facing each other, [or rather] profoundly linked to each other: the rational discourse enabling one to govern men and the discourse of the weak reproaching the strong for his injustice. This coupling is very important, because we will find it again as a matrix of political discourse. (135-136)

The discourse of the weak telling of the injustice of the strong is an indispensable condition for the strong to be able to govern in accordance with the discourse of human reason. (136)

Anyway, you can see that we have two ways of confessing the same truth, and in no way is it the role of one to complete the other, since both say exactly the same thing and what was said as imprecation to the gods is just literally repeated. It is clear that what is at stake in this double confession is that, after a mode of truth-telling concerning an injustice one has suffered and against which one protests to the person who inflicted it, it is necessary to bring out another type of confes-sion in which, on the contrary, one takes upon oneself, on one’s own shoulders, both one’s own offense and the misfortune of that offense. And one does not confide it to someone more powerful than oneself and against whom one makes reproaches, but to someone to whom one confesses, someone who guides and helps us. Discourse of imprecation and discourse of confession: these two forms of parre-sia will split apart in future history, and we see, as it were, their matrices here. (139)


2 february, first hour

[…] Ion brings together three practices of truth-telling. One is called parre-sia by Euripides in this text. We may call this, let’s say, political parre-sia, or statutory-political parre-sia: it is the well-known statutory privilege, connected to birth, which is a way of exercising power by what is said and by truth-telling. This is polit-ical parre-sia. Second, we see a second practice, which is connected to a situation of injustice, and which, far from the right exercised by the powerful over his fellow citizens in order to guide them, is instead the cry of the powerless against someone who misuses his own strength. This, which is not [designated as] parre-sia in the text, but will be later, is what could be called judicial  parre-sia. And finally, we see a third practice in the text, a third way of telling the truth which is also not [designated as] parre-sia in the text, but will be later. We could call this moral parre-sia, which consists in confessing the offense which weighs on one’s conscience, and confessing it to someone who can guide us and help us out of our despair or out of feeling at fault. This is moral parre-sia. (154)

For there to be democracy there must be parre-sia; for there to be parre-sia there must be democracy. There is a fundamental circularity, and I would now like to place myself within the framework of this circularity and try to disen-tangle the relationships between parre-sia and democracy, let’s say quite simply: the problem of truth-telling in democracy. (155)

The superiority connected to parresia is a superiority shared with others, but shared in the form of competition, rivalry, conflict, and duel. It is an agonistic structure. Even if it implies a status, I think parresia is connected much less to status than to a dynamic and a combat, a conflict. So, a dynamic and agonistic structure of parresia. (156)

What I think is associated with the game of parre-sia is speaking the truth in order to direct the city, in a position of superiority in which one is perpetually jousting with others. (157)

[…] it seems to me that we find here the root of a problematic of a society’s immanent power relations which, unlike the juridical-institutional system of that society, ensure that it is actually governed. The problems of governmentality in their specificity, in their complex relation to but also independence from politeia, appear and are formulated for the first time around this notion of parresia and the exercise of power through true discourse. (159)


2 february 1983, second hour

… the constitutive rectangle of parresia:

At one corner of the rectangle we could put democracy, understood as the equality accorded to all citizens, and consequently the freedom of each to speak, be in favor or against, and thus to take part in decision making. There will be no parre-sia without this democracy. The second corner of the rectangle is what could be called the game of ascendancy or superiority, that is to say, the problem of those who, speaking in front of and above others, get them to listen, persuade them, direct them, and exercise command over them. So: a pole of democracy and a pole of ascendancy. The third corner of parre-sia: truth-telling. For there tobe parresia, a good parresia, there needs to be not just democracy (formal condition) and ascendancy, which is, if you like, the de facto condition. In addition, ascendancy and speaking must be exercised with reference to a certain truth-telling. The logos, which exercises its power and ascendancy and is delivered by those who exercise ascendancy over the city, must be a discourse of truth. This is the third corner. Finally, the fourth corner: since this exercise of the right to speak in which one tries to persuade through a discourse of truth takes place precisely in a democracy (first corner), it will therefore take the form of a joust, of rivalry, and confrontation, with the consequence that those who want to deliver a discourse of truth must demonstrate courage (this will be the moral corner). Formal condition: democracy. De facto condi-tion: the ascendancy and superiority of some. Truth condition: the need for a rational  logos. And finally, moral condition: courage, courage in the struggle. I think this rectangle—with a constitutional corner, the corner of the political game, the corner of truth, and the corner of courage—is what constitutes parre-sia. (173-174)

Bad Parresia:

1) First, it is characterized by the fact that just anybody can speak. What qualifies someone to speak and gives him ascendancy [is no longer] those old ancestral rights of birth and especially of belong-ing to the soil—of the nobility, but also, as we saw earlier, of the small

peasants—it is no longer belonging to the soil and to a tradition, any more than it is qualities like those of Pericles […] Henceforth, anybody can speak, which is a constitutional right. But just anybody will in fact speak and will in fact exercise ascendancy by speaking. Even those who have recently become citizens, as was the case with Cleophon, may exercise ascendancy in this way. It will be the worst therefore, and not the best. In this way ascendancy is perverted. (182-183)

2) Second, this bad parrhesiast who arrives from anywhere does not say what he does because it represents his opinion, or because he thinks that his opinion is true, or because he is intelligent enough for his opinion to correspond in fact to the truth and what is best for the city. He speaks only because and to the extent that what he says represents the pre-vailing opinion, which is that of the majority. In other words, instead of ascendancy being exercised through the specific difference of true dis-course, the bad ascendancy of anybody is achieved through conformity to what anybody may say and think. (183)

3) Finally, the third characteristic of this bad parre-sia is that the armature of this false true discourse is not the singular courage of the person who, like Pericles, is able to turn against the people and reproach them in turn. Instead of this cour-age, we find individuals who seek only one thing: to ensure their own safety and their own success by pleasing their listeners, by flattering their feelings and opinions. The bad parre-sia which drives out the good is then, if you like, “everybody,” “anybody,” saying anything, provided it is well received by anybody, that is to say, everybody. Such is the mechanism of bad parre-sia, which is basically the elimination of the dis-tinctive difference of truth-telling in the game of democracy. (183)

Not everybody can tell the truth just because everybody may speak. True discourse introduces a difference or rather is linked, both in its conditions and in its effects, to a difference: only a few can tell the truth. And once only a few can tell the truth once this truth-telling has emerged into the field of democracy, a difference is produced which is that of the ascendancy exercised by some over others. True discourse and the emergence of true discourse underpins the process of governmentality. If democracy can be gov-erned, it is because there is a true discourse. (183-184)

And then you see a new paradox now appears. The first paradox was: there can only be true discourse through democracy, but true dis-course introduces something completely different and irreducible to the egalitarian structure of democracy. […] And this is the second paradox: there is no democracy without true discourse, for without true dis-course it would perish; but the death of true discourse, the possibility of its death or of its reduction to silence is inscribed in democracy. No true discourse without democracy, but true discourse introduces differences into democracy. No democracy without true discourse, but democracy threatens the very existence of true discourse. (184)


9 february, first hour

Four great problems of ancient political thought, which we find already formulated in Plato:

1) First, is there a regime, an organization, a politeia of the city which is such that the indexation of this regime to the truth can do without this always dangerous game of parre-sia? Or again: can all the problems of the relations between truth and the organization of the city be set-tled once and for all? Is it possible for the city to have, once and for all, a clear, definite, fundamental, and as it were immobile relationship to the truth? This is, roughly speaking, the problem of the ideal city. (195)

2) Which is better? For the life of the city to be indexed properly to the truth, is it better that all those who can, want to, or think they are able speak, be permitted to do so in a democracy? […] I think that there is a crucial feature here on which we should focus, namely that the great political debate between democracy and monarchy is not just a debate between democracy and autocratic power. It is a confrontation between two couples: the couple of a democracy and certain people who stand up to tell the truth (consequently, if you like: democracy and orator, democ-racy and the citizen who exercises his right to speak), and the other couple of the Prince and his advisor. (195-196)

3) Third, you see the appearance of the problem of the formation and conduct of souls, which is indispensable to politics. The problem appears clearly, of course, when it is a matter of the Prince: how should one act on the Prince’s soul, how should one advise him? But even before the advisor, how should one form the Prince’s soul so that it may be open to the true discourse that must be delivered to him constantly while he is exercising power? The same question arises with regard to democracy: how will it be possible to form those citizens who will have to take responsibility for speaking and for guiding the others? This, then, is the question of pedagogy. (196)

4) And finally, the fourth great problem is this: who is capable of tak-ing up this parresia, this indispensable game of truth in political life—which we may imagine in the very foundation of the city, in an ideal constitution, as well as in the game of democracy with orators, or of the Prince with his advisor, with their comparable respective merits—who is capable of taking up this truth-telling necessary for conducting citizens’ souls or the Prince’s soul? Who is capable of being the artisan of parresia? What mode of knowledge, or what tekhne-, what theory or practice, what body of knowledge, but also what exercise, what mathesis and aske-sis will make it possible to take up this parre-sia? Is it rhetoric or philosophy? (196)

This is the double negative aspect of parre-sia in democracy thus founded: each has his own identity and each can lead the crowd where he wants. Whereas the game of the good parre-sia is precisely to introduce the differentiation of true discourse which will make possible the proper direction of the city through the exercise of ascendancy, here, on the contrary, there is a structure of non-differentiation which leads to the worst possible guidance of the city. (200)

It is this absence of true discourse which will constitute the fundamental characteristic of the democratic soul, just as the bad game of parresia in the city produces that anarchy peculiar to bad democracy. (200)

Cyrus gave “full freedom of speech and honors to whoever was capable of advising him.” We have here the idea of what could be called the parrhesiastic pact. The sovereign must act so that he opens up the space within which his counselor’s truth-telling can be formulated and can appear, and in opening up this freedom he under-takes not to punish his counselor and deal ruthlessly with him. (203)

Even in an ideal city with perfect order and the best trained magistrates whose functions are exercised exactly as they should be, if citizens are to conduct themselves properly in the order of the city and actually form that coherent prganization the city needs in order to survive, then they will still need a supplementary discourse of truth, and someone will be needed to address them in complete frankness, using the language of reason and truth to persuade them. What we see desig-nated in this text is this supplementary parrhesiast as the moral guide of individuals, as the moral guide of individuals in their totality, a kind of high moral functionary of the city. And here again you see parre-sia in its complexity or its double articulation: parresia is in actual fact what the city needs in order to be governed, but it is also what must act on citizens’ souls so that they are the citizens they should be, even in the well governed city. (205-206)


9 february, second hour

[…] parre-sia is not restricted to operating only within the framework of democracy; a parrhesiastic problem, if you like, a problem of  parresia arises under any form of government. (212)

One thing that I think should be understood is that the resort to philosophy in this text, the desired coincidence between the practice of philosophy and the exercise of power, is presented by Plato—and some importance should be attached to this—as the consequence of an impossibility, that is to say, of the fact that the previously customary political game of parre-sia (of truth-telling) is no longer possible in the field of democracy or in the Athenian city. The place of truth-telling is no longer solely the field of politics, which means that henceforth the parre-sia that we saw formulated fairly clearly in Euripides, for example, or afterwards in Isocrates, the  parre-sia  that should characterize the action of some citizens in relation to other citizens, is no longer to be given by citizenship and is no longer the exercise of moral or social ascendancy of some over others. Parre-sia [. . .], truth-telling in the political realm can only be founded on philosophy. It is not just that this parre-sia, this truth-telling must refer to an external philosophical dis-course, but truth-telling in the field of politics can well and truly only be philosophical truth-telling. Philosophical truth-telling and polit-ical truth-telling must be the same, inasmuch as none of the ways of conducting politics witnessed by Plato can assure the true functioning of this parre-sia. This dangerous and perilous game I have been talking about is no longer possible. I think the absolute right of philosophy over political discourse is clearly central in this conception of Plato. (217)

It is by taking part directly, through parre-sia, in the formation, maintenance, and exercise of an art of gov-erning that the philosopher will be not merely  logos in the political realm, but really logos and ergon, in accordance with the ideal of Greek rationality. In reality, logos is complete only if it can lead to ergon and organize it according to the necessary principles of rationality. (219)


16 february, first hour

Rhetoric is a means of persuading people of what they are already persuaded. The test of philosophy, on the contrary, the test of philosophy’s reality, is not its political effectiveness; it is the fact that it enters the politi-cal field in its specific difference and has its own particular game in relation to politics. (229)

For a long time it was thought, and it is still thought, that basically the reality of philosophy is being able to tell the truth about truth, the truth of truth. But it seems to me that, and anyway this is what is indicated in Plato’s text, there is a completely different way of marking or defining what philosophy’s reality may be, the reality of philosophical veridiction, whether what this veridiction says be true or false. This reality is marked by the fact that philosophy is the activity which consists in speaking the truth, in practicing veridiction in relation to power. (229-230)

The philosopher who speaks with-out being listened to, or again who speaks under the threat of death, basically only speaks hot air and pointlessly. If he wants his discourse to be a real discourse, a discourse of reality, if he wants his philosophi-cal veridiction really to belong to the realm of reality, his philosopher’s discourse must be listened to, understood, and accepted by those to whom it is addressed. Philosophy does not exist in reality solely by virtue of there being a philosopher to formulate it. Philosophy exists in reality, finds its reality, only if, corresponding to the philosopher who delivers his discourse, there is an expectation and listening of the per-son who wants to be persuaded by philosophy. (235)

This is the circle of listening: philosophy can only address itself to those who want to listen. A discourse which only protested, challenged, shouted, and raged against power and tyranny would not be philosophy. No more would a violent discourse, which forces its way into the city and spreads threats and death around it, find its philo-sophical reality. If the philosopher is not listened to, and to such an extent that he is threatened with death, or again if the philosopher is violent, and to such an extent that his discourse brings death to others, then in both cases philosophy cannot find its reality; it fails the test of reality. The first test of reality of philosophical discourse will be the listening it meets with. (235)

Earlier, based on the previous passage, I referred to the circle of listening, which consists in philosophical truth-telling, phil-osophical veridiction presupposing the other’s willingness to listen. Here we have another, completely different circle, which is no longer the circle of the other, but the circle of oneself. In fact it is a matter of the reality of philosophy being found, recognized, and effectuated only in the practice of philosophy. The reality of philosophy is its practice. More exactly, and this is the second conclusion to be drawn, the reality of philosophy is not its practice as the practice of logos. That is to say, the reality of philosophy will not be its practice as discourse, or even as dialogue. It will be the practice of philosophy as “practices,” in the plural; the practice of philosophy in its practices, its exercises. And the third, obviously essential conclusion concerns what these exercises are directed towards, what is at stake in them. Well, quite simply, it is the subject itself. That is to say, it is in the relation to self, in the work of self on self, in the work on oneself, in this mode of activity of self on self that philosophy’s reality will actually be demonstrated and attested. Philosophy finds its reality in the practice of philosophy understood as the set of practices through which the subject has a relationship to itself, elaborates itself, and works on itself. The reality of  philosophy is this work of self on self. (242)


16 february, second hour

[…] what is philosophy when rather than as merely logos, one wants to think of it as ergon? Well, it seems to me that we can make out here what could be called a third circle. We have had the circle of listening: for philosophy really to be real, for it to find its reality, it must be a discourse which is listened to. Second, for phi-losophy to find its reality it must be practice (both in the singular and plural, a practice and practices); the reality of philosophy is found in its practices. And now finally, we have what could be called the circle of knowledge, namely, that philosophical knowledge, specifically philo-sophical knowledge, is in fact completely different from the four other forms of knowledge. But nevertheless, the reality of this  knowledge can be arrived at only through the unremitting and continuous practice of the other modes of knowledge. (251-252)

First, you see that if in fact the refusal of writing should be given the meaning I am suggesting, then in no way should we see in this Platonic refusal of writing something like the advent of a logocentrism in Western philosophy. You can see that it is more complicated than that. For the refusal of writing here, throughout this text from Letter VII, is not at all presented in terms of an opposition between writing and the meaning and valorization of logos. On the contrary, what this letter takes up is pre-cisely the theme of the insufficiency of logos. And the refusal of writing is set out as a refusal of a knowledge arrived at through onoma (t h e  word),  logos (the definition, the interplay of substantives and verbs, etcetera). It is all of this, writing and logos together, which is well and truly rejected in this letter. Writing is not rejected because it is opposed to logos. On the contrary, it is because they are on the same side, and because writing is, in its way, like a derivative and secondary form of logos. And on the other hand, this refusal of writing, of writing and of the logos associated with it, or of the logos to which writing is subor-dinated, is not therefore made in the name of logos itself (rejected like writing and even before writing), but in the name something positive, in the name of tribe-, of exercise, effort, work, in the name of a certain painstaking mode of relationship of self to self. What we should deci-pher in this refusal of writing is not at all the advent of a logocentrism, but the advent of something else entirely. It is the advent of philosophy, of a philosophy whose very reality would be the practice of self on self. It is in fact something like the Western subject which is at stake in this simultaneous and conjoint refusal of writing and of logos. (253-254)

[…] the reality of philosophy is found in the relationship of self to self. And it is indeed in setting out the problem of the gov-ernment of self and the government of others that philosophy, here, in this text, formulates its ergon, at once its task and its reality. (255)


23 february, first hour

Plato therefore recognizes and lays claim to  parre-sia as the activ-ity that underpins his activity as counselor. As a counselor he is that parre-sia, that is to say he employs parre-sia with all the characteristics we have recognized: he commits himself, it is his own discourse, it is his own opinion, it takes account both of general principles and a particular conjuncture; it is addressed to people as a general principle, but it persuades them individually. All of this gives a discourse whose truth must hold to and be proven by the fact that it will become reality. Philosophical discourse will get from political reality the guarantee that it is not just logos, not just words given in a dream, but that it really has to do with the ergon, with what constitutes reality. We have here a set of elements which match up with what I tried to tell you concerning the parrhesiast’s function. (279)


23 february, second hour

After all, it is for politics itself to know and define the best ways of exercising power. It is not for philosophy to tell the truth about this. But philosophy has to tell the truth—we will leave it there for the moment, if you like, and we will try to specify later—not about power, but in relation to power, in contact with, in a sort of vis-à-vis or intersection with power. It is not for philosophy to tell power what to do, but it has to exist as truth-telling in a certain relation to political action; nothing more, nothing less. (286)

Let’s say, again very schemati-cally, that in the case of the Cynics we have a mode of connection of philosophical truth-telling to political action which takes place in the form of exteriority, challenge, and derision, whereas in Plato we have a connection of philosophical truth-telling to [political] practice which is rather one of intersection, pedagogy, and the identification of the philosophizing subject and the subject exercising power. (287)

Or again: philosophical discourse in its truth, in the game it neces-sarily plays with politics in order to find its truth, does not have to plan what political action should be. It does not tell the truth of politi-cal action, it does not tell the truth for political action, it tells the truth in relation to political action, in relation to the practice of politics, in relation to the political personage. And this is what I call a recurrent, permanent, and fundamental feature of the  relationship of philosophy to politics. (288)

Philosophy and politics must exist in a relation, in a correlation; they must never coincide. (289)

What, for Plato, is this practice of philosophy? Before all else, essentially and fundamentally, this practice of philosophy is a way for the individual to constitute himself as a subject on a certain mode of being. The mode of being of the philosophizing subject should constitute the mode of being of the subject exercising power. (294)


2 march, first hour

Parrhesia (Euripides, Thucydides):

1) […] parre-sia was linked to the working of democracy. You recall that Ion needed parre-sia for him to be able to return to Athens and establish the fundamental Athenian political right. On the other hand, Pericles employed his parre-sia—Thucydides emphasized this—within the general working rules of democracy. Parre-sia founds democracy and democracy is the site of  parre-sia. First of all then, there is this circular bond of parre-sia/democracy, each belonging to the other. (300)

2) […] parre-sia presupposed then a precise institutional structure, that of ise-goria, that is to say, the right to speak actually given to all citizens by the law, by the constitution, by the very form of the politeia. You recall that Ion did not want to return to Athens as a bastard, since he would not have had the right, the equal right—of citizens only, but of every citizen—to speak. And Pericles only speaks after all the other citizens, or anyway all those who wished to speak, had actually exercised their rights. So Pericles’ right exists within this game of ise-goria. This was the second point. (300)

3) […] even if parre-sia functions within this egalitar-ian field of ise-goria, it presupposes, it implies a form of political ascen-dancy exercised by some over others. If Ion wanted to have parre-sia, it was not just so he could be a citizen like others; it was so he could figure in the pro-ton (the front rank) of citizens. And if Pericles spoke, and if this speech had the effects that it had, Thucydides reminds us that this is because Pericles was the foremost citizen of Athens. (300)

4) Finally, you recall that parresia took place within an agonistic field where it constantly met with the danger involved in practicing true speech in the political field. Ion referred to the people’s envy, the envy of the majority, of the most numerous towards those who exercise their ascendancy. He also referred to jealousy of rivals who cannot tolerate one of them advancing and assuming ascendancy over the others.

Parrhesia (Plato, Xenophon, Isocrates)

1) First, there is a generalization of the notion in the sense that  parre-sia, the obligation and risk of telling the truth in the political field, no longer appeared to be linked merely and solely to the working of democracy. Parre-sia finds its place, or rather has to make room for itself in different regimes, which may be democratic, autocratic, oligarchic, or monarchical regimes. Sovereigns, like the people, need parre-sia. […] So there is a generalization of the political field of parre-sia, or let’s say even more schematically that parre-sia, truth-telling, appears as a necessary and universal function in the field of politics, whatever the  politeia. Politics, in whatever way it is practiced, by the people, by some, or by one, needs this parre-sia. This is the first shift. (301)

2) The second shift is, if you like, the development of a certain ambiv-alence, a certain ambiguity concerning the value of  parre-sia, as if the immediate and uniformly positive value of the notion in Euripides, or in the portrayal of Pericles by Thucydides, starts to become blurred. The functioning of parresia appears, in fact, to be accompanied by difficulties, and this is true for both democratic and autocratic governments. In the first place, by allowing anyone who wants to speak to do so, parre-sia makes it possible for the worst as well as the best to speak. Second, if telling the truth in parre-sia is a risk, if there really is danger in speaking the truth before the people or the sovereign, if the people and the sov-ereign are unable to moderate themselves sufficiently not to frighten those who wish to tell the truth, if they are too threatening to those who claim to tell the truth, if they become excessively angry* and are incapable of moderation towards parrhesiasts who appear before them, then everyone will keep quiet because everyone will be afraid. This will be the law of silence, silence before the people or before the sover-eign. Or rather, this silence will be filled by a discourse, but a distorted discourse, the mime-sis (imitation), the bad mime-sis of parre-sia. (301-302)

3) The third transformation we saw emerging in these texts from the beginning of the fourth century is, roughly, the splitting of parre-sia, its unevenness […] Instead of being just a view which is given to the city in order that it govern itself properly, parre-sia now appears as an activ-ity which consists in addressing the souls of those who have to govern so that they govern themselves properly and so that in this way the city too is governed properly. I think this splitting or, if you like, this shift of the target, of the objective of parre-sia—from the government of the city, which it addressed directly, to the government of self in order to govern others—marks an important shift in the history of this notion of parre-sia. And it will make parre-sia both a political notion—raising the problem of how to make room for this truth-telling within a govern-ment, be it democratic or monarchical—and at the same time a philosophical-moral problem. (303)

4) Finally, the fourth important modification in the problematization of parresia is the following. What were Ion or Pericles when they appeared as parrhesiasts in relation to the city? They were citizens, and they were the leading citizens. Now that parre-sia has to be exercised in any regime, whatever it may be, and inasmuch as it has to be practiced in a dangerous, tangled relationship with its double (flattery), conse-quently raising the problem of distinguishing what is true from what is illusory, when, in short, parre-sia does not just involve giving advice to the people on what decision to take but means having to guide the souls of those who govern, who then will be capable of parre-sia? Who will possess the ability of parre-sia, who possibly will have the monopoly of parre-sia? And it is at this point, precisely at the turn of the fourth and fifth centuries, that the great division in Greek culture, or any-way Athenian culture, between rhetoric and philosophy begins to be marked out, a division whose effects will continue to be seen for eight centuries. (303-304)

A discourse which claims to tell the truth should not be assessed merely by measuring it against a history of knowledge which would permit us to determine whether or not it tells the truth. These discourses of truth deserve to be analyzed differently than according to the measure and from the point of view of a history of ideologies which would ask them why they speak falsely, failing to telling the truth. I think a history of the ontologies of true discourse or of discourses of truth, a history of the ontologies of veridiction would be a history in which one would pose at least three questions. First: What is the mode of being peculiar to this or that discourse, as distinct from others, when it introduces a certain specific game of truth into reality? Second question: What is the mode of being that this discourse of veridiction confers on the reality it talks about, through the game of truth it practices? Third question: What is the mode of being that this discourse of veridiction imposes on the subject who employs it, such that this subject can play this specific game of truth properly? (309-310)

This implies that every discourse, and particularly every discourse of truth, every veridiction, be considered essentially as a practice. Second, it implies that all truth be understood in terms

of a game of veridiction. And it implies that every ontology, lastly, be analyzed as a fiction. Which means again: the history of thought must always be the history of singular inventions. Or again: if we want to distinguish the history of thought from a history of knowl-edge undertaken in terms of an index of truth, and if we want to distinguish it from a history of ideologies undertaken by reference to a criterion of reality, then this history of thought—this anyway is what I would like to do—should be conceived of as a history of ontologies which would refer to a principle of freedom in which freedom is not defined as a right to be free, but as a capacity for free action. (310)

What concerns philosophy is not politics, it is not even justice and injustice in the city, but justice and injustice inasmuch as they are committed by someone who is an acting subject; acting as a citizen, or as a subject, or possibly as a sovereign. Philosophy’s question is not the question of politics; it is the question of the subject in politics. (319)


2 march, second hour

Socrates emphasizes this: If the truth could simply be known by the speaker before he speaks, as the prior condition, as it were, [of his discourse] (which is what Phaedrus suggests), then in that cas his discourse will not be a discourse of truth. Knowledge of the truth, for Socrates, is not a precondition of the good practice of discourse. (330)


9 march, first hour

Again, it should be under-stood that the daughter of  parre-sia is certainly not the whole of phi-losophy, philosophy since its origin, philosophy in all its aspects, but philosophy understood as the free courage of telling the truth and, in telling the truth courageously, taking ascendancy over others so as to conduct them properly in a game in which the parrhesiast himself must accept a risk, even that of death. Philosophy thus defined as the free courage of telling the truth so as to take ascendancy over others and conduct them properly, even at the risk of death, is, I think, the daugh-ter of parre-sia. Anyway, it seems to me that this is the form in which philosophical practice asserts itself throughout Antiquity. (342)

Ancient philosophy as parresia:

1) First, the fact that ancient philosophy is a form of life should be interpreted in the general framework of this parrhesiastic function which ran through, permeated, and sustained it. What is a philosophical life? […] To live philosophically is to show the truth through the e-thos (the way one lives), the way one reacts (to a situation, a scene, when confronted with a particular situation), and obviously the doctrine one teaches; it is to show the truth in all these aspects and through these three vehicles (e-thos of the scene, kairos of the situation, and doctrine). (343-344)

2) Second, it seems to me that throughout its history in ancient culture philosophy is also parre-sia not only because it is life, but also because, in one way or another, it never ceased to address those who govern. (344)

3) I think that ancient philosophy is also a parre-sia in a third way, in the sense that it is a perpetual interpellation addressed, collectively or individually, to persons, private individuals, and which may take the form of the great Cynic and Stoic type of preaching in the theater, the assemblies, at the games, or in the forum, and which may be the interpellation of an individual or of a crowd. There is also that rather curious structure of the ancient philosophical schools, which function quite differently from medieval schools (the monastic school or medi-eval university), and obviously from our schools. (345)

Throughout Antiquity philosophy is really lived as the free questioning of men’s conduct by a truth-telling which accepts the risk of danger to itself. (346)

Basically, shortly after Epictetus, six or seven centuries after Socrates, I think the different forms of Christian teaching will take over from this parrhesiastic function and gradually divest it of philosophy. In the first place, new relations to Scripture and Revelation, new structures of authority within the Church, and a new definition of asceticism, no longer defined on the basis of self control, but on renunciation of the world, will, I believe, profoundly change the system of truth-telling. For a number of centuries it will no longer be philosophy that plays the role of parre-sia. What I would suggest is that after moving from politics to this philosophical focal point, philosophy’s great parrhesiastic func-tion was in fact transferred a second time from the philosophical focal point to what we can call the Christian pastoral. (348)

Once again, what is modern philosophy if we read it as a history of veridiction in its parresiastic form? It is a practice which tests reality in its relationship to politics. It is a practice which finds its function of truth in the criticism of illusion, deception, trickery, and flattery. And finally it is a practice which finds [the object of its] exercise* in the transformation of the subject by himself and of the subject by the other. Philosophy as exteriority with regard to a politics which constitutes its test of reality, philosophy as critique of a domain of illusion which challenges it to constitute itself as true discourse, and philosophy as ascesis, that is to say, as constitution of the subject by himself, seem to me to constitute the mode of being of modern philoso-phy, or maybe that which, in the mode of being of modern philosophy, takes up the mode of being of ancient philosophy. (353-354)

It is not for philosophy to say what should be done in politics. It has to exist in a permanent and res-tive exteriority with regard to politics, and it is in this that it is real. Secondly, it is not for philosophy to divide the true and the false in the domain of science. It has to constantly practice its criticism with regard to deception, trickery, and illusion, and it is in this that it plays the dialectical game of its own truth. Finally, third, it is not for philosophy to disalienate the subject. It has to define the forms in which the rela-tionship to self may possibly be transformed. I think that philosophy as ascesis, as critique, and as restive exteriority to politics is the mode of being of modern philosophy. It was, at any rate, the mode of being of ancient philosophy. (354)

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