Archive for the ‘antiik’ Category

Mika Ojakangas “On the Pauline Roots of Biopolitics”

January 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Ojakangas, Mika 2010. On the Pauline Roots of Biopolitics: Apostle Paul in Company with Foucault and Agamben. Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, 11(1): 92-110.

Pauline  theology  seems  to  be  the  origin  of  two significant  tendencies  in  modern  biopolitical  societies:  1)  profanation  and instrumentalization of the law and 2) the demand of the liberation of bare life and its affirmation as the highest value. (92)

[…] the primary concern of both the Judeo-Christian pastoral power and biopower is the life of the herd/population. The aim of this power is  to promote  life:  “Pastoral power is  a power of care,” the  shepherd being someone who provides subsistence to the flock by taking  care of each one’s particular needs. Likewise, the role of biopower is to “ensure, sustain,  and improve” life, not only of the population in general but of each individual in particular. (93)

According to Foucault, the shepherd constantly watches over his flock, but in the Pauline ecclesia  there  is  no  such  shepherd.  Rather,  everybody is  everybody  else’s shepherd: “Encourage one another and build up each other” (I Thess. 5:11). Control  is  horizontal  as  well:  “My  friends,  if  anyone  is  detected  in  a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a  spirit  of  gentleness” (Gal.  6:1).  Does  this  egalitarian or  “democratic”  care then  mean  that  Pauline  theology  would  offer  a  point of  resistance  againstpastoral  power  and  thereby,  against  biopolitical  governmentality,  as  John Milbank  suggests  in  his  recent  article  entitled  “Paul  Against  Biopolitics”? This does not necessarily follow and in the next section I shall explain why. (95)

[…] within the biopolitical order the law becomes a mere tool. It has  only  instrumental significance.  Yet  it  is  precisely  this  theme  that  links Pauline  theology  to  the  modern  biopolitical  constellation  depicted  by Foucault.  With  Paul,  both  the  Mosaic  and  natural law are  reduced  to  mere tactics the aim of which is to arrange things in such a way that such and such ends may be achieved. (96)

The law, both the Mosaic and the law written in the heart,  awakens  the  sense  of  guilt:  “The  law  brings  wrath”  (Rom.  4:15); “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).  The end of law means,  consequently, the  end of the  knowledge of sinand  guilt. Therefore, neither  the  Mosaic  nor  natural  law  can  be  in  force  when  we  live  in  Christ. Christ  has  discharged  us  from  the  law  and  with  it  from  its  logic  of  debt through redemption, literally by ransoming (dia tês apolutrôseôs), which is in him (Rom. 3:24). When Paul criticizes the law, whichis a curse and a power of sin, he means the whole law—including the law of the heart. (97)

Agamben holds that the Pauline critique of the law includes a double operation of sorts. According to him, Paul first “renders inoperative” the law through the act of  katargêsis in which the law becomes unobservable. This amounts, in Agamben’s view, to what he calls the (sovereign) state of exception in which the law is in force without signification, as he explains elsewhere. Yet Paul does not stop here. Agamben  maintains that the  katargêsis of the law is  merely the condition of possibility for the authentic and, in fact, only possible relationship between human  life  and  the  law  after  the  resurrection  of  Christ  (in  the  “messianic time,” as Agamben puts it). This relationship is characterized by the  free use of  the  law.  By  “rendering  the  word  of  law  inoperative,”  Agamben  writes, Paul makes the law “freely available for use.” (98)

The  Pauline  Aufhebung of  the  law  rendered  inoperative  in  the “messianic time” means that the law also becomes an object of free use: “It is obvious  that  for  Paul  grace”  (grace  is,  for  Agamben,  one  of  the  Pauline figures  of  absolute  katargêsis)  “cannot  constitute  a  separate  realm  that  is alongside that of obligation and law. Rather, grace  entails nothing more than the  ability  to  use  the  sphere  of  social  determinations  and  services  in  its totality.” (99; Agamben, „The Time that Remains”)

Indeed, given the fact that the law means, for Paul, not only the Mosaic Law, but also tradition and natural law— freedom from the law signifies absolute freedom. For  a  person  liberated  by  Christ  from  the  law,  “everything  is  permitted (exesti)”  (1  Cor.  6:12). On  the  other  hand,  as  Paul  immediately  adds, “everything  is  not  useful  (symphoros).”  For  the  one  who  lives  in  Christ, everything  is  permitted  but  not  useful—  to  the  extent  that  all  other determinations and measures are cancelled in the operation of katargêsis, it is precisely  usefulness  itself  that  becomes  the  ultimate measure  of  mundane life. (100)

Even though Paul writes once in the Romans that the law is holy (hagios), it is nevertheless  the  holiness  of  the  law,  I  argue,  that  Paul  wants  to  render inoperative by the  katargêsis. Why? Because: if the law is sacred, it is out of reach  and  untouchable.  It  cannot  be  used  but  merely worshipped  and obeyed. Hence, by rendering the sacred law inoperative, Paul operationalizes it, restoring it to profane use. (100)

Thus, even though I fully agree with Agamben that the aim of Paul’s critique of the law is to make law freely usable, I do not subscribe to Agamben’s view that  the  Pauline  messianism  surpasses the  biopolitical  constellation  of  late modernity.  In  my  opinion,  on  the contrary,  by  rendering  the  law  and  the worldly  conditions  inoperative  as  a  whole,  and  thus making  them  freely available for use, Paul inadvertently gives a perfectarticulation to what both Milbank  and  Badiou  call  contemporary  “nihilism”  (utilitarianism, instrumentality, biopolitics, and so on). (101-102)

As  we  have  seen,  Foucault  posits  life at  the  core  of  both pastoral power and biopolitics. So does Paul in his epistles. For him, Christ himself is  zôêand  zôêis Christ: “For to me to live is Christ” (emoi gar to zên christos)  (Philip.  1:21).  We  could  cite  dozens  of  passages,  but  that  is unnecessary  as  the  fact  is  well  established,  and  it  suffices  for  one  to  read certain  passages  in  Romans  (2:7,  5:10,  5:21-22,  6:5,  6:22-23)  to  become convinced  of  it.  Foucault  also  argues  that  biopower  is  characterized  by  a certain “disqualification of death.” What else is Paul’s Christ but a figure of such  disqualification?  Indeed,  christos-zôê signifies,  for  Paul,  an  absolute disqualification of death: “The last enemy to be destroyed (katargeô) is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). With Christ, life is without death. It is eternal (zôê aiônios). (102)

Through the law, God takes life, whereas through grace, he lets live. He does not take care of life like a shepherd but judges it like  the  sovereign.  The  same  applies  to  Christ:  “It  is  the  Lord  (kyrios)  who judges (anakrinô) me” (1 Cor. 4:4). For Paul, in other words, both God and  Christ,  Father  and  Son,  are  lords,  sovereigns,  and  judges—not  shepherds. (102)

In his [Agamben’s] view both  the  juridico-institutional  and  biopolitical  forms  of  power  have  a common  (although  hidden)  foundation  in  the  notion  of  bare  life:  “The production of bare life is the originary activity ofsovereignty.” What then is bare life? In Agamben’s definition, bare life is characterized solely by the fact that it can be killed. Bare life is thus a sort of un-dead life that has no other form or content than being “exposed to death.” (104)

Moreover,  Paul  also  urges  his  addressees  to become  lowly  and “despicable:” “Let you become lowly together” (tois tapeinois synapagomenoi) (Rom. 12:16); thus, suggesting that instead of pursuing the good form of life (eu zên), those who live in Christ should now abandon it andbecome humble slaves,  representatives  of  the  mere  zôê exposed  to  the  continuous  threat  of death: “The messianic life,” as Agamben calls the lifeof the Pauline person living in Christ, means the “revocation of every bios.” (105)

Although Paul  identifies  flesh with vice and sin, the most fundamental characteristic of the flesh is that  it entails death. Indeed, for Paul, flesh meansdeath, whereas spirit meanslife: “To set the mind (phronêma) on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life” (Rom. 8:6). Whereas Aristotle and the Greeks  thought that vices (the Pauline  works of  the flesh)  entail shame, while virtues (the Pauline fruit of the spirit) entail glory and good reputation, Paul maintains instead that they entail  life  and  death:  zôê and  thanatos. (105)

Indeed,  the  Pauline  christos appears  to  occupy  a  place  on  both sides  of biopolitical rationality: first as a sovereign judge of  zôê, then as a liberator of zôê.  The  first  figure  is  the  son  of  a  wrathful  father-God (and  more conventionally, the father-God himself) who confines his subjects within the law  (“before  faith  came,  we  were  imprisoned  and  guarded  under  the  law” Gal. 3:23) that has no other function than to discloseone’s guilt and to subject one  to  what  Agamben  calls  the  “sovereign  ban.” The  second  figure  is  the son of the redeemer-God whose grace redeems us from thelaw and hence, from  death:  “[All]  are  now  justified  by  his  grace  as a  gift,  through  the redemption  that  is  in  Christ  Jesus”  (Rom.  3:24).  Thus,  this  second  figure (kyrios  christos as  the  son  of  the  redeemer-God)  renders,  as  it  were, inoperative  the  first  figure,  rendering  simultaneously  inoperative  the sovereign biopolitics in order that a new form of biopolitics (democratic and revolutionary) could  emerge—a biopolitics that  vindicates  and liberates the zôê of  the  entire  humankind  from  under  the  yoke  of  law and  death, transforming  the  law  to  a  mere  instrument  and  abolishing  death.  (Is  it  not precisely through a successful sovereign biopoliticaloperation, the slaying of Christ,  that  this  biopolitical  liberation  of  zôê became  possible  in  the  first place? God is the subject of violence through the sacred law and the subject of  liberation  through  Christ,  but  is  He  not  the  latter  because  He  is  the former?) (106)

In sum, if my analysis is correct, both the modern techno-instrumental view of the law and the world and the revolutionary (democratic) biopolitics find their  common  home  in  the  Pauline  epistles.  Contrary  to  Agamben,  who  in Homo Sacer  argues that this revolutionary biopolitics is the other side of the contemporary biopolitical constellation, however, I  would like to emphasize that  distinguishing these even as  two sides of the samecoin is increasingly difficult  today,  if  not  entirely  impossible.  Contemporary  biotechnology,  for instance,  is  not  only  a  paradigmatic  case  of  techno-instrumental  biopower (taking care of each and everyone, not like a good shepherd, but rather on the basis of a cost-benefit calculus developed for the sake  of the bare life of the late  modern  democratic  sovereign:  the  taxpayer),  but  also  a  revolutionary endeavor to redeem life, not only from the moral law (Milbank’s ius naturale) but also from death—its most fanciful dream still being the same as it was for Paul: the ultimate eradication (katargeô) of death. (109)


Nancy Luxon “Ethics and Subjectivity”

December 15, 2013 Leave a comment

Luxon, Nancy 2008. Ethics and Subjectivity: Practices of Self-Governance in the Late Lectures of Michel Foucault. Political Theory 36(3), 377-402.

Solitary individuals are not to be taken as starting points; the relations that bind them to one another are. In such a context, individuals are quite literally what they do; they achieve constancy and ethical excellence not by attaining an ideal, but by cultivating a “disposition to steadiness” in an uneasy context lacking in absolute values. (380)

Rather than a “knowing subject,” produced in reference to a defined body of knowledge and some external order, the “expressive subject” draws on the structural dynamics of parrhesiastic relationships to give ethopoetic content to her actions. Rather than being urged “dare to know,” individuals are encouraged to “dare to act.” (380)

In its crudest formulation, Foucault’s intellectual trajectory is away from a philosophic investigation of the humanist subject and towards the conditions of political possibility. (382)

While Kant’s relationships to priests, doctors, and books are consistently glossed as ones of dependency, Foucault finds in parrhesia a resource for rethinking the interpretive education offered by the “messy middle” of those personal relationships as-yet unstructured by their endpoint and not predefined by their beginnings. Such relationships potentially offer a context in which the past can be problematized, the future left unforeclosed, and the present always ready-at-hand; they also provide a structure for the reconsideration of ethical obligations and responsibility; and they accomplish both of these tasks without recourse to the private terms of taste. (384)

His goal is to offer not an ethics of absolute values, but a set of expressive practices independent of any appeal to the absolute values offered by nature, religion, tradition, sexual identity, or the human. Foucault’s turn towards expressivity in his late lectures is in many ways a return to his initial concern for those structures that sustain significance, meaning, and expression. (385)

The appeal of parrhesia lies in its consistent focus on the present and the immediate (alternately, le présent, le réel, and l’actualité). Less a problem of epistemological uncertainty, the shakiness addressed by parrhesia is an inability to orient and steady oneself through one’s relations to oneself, to others, and to truth-telling. (387)

Different from confessional technologies, parrhesiastic techniques teach student two capacities: they teach an individual to set his standard of value and then begin the patient labor of moving between this standard and the world-at-hand. Relations to himself and to others provide both a context of immediacy and one for the recognition and sustenance of these values through a community, but without the creation of a universal ethical code to be internalized as conscience. (389)

Motivated by curiosity and resolve rather than desire, parrhesiastic accounts of oneself narrate an interaction not an experience, compose a public site of judgment not a character, and leave postponed the finality of their endings. (390)

Renunciation and desire simply return individuals to the unsteady longing to be other than what they are. Paradoxically, the daily adjustments of parrhesia result in a greater steadiness both in thought and action. Requiring individuals to be otherwise is to unsettle them without educating them to the techniques by which they might regain their balance. As a political program, then, its effects will be fleeting, as individuals are unable to situate themselves in these new ideals or to feel invested in the relations—to themselves, to others, to truth—that sustain it. (397)

This distinction draws attention to a fundamental difference between the activity of ethical self-governance and political governance. Where ethical self-governance is governed by norms of harmony, equilibrium, and steadiness, the norms constituting political governance are different. The daily rough-and-tumble of politics rests on norms of dissent and contestation; in choosing their leaders, debating political programs, and distributing resources, citizens argue and inveigh. Politics relies on the contestation of those collective practices that might facilitate the internalization of cultural norms and values, and unfolds through the contest of claims. Where the art of self-governance takes as its goal a steadiness of disposition and a harmony of words and deeds, modern political governance relies on an artful interruption of cultural attitudes and actions. While parrhesia contributes an ethical steadiness to those who participate in such debates, its personal relationships cannot be scaled so as to characterize politics. Differently from what is often inferred in accounts of a Foucaultian politics of resistance, transgression is not the only possible mode of action, and critique does not automatically entail resistance. Indeed the irreducibility of ethical relationships to a single subjectivity and the insistence on modes of responsiveness would seem to extend to parrhesiastic politics. (398)

Michel Foucault “Fearless Speech”

December 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Foucault, Michel 2001. Fearless Speech. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).

1. The Word Parrhesia

The one who uses parrhesia, the parrhesiastes, is someone who says everything he has in mind: he does not hide anything, but opens his heart and mind completely to other people through his discourse. […] And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. (12)

There are two types of parrhesia which we must distinguish. First, there is a pejorative sense of the word not very far from „chattering”, and which consists in saying any- or everything one has in mind without qualification. This pejorative sense occurs in Plato, for example, as a characterization of the bad democratic constitution where everyone has the right ti address his fellow citizens and to tell them everything – even the most stupid and dangerous things for the city. (13)

To my mind, the parrhesiastes says what is true because he knows that it is true because it really is true. The parrhesiastes is not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth. (14)

For the Greeks, however, the coincidence between belief and truth does not take place in a (mental) experience, but in a verbal activity, namely, parrhesia. It appears that parrhesia, in this Greek sense, can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework. (14)

If there is a kind of „proof” of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. (15)

So you see, the parrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk. Of course, this risk is not always a risk of life. […] Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger: it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the „game” of life or death. It is because the parrhesiastes must take a risk in speaking the truth that the king or tyrant generally cannot use parrhesia; for he risks nothing. (16)

But the parrhesiastes primarily chooses a specific relationship to himself: he prefers himself as a truth-treller rather than as a living being who is false to himself. (17)

For in parrhesia the danger always comes from the fact that the said truth is capable of hurting or angering the interlocutor. (17)

So you see, the function of parrhesia is not to demonstrate the truth of someone else, but has the function of criticism: criticism of the interlocutor or of the speaker himself. (17)

Parrhesia is a form of criticism, either towards another or towards oneself, but always in a situation where the speaker or confessor is in a position of inferiority with respect to the interlocutor. […] The parrhesia comes from „below”, as it were, and is directed towards „above”. (18)

This is not to imply, however, that anyone can use parrhesia. For although there is a text in Euripides where a servant uses parrhesia, most of the time the use of parrhesia requires that the parrhesiastes know his own genealogy, his own status; i.e., usually one must first be a male citizen to speak the truth as a parrhesiastes. (18)

[…] in parrhesia, telling the truth is regarded as duty. The orator who speaks the truth to those who cannot accept his truth, for instance, and who may be axiled, or punished in some way, is free to keep silent. No one forces him to speak, but he feels that it is his duty to do so. […] Parrhesia is thus related to freedom and to duty. (19)

More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal acitivity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). (19)

The continuous long speech is a rhetorical or sophistical device, whereas the dialogue through questions and answers is typical for parrhesia, i.e., dialogue is a major technique for playing the parrhesiastic game. (20)

Athenian democracy was defined very explicitly as a constitution (politeia) in which people enjoyed demokratia, isegoria (the equal right of speech), isonomia (the equal participation of all citizens in the exercise of power), and parrhesia. Parrhesia, which is a requisite for public speech, takes place between citizens as individuals, and also between citizens construed as an assembly. Moreover, the agora is the place where parrhesia appears. (22)

D.M. Carter “Citizen Attribute, Negative Right”

December 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Carter, D.M. 2004. Citizen Attribute, Negative Right: A Conceptual Difference Between Ancient and Modern Ideas of Freedom of Speech. – Ineke Sluiter; Ralph M. Rosen (eds). Free Speech in Classical Antiquity. Boston; Leiden: Brill, 197-219.

Under modern democracies, freedoms are conceived of as negative rights, and these include a right to Freedom of Speech. The Athenians, on the other hand, while they conceived of political freedom in terms very close to a negative right, thought of free speech as something very different: a characteristic of citizens, an attribute, which was a sort of side effect of their political enfranchisement. (198)

Isêgoria appears earlier in the literature. Its meaning differs from parrhêsia with respect both to the context in which it was often used, and to its meaning: it was a term more likely to be used in a political context, and it held connotations more of equality than freedom. It could be political in meaning as well as context, in that it could be used synonymously with democracy: this is the case in its earliest use, at Herodotus 5.78. Parrhêsia, on the other hand, is the word writers in a non-political context are more likely to choose and, I shall argue, represented more a by-product of democracy than democracy itself. (199)

If isêgoria primarily suggests equality of speech, usually in a political context, parrhêsia is a term, more closely connected with ideas of freedom, that can be used equally of social and political discourse. This freedom can be both a good and a bad thing, either a desirable privilege (as it is often in Euripides and Demosthenes—see below) or something likely to cause offense. (201)

The pejorative sense of parrhêsia can be explained to some extent if we consider the composition of the word: literally, to speak with parrhêsia is to say everything, which might mean everything, good and bad. (201)

Isêgoria meant the equal opportunity to speak that one had under democracy: the most formal, as well as the most obvious, expression of this came, ideologically if not actually, in the Assembly. Parrhêsia meant a tendency to say everything, uninhibited by any fear. This might be the fear—no longer present under democracy—of tyrannical authority (Athenian ideas of the effect of tyranny on free speech are discussed below); it might also be the fear of the usual rules of discourse that prevent shame for the speaker or offense for the listener. (202)

However, I am not aware of any accounts of historical tyrants restricting free speech. Why should such evidence be hard to find? Because, I would suggest, to speak with parrhêsia is to be freed from one’s own sense of fear: a tyrant sees little need actively to discourage free speech when his very person is discouraging enough. Crucially, the subjects of tyranny who in Plato’s imagination operate free speech are only the bravest (νδρικ1τατι), the ones who felt most confident to do so. Because parrhêsia is only an attribute, and not anyone’s right, it is not so much something a tyrant actively restricts, as something his subjects are indisposed to exercise. (211)

Parrhêsia under democracy, therefore, depended not on a freedom from censorship protected by law but on the confidence in giving one’s own opinion that came naturally with democratic citizenship. (214)

Since parrhêsia was a matter of confidence, not right, it was not confined to citizens, but could be adopted by others, simply as a result of residence in Athens. (215)

Michael Frede “A Notion of a Person in Epictetus”

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

Frede, Michael 2007. A Notion of a Person in Epictetus. – Theodore Scaltsas; Andrew S. Mason (eds). Philosophy of Epictetus. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 153-168.

The point Epictetus wants to make is this. People, in what they are doing, in thinking about what they ought to do, should always keep in mind who they are, the person they are, to make sure that what they do fits them, accords with the person they are. To be able to do this one has to know oneself, and one has to practise taking oneself into account in doing what one does. People, though, often are oblivious to themselves, to who they are, to their own person (I.2.14). (154)

As I have already indicated, a person, both in the ordinary and in the reflective, philosophical sense we are familiar with, is something such that it always is the same person. But this does not hold for Epictetus’ use. As we just saw, Helvidius Priscus, if he were struck from the rolls of the senate, would no longer be the same person, but a different person. And the same holds for our use of ‘the person somebody is’. (156)

When we talk of the person, or the sort of person, somebody is, we mainly think of the character or the personality-traits of somebody. This certainly is not what Epictetus primarily is thinking of. This is why I earlier was objecting to the translation of ‘pros¯opon’ in the title of I.2 as ‘character’. When Helvidius Priscus no longer is a senator, he is a different person, but his character will not have changed one iota. (156)

It is an obvious fact, but one little attention has been paid to, that down to the end of the fourth century BC nobody in extant Greek literature talks of human beings as ‘persons’. Neither Plato nor Aristotle in their voluminous works ever speak of human beings as ‘persons’ in any sense of the word, let alone in our ordinary or our philosophical sense of the word. The first time we clearly and unambiguously find something like the absolute,  reflective use of the word with which we are familiar from modern philosophy is in Boethius. In Contra Eutychen et Nestorium, ch. 3, Boethius defines a person as ‘an individual substance of such a nature as to be rational’. (157-158)

‘Pros¯opon’ originally means ‘face’, more precisely the face as you offer it to the sight of somebody who looks at you (cf. the formation of the German word ‘Antlitz’). It, on the basis of this, develops a number of secondary meanings, like ‘mien’ or ‘countenance’, but also ‘front’ or ‘fac¸ade’, ‘the part of something facing something else’. But the most important of these secondary meanings is that of ‘mask’, the mask worn by actors in a drama representing the characteristic features and mien of the character played. (158)

The crucial step was to extend the use of the word to the role a real human being plays in real life or to the person or the sort of person somebody is, for instance ‘the person of King Eumenes’ (Polyb., 27.7.4) or ‘the person of a beggar’ (Teles, VI.52.3 Hense). (159)

To begin with, ‘person’ is never, even nowadays in its ordinary use, just another word for ‘human being’. Moreover, if one looks at Gaius’ Law of Persons, what he is actually discussing are the various status of human beings under Roman law and what the conditions for change of status are. So personae are sorts of persons, that is human beings as they are sorted into different categories for the purposes of Roman law. (159)

But however this may be, it should be clear, given the original use of both words, ‘pros¯opon’ and ‘persona’, that the word ‘person’, in some sense or other of ‘person’, is borrowed from the theatre, that its use for actual human beings is a metaphorical use. (160)

The idea rather seems to be this. We are like actors (rather than the dramatis personae) in a drama. Actors have been given a certain dramatic part or role to play, and what matters is not the role they have been given, but that they play it well. Similarly we in real life have acquired a certain role to play, and what matters is not the role we have acquired, but that we play it well. It is clear from a number of passages that this is how Epictetus thinks of the metaphor (cf. e.g.Diss. I.29.45; frg. XI). (160)

„Remember that you are an actor in a drama. It is the teacher who gives you whichever role he wants to give you…whether he wants you to play a beggar, so that you also play a beggar well, or a lame man, or a ruler, or somebody without office. It is your part to act the given role well. To choose your role is somebody else’s matter.” (Epictetus, Encheiridion; 160)

A good or wise person is one who will play any role he is given well. (162)

Thus the way the notion of a person seems to enter philosophy is as the notion of the sort of person one is by playing a certain role in life. It is a normative notion. It is part of the very notion that the role you play in life as such does not matter. It thus makes the worthiness of human beings independent of the role they play in life. But it also is part of the notion that whatever role you play carries with it certain demands. And we judge you, not by your role, but by whether you live up to the demands of your role. (162)

Popular judgement as to the worth of a human being, and hence what we might call popular morality, is largely determined by two factors, by a ranking of people according to their roles and by how well somebody plays his role. Those who introduce the notion of a person clearly are revisionist in that they reject the ranking by roles. (162)

There is a metaphysical doctrine, which also plays a role in Stoic epistemology, namely the view that any particular or individual of any kind is a member of this kind by sharing a common quality (koin¯e poiot¯ es) with the other members of this kind, but is the particular individual it is by a quality peculiar to it (idia poiot¯ es)which distinguishes it qualitatively from all other members of the same kind (cf. SimpliciusIn Cat. 48.15). So any human being qualitatively differs from all other human beings. Here the uniqueness and individuality of a human being for the first time is given a metaphysical status. (165)

One ought to do things, or try to do things, which are suitable for the particular human being one is, for instance eat the food appropriate for one, pursue things which one has a particular talent for. By contrast, one should avoid things not suitable for the particular human being one is. For not to do so would be to be unreasonable. I already briefly have talked about the third and the fourth type of role, or of sort of person, Panaetius distinguishes. (166)

It is an important part of Epictetus’ thought about persons, which unfortunately I have no time to address, that various roles or sorts of person do not mix (IV.2.10). You cannot, he says, be pleasant to be with in a company of people given to heavy drinking and at the same time modest, orderly, decent (IV.2.6–10). (167)

So Epictetus is concerned with what we might call an integrated, coherent personality. This is what he praises about Socrates (I.25.31:hen ech¯on pros¯opon aei dietelei; cf. III.5.16). It is in this way that Epictetus in some places, like in I.2 or IV.3.3, comes to talk about the person one is. (167)

For it is only by being rational [human vs animal, not rational vs irrational], that we can be any sort of person at all. And it is on this basis that we think we are justified in expecting a certain kind of behaviour from human beings. We call them ‘persons’ in this sense to mark the fact that, given that they are rational, we regard certain forms of behaviour as appropriate and others as inappropriate for them. (168)

Michel Foucault “The Courage of Truth”

January 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Foucault, Michel 2011. The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II) – Lectures at the Collège de France 1983-1984. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


1st february, first hour

The plea to use „care of the self“ instead of „know thyself“ – because the latter is only one variant of the former (4).

Necessity of the other for the practice of truth-telling about myself (5)

However, even if the role of this other person who is indispensable for telling the truth about oneself is uncertain or, if you like, polyvalent, even if it appears with a number of different aspects and profiles—medical, political, and pedagogical—which mean that it is not always easy to grasp exactly what his role is, even so, whatever his role, status, function, and profile may be, this other has, or rather should have a particular kind of qualification in order to be the real and effective partner of truth- telling about self. And this qualification, unlike the confessor’s or spiritual director’s in Christian culture, is not given by an institution and does not refer to the possession and exercise of spe-cific spiritual powers. Nor is it, as in modern culture, an institutional qualification guaranteeing a psychological, psychiatric, or psychoanalytic knowledge. The qualification required by this uncertain, rather vague, and variable character is a practice, a certain way of speaking which is called, precisely, parrhe–sia (freespokenness). (6)

[…] the notion of parrhesia was first of all and fundamentally a political notion. And this analysis of  parrhesia as a political notion, as a political concept, clearly took me away somewhat from my immediate project: the ancient history of practices of telling the truth about oneself. (8)

With the notion of parrhe–sia, originally rooted in political practice and the problematization of democracy, then later diverging towards the sphere of personal ethics and the formation of the moral subject, with this notion with political roots and its divergence into morality, we have, to put things very schematically […] the possibility of posing the question of the subject and truth from the point of view of the practice of what could be called the government of oneself and others. (8)

And to the extent that this involves the analysis of relations between modes of veridiction, techniques of governmentality, and forms of prac-tice of self, you can see that to depict this kind of research as an attempt to reduce knowledge (savoir) to power, to make it the mask of power in structures, where there is no place for a subject, is purely and simply a caricature. (8-9)

It seems to me that by carrying out this triple theoretical shift—from the theme of acquired knowledge to that of veridiction, from the theme of domina-tion to that of governmentality, and from the theme of the individual to that of the practices of self—we can study the relations between truth, power, and subject without ever reducing each of them to the others. (9)

But the word parrhesia is also employed in a positive sense, and then parrhesia  consists in telling the truth without concealment, reserve, empty manner of speech, or rhetorical ornament which might encode or hide it. “Telling all” is then: telling the truth without hiding any part of it, without hiding it behind anything. (10)

The parrhesiast gives his opinion, he says what he thinks, he personally signs, as it were, the truth he states, he binds himself to this truth, and he is consequently bound to it and by it. (11)

For there to be parrhesia, in speaking the truth one must open up, establish, and confront the risk of offending the other person, of irritating him, of making him angry and provoking him to conduct which may even be extremely violent. So it is the truth subject to risk of violence. (11)

[…] it involves some form of courage, the minimal form of which consists in the parrhesiast taking the risk of breaking and ending the relationship to the other person which was precisely what made his discourse possible. In a way, the parrhesiast always risks undermining that relationship which is the condition of possibility of his discourse. (11)

The connection between the person speaking and what he says is broken in rhetoric, but the effect of rhetoric is to establish a constraining bond between what is said and the person or persons to whom it is said. (13)

Let’s say, very schematically, that the rhetorician is, or at any rate may well be an effective liar who constrains others. The parrhesiast, on the contrary, is the courageous teller of a truth by which he puts himself and his relationship with the other at risk. (14)

The parrhesiast is not a professional. And  parrhe–sia is after all something other than a technique or a skill, although it has techni-cal aspects. Parrhe–sia is not a skill; it is something which is harder to define. It is a stance, a way of being which is akin to a virtue, a mode of action. (14)

[…] what fundamentally characterizes the prophet’s truth- telling, his veridiction, is that the prophet’s posture is one of mediation. The prophet, by definition, does not speak in his own name. He speaks for another voice; his mouth serves as intermediary for a voice which speaks from elsewhere. (15)

The figure and characteristics of the parrhesiast stand in contrast with this role, this characterization of the sage, who basically remains silent, only speaks when he really wants to, and [only] in riddles. The parrhesiast is not someone who is fundamentally reserved. On the contrary, it is his duty, obligation, responsibility, and task to speak, and he has no right to shirk this task. (18)

The parrhesiast does not reveal what is to his interlocutor; he discloses or helps him to recognize what he is. (19)


1st february, second hour

[…] the person who teaches establishes, or at any rate hopes or sometimes wants to establish a bond of shared knowledge, of heritage, of tradition, and possibly also of personal recognition or friendship, between himself and the person or persons who listen to him. Anyway, this truth- telling establishes a filiation in the domain of knowledge. Now we have seen that the parrhesiast, to the contrary, takes a risk. He risks the relationship he has with the person to whom he speaks. (24)

Whereas, in the case of the technician’s truth- telling, teaching ensures the survival of knowledge, the person who practices parrhe-sia risks death. (25)

[…] inasmuch as he takes the risk of provoking war with others, rather than solidifying the traditional bond, like the teacher, by [speaking] in his own name and per-fectly clearly, [unlike the] prophet who speaks in the name of someone else, [inasmuch as] finally [he tells] the truth of what is in the singular form of individuals and situations, and not the truth of being and the nature of things, the parrhesiast brings into play the true discourse of what the Greeks called ethos. (25)

Prophecy, wisdom, teaching, and parrhe-sia are, I think, four modes of veridiction which, [first], involve different personages, second, call for different modes of speech, and third, relate to different domains (fate, being, tekhne, ethos). (25)

However, as distinct as these roles may be, and even if at certain times, and in certain societies or civilizations, you see these four functions taken on, as it were, by very clearly distinct insti-tutions or characters, it is important to note that fundamentally these are not social characters or roles. I insist on this; I would like to stress it: they are essentially modes of veridiction. (26)

In modern society, rev-olutionary discourse, like all prophetic discourse, speaks in the name of someone else, speaks in order to tell of a future which, up to a point, already has the form of fate. The ontological modality of truth- telling, which speaks of the being of things, would no doubt be found in a certain modality of philosophical discourse. The technical modality of truth- telling is organized much more around science than teaching, or at any rate around a complex formed by scientific and research institu-tions and teaching institutions. And the parrhesiastic modality has, I believe, precisely disappeared as such, and we no longer find it except where it is grafted on or underpinned by one of these three modali-ties. Revolutionary discourse plays the role of parrhesiastic discourse when it takes the form of a critique of existing society. Philosophical discourse as analysis, as reflection on human finitude and criticism of everything which may exceed the limits of human finitude, whether in the realm of knowledge or the realm of morality, plays the role of parrhe-sia to some extent. And when scientific discourse is deployed as criticism of prejudices, of existing forms of knowledge, of dominant institutions, of current ways of doing things—and it cannot avoid doingthis, in its very development—it plays this parrhesiastic role. (30)


15 february, first hour

If skillfulness in speech causes forgetfulness of self, then simplicity in speech, speech without affectation or embellishment, straightforwardly true speech, the speech of  parrhesia therefore, will lead us to the truth of ourselves. (75)

And, after Solon’s speech denouncing what is taking place and criticizing his fellow citizens, the Council replies that in fact Solon is going mad (mainesthai). To which Solon retorts: “You will soon know if I am mad … when the truth comes to light.” (77)

It is precisely this practice of parrhe-sia that Socrates does not want to adopt, this role he does not want to play. He does not venture to give advice to the city publicly by appearing before the people. Socrates will not be Solon. (77)

Socrates has not renounced politics out of fear of death and in order to avoid it. […] So the reason Socrates did not want to tell the truth in the form of political veridiction was not the fear of death, it was not Socrates’ personal relation to his own death. […] He would have been unable to establish with others and himself a particu-lar kind of invaluable, useful, and beneficial relationship. (80-81)

The voice which addresses this injunction to Socrates, or rather turns him away from the possibility of speaking in the form of politics, signals the establishment of another truth- telling, converse to political truth- telling, which is that of philosophy: You will not be Solon, you must be Socrates. (81)

With this form of truth- telling or veridiction we are dealing with a certain form of parrhe-sia, if by parrhe-sia we understand the courage of the truth, the courage of truth- telling. We are dealing with a parrhe-sia which, in its foundation and in the way it unfolds, is clearly very different from political parrhe-sia. (85)

The aim of this mission is, of course, to watch over the others continuously, to care for them as if he were their father or brother. But to what end? To encourage them to take care, not of their wealth, reputation, honors, and offices, but of themselves, that is to say, of their reason, of truth, and of their soul (phrone-sis, ale-theia, psukhe). T hey must at tend to them-selves. This definition is crucial. Oneself in the relation of self to self, oneself in this relation of watching over oneself, is [first] defined by phrone-sis,39 that is to say, practical reason, as it were, reason in practice, the reason which enables good decisions to be taken and false opinions to be driven out. Second, oneself is also defined by ale-theia inasmuch as this is what will in fact be the index of phrone-sis, what it is pegged to, what it looks for, and what it obtains; but ale-theia is also Being insofar as we are related to it, precisely in the form of the  psukhe- (t h e  s o u l) . (86)

And in this we now have a parrhe-sia on the axis of ethics. What is at stake in this new form of parrhe-sia is the foundation of e-thos as the principle on the basis of which conduct can be defined as rational conduct in accordance with the very being of the soul. Ze-te-sis, exetasis, epimeleia. Ze-te-sis is the first moment of Socratic verid-iction—the search.  Exetasis is examination of the soul, comparison of the soul, and test of souls. Epimeleia is taking care of oneself. (86)

In short, if you like, Socrates establishes a search, an investigation with regard to the god’s enigmatic words, whose aim is not to await or avoid its realization. He shifts their effects by embedding them in an investigation of truth. Second, he establishes the difference from the speech, the veridiction, the truth- telling of the sage by radically distin-guishing his object. He does not speak of the same thing and his search is not pursued in the same domain. Finally, he establishes a difference in relation to the discourse of teaching by, if you like, reversal. Where

the teacher says: I know, listen to me, Socrates will say: I know nothing, and if I care for you, this is not so as to pass on to you the knowledge you lack, it is so that through understanding that you know nothing you will learn to take care of yourselves. (89)

So you see that in this text from the Apology Socrates basically does two things which I will summarize in the following way: first, he radically distinguishes his own truth- telling from the three other major [modalities of] truth- telling he meets with around him (prophecy, wisdom, teaching); second, as I was explaining, he shows how cour-age is necessary in this form of veridiction, of truth- telling. But this courage is not to be employed on the political stage where this mission cannot in fact be accomplished. This courage of the truth must be exercised in the form of a non-political parrhe-sia, a parrhe-sia which will take place through the test of the soul. It will be an ethical parrhe-sia. (89-90)


15 february, second hour

I think that Socrates’ death founds philosophy, in the reality of Greek thought and therefore in Western history, as a form of veridiction which is not that of prophecy, or wisdom, or tekhne; a form of veridiction peculiar precisely to philosophical discourse, and the courage of which must be exercised untl death as a test of the soul which cannot take place on the political platform. (113-114)


22 february, second hour

Free-spokenness hangs on the style of life. It is not courage in battle that authenticates the possibility of talking about courage. (148)

[…] what will Socratic parrhesia speak about? It will not speak of competence; it will not speak of tekhne. It will speak of something else: of the mode of existence, the mode of life. The mode of life appears as the essential, fundamental correlative of the practice of truth-telling. Telling the truth in the realm of the care of men is to question their mode of life, to put this mode of life to the test and define what there is in it that may be ratified and recognized as good and what on the other hand must be rejected and condemned. In this you can see the organization of the fundamental series linking care, parrhesia (free-spokenness), and the ethical division between good and evil in the realm of bios (existence). […] Its privileged, essential object [is] life and the mode of life. (149)


7 march, second hour

Given that our mental framework, our way of thinking leads us, not without problems, to think of how a statement can be true or false, how a statement can have a truth value, then what meaning can we give to this expression “true life”? (218)

Moreover, this notion of truth, with its four mean-ings, is applied to logos itself, not to logos understood as proposition, as statement, but logos as way of speaking. Logos ale-the-s is not just a set of propositions which turn out to be exact and can take the value of truth. Logos alethes is a way of speaking in which, first, nothing is concealed; in which, second, neither the false, nor opinion, nor appearance is mixed with the true; [third], it is a straight discourse, in line with the rules and the law; and finally, ale-the-s logos is a discourse which remains the same, does not change, or become debased, or distorted, and which can never be vanquished, overturned, or refuted. (220)

This life of the democratic man, sometimes idle and at others busy, sometimes given over to pleasure and at others to politics, and when given over to politics saying anything and everything that comes into his head, this life without unity, this mixed life dedicated to multiplicity is a life without truth. It is unable, Plato says, to give way to logos ale-the-s (true discourse). (223)

Plural, variagated souls traversed by desire, license, and laxity; souls without truth. (224)

[…] the Cynics do not, as it were, change the metal itself of this coin. But they want to modify its effigy and, on the basis of these same principles of the true life—which must be unconcealed, unalloyed, straight,  stable, incorruptible, and happy—, by going to the extreme consequence, without a break, simply by pushing these themes to their extreme consequence, they reveal a life which is precisely the very opposite of what was traditionally recognized as the true life. Taking up the coin again, changing its effigy, and, as it were, making the theme of the true life grimace. Cynicism as the grimace of the true life. (228)


14 march, first hour

The simplest case, political bravery, involved oppos-ing the courage of truth-telling to an opinion, an error. In the case of Socratic irony, it involves introducing a certain form of truth into a knowledge that men do not know they know, a form of truth which will lead them to take care of themselves. With Cynicism, we have a third form of courage of the truth, which is distinct from both political bravery and Socratic irony. Cynic courage of the truth consists in getting people to condemn, reject, despise, and insult the very manifestation of what they accept, or claim to accept at the level of principles. It involves facing up to their anger when presenting them with the image of what they accept and value in thought, and at the same time reject and despise in their life. This is the Cynic scandal. After politi-cal bravery and Socratic irony we have, if you like, Cynic scandal. (233-234)

In the case of Cynic scandal—and this is what seems to me to be important and worth holding on to, isolating—one risks one’s life, not just by telling the truth, and in order to tell it, but by the very way in which one lives. (234)

It is as if philosophy was able to disburden itself of the problem of the true life to the same extent as religion, reli-gious institutions, asceticism, and spirituality took over this problem in an increasingly evident manner from the end of Antiquity down to the modern world. We can take it also that the institutionalization of truth- telling practices in the form of a science (a normed, regulated, established science embodied in institutions) has no doubt been the other major reason for the disappearance of the theme of the true life as a philosophical question, as a problem of the conditions of access to the truth. If scientific practice, scientific institutions, and integration within the scientific consensus are by themselves sufficient to assure access to the truth, then it is clear that the problem of the true life as the necessary basis for the practice of truth- telling disappears. So, there has been confiscation of the problem of the true life in the reli-gious institution, and invalidation of the problem of the true life in the scientific institution. You understand why the question of the true life has continually become worn out, faded, eliminated, and threadbare in Western thought. (235)

The question of the philosophical life has constantly appeared like a shadow of philosophical practice, and increas-ingly pointless. This neglect of the philosophical life has meant that it is now possible for the relation to truth to be validated and manifested in no other form than that of scientific knowledge. (236-237)

There can only be true care of self if the principles one formulates as true principles are at the same time guar-anteed and authenticated by the way one lives. (239)

In a commentator of Aristotle,23 but many other authors refer to it, we find the following interpretation of this  bios kunikos, which seems to have been canonical. First, the kunikos life is a dog’s life in that it is without modesty, shame, and human respect. It is a life which does in public, in front of everyone, what only dogs and animals dare to do, and which men usually hide. The Cynic’s life is a dog’s life in that it is shameless. Second, the Cynic life is a dog’s life because, like the latter, it is indifferent. It is indifferent to whatever may occur, is not attached to anything, is content with what it has, and has no needs other than those it can satisfy immediately. Third, the life of the Cynic is the life of a dog, it received the epithet kunikos because it is, so to speak, a life which barks, a diacritical (diakritikos) life, that is to say, a life which can fight, which barks at enemies, which knows how to distinguish the good from the bad, the true from the false, and masters from enemies. In that sense it is a diakritikos life: a life of discernment which knows how to prove, test, and distinguish. Finally, fourth, the Cynic life is phulaktikos. It is a guard dog’s life, a life which knows how to dedicate itself to saving others and protecting the master’s life. Shameless life, adiaphoros (indifferent) life,  diakritikos life (diacritical, distinguishing, discriminating, and, as it were, barking life), and  phulaktikos (guard’s life, guard dog’s life). (243)

We do not encounter Platonism and the metaphysics of the other world (l’autre monde) on this line. We encounter Cynicism and the theme of an other life (vie autre). These two lines of development—one leading to the other world, and the other to an other life, both starting from the care of self—are clearly divergent, since one give rises to Platonic and Neo- Platonic speculation and Western metaphysics, while the other gives rise to nothing more, in a sense, than Cynic crudeness. But it will revive, as a question which is both central and marginal in relation to philosophical practice, the question of the philosophical and true life as an other life. May not, must not the philosophical life, the true life necessarily be a life which is radically other? (246-247)

In the Gnostic movements, in Christianity, there was the attempt to think an other life (vie autre), the life of severance and ascesis, without common measure with [usual] existence, as the condition for access to the other world (l’autre monde). And it is this relation between an other life and the other world—so profoundly marked within Christian asceticism by the principle that it is an  other life  which leads to the other world—which is radically challenged in Protestant ethics, and by Luther, when access to the other world will be defined by a form of life absolutely conformable to existence in this world here. The formula of Protestantism is, to lead the same life in order to arrive at the other world. It was at that point that Christianity became modern. (247)


14 march, second hour

The life of the Cynic is unconcealed in the sense that it is really, materially, physically public. (253)

There is no privacy, secret, or non- publicity in the Cynic life. We constantly come across this theme afterwards: the Cynic lives in the street, in front of the temples. […] Peregrinus decided to burn himself, but in public, during the Games, so that there was the greatest possible number of spectators at his death. Absolute visibility of the Cynic life. (254)

The Cynic public life will therefore be a life of blatant and entirely visible naturalness, asserting the principle that nature can never be an evil. […] The philosophical life thus dramatized by the Cynics deploys the general theme of non-concealment but frees it from all the conventional prin-ciples. As a result, the philosophical life appears as radically other than all other forms of life. (255)

So poverty leads to the acceptance of slavery. It leads to something which was even more serious than slavery for a Greek or Roman (for after all, slavery could always be one of life’s misfortunes): begging. Begging is poverty pushed to the point of dependence on others, on their good will, on the chance encounter. For the Ancients, holding out one’s hand was the gesture of ignominious poverty, of dependence in its most unbear-able form. Begging was Cynic poverty pushed to the point of voluntary scandal. (260)

For the Cynics, the systematic practice of dishonor is on the contrary a positive conduct with meaning and value. (260)

On the basis of this theme of the independent life, and through its dramatiza-tion in the form of poverty, slavery, begging, adoxia, dishonor, there is a reversal of the classical philosophical theme and the emergence of the true life as other, scandalously other. (262)

There are still a great many things that could be said about this naturalness in the Cynics.* This principle of a straight life which must be indexed to nature, and solely to nature, ends up giving a positive value to animality. And, here again, this is something odd and scandalous in ancient thought. In general terms, and summarizing considerably, we may say that in ancient thought animality played the role of absolute point of differentiation for the human being. It is

by distinguishing itself from animality that the human being asserted and manifested its humanity. Animality was always, more or less, a point of repulsion for the constitution of man as a rational and human being. (264)

In the Cynics, in accordance with the rigorous and systematic appli-cation of the principle of the straight life indexed to nature, animality will play a completely different role. It will be charged with positive value, it will be a model of behavior, a material model in accordance with the idea that the human being must not have as a need what the animal can do without. (265)


28 march, first hour

There are several ways of telling the truth in the Cynic life. The first route, the first way: the relationship to the truth is an immediate relationship of conformity to the truth in conduct, in the body. (309)

But the Cynic life has other responsibilities, other tasks in relation to the truth. The Cynic life must also include precise self- knowledge. The Cynic life is not just the picture of the truth; it is also the work of the truth of self on self. (310)

Measure of self, therefore, but also vigilance over self, appraisal of one’s own abilities and constant watch over the flow of one’s representations, this is what the Cynic must be. But this relationship to the truth of oneself, of what one can do and of the flow of one’s representations, must be coupled also with another relationship, which is that of the supervision of others. (311)

First, in Christian asceticism there is of course a relation to the other world (l’autre monde), and not to the world which is other. […] To that extent, I think we can say that one of the master strokes of Christianity, its philosophical significance, consists in it having linked together the theme of an other life (une vie autre) as true life and the idea of access to the other world (l’autre monde) as access to the truth. [On the one hand], a true life, which is an other life in this world, [on the other] access to the other world as access to the truth and to that which, consequently, founds the truth of that true life which one leads in this world here: it seems to me that this structure is the combination, the meeting point, the junction between an originally Cynic asceticism and an originally Platonic metaphysics. This is very schematic, but it seems to me that there is in this one of the first major differences between Christian and Cynic asceticism. Through histori-cal processes which would obviously need to be examined more closely, Christian asceticism managed to join Platonic metaphysics to that vision, that historical- critical experience of the world. (319)

The second major difference is of a completely different order. This concerns the importance that Christianity, and only Christianity gives to something which is not found in either Cynicism or Platonism. This is the principle of obedience, in the broad sense of the term. Obedience to God conceived of as the master (the despote-s) whose slave, whose servant one is; obedience to His will which has, at the same time, the form of the law; obedience finally to those who represent the despote-s (the lord and master) and who receive an authority from Him to which one must submit completely. So it seems to me that the other point of inflection in this long history of asceticism recounted in counterpoint, facing this relation to the other world (l’autre monde), is the principle of an obedience to the other, in this world, starting from this world, and in order to have access to the true life. There is true life only through obedience to the other, and there is true life only for access to the other world. (320)

The difference between Christian asceticism and other forms of asceticism which may have prepared the way for and preceded it should be situated in this double relation: the relation to the other world to which one will have access thanks to this asceti-cism, and the principle of obedience to the other (obedience to the other in this world, obedience to the other which is at the same time obedience to God and to those who represent him). Thus we see the emergence of a new style of relation to self, a new type of power rela-tions, and a different regime of truth. (320-321)


28 march, second hour

Positive parrhesia in Christianity: First, in its positive value, parrhe-sia appears as a sort of hinge virtue, which characterizes both the attitude of the Christian, of the good Christian, towards men, and his way of being with regard to God. With regard to men, parrhe-sia will be the courage to assert the truth one knows and to which one wishes to bear witness regardless of every danger. (331)

But this parrhe-sia, a relationship to others, is also a virtue with regard to God. Parrhe-sia is not just the courage one demonstrates in the face of persecution in order to convince others, [but also a] courage [which] is confidence in God, and this confidence cannot be separated from one’s courageous stance towards others. (332)

Negative Parrhesia in Christianity: That parrhe-sia that had become a relationship of confidence and open-ness of heart that could bind man to God will disappear, or rather, it will reappear as a confidence which is seen as a fault, a danger, a vice. Parrhe-sia as confidence is foreign to the principle of the fear of God. It is contrary to the necessary feeling of a distance with regard to the world and things of the world. Parrhe-sia appears incompatible with the severe gaze that one must now focus on oneself. The person who can bring about his salvation—that is to say, who fears God, who feels him-self to be a stranger in the world, who keeps a watch on himself, and must constantly keep a watch on himself—cannot have that parrhe-sia, that jubilant confidence by which he was bound to God, borne up to grasp Him in a direct face- to- face encounter. So parrhe-sia now appears as a blameworthy behavior of presumption, familiarity, and arrogant self- confidence. (334)

The second characteristic of this  parrhe-sia, which has now become a fault and a vice, is that not only does one not fear God, but one does not take care of oneself. “We drive the fear of God far from ourselves … by not thinking of death or punishment, by not taking care of ourselves, by not examining our conduct.” You see that parrhe-sia is now negligence with regard to self, whereas previously it was care of self. One does not care about self; one lacks the proper mistrust of self. Third, “living anyhow and associating with anyone.” This time, it is confidence in the world. Familiarity with the world, the habit of liv-ing with others, accepting what they do and say, are all hostile bonds, contrary to the necessary strangeness one should have with regard to the world. This is what characterizes parrhe-sia: non- fear of God, non- mistrust of self, and non- mistrust of the world. It is arrogant confidence. (335-336)

Consequently: elimination of parrhe-sia as arrogance and self- confidence; necessity of respect, whose first form and essential manifestation must be obedience. Where there is obedience there cannot be parrhe-sia. We find again what I was just saying to you, namely that the problem of obedience is at the heart of this rever-sal of the values of parrhe-sia. (336)

Parrhesia generally: The positive conception makes parrhe-sia a confidence in God, a confidence as the element which enables an apos-tle or a martyr to speak the truth with which he has been entrusted. Parrhe-sia is also the confidence one has in God’s love and in how one will be received by Him on the Day of Judgment. Around this concep-tion of parrhe-sia crystallized what could be called the parrhesiastic pole of Christianity, in which the relation to the truth is established in the form of a face- to- face relationship with God and in a human confidence which corresponds to the effusion of divine love. It seems to me that this parrhesiastic pole was a source of what could be called the great mystical tradition of Christianity. (337)

And then you have another, anti- parrhesiastic pole in Christianity, which founds, not the mystical, but the ascetic tradition. Here the rela-tion to the truth can be established only in a relationship of fearful and reverential obedience to God, and in the form of a suspicious decipherment of self, through temptations and trials. This ascetic, anti- parrhesiastic pole without confidence, this pole of mistrust of oneself and fear of God, is no less important than the parrhesiastic pole. I would even say that historically and institutionally it has been much more important, since it was ultimately around this pole that all the pastoral institutions of Christianity developed. (337)

Parrhe-sia, or rather the parrhesiastic game, appears in two aspects:

–  the courage to tell the truth to the person one wants to help and direct in the ethical formation of himself

–  the courage to manifest the truth about oneself, to show oneself as one is, in the face of all opposition. (339)

Michel Foucault “The Government of Self and Others”

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment

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)