Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.



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Parrhesia and Frankness

To begin with, what is the general meaning of the word " parrhesia "? Etymologically, "parrhesiazesthai" means " to say everything --from " pan " [πάυ] (everything) and " rhema " [δήμα] (that which is said). 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. In parrhesia, the speaker is supposed to give a complete and exact account of what he has in mind so that the audience is able to comprehend exactly what the speaker thinks. The word " parrhesia " then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. Whereas rhetoric provides the speaker with technical devices to help him prevail upon the minds of his audience (regardless of the rhetorician's own opinion concerning what he says), in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people's mind by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.

If we distinguish between the speaking subject (the subject of the enunciation) and the grammatical subject of the enounced, we could say that there is also the subject of the enunciandum -which refers to the held belief or opinion of the speaker. In parrhesia the speaker emphasizes the fact that he is both the subject of the enunciation and the subject of the enunciandum -that he himself is the subject of the opinion to which he refers. The specific " speech activity " of the parrhesiastic enunciation thus takes the form : " I am the one who thinks this and that "

I use the phrase " speech activity " rather than John Searle's " speech act "(or Austin's " performative utterance ") in order to distinguish the parrhesiastic utterance and its commitments from the usual sorts of commitment which obtain between someone and what he or she says. For, as we shall see, the commitment involved in parrhesia is linked to a certain social situation, to a difference of status between the speaker and his audience, to the fact that the parrhesiastes says something which is dangerous to himself and thus involves a risk, and so on.






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