Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.


Parrhesia and public life



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Parrhesia and public life

Now I would like to move on to the practice of parrhesia in public life through the example of the Cynic philosophers. In the case of the Epicurean communities, we know very little about their style of life but have some idea of their doctrine as it is expressed in various texts. With the Cynics the situation is exactly reversed ; for we know very little about Cynic doctrine--even if there ever was such an explicit doctrine. But we do possess numerous testimonies regarding the Cynic way of life. And there is nothing surprising about this state of affairs ; for even though Cynic philosophers wrote books just like other philosophers, they were far more interested in choosing and practicing a certain way of life.

A historical problem concerning the origin of Cynicism is this. Most of the Cynics from the First Century B. C. and thereafter refer to either Diogenes or Antisthenes as the founder of the Cynic philosophy, and though these founder of Cynicism they relate themselves back to the teachings of Socrates. According to Farrand Sayre, however, the Cynic Sect appeared only in the Second Century B. C., or two centuries after Socrates' death. We might be a bit skeptical about a traditional explanation given for the rise of the Cynic Sects--an explanation which has been given so often to account for so many other phenomena ; but it is that Cynicism is a negative form of aggressive individualism which arose with the collapse of the political structures of the ancient world. A more interesting account is given by Sayre, who explains the appearance of the Cynics on the Greek philosophical scene as a consequence of expanding conquest of the Macedonian Empire. More specifically, he notes that with Alexander's conquests various Indian philosophies--especially the monastic and ascetic teaching of Indian Sects like the Gymnosophists--became more familiar to the Greeks.

Regardless of what we can determine about the origins of Cynicism, it is a fact that the Cynics were very numerous and influential from the end of the First Century BC to the Fourth Century A. D. Thus in A. D. 165 Lucian--who did not like the Cynics--writes : " The city swarms with these vermin, particularly those who profess the tenets of Diogenes, Antisthenes, and Crates. " It seems, in fact, that the self-styled 'Cynics' were so numerous that the Emperor Julian, in his attempt to revive classical Greek culture, wrote a lampoon against them scorning their ignorance, their coarseness, and portraying them as a danger for the Empire and for Greco-Roman culture. One of the reasons why Julian treated the Cynics so Harshly was due to their general resemblance to the early Christians. And some of the similarities may have been more than mere superficial resemblance. For example, Peregrinus (a well-known Cynic at the end of the Second Century A. D. ) was considered a kind of saint by his Cynic followers, especially by those who regarded his death as a heroic emulation of the death of Heracles. To display his Cynic indifference to death, Peregrinus committed suicide by cremating himself immediately following the Olympic Games of AD 167. Lucian, who witnessed the event, gives a satirical, derisive account. Julian was also disappointed that the Cynics were not able to represent ancient Greco-Roman culture, for he hoped that there would be something like a popular philosophical movement which would compete with Christianity.

The high value which the Cynics attributed to a person's way of life does not mean that they had no interest in theoretical philosophy, but reflects their view that the manner in which a person lived was a touchstone of his or her relation to truth--as we saw was also the case in the Socratic tradition. The conclusion they drew from this Socratic idea, however, was that in order to proclaim the truths they accepted in a manner that would be accessible to everyone, they though that their teachings had to consist in a very public, visible, spectacular, provocative, and sometimes scandalous way of life. The Cynics thus taught by way of examples and the explanations associated with them. They wanted their own lives to be a blazon of essential truths which would then serve as a guideline, or as an example for others to follow. But there is nothing in this Cynic emphasis on philosophy as an art of life which is alien to Greek philosophy. So even if we accept Sayre's hypothesis about the Indian philosophical influence on Cynic doctrine and practice, we must still recognize that the Cynic attitude is, in its basic form, just an extremely radical version of the very Greek conception of the relationship between one's way of life and knowledge of the truth. The Cynic idea that a person is nothing else but his relation to truth, and that this relation to truth takes shape or is given form in his own life--that is completely Greek.

In the Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic traditions, philosophers referred mainly to a doctrine, text, or at least to some theoretical principles for their philosophy. In the Epicurean tradition, the followers of Epicurus refer both to a doctrine and also to the personal example set by Epicurus-whom every Epicurean tried to imitate. Epicurus originated the doctrine and was also a personification of it. But now in the Cynic tradition, the main references for the philosophy are not to the texts or doctrines, but to exemplary lives. Personal examples were also important in other philosophical schools, but in the Cynic movement-where there were no established texts, no settled, recognizable doctrine- reference was always made to certain real or mythical personalities who were taken to be the sources of Cynicism as a mode of life. Such personalities were the starting point for Cynic reflection and commentary. The mythical characters referred to included Heracles [Hercules], Odysseus [Ulysses], and Diogenes. Diogenes was an actual, historical figure, but his life became so legendary that he developed into a kind of myth as anecdotes, scandals, etc., were added to his historical life. About his actual life we do not know all that much, but it is clear that he became a kind of philosophical hero. Plato, Aristotle, Zeno of Citiun, etc., were philosophical authors and authorities, for example; but they were not considered heroes. Epicurus was both a philosophical author and treated by his followers as a kind of hero. But Diogenes was primarily a heroic figure. the idea that a philosopher's life should be exemplary and heroic is important in understanding the relationship of Cynicism to Christianity, as well as for understanding Cynic parrhesia as a public activity.

This brings us to Cynic parrhesia. The main types of parrhesiastic practice utilized by the Cynics were. (1) critical preaching; (2) scandalous behavior; and (3) what I shall call the "Provocative dialogue. "

First, the critical preaching of the Cynics. Preaching is a form of continuous discourse. And, as you know, most of the early philosophers--especially the Stoics--would occasionally deliver speeches where they presented their doctrines. Usually, however they would lecture in front of a rather small audience. The Cynics, in contrast, disliked this kind of elitist exclusion and preferred to address a large crowd. For example, they liked to speak in a theater, or at a place where people had gathered for a feast, religious event, athletic contest, etc. They would sometimes stand up in the middle of a theater audience and deliver a speech. This public preaching was not their own innovation, for we have testimonies of similar practices as early as the Fifth Century BC Some of the sophists we see in the Platonic dialogues, for example, also engage in preaching to some extent. Cynic preaching, however, had its own specific characteristics, and is historically significant since it enabled philosophical themes about one's way of life to become popular, i.e., to come to the attention of people who stood outside the philosophical elect. From this perspective, Cynic preaching about freedom, the renunciation of luxury, Cynic criticisms of political institutions; and existing moral codes, and so on, also opened the way for some Christian themes. But Christian proselytes not only spoke about themes which were often similar to the Cynics; they also took over the practice of preaching.

Preaching is still one of the main forms of truth-telling practiced in our society, and it involves the idea that the truth must be told and taught not only to the best members of the society, or to an exclusive group, but to everyone.

There is, however, very little positive doctrine in Cynic preaching: no direct affirmation of the good or bad. Instead, the Cynics refer to freedom (eleutheria) and self-sufficiency (autarkeia) as the basic criteria by which to assess any kind of behavior or mode of life. For the Cynics, the main condition for human happiness is autarkeia, self-sufficiency or independence, where what you need to have or what you decide to do is dependent on nothing other than you yourself. As, a consequence--since the Cynics had the most radical of attitudes-- they preferred a completely natural life-style. A natural life was supposed to eliminate all of the dependencies introduced by culture, society, civilization, opinion, and so on. Consequently, most of their preaching seems to have been directed against social institutions, the arbitrariness of rules of law, and any sort of life-style that was dependent upon such institutions or laws. In short, their preaching was against all social institutions insofar as such institutions hindered one's freedom and independence.

Cynic parrhesia also had recourse to scandalous behavior or attitudes which called into question collective habits, opinions, standards of decency, institutional rules, and so on. Several procedures were used. One of them was the inversion of roles, as can be seen from Dio Chrysostom's Fourth Discourse where the famous encounter between Diogenes and Alexander is depicted. This encounter, which was often referred to by the Cynics, does not take place in the privacy of Alexander's court but in the street, in the open. The king stands up while Diogenes sits back in his barrel. Diogenes orders Alexander to step out of his light so that he can bask in the sun. Ordering Alexander to step aside so that the sun' s light can reach Diogenes is an affirmation of the direct and natural relation the philosopher has to the sun in contrast to the mythical genealogy whereby the king, as descended from a god, was supposed to personify the sun.

The Cynics also employed the technique of displacing or transposing a rule from a domain where the rule was accepted to a domain where it was not in order to show how arbitrary the rule was. Once, during the athletic contests and horse-races of the Isthmian festival, Diogenes--who was bothering everyone with his frank remarks--took a crown of pine and put it on his head as if he had been victorious in an athletic competition. And the magistrates were very happy about this gesture because they thought it was, at last, a good occasion to punish him, to exclude him, to get rid of him. But he explained that he placed a crown upon his head because he had won a much more difficult victory against poverty, exile, desire, and his own vices than athletes who were victorious in wrestling, running, and hurling a discus. And later on during the games, he saw two horses fighting and kicking each other until one of them ran off. So Diogenes went up and put a crown on the head of the horse who stood its ground . These two symmetrical displacements have the effect of raising the question: "What are you really doing when you award someone with a crown in the Isthmian games? " For if the crown is awarded to someone as a moral victory, then Diogenes deserves a crown. But if it is only a question of superior physical strength, then there is no reason why the horse should not be given a crown.

Cynic parrhesia in its scandalous aspects also utilized the practice of bringing together two rules of behavior which seem contradictory and remote from one another. For example, regarding the problem of bodily needs. You eat. There is no scandal in eating, so you can eat in public (although, for the Greeks, this is not obvious and Diogenes was sometimes reproached for eating in the agora). Since Diogenes ate in the agora, he thought that there was no reason why he should not also masturbate in the agora; for in both cases he was satisfying a bodily need (adding that "he wished it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly") . Well, I will not try to conceal the shamelessness (anaideia) of the Cynics as a scandalous practice or technique.

As you know, the word "cynic" comes from the Greek word meaning "dog-like" (kynikoi); and Diogenes was called "The Dog". In fact, the first and only contemporary reference to Diogenes is found in Aristotle's Rhetoric, where Aristotle does not even mention the name "Diogenes" but just call him , "The Dog". The noble philosophers of Greece, who usually comprised an elite group, almost always disregarded the Cynics. The Cynics also used another parrhesiastic technique, viz., the "provocative dialogue". To give you a more precise example of this type of dialogue--which derives from Socratic parrhesia--I have chosen a passage from the Fourth Discourse on Kingship of Dio Chrysostom of Prusa (c.A.D.40-110).

Do you all know who Dio Chrysostom is? Well, he is a very interesting guy from the last half of the First Century and the beginning of the Second Century of our era. He was born at Prusa in Asia Minor of a wealthy Roman family who played a prominent role in the city-life. Dio's family was typical of the affluent provincial notables that produced so many writers,

officers, generals, even emperors, for the Roman Empire. He came to Rome possibly as a professional rhetorician, but there are some disputes about this. An American scholar, C.P. Jones, has written a very interesting book about Dio Chrysostom which depicts the social life of an intellectual in the Roman Empire of Dio's time. In Rome Dio Chrysostom became acquainted with Musonius Rufus, the Stoic philosopher, and possibly through him he became involved with some liberal circles generally opposed to personal tyrannical power. He was subsequently exiled by Domitian--who disliked his views--and thus he began a wandering life where he adopted the costume and the attitudes of the Cynics for several years. When he was finally authorized to return to Rome following Domitian's assassination, he started

a new career. His former fortune was returned to him, and he became a wealthy and famous teacher. For a while, however, he had the life-style, the attitude, the habits, and the philosophical views of a Cynic philosopher. But we must keep in mind the fact that Dio Chrysostom was not a "pure" cynic; and perhaps with his intellectual background his depiction of the Cynic parrhesiastic game puts it closer to the Socratic tradition than most of the actual Cynic practices.

In the Fourth Discourse of Dio Chrysostom, I think you can find all three forms of Cynic parrhesia. The end of the Discourse is a kind of preaching, and throughout there are references to Diogenes' scandalous behavior and examples illustrating the provocative dialogue of Diogenes with Alexander. The topic of the Discourse is the famous encounter between Diogenes and Alexander the Great which actually took place at Corinth. The Discourse begins with Dio's thoughts concerning this meeting (1-14) then a fictional dialogue follows portraying the nature of Diogenes' and Alexander's conversation (15-81) and the Discourse ends with a long, continuous discussion--fictionally narrated by Diogenes--regarding three types of faulty and self-deluding styles of life (82-139).



At the very beginning of the Discourse, Dio criticizes those who present the meeting of Diogenes and Alexander as an encounter between equals: one man famous for his leadership and military victories, the other famous for his free and self-sufficient life-style, and his austere and naturalistic moral virtue. Dio does not want people to praise Alexander just because he, as a powerful king, did not disregard a poor guy like Diogenes. He insists that Alexander actually felt inferior to Diogenes, and was also a bit envious of his reputation; for unlike Alexander, who wanted to conquer the world, Diogenes did not need anything to do what he wanted to do :
[Alexander] himself needed his Macedonian phalanx, his Thessalian cavalry, Thracians, Paeonians, and many others if he was to go where he wished and get what he desired; but Diogenes went forth unattended in perfect safety by night as well as by day whithersoever he cared to go. Again, he himself required huge sums of gold and silver to carry out any of his projects; and what is more, if he expected to keep the Macedonians and the other Greeks submissive, must time and again curry favor of their rulers and the general populace by words and gifts; whereas Diogenes cajoled no man by flattery, but told everybody the truth and, even though he possessed not a single drachma, succeeded in doing as he pleased, failed in nothing he set before himself, was the only man who lived the life he considered the best and happiest, and would not have accepted Alexander's throne or the wealth of the Medes and Persians in exchange for his own poverty.
So it is clear that Diogenes appears here as the master of truth; and from this point of view, Alexander is both inferior to him, and is aware of this inferiority. But although Alexander has some vices and faults of character, he is not a bad king, and he chooses to play Diogenes' parrhesiastic game:
So the king came up to [Diogenes] as he sat there and greeted him, whereat the other looked up at him with a terrible glare like that of a lion and ordered him to step aside a little, for Diogenes happened to be warming himself in the sun. Now Alexander was at once delighted with the man's boldness and composure in not being awestruck in his presence. For it is somehow natural for the courageous to love the courageous, while cowards eye them with misgiving and hate them as enemies, but welcome the base and like them. And so to the one class truth and frankness [parrhesia] are the most agreeable things in the world, to the other, flattery and deceit. The latter lend a willing ear to those who in their intercourse seek to please, the former, to those who have regard for the truth.
The Cynic parrhesiastic game which begins is, in some respects, not unlike the Socratic dialogue since there is an exchange of questions and answers. But there are at least two significant differences. First, in the Cynic parrhesiastic game it is Alexander who tends to ask the questions and Diogenes, the philosopher, who answers--which is the reverse of the Socratic dialogue. Secondly, whereas Socrates plays with his interlocutor's ignorance, Diogenes wants to hurt Alexander's pride. For example, at the beginning of the exchange, Diogenes calls Alexander a bastard (181), and tells him that someone who claim to be a king is not so very different from a child who, after winning a game, puts a crown on his head and declares that he is king [47-49]. Of course, all that is not very pleasant for Alexander to hear. But that's Diogenes' game: hitting his interlocutor's pride, forcing him to recognize that he is not what he claims to be which is something quite different from the Socratic attempt to show someone that he is ignorant of what he claims to know. In the Socratic dialogues, you sometimes see that someone's pride has been hurt when he is compelled to recognize that he does not know what he claims to know. For example, when Callicles is led to an awareness of his ignorance, he renounces all discussion because his pride has been hurt. But this is only a side effect, as it were, of the main target of Socratic irony, which is: to show someone that he is ignorant of his own ignorance. In the case of Diogenes, however, pride is the main target, and the ignorance/knowledge game is a side effect.

From these attacks on an interlocutor's pride, you see that the interlocutor is brought to the limit of the first parrhesiastic contract, viz., to agree to play the game, to choose to engage in discussion. Alexander is willing to engage Diogenes in discussion, to accept his insolence and insults, but there is a limit. And every time that Alexander feels insulted by Diogenes, he becomes angry and is close to quitting off , even to brutalizing Diogenes. So you see that the Cynic parrhesiastic game is played at the very limits of the parrhesiastic contract. It borders on transgression because the parrhesiastes may have made too many insulting remarks. Here is an example of this play at the limit of the parrhesiastic agreement to engage in discussion:


... [Diogenes] went on to tell the king that he did not even possess the badge of royalty. . ."And what badge is that?" said Alexander. "It is the badge of the bees, "he replied, "that the king wears. Have you not heard that there is a king among the bees, made so by nature, who does not hold office by virtue of what you people who trace your descent from Heracles call inheritance? " "What is this badge ?" inquired Alexander. "Have you not heard farmers say, "asked the other, "that this is the only bee that has no sting since he requires no weapon against anyone? For no other bee will challenge his right to be king or fight him when he has this badge. I have an idea, however, that you not only go about fully armed but even sleep that way. Do you not know," he continued, "that is a sign of fear in a man for him to carry arms? And no man who is afraid would ever have a chance to become king any more than a slave would. "
Diogenes reasons: if you bear arms, you are afraid. No one who is afraid can be a king. So, since Alexander bears arms he cannot be a real king. And, of course, Alexander is not very pleased by this logic' and Dio continues: "At these words Alexander came near hurling his spear". That gesture, of course, would have been the rupture, the transgression, of

the parrhesiastic game. When the dialogue arrives at this point, there are two possibilities available to Diogenes for bringing Alexander back into the game. One way is the following. Diogenes says, in effect, 'Well,alright. I know that you are outraged and you are also free. You have both the ability and the legal sanction to kill me. But will you be courageous enough to hear the truth from me, or are you such a coward that you must kill me?' And, for example, after Diogenes insults Alexander at one point in the dialogue, he tells him:


"...In view of what I say rage and prance about ... and think me the greatest blackguard and slander me to the world and, if it be your pleasure, run me through with your spear; for I am the only man from whom you will get the truth, and you will learn it from no one else. For all are less honest than I am and more servile."
Diogenes thus voluntarily angers Alexander, and then says, 'Well, you can kill me; but if you do so, nobody else will tell you the truth.' And there is an exchange, a new parrhesiastic contract is drawn up with a new limit imposed by Diogenes: either you kill me, or you'll know the truth. This kind of courageous 'blackmailing' of the interlocutor in the name of truth makes a positive impression upon Alexander: "Then was Alexander amazed at the courage and fearlessness of the man" [76]. So Alexander decides to stay in the game, and a new agreement is thereby achieved.

Another means Diogenes employs for bringing Alexander back into the game is more subtle than the previous challenge: Diogenes also uses trickery. This trickery is different from Socratic irony; for, as you all know, in Socratic irony, Socrates feigns to be as ignorant as his interlocutor so that his interlocutor would not be ashamed of disclosing his own ignorance, and thus not reply to Socrates' questions. That, at least, was the principle of Socratic irony. Diogenes' trick is somewhat different; for at the moment when his interlocutor is about to terminate the exchange, Diogenes says something which his interlocutor believes is complimentary. For example, after Diogenes calls Alexander a bastard--which was not very well-received by Alexander--Diogenes tells him:


"... is it not olympias who said that Philip is not your father, as it happens, but a dragon or Ammon or some god or other or demigod or wild animal? And yet in that case you would certainly be a bastard."

Thereupon Alexander smiled and was pleased as never before, thinking that Diogenes, so far from being rude, was the most tactful of men and the only one who really knew how to pay a compliment.
Whereas the Socratic dialogue traces an intricate and winding path from an ignorant understanding to an awareness of ignorance, the Cynic dialogue is much more like a fight, a battle, or a war, with peaks of great agressivity and moments of peaceful calm--peaceful exchanges which, of course, are additional traps for the interlocutor. In the Fourth Discourse Dio Chrysostom explains the rationale behind this strategy of mixing aggressivity and sweetness; Diogenes asks Alexander:
"Have you not heard the Libyan myth ? " And the king replied that he had not. Then Diogenes told him with zest and charm, because he wanted to put him in a good humor, just as nurses, after giving the children a whipping, tell them a story to comfort and please them.
And a bit further on, Dio adds:
When Diogenes perceived that [Alexander] was greatly excited and quite keyed up in mind with expectancy, he toyed with him and pulled him about in the hope that somehow he might be moved from his pride and thirst for glory and be able to sober up a little. For he noticed that at one moment he was delighted, and at another grieved, at the same thing, and that his soul was as unsettled as the weather at the solstices when both rain and sunshine come from the very same cloud.
Diogenes' charm, however, is only a means of advancing the game and of preparing the way for additional aggressive exchanges. Thus, after Diogenes pleases Alexander with his remarks about his 'bastard' genealogy, and considers the possibility that Alexander might be the son of Zeus, he goes even further: he tells Alexander that when Zeus has a son, he gives his son marks of his divine birth. Of course, Alexander thinks that he has such marks. Alexander then asks Diogenes how one can be a good king. And Diogenes reply is a purely moral portrayal of kingship:
"No one can be a bad king any more than he can be a bad good man; for the king is the best one among men, since he is most brave and righteous and humane, and cannot be overcome by any toil or by any appetite. Or do you think a man is a charioteer if he can not drive, or that one is a pilot if he is ignorant of steering, or is a physician if he knows not how to cure? It is impossible, nay, though all the Greeks and barbarians acclaim him as such and load him with diadems and scepters and tiaras like so many necklaces that are put on castaway children lest they fail of recognition. Therefore, just as one cannot pilot except after the manner of pilots, so no one can be king except in a kingly way. "
We see here the analogy of statesmanship with navigation and medicine that we have already noted. As the "son of Zeus," Alexander thinks that he has marks or signs to show that he is a king with a divine birth. But Diogenes shows Alexander that the truly royal character is not linked to special status, birth, power, and so on. Rather, the only way of being a true king is to behave like one. And when Alexander asks how he might learn this art of kingship, Diogenes tells him that it cannot be learned, for one is noble by nature [26-31].

Here the game reaches a point where Alexander does not become conscious of his lack of knowledge, as in a Socratic dialogue. He discovers, instead, that he is not in any way what he thought he was--viz., a king by royal birth, with marks of his divine status, or king because of his superior power, and so on. He is brought to a point where Diogenes tells him that the only way to be a real king is to adopt the same type of ethos as the

Cynic philosopher. And at this point in the exchange there is nothing more for Alexander to say.

In the case of Socratic dialogue, it also sometimes happens that when the person Socrates has been questioning no longer knows what to say, Socrates resumes the discourse by presenting a positive thesis, and then the dialogue ends. In this text by Dio Chrysostom, Diogenes begins a continuous discourse; however his discussion does not present the truth of a positive thesis, but is content to give a precise description of three faulty modes of life linked to the royal character. The first one is devoted to wealth, the second to physical pleasure, and the third to glory and political power. And these three life-styles are personified by three daimones or spirits.

The concept of the daimon was popular in Greek culture, and also became a philosophical concept--in Plutarch, for example. The fight against evil daimones in Christian asceticism has precursors in the Cynic tradition. Incidentally, the concept of the "demon" has been elaborated in an excellent article in the “Dictionnaire de Spiritualit”' [F.Vandenbrouke vol.3, 1957]

Diogenes gives an indication of the three daimones which Alexander must fight throughout his life, and which constitute the target of a permanent "spiritual struggle"-- "Combat spirituel". Of course, this phrase does not occur in Dio's text; for here it is not so much a specific content which is specific and important, but the idea of a parrhesiastic practice which enables someone to fight a spiritual war within himself.

And I think we can also see in the aggressive encounter between Alexander and Diogenes a struggle occurring between two kinds of power: political power and the power of truth. In this struggle, the parrhesiastes accepts and confronts a permanent danger: Diogenes exposes himself to Alexander's power from the beginning to the end of the Discourse. And the main effect of this parrhesiastic struggle with power is not to bring the interlocutor to a new truth, or to a new level of self-awareness; it is to lead the interlocutor to internalize this parrhesiastic struggle-to fight within himself against his own faults, and to be with himself in the same way that Diogenes was with him.





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