Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.



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Conclusion:
In reading these texts about self-examination and underlining the differences between them, I wanted to show you, first, that there is a noticeable shift in the parrhesiastic practices between the 'master' and the 'disciple'. Previously, when parrhesia appeared in the context of spiritual guidance, the master was the one who disclosed the truth about the disciple. In these exercises, the master still uses frankness of speech with the disciple in order to help him became aware of the faults he cannot see (Seneca uses parrhesia towards Serenus, Epictetus uses parrhesia towards his disciples) ; but now the use of parrhesia is put increasingly upon the disciple as his own duty towards himself. At this point the truth about the disciple is not disclosed solely through the parrhesiastic discourse of the master, or only in the dialogue between the master and the disciple or interlocutor. The truth about the disciple emerges from a personal relation which he establishes with himself; and this truth can now be disclosed either to himself (as in the first example from Seneca) or to someone else (as in the second example from Seneca) . And the disciple must also test himself, and check to see whether he is able to achieve self-mastery (as in the examples from Epictetus) .

Secondly, it is not sufficient to analyze this personal relation of self-understanding as merely deriving from the general principle "gnothi seauton"--"know thyself". Of course, in a certain general sense it can be derived from this principle, but we cannot stop at this point. For the various relationships which one has to oneself are embedded in very precise techniques which take the form of spiritual exercises--some of them dealing with deeds, others with states of equilibrium of the soul, others with the flow of representations, and so on.

Third point. In all these different exercises, what is at stake is not the disclosure of a secret which has to excavated from out of the depths of the soul. What is at stake is the relation of the self to truth or to some rational principles. Recall that the question which motivated Seneca's evening self- examination was: 'Did I bring into play those principles of behavior I know very well, but, as it sometimes happens, I do not always conform to or always apply? Another question was: 'Am I able to adhere to the principles I am familiar with, I agree with, and which I practice most of the time? ' For that was Serenus' question. Or the question Epictetus raised in the exercises I was just discussing: 'Am I able to react to any kind of representation which shows itself to me in conformity with my adopted rational rules? What we have to underline here is this: if the truth of the self in these exercises is nothing other than the relation of the self to truth, then this truth is not purely theoretical. The truth of the self involves, on the one hand, a set of rational principles which are grounded in general statements about the world, human life, necessity, happiness, freedom, and so on, and, on the other hand, practical rules for behavior. And the question which is raised in these different exercises is oriented towards the following problem: Are we familiar enough with these rational principles? Are they sufficiently well-established in our minds to become practical rules for our everyday behavior? And the problem of memory is at the heart of these techniques, but in the form of an attempt to remind ourselves of what we have done, thought, or felt so that we may reactivate our rational principles, thus making them as permanent and as effective as possible in our life.

These exercises are part of what we could call an "aesthetics of the self. " For one does not have to take up a position or role towards oneself as that of a judge pronouncing a verdict. One can comport oneself towards oneself in the role of a technician, of a craftsman, of an artist, who--from time to time--stops working, examines what he is doing, reminds himself of the rule of his art, and compares these rules with what he has achieved thus far. This metaphor of the artist who stops working, steps back, gains a distant perspective, and examines what he is actually doing with the principles of his art can be found in Plutarch's essay, "On the Control of Anger".





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