Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.



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Parrhesia and Danger

Someone is said to use parrhesia and merits consideration as a parrhesiastes only if there is a risk or danger for him or her in telling the truth. For instance, from the ancient Greek perspective, a grammar teacher may tell the truth to the children that he teaches, and indeed may have no doubt that what he teaches is true. But in spite of this coincidence between belief and truth , he is not a parrhesiastes. However, when a philosopher addresses himself to a sovereign, to a tyrant, and tells him that his tyranny is disturbing and unpleasant because tyranny is incompatible with justice, then the philosopher speaks the truth, believes he is speaking the truth, and, more than that, also takes a risk (since the tyrant may become angry, may punish him, may exile him, may kill him). And that was exactly Plato's situation with Dionysius in Syracuse -concerning which there are very interesting references in Plato's Seventh Letter , and also in The Life of Dion by Plutarch. I hope we shall study these texts later.

So you see, the parrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk. Of course, this risk is not always a risk of life . When, for example, you see a friend doing something wrong and you risk incurring his anger by telling him he is wrong, you are acting as a parrhesiastes. In such a case, you do not risk your life, but you may hurt him by your remarks, and your friendship may consequently suffer for it. If, in a political debate, an orator risks losing his popularity because his opinions are contrary to the majority's opinion, or his opinions may usher in a political scandal, he uses parrhesia. 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.

When you accept the parrhesiastic game in which your own life is exposed, you are taking up a specific relationship to yourself : you risk death to tell the truth instead of reposing in the security of a life where the truth goes unspoken. Of course, the threat of death comes from the Other, and thereby requires a relationship to himself : he prefers himself as a truth-teller rather than as a living being who is false to himself.





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