Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia.

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Parrhesia and Criticism

If, during a trial , you say something which can be used against you, you may not be using parrhesia in spite of the fact that you are sincere, that you believe what you say is true, and you are endangering yourself in so speaking. For in parrhesia the danger always comes from the fact that the said truth is capable of hurting or angering the interlocutor. Parrhesia is thus always a "game" between the one who speaks the truth and the interlocutor. The parrhesia involved, for example, may be the advice that the interlocutor should behave in a certain way, or that he is wrong in what he thinks, or in the way he acts, and so on. Or the parrhesia may be a confession to someone who exercises power over him, and is able to censure or punish him for what he has done. So you see, the function of parrhesia is not to demonstrate the truth to someone else, but has the function of criticism : criticism of the interlocutor or of the speaker himself. " This is what you do and this is what you think ; but this is what you should not do and should not think . " "This is the way you behave, but that is the way you ought to behave. " " This is what I have done, and was wrong in so doing. " 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 parrhesiastes is always less powerful than the one with whom he or she speaks . The parrhesia comes from " below ", as it were, and is directed towards " above". This is why an ancient Greek would not say that a teacher or father who criticizes a child uses parrhesia . But when a philosopher criticizes a tyrant, when a citizen criticizes the majority, when a pupil criticizes his or her teacher, then such speakers may be using parrhesia.

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. Indeed, someone who is deprived of parrhesia is in the same situation as a slave to the extent that he or she cannot take part in the political life of the city, nor play the " parrhesiastic game ". In "democratic parrhesia " --where one speaks to the assembly, the ekklesia-- one must be a citizen ; in fact, one must be one of the best among the citizens, possessing those specific personal, moral, and social qualities which grant one the privilege to speak.

However, the parrhesiastes risks his privilege to speak freely when he discloses a truth which threatens the majority . For it was a well-known juridical situation when Athenian leaders were exiled only because they proposed something which was opposed by the majority, or even because the assembly thought that the strong influence of certain leaders limited its own freedom. And so the assembly was, in this manner, " protected " against the truth. That, then, is the institutional background of " democratic parrhesia "--which must be distinguished from that " monarchic parrhesia " where an advisor gives the sovereign honest and helpful advice.

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