From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
From Ancient Greek παρρησία (parrhēsía), from πᾶν (pân, “all”) (English pan-) + ῥῆσις (rhêsis), ῥῆμα (rhêma, “utterance, speech”).
Michel Foucault developed the concept of parrhesia as a mode of discourse in which one speaks openly and truthfully about one's opinions and ideas without the use of rhetoric, manipulation, or generalization. Foucault's use of parrhesia, he tells us, is troubled by our modern day Cartesian model of evidential necessity. For Descartes, truth is the same as the undeniable. Whatever can be doubted must be, and, thus, speech that is not examined or criticized does not necessarily have a valid relation to truth.
There are several conditions upon which the traditional Ancient Greek notion of parrhesia relies. One who uses parrhesia is only recognized as doing so if he or she holds a credible relationship to the truth, if he serves as critic to either himself or popular opinion or culture, if the revelation of this truth places him in a position of danger and he persists in speaking the truth, nevertheless, as he feels it is his moral, social, and/or political obligation. Further, in a public situation, a user of parrhesia must be in a social position less empowered than those to whom he is revealing.
Foucault (1983) sums up the Ancient Greek concept of parrhesia as such:
- "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." --Foucault, Fearless Speech
- "To summarize the foregoing, parrhesia is a kind of verbal activity where the speaker has a specific relation to truth through frankness, a certain relationship to his own life through danger, a certain type of relation to himself or other people through criticism (self-criticism or criticism of other people), and a specific relation to moral law through freedom and duty. More precisely, parrhesia is a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth, and risks his life because he recognizes truth-telling as a duty to improve or help other people (as well as himself). In parrhesia, the speaker uses his freedom and chooses frankness instead of persuasion, truth instead of falsehood or silence, the risk of death instead of life and security, criticism instead of flattery, and moral duty instead of self-interest and moral apathy."--Focault, Fearless Speech
Foucault (1984) sums up that:
- "The Parrhesiastes is the person who says everything. Thus, as an example, in his discourse "On the Embassy," Demosthenes says: It is necessary to speak with parrhesia, without holding back at anything without concealing anything. Similarly, in the "First Philippic," he takes up exactly the same term and says: I will tell you what I think without concealing anything." --Foucault The Concept of Truth