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“And what I wanted to show you was that if Greek philosophy has raised the question of truth from the point of view of the criteria for true statements and sound reasoning, this same Greek philosophy has also raised the problem of truth from the point of view of truth-telling as an activity. It has raised questions like: Who is able to tell the truth? What are the moral, the ethical, and the spiritual conditions which entitle someone to present himself as, and to be considered as, a truth-teller? About what topics is it important to tell the truth? (About the world? About nature? About the city? About behavior? About man? ) What are the consequences of telling the truth? What are its anticipated positive effects for the city, for the city’s rulers, for the individual, etc.? And finally: what is the relation between the activity of truth-telling and the exercise of power, or should these activities be completely independent and kept separate? Are they separable, or do they require one another?”

Foucault, Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia, [6] Concluding Remarks

Parrhesia and Frankness

“The word ‘parrhesia’ then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. Whereas rhetoric provides the speaker with technical devices to help him prevail upon the minds of his audience (regardless of the rhetorician’s own opinion concerning what he says), in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people’s mind by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.”

[1] The Meaning of the Word “Parrhesia”

Parrhesia and Truth

“It would be interesting to compare Greek parrhesia with the modern (Cartesian) conception of evidence. For since Descartes, the coincidence between belief and truth is obtained in a certain (mental) evidential experience. For the Greeks, however, the coincidence between belief and truth does not take place in a (mental) experience, but in a verbal activity, namely, parrhesia. It appears that parrhesia, in his Greek sense, can no longer occur in our modern epistemological framework.

If there is a kind of “proof” of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous — different from what the majority believes— is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes. If we raise the question of how we can know whether someone is a truth-teller, we raise two questions. First, how is it that we can know whether some particular individual is a truth-teller; and secondly, how is it that the alleged parrhesiastes can be certain that what he believes is, in fact, truth. The first question — recognizing someone as a parrhesiastes — was a very important one in Greco-Roman society, and, as we shall see, was explicitly raised and discussed by Plutarch, Galen, and others. The second skeptical question, however, is a particularly modern one, which, I believe, is foreign to the Greeks.”


“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.”



“The personal account in some ways demands more of a reader than other forms of reportage, for he [sic] must read and then evaluate the author’s editorial commentary…A first person presence must be constantly evaluated by the reader.”

Tom Wolfe and E. W. Johnson, unpublished manuscript of The New Nonfiction

“This new form was grounded in a concrete setting and developed through the use of scene, dialogue, and point of view. The question-answer business was abandoned in favor of a less formal, more artistic presentation which was essentially a dramatization of fact in a technically-fictional framework.”

Tom Wolfe, “The New Interview,” unpublished manuscript


“21. Moore’s view really comes down to this: the concept ‘know’ is analogous to the concepts ‘believe,’ ‘surmise,’ ‘doubt,’ ‘be convinced’ in that the statement ‘I know…’ can’t be a mistake. And if that is so, then there can be an inference from such an utterance to the truth of an assertion. And here the form ‘I thought I knew’ is being overlooked.—But if this latter is inadmissible, then a mistake in the assertion must be logically impossible too. And Anyone who is acquainted with the language-game must realize this—an assurance from a reliable man that he knows cannot contribute anything.

“22. It would surely be remarkable if we had to believe the reliable person who says ‘I can’t be wrong’; or who says ‘I am not wrong’.

“24. The idealist’s question would be something like: ‘What right have I not to doubt the existence of my hands?’ (And to that the answer can’t be: I know that they exist.) But someone who asks such a question is overlooking the fact that a doubt about existence only works in a language-game. Hence, that we should first have to ask: what would such a doubt be like?, and don’t understand this straight off.

“30. When someone has made sure of something, he says: ‘Yes, the calculation is right’, but he did not infer that from his condition of certainty. One does not infer how things are from one’s own certainty. Certainty is as it were a tone of voice in which one declares how things are, but one does not infer from the tone of voice that one is justified.”

paragraphs from Wittgenstein, On Certainty