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WALZER, Arthur E.

Winter 2013, 43:1, pages 1-21

Parrēsia, Foucault, and the Classical Rhetorical Tradition

Abstract:  In his last seminars, Michel Foucault analyzed parrÄ“sia (frank speech) in classical Greece and Rome, a subject also addressed by classical rhetoricians.  Foucault regards parrÄ“sia as an idealized modality of truth telling—unartful, sincere, courageous speech that tells an unwelcome truth to power. Aligning rhetoric with flattery, Foucault excludes rhetorical parrÄ“sia from his history of thought.  This essay offers an alternative analysis of parrÄ“sia from the perspective of classical rhetoric. Drawing especially on the comprehensive description in the Rhetorica Ad Herennium, this essay identifies within the classical tradition a feigned parrÄ“sia as well as a sincere one and a rhetorically artful parrÄ“sia as well as the unartful, bold one that Foucault favors.  Furthermore, the essay traces a genealogy that highlights changes in the practice of parrÄ“sia as the term is conceptualized in the context of friendship, at which point parrÄ“sia takes on an unmistakably rhetorical character.


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