Truthfulness, risk, and trust in the late lectures of michel foucault

Nancy Luxon

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This article first examines those parrhesiastic ‘practices’ that permit the evaluation of the ethical disposition - that is, the moral and psychological traits that bear on pedagogical skill - required of an authority who claims to tell the truth. My analysis of Foucault’s model for truth-telling rests entirely on his unpublished lectures given at the College de France between 1982 and 1984. I seek to establish that the impossibility of trust, inherited from Discipline and Punish, drives Foucault’s later examination of parrhesia and the ethical disposition of those who speak with it. Parrhesia denotes both a particular category of speech, but also a set of practices that govern its usage. Foucault distinguishes it from other types of speech: from the flattery of a sophist, from the too-free flow of chatter, and from coercive persuasion and rhetoric.3 Yet, parrhesia is also more than verbal utterance; by Foucault’s reading it also encompasses a broad set of personalized ethical practices that construct relationships to oneself, to authority, and to truth: ‘The one who uses parrhesia, the parrhesiastes, is someone who says everything he has in mind: he does not hide anything, but opens his heart and mind completely to other people through his discourse… The word parrhesia, then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says’.4 So parrhesia is a particularly direct way of speaking, a speech ‘without ornament’,5 without pretense, a speech that aims at truthfulness rather than at persuasion or entertainment; such speech directly contradicts the elusive and illusive words of rhetoric.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationMichel Foucault
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781351917841
ISBN (Print)9780754628200
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© David Owen 2014.


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