Parrhesia was first used in the ancient Greek literature (Euripides) towards the end of fifth century B.C to mean “speak out everything openly with courage and boldness” (Clarke, 2004). It also refers to the act of frankness in expression of one’s feelings devoid of any fear or favor through speech (Clarke, 2004). The three interchangeable forms of the word are parhessia, parrhesiazomai (verb) and parrhesiastes (one who says the truth). In Greek conceptualization, a philosopher simply acquires wisdom or knowledge but parrhesiastes do tell the truth honestly and critically. Basically, parrhesia is the rudimentary forms of critical philosophy. The concept of parrhesia has a number of elements as outlined below.
The first component of parrhesia is frankness. A parrhesiastes openly discloses everything from the mind to the audience. S/he strives to simplify his message to the audience using direct words and common expressions. Unlike technocrat rhetoricians, parrhesiastes uses the audience minds to show them his/her belief directly. Truth is the second element of parrhesia. It correlates to profound belief by criticizing and challenging several popular beliefs and practices. A speaker proves truthful by observing moral qualities in his/her speech if s/he demonstrates courage and confidence in his ideas.
Thirdly, a parrhesiastes must be ready to face danger in telling truth especially when it attacks the aristocratic authorities in their practices of injustice. In the process of revealing the truth, parrhesiastes takes a risk of meeting the wrath of the tyrants through possible execution and imprisonment. The courage fosters an ethical relationship to oneself as parrhesiastes exclusively tells truth without any fear. Additionally, criticism of the powerful authorities plays part in the political arena. According to Greeks, parrhesia only applies when a student criticizes his teacher but not when a man criticizes his child. Courage is a requirement needed to overcome the fear of danger involved in criticizing the powerful authority may use its powers to punish the critic.
Lastly, it is ethical to truthfully confront the authority over its weaknesses in order to liberate the entire society. After philosopher’s criticisms, the government or those is in authority will definitely realize their weaknesses and change for the better. As a result, the social lives of other people are improved.
Among the ancient parrhesiastes are Socrates and Martin Luther King. The former applied parrhesia in the idea of constructive tension where he felt that tension should be created in individuals’ minds so that they rise from the bondage of myths to reality. He emphasized on the need for gadflies to cause tension in the society to stop racism and prejudices which was then substituted with brotherhood and understanding. Similarly, the civil activist also used parrhesia in civil disobedience which led to academic freedom commonly found in educational institutions today.
Socrates equally applied various elements like truth and frankness as he told the Athenians about his accusers. “I do not know, men of Athens how many accusers affected you, as for me, I was almost carried away in spite of myself. So persuasively did they speak. And yet, hardly any of what they said is true.”
In conclusion, Luther King freed the minds of Americans to bring to an end racial discrimination between the whites and the blacks. He was also frank when he said that one who willingly accepts to be punished because of breaking the unjust laws in order to improve social life of the community is justified to do so. Apart from frankness, Martin and Socrates portrayed the other aspects of parrhesia throughout their lives.
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