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The Courage of Truth (Michel Foucault: Lectures at the Collège de France) Paperback – 21 Apr 2011
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'In this, the final year of his lectures at the College de France, Michel Foucault reaches more deeply into the foundations of Western thought than ever. Emphasizing parrhesia, the ancient practice of speaking truth to power, he shows how it is a practice of the care of the self, and in so doing, demonstrates how the dictum 'know oneself' is only a part of our philosophical inheritance. This is an astonishing conclusion to the life's work of one of the twentieth century's greatest thinkers.' - Thomas Dumm, Amherst College, USA
'In his powerful final course of lectures, expertly edited by Frédéric Gros and sympathetically translated by Graham Burchell, Foucault provides an explicitly political focus to his work on parrhesia. He offers readings of a range of texts, of which those of the Apology and the Cynics are especially insightful. It is impossible to read these lectures without an eye to the links between his work and his life, but Foucault's focus remains on the material at hand and his long-running interest in the interrelations of truth, power and the subject.' - Stuart Elden, Durham University, UK
Original work by Foucault available in English for the first timeSee all Product description
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The sole requirement of membership in the faculty of the College de France was to give a series of lectures each year, and Foucault did so, giving lectures relating to the theme of history of systems of thought and to his current research. It is our good fortune that each of these lecture series were recorded and they are now in the process of being published. This review relates to the last series Foucault gave in 1983-1984, completed at the end of March, just months before his death in June 1984.
The title of this lecture series is The Courage of Truth, and it accurately reflects the subject of Foucault's lectures on this topic. The lecture series actually was a continuation of the series of lectures he had given the previous year on the government of self and others. These lectures were written at the same time Foucault was working on his last two books, The Use of Pleasure and The Care of the Self, and the lectures very nicely complement these two books.
The theme of the lectures and the books was the creation of subjectivity, how persons come to recognize themselves as individuals and act upon this understanding. Foucault's central concern in The Courage of Truth was the concept of *parrhesia*, translated as speaking forthrightly or boldly. Foucault took the term to mean to speak the truth of oneself. Foucault's remarkable erudition was on display as he first discussed in exquisite detail the meaning of parrhesia in the works of Plato, with particular attention to the Apology, Phaedo, Laches, and Alcibiades. Socrates was the central character of all these dialogues, and Plato used Socrates to tease out the meaning of parrhesia with his interlocutors.
The discussion of parrhesia in Plato's thought takes up about half of the book, and then Plato turns to the meaning of parrhesia for the Cynic school of philosophy in the Roman period. To be a Cynic in Roman times does not have the same meaning it does today, the belief that people's actions are guided purely by self-interest. Three basic principles guided the Cynical school of thought in the Roman period: virtue is the highest good, self-control is the best means of attaining virtue, and it was demeaning to subject oneself to any external authority.
Cynics during the Roman times were notorious for berating the public for their lack of virtue. This was how the Cynics practiced parrhesia, their courage of truth. Foucault closes this series of lectures with a single lecture on Christian ascetics. This material on the Cynics and the Christian ascetics is particularly welcome because it was never included in his final published works on the history of sexuality. We have only these lectures to suggest what might have been in those books had Foucault survived long enough to complete his studies.
The translation is excellent, and the text is perhaps Foucault's most readable work. Foucault's prose style in his published works could sometimes be difficult. These difficulties are lacking in his lectures. This text is more for the dedicated Foucault scholar than a general audience. Those wishing to read Foucault should probably begin with either Madness and Civilization or Discipline and Punish instead. Having read those books, then turning to the lectures given during the period he was conducting his research on those books would provide amplification of the ideas expressed in the lectures.
I will re-read it again soon, I am planning to write a paper on it.
A ,,sovereign life,, - said Foucault quoting and commenting Seneca- is ,,a life of assistance and help to others,,; and a life of providing personal and concrete exemples of courage and freedom (of speech). I view this course as a rare piece of important and original comments and problem-oriented methods in the study of Ancient Greek history and philosophy. Of course, Foucault problem-ized and experimented new ways of analyzing/inquiring the Ancient and Modern subject of truth.
Dr. Lucian Popescu, historian
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