Bert Olivier, Foucault and the courage of truth, Thought Leader, Mail and Guardian, 11 March 2016
The last course that Michel Foucault presented at the Collége de France in 1984, when he was already quite weak (he died in June of that year, and taught until March), was on The Courage of Truth – later published with that title (Palgrave Macmillan 2011; Kindle edition). Although I cannot do justice to it here, I would like to draw potential readers’ attention to its relevance for us today, in a difficult time that, in my view, is bound to get even more difficult at different levels of existence, particularly that of the ethical. Why, one might wonder. Simply because the prevailing ideology is uncompromising – either you support and affirm neoliberal tenets (conspicuous consumption, living on credit, ie in debt etc) or the economic system will “punish” you by making it impossible for you to live comfortably).
I believe that Foucault’s final legacy is to show receptive readers that one could learn from ancient Greek philosophy how to fashion oneself ethically (and aesthetically) into a person with an “ethos”, or moral integrity, through the practice of “truth-telling”, or “parrhesia”. Significantly, Foucault distinguishes here between the epistemological sense of truth and its “alethurgic” sense, that is, between the possibility of “true” knowledge and the ethical transformation of the subject through truth-telling techniques that bear on the relation of the subject with her- or himself and with others. Importantly, “alethurgy” cannot be equated with anything epistemological.