Speaking freely is considered an essential component of academic freedom and freedom of inquiry. Unfortunately, historically as well as currently, the right to speak freely has often resulted in polemics and disputes between scholars. But the entire purpose of frankness in speech, whether in the academic or the political realm, is to persuade the person or people addressed to adopt a particular course of action. The concept of frank speaking, or parrhesia, first appeared among the Greeks as a political virtue, one exercised among free men in the public assembly for the common good. But parrhesia also was prized in the more private arena of the philosophical schools, where it was associated with the art of moral guidance. The philosophers were united in regarding frank criticism as the mark of true friendship. The consensus among them appears to have been that frank criticism was best employed with sensitivity to the situation, privately in the context of the philosophical community, and with due attention to the abilities, vulnerabilities, and needs of the person being corrected, so that he or she might heed the advice given. Modern academics likewise should strive to express their frank opinions in a way that will commend their ideas to others, speaking freely in the explicit service of persuasion for the common good. When frankness is teamed with persuasion, academic freedom finds its true purpose, and this article recommends the long-forgotten concept of parrhesia as a means to these ends.

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