Supplemental  Research  7













Essays of Montaigne  (Frame)








Origin…of the Moral Ideas  (Westermarck)








Primates and Philosophers  (authors)








Christianity and Morals  (Westermarck)








After Babel  (Steiner)








Translation, Linguistics, Culture  (Armstrong)








Lying  (Bok)








Ways of Lying  (Zagorin)








The Prevalence of Deceit  (Bailey)








On Bullshit  (Frankfurt)








A Pack of Lies  (Barnes)








Lies!  Lies!  Lies!  (Ford)








Concise Book of Lying  (Sullivan)








A History of Falsehood  (Campbell)








Erasmus of the Low Countries  (Tracy)








Truth and Honesty  (authors)








Atheism From the Reformation to the Enlightenment








Deism  (essay by Berman)







19.  (Nietzsche)











Some wonderments: 



1    The origins of a specific language, and, the religion that ensued (ensues).


2    The origins, and, uses of lying; which, tend to neutralize verbal and literary investigations. 


3    Ignorance and lack of experience, are common; add:  ego, denial, lying, dissimulation, "bluff and bullshit", etc. 


      Should those interested in Science, Freethought, Free speaking, Free writing, commonly, bother to Talk?  Write?  Argue?  [see 760; etc.].


_____     _____     _____






from:  The Complete Essays of Montaigne, translated by Donald M. Frame, Stanford University Press, 1966 (c1948) (1580).  [I (LS) bought this book, 1968 (probably at the well known San Francisco book store:  "City Lights"), when I was a dental student (U.C. San Francisco).  I made marginal comments.  Still (2007), a great favorite].



"9  Of Liars"  [21]


"….I have a fine lad of a tailor whom I have never heard speak a single truth, not even one that is right there ready to serve his advantage.


            If falsehood, like truth, had only one face, we would be in better shape.  For we would take as certain the opposite of what the liar said.  But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand shapes and limitless field.  The Pythagoreans make out the good to be certain and finite, evil infinite and uncertain.  A thousand paths miss the target, one goes to it.


            Truly I am not sure that I could bring myself to ward off even an evident and extreme danger by a shameless and solemn lie.  An ancient Church Father [Saint Augustine] says that we are better off in the company of a dog we know than in that of a man whose language we do not know.  So that to man a foreigner is not like a man [Pliny].  And how much less sociable is false speech than silence."  [24].



"17  Of presumption"  [478]


            "Aristotle considers it the function of magnanimity to hate and love openly, to judge, to speak with complete frankness, and to have no regard for the approbation or reprobation of others in comparison with truth.  AApollonius said that it was for slaves to lie, and for free men to speak truth.


            CTruth is the first and fundamental part of virtue.  We must love it for itself.  He who tells the truth because he has some external obligation to do so and because it serves him, and who does not fear to tell a lie when it is not important to anybody, is not sufficiently truthful.


            My soul by nature shuns lying and hates even to think a lie.  I feel an inward shame and a stinging remorse if one escapes me, as sometimes it does, for occasions surprise me and move me unpremeditatedly.






            AWe must not always say everything, for that would be folly; but what we say must be what we think; otherwise it is wickedness.  I do not know what people expect to gain by incessant feigning and dissimulating, unless it is not to be believed even when they speak truth.  That may deceive people once or twice; but to make a profession of covering up, and to boast, as some of our princes have done, that they would throw their shirt in the fire if it were privy to their real intentions (which is a saying of the ancient Metellus of Macedon [died 115 B.C.E.], and that a man who does not know how to dissemble does not know how to rule—this is warning those who have to deal with them that all they say is nothing but deceit and lies.  CThe more artful and cunning a man is, the more he is hated and suspected when he loses his reputation for honesty [Cicero 106 – 43 B.C.E.].  AIt would be very naïve for a man to let himself be taken in by either the face or the words of one who takes pride in being always different outside and inside, as Tiberius [Roman Emperor 14 – 37 C.E. (42 B.C.E. – 37 C.E.)] did; and I do not know what part such people can have in human dealings, since they never offer anything that is accepted as good money.  BHe who is disloyal to truth is also disloyal to falsehood…."  [491].



"18  Of giving the lie"  ["503"]


            "ALying is an ugly vice, which an ancient [who?] paints in most shameful colors when he says that it is giving evidence of contempt for God, and at the same time of fear of men.  It is not possible to represent more vividly the horror, the vileness, and the profligacy of it.  For what can you imagine uglier than being a coward toward men and bold toward God?  Since mutual understanding is brought about solely by way of words,


he who breaks his word betrays human society.  It is the only instrument by means of which our wills and thoughts communicate, it is the interpreter of our soul.  If it fails us, we have no more hold on each other, no more knowledge of each other.  If it deceives us, it breaks up all our relations and dissolves all the bonds of our society."  [505].


l l l l l






from:  The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, by Edward Westermarck [1862 – 1939] Ph.D., Martin White Professor of Sociology in the University of London, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Finland, Helsingfors, Author of "The History of Human Marriage", In Two Volumes, Vol. II, Macmillan and Co., Limited, St. Martin's Street, London, 1908 (1906 – 1908).







            The regard for truth implies in the first place that we ought to abstain from lying, that is, a willful misrepresentation of facts, by word or deed, with the intention of producing a false belief.  Closely connected with this duty is that of good faith or fidelity to promises, which requires that we should make facts correspond with our emphatic assertions as to our conduct in the future.  Within certain limits these duties seem to be universally recognised, though the censure passed on the transgressor varies extremely in degree.  But there are also many cases in which untruthfulness and bad faith are looked upon with indifference, or even held laudable or obligatory.


            Various uncivilised races are conspicuous for their great regard for truth; of some savages it is said that not even the most trying circumstances can induce them to tell a lie.  Among others, again, falsehood is found to be a prevailing vice and the successful lie a matter of popular admiration."  ["72"].



"….The Wakamba [were porters for my (LS) group, Loita Hills, Kenya, 1972] are described as great liars.11"  [81].


            [footnote] "11Krapf, Travels in Eastern Africa, p. 335."  [81].



            'Various statements of travellers thus directly contradict the common opinion that want of truthfulness is mostly a characteristic of uncivilised races.5  And we have much reason to assume that a foreigner visiting a savage tribe is apt rather to underrate than to overestimate its veracity.  Mr. Savage Landor gives us a curious insight into an explorer's method of testing it.  "If you were to say to an Ainu, 'You are old, are you not?' he would answer 'Yes'; but if you asked the same man, 'You are not old, are you?' he would equally answer 'Yes.'"  And then comes the conclusion:—"Knowingly speaking the truth is not one of their characteristics; indeed, they [Ainu] do not know the difference between






falsehood and truth,"1  It is hardly surprising to hear from other authorities that the Ainu are remarkably honest, and regard veracity as one of the most imperative duties.2'  [86-87].



            'The Touareg, whilst scrupulously faithful to a promise given to one of their own people, do not regard as binding a promise given to a Christian;2 and their Arab neighbours say that their word, "like water fallen on the sand, is never to be found again."3  The Masai, according to Herr Merker, hold any kind of deceit to be allowable in their relations with persons of another race.4  The Hovas of Madagascar even considered it a duty for anyone speaking with foreigners on political matters to state the exact opposite to the truth, and punished him who did otherwise.5'  [88].



            'Lying has been called the national vice of the Hindus.9  "It is not too much to assert that the mass of Bengalis have no notion of truth and falsehood."10'  [89].



            'The Homeric poems make us acquainted with gods and men who have recourse to fraud and lying whenever it suits their purpose.8  The great Zeus makes no difficulty in sending a lying dream to Agamemnon.  Pallas Athene is guilty of gross deceit and treachery to Hector; she expressly recommends dissimulation, and loves Odysseus on account of his deceitful character.1  No man deals more in feigned stories than this master of cunning, who makes a boast of his falsehood.2  In the period which lies between the Homeric age and the Persian wars veracity made perhaps some progress among the Greeks,3 but it never became one of their national virtues.4  Yet in the Greek literature deceit is frequently condemned as a vice, and truthfulness praised as a virtue.5  Achilles expresses his horror of lying.6  "Not to tell a lie," was one of the maxims of Solon.7  Pindar strongly censures a character like that of Odysseus,8 and ends up his eulogy on Psaumis by the assurance that he never would contaminate his speech with a lie.9  According to Pythagoras, men become like gods when they speak the truth.10  According to Plato, the habit of lying makes the soul ugly11; "truth is the beginning of every good thing, both to gods and men."12  Yet a distinction should be made between different kinds of untruth….  [94-95].



            'Not without reason did the Romans of the republican age contrast their own fides with the mendacity of the Greeks and the perfidy of the Phoenicians.  "The goddess of faith (of human and social faith)," says Gibbon, "was worshipped, not only in her temples, but in the lives of the Romans; and if






that nation was deficient in the more amiable qualities of benevolence and generosity, they astonished the Greeks by their sincere and simple performance of the most burdensome engagements."3  Their annals are adorned with signal examples of uprightness, which, though to a great extent fictitious, yet bear testimony to the estimation in which that quality was held.4  The Greeks had no Regulus who "chose to deliver himself up to a cruel death rather than to falsify his word to the enemy."5  The basest forms of falsehood were severely punished by law.  According to the Twelve Tables [Roman law, c. 450 B.C.E.], anyone who had slandered or libeled another by imputing to him a wrongful or immoral act, was to be scourged to death,6 and capital punishment was also inflicted on false witnesses7 and corrupt judges.8  However, already before the end of the Republic dishonesty, perjuries, and forgeries became common in Rome.9'  [96].



            "In the Old Testament there are recorded, from the patriarchal age, some cases of lying, which, far from being condemned, in no way prevented the liar being a special object of divine favour….It is obvious that the ancient Hebrews did not condemn deceit as wrong in the abstract, and that they were very unscrupulous in the use of means.  Whenever David was threatened by any danger, he immediately employed a falsehood which served his turn; though not incapable of generosity, he deceived enemies and friends indifferently, and there is probably no record of treachery and lying consistently pursued which surpasses in baseness his affair with his faithful servant Uriah the Hittite.1  It is true that his conduct towards Uriah was condemned; "the thing that David had done displeased the Lord."2  But it is significant that Yahveh [via his authors] himself occasionally had recourse to deceit for the purpose of carrying out his plans.  In order to ruin Ahab he commissioned a lying spirit to deceive his prophets;3 and once he threatened to use deception as a means of taking revenge upon idolaters.4  But to bear false witness against a neighbour was strictly prohibited;5 the false witness should suffer the punishment which he was minded to bring upon the person whom he calumniated.6  In Ecclesiasticus lying is severely censured:  —"A lie is a foul blot in a man, yet it is continually in the mouth of the untaught.  A thief is better than a man that is accustomed to lie:  but they both shall have destruction to heritage.  The disposition of a liar is dishonourable, and his shame is ever with him."7  "Lying lips are abomination to the Lord:  but they that deal truly are his delight."8  According to the Talmud, "four shall not enter Paradise:  the scoffer, the liar, the hypocrite, and the slanderer."9  Only for the sake of peace, and especially domestic peace, may a man tell a lie without sinning;10 but he who changes his word commits as heavy a sin as he who worships idols.11  The duty of truthfulness was particularly emphasized by the Essenes.12  He who entered their sect had to pledge himself always to love truth and strive to reclaim all liars.1  "They are eminent for fidelity,"






says Josephus.  "Whatsoever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by them, and they esteem it worse than perjury; for they say that he who cannot be believed without [swearing by] God is already condemned [I (LS), of course, agree!]."2'  [97-99]. 



            '"Speak every man truth with his neighbour,"3 ["3 Ephesians, iv. 25."  [99]] was from early times regarded as one of the most imperative of Christian maxims.4  According to St. Augustine, a lie is not permissible even when told with a view to saving the life of a neighbour; "since by lying eternal life is lost, never for any man's temporal life must a lie be told."5  Yet all lies are not equally sinful; the degree of sinfulness depends on the mind of the liar and on the nature of the subject on which the lie is told.6  This became the authorized doctrine of the Church.7  Thomas Aquinas says that, although lying is always sinful, it is not a mortal sin if the end intended be not contrary to charity, "as appears in a jocose lie, that is intended to create some slight amusement, and in an officious lie, in which is intended even the advantage of our neighbour."8  Yet from early times we meet within the Christian Church a much less rigorous doctrine, which soon came to exercise a more powerful influence on the practice and feelings of men than did St. Augustine's uncompromising love of truth.  The Greek Fathers maintained that an untruth is not a lie when there is a "just cause" for it; and as a just cause they regarded not only self-defence, but also zeal for God's honour.1  This zeal, together with an indiscriminate devotion to the Church, led to those "pious frauds," those innumerable falsifications of documents, inventions of legends, and forgeries of every description, which made the Catholic Church a veritable seat of lying, and most seriously impaired the sense of truth in the minds of Christians.2  By a fiction [, the] Papacy, as a divine institution, was traced back to the age of the Apostles, and in virtue of another fiction Constantine was alleged to have abdicated his imperial authority in Italy in favour of the successor of St. Peter.3  The Bishop of Rome assumed the privilege of disengaging men from their oaths and promises.  An oath which was contrary to the good of the Church was declared not to be binding.4  The theory was laid down that, as faith was not to be kept with a tyrant, pirate, or robber, who kills the body, it was still less to be kept with an heretic, who kills the soul.5  Private protestations were thought sufficient to relieve men in conscience from being bound by a solemn treaty or from the duty of speaking the truth; and an equivocation, or play upon words in which one sense is taken by the speaker and another sense intended by him for the hearer, was in some cases held permissible.6  According to Alfonso de' Liguori—who lived in the eighteenth century and was beatified in the nineteenth, and whose writings were declared by high authority not to contain a word that could be justly found fault with,7—there are three sorts of equivocation which may be employed for a good reason, even with the addition of a solemn oath.  We are allowed to use ambiguously words






having two senses, as the word volo, which means both to "wish" and to "fly"; sentences bearing two main meanings, as "This book is Peter's," which may mean either that the book belongs to Peter or that Peter is the author of it; words having two senses; one more common than the other or one literal and the other metaphorical—for instance, if a man is asked about something which it is in his interest to conceal, he may answer, "No, I say," that is "I say the word 'no.'"1  As for mental restrictions, again such as are "purely mental," and on that account cannot in any manner be discovered by other persons, are not permissible; but we may, for a good reason, make use of a "non-pure mental restriction," which, in the nature of things, is discoverable, although it is not discovered by the person with whom we are dealing.2  Thus it would be wrong secretly to insert the word "no" in an affirmative oath without any external sign; but it would not be wrong to insert it in a whispering voice or under the cover of a cough.  The "good reason" for which equivocations and non-pure mental restrictions may be employed is defined as "any honest object, such as keeping our goods spiritual or temporal."3  In support of this casuistry it is uniformly said by Catholic apologists that each man has a right to act upon the defensive, that he has a right to keep guard over the knowledge which he possesses in the same way as he may defend his goods; and as for there being any deceit in the matter—why, soldiers use stratagems in war, and opponents use feints in fencing.4'  [99-101].



"Treaties between nations and promises given by one state to another, either in war or peace, are hardly meant to be kept longer than it is convenient to keep them. 


And when an excuse for the breach of faith is felt necessary, that excuse itself is generally a lie."  [compare:  marriage vows, etc.] [108] [end of Chapter XXX].


_____     _____     _____






from:  Primates and Philosophers, How Morality Evolved, Frans de Waal, Robert Wright, Christine M. Korsgaard, Philip Kitcher, Peter Singer, edited and introduced by Stephen Macedo and Josiah Ober, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, c2006.





Edward Westermarck, a Swedish Finn who lived from 1862 until 1939, deserves a central position in any debate about the origin of morality, since he was the first scholar to promote an integrated view including both humans and animals and both culture and evolution.  That his ideas were underappreciated during his lifetime is understandable, because they flew in the face of the Western dualistic tradition that pits body against mind and culture against instinct.


            Westermarck's books are a curious blend of dry theorizing, detailed anthropology, and secondhand animal stories.  The author was eager to connect human and animal behavior, but his own work focused entirely on people.  Since at the time little systematic research on animal behavior existed, he had to rely on anecdotes, such as the one of a vengeful camel that had been excessively beaten on multiple occasions by a fourteen-year-old camel driver for loitering or turning the wrong way.  The camel passively took the punishment; but a few days later, finding itself unladen alone on the road with the same driver, "seized the unlucky boy's head in its monstrous mouth, and lifting him up in the air flung him down again on the earth with the upper part of the skull completely torn off, and his brains scattered on the ground" (Westermarck 1912 [1908]:38)…."  [17].


l l l l l






from:  Christianity and Morals, by Edward Westermarck [1862 – 1939], Books for Libraries Press, 1969 (1939).






























THE ETHICS OF JESUS (concluded)….




















































































INDEX OF PERSONS, pp. 413–22.

INDEX OF SUBJECTS, pp. 423–7."  [v-xiii].







LIFE"  [214]


            'According to Erasmus, "nothing is more impious, more calamitous, more widely pernicious, more inveterate, more base, or in sum more unworthy of a man, not to say of a Christian," than war.  It is worse than brutal; to man no wild beast is more destructive than his fellow-man.  When brutes fight, they fight with weapons which nature has given them, whereas we arm ourselves for mutual slaughter with weapons which nature never thought of.  Neither do beasts break out in hostile rage for trifling causes, but either when hunger drives them to madness, or when they find themselves attacked, or when they are alarmed for the safety of their young.  But we, on frivolous pretences,






what tragedies do we act on the theatre of war!  Under colour of some obsolete and disputable claim to territory; in a childish passion for a mistress; for causes even more ridiculous than these, we kindle the flame of war.  Transactions truly hellish are called holy wars.  Bishops and grave divines, decrepit as they are in person, fight from the pulpit the battles of the princes, promising remission of sins to all who will take part in the war of the prince, and exclaiming to the latter that God will fight for him, if he only keeps his mind favourable to the cause of religion.  And yet, how could it ever enter into our hearts, that a Christian should imbrue [stain] his hands in the blood of a Christian!  What is war but murder and theft committed by great numbers on great numbers!  Does not the gospel declare in decisive words that we must not revile again those who revile us, that we should do good to those who use us ill, that we should give up the whole of our possessions to those who take a part, that we should pray for those who design to take away our lives?  


"The man who engages in war by choice, that man, whoever he is, is a wicked man; he sins against nature, against God, against man, and is guilty of the most aggravated and complicated impiety."2'  ["2Erasmus, Adagia (Coloniae Allobrogrum, 1612), iv. 1, col. 893 sqq."  [230]] [230].



            'It is significant that the protest against war which has, presumably, exercised the widest influence on public opinion, came from a school of moralists whose tendencies were not only anti-orthodox, but distinctly hostile to the most essential dogmas of Christian theology.  Bayle, in his 'Dictionary [see 314, 769],' calls Erasmus' essay against war one of the most beautiful dissertations ever written.2  He observes that the more we consider the inevitable consequences of war, the more we feel disposed to detest those who are the causes of it.3  Its usual fruits may, indeed, "make those tremble who undertake or advise it, to prevent evils which, perhaps, may never happen and which, at the worst, would often be much less than those which necessarily follow a rupture."4  To Voltaire war is an "infernal enterprise," the strangest feature of which is that "every chief of the ruffians has his colours consecrated, and solemnly prays to God before he goes to destroy his neighbour."5  He asks what the Church has done to suppress this crime.  Bourdaloue preached against impurity, but what sermon did he ever direct against the murder, rapine, brigandage, and universal rage, which desolate the world?  "Miserable physicians of souls, you declaim for five quarters of an hour against the mere pricks of a pin, and say no word on the curse which tears us into a thousand pieces."6  Voltaire admits that in certain circumstances war is an inevitable curse, but rebukes Montesquieu for saying that natural defence sometimes involves the necessity of attack, when a nation perceives that a 






longer peace would place another nation in a position to destroy it.1  Such a war, he [Voltaire] argues, is as illegitimate as possible.  "It is to go and kill your neighbour for fear that your neighbour, who does not attack you, should be in a condition to attack you; that is to say, you must run the risk of ruining your country, in the hope of ruining without reason some other country; this is, to be sure, neither fair nor useful."2  The chief causes which induce men to massacre in all loyalty thousands of their brothers and to expose their own people to the most terrible misery, are the ambitions and jealousies of princes and their ministers.3  Similar views are expressed in the great 'Encyclopédie.'  "La guerre est le plus terrible des fléaux qui détruisent l' espèce humaine:  elle n' épargne pas même les vainqueurs; la plus heureuse est funeste….  Ce ne sont plus aujourd'—hui les peuples qui déclarent la guerre, c'est la cupidité des rois qui leur fait prendre les armes; c'est l' indigence qui les met aux mains de leurs sujets."4


            However vehemently Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists condemned war, they did not dream of a time when all wars would cease.  Other writers were more optimistic.  In the early part of the eighteenth century Abbé Saint-Pierre—whose abbotship involved only a nominal connection with the Church—published a project of perpetual peace, which was based on the idea of a general confederation of European nations.5  This project was much laughed at; Voltaire himself calls it author "un homme moitié fou."  But once called into being, the idea of a perpetual peace and of a European confederation did not die.  It was successively conceived by Rousseau,6 Bentham,7 and Kant.8  But on the other hand it met with a formidable enemy in the awakening spirit of nationalism.'  [232-233].


            [footnotes (this page (683))]


            "1  Montesquieu, De l'esprit des lois, x. 2 (Oeuvres [Paris, 1837], p. 256).

            2   Voltaire, op. cit. xl. 565.

            3   Ibid.  pp. 466, 564.

            4  Encyclopédie méthodique, Art militaire, ii, 618 sq.

            5  Saint-Pierre, Projet de Traité pour render la paix perpétuelle entre les

               souverains Chrétiens.

            6  Rousseau, Extrait du Projet de paix perpétuelle, de M. l' Abbé de Saint-

               Pierre (Oeuvres completes, i [Paris, 1837], p. 606 sqq.).

            7  J. Bentham, A Plan for an universal and perpetual Peace (Works, ii

               Edinburgh, 1843], p. 546 sqq.).

            8  Kant, Zum ewigen Frieden."  [233].










            In the New Testament there are several passages condemning lying.  According to the Apocalypse, "whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" may not enter the heavenly city,1 but "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone."2  In the Epistle to the Ephesians it is said:  "Putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour:  for we are members one of another."3  Paul wrote to the Colossians:  "Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds."4  In his first letter to the Corinthians, however, he describes himself as something of a hypocrite:5 "Unto the Jews I became as a Jew, That I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law.  To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak:  I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you."6


            According to Augustine, a lie is always and necessarily sinful; it is not permissible even when told with a view to saving the life of a neighbour, "since by lying eternal life is lost, never for any man's temporal life must a lie be told."7  Yet all lies are not equally sinful:  the degree of sinfulness depends on the mind of the liar and on the nature of the subject on which the lie is told.8'  [307].




            "1 Revelation xxii. 15.

            2  Ibid.  xxi. 8.

            3  Ephesians iv. 25.

            4  Colossians iii. 9.

            5  Cf. A. Nygren, Urkristendom och reformation (Lund, 1932), p. 149.

            6  1 Corinthians ix. 20–3.

            7  Augustine, De mendacio, 6.

            8  Idem, Enchiridion¸18; idem, De mendacio, 21.  For Augustine's views on

               lying see also his treatise Contra mendacium, addressed to Consentius

               (Migne, Patrologiae cursus, xl. 517 sqq.)."  [307].


l l l l l






from:  After Babel, Aspects of Language and Translation, George Steiner, third Edition, Oxford University Press, 1998 (1975).



"Chapter Two




            "….Under pressure of his extraordinary vision and emotional awareness of the life-giving, life-determining powers of language, Humboldt [Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt 1769 – 1859] advances the idea that language can be adverse to man.  So far as I am aware, no one before him had seen this point, and even now we have hardly grasped its implications.  Humboldt's statement is arresting:  'Denn so innerlich auch die Sprache durchaus ist, so hat sie dennoch zugleich ein unabhängiges, äusseres, gegen den Menschen selbst Gewalt ausübendes Dasein' ('Albeit language is wholly inward, it nevertheless possesses at the same time an autonomous, external identity and being which does violence to man himself').  Language makes man at home in the world, 'but it also has the power to alienate'.  Informed by energies proper to itself, more comprehensive and timeless than any who make use of it, human speech can raise barriers between man and nature.  It can bend the mirrors of consciousness and of dreams.  There is a phenomenon of linguistic Entfremdung inseparable from the creative genius of the word.  The term is Humboldt's, and the insight it expresses is of vital relevance to a theory of translation.


            Ueber die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues (particularly sections 19 and 20) is crowded with linguistic conjectures of prophetic brilliance.  Man walks erect not because of some ancestral reaching out towards fruit or branch, but because discourse, die Rede, 'would not be muffled and made dumb by the ground'.  More than a century before the modern structuralists, Humboldt notes the distinctive binary character of he linguistic process:  it shares, it mediates between, the crucial antinomies of inner and outer, subjective and objective, past and future, private and public.  Language is far more than communication between speakers.  It is dynamic mediation between those poles of cognition which give human experience its underlying dual and dialectical form.  Here Humboldt clearly anticipates both C.K. Ogden's theory of opposition and the binary structuralism of Lévi-Strauss.


            From this wide range of argument, I want to select those points which are immediate to our theme:  the multiplicity of human tongues and the relations between Weltansicht and Wort.






            'The bringing forth of language is an inner necessity for mankind.'  It is, moreover, in the nature of 'spirit' to seek to realize, to energize into conscious being, all modes of possible experience.  This is the true cause of the immense variety of speech forms.  Each is a foray into the total potentiality of the world.  'Jede Sprache', writes Humboldt, 'ist ein Versuch.'  It is a trial, an assay.  It generates a complex structure of human understanding and response and tests the vitality, the discriminatory range, the inventive resources of that structure against the limitless potential of being.  Even the noblest language is only ein Versuch and will remain ontologically incomplete.  On the other hand, no language however primitive will fail to actualize, up to a point, the inner needs of a community.  Humboldt is convinced that different tongues provide very different intensities of response to life; he is certain that different languages penetrate to different depths.  He takes over Schlegel's classification of 'higher' and 'lower' grammars.  Inflection is far superior to agglutination.  The latter is the more rudimentary mode, a Naturlaut.  Inflection allows and compels a far subtler, more dynamic treatment of action.  It makes qualitative perception more acute and conduces necessarily to a more developed articulation (i.e. realization) of abstract relations.  To pass from an agglutinate to an inflected tongue is to translate experience 'upward'.


            Humboldt now sets out to perform the crucial experiment.  He applies his theory of the reciprocal determinations of language and world-view to specific cases.  He seeks to show how Greek and Latin respectively determine particular ethnic, national aggregates of feeling.  He would demonstrate that these two great idioms produced contrasting structures of civilization and social reflex.  The argument is intelligently set out and gives proof of Humboldt's at-homeness in classical philology and literature.  But it falls unquestionably short of its theoretic aim and promise.


            The Greek tone is light, delicate, nuancé.  Attic civilization is incomparably inventive of intellectual and plastic forms.  These virtues are engendered by and reflected in the precisions and shadings of Greek grammar.  Few other languages have cast so finely-woven a net over the currents of life.  At the same time, there is that in Greek syntax which helps explain the divisive quality of Greek politics, the excessive trust in rhetoric, the virtuosities of falsehood which sophisticate and corrode the affairs of the polis. 


Latin offers a grave contrast.  The stern, masculine, laconic tenor of Roman culture is exactly correlate with the Latin language, with its sobriety, even paucity, of syntactic invention and Lautformung.  The lettering of a Latin






inscription is perfectly expressive of the linear, monumental weight of the language.  Both are the active mould of the Roman way of life.


            Humboldt's argument is circular.  Civilization is uniquely and specifically informed by its language; the language is the unique and specific matrix of its civilization.  The one proposition is used to demonstrate the other and vice versa.  Knowing the Greeks to have been one thing and the Romans another, we argue back to linguistic differences.  In what way do aorist and optative help or fail to account for the indiscriminate bluntness of Spartan life?  Can we discern modulations in the ablative absolute as Rome passes from Republican to Augustan Latin?  Post hoc and propter hoc [remember? "Post hoc ergo propter hoc."  (After this, therefore because of this)] are inevitably blurred.  Humboldt's summarizing statement is eloquent, but also self-betraying in its lofty indistinction. 


Different languages engender different spiritual constructs of reality:


'der dadurch hervorgebrachte verschiedene Geist schwebt, wie ein leiser Hauch, über dem Ganzen' ('the differing Spirit thus produced hovers, like a silent breath, over the whole').  Having identified Sprache with Geist (Hegel's vocabulary is exactly contemporary with his own), Humboldt must conclude in this way.  But having stated, at the outset, that this identification is, in the final analysis, inexplicable, he cannot use it to enforce demonstrable proof.  His conviction remains fundamentally intuitive.  For all its philosophic reach and sensibility to linguistic values, moreover, Humboldt's position is not fully worked out. The essential argument is 'monadist' or relativist, but a universalist tendency can also be found.  Hence the lack of final incisiveness in Humboldt's key terms, 'structure of language' and 'structures determined by a particular language'.  There is no doubt that these terms infer a wide range of example and historical evidence.  But pressed home, they turn into metaphors, into shorthand formulations of the romantic criterion of organic life, rather than into verifiable concepts.  Given the mystery at the core of the relations between 'Language' and 'Spirit', it could hardly be otherwise.


            It has been said that the line from Herder and Humboldt to Benjamin Lee Whorf is unbroken.1  Intellectually this is so.  The actual history of linguistic relativity leads via the work of Steinthal (the editor of Humboldt's fragmentary texts) to the anthropology of Franz Boas.  From there it reaches the ethno-linguistics of Sapir and Whorf.  One can summarize that history as being an attempt to provide Humboldt's intuitions with a solid basis of semantic and anthropological fact.  Much of the argument is developed in Germany.  Nor is this surprising.  The first true Germany was that of Luther's vernacular. 






Gradually the German language created those modes of shared sensibility from which the nation-state could evolve.  When that state entered modern history, a late arrival burdened with myths and surrounded by an alien, partially hostile Europe, it carried with it a sharpened, defensive sense of unique perspective.  To the German temper, its own Weltansicht seemed a special vision, whose foundations and expressive genius lay in the language.  Reflecting on the drastic extremes of German history, on the apparently fatal attempts of the German nation to break out of the ring of more urbane or, in the east, more primitive and menacing cultures, German philosophers of history thought of their language as a peculiarly isolating yet also numinous factor.  Other nations could not feel their way into its arcane depths.  But great springs of renewal and metaphysical discovery would surge from what Schiller called die verborgenen Tiefen.' 




"Chapter Three




"Gods and chosen mortals can be virtuosos of mendacity, contrivers of elaborate untruths for the sake of the verbal craft (a key, slippery term) and intellectual energy involved.  The classical world was only too ready to document the fact that the Greeks took an aesthetic or sporting view of lying.  A very ancient conception of the vitality of 'mis-statement' and 'mis-understanding', of the primordial affinities between language and dubious meaning, seems implicit in the notorious style of Greek oracles.  In the Hippias minor Socrates enforces an opinion which is exactly antithetical to that of Augustine.  'The false are powerful and prudent and knowing and wise in those things about which they are false.'  The dialogue fits only awkwardly in the canon and its purpose may have been purely 'demonstrative' or ironically a contrario.  None the less, Socrates' case stands:  the man who utters falsehood intentionally is to be preferred to the one who lies inadvertently or involuntarily.  In the Hippias minor, the topic is referred to what was probably an allegoric commonplace, to a comparison between Achilles and Odysseus. The effect is, at best, ambivalent.  'For I hate him like the gates of death who thinks one thing and says another,' declares Achilles in Book IX of the Iliad.  Opposed to him stands Odysseus, 'master deceiver among mortals'.  In the balance of the myth it is Odysseus who prevails; neither intellect nor creation attenuate Achilles' raucous simplicity.


            In short, a seminal, profound intuition of the creativity of falsehood, an awareness of the organic intimacy between the genius of speech and that of fiction, of 'saying the thing which is not', can be traced in various aspects of






Greek mythology, ethics, and poetics.  Gulliver's equation of the function of language with the reception of 'Information of Facts' is, by Socratic standards, arbitrary and naïve.  This 'polysemic' awareness survives in Byzantine rhetoric and in the frequent allusions of Byzantine theology to the duplicities, to the inherently 'misguiding' texture of human speech when it would seek the 'true light'.  But from Stoicism and early Christianity onward, 'feigning', whose etymology is so deeply grounded in 'shaping' (fingere), has been in very bad odour."  [230-231].



            "Linguistics and psychologists (Nietzsche expected) have done little to explore the ubiquitous, many-branched genus of lies.1  We have only a few preliminary surveys of the vocabulary of falsehood in different languages and cultures.2  Constrained as they are by moral disapproval or psychological malaise, these inquiries have remained thin.  We will see deeper only when we break free of a purely negative classification of 'un-truth', only when we recognize the compulsion to say 'the thing which is not' as being central to language and mind.  We must come to grasp what Nietzsche meant when he proclaimed that 'the Lie—and not the Truth—is divine!'"  [232].



"'We invent for ourselves the major part of experience,' says Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil ('wir erdichten…' signifying 'to create fictionally', 'to render dense and coherent through poiesis').  Or as he puts it in Morgenröte, man's genius is one of lies."  [233].



            "Can we particularize T.S. Eliot's finding that mankind will only endure small doses of reality?  Anthropology, myth, psychoanalysis preserve dim  vestiges of the ancient shock man suffered at his discovery of the universality and routine of death.  Uniquely, one conjectures, among animal species, we cultivate inside us, we conceptualize and prefigure the enigmatic terror of our own personal extinction. 


It is only imperfectly, by dint of strenuous inattention, that we bear the knowledge of that finale.  


I have suggested that the grammars of the future tense, of conditionality, of imaginary open-endedness are essential to the sanity of consciousness and to the intuitions of forward motion which animate history.  One can go further.  It is unlikely that man, as we know him, would have survived without the fictive, counter-factual, anti-determinist means of language, without the semantic capacity, generated and stored in the 'superfluous' zones of the cortex,






to conceive of, to articulate possibilities beyond the treadmill of organic decay and death. 


It is in this respect that human tongues, with their conspicuous consumption of subjunctive, future, and optative forms are a decisive evolutionary advantage.  Through them we proceed in a substantive illusion of freedom. Man's sensibility endures and transcends the brevity, the haphazard ravages, the physiological programming of individual life because the semantically coded responses of the mind are constantly broader, freer, more inventive than the demands and stimulus of the material fact.  'There is only one world,' proclaims Nietzsche in the Will to Power, 'and that world is false, cruel, contradictory, misleading, senseless….  We need lies to vanquish this reality, this "truth", we need lies in order to live….  That lying is a necessity of life is itself a part of the terrifying and problematic character of existence [could the "Übermensch" ("Superman" (see of Nietzsche, avoid these human conditions?].'  Through un-truth, through counter-factuality, man 'violates' (vergewaltigt) an absurd, confining reality; and his ability to do so is at every point artistic, creative (ein Künstler-Vermögen).  We secrete from within ourselves the grammar, the mythologies of hope, of fantasy, of self-deception without which we would have been arrested at some rung of primate behaviour or would, long since, have destroyed ourselves.  It is our syntax, not the physiology of the body or the thermodynamics of the planetary system, which is full of tomorrows.  Indeed, this may be the only area of 'free will', of assertion outside direct neurochemical causation or programming. 


We speak, we dream ourselves free of the organic trap. 


Ibsen's phrase pulls together the whole evolutionary argument:  man lives, he progresses by virtue of 'the Life-Lie'."  [237-238].






"AFTERWORD"  [495]


"I have put forward the hypothesis that the proliferation of mutually incomprehensible tongues stems from an absolutely fundamental impulse in language itself.  I believe that the communication of information, of ostensive and verifiable 'facts', constitutes only one part, and perhaps a secondary part, of human discourse.  The potentials of fiction, of counterfactuality, of undecidable futurity profoundly characterize both the origins and nature of speech.  They differentiate it ontologically from the many signal systems available to the animal world.  They determine the unique, often ambiguous tenor of human consciousness and make the relations of that consciousness to 'reality' creative.  Through language, so much of which is focused inward to our private

selves, we reject the empirical inevitability of the world.  Through language, we construct what I have called 'alternities of being'.  To the extent that every individual speaker uses an idiolect, the problem of Babel is quite simply, that of human individuation.  But different tongues give to the mechanism of 'alternity' a dynamic, transferable enactment.  They ["different tongues"] realize needs of privacy and territoriality vital to our identity.  To a greater or lesser degree, every language offers its own reading of life.  To move between languages, to translate, even within restrictions of totality, is to experience the almost bewildering bias of the human spirit towards freedom. 


If we were lodged inside a single 'language-skin' or amid very few languages,


the inevitability of our organic subjection to death [see, 2896-3058] might well prove more suffocating than it is."  [497].


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from:  Translation, Linguistics, Culture, A French-English Handbook, Nigel Armstrong, Multilingual Matters LTD, c2005.



"Chapter 1


The Linguistic Bases of Translation"  ["xi"]



'The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis:  Linguistic Determinism


            The American linguists Edward Sapir (1884–1939) and his pupil Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897–1941) are the most recent names to be associated with the notion that language and thought are interdependent.  The strong form of this view, 'linguistic determinism', suggests that speakers' thoughts and perceptions are determined or conditioned by the categories that their language makes available to them.  We can note historically that this is a recent expression of a view going back to earlier romantic thinkers [probably, includes Humboldt], with their emphasis on cultures so diverse as to be incompatible, and was influenced by the linguistic activity in the United States in the earlier part of this century.  This activity focused to some extent on the description of native-American languages, and their considerable structural differences from (to the linguist) more familiar languages were noticed.  Sapir (in Mandelbaum, 1958:162) expresses this view as follows:


[Sapir] Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society.  It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication or reflection.  The fact of the matter is that the 'real world' is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group […]


Sapir's contention is that if two languages differ considerably in their structure, then this implies two world-views that also differ considerably.  This seems untrue, however, at least so far as philosophically interesting categories like colour, number, time, shape, are in question.  It would indeed be remarkable if a given language that did not express or 'encode' a certain category—more than three colours; more than three numbers; certain geometrical forms—prevented its speakers from perceiving or thinking about the categories not encoded in their language.  A large amount of empirical research had been devoted to






investigating this problem, and it seems that the most we can say is that a language can have a certain effect on the memory and learning processes of its speakers.  For example, monolingual speakers of a language that does not encode the difference between orange and yellow may have difficulty in re-identifying objects of the colour not encoded in their language.  Against  this, speakers of languages, possessing only three colour terms find it easy to learn names for 'good', central examples of other colours; i.e. colours cited as good examples by speakers with more than three colour terms.  Children who speak a language that emphasizes the shape of an object over its colour will group objects together on the basis of shape rather than colour.  On the other hand, speakers of a language who have no familiarity with regular geometrical shapes like squares or triangles prefer 'good' examples of these, when invited to compare them with imperfect examples.


            What these examples seem to show is that certain categories and faculties exist in the world and in the mind independent of language, and if language does influence memory, perception and other faculties, it does so in a non-radical way.  Sapir's version of linguistic determinism seems to assume that thought is impossible without language; we can rebut this by pointing to the quite familiar experience of having a thought that we find difficult to put into words.  Yet again, linguistic determinism implies an odd conception of bilingualism:  namely, that bilinguals would need to operate with two quite different world-views, switching from one to another as they switched language.  A more plausible explanation is that bilinguals mediate their single world-view through each language as required.  We need therefore to modify Sapir-Whorf in a less radical direction.'  [14-16].



Comment (LS):  interesting discussion!  My guess (without specific study):  the statement by Sapir (see 692):  "Human beings…are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society."—still, has much validity.


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from:  Lying, Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, by Sissela Bok, Pantheon, c1978.





            When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things will remain doubtful.

—St. Augustine, "On Lying"


            Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?

—Bacon, "Of Truth"


            After prolonged research on myself, I brought out the fundamental duplicity of the human being.  Then I realized that modesty helped me to shine, humility to conquer, and virtue to oppress.

Camus, The Fall'  ["xv"].









            "I was born for this, I came into the world for this:  to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice."

            "Truth?" said Pilate, "what is that?"

—John 18.37


            If, like truth, the lie had but one face, we would be on better terms.  For we would accept as certain the opposite of what the liar would say.  But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand faces and an infinite field.

Montaigne, Essays


            Like freedom, truth is a bare minimum or an illusory ideal (the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about, say, the battle of Waterloo or the Primavera).

—J.L. Austin, "Truth," Philosophical Papers'  ["3].










            The face of a physician, like that of a diplomatist, should be impenetrable.  Nature is a benevolent old hypocrite; she cheats the sick and the dying with illusions better than any anodynes.  […]


            Some shrewd old doctors have a few phrases always on hand for patients that will insist on knowing the pathology of their complaints without the slightest capacity of understanding the scientific explanation.  I have known the term "spinal irritation" serve well on such occasions, but I think nothing on the whole has covered so much ground, and meant so little, and given such profound satisfaction to all parties, as the magnificent phrase "congestion of the portal system."

—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Medical Essays


            This deception tortured him—their not wishing to admit what they all knew and what he knew, but wanting to lie to him concerning his terrible condition, and wishing and forcing him to participate in that lie.  Those lies—lies enacted over him on the eve of his death and destined to degrade this awful, solemn act to the level of their visitings, their curtains, their sturgeon for dinner—were a terrible agony for Ivan Ilych.

—Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych


            When a man's life has become bound up with the analytic technique, he finds himself at a loss altogether for the lies and the guile which are otherwise so indispensable to a physician, and if for once with the best intentions he attempts to use them he is likely to betray himself.  Since we demand strict truthfulness from our patients, we jeopardize our whole authority if we let ourselves be caught by them in a departure from the truth.

—Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, II'  ["220"-221].



            "It is true that we can never completely understand the possibility of our own death, any more than being alive in the first place.  But people certainly differ in the degree to which they can approach such knowledge, take it into account in their plans, and make their peace with it.


            Montaigne claimed that in order to learn both to live and to die, men have to think about death and be prepared to accept it.14  To stick one's head in the sand, or to be prevented by lies from trying to discern what is to come, hampers freedom—freedom to consider one's life as a whole, with a beginning, a





duration, an end.  Some may request to be deceived rather than to see their lives as thus finite; others reject the information which would require them to do so; but most ["bluff and bullshit"!] say that they want to know.  Their concern for knowing about their condition goes far beyond mere curiosity or the wish to make isolated personal choices in the short time left to them; their stance toward the entire life they have lived, and their ability to give it meaning and completion, are at stake.15  In lying or withholding the facts which permit such discernment, doctors may reflect their own fears (which, according to one study,16 are much stronger than those of laymen) of facing questions about the meaning of one's life and the inevitability of death."  [230-231].







            Certainly, it is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.

—Bacon, "Of Truth"'  ["242"]



"….Trust and integrity are precious resources, easily squandered, hard to regain.  They can thrive only on a foundation of respect for veracity." 


[249] [end of main text].


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from:  Ways of Lying, Dissimulation, Persecution, and Conformity in Early Modern Europe, Perez Zagorin, Harvard University Press, 1990.





            The use of speech and writing to deceive instead of inform and to convey falsehood rather than truth may seem like a perversion; yet it falls, as the simplest reflection makes clear, within the normal function of language.  In verbal language humans gained an evolutionary privilege denied to all other animals.  As a result, they also acquired the privilege of being able to lie.  Stendhal [Marie-Henri Beyle 1783 – 1842]  stated a truism when he remarked, in The Red and the Black, that "speech has been given to man to hide his thoughts."  Since the faculty of lying is coterminous with language itself, we cannot doubt that human beings have always told lies, not only to others, but likewise, paradoxically, to themselves.  But if lying in this sense remains a universal possibility in any sort of human existence, it may sometimes also appear as a historically and socially determined phenomenon in those communities and societies in which pressures for religious or political conformity have impelled dissident individuals or groups to lie and dissemble in self-protection.  In all societies, rules and governments also lie, of course.  I am not speaking of them, however, but of their subjects and citizens who turn to dissimulation to escape persecution.'  ["v"].



            "Since the 1950s, the social, political, religious, cultural, and intellectual history of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe has been revitalized through a vast variety of studies.  Investigations of social groups, classes, and structures, of demography and family, religion and mentalities, political institutions and ideas, science, popular culture, the transmission of intellectual traditions, and the role of hermeticism and the occult in philosophy have yielded a rich harvest that has fundamentally transformed our understanding of early modern civilization.  In this book I have attempted to contribute a further dimension to the knowledge of early modern Europe by giving an account of the place the theory and practice of dissimulation occupied in the religion and culture of the age.  Historians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have largely neglected this subject.  With a few exceptions they have failed to recognize its existence or have remained unaware of its scope and ramifications.  The following chapters show, however, that the legitimation and practice of dissimulation were major factors in the lives of religious bodies, intellectuals, philosophers, and men of letters."  [vi-vii].






'Nescit vivere qui nescit dissimulare.

["He who does not know how to dissimulate does not know how to live"]


—Sixteenth-century maxim 



…for a long time I have not said what I believed, nor do I ever believe what I say, and if indeed sometimes I do happen to tell the truth, I hide it among so many lies that it is hard to find.


—Machiavelli to Francesco Guicciardini, 17 May 1521



…To beguile the time,

Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,

Your hand, your tongue.  Look like th' innocent flower,

But be the serpent under 't.


—Shakespeare, Macbeth, I.5.65–68



…car la dissimulation est de plus notable qualitez de ce siècle.


—Montaigne, "De Dementir," Essais'  ["xi"].



            'Considering the emphasis that Strauss [Leo Strauss 1899 – 1973] laid on the deceptions employed by philosophers to convey their thoughts, it is surprising that he never discussed those constellations of ideas in early modern Europe which explicitly sanctioned the use of dissimulation.  Thus, among thinkers in the occultist tradition, that curious amalgam of hermetic and neoplatonist philosophy, astrology, alchemy, cabala, and magic which lay at the threshold of the scientific revolution and included Marsilio Ficino, Agrippa, Paracelsus, John Dee, and diverse others, esotericism was a guiding principle.  It was a common notion among them, one, paradoxically, proclaimed openly in their writings, that they dealt in a mysterious higher knowledge that must be kept secret from the vulgar and reserved exclusively to the initiated.  Francis Bacon [1561 – 1626], who was knowledgeable in this tradition, referred to its esotericism as the "enigmatical method," which was designed, he explained, "to remove the vulgar capacities from being admitted to the secrets of knowledges, and to reserve them to selected auditors, or wits of such sharpness as can pierce the veil."  Although he deplored the frauds and impostures to which esotericism could give rise, he spoke approvingly of "the discretion anciently observed…of






publishing in a manner whereby it shall not be to the capacity nor taste of all," but adapted, rather, to win the minds of those fit to receive such knowledge while excluding others who might misuse it.25


            Like the thinkers of the occultist school, the French libertine philosophers of the early seventeenth century, who were suspected of religious unbelief, emphasized the necessity of dissimulation and reserve both for reasons of safety and for keeping dangerous thoughts from the multitude.


            Esotericism, the concept of a secret knowledge to be revealed only to an elite and harmful if communicated to the masses, thus intrinsically implied a doctrine of dissimulation.  The following chapters accordingly include an account of this doctrine and of some of the thinkers concerned with the kind of knowledge that caused them to resort to it.'  [11].



            'Augustine revealed his humanity when confronting the dilemmas that cause people to plead the necessity of lies.  Of such difficulties, as in the case of the patient who may die if told of the death of his only son, he [Augustine] admitted:


because we are human and live among humans, I confess that I am not among those who are no longer troubled by the problem of doing a lesser evil to avoid a greater.  Often in human affairs my human feeling overcomes me and I am unable to resist…[and] am moved by these arguments more powerfully than wisely.


But he thrust such considerations aside, he declared, when he contemplated the intellectual beauty of Christ, who is truth itself.  And he warned as well that to permit lies in these cases that had troubled him would enable the evil of lying to grow little by little until the mass of lies turned into a plague.27


                Other church fathers, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and John Chrysostom, made an exception for situations in which the truth could be harmful to the one who told it or to others.  In these cases they believed that lying was permissible and might even be a necessity to avoid grave consequences.28  Augustine, on the contrary, though sensitive to such problems, consistently refused to countenance lying for any reason.  So far as the future was concerned, however, it was less his comprehensive condemnation of the lie than his discussion of scriptural precedents and his close analysis of lying and dissimulation that exercised the deepest influence.'  [24-25].






            'In the Annotationes to his 1516 edition of the New Testament, Erasmus commented at length on the controverted episode in Galatians.  Besides remarking on Peter's seniority as an apostle and summarizing Aquinas' exposition of the text, it discussed the magnifica disputatio between Jerome [c. 347 – 420] and Augustine [354 – 430].  Erasmus' interpretation resembled Jerome's.  He did not exactly acquit Peter of wrongdoing but tried to excuse his conduct as vacillation and no more than a light offense.  Observing that what Jerome called dissimulation Augustine called a lie, he commented, "I do not see why in our hatred of the lie we should treat Peter as harshly as Augustine did."  In agreement with Jerome he [Erasmus] also defended the use of dissimulation:  "No one denies that it is sometimes right for a pious man to dissimulate" (neque quisquam negat, pium hominem alicubi recte simulare et dissimulare).55


            Erasmus' view reflected his well-known disposition to evasion and compromise.  Elsewhere he praised Paul for his flexibility, accommodation, and pious cunning as an exemplary preacher of the gospel who adapted himself to all kinds of men and circumstances.  Erasmus favored reserve and economy or opportuneness in communicating the truth, believing that it might be withheld from those not yet fully ready for it.  "A prudent steward," he wrote to a friend in 1521, "will husband the truth," revealing only as much as necessary for the business and persons concerned.56  He [Erasmus] compared both Paul and himself to a chameleon, to Proteus, and to Vertumnus as beings without fixity who turn all ways.  Such qualities were easily perceived as dissimulation by his critics.  It is not surprising that former admirers such as the humanist knight Ulrich von Hutten, who became a passionate supporter of Luther, accused him of deception and dishonesty when he refused to enlist himself as a partisan in the reformer's cause.57'  [35].



            'The presence of incredulity and irreligion generally remains elusive and difficult to prove because persecution subjected their expression to the gravest danger.  To try to detect them is accordingly like trying to recognize the identity of a person wearing a disguise or mask.  Not until far into the eighteenth century were there any philosophers who openly dared to deny the existence of God.  The first avowedly atheistic treatise in this sense was apparently Baron d' Holbach's Le système de la nature, published in France in 1770.  In England, we are told, the earliest such work, whose author was anonymous, dated from 1782.12  Over a hundred years before this, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, though notorious for his heterodoxy, never questioned the principle of theism [consider the political milieu] in propounding his materialist theory of man and the universe.  All the same, he showed exceptional courage in publishing ideas so radically opposed to the dogmas of all the Christian churches that he






repeatedly incurred the accusation of atheism from his many adversaries.  Although despite threats he never suffered any personal harm because of his incredulity, four years after his death some of his works were burned at the order of Oxford University.  Benedict de Spinoza (1632–1677), another reputed atheist, was likewise a brave thinker for issuing his treatise in behalf of the freedom to philosophize, Tractatus Theologica-Philosophicus.  Published anonymously with a false imprint in 1670 but certainly recognized as his by his contemporaries, the book contained a searching critique of the Bible's literal truth which undermined the authority of revealed or supernatural religion.  As Spinoza lived in the Dutch republic, however, at the time the only relatively tolerant country in Europe, he was less at risk than Hobbes in expressing such ideas.  Nonetheless, in 1674 the Dutch States General prohibited the work along with Hobbes's Leviathan.13


            During most of the early modern era, philosophers who tended toward unbelief feared to disclose their true convictions; they could escape the penalties of their dangerous ideas only by concealment and dissimulation.  In a discussion of some well-known English freethinkers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries such as John Toland, Anthony Collins, and Matthew Tindal, David Berman, a recent historian of atheism, argues that


they practiced "the art of theological lying" to cover their genuine thoughts.  Berman seeks to show that, despite professing themselves Christians and deists, in reality they were cryptoatheists. 


As he interprets their writings, the technique they used to subvert supernatural beliefs such as the immortality of the soul was to give only weak reasons in their favor and strong reasons against them.  The purpose of their art of theological lying, he suggests, was threefold:  first, self-protection; second, the esoteric communication of their unbelief to those who shared it; and third, the covert insinuation of their opinion to those ignorant of it in order to convert them to the same position.14


            Although, this claim is by no means improbable, it is also one that does not admit of demonstration [Mistake!  Berman demonstrates; Authors demonstrate.  Yes!, commonly abstruse.  This author (Zagorin) demonstrates].  Nonetheless, there can be no question that esotericism of this sort was one of the principal methods by which philosophers tried to dissemble their incredulity.  The clearest statement on the subject is found in a work by John Toland (1670–1772).  Suspected by many as an atheist, Toland was a republican and freethinker, a materialist and pantheist, and an opponent of religious






superstition and intolerance whose best-known book was Christianity Not Mysterious (1696).15  His essay on esoteric and exoteric philosophy, "Clidophorus," was remarkable, if not unique, for its exposure of the relationship between esotericism and irreligion.16  Its observations were no less applicable to the unbelieving philosophers of early modern Europe than to those of antiquity with whom it was primarily concerned.


            Composed of thirteen short chapters, "Clidophorus," as its title page proclaimed, was a discussion of


"the External and Internal Doctrine of the Ancients:  The one open and public, accommodated to popular prejudices and the RELIGIONS establish'd by Law; the other private and secret, wherein, to the few capable and discrete, was taught the real TRUTH stript of all disguises." 


It opened with a description of how the holy tyranny of pagan priests and founders of fraudulent religions forced the philosophers of most nations to make use of a twofold doctrine in order to serve the truth.  While accommodating their popular doctrine to the prejudices of the vulgar and the received religion, they restricted their philosophical doctrine based on truth and the nature of things to trusted friends.  To them they confided it only with great precautions and behind closed doors.  Among Christians likewise, Toland said, the quarrels of rival sects over verbal trifles and their pretenses to infallibility resulted in hatred, persecution, and inquisition, which in turn gave rise to "ambiguities, equivocation, and hypocrisy in all its shapes" as "necessary cautions."17


            In the succeeding chapters Toland surveyed the many sages who used a double manner of teaching to conceal their true conceptions, which were far removed from the supernatural beliefs of the popular religion.  Among these philosophers were the Egyptians, Zoroaster, and a line of Greek and Roman thinkers from Parmenides and Pythagoras to Plato, Aristotle, Varro, and Cicero.  When questioned about the divine nature, they took care not to reveal their true judgment save secretly to very few for fear of the rage and violence of the superstitious.  Even Jesus [writers] veiled his message in parables and bade his disciples not to cast pearls before swine.  The distinction these philosophers made between their external and internal doctrine accounted for the fact that they did not always say the same things on the same subjects.  Everywhere, according to Toland, "priests were…the cause, why the Philosophers invented their occult ways of speaking and writing," lest they be accused of impiety and be exposed to the hatred and fury of the vulgar.18






            Finally, Toland pointed out that the esoteric and exoteric doctrine remained as much in use as ever.  Because of the danger of telling the truth in religion,


it was "difficult to know when any man declares his real sentiments of things." 


Only if someone maintained the contrary of what was commonly believed and publicly enjoined was there a strong presumption that he had really uttered his mind.  The one sure way to have the truth, therefore, was to let people speak freely without being branded and punished for their speculative opinions.  Till then truth would be expressed scantily and obscurely if at all,  and doctrines professed by many who had no belief in them [to the present, 1/20/2007, the same].19'  [292-295].



            'A number of concurrent intellectual influences contributed to make incredulity a possible alternative for the philosopher during the sixteenth century:  the naturalism of the Paduan Aristotelians, the revival of ancient Greek Pyrrhonian skepticism, the ideas of ancient pagan adversaries of Christianity such as Lucian [c. 117 – c. 180], Celsus [2nd century], and Julian the Apostate [Emperor 361 – 363 (331 – 363)], and the philosophical religion of Cicero [106 – 43 B.C.E.], with its rejection of popular superstition.40  But because any tendency toward unbelief was forced to be circumspect and duplicitous, its detection, as we have seen, is a delicate and complex problem.


            Antiatheist authors believed atheists used certain tricks to get their views across.  According to the Calvinist minister Voetius, one of their subterfuges was to pretend to attack atheism by expounding its "Lucianic" tenets and offering only a tepid confutation, thus leaving "certain subtle curiosities" in the reader's mind.41 


The question of the immortality of the soul was generally seen as one of the touchstones of atheism. 


The Italian physician, philosopher, mathematician, and astrologer [etc.] Jerome Cardan [Girolamo Cardano] (1501–1576), whom the orthodox accused of irreligion, wrote a work on immortality in which he cited fifty-four reasons to show that the soul perishes with the body.  After planting these doubts, to be sure, he listed a number of arguments in favor of immortality.  He finally arrived at a version of the doctrine of the Arab philosopher Averroës that the soul survives insofar as it is part of the universal soul of the world, but otherwise dies. 






What his real view was is probably impossible to tell.  In another work, however, he commented that to subscribe to the belief in immortality was prudent, pious, and free from reprehension.  Elsewhere he also declared that on ticklish questions such as the immortality of the soul, "all wise men, even if they do not believe it themselves, agree publicly with the vulgar" (omnes sapientes, etiam se id non credunt, vulgo plaudant).42  Perhaps this provides a clue to his true opinion on the subject.'  [304-305].



            'The linkage between dissimulation and the explanation of religion as a form of political deceit appears with exceptional clarity in Theophrastus Redivivus, one of the most uncompromising expressions of French libertine thought.  This long anonymous Latin treatise dating from the mid-seventeenth century was diffused both in manuscript copies and in summaries and occupied a significant place in the clandestine literature of belief [and, unbelief].  Unlike other libertine writers, its unknown author abandoned all Nicodemite [see Excursus, below] precautions and propounded an audacious argument for pure atheism, drawing on both ancient and modern philosophers, among the latter Machiavelli, Pomponazzi, Cardan, Bodin, Campanella, and Vanini.  He ["unknown author"] maintained that the authentic philosophic tradition was atheistic.  All the philosophers of antiquity, he claimed, asserted the eternity of the world and denied the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, hell, and an afterlife.  All of them, too, conceived religion as a crafty political invention.  In his view Plato and Aristotle had both been atheists.  Plato created religious myths to avoid the anger of the people and authorities and justified the legislator who utilized lies and fables to teach the people respect for laws through fear of supernatural punishment.  Aristotle, like other wise men, also pretended an external acceptance of popular beliefs.  To understand the real thoughts of the philosophers, the author said, it was necessary to go behind their façade of adherence to the popular religion to observe how they confirmed its mythical character by indirection.  The prime examples of this duplicity among the Latins, he contended, were Cicero and Seneca, both of whom had really been atheists who rejected the common faith.


            Excursus:  "Nicodemism.  The term Nicodemite, derived from *Nicodemus who visited Jesus by night, generally denotes a secret or timid adherent.  J. *Calvin, in his Excuse à Messieurs les Nicodémites (1544) and elsewhere, applied it to those converts to Protestantism in Catholic France who concealed their true sympathies and outwardly continued RC practices.  In modern times Nicodemism has been taken to indicate all forms of religious simulation, and esp. that of certain Humanists, *Anabaptists, and sectaries such as the *Familists."  [Ox. Dict. C.C., 1997, page 1152]. 
End of Excursus






            For him ["unknown author"] the wise man's dissimulation reflected a dual necessity: 


first, the need to sustain the people's belief in religious myths as the only means to induce them to obey the laws;


second, the need to avoid a conflict with common opinion, which was like a second nature and impossible to overcome.  He went on to explain that lawgivers created the gods, who thus were sons of the law.  The theologians and poets later elaborated the first religious beliefs until they became a matter of custom stronger than nature itself.  The wise man was forced to conform outwardly because it was dangerous not to do so.82


            There was much else in Theophrastus Redivivus, including a philosophic materialism and dismissal of miracles, and other supernatural phenomena as things that could deceive only the ignorant plebs but not the "sapientes."  In his repudiation of religion the author also adduced the famous theme of the Three Impostors, a heretical conception obscurely transmitted in Europe since at least the thirteenth century which portrayed Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad as impostors who had seduced the human race.  Religious apologists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were convinced that a clandestine work called The Three Impostors was actually in circulation, attributing it to different authors.  In fact there seems to be no evidence of the existence of such a book until the eighteenth century.  The myth concerning it, however, testifies to the significance of the naturalistic interpretation of religion as a political invention as one of the principal notes of early modern incredulity.83'  [322-324].



            'In his Tractatus Theologico-Philosophicus (1670), the reputed atheist Spinoza directly addressed the problem of liberty of thought, conformity, and persecution.  Although the work dealt with many basic political questions, its ultimate purpose was to show that the freedom to philosophize and to express dissenting opinions was essential to peace and piety.  Its concluding chapter contended that in a free state everyone should be able to think as he pleased and say what he thought.  Contrary to Hobbes, who would have placed control of

opinion in the sovereign, Spinoza defended freedom of expression not only as consistent with the authority of the sovereign and the peace of society, but also as a natural right impossible to surrender or suppress.  If its suppression were attempted, so that people feared to whisper a word not prescribed by the sovereign, the inevitable consequence would be hypocrisy. 






In that case, he [Spinoza] predicted, "every day men will be saying one thing and thinking another:  belief in another's word…will thus be undermined, nauseating sycophancy and deceitfulness encouraged; and hence will come frauds and the destruction of all honest dealing."97


            The widespread resort of intellectuals to dissimulation in response to repression by states and churches


bears out at least a part of Spinoza's statement.  He went on to claim, though, that "the assumption that everyone can be made to speak to order is quite impossible."  The more government tried to deprive people of freedom of

speech, the more it would be opposed by those who, "because of their culture, integrity, and ability, have some independence of mind."98  Here Spinoza was assuredly too sanguine.  The experience of early modern Europe shows how powerful were the agencies for enforcing conformity.  The currency of doctrines that legitimated dissimulation provides one of the strongest proofs of this fact.  The Protestants, Catholics, sectarians, Jews, intellectuals, writers, and philosophers who took refuge in pretended conformity and secrecy to conceal their true religious convictions or their incredulity far outnumbered the advocates of religious toleration and liberty of thought and conscience.  Montaigne went to the heart of the matter in his essay "Of Profit and Honesty" when he said of the hatreds and hypocrisy of the Wars of Religion that "innocence itself in these times is unable to negotiate among us without dissimulaton."99 


We have tried to see through the masks and disguises certain thinkers used to dissemble their ideas, but we can hardly doubt that there were numerous others who adopted the same practice in self-protection.


            The sixteenth and earlier seventeenth centuries have long been known primarily as the Age of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. 


The results of our inquiries here indicate that we might add to this designation a further title and also name this era


the Age of Dissimulation.'  [329-330] [end of text].


l l l l l






from:  The Prevalence of Deceit, F.G. Bailey, Cornell University Press, 1991.



"Preface"  [ix]


            'Mostly, I am going to write about people in power or people who would like to have power or to avoid having it exercised over them, because, as is well known, there is a close connection between deceit and power.


            Sometimes the deceit is quite straightforward.  At the present time in the United States it has become almost taken for granted that no politician can survive close scrutiny of his conduct from an ethical point of view.  Honest politicians are few and, like Adlai Stevenson or President Carter, not destined for the Politician's Hall of Fame.  The Los Angeles Times, on April 14, 1989, reported that ten years earlier the City Club of San Diego [my (LS) city!] had sponsored a lecture series with the title "San Diego Inside:  The Power Structure and How It Works."  The lectures were given by some of the outstanding citizens of the time, men who had made their mark in public life.  A lecture on politics was delivered by a gentleman subsequently brought to trial for conspiracy and perjury.  Two lectures were about justice:  one given by a chief of police who was later involved in a scandal over fixing traffic tickets for his friends, the other by a Superior Court judge who afterward got into trouble for drunk driving and for mishandling a five-million-dollar fund entrusted to his care.  The lecturer on money was the occasion in 1989 for this somewhat snide remembrance of 1978:  he had just been arrested on a charge of laundering large sums of what he believed to be Colombian drug money.


            This lack of probity is generally considered to be endemic in the political community. 


If you are looking for the most outstanding deceptions, you will find them in politics (just as the best fantasies are found in religion). 


"Is it honest?" said a talk-show anchorman, "Or is it just politics?" and he said it innocently, without a smile.11  But, before concluding that politicians are crooked and the rest of us are not, we should remember that the word politics means more than the people who govern countries or cities:  power is everywhere—in the family, in the classroom, in university administrations, in hospitals, in sport, in marriage, even in friendships and (sad to say) loving.






            But matters are not always so straightforward as in cases of perjury, embezzlement, or laundering drug money.  There is a marked ambivalence and considerable confusion about truth itself:  we profess to adore it but also sometimes find it threatening.  Error, of course, is bad.  So is deceit:  but not always, and some forms of untruth are admired.  There are in fact many forms of untruth, and the very richness of our own language (and, I suppose, other languages too) helps make it difficult in daily life to pin down a plain lie.  There is a slippage, hard to control, among deceit and error and fiction.


            But that has not stopped people from trying to get a firm grasp on truth….'  [xvi-xvii].


l l l l l






from:  On Bullshit, Harry G. Frankfurt, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, booklet, c2005.



            "One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.  Everyone knows this.  Each of us contributes his share.  But we tend to take the situation for granted.  Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it.  So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, nor attracted much sustained inquiry.


            In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.  And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us.  In other words, we have no theory.  I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis.  I shall not consider the rhetorical uses and misuses of bullshit.  My aim is simply to give a rough account of what bullshit is and how it differs from what it is not—or (putting it somewhat differently) to articulate, more or less sketchily, the structure of its concept…."  ["1"-"2"].





Harry G. Frankfurt, renowned moral philosopher, is Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University.  His books include The Reasons of Love (Princeton), Necessity, Volition, and Love, and The Importance of What We Care About."  ["68"].


l l l l l






from:  A Pack of Lies, Towards a sociology of lying, J.A. Barnes, Australian National University, Cambridge University Press, 1994.





What is a lie?"  [1]


            'Even John Locke (1894:146-147), while disapproving of the deceit he saw engendered by oratory, observed that


It is evident how much men love to deceive and be deceived, since rhetoric, that powerful instrument of error and deceit, has its established professors, is publicly taught, and has always been had in great reputation;…men find pleasure to be deceived.


The pleasures of deceit are captured in the words of Robert Browning's (1981:839) Mr Sludge, 'The medium'


                        …there's a real love of  a lie,

                        Liars find ready-made for lies they make,

                        As hand for glove, or tongue for sugar-plum.


Locke wrote in 1690 and Browning in about 1860; the subsequent supplementation of individual rhetorical skills by professional advertising agencies and government departments of disinformation confirms the truth of their comments.


            Some writers, notably the philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1839:36; 1840:25) and the psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi (1955:72), have even singled out the ability to lie as one of the criteria that distinguish human beings from other animals, though, as we shall discuss later, many animals practise other modes of deceit, including, in some cases, using their voices deceitfully (see Rappaport 1979:224; Thorpe 1972:33).  Arendt (1968:250; cf. 1972:5) goes one step further, and proclaims that


our ability to lie—but not necessarily our ability to tell the truth—belongs among the few obvious, demonstrable data that confirm human freedom.


Lacan (1988:244) presents a somewhat similar view when he states that 'the characterizing feature of intersubjectivity' is 'that the subject can lie to us'.  The same sentiment was expressed more elegantly in the sixteenth century by Bartholomaeus Ingannevole when he wrote that






never to lie admits of no imagining which is all that God did give man to distinguish him from the beasts of the field.  (Kerr 1990:100)


            It is perhaps the perception of lying as evidence for freedom and imagination that explains the attraction of compilations of lies, both scholarly and demotic (e.g. Jones 1984).  Kerr (1990:101) includes in his anthology the only surviving fragment of what he describes as the first book of lies, dating from the sixteenth century.'  [3].               



"….Friedrich Nietzsche [1844 – 1900] who referred to religion as 'the holy lie', invented by priests and philosophers so that, by deceiving the laity, they would be able to take over 'the direction of mankind' and gain 'power, authority, unconditional credibility' (Nietzsche 1968a:89–90; cf. Kaufmann 1950:265–266).  Nietzsche's attack was aimed widely at all religions or at least at all religions embodying a belief in a god 'who punishes and rewards'.  He mentions Hinduism and other world religions but his principal target is


Christianity, 'the most fatal seductive lie that has yet existed'


(Nietzsche 1911:214; 1968a:90, 117; cf. Gregory Bateson 1951:222–227)."  [15-16].





Where lies are expected"  [20]


            "We encounter lies in virtually all walks of life, along with an equally ubiquitous preference, either moral or pragmatic, for telling the truth.  Even gods are portrayed as telling lies to trick or test humans, as exemplified in the Old Testament story of Jehovah instructing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1; cf. Milton 1934:305)."  [22].





Evaluations"  [136]


            'Thus although Bok takes what we call an intermediate position, her point on the continuum is nearer to the pole of complete prohibition.  She bases her






moral philosophy on what she calls the principle of veracity, namely 'that truthful statements are preferable to lies in the absence of special considerations' (Bok 1978:30).  In her book she devotes most space to discussing what these special considerations might be, and rejects many of those that have been put forward by other writers.  She is particularly suspicious of excuses advanced by liars themselves, notably by members of the medical profession.  Her principle of veracity is easy to accept; the crunch comes when we start to specify the special considerations.  Furthermore, in pursuing veracity, we should not lose sight of intent.  Writing nearly two hundred years ago, William Blake (1982:491) reminded his readers that:


                        A truth thats told with bad intent

                        Beats all the Lies you can invent.


            A few writers have taken a more positive view of lying, and have argued for its importance and inevitability.  We have referred earlier to Nietzsche's condemnation of religion as a 'holy lie'.  This condemnation is however an atypically clear statement of Nietzsche's views, and does not sit well with his more general statements on lying, which are somewhat confused.  For example, he says (1968a:204):  'The powerful always lie' and


[Nietzsche] We have need of lies in order to conquer this reality, this 'truth', that is, in order to live—That lies are necessary in order to live is itself part of the terrifying and questionable character of existence.  (Ibid:451)


In these statements Nietzsche seems to say that lying is inevitable if we are to avoid depression or perhaps even if we are to remain sane.  He says that with the help of lies 'one can have faith in life'.  But when describing his 'great man' he is clearly in favour of lies:


[Nietzsche] A great man—a man whom nature has construed and invented in the grand style—what is he?  …He rather lies than tells the truth; it requires more spirit and will.  (Ibid.:505)


In much the same vein is the taunt in his Genealogy of morals:


[Nietzsche] Our educated people of today, our 'good people', do not tell lies—that is true; but that is not to their credit!  A real lie, a genuine, resolute, 'honest' lie (on whose value one should consult Plato) would be something far too severe and potent for them:  …All they are capable of is a dishonest lie…  (Nietzsche 1968b:573)






            Statements such as these might seem to point to a simple dichotomy:  lying is to be admired in great men but deplored in priests and philosophers.  But there are numerous other references to lying in Nietzsche's writings that do not tally with this dichotomy.  His longest treatment of the topic is in his posthumously published unfinished essay 'On truth and lies in a nonmoral sense'.  Here he describes the liar as someone who uses words 'to make something unreal appear as real'.  He speaks of man having 'an invincible inclination to allow himself to be deceived' and of lying as 'an artistic pleasure'.  The drive to lie, he says, is 'fundamental' (Nietzsche 1979:81, 89, 96, 97).  Bok (1978:7, 29) gives little space to Nietzsche's views.  She labels him and Machiavelli as advocates of deceit and violence.  Nietzsche's advocacy was, however, differentially directed and was coupled with a stress on the weakness of ordinary mortals and their propensity for being deceived.  His ambivalent attitude is well put in one of his 'Maxims and missiles':


[Nietzsche] There is such a thing as a hatred of lies and dissimulation, which is the outcome of a delicate sense of humour; there is also the selfsame hatred but as the result of cowardice, in so far as falsehood is forbidden by Divine Law.  Too cowardly to lie…  (Nietzsche 1911:6)


            Compared with the amount that has been written about the concept of truth, the corpus of literature on lying, viewed morally and philosophically, may be small but the body of sociological writing on lying is meagre indeed.  Rousseau (1973:86) was one of the first writers to suggest a sociological explanation for the spread of lying, with his contrast between, on the one hand, archaic societies where there was no surplus, and hence no envy, and on the other market societies with competition for relative superiority:


[Rousseau] It now became the interest of men to appear what they really were not; and from this distinction sprang insolent pomp and cheating trickery, with all the numerous vices that go in their train.' 



l l l l l






from:  Lies!  Lies!  Lies!!!, The Psychology of Deceit, Charles V. Ford, M.D., American Psychiatric Press, Inc., Washington, DC, London, England, c1996.



"Preface"  [xi]


            "The reader of this book who expects to learn how to better detect the lies of others will learn that it is difficult to do so and that it may not, in fact, be in one's best interests to do so.  Furthermore, it may not be desirable to learn how to lie more skillfully.  Questions about morality and lying are to a large extent unanswerable.  I hope that the reader learns to look at lying and truth-telling in a new light and learns how pervasively lies and self-deception influence human relationships and political decisions.  Perhaps the most important lesson for any reader is how we use lies to deceive ourselves."  [xii-xiii] [end of Preface].



'Chapter 1


Everybody Lies


                        Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying.


—Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1


                        None of us could live with a habitual truth teller;

                        But, thank goodness, none of us has to.


—Mark Twain'  [1].



"Developing a Psychology of Deceit"  [18]


'As we progress through childhood, we are taught not only the skills associated with successful lying but also when and where to lie.  Lying becomes an essential component of the process of individuation (i.e., the establishment of personal autonomy and comfortable interpersonal relationships).  Woe to the "pathological truth-teller" who does not know how to keep his or her mouth shut!'  [20].






'Chapter 2


Defining Deceit:

The Language of Lying


                        Man was given a tongue with which to speak and words

                        to hide his thoughts.                                  —Hungarian proverb


                        The full genius of language is inseparable from the

                        impulse to concealment and fiction          —Steiner [see 685]'  [23].



"Language of Lying"  [24]


Table 2–1.  Examples of words that connote deceit
























































































'Self-Deception:  Lying to Oneself


Self-deception at first glance seems to be a contradiction in terms.  How can one not know that which one knows?  Yet the concept of self-deception is well established in common language (e.g., "You know in your heart that…") and has been explored by both psychoanalysts and experimental psychologists.  Furthermore, the phenomena of hallucinations and delusions in a psychotic person are concrete evidence for self-deception.


            Dr. Anthony Greenwald (1980), a psychologist who is now at the University of Washington, has provided a provocative view of how the executive portion of a person's mind (i.e., the "ego") functions in a manner similar to that of a totalitarian state as depicted in Orwell's 1984.  In Greenwald's view, the flow of information is kept under very tight control, and deceptive (self-deceptive in terms of the individual) techniques may be used in this process.  Greenwald suggests that the individual has the cognitive bias of egocentricity; that is, one's self is the focus of knowledge.  An individual tends to see himself or herself as responsible for desired outcomes but not for undesired ones.  Thus, there is resistance to new or different information, which may be selectively ignored (cognitive conservatism).  Greenwald speculates that those self-deceptive mechanisms help the individual to organize knowledge and maintain goals and to avoid being overwhelmed by the continuing inflow of new, potentially ambiguous or psychologically conflictive information.'  [35].



"Ego-Defense Mechanisms"  [38]


            "Dissociation is the mechanism by which one compartmentalizes ideas,


memories, or experiences that may elicit intolerable feelings, moving them out of conscious awareness.  For example, a rape victim has only vague memories of the assault on her.  The specific details have been recorded in her memory and may be available through hypnosis or sodium Amytal interviews, but they are not readily accessible by conscious intent.  Dissociation is closely related to psychiatric disorders such as multiple personality disorder (dissociative identity disorder) and fugue states.  It has been suggested that

memories of childhood traumas (such as sexual abuse) may be dissociated, leading to future psychiatric disorders.






            David Spiegel, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, has made dissociation one of his major research interests.  He has found that dissociative phenomena occur frequently in healthy people after they experience a traumatic event.  For example, he and his colleagues (Freinkel et al. 1994) found that seasoned media reporters who witnessed an execution were prone to dissociative periods in the weeks following the event."  [40-41].



'Chapter 3


The Biology of Deceit


                        A male [baboon], one who does not willing share,

                        caught an antelope.  The female edged up to him and

                        groomed him until he lulled under her attentions.  She

                        then snatched the antelope carcass and ran.


—Lewin 1987'  [47]



"Deceit in Elephants and Primates"  [50]


            'Another behavior observed in chimpanzees seems to imply aspects of self-deception.  After a negative experience (e.g., being defeated in a power struggle with another chimpanzee), a chimpanzee may turn his attention to something unimportant, such as careful examination of his fingernails, to hide what appears to be embarrassment [compare:  Desmond Morris, and "displacement activities"].  Face-saving tactics have also been noted among other primates, and deWaal (1986) commented that it is tempting to regard these behaviors as collective lies because one party deceives and the other acts as if it has been deceived.  For example, if a dominant monkey threatens a subordinate one, the subordinate monkey may act as if the signal was never received by not looking in the direction of the dominant monkey.  The dominant monkey may then "let things go," because if no "orders" were received, then the lack of a response cannot be regarded as a challenge.  Thus, one monkey pretends not to receive the message, and the other monkey agrees to the deception.  [compare:  when in a "rough neighborhood", one is advised to avoid eye contact]






            The behaviors and politics of primates, especially the great apes, seem strikingly human.  Is it because we project human motivations into our observations, or is it because many human behaviors have evolved from common origins?  Ethologists (scientists who study animal behavior) have proposed that many human behaviors are derived from instinctual patterns that evolved in lower species.  One important area to investigate is the evolution of social behavior (Trivers 1985).'  [50-51].



"Hereditary Influences on Lying


The evidence for deceptive behaviors in lower species, as reviewed above, is convincing.  The stereotypical nature of many of these behaviors suggests that they are controlled by instincts and, thus, by genetic factors.  Is it possible that lying in humans might be influenced by heredity?  There is some support for this theory.  Bond and Robinson (1988) reviewed prior research studies and concluded that biological factors contribute to human deception, that family members have similarities in types and patterns of lying, and that these similarities result from shared genes.  The studies on which these opinions were based had methodological flaws, but they provide some suggestive data nonetheless….


direct evidence of hereditary influence comes from a multifactorial study of 265 twin pairs.  Rowe (1986) investigated several potential causes of delinquency and found that general environmental factors, such as social class or child-rearing styles, were not influential.  Significant factors did include the intrafamily environment (e.g., perceived parental rejection) and genetics.  Of the genetic influences, the principal correlates were deceitfulness and temperamental traits.


            Bond and Robinson (1988) hypothesized that the genetic factors controlling anatomy also influence lying.  They suggest that some people look more honest than others and thus can lie more effectively.  As a result of successful deceit, they receive reinforcement and progressively become better liars.  However, heredity also influences neurophysiological processes as well as anatomy.  It seems probable that genetic influences on cognitive style,  neurocognitive impairment, and the propensity to use repression as a coping mechanism (see Chapter 2) might better explain any hereditary predisposition to lying."  [65-66].






'Chapter 4


Learning to Lie:

Developmental Issues

In Deceit


                        Lying has its normative functions as well as its pathology

                        and so does telling the truth.

—Arnold Goldberg'  [69]




During adolescence, the early childhood conflicts about lying and truth-telling are reactivated.  The psychic stresses encountered during adolescence (e.g., separation issues, sexual drives, and behavior) may result in a fragmentation of the self, which leads to lying as a symptom (Goldberg 1973).  Adolescents and their parents may be in a quandary about what to communicate to each other.  Adolescents may view their parents as hypocritical, corrupt, or deceitful.  Simultaneously, the adolescents' struggles about their own separation from the control and protection of parents often reactivate behaviors such as secrecy and deceit in the effort to become an autonomous person.  Adolescents may also overreact to their own fears of lying or their parents' dissimulations, indulging in "pathological truth-telling."  This may be manifested as excessive scrupulosity as adolescents attempt to become more familiar with their internal regulatory mechanisms.  Goldberg (1973) said, in describing adolescence, that "no period better demonstrates the idea that lying is as much a part of normal growth and development as is telling the truth" (p. 108).  He does go on to "suspect that one of the turning points from adolescence to adulthood is learning that openness often is cruelty and saying whatever is in one's mind is an indulgence that no adult can afford" (p. 111).'  [77].






'Chapter 5


Why People Lie:

The Determinants

of Deceit


                        The most common lie is the lie one tells to oneself.


—Nietzsche'  [87]



"Lies to Obtain a Sense of Power


A basic characteristic of human society is that human relationships and civilization depend on shared accurate information.  A person who possesses more information (knowledge) is usually more powerful in controlling both the environment and other persons.  The purpose of an education is, in essence, to obtain greater power over the environment and (in a different way) over others in a societal setting.  For example, training to be an attorney certainly provides the latter type of power.


            If information is associated with power, then one way to affect one's power relationship with other people is to reduce their power by providing them with misinformation or by keeping aspects of one's own information a secret (as may occur in guilds, religious sects, etc.).  This phenomenon is clearly seen in international politics; governments attempt to maintain a high level of secrecy about weapons, economics, and industrial research.  Furthermore, misinformation is commonly distributed, particularly about military operations and diplomatic moves.  If individuals or groups misunderstand their competitors, their power has been reduced.  Lying (the transmission of false information) can therefore be seen as a means of increasing one's own power by deliberately decreasing that of another.  Misinformation limits the rational choices available to the person to whom a lie has been told.


            A word of caution is in order regarding power and lying.  Bok (1978a) noted that power derived from lying is effective only insofar as one is believed.  Once the liar is recognized as such, his or her information is regarded as suspect; the person who becomes known as a liar may actually lose power (see the related discussion of reciprocal altruism and deceit in Chapter 3).


            The previous discussion has been based on a concrete concept of information and power.  However, such concrete principles can be extrapolated into unconscious needs.  People who feel that they lack power may resort to






lying as a way of increasing their sense of power.  Initially, they may obtain greater control of their environmental situation and therefore be positively reinforced.  With such reinforcement, the behavior is maintained and can be seen as similar to an addiction because of the short-term rewards.  In other words, each time a person tells a successful lie, he or she achieves a sense of superiority and power.  Such behavior may then be repeated to obtain the same feeling, even when the lie meets no external needs.


            A clinical example that illustrates this phenomenon is that of a 5-year-old boy reported by Woolf (1949).  The boy's father was away in the army, and his absence left the child with a sense of weakness and vulnerability.  Although economic circumstances were favorable, the boy feigned poverty in order to beg for money.  From his successful imposture of an impoverished waif, he was able to obtain a feeling of triumphant superiority and power.


            Another illustration of this type of underlying motivation is that of a person with a factitious ["contrived", faked, etc.] disorder.  Persons who simulate a disease and by doing so fool others, including doctors, obtain a sense of control and mastery while simultaneously having their needs for nurturing met (M.D. Feldman and Ford 1994).  The phenomenon of medical impostors is detailed in Chapter 8."  [90-91].





The preceding exploration of the reasons people lie leads to several conclusions.


1.   People lie for overtly clear external reasons that will benefit or protect themselves or others.  Such lies may have concrete benefit for the individual or for the individual's social network.


2.      An individual may lie (deceive) in an effort to regulate self-esteem.  This is closely related to efforts to self-deceive, which are moderated primarily through the ego-defense mechanisms.


3.      People may lie to others to obtain temporary vicarious gratification (wish-fulfillment lies).


4.      Lies, regardless of their content, may protect the sense of an autonomous self and help in differentiating oneself from potentially symbiotic relationships.






5.   Lying may serve to attack others, reflecting conscious or unconscious sadistic impulses.


6.   The very process of lying and "putting something over" on another person may create a sense of power and superiority; other people are held in contempt for their inability to detect the lie. 


7.   Lying is often a reciprocal relationship between the liar and the person to whom the lie is told.  An individual may facilitate the process of another person's lying because of the need for self-deceit.


            To a large extent the preceding conclusions have a repetitive theme.  We lie to ourselves and to others in an effort to support our sense of self-esteem, power, and individuality.  We encourage other people to lie to us in order to support our own self-deceit.  To reprise [restate, etc.] Nietzsche, the most common lies are those we tell to ourselves.


            Everyone lies to some degree, for the various motives outlined above, but some people have much greater needs for deceit than do others.  In the following three chapters, I describe more pervasive forms of lying.  In many respects, pathological lying is on a continuum with normal lying; the same issues are involved but to a greater extent.'  [101-102] [end of Chapter 5].



'Chapter 13


Effects of Deception


            Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.


—Nietzsche'  [251]


'Groupthink:  Shared Self-Deception


Groupthink is a term coined by the late Dr. Irving L. Janis (1983), a social psychologist at Yale University, to describe a particular form of defective [not to the group!] group decision making.  He quoted Nietzsche as saying that "madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups."  Janis was quick to say, however, that although not all group decisions are poor, under certain situations they can have disastrous consequences—consequences that, in retrospect, could have been foreseen.  He proposed that the group process can interfere with the consideration of potential errors or analysis of the risk






assessments of a variety of options, including the one under discussion.  Janis detailed a number of United States foreign policy fiascoes that he attributed to the groupthink syndrome, including the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Mayaguez rescue mission, and the attempted military rescue of American hostages in Tehran.


            The groupthink syndrome has several features:


An illusion of invulnerability


An unquestioned belief in the group's inherent morality


Collective efforts to rationalize in order to discount warnings or other essential information contrary to the proposed plan


Stereotyped views of the enemy as too weak or stupid to counter the proposed



Self-censorship of deviations from the apparent group consensus


A shared illusion of unanimity about judgments conforming to the majority rule


Direct pressure on any member who expresses any strong arguments against

 any of the group's illusions


Emergence of self-appointed mind-guards—members who protect the group

 from adverse information that might destroy the shared complacency about the



            One factor that influences the groupthink process is the early declaration of the leader's preference on the decision to be made.  Group cohesiveness and the need to achieve unanimity override critical discussion by any dissenters.  Considerable pressure is exerted on "deviant" group members to either change their views (and to remain a part of the group) or depart.'  [258-259].



            "My clinical experience as a psychotherapist has led me to believe that at the psychic core of each of us is the wish for perpetual life, gratification of our needs for nurturance and protection, and the belief that we are loved—a wish that can be fulfilled by finding the idealized parental substitute [compare:  the acceptance, addition, employment, etc., of Jesus].  A few narcissistic individuals [numerous con artists, etc.] in their grandiosity [psychic states] believe (and convince others) that they are such powerful






figures.  Their lies reinforce the self-deceptions of others, with potentially disastrous results [and, "potentially" satisfying "results"]."  [261-262].



'Positive and Negative Effects of Deceit


The advantages for those who tell successful lies are obvious.  They may obtain increased power and wealth by intimidating others or by decreasing their power through misinformation.  The liars' sexual opportunities may increase, or they may avoid punishment for misdeeds.  In fact, the advantages of successful deception are so great that society attempts to exert many controls, through socialization and punishment, on this type of unacceptable behavior.  Unfortunately, the schoolyard ditty, "cheaters never prosper," may represent an ideal rather than reality.


            Wide-scale deceptive advertising programs are effective and widely used.  For example, the implication that smoking a certain brand of cigarette will make one smooth, sophisticated, and suave has resulted in very successful sales figures.  Political campaigns that use innuendos for character assassination have been proven to work; the negative political advertisement has become increasingly more common, often aired at the last minute in a close race.  It is also apparent that crime in general does pay, and that crimes which are based primarily on deception (e.g., fraud, embezzlement, forgery, or counterfeiting) have highly favorable odds of risk.


            Lockard and colleagues (1980) studied the benefits and risks of a variety of crimes and concluded that the ages of perpetrators of deceitful crimes tended to peak in the reproductive years of 20-30 (deception in animals also peaks around reproductive activities; see Chapter 3).  Female offenders are relatively more frequently involved with crimes of deception than are males and are less often involved in crimes of overt theft.  Cases of fraud were found to have a low risk of indictment, minimal penalties, and a relatively high potential gain!


            Similarly, Bhide and Stevenson (1990) concluded that crime does pay, even if most business professionals are honest.  They reported that the retail commodity brokerage business flourishes, even though knowledgeable sources maintain that it wipes out the capital of 70% of its customers every year.  Bhide and Stevenson suggested that the self-deception of the customers, who want to believe in fabulous returns, keeps the commodity business going.


            Deception is also common in sexual behavior on the part of both sexes.  Women who actually have little conscious interest in sexual activity may dress in a sexually provocative manner to attract men (Hollender 1971). 






Furthermore, they may flatter the "male ego" during courtship in order to maintain the relationship.  Men, to obtain sexual gratification, may offer love, marriage, or the promise of financial security.  Such behavior on the part of both genders may represent a great deal of self-deception, calling to mind the finding that self-deception helps to make one a much more effective deceiver.  Findings from cross-cultural studies of sexual behavior and mate selection are consistent with the hypothesis that underlying instinctual forces may facilitate certain deceptions about how members of each sex present themselves to the other sex (Buss 1994).


            The successful lie can potentially increase self-esteem.  This occurs through at least two separate mechanisms.  The first is that telling an effective lie, one that is believed, provides the perpetrator with a sense of mastery:  "Look how good I am!  I put one over and I got away with it."  This process elevates the liar in relation to the victim, who becomes the dupe.


            The second way deception may raise self-esteem is that the successful lie may support self-deception; in other words, if the lie is believed, then maybe it is not a lie.  A man may detail his (largely fictional) history of accomplishments, abilities, and power.  If others act as if they believe him, he then feels "as if" he were the person he has created.  To some degree, if not detected, the successful deception can lead to actual success.  To take an example from literature, the Wizard of Oz succeeds because the Tin Man and the others believe that he is great and powerful.


            Lying may also maintain the self-deception of another person, making it possible to manipulate that person for one's own person gain.  On the more positive side, altruistic and social "white lies" help sustain the ego integrity and self-esteem of another person.  Comments (regardless of their honesty) such as "I love your new hairdo," or "We had a marvelous time at your party," or "You are the kindest person" all serve to boost another person's confidence and self-esteem.  Although there may be a latent manipulative quality in flattery, positive social comments do help people feel better about themselves and provide a lubricant for polite society.  To quote Mark Twain (1896/1923), "The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying" (p. 363).


            Lies also serve people's mutually self-deceptive needs to maintain illusions of beauty, well-being, and romance.  Oscar Wilde (1892/1907) emphasized this value and stated that "lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art."  Without license to misrepresent, the art world, including much in literature, would not exist.'  [262-264].








Lies and self-deception permeate every aspect of our lives; they affect our sense of well-being, help create a personal identity, and determine the quality of our relationships with others.  Lies and self-deception can also have disastrous effects on both the liar and others.  Overconfidence may lead to poor decisions, and malignant deceit can ruin another person.  Deceit in relationships, when not perceived as support, leads to mistrust and destroys or prevents intimacy.  One aspect of maturity may be the ability to recognize when and how to achieve these positive effects and the ability to avoid the negative effects of deception by others."  [270] [end of Chapter 13].



'Chapter 14


A Psychology of

Deceit:  Conclusions and



                        Human kind cannot bear very much reality.


—T.S. Eliot


                        We need lies in order to live.


—Nietzsche'  [271]





The search for a psychology of deceit cannot be reduced to just a few basic laws or principles.  It is a science in its infancy and, like the subject matter itself, must remain flexible.  The accumulation of new data and studies to confirm previous observations must continue.


            In the study of biology (the science of life) we find that deceit is prevalent throughout the animal kingdom, and humanity is no exception.  Humans take deceit one step further and elaborate on it with self-deception.  In the majority of psychic operations, self-deception and deception prove to be so intimately interwoven as to be inseparable.  Deception and self-deception serve each other.  Furthermore, and of great importance, social relationships influence our perceptions and memories and reinforce our self-deception.  Every child, of necessity, uses lying as a means to individuate himself or herself.  






Lying behavior is taught and socialized to all children, regardless of the paradoxical parental interdictions.  We learn how to detect lying from others and how to encourage lying from others in order to sustain our own self-deceptions.  We learn that at times it is in our best interest not to acknowledge consciously the deceptions we have detected; thus, we willingly allow ourselves to be deceived and self-deceived.


            Self-deception begins early in life, protecting and nourishing our self-image and self-esteem.  Self-deception and other-deception help us to shape our external world to fit the needs of our internal world.  This distortion of reality is facilitated by underlying cerebral dysfunction, particularly an imbalance between verbal and nonverbal cognitive abilities, or by traumatic childhood experiences.  If a child fails to make appropriate empathetic links with other persons (initially the parents), this deficiency is likely to continue in the form of a poor sense of self.  In those who lack empathic feedback from others, self-deception may become more extreme and projected onto others in the form of pathological lying.


            A few people, by virtue of their inherent acting skills—called "natural performers" by Ekman (1992)—are exceptionally good at lying; such individuals can thrive in occupations (such as politics or sales) that place a premium on skilled deception.  Individuals who have this skill and who, in addition, have severe character dysfunctions (e.g., narcissistic or antisocial personality disorders) have wreaked, and will continue to wreak, great damage on humanity.


            As we develop the skills to deceive others and ourselves, we also develop the skills to detect deceit.  The human ability to detect lies is less developed than our skill to deceive.  A few persons do seem to have unusual abilities to catch lies, but the majority of so-called experts at lie detection are, in fact, deceiving themselves about their abilities.  We are at great risk when we are too trusting and willing to believe such experts.  Most people do not use all of their inherent skills in lie detection, and this process of overlooking another's lies appears to be related to skills in social interchange; too much lie detection may be a social liability.


            Deception of either oneself or others—like the instincts of aggression and reproduction—is neither inherently good or bad.  With the evolution of the human brain, perhaps propelled by the reciprocal pressures to deceive and to detect deceit, has come the capacity for enormous technological advances.  Humans have created instruments that allow for instantaneous widespread communications (either accurate or deceptive) and for methods of mass destruction.  The capacity now exists to change the environment and even to alter the gene, the very substance of reproduction. 






This progress offers the opportunity for humanity to affect social systems and, through genetic engineering, to further human evolution; it also creates the possibility of annihilation.  If we are to avoid an apocalyptic fate, we must learn to modulate the instinctual forces of aggression and reproduction and the allied functions of deceit.  In the final analysis, it is not lying but mutually reinforced self-deception that poses the greatest danger to the individual, society, and humanity."  [283-285] [end of main text].





            This project started with great enthusiasm and the illusion (self-deception?) that new truths had been discovered.  As it proceeded, with the review of the published works of many other investigators, it became increasingly obvious that relatively little is uniquely new.  The discovery that others have had similar ideas is comforting in the knowledge that one is not alone in the intellectual wilderness, but it is also humbling to find that one is not as creative or as innovative as had been envisioned.


            In one of those rare instances when intellectual honesty rears its head above the ugly sea of self-deception, I must confess that others have demonstrated at least equal insight and have often communicated with greater style.  It seems that we must continually rediscover the truth." 


[287] [end of Epilogue].


l l l l l






from:  The Concise Book of Lying, Evelin Sullivan, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, c2001.



"The Bible:  A Casebook"  ["3"]


[to page 28, lies, testimony, etc., in the Old Testament, and, New Testament]



"Why Liars Lie"  ["55"]


            'Distrust of lawyers can be found almost from the time of their first appearance in the law courts of ancient Athens.  Plato's and Aristotle's view of the Sophists, who taught oratory and rhetoric to demagogues and lawyers, was that they made money by sham and were unprincipled cheats in arguments.  The bad press has stuck:  we do not call people sophists to express our admiration at how skillfully they present their arguments in the service of the Truth.  Complaints echo through the ages.  Jesus is [writers are] unsparing:  "Woe until you, lawyers!  for ye have taken away the key of knowledge:  ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered" (Luke 11:52). 


Erasmus concurs, heaping scorn on "the most self-satisfied class of people," who "string together six hundred laws in the same breath, no matter whether they are relevant or not, piling up opinion on opinion and gloss on gloss to make their profession seem the most difficult of all."'  [73].





The liar's motive is the most obvious thing by which we judge lies.  But if we want to anatomize deception, we run into another interesting feature, the liar's personality.  Again things are complicated and it helps to start with a basic insight—which Michel Montaigne [1533 – 1592] (who made a habit of it) expressed in the late sixteenth century.  In his essay "On Liars" [see 654] he [Montaigne] complains:


If, like the truth, falsehood had only one face, we should know better where we are, for we should then take the opposite of what a liar said to be the truth.  But the opposite of a truth has a hundred thousand shapes and a limitless field.






Montaigne's complaint refers to the fact that if the lie were, say, "the horse that was stolen is chestnut," then the only information we could gather from the discovery that we were lied to would be that the stolen horse is any horsey color other than chestnut (always provided there was a stolen horse).


            But the confusion also touches on another concern:  the characteristics of a lie and the personality or psychological makeup of the liar.  Is the lie "active," "bare- or bald-faced," "by commission" and told by someone who gives not a hoot about the risk of being exposed as a liar or "passive," "devious," "by omission," and perpetrated by someone who avoids as much as possible to tell a lie through his teeth but is a master at manipulating others into reaching the wrong conclusions?   Modern consensus is that any act of communication with the intent to deceive is a lie [this is my (LS) position; a necessary position], but liars of the manipulative kind have always made it a point that they did not in fact tell a lie and that the fault of misinterpreting rests with people jumping to the wrong conclusions.  This kind of lowlife will tell you that her brother needs an eye operation, will ask you for money, and when you find she's spent the money on a cruise will inform you that she never said she would give the money to her brother for the operation—which, at any rate, he can easily afford.  If you assumed a connection, that was your mistake.  In such cases, the characteristics of the lie can tell us a great deal about the personality or psychological makeup of the liar even if we haven't a clue as to the motive behind the lie.'  [76].



"How to Weave, and Sell, a Tangled Web



Poets themselves, though liars by profession, always endeavour to give an air of truth to their fiction.


David Hume [1711 – 1776], "Of the Understanding," A Treatise of Human Nature



                        Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect,

                        A broken voice, and his whole function suiting

                        With forms to his conceit.


William Shakespeare [1564 – 1616], Hamlet








Montaigne [1533 – 1592] was not the first to sound the warning, but he did it with his customary flair:  "No one who is not conscious of having a sound memory should set up to be a liar."  Ever committed to analysis, he outlines in his essay "On Liars" [see 671] the difficulties confronting two kinds of liars:  the kind that disguises and alters an actual fact and the kind that invents everything.  The former are obviously prime candidates for tripping up, argues Montaigne, because it is hard for them not to mix up fact and invention when they refer to the same story again and again.  Since the actual event was the first thing to lodge in the memory, and since it resides there with the vividness of something known, the details connected with it will readily jump into the mind and dislodge the memory of the invented details, which cannot have as strong a foothold.


            Liars who fabricate the thing out of whole cloth are, according to Montaigne, only at first glance less likely to trip up.  True, they have no memories of what actually happened potentially clashing with their invention, but since the invention had no hold in reality, remembering the details becomes a formidable challenge to anyone who does not have a very reliable memory.  The liar lacking such a memory is liable to "recall" the same object being gray one moment and yellow the next.  (Al Pacino in Glengarry Glen Ross expresses the same sentiment in advising that, when it comes to cops:  "Always tell them the truth.  It's the easiest thing to remember.")'  [86-87].



"Deep Down, I Knew…"  ["162"]


            'In Freudian theory, the issue of self-deception is not a moral but a medical one:  it is unavoidable but when it becomes extreme it appears as a neurosis.  Treatment involves finding the roots of the neurosis.  Fortunately, no matter how committed the subconscious is to hiding it, the truth can be unearthed.  The garbled words of the Freudian slip, the forgotten appointment, accidentally hung-up phone, inadvertently crumpled photo—all of these can help find the truth because they express the way we really feel about something or someone.  What also helps is the psychoanalyst's recognition of the various ego-defense mechanisms by which the subconscious tries to keep the conscious self from knowing the truth.  In the Freudian model (originally developed by Anna Freud), the means by which we fool ourselves to make life more agreeable or less anguished are multifarious and ingenious.  To list only the ones that involve deception:


            Denial is the ego's way to protect the self from unpleasant reality by making it refuse to perceive it.






            Repression prevents painful or dangerous thoughts from entering consciousness.


            Displacement discharges pent-up feelings, usually of hostility, on objects less dangerous than those that actually aroused the emotion.


              Isolation, or compartmentalization, cuts off emotional charge from hurtful situations or separates incompatible attitudes by compartments impervious to logic; it does so by never allowing connected thoughts about conflicting attitudes or about their relation to each other.


              Rationalization is the attempt to prove to oneself that one's behavior is rational and justifiable and thus worthy of the approval of oneself and others.


              Projection places blame for one's difficulties on others or attributes one's own desires to others.


              Sublimation gratifies or works off frustrated sexual desires by substituting for them nonsexual activities socially accepted by one's culture.


              Fantasy gratifies frustrated desires in imaginary achievements, most commonly through daydreaming.


              Reaction formation prevents dangerous desires from being expressed by exaggerating opposing attitudes and types of behavior and using them as barriers.


              Introjection incorporates external values and standards into the ego structure so the self is not at the mercy of them as external threats.


Additional ego-defense mechanisms, suggested by later researchers, are:


              Distortion, which grossly reshapes external reality to meet the inner needs of the one doing the distorting.


              Hypochondriasis, which transforms anger toward another person into anger toward oneself and then into the perception of pain and other physical symptoms.


              Passive-aggressive behavior, which involves hurting or defeating oneself in order to make others feel guilty or thwart their wishes.






              Dissociation, which moves ideas, memories, or experiences that may elicit intolerable feelings out of conscious awareness.


              Suppression, which excludes thought or feelings from the conscious but differs from repression in allowing retrieval of memories at a more appropriate time.


            What all of this suggests is that our subconscious is much like the Marine colonel in A Few Good Men (Jack Nicholson at his obnoxious best) berating that fancy lawyer in uniform (Tom Cruise) who insists that he tell the truth:  "You can't handle the truth!"  What it also suggests is that the notion of self-knowledge is itself an illusion about something that is impossible to attain and, if it were somehow miraculously attained, is highly hazardous to any number of things we value.  To foil our ego defenses may mean raising not only the forgotten wrecks of illicit desires and wrenching experiences, or even just shameful ones, but also the anguish and pain that cling to them.  It may mean saying goodbye to a favorable self-image, to a sense of safety, to illusions and pipe dreams, unrealistic perceptions, wrong conclusions….'  [174-176].



'What all this leads up to is a question as old as human thought and voiced in a variety of ways, some more economical than others.  What is truth?  We ask (or What is the truth?).  Is there such a thing as certainty about anything?  Aren't all observations biased by what we wish to see and incommunicable because of the limitations of language?  Isn't all memory pliant and forever altered by wishful thinking and suggestion?  Aren't all things relative, and isn't all knowledge that isn't factual or objectively verifiable mere opinion?


            Religion, of course, begs to differ.  Pilate's famous question to Jesus:  "What is truth?" is a cynical man's quip in response to Jesus' claim:  "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.  Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice" (John 18:37).  Pilate does not wait for an answer to his question but goes outside to tell the Jews that he finds no fault at all in Jesus.  If he had waited, Jesus would no doubt have reiterated the claim that appears in John over and over, the claim that he is the truth, that those who believe in him believe in what is true, that those who do not believe in him are the children of the devil, who is the father of lies.


            Fine and good, but those who do not believe in Jesus—by the latest count several billion people—do not, of course, think that whatever religious or nonreligious view they have of the cosmos is a lie.  If they are fundamentalists or resolute atheists, they rather believe that their conception of






the divine—Yahweh, Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, the Goddess—or of a godless universe is the true one.'  [181].



            "This feeling that conversion has led to superior knowledge and to a shedding of delusions is widespread among converts…."  [182].



            "The opposite of finding faith, falling away from it, is typically attended by the same sense of having found the truth after years of false belief.  Former believers who lost their faith feel that they had been deluding themselves…."  [183].



            "Apostates looking back on a time when they believed feel that they saw the world through rose-colored glasses and that the fault was their own:  they had wanted to believe in God and had worked on holding on to their belief.  They had wanted the comfort of life everlasting, of transcendence, of a universe sacred and inspired.  Now, free from delusion, they see the world as it really is and recognize religion as the opiate of the masses, who would rather continue deluded than face the dismal truth of an empty universe."  [184].



            "When all is said, what most of us who acquire a new insight have in common is not only the feeling that we now know the truth, or at least are closer to knowing it, but unease at the suggestion that we may have traded one delusion for another.  This time we got it right, we think and settle into some activity less strenuous than the search for an ultimate answer to some fragment of existence.  Our moment-by-moment conviction that our beliefs coincide with reality may just be essential to keep us from being sucked into the maw of perpetual uncertainty.


            What is truth?  Possibly anything that gives us peace of mind." 

[186] [end of chapter].



"The Ordeal"  ["211"]


            "Conclusion?  Human beings have devoted inordinate effort to exposing lies and determining the truth.  This being the case, we shouldn't be surprised to find that there has been a great deal of effort in the opposite direction as well.  As we'll see, the quest to keep the truth hidden has been as






doggedly pursued as that to bring it to light, and the care and feeding of lies has been of deep and abiding interest."  [226] [end of chapter].



"Even Educated Flies Do It"  ["273"]


'….The males of another species of primates apparently believe that all is fair in love.  And, no, we're not talking about Homo sapiens, with its abundance of members of both sexes who subscribe to that motto.  Field researchers in Africa have observed male vervet monkeys attracting females by uttering the vervet word for "food"—as opposed to that for "snake," "leopard," or "eagle," other vervet words the researchers have decoded.  Unfortunately [word use?], the female rushing up to the male may discover that the advertised food is a twig or inedible leaf.  (The words the females use upon making this discovery have apparently not yet been decoded.)


            Homo sapiens, as we've seen, uses deception willfully, and has invested a googolplex of man-hours in practicing it and devising ways to detect and foil it.  We are one branch of the primate line.  Molecular taxonomy suggests that humans belong to the same lineage the apes belong to (or, properly speaking, that we are apes).  Researchers like Richard Byrne argue that by studying chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest ape relatives, we can learn much about the evolutionary origins of intelligence.  According to the most recent evidence, the chimpanzee lineage separated from that of humans only about six million years ago.  By comparison, the gorilla line diverged from the human about eight million years ago and the orangutan diverged about fourteen million years ago.  Given our recent common ancestry, it is hardly surprising that our chimpanzee cousins share a great many of our abilities, including the one to recognize deception for what it is, to use it for profit, and to take umbrage when it is used against them.


            What can we conclude from all this trickery in the animal kingdom?  Obviously that Mother Nature has designated deception, whether intentional or unintentional, a great and good thing in the struggle to survive in hostile surroundings.  From the worm feeding on the vine, to the leopard stalking the goat, to the ape competing for food with another ape, to the general staging strategic deceptions, the number of creatures who have used it for their own benefit is vast.  Barring a miraculous evolution to some world very different from the one we know—where the lion lying down with the lamb will be among the less startling of the changes—deception is here to stay.'  [291-292] [end of chapter].


l l l l l






from:   A History of Falsehood, The Liar's Tale, Jeremy Campbell, Norton, c2001.


"Introduction"  [11]


            'It is seductive hypothesis that falsehood is "on the side of life," is the lubricant that makes society run, while truth can be harsh, dangerous, and destructive; too simple, too naked, for the complexities of twenty-first-century society, inheritor of one of the most brutal hundred years in the history of mankind.  To survive in such a society, human beings have evolved, in Nicholas Humphrey's phrase, as "born psychologists," natural mind-readers, whose insights into the thoughts of others enable them both to ease their fears and to manipulate those other minds with the subtlest kinds of deception.  The rise of evolutionary [see 737-739] psychology, the belief in the curative powers of fiction, the need to accept what ought to be true as if it were true, have all contributed to an almost unprecedented tolerance of falsehood.


            Friedrich Nietzsche [1844 – 1900] called the world cruel, contradictory, misleading, and senseless, and concluded that we need lies in order to live with such an abhorrent reality.  That lying is a necessity of life is part of the terrifying and problematic character of existence.  We have come full circle from the ancient thesis that truth and goodness are inseparable twins.  The notion embedded in our cultural attitudes is that humanity would never have stayed the grueling course to its present high place on the evolutionary ladder on a diet as thin and meager as the truth.  "We secrete from within ourselves," wrote George Steiner, "the grammar, the mythologies of hope, of fantasy, of self-deception without which we would have been arrested at some rung of primate behavior or would, long since, have destroyed ourselves."


            The irony, of course, is that lying cannot hope to succeed in its aim unless truth is the normal practice of a society.  In the nineteenth century there was a sense that democracy, more than other forms of government, needed truthfulness if it was to increase and flourish, that mendacity in a politician was more to be deplored than any other category of offense.  The converse of that view is that in a system which draws much of its strength from candor, lies are all the more effective, all the more insidious.  For that reason, so this argument goes, they will never be removed from our type of democratic community.  But if lying becomes the norm, on the thesis that it softens the "cruelty" of life, it defeats its own purpose.  Truth might then become more powerful than untruth, as in George Orwell's bureaucratic nightmare, 1984, where a person who dared to speak the truth was so dangerous to the state as to be in urgent need of liquidation.'  [15-16] [end of Introduction].








The Horrid Doubt


If, as Western ethics and theology purport, the existence of some creatures serves soley to benefit others, and honesty and altruism are always the best policy, how are we to explain the occurrence and ubiquitousness of selfishness and deception?  —Emil Wenzel'  [17]



            "Some scientists question whether truth is a basic instinct among living things.  Is fraud merely parasitical on truth?  Or can we say that untruth is the more fundamental of the two?  It certainly seems to have a life of its own in the long story of evolution.  In many cases, deception may be more the rule than the exception.  Fireflies are more apt to be signaled mendaciously than truthfully and some species of birds send out false alarm calls more often than genuine ones.  There is a definite, built-in escalation of deceit even among lowly species.  What happens is that the more often a swindle is practiced, the more intense is the selection for its detection, which in turn increases selection for more plausible kinds of deceit.  Ultimately, a new sort of falsehood emerges by natural selection:  self-deception, which, by concealing from the pretender the fact that it is pretending, makes the pretense seem all the more authentic to the individual being deceived…."  [23].





The Evolution of Cunning


One of the most important things to realize about systems of animal communication is that they are not systems for the dissemination of the truth.

                                     —Robert Trivers'  [31]



'striking is the case of Austin, a chimp in captivity studied by Sue Savage-Rambaugh and Kelly McDonald.  Austin was the victim of rough treatment by another, larger chimp named Sherman, a common bully.  Like many bullies, Sherman had a cowardly streak, in this case a very specific one:  he [Sherman] was afraid of the dark.  Austin, who had no such fears, used to slip outside after nightfall and make noises on the wall of the sleeping room which sounded like an intruder scraping or pounding on the metal, trying to break in.  He would then surreptitiously sidle back in and start to peer out as if trying to see where the






suspicious noises originated.  The effect on Sherman was dramatic.  Vague intimations of a menace lurking in the night were enough to bring out all his quaking reflexes, so much so that he actually turned to Austin, his browbeaten subordinate, for comfort and hugged him.  This trick was not a sudden inspiration, however.  Austin perfected it over several years.


            Nonhumans, even the clever ones, seem to possess a restricted repertoire of falsehoods.  The plover, for example, is a one-deception species.  It can mislead a potential intruder by flying away from its nest of fledglings, and this seems to be an inborn disposition.  But the plover does not similarly distract a rival away from a willing mate or a piece of material for building a nest.  Apes and monkeys are more versatile in their range of frauds, but the animal psychologist David Premack suggests that the chimp can understand only rather simple states of mind:  seeing, wanting, expecting.  Belief, which is a highly complex mental condition, is more doubtful.  An animal will not attribute to another a state of mind it cannot have or know it has.  Language is simply an amplifier of such competencies, making them more powerful.


            It has been noted that fraudulent behavior in primates other than humans tends to revolve around the extremely uninteresting[?] business of getting, and preventing others from getting, food.  In one of the most potent myths of human origins, the first man and woman made the precipitous descent from perfect innocence to guilt and shame by the act of eating an apple.  That fateful lapse was the finale of a drama played out against a backdrop of misinformation.  "Within little more than a week of the Creation," writes Nicholas Humphrey, "Eve had been beguiled by a subtle serpent, she had tempted Adam, and God himself had been caught telling lies.  'But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,' God had said, 'thou shalt not eat of it:  for on the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.'  But the serpent had told the woman, 'Ye shall not surely die.'  And Eve had eaten the apple—and she had not died, nor had Adam.  Men, women and Gods too, it seems, were deceivers ever."  God had said that "on the day" that they ate it, they would perish; but Adam lived to be 930 years old.


            Where simpler species disguise themselves with borrowed plumage, we obfuscate with words, plant doubts in minds we are able to read; the subtlety of our minds and the complexity of human society make it all but inevitable that we should do so.  "At every level," said the scholar of language George Steiner [see 685], "from brute camouflage to poetic vision, the linguistic capacity to conceal, misinform, leave ambiguous, hypothesize, invent, is indispensable to the equilibrium of human consciousness and to the development of man in society."






            We are still carrying on Eve's, and the serpent's, work.'  [40-42].



            'Where simpler species disguise themselves with borrowed plumage, we obfuscate with words, plant doubts in minds we are able to read; the subtlety of our minds and the complexity of human society make it all but inevitable that we should do so.  "At every level," said the scholar of language George Steiner, "from brute camouflage to poetic vision, the linguistic capacity to conceal, misinform, leave ambiguous, hypothesize, invent, is indispensable to the equilibrium of human consciousness and to the development of man in society [?]."'  [42].





The Absolute Talker


We have to mix a little falsehood into truth to make it plausible.


                        —Iris Murdoch


            Round the middle of the fifth century B.C., there came into fashion itinerant teachers who offered lessons, not in the philosophy of Truth, but in the art of power.  The worst of them taught that truth may at times be a nuisance, an impediment to gaining or using power, and they removed it by the simple expedient of making truth secondary to power, even if it was only the power of persuasion, of using words to make falsehood more attractive to an audience than what is actually the case.


            Ancient philosophers were inclined to regard truth as the normal condition of a person's mind.  Anything else was a quandary.  How anyone could say or even think what is false was a puzzle that provoked ingenious speculations.  An untruth refers to something that does not exist, which seemed decidedly queer.  Falsehood was deviant, it was odd, it was altogether quite a riddle.  For the Greeks, Plato in particular, who knew perfectly well that people do not always tell the truth, and that some people habitually lie their heads off, falsehood was something that needed explaining; it deserved to be argued about….'  [58].



            'Among the audience for Fichte's lectures in the newly founded University of Berlin was a former medical student named Arthur Schopenhauer [1788 – 1860], who had arrived in the city in 1811 mainly to






hear the famous man [Fichte] who claimed to understand Kant better than Kant understood himself.  Schopenhauer was bitterly disappointed by the performances he witnessed, scribbling insults in his notes, calling Fichte pompous, obscure, a windbag, his writings humbug.  A naturally distrustful person, he was intensely suspicious of consciousness, Fichte's almighty author of worlds.  He decided that the will, which he regarded as the inner, true, and indestructible essence of the human person, is not conscious, and there are times when consciousness does not trust the will.  What makes consciousness suspect, in Schopenhauer's view, is that it is conditioned by the intellect, and the intellect is nothing but an accidental outgrowth of the body, a parasite, which is not involved directly in the inner workings of the organism.  The will is primary, older and far more robust than consciousness, revealing itself in the shape of "a great attachment to life, care for the individual and the species, egoism and lack of consideration for others."  Even in the smallest insect, bereft of intelligence, the will in its simplicity is present, complete and entire.  It is a brute force, uncivilized, amoral, an oblivious contending force, and unlike God, has no plan for the salvation of the world.


            The will is the core and essence of a person, Schopenhauer repeated over and over again.  The intellect is secondary, a mere tool and instrument of the will.  It appears in every blindly acting force of nature, as well as in the deliberate conduct of human beings.  The difference between the two is just the extent of the end result, not the inner character of the driving energy.


            And the will is a source of falsehood, because its "secret decisions," its desires, plans, and demeanor, are tucked away from awareness, even though they control behavior.  The intellect is essentially a stranger to the decisions of the will.  It provides the will with motives; but only after the fact does it learn how these have turned out.  Suppose I have devised a plan, but have reservations about its feasibility.  I let the matter rest for the moment.  Often, I do not know how firmly I am already attached in secret to this plan, how much I desire to carry it out, in spite of my scruple.  But once a piece of information reaches me, conducive to putting the plan into action, "at once there arise within me a jubilant, irresistible gladness, diffused over my whole being and taking permanent possession of it, to my own astonishment.  For only now does my intellect learn how firmly my will had already laid hold of the plan and how entirely it was in agreement therewith, whereas the intellect had still regarded it as entirely problematical and hardly a match for that scruple."


            The covert operations of the Schopenhauerian will, furtive, restless, and unmanageable, lead to deeply rooted deceptions and illusions in the life of the individual.  Consciousness often cannot even guess at the real motives for an action.  The intellect "does not penetrate into the secret workshop of the will's






decisions," but tends to interpret motive in the most flattering light to bolster our good opinion of ourselves.  As La Rochefoucauld [1613 – 1680] said:  "Self-esteem is cleverer than the cleverest man in the world."


            For Schopenhauer [1788 – 1860], self-deception is not an unusual or accidental state of mind, but part of its normal functioning.  In that respect, he has much in common with today's evolutionary psychologists.  Darwinians who "come close to calling into question the very meaning of the word truth."  Schopenhauer's main work was published some forty years before the Origin of Species, which he read only at the end of his life, deciding it was a lightweight "soapsuds or barber" book.  He did, however, share with Darwin the notion that there are invisible constraints on how we act and think, how we view the world, and that these curbs are connected with the most basic forces of brute survival and the perpetuation of the species.  A certain amount of trickery, deception, and illusion will be used in the service of the greater goal.  Many of the "things more important than the truth" are buried deep in the underground of the psyche.  And because the constraints are below the level of awareness, we suppose we are freer than we actually are.


            The view that the mind is a biological organ waiting hand and foot on the will, helping it to survive, its aim not knowledge but action, content to cope with reality rather than discover ultimate truths about it, was taken up by Hans Vahinger [Hans Vaihinger 1852 – 1933], a German philosopher who was seven when the Origin burst upon the scene and eight when Schopenhauer died.  Vahinger was renowned as a Kant scholar, a student of evolution who believed, as many others were to do in the later nineteenth century, in the biological character of the mind.  He was greatly impressed as a young student by Kant's discovery of the contradictions throught encounters when it roams in the Oz land of metaphysics, and by his doctrine that action, the practical, must take precedence over mere reason.  Vahinger was also drawn to Schopenhauer, then out of fashion and actually despised at the University of Tübingen.  He was vastly impressed by that philosopher's pessimism, irrationalism, and voluntarism.  Vahinger foresaw and prophesied World War I, mainly because he believed that Germany's unrealistic idealism and optimism, both diametrically opposed to Schopenhauer's thinking, would lead to disaster.


            Linking Schopenhauer's conception of the will to the theory of evolution, Vahinger set out as a basic principle that a means, originally working toward a definite end, tends to cut up, become independent, and emerge as an end in itself.  At first, thought is only used by the will as a means to survive and dominate.  But in the course of time, it evolves to an extent that is in excess of what is necessary for its function.  It breaks loose and goes its own way.  A device initially equipped for the practical task of survival, it outstrips that basic






role and indulges in theoretical speculation for the sake of speculation, puzzling over such pointless questions as the origin and meaning of the universe.  Other animals have quite small brains which are sufficient for their function as a vehicle of the will and its interests.  In the human species, however, hypertrophy sets in, enlarging the brain out of all proportion to the rest of the body.  Kant's theory, that human thought hankers after metaphysical truths it is entirely unsuited to understand, now seems to be a natural and necessary result of the fact that thought outran its original function, which was to serve the basic purposes of life.  Emancipated from spending all its brain power on staying alive, it [thought] uses the surplus to conjure with questions that are unanswerable, not just by human thought but by any form of thought whatever.


            Given these impossible aspirations of the intellect, Vahinger suggested it would be better not to chase after absolute truth, but rather to acquire knowledge by means of ideas that we know to be false, but nevertheless are of great practical usefulness in accessing reality.  These ideas he called "fictions."  They are needed because many thoughts and ideas are not the product of reason but have biological origins.  They are consciously false assumptions, even self-contradictory ones, formed in order to overcome difficulties of thought by an artificial digression, reaching the goal of thought by "roundabout ways and bypaths."  Vahinger saw an intimate connection between these serviceable untruths and "what Darwinism calls useful illusions formed by natural selection."  He [Vaihinger] called his theory of conscious fictions "the philosophy of As-if."  The world of such figments is just as important as the world of the so-called real or actual, he stressed, and far more consequential when it comes to ethics and aesthetics.


            One of the most important ethical fictions is the notion of freedom, of human actions which are regarded as free, and therefore as "responsible," in contrast to the "necessary" course of physical nature.  That whole notion, Vahinger said, is contradictory, since an absolutely free act, caused by nothing, is just as worthless ethically as a completely necessary one.  Nonetheless, we still make use of the concept of free will in ordinary life when we judge a moral action, and it is the basis of criminal law.  Without that assumption, it would make no sense to punish any wrongdoer.  At the same time, it is a logical monstrosity, a kind of controlled lie, not even a hypothesis.  There is nothing in the "real" world corresponding to liberty.'  [152-155].








The Pleasures of Falsehood


Truth is contrary to our nature, not so error, and this for a very simple reason:  truth demands that we should recognize ourselves as limited, error [lies, etc.] flatters us that, in one way or another, we are unlimited.  —Goethe



Anything that raises the human spirit is basically good, even if it's false.


                        —Joe Queenan, critiquing The Oprah Winfrey Show



            Is truth bad for one's health?  Should it carry a warning from the U.S. Surgeon-General, and might it be less harmful if we did not inhale?  The notion that the will is stronger than the intellect, especially after Darwin's writings captivated the Victorian imagination, merged, in the hands of an iconoclastic invalid named Friedrich Nietzsche, into the theory that lying is more natural than truth.  The will is more deepseated and sturdy, because based on the instincts, those ancient forces of survival, whereas consciousness is a recent arrival, a newcomer weak as a kitten, and therefore delicate and easily indisposed….'  [157].


l l l l l






from:  Erasmus of the Low Countries, James D. Tracy, University of California Press, c1996.



"Chapter 9


In Defense of Bonae Literae


From Erasmus's perspective "mendicant tyrants" and other enemies of fine letters were especially dangerous because of their great influence at the centers of intellectual, religious, and political authority.  Scholastic philosophers and theologians controlled the traditional university curriculum; mendicant friars wielded great influence with common folk because of their prestige as preachers and they often enjoyed unique influence in the courts of Europe through their role as confessors to princes.  From Erasmus's correspondence one can see that he paid such men the compliment of adopting a strategy to deal with them.  First, he took pains not go give the "barbarians" a "handle" for attack.  Sometimes this was a matter of simple tact, like checking with a mutual friend on rumors that he had been criticized by a fellow humanist rather than addressing the alleged offender directly, thus possibly giving ill-wishers a chance to crow over another humanist quarrel.1  Sometimes it was a matter of writing in such a way that his full opinions were obscured, if not actually contradicted.  "Dissimulation" (dissimulatio) of this kind, Erasmus believed, was permissible to Christians and even warranted by the New Testament.  Second, he [Erasmus] did not allow direct attacks on himself to go unanswered.  Many (though not all) of the criticisms of his works were inspired by ignorance, and Erasmus had a knack for bringing the foolishness of such carping to the attention of dispassionate readers."  [116].



            "Dissimulatio was Erasmus's term for what might be called strategic tact, that is, refraining from stating views that would likely provoke a quarrel, but without belying one's true opinion."  [117].



            We can see Erasmus in his published letters practicing dissimulatio in his own way, especially as the growing controversy surrounding Luther in late 1520/early 1521 put him under pressure to take a public stand.  In private letters he had written that the papal monarchy in its present form was "the plague of Christendom."  Now he declared his allegiance to the Roman See in published letters to Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggi and to Bishop Luigi Marliano of Tuy in Galicia, an influential figure at the Habsburg court, but in such a way that friends could read between the lines.  He will not oppose "the Roman Church, which






does not differ, I conceive, from the Catholic Church"; "the Church of Rome I recognize and think it does not disagree with the Catholic Church.  From that church death shall not tear me asunder, unless the church is sundered openly from Christ."  With the reservation indicated in the last phrase, Erasmus was professing loyalty to the one Catholic Church, only secondarily to the papacy that presided over it.  This distinction is clear also from other expressions in published letters of the same period:  "I am not impious enough to dissent from the Catholic Church, I am not ungrateful enough to dissent from Leo [Pope Leo X], of whose support and exceptional kindness to me I have personal experience"; and "I will not abandon the peace of the Catholic Church, the truth of the Gospel, and the dignity of the Roman pontiff."4  Anyone who could read Latin would understand that impiety and ingratitude were not offenses of the same gravity, and those who knew Erasmus knew that for him the peace of the church and the dignity of the pope were not values of the same weight.  Similarly, though he had co-authored an anonymous tract (the Consilium cujusdam) attempting to discredit the papal bull excommunicating Luther, Erasmus could write in a published letter to a Dominican critic that "I never said a word to any mortal man" about the bull, presumably because a written comment would not have been "said."5  Dissimulatio involved an element of casuistry, but casuistry was in this case the honorable refuge of a thoughtful scholar caught between the terrible simplicity of Luther's crusade against the Roman Antichrist and the terrifying clarity of a campaign against heresy for which the judicial machinery of church and state was now beginning to mobilize.'  [118].



"Chapter 13


Circumspect Reformer"  [175]


'The learned world Erasmus inhabited was knit together by correspondence, and hand-written letters, though often eulogized as the vehicle of honest self-expression, in fact offered a multitude of opportunities for double-entendre and plain duplicity.  A letter could be written to one person with the unstated intention of having it seen by a third party,9 it could be forged by someone who had learned to imitate another's hand,10 it could be opened by intermediaries along the way,11 it could be reconfigured for publication,12 and it could be copied for unauthorized distribution and then misinterpreted13 or even given to a printer.14  Erasmus at one point circulated a "letter patent" ["open letter"] to rebut the claims of a former servant-pupil that he entertained heretical opinions on the Eucharist:15 rather like a prince of intellect, Erasmus found it necessary to still gossip by addressing to particular persons letters that were in fact meant for all and sundry.'  [176-177].






            "Erasmus evidently concluded that in self-defense he also had to adopt a practice of saying things between the lines, so that only the right people would take his meaning; thus the ideal of candor in writing gave way in practice to what he called dissimulatio.  As noted above in chapter 9, dissimulatio as Erasmus used the term meant saying less than the whole truth, especially when the intended audience was not prepared to receive or benefit from the whole truth.18"  [117].



            '….Thus Erasmus was not sorry for what he had written, for certain opinions should not be dissimulated; yet he sought to have comments that would provoke hostility screened out of his works before publication, and he was often willing to remove offending passages in a second or third edition.  He [Erasmus] regretted that he had written some things to please his friends (presumably friends who were not fond of "mendicant tyrants"), yet he also believed that some part of Gospel truth had to be insinuated into the world, rather than proclaimed openly, and he insisted that by "dissimulating" in this fashion he followed the plan that Christ and his apostles had exemplified for converting a sinful world.  The one common denominator that ties together these different strands in Erasmus's complex strategy of communicating his sense of truth of things may be found in a character trait his friends sometimes noted, not always with admiration:  circumspection [involving dissimulation].'  [182].


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from:  On the Edge of Truth and Honesty, Principles and Strategies of Fraud and Deceit in the Early Modern Period, edited by Toon van Houdt, Jan L. De Jong, Zoran Kwak, Marijke Spies, Marc Van Vaeck, Brill, Leiden Boston, 2002.





Johannes Trapman


In August 1525 Erasmus published his Lingua, a book on the use and abuse of language.  In it he calls the question whether it is permissible for Christians to lie a notoriously complicated problem.  He does not want to go into it, but restricts himself to stating that those who are united with the Truth (i.e. Christ) should refrain from all sorts of lying.  However, in several cases it may be wise to withhold or conceal ('dissimulate') the truth.1


            Erasmus did not write a special treatise on lying, but a number of statements in his books and letters will enable us to get an idea of how he thought about a topic that had been a complicated theological question ever since St. Augustine wrote De mendacio (On Lying; 395) and Adversus Mendacium (Against Lying; 420).


            Erasmus refers several times to Plato's view that the leaders of the State may sometimes use deception if it be to the benefit of the people.2


[Erasmus] I will not mention (what Plato seems to have perceived so clearly) that a mixed and uneducated multitude cannot be retained in its allegiance unless it is sometimes misled by artificial colouring and well-intentioned falsehood.  But this requires a man not only of the highest character, but of exceptional wisdom.3


And elsewhere:  ….'  ["33"].



            "We have seen that Erasmus did not feel attracted to Augustine's uncompromising views on lying.  In this (and not only this) respect he [Erasmus] preferred the more flexible Origen and Jerome, who were able to see biblical examples of lying and simulation as rhetorical and pedagogical techniques that could be used for pious purposes.  Erasmus was therefore, unlike Augustine, not always compelled to look for a 'mystical' sense wherever the Bible seemed to permit, or even approve, lying and deceiving.  When challenged about using the term mendacium in this context,






Erasmus would defend himself by contending that he did not have in mind lying in the strict sense which he claims to reject too.  In the eyes of Erasmus' opponents this could never be a satisfying way out:  what Erasmus defined as just mendacium in the broad sense, such as simulatio, nevertheless remained a form of deceiving which was highly improper, in particular when it occurred in a religious context.  Erasmus, however, went so far as to connect his (hypothetical?) use of the dolus bonus ["permissible deceit" (Internet)] against Eppendorf with the examples of David, and even Christ himself!54


            Putting the truth forward at all costs could endanger the unity of Christendom.  So Erasmus advocated the practice of 'husbanding the truth',55 referring to Plato, the Bible, and some select Church Fathers.  But in his purely scholarly activities he was little inclined to compromising:  while accepting the traditional dogmas and institutions of the Church, he did not hesitate to dispute at the same time their biblical underpinning when the results of his philological research left him no other choice (see in particular the Annotations on the New Testament).  His Life of Jerome (1516) was meant to be a critical and trustworthy biography, as opposed to its medieval predecessors.  In his introduction Erasmus refers to the practice of the Ancients to make use of stories they invented for the benefit of the common man who regrettably prefers fiction to fact, a practice which neither Plato nor Origen—nor, we would like to add, Erasmus himself—found unacceptable.  Somewhat surprisingly, however, he goes on to say:  'But in this matter I am not reluctant to stand with Augustine'.56  As a scholar Erasmus has no place for mendacia, since 'what in a historiographer is most needed is trustworthiness'.57"  [44-45].





Jacques Bos"  ["65"]



"….According to La Bruyère [1645 – 1696], every person has a hidden self, and not only the hypocrite."  [83] [end of essay].








Wiep van Bunge"  ["105"]



            "….All these texts have been shown in one way or another to be indebted to Spinoza's Tractatus.83  This mis-reading of the Dutch philosopher [Spinoza], however, was to be stretched even further in the infamous Traité des trois imposteurs, by far the most widely copied clandestine manuscript of the early radical Enlightenment.  Composed around 1700, probably in Holland, and published in 1719 in The Hague under the title L' Esprit de Mr. Benoit de Spinoza, the identity of its author remains a mystery, and we may never know who was responsible for this assemblage of fragments, taken from, among other, Spinoza, Machiavelli, Vanini, Naudé and perhaps even the Theophrastus redivivus.84  As Silvia Berti has shown, the first chapters contain large, verbatim quotes from the Ethics, in particular from the appendix to the first part.85   But once the Traité reaches the figures of Moses and Jesus, its libertine[sic] orientation pulverizes the Spinozan foundations, laid out in the first chapters.  The fourth chapter on Moses, immediately starts with a passage that according to Berti was added by its publisher Char les Levier, in which the entire libertine heritage reverberates.  Exploiting the same classical source as the Theophrastus redivivus, Moses is introduced as the grandson of a great Egyptian magician, who by conjuring up 'quelques tours subtils' lured the Hebrews into believing his was a divine mission.86


            Again, the three chapters on Christ are much closer to, for instance, the Theophrastus redivivus than to anything written by Spinoza.87  For Jesus, our text continues, was also well-versed in Egyptian magic, and he decided to emulate Moses' example, 'et se fit suivre de quelques Idiots, auxquels il persuada que le SAINT ESPRIT étoit son Pére, et qu'une Vierge étoit sa Mére.'88  The reason for his success among the Jews is evident:  'cela arriva dans un tems, où les Juifs, lassez de leur DIEU, comme il l' avoient été de leurs Juges, vouloient en avoir un visible, ainsi que les autres Nations'.  Unsurprisingly, there were no scholars or philosophers among his first disciples.89  The extent to which his moral philosophy did concur with the classical tradition, was merely a poor reflection of it.  As a philosopher, Christ was at best a clever copy-artist.90 






Much the same may be said of the notorious Mémoir, composed by the atheist priest Jean Meslier, who argued that Christ's moral philosophy was essentially erroneous.91  Even John Toland's Origines Judaicae reveals a close affinity to the Traité, although according to Toland, there was an important difference to be noted between Moses and Christ.  In Toland's view, Moses' private views had to be sharply distinguished from the cult he established in order to keep the Hebrews in their place.  Privately, Toland argued, Moses had been a Spinozist!92"  [121-123].


l l l l l






from:  Atheism From the Reformation to the Enlightenment, Edited by Michael Hunter and David Wootton, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1992.





DAVID BERMAN is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin.


SILVIA BERTI is Ricercatore of Modern History at La Sapienza University, Rome…."  ["vii"].







"Silvia Berti's chapter breaks new ground in establishing the links between the text of the Traité des trois imposteurs and the works of Spinoza, and in reconstructing the circumstances in which the work was originally composed and published.  Berti enables us to understand why the first edition of the Traité des trois imposteurs was accompanied by a life of Spinoza.  She brings new evidence to bear to suggest that this treatise was composed not by Rousset de Missy in the 1710s, as recently claimed by Margaret Jacob, but at a slightly earlier date by the diplomat Jan Vroesen [Johan Vroesen d. 1725 (Radical Enlightenment, Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750, Jonathan Israel, Oxford, 2001)].  In her painstaking demonstration of this, Berti throws important fresh light on the subversive networks that linked free-thinkers and provided the materials for an open assault on Christianity in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  In addition, in her final section she clearly illustrates how Spinoza's ideas fuelled the irreligious tradition, though she argues that in some respects they acquired a cruder, more simplistically materialist edge in the hands of his interpreters than had been the case with his own expression of them."  [8].








The First Edition of the

Traité des trois imposteurs [see 657, 666], and its

Debt to Spinoza's Ethics


Silvia Berti


A Missing Book


'The book about the three impostors has itself been the subject of a singular imposture.  It is a question on which opinions differ.'1  B.G. Struve's deliberately ironic and mysterious statement applies not only—as he intended—to the medieval and Renaissance literary myth of the three impostors, but also to the strange fate of an impious little book best known by the title under which it was reprinted several times during the last forty years of the eighteenth century, Le Traité des trois imposteurs.  It was, however, first published in 1719, entitled La Vie et L' Esprit de Spinosa.  Though the editor's name and the place of publication did not appear on the title-page, we know that it was published by Charles Levier at The Hague…."  ["183"].



            "….To maintain that Vroesen [Jan (Johan) Vroesen] is the author of L' Esprit fits well with yet another piece of evidence.  We have already seen that, according to a letter from Fritsch to Marchand (7 November 1737), Levier carefully copied the texts of La Vie and of L' Esprit (the latter retouched and extended by Rousset and Aymon) in 1711, and that his copy-text was a manuscript belonging to Benjamin Furly.  This is another link to Vroesen's home town and to Furly's library.  Jan [Vroesen] returned to Rotterdam in 1702.  There he would have been able to settle down to write his treatise, or complete it, if he had started writing it in Paris.  We can say that the internal evidence of the text, the external testimony of Fritsch and Marchand, and the biography of Vroesen fit together perfectly.


            As if this were not enough, there is another important witness, someone who is completely independent of Marchand but who agrees with him in attributing L 'Esprit to Vroesen.  The evidence is to be found in the introduction by the Lutheran pastor F.G.C. Rütz to the Dutch translation of Einleitung in die göttlichen Schriften des Neuen Bundes, a famous book by Johann David Michäelis, the great German Bible scholar who was professor of oriental languages at Göttingen.70  Rütz was very knowledgeable when it came to deistic and anti-Christian works.  He wrote an entire book about the most radical and disturbing author of the Italian Enlightenment, Alberto Radicati of Passerano, 






in which he claims to possess five different manuscript copies of the Traité des trois imposteurs.71  In his introduction to Michäelis he describes a quarto manuscript, forty-eight pages long, containing sixteen different fragments attacking Christianity.  Amongst them is a long note by Aymon on the Traité, followed by a 'Reflexion sur la précédente Remarque', written in 1737 by the anonymous compiler.  This is what he [Rütz] has to say:


The author of these previous remarks (of considerable significance, about a thesis that attributes the religion[s of] M[uhammad], C[hrist], and the M[osaic] to three impostors) was Mr Aymon, well known both for his learning and for changing his religion.  He could not possibly be ignorant of the true author of the MS that is known under the title Of Three Famous Impostors, and that was printed under the title De l' esprit et de la vie de Spinosa, for this Mr Aymon himself, along with Mr Rousset, corrected the original text by Mr Vroese [Vroesen], councilor of the Council of Brabant at The Hague, who was the true author of the manuscript in question.  Mr Rousset, in order to make his friend's manuscript more valuable and marketable, and to entertain the public, added to it a dissertation on the three impostors which he then had printed by Sr. Scheurleer, bookseller at The Hague, etc.72


This testimony is of considerable value, for it is much earlier than Marchand's, but identical to it.  From it we learn an even more essential fact, that Vroesen was a friend of Rousset de Missy, and it would appear that our information comes from someone in direct contact with Aymon.


            Thus, although there is no definitive documentary proof that Vroesen was the author of L' Esprit, the evidence seems to me to make this almost certain."  [208-209].





Disclaimers as Offence Mechanisms in

Charles Blount [1654 – 1693] and John Toland [1670 – 1722]





            I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

                                                                        Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, III. ii.






In this chapter I shall be examining two influential freethinkers—Charles Blount and John Toland—whose works were issued between 1679 and 1720.  Blount was from an upper-class English family; a correspondent and follower of Hobbes, he committed suicide in 1693.  Toland's background was very different:  obscure, Irish, and Roman Catholic.  Whereas Blount's father was a cultured free-thinker, Toland's (we are told) was either a French soldier or a popish priest.  A protégé of Locke, Toland coined the word 'pantheist' in 1705.  Swift called him the 'great Oracle of the Anti-Christians'.1


            Most scholars think that Blount and Toland were deists.2  I call them by the neutral term 'free-thinker', although I think they were atheists.  Part of my aim here is to defend this view.  My other aim is to explore the strategies they used to express their irreligious views.  My general name for these strategies is:  the art of theological lying.  I speak of lying because I think it is the most accurate term, and that little is to be gained by euphemisms.  Given the oppressive forces of the time, the basic choice for a free-thinker was between silence or lying, between burying his gold or mixing it with lead so that it could be more safely minted—as Blount's Dutch printer nicely put it.3  The free-thinker was in a moral [and physical] dilemma:  if he was silent, the truth (as he saw it) would suffer by omission; if he told the truth, he would suffer.  The solution was a compromise:  lying for the truth, lying so that the intelligent would know or could unravel the truth, while the authorities could not punish or victimize the writer.'  ["225" -226].



'There is, I think, an advantage in starting with clear—even exaggerated—examples in order to illustrate the model.  From there we can move by degrees to deeper (and more problematic) instances of theological lying.  Here, then, are a few clear examples of denial from George Ensor's [1769 – 1843] Janus on Sion [1816], prima facie a biblical commentary, but really a tour de force of freethought.  Ensor's first disclaimer follows his discussion of tales similar to those in the book of Genesis:  'Let it not be supposed, however, that I compare the ethnic tales with the sacred relation in Genesis; for though the Jewish narrative is as extravagant as the accounts of the origin and infancy of other nations, it is verity itself; while they are miserable fictions.'8  And having mentioned the word 'orthodoxy' somewhat later, Ensor 'scrupulously' disclaims (p. 89 n.):  'I do not refer, I assure the reader, to the clergyman's pun, orthodoxy is my own doxy, heterodoxy another man's doxy; far be from me any disposition to treat matters of the last importance with levity:  I may differ from learned and pious men, but I would comport myself with gravity.'  Further on in his book (p. 103) Ensor takes us through this odd association of biblical ideas:  'as Eve lost mankind his happy state by listening to the serpent, it is most fitting that the redemption of mankind should be






introduced by the sense of hearing. Yet how brought the virgin forth?  Aristotle [384 – 322 B.C.E.] says that weazles generate by the ear…and Plutarch adds, they bring forth by the mouth.'  Now comes Ensor's (double) denial:  'I do not say that Mary was impregnated by the ear, and became a mother by her mouth; but I say this suggestion should not be hastily rejected.'  (Ibid.)


In these witty denials or disclaimers, Ensor is doing three things: 


(1) protecting himself;


(2) signalling his true irreligious position to other knowing unbelievers;



(3) insinuating this irreligious position to open-minded and/or unwary

believers.  Protection, communication, and insinuation are the three

essential components in what I understand as the art of theological

lying.  The following table may be useful:



The Art of Theological Lying
















Protection (1)

Communication (2)

Insinuation (3)







Potential enemies;


Unwary and/or


civil and legal













It is apparent, I think, how Ensor's denials (quoted above) could achieve all three purposes.  But there are limitations; for the clearer the second purpose is, the less likely a statement will be to succeed in the first and third aims; the authorities, too, will see its purpose; and only the very naïve reader will be taken in or swayed by it.  This is the case with Janus on Sion.  As its title indicates, it is two-faced; yet its duplicity is fairly transparent and hence close to irony, as one might expect from an early nineteenth-century pamphlet.






            On the other hand, the deeper the ulterior aim is, the harder it will be for everyone (including twentieth-century onlookers) to see the underlying purpose and truthful message.  There is no way of avoiding this.  For the art of theological lying was a serious matter that could affect a person's livelihood, liberty, and—as the case of Thomas Aikenhead [c. 1678 – 1697 (hung for blasphemy (see:] shows—even life.  And the dangers, on the whole, were greater in the seventeenth than in the nineteenth-century.  It is useful, I suggest, to see a continuum between the more transparent techniques of later writers and the more obscure ones of earlier writers, in which theological lying merges with, but is still distinct from, irony.  Yet there is also a danger in this approach, that is, of anachronistically conflating the earlier free-thought techniques with the later and more obvious ones of writers like Ensor, Hume, and Voltaire.'  [258-260].



            'Free-thinkers like Blount should be seen as vehicles of a [positive] subversive, threatening social unconscious.  In trying to affect public opinion without the awareness of public opinion, they exploited the mechanisms of the unconscious.  I have argued this thesis for the mechanisms of displacement and parapraxes ["Freudian slips"]  elsewhere;12 I now want to argue it for denial or negation.  Here the important theoretical work is Freud's 1925 paper 'Negation', where he observes that 'the content of a repressed image or idea can make its way into consciousness, on condition that it is negated.  Negation is a way of taking cognizance of what is repressed…'13  Thus Blount is able to introduce his subversive views by negating them, and, in his reference to Cardano's view, by abusing him as 'uncharitable'.  We can compare this to an analysand ["a person who is being psychoanalyzed" (] saying something unacceptable and then adding:  'But I could hardly believe something so foolish or immoral.'  Elsewhere, Freud describes negation as a 'common type of reaction to repressed material which has become conscious:  the "no" with which the fact is first denied is immediately followed by a confirmation of it, though, to begin with, only an indirect one.'14  This is also what we have found in Blount:  he does what he denies.  Having denied that he uses insidious parallels, he goes on to use them.






            Of course, I must emphasize my adaptation of the Freudian model.  Blount is consciously aiming to arouse, or insinuate, unwelcome ideas, although in such a way that he will be protected.  For Freud, the unwelcome idea arises from the unconscious (perhaps elicited by association), and it is allowed to become conscious by being negated.  Blount does all the work:  he exhibits the unwelcome idea already clothed in negation. 


For him [Blount], negation is not a defence mechanism; it is an offence mechanism….'  [264-265].



Comment (LS):  Blount, above, probably, was involved in conscious negation; that is:  Blount was commonly aware of what he was doing.


            I presented a probable classic case of negation:  see:, page 129, 425..


l l l l l






from:  Deism, Masonry, and the Enlightenment, Essays Honoring Alfred Owen Aldridge, Edited by J.A. Leo Lemay, Newark:  University of Delaware Press; London and Toronto:  Associated University Presses, c1987.



"Introduction" [11]


            'Dr. David Berman's essay "Deism, Immortality, and the Art of Theological Lying" spans a period from the late seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century, from Charles Blount to David Hume.  Berman argues that the (so-called foremost British deists (Charles Blount, John Toland, Anthony Collins, and Matthew Tindal) only pretended to believe in a future life; like David Hume they were actually moralists who suggested their true meanings by indirection.  Berman subsumes the various names for their rhetorical method under the new and inclusive rubric, "the Art of Theological Lying."  Since the freethinkers could not openly speak or write their opinions, they had to remain silent or resort to artfully lying.  Although these writers all claimed to be Christian fideists, Berman shows that they elsewhere refuted that position.  He also argues that in some instances, only external evidence reveals that the writers were actually lying; the internal evidence of irony and tone is at times an insufficient guide to the deists' covert meaning.  He concludes that in reading their writings we are not really dealing with the shallow, superficial deism that intellectual historians from the time of Leslie Stephen have ascribed to them but with a deep, covert atheism.  As Berman writes, "The onus of proof now lies with those who claim that they were sincere deists to show that they were."  I personally believe that only Berman's thesis adequately explains the horror with which the contemporaries of these deists greeted their opinions.


            My [J.A. Leo Lemay] own contribution, "The Amerindian in the Early American Enlightenment:  Deistic Satire in Robert Beverley's History of Virginia (1705)," argues that one of the best-known and most widely cited passages in Beverley's History, his exploration of an Amerindian house of worship, is actually fictitious.  I provide evidence indicating that a close reading of the key passages reveals they are fictions; show that Beverley's description was inspired by De Bry's print in Thomas Hariot's Brief and True Report (1590); point out that the print itself (which Beverley adapted and reprinted) is regarded as a fake and does not accurately represent any known gods of Virginia Indians or any other American Indians; and maintain that Beverley's purpose in this passage and elsewhere in the book was to advocate both critical and constructive deism [and, "to advance a covert atheism" (p. 90)].  In concluding, I briefly glance at other American writers who used the Amerindian to advocate deism.'  [12-13].


"J.A. Leo Lemay"  [15].






'Deism, Immortality, and the Art of

Theological Lying




1.      Introduction:  Collins on Immortality


To what extent did the "foremost British deists"1—Charles Blount [1654 – 1693], John Toland [1670 – 1722], Anthony Collins [1676 – 1729], Matthew Tindal [1655 – 1733]—practice the art of theological lying?  Instead of trying to define theological lying, I shall begin with an example from Collins's Discourse of Free-Thinking (1713):


the true principles, upon which the immortality of the soul depends [Collins asserts] are only to be fetch'd from the New Testament…[which] teaches us…that God had but one way to put mankind in a capacity of enjoying immortal happiness, viz by sending JESUS CHRIST into the world, who (as God and man, and God's son, and the same numerical being with that God whose son he was, and yet personally distinct from him) only could by his sufferings and death (tho God can neither dye nor suffer) give an infinite satisfaction to an infinitely offended and infinitely merciful God, appease his wrath, and thereby save the elect.  Now I would ask, how any man without revelation could know that death signify'd eternal life in misery.  (COL [Collins]-1)2


Here Collins is openly subscribing to such orthodox Christian doctrines as the belief in immortality based on the Gospel promise and the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity.  Plainly, if Collins meant what he says, then he could not be a deist.  For a deist, it is agreed, must, minimally, reject Christian mysteries and the authority of Scripture.  Hence those scholars who see Collins as a deist must also accept that he was a liar—that is, he did not mean what he said.3  [in addition, the above quotation, is reminiscent of writings of Erasmus.  The explanation is more complex.  One would privately have to ask Blount:  "What are you trying to communicate?"].


            Most of us do not like liars or lying; nor are we inclined to accept conspiracy theories or explanations that postulate secret codes or cabals.  These aversions may explain why the art of theological lying has been so generally ignored, even though it was, I maintain, practiced not only by Collins but by Toland, Tindal, and Blount.  For the sake of simplicity, I shall be restricting the subject area to the question of immortality.  More specifically, I shall be arguing that although these alleged deists say they believe in a future life, their statements constitute a subversion of the belief. 






Their art raises a fundamental dilemma for the standard view of the British deists and deism.  Briefly, if we take Collins, Toland, Tindal, and Blount at their word, then they were really Christian fideists, at least concerning the afterlife; yet if we allow that they lied about immortality, then their other theological assertions must also be considered problematic.  In section 8 I briefly discuss the implications of this dilemma for an atheistic interpretation of these (so-called) major English deists.


2.   Background:  Toland and Shaftesbury on the Art


In trying to uncover the Art I shall be largely using a comparative method:  by juxtaposing statements to COL [Collins]-1, above, I hope to reveal the techniques of the Art.  Fortunately, we have other sources of information on the Art, since some of the practitioners and their opponents have written about it.  The most extensive such examination is Toland's "Clidophorus; or of the Exoteric and Esoteric philosophy," the second essay in his Tetradymus (1720).  What Toland calls the "exoteric and esoteric distinction" has also been called "double doctrine" by William Warburton, "defensive raillery" by Lord Shaftesbury, "irony" by Collins, "secret insinuation" by Hume, dissembling, dissimulation, and sneering by many.4  There is no agreed name, which may be no bad thing, since these labels tend to mislead by focusing on only one aspect of a complex phenomenon.  Hence I have chosen a new and inclusive name—


the art of theological lying.


The background of the Art [of theological lying] is a fear or unwillingness to write truthfully about religion.  As Blount notes in 1680:  "'Tis a thing of most dangerous consequence to oppose any doctrine that is publicly received, how sottish however it be"; for which reason Blount is, as he says, prepared to subscribe to any dogma of the established religion (1680b, preface).  That the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century freethinkers could or would not write openly on God, immortality, miracles, the Bible, is evident from their writings as well as from the works of their opponents.


Collins's Discourse of Free-thinking is a plea not only for freethought, but also for free speaking and free writing.


And in his other Discourse (1729), on ridicule, Collins says that the free-thinker will "sacrifice the privilege of irony" only when there is freedom of expression (24).5  In "Clidophorus" Toland states that esotericism is "as much in use as ever" (94):  "And indeed,






considering how dangerous it is made to tell the truth, 'tis difficult to know when any man declares his real opinions" (95). 


By the 1697 Blasphemy Act—9 and 10 William III, ch. 32—it was an offense to "deny any one of the persons in the holy Trinity to be God…or deny the Christian religion to be true, or the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be of divine authority."  Nor was this a token act.  Thomas Woolston and Peter Annet were imprisoned for their freethinking pamphlets; indeed, Woolston died in prison (Bonner 1943, 34 – 37).  In such a religiously intolerant, persecuting age, the sensible practice for a prudent writer was artful lying….'  [61-63].



'6.  The Art:  Protection, Communication, Insinuation


            In my account of Collins, Tindal, Toland, Blount, and Hume, I have so far followed Shaftesbury, Toland, and Gildon in seeing two components or purposes in the Art: 


(1)       the literal meaning, used to deceive the vulgar, and protect the writer and "tender" reader—this component might be called "defensive raillery"; and


(2)       the esoteric message, which was to be communicated to other knowing or sensible freethinkers, but which, perforce, could also be comprehended by knowing orthodox clerical enemies.


            There are difficulties with this two-term theory.  In particular, it supposes that freethinkers were artfully communicating ideas that were already known and accepted.  But why go to so much trouble to preach to the converted?  Of course, although the general position or message would be known, new details or arguments could be communicated.  Practicing the Art would also have angered the knowing clerics, whose rage would delight the practitioners.  Yet even granting this, there would seem to be something vain in the Art if it included only those—friends and foes—who already generally understood it.


            I suggest that there is another component or purpose in the artful writings of Collins et al; this is: 


(3)       insinuation, or gently and covertly suggesting the second component (the radical message) to some of those ignorant of it.  Such insinuation might be called "offensive raillery."  Among those who saw and wrote about it were George Berkeley and Skelton.  In Alciphron (1732) Berkeley speaks of those freethinkers who "write…by insinuation"; he calls them "moles," who work "with much art and industry, and at first with






secrecy…like moles underground, concealing [their] progress from the public" (Dialogue 2.23, also see 7.26).  In his Theory of Vision Vindicated, published in the following year, Berkeley says that the "atheist who gilds and insinuates, and, even while he insinuates, disclaims his principles is the likeliest to spread them" (section 3). 


(4)       This fits most of our texts. They claim to be endorsing belief in immortality while insidiously undermining it. 


            I shall argue that, with the (probable) exception of LOC [apparently, Locke (apparently, "COL" and "LOC" occurred in a previous version of this essay (not readily available))], all the quotations I have produced can be read in a threefold way: 


(1)       literally they assert the truth of Gospel immortality in order to deceive the vulgar and protect the writer;


(2)       yet they assert it in such a way, and in such a context, that fellow freethinkers would recognize that it amounted to an assertion of disbelief in immortality. 


(3)       They insinuate and suggest to some unknowing and unwary readers that immortality (and religion in general) was more questionable and sillier than they had originally thought.


            In order to appreciate (3), the insinuation, it is often crucial to see the context in which a "bounceing [sic] compliment" is embedded.  Consider COL-1; its context is Collins's attempt to show that (the biblical) Solomon was a freethinker.  Collins beings by noting that Solomon is described in the Bible, the "word of God[,] to be the wisest of men" (124); yet Solomon also "argues against a future state…" (126).  Collins then indirectly, as it appears, embarks on a "vindication" of Solomon, which amounts to showing that other wise ancients also disbelieved in a future state.  Collins insinuates that the wise position is in fact unbelief.  Then follows his fideistic, Gospel assertion of immortality, which "bounceing compliment," as I have said, is so extreme that it would, at the least for the more intelligent vulgar, engender suspicion, particularly when taken with the accompanying crude trinitarian assertion.  There are other insinuating signs as well.  If the Bible, "the word of God," states that Solomon was the "wisest" of men, how can he then be wrong or ignorant about so fundamental a truth as immortality?  Either he is wisest, and then he is right about mortalism, or he is not wisest, and then the Bible, "the word of God," is not always truthful.  But if the Bible is not always truthful then we cannot depend on its assertion that Christ brought immortality.  This implication would have been evident to






Collins's fellow freethinkers; they would have seen the message.  Others, though, the innocent and vulgar, might have been puzzled.  The insinuations may have raised questions in some of their minds.  Some of Collins's critics, as I have mentioned, saw this danger and pointed out the insinuations, presumably in order to warn the unwary.  Yet that strategy also had its danger, since it would reveal a subversive message that were better left disguised.  Literally, of course, Collins was asserting a belief in Gospel immortality, as his mentor, Locke, had done some fifteen years earlier.


            Insinuation (3) and esoteric communication (2) are difficult, by their natures, to pinpoint or prove.  But the way to proceed is by using the clearer cases, comparing them with those less clear.  Hume's assertions are most clear.  It is significant that they occur in the first and last paragraphs, which, I have suggested, was part of a code that developed in the eighteenth century, a code most blatantly seen in Hume, particularly in his essays on miracles and immortality. 


There were, in short, certain signs whereby a freethinker


could recognize another freethinker's work….'  [72-73].



'8 Mortalism and Atheism


            I have argued above that the immortalist assertions of Collins, Toland, Blount, and Tindal were instances, not of simple irony, but of the Art of theological lying.  I have also suggested that this questions the description of them as deists.  Yet, as I noted, a possible response to this suggestion is to insulate their theological lying on immortality from their assertions and beliefs concerning God's existence.  The deists, according to this view, were (if need be) insincere in their immortalism; but that need not cast doubts on the sincerity of their deism, their belief in God.  Yet there is, prima facie, a fatal difficulty with this response.  One is reminded of the story (attributed to G.B. Shaw) about a woman who was asked if she would prostitute herself for a million pounds.  When she said yes, the questioner asked if she would accept one pound, to which she indignantly retorted:  "What sort of woman do you take me for?", to which the propositioner replied:  "That, madam, has already been established."  The theological lying of Collins, Toland, Blount and Tindal has been established.  Hence, no one should be indignant, prima facie, about the possibility that they are also lying about God's existence.  The onus of proof now lies with those who claim that they were sincere deists to show that they were.






            Let us, however, move somewhat below the surface of this challenge and examine the following statement from Blount's 1680 letter to Lord Rochester, "Concerning the immortality of the soul," first printed in the Oracles of Reason  (1693).  Having presented some difficulties in accepting immortality, Blount indicates his acceptance, particularly on account of "the absolute necessity and convenience that it should be so."  Yet Blount ostentatiously repudiates the anima mundi notion of immortality, which he associates with Seneca; for such immortality carries no implications for otherworldly rewards and punishments and, hence, social order.  Such a notion, Blount says, is "unaccountable or contradictory," although it is clear from his book Anima Mundi that he looks favorably on it.  His verbal repudiation is linked with the rejection of another nontheistic notion—of God—yet the insinuation is that he favors both [apparently, rejection of "immortality", and, "God"], or, more precisely, atheism:


            [Charles Blount 1654 - 1693] For, as to suppose a hum-drum Deity chewing his own Nature, a droning God, sit hugging of himself, and hoarding up his Providence from his Creatures, is an Atheism no less irrational, than to deny the very Essence of a Divine Being; so, in my Opinion, to believe an immortality of the Soul without its due Rewards and Punishments, is altogether as irrational and useless as to believe the Soul itself to be mortal; by such a Faith we rob the Soul of its best Title to immortality:  for what need is there of an Executor where there are no Debts to pay, nor any Estate to inherit?  (1695, 126–27)


Here the belief in personal immortalism and a providential God are connected and affirmed.  And yet there is reason to believe that both affirmations are insincere and that the connection of theism with immortalism was meant to undermine the latter.  "What need is there of an Executor where there are no Debts to pay [", NOR ANY ESTATE TO INHERIT"]"?  In short, theism without immortalism is vain.  It is our desire for immortality [see, Notes:  Subject Index (3086-3087)], as Schopenhauer [Arthur Schopenhauer 1788 – 1860] was later to argue, that prompts us to postulate a God able to superintend the other world.  Conversely, once mortalism is accepted, then God is no longer required; for it is immortality (will-to-eternal-life), not theism, that is the primary desideratum.


            Indeed, if mortalism is proved or assumed, then one has a plausible ad hominem argument for atheism.  According to rationalist theologians such as Clarke, immortality and a future life ineluctably follow from (1) God's justice and providence and (2) the fact that the just and unjust do not always get their proper rewards in this world.  If one accepts (2) and mortalism, then it will be difficult to resist the conclusion that God cannot be just or providential; yet these were regarded as necessary features of the Christian God. 






Once mortalism is accepted, atheism seems to follow.  Indeed, one can argue historically that it is more likely than a mortalist will be an atheist, than that an atheist will be a mortalist.  The first avowed British atheist and the second—Shelley [Percy Bysshe Shelley 1792 – 1822]—and McTaggart were militant atheists, yet also immortalists.14  It is, then, difficult to insulate mortalism from atheism.


            There are also more specific reasons for believing


that Collins, Toland, Blount, and Tindal were atheists,


although I can only briefly allude to them here.  I have elsewhere offered internal and external evidence for such an interpretation of Tindal ("Tindal," 1985, 167–68).  Blount himself insinuates atheism in the passage I just quoted.  Hume, as I have argued, insinuates his atheism by the denial of atheism, and Toland does the same.15  In any case, Toland's later avowed pantheism is hardly consistent with deism; and his earlier deistic assertions, as in the penultimate section of the Letters to Serena, should be read, I have maintained, as theological lying.16  The so-called major deists were not, I contend, deists at all; they were atheists.  Instead of the shallow, superficial deism—as described by Leslie Stephen (1876, III, sect. 74)—we are, I suggest, dealing with deep, covert atheism.  Whereas most scholars17 seem inclined to detach Hume from the so-called major deists—Collins, Toland, Tindal, and Blount—on the grounds that Hume was no deist, I have tried to show, in one area ["immortality"] at least, that they all make up a fairly homogeneous group. 


The history of deism may turn out to be more like the history


of covert atheism.'  [Superb statement!].


[76-77] [end of text of essay ("Notes" follow, on 78)].


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from:, page 486:



[Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900]


"A German monk, LUTHER [1483 – 1546], came to Rome.  This monk, with all the vengeful instincts of an unsuccessful priest in him, RAISED A REBELLION AGAINST THE RENAISSANCE IN ROME....Instead of grasping, with profound thanksgiving, the miracle that had taken place:  the conquest of Christianity at its capital [apparently, Rome]—instead of this, his hatred was stimulated by the spectacle. 


A RELIGIOUS MAN THINKS ONLY OF HIMSELF.—Luther saw only the depravity of the papacy at the very moment when the opposite was becoming apparent: 






The Renaissance—an event without meaning, a great futility!—....These Germans, I confess, are my enemies....For nearly a thousand years they have tangled and confused everything their fingers have touched;...they also have on their conscience the uncleanest variety of Christianity that exists, and the most incurable and indestructible—Protestantism....


If mankind never manages to get rid of Christianity the Germans will be to blame...." 


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