The Varnished Truth

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University of Chicago Press, Jan 1, 1995 - Family & Relationships - 244 pages
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Everyone says that lying is wrong. But when we say that lying is bad and hurtful and that we would never intentionally tell a lie, are we really deceiving anyone? In this wise and insightful book, David Nyberg exposes the tacit truth underneath our collective pretense and reveals that an occasional lie can be helpful, healthy, creative, and, in some situations, even downright moral. Through familiar and often entertaining examples, Nyberg explores the purposes deception serves, from the social kindness of the white lie to the political ends of diplomacy to the avoidance of pain or unpleasantness. He looks at the lies we tell ourselves as well, and contrary to the scolding of psychologists demonstrates that self-deception is a necessary function of mental health, one of the mind's many weapons against stress, uncertainty, and chaos. Deception is in our nature, Nyberg tells us. In civilization, just as in the wilderness, survival does not favor the fully exposed or conspicuously transparent self. As our minds have evolved, as practical intelligence has become more refined, as we have learned the subtleties of substituting words and symbols for weapons and violence, deception has come to play a central and complex role in social life. The Varnished Truth takes us beyond philosophical speculation and clinical analysis to give a sense of what it really means to tell the truth. As Nyberg lays out the complexities involved in leading a morally decent life, he compels us to see the spectrum of alternatives to telling the truth and telling a clear-cut lie. A life without self-deception would be intolerable and a world of unconditional truth telling unlivable. His argument that deception and self-deception are valuable to both social stability and individual mental health boldly challenges popular theories on deception, including those held by Sissela Bok and Daniel Goleman. Yet while Nyberg argues that we deceive, among other reasons, so that we might not perish of the truth, he also cautions that we deceive carelessly, thoughtlessly, inhumanely, and selfishly at our own peril.
  

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The varnished truth: truth telling and deceiving in ordinary life

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Challenging deeply ingrained habits of thinking, Nyberg (philosophy of education, SUNY-Buffalo) proposes that deception is "an essential component of our ability to organize and shape the world.'' He ... Read full review

Contents

INTRODUCTION
1
TRUTH TELLING IS MORALLY OVERRATED
7
WHAT IT MEANS TO TELL THE TRUTH
27
VARIETIES OF TRUTH
29
THE REVERSE OF TRUTH HAS A HUNDRED THOUSAND SHAPES
46
SHOWING AND HIDING THE LOGIC OF DECEPTION
63
SELFDECEPTION WEAKNESS OR WISDOM?
81
WHAT DECEPTION IS FOR
109
RAISING CHILDREN THE RIGHT TRUTH AT THE RIGHT TIME
154
TRUTH VERDICTS AND JUSTICE
176
DECEPTION AND MORAL DECENCY
193
INVENTING RIGHT AND WRONG
195
CONCLUSION
219
NOTES
221
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
233
INDEX
239

CIVILITY REVEALING AND CONCEALING OUR THOUGHTS
111
FRIENDSHIP AND ALTRUISM BE UNTRUTHFUL TO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE OTHERS BE UNTRUTHFUL TO YOU
137

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