The Varnished Truth - Truth Telling and Deceiving in Ordinary Life

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9780226610511: The Varnished Truth - Truth Telling and Deceiving in Ordinary Life
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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.

The Varnished Truth takes us beyond philosophical speculation and clinical analysis to give us 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.

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From the Back Cover:

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 andself-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.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Is truth-telling morally overrated? Is deception a ``normal...attribute of practical intelligence?'' In this provocative, original work, Nyberg (Philosophy of Education/SUNY at Buffalo) looks at the moral and logical complexity of deception. Contending that deception and self-deception are necessary to social stability and individual mental health, Nyberg suggests that intentional deceit--white lies, selective omissions, even conscious silences--can be creative and compassionate alternatives to stark truth-telling. Unlike Sissela Bok's Lying (1978), which he finds limited by its abstract theoretical approach, Nyberg's study concentrates on deception in context--between friends, while raising children, in court cases--and emphasizes the importance of coherent interpretation of ultimate outcome over adherence to a single principle. Should you tell a dying novelist that his latest work is not up to snuff, or an especially jealous wife the details of affairs carried on before the marriage? For the most part, Nyberg uses everyday behavior or literary example to highlight the issues as, in sharp, deft sentences, he cuts to the heart of the matter: ``To live decently with one another, we do not need moral purity, we need discretion''; ``What does a child need before sleep, reality or comfort?''; ``Sometimes the truth does not set you free; it destroys the sense of freedom that hope provides.'' Moving from legal ethics to receptive aphasics responding to a Reagan speech, from The Hedgehog and the Fox to Honest Andrew, this isn't philosophy-made-simple but a spirited, accessible challenge to basic assumptions about what constitutes moral conduct. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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