Monday, December 20, 2010

A Bit More on Clancy Martin's The Lying Guy


Itzik, thanks for this. I much enjoyed reading about my old friend, Bob Soloman. I and everyone who knew him, loved him, and we all miss him very much. By and large, I agree with your reaction to Martin. Most of what he describes himself as being is just salesmanship, and sharp but not necessarily dishonest business practice. He seems to have an unduly protestant puritanism in his make-up, and an abnormal guilt quotient. Also, the very notion of self-deception is dicey. In order to lie, one must know what the truth is. How then does one lie to, i.e., deceive, oneself?

There is a vast literature on this subject, pro and con, as to whether there actually is anything such as self-deception. I have no official views on the matter, but I suspect that the notion presupposes some dubious notion of a divided self - one part of one's self lies to another part. But the self is not the sort of thing that can be divided, or have parts; that's all just metaphor, and as we all know, it is logically impossible for any metaphor to map onto any reality; that's why, necessarily, all metaphorical statements are false. I really do not want to enter that dismal conceptual swamp, however. Happy Holidays, Merry Solstice and all that sentimental clap-trap!


Thanks for your pregnant, thoughtful comments, Don. And happy holidays to you too.

You make an interesting point about the (possibly) logical impossibility of lying to one's self and the difference between metaphor and logical truth. I wouldn't have thought lying to one's self is logically impossible, mind you I have never really thought much about it.

But how about just this one question, without getting into any swamps, conceptual or otherwise, or taking up too much of your time: you champion common sense in the resolution of certain problems in the use of language; so let's just stipulate that most people wouldn't in their common sense have any problem with that notion--lying to one's self (which is probably so); does their common sense count, or are they (and I) being insufficiently attentive to the nuances of the question (and, if the latter is so, does that argue a necessary refinement on the common sense you valorize?)


Itzik, you raise some interesting questions here. Very briefly, I support Berkeley's dictum: Speak with the vulgar and think with the learned. We are all Copernicans now. We know that the sun merely appears to rise in the east and set in the west because of the earth's turning on its axis, yet we all continue to speak with the vulgar, and talk about sunrises and sunsets, and this is a perfectly proper thing to do because at the level of the phenomenology of everyday life that is exactly the way things appear to be.

Similarly, at the level of common sense and ordinary language - the level of the vulgar and of the phenomenology of everyday life - we do sometimes say of someone that he is lying to himself. We say this of someone who bloody well can be expected to know and acknowledge the truth of some proposition p, but who acts and speaks as though he believes that not-p is the case.

Whatever the scientific psychological explanation might be (and I do not know what it is), whatever the learned might say, our common sense/ordinary language explanations and descriptions of human behavior embodied in what is called folk psychology is in order as it is, and needs no reforming.

At the level of the phenomenology of everyday life, we do not need to know whether self-deception is logically impossible, or actually exists because of divided selves (in some sense or other) or whatever. The jurisdiction of common sense is confined to the phenomenology of everyday life where it is authoritative. It is silent about black holes or the quantum phenomena of sub-atomic physics, or scientific psychology, if there is such a thing. So, no, common sense, folk psychology, on this matter needs no tweaking, no revision.

People sometimes think that common sense should be revised in the light of science, but I think this is wrong. Scientific physics tells us that a one-pound lead ball and a feather will fall from some height at the same rate of increasing speed in accordance with Newton's laws. Common sense tells us that the lead ball will fall faster than the feather.

Is common sense mistaken?

Does physics contradict common sense? The answer to both questions is, 'no'. Physics at the level of the phenomenology of everyday life, at the level of common sense, is not Newtonian; it is Aristotelian. Feathers do take longer to fall from a given height than a one-pound ball of lead at the phenomenological level because of the action of wind resistance on the feather, slowing it down. Common sense is right to say that we should never bet on the feather.

Newton's laws suppose that the feather and the ball of lead are falling in a vacuum, i.e., where there are no factors at work to impede the fall of either the feather or the lead ball, and gravity is the only operative factor. And even if scientific psychology should some day give us an explanation of the range of phenomena we call self-deception, we should probably continue to speak with the vulgar even though thinking with the learned.

It is also my view that there are more than enough problems for philosophy to deal with at the level of the vulgar (all of us most of of the time), so that is where our attention should be focused. Scientists do not need our oversight, and we do not need theirs.


Thanks for your illuminating comments.

I think I agree with all that you say, at least on first blush and I like the distinction between the stuff of every day and the stuff of specific, specialized niches.

If anything strikes me amiss, I may venture a comment further.

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