17 Sep 2020

Breeur (1.3) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Ch.1.3, “Imagination and Lying”, summary

 

by Corry Shores

 

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[The following is a paragraph by paragraph summary of Breeur’s text. Boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my mistakes. The book can be purchased here.]

 

 

 

 

Summary of

 

Roland Breeur

[Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page]

 

Lies – Imposture – Stupidity

 

Part 1

Lies and Stupidity

 

Ch.1.

The Last Judgment

 

1.3

“Imagination and Lying”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(1.3.1) According to Sartre, our imaginations are what allow us to transform the raw given real into a world whose parts meaningfully inter-relate; it is imagination that makes meaning and a world out of the given.  Turner for instance takes the raw given fog of London and paints it in a way that shows it as beautiful and interesting in its richness and complexity, especially with respect to the surrounding world it colors, helps characterize and give significance and value to (aesthetic and otherwise). Truth-values like true and false, which we assign to statements of the real, are determined less by some supposed objective factuality of the real and more by the values the real has obtained through our imagination’s reconstruals of it. Thus prior to Turner, the polluted fog in 19th century London may have been nothing more than an ugly and sickening element of the surrounding air. Hence, the truth-value of the statement, “the London fog is ugly and unhealthy” would be true. Yet, Turner, by showing the aesthetic values of the fog and how it adds to the overall aesthetic of London in its many locales and components, changes its value. It is no longer ugly (and insofar as it brings aesthetic enjoyment to behold, it is no longer simply unhealthy) and thus Turner’s imagination, by reconstruing London fog, changed the truth value of “the London fog is ugly and unhealthy” from true to false (and similarly, he changed “the London fog is beautiful and good for one’s health and well being to behold” from false to true.) Thus, like Oscar Wilde says in “The Decay of Lying,” art does not imitate nature but rather nature imitates art (in other words, even the natural given obtains its meanings, values, and appearances by means of the art that imagines it in various ways.) (1.3.2) The notion that imagination holds sway over the way we perceive and interact with the world is something we all probably assume anyway. We can see it more clearly when we consider strange beliefs and practices in the past that were based on the different ways they imagined their world in that context. For instance, in the 16th century, there was a conception of the human body based on imagining it with architectural imagery, where the skin is like a wall. Cracks in the wall allow water to seep in and with it mold and mildew that can weaken the overall structure. With this image in mind for the human skin, there was a practice among doctors at this time where they would cover a newborn baby’s body with fat and wrap it up, out of fear that diseases might seep into the cracks in the skin like water through a wall. The way this relates to truth and lying can be seen in the next example, Descartes’ depictions of the body as a machine. They have the advantage of allowing us to conceive the body’s working in a fruitful way and to think of how it might be replicated artificially. But now when we read his conceptions, none of it seems literally true at all. However, we would not accuse Descartes of lying (neither to the people of his time, whose limits in anatomical understanding might allow these conceptions to be acceptable, nor to us of our time, because these conceptions still speak a “truth” to us about the mechanical nature of the body, and much of our current knowledge of the body’s nervous functioning resembles in remarkable ways Descartes’ modeling.) (In other words, one can tell a falsehood that is not a lie, because it is something meaningful in its context and is formulated based on a fruitful intervention of the imagination into the world that is shaped by means of it.) (1.3.3) Thus, “truth itself is dependent upon a context and a criterion of meaning”. Breeur draws to observations from this. {1} “some truths, however scientific, sometimes appear worthless, inappropriate, or stupid in response to what they wish to prove” (discussion for this idea comes in the next chapter.) {2} “lies and scams sometimes illuminate true aspects of reality and enter into history as unshakeable truths.” For example, Adolf Eichmann was himself not banally evil and manipulative during his trial; he was spectacularly so. His trial “turned out to be a great spectacle, a conscious deception – in short, fake.” Nonetheless, on the basis of this false and remarkable performance, Hana Arendt developed her idea of the banality of evil. (1.3.4) Lies are tied to imagination. This is not because lying depends on the ability to imagine alternate facts but rather because lying and imagination have the same structure, namely, both are “expressions of the freedom to refuse to accept something and therefore the desire to change it – in short, to act” (18). (1.3.5) Augustine defines lying as having one thought in your head while expressing another thought instead, with the intention to deceive. In this way, the liar has a double heart and holds a double thought. Lying is an act of duplicity in which “You dissimulate what is true, and you simulate what is untrue” (19). (Augustine: “dissimulation is pretending not to be what one actually is, whereas simulation is pretending to be what one actually is not.”) (1.3.6) Lying requires skills and activity not required for simply telling the truth; for, the liar must on the one hand deny some part of reality while at the same time evoking and simulating something non-real and non-existent. But even though all lie is fiction, that does not mean all fiction is untruthful. The distinction is that lies are told with the intention to deceive, “that is, to fraudulently change reality or to adapt its meaning” (19). Given that lying involves the intention to deceive by means of denying reality while simulating the non-real, “Traditionally, therefore, the condemnation of the lie was focused either on the subjective aspect – the intention to deceive – or on the objective aspect – to replace reality with fiction.” (Yet as we noted above, lying is possible on account of factual reality being something bendable by means of the imagination.) Thus, “in both cases this reaction is an attempt to conjure, control, or neutralize the ambivalence proper to factual reality.” There are two ways to condemn lying: {1} internally, in the mental realm, and {2} externally, among the facts themselves. (1.3.7) {1} When we condemn the lie by concerning ourselves with the inner, mental realm, then we are blaming the inner self. Here the criticism is not on how the lie affects outer reality, because here we are assuming that the lie really has no control over it. Instead we are saying that lying involves a lack of sincerity, one’s attitude to one’s own thinking. {2} If instead we are concerned with how the lie affects reality, then our criticism is that by lying, we are “firing out ambiguities in the world” and thereby we “are unravelling the ground on which you yourself stand.” (20)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

1.3.1

[Truth Imitating Art]

 

1.3.2

[The Usualness of the Imagination’s Sway over Perception and Action]

 

1.3.3

[Truth’s Dependence on Context Having Two Important Consequences: {1} Some Truths Appearing Worthless; {2} Lies Illuminating Truths]

 

1.3.4

[Lies and Imagination as Sharing the Same Structure: Action (The Refusal to Accept Something and the Desire to Change It)]

 

1.3.5

[Augustine and Lie: Duplicity (Dissimulation and Simulation)]

 

1.3.6

[Lying and Efforts to Neutralize It]

 

1.3.7

[Contemning the Inner Side of Lying or the Outer Side]

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

1.3.1

[Truth Imitating Art]

 

[According to Sartre, our imaginations are what allow us to transform the raw given real into a world whose parts meaningfully inter-relate; it is imagination that makes meaning and a world out of the given.  Turner for instance takes the raw given fog of London and paints it in a way that shows it as beautiful and interesting in its richness and complexity, especially with respect to the surrounding world it colors, helps characterize and give significance and value to (aesthetic and otherwise). Truth-values like true and false, which we assign to statements of the real, are determined less by some supposed objective factuality of the real and more by the values the real has obtained through our imagination’s reconstruals of it. Thus prior to Turner, the polluted fog in 19th century London may have been nothing more than an ugly and sickening element of the surrounding air. Hence, the truth-value of the statement, “the London fog is ugly and unhealthy” would be true. Yet, Turner, by showing the aesthetic values of the fog and how it adds to the overall aesthetic of London in its many locales and components, changes its value. It is no longer ugly (and insofar as it brings aesthetic enjoyment to behold, it is no longer simply unhealthy) and thus Turner’s imagination, by reconstruing London fog, changed the truth value of “the London fog is ugly and unhealthy” from true to false (and similarly, he changed “the London fog is beautiful and good for one’s health and well being to behold” from false to true.) Thus, like Oscar Wilde says in “The Decay of Lying,” art does not imitate nature but rather nature imitates art (in other words, even the natural given obtains its meanings, values, and appearances by means of the art that imagines it in various ways.)]

 

[Recall the following ideas from the previous section 1.2. A fact has an ambivalent nature. On the one hand, a fact, as an event that has happened, cannot be undone. So it seems necessary to us. On the other hand, we also sense that back when it was happening, we could have intervened or done otherwise so to prevent this fact from attaining and to instead have brought about an alternative outcome. These notions regarding the ambivalent nature of facts color our beliefs about our present actions. On the one hand, we hold that there is a given factuality that is necessary (it either is what is happening or is what is bound to happen (it is in action and so cannot be otherwise and is thus necessary)); while on the other hand, we believe that we can alter the course of things by denying this seemingly necessary fact and to exploit the fact’s other nature, it’s contingency, and use our freedom to intervene to deny this fact and affirm a non-fact yet to be actualized. We also use our imagination to conceive of such alternatives. (Suppose that we simply accepted things as they were and saw no place for things to be otherwise or for us to have any influence in the world, not even the capacity to be free to alter how we see the world and the things and events in it, their values, meanings, potential purposes, etc. That would mean that it is not really there for us in a way that affords us a meaningful relationship to all those things.) For Sartre this means that the imagination allows us to transcend (by neutralizing) the real in a way that makes it appear meaningful to us, thereby constituting it as a world. (In other words, the real is something given and in its rawness does not have meaning and does not make up a world yet. It does not have meaning, because meaning requires relationships between the parts of the real which would grant them some sort of purpose, role, or place related to our intentions, actions, thoughts, and so forth. But in its raw givenness, it is just sort of like brute factuality. It is only when we use our imaginations to see ways that our interactivity with the real can shape it, which we would do in relation to our values, interpretations, intentions, etc., that its parts can take on relations that become meaningful to us. And as the parts develop such an orientation and organization, they enter thereby into a world that is there for us and that we dwell within and interact with in a meaningful way. Now, given the role of the imagination in shaping the real in this way so to form a meaningful world,) “What you see and what you value betrays the nature of what you can imagine.” (In other words, the parts of our world only come into noticeable appearance to the extent that we can imagine their availability to our intentful interaction, and the ways we come to imagine those parts as relating to one another as well as to us ourselves determines the values those things have. Thus the degree to which we notice things in the world and assess their value is the degree to which our imagination is at work doing so. Furthermore, the more we try to understand and grasp the world, the more our imagination is working on it, and thus the richer and more complex it becomes in its meaningfulness.) This internal richness and complexity becomes “deepened” the more it increases through our imaginative interactivity with it. This all becomes especially interesting to us when we consider how truth and falsity come to function in this context. (The idea seems to be the following, but I might have it wrong. Something becomes more meaningful in our world the more that it adds more depth to its richness and complexity. Breeur uses the example of Turner’s paintings. Let us consider one in particular.

 

J.M.W. Turner.

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844)

(Image source:
wiki)

 

There is a sort of mist or fog, presumably related to the steam engine’s exhaust plume. But it does not look exactly the same as what we normally might expect. It reimagines fog or mist. It sees it in a new way, but one which integrates it into the world and its meanings. Some might think that it shows us a new aspect, dimension, or beauty of fog or mist. After seeing Turner’s paintings, we might never look at real mist and fog the same way again. It will have transformed the meaning of real fog and mist and even the way it appears insofar as our internal states condition how we perceive it. It helps us see something that is real in fog that we never noticed before. In other words, it can alter the real by changing its values, meaning, and aspects. Normally we might see the dirty smoggy mist surrounding an old steam engine as being dirty and ugly. But Turner gets us to see its beauty. The way this affects truth is that it is no longer true that such smoggy air is ugly. Regarding Turner’s paintings of London, it is no longer true that “that fog in London is ugly and unhealthy.” Turner’s imagination, by changing the value of fog, has changed truth-values of statements relating to that fog.) Thus, like Oscar Wilde says in “The Decay of Lying,” art does not imitate nature but rather nature imitates art (in other words, even the natural given obtains its meanings, values, and appearances by means of the art that imagines it in various ways.)]

Sartre thus suggests that the imagination functions as an implicit horizon within which the real can appear as meaningful. It is a way of transcending (neutralizing) the real “en le constituant comme monde,” or constituting it as a world. What you see and what you value betrays the nature of what you can imagine. The world is deepened by the internal richness and complexity with which your representations try to grasp and understand things. What Sartre suggests is that depth determines the value of what you expect to be true or false. “Truth’’ as a concept only makes sense, then, within a context that determines whether what you say and think, what you claim or apprehend as true, is meaningful or not. In his famous 1899 essay “The Decay of Lying,” Oscar Wilde denied that art imitates nature and asserted rather that it is nature that imitates art.9 No one in London had actually “seen’’ anything in the mist before the existence of Turner’s paintings. This “natural factuality,” i.e. fog, suddenly acquires a value that it did not have before. And if a tourist were to claim that fog in London is ugly and unhealthy, he or she would say something that for Turner’s admirers would sound untrue. Why? Because it goes against the value that the fog had suddenly acquired. This is the domain of action, experience, or life.

(16)

9. See Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying and Other Essays (London: Penguin, 2013).

(16)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.3.2

[The Usualness of the Imagination’s Sway over Perception and Action]

 

[The notion that imagination holds sway over the way we perceive and interact with the world is something we all probably assume anyway. We can see it more clearly when we consider strange beliefs and practices in the past that were based on the different ways they imagined their world in that context. For instance, in the 16th century, there was a conception of the human body based on imagining it with architectural imagery, where the skin is like a wall. Cracks in the wall allow water to seep in and with it mold and mildew that can weaken the overall structure. With this image in mind for the human skin, there was a practice among doctors at this time where they would cover a newborn baby’s body with fat and wrap it up, out of fear that diseases might seep into the cracks in the skin like water through a wall. The way this relates to truth and lying can be seen in the next example, Descartes’ depictions of the body as a machine. They have the advantage of allowing us to conceive the body’s working in a fruitful way and to think of how it might be replicated artificially. But now when we read his conceptions, none of it seems literally true at all. However, we would not accuse Descartes of lying (neither to the people of his time, whose limits in anatomical understanding might allow these conceptions to be acceptable, nor to us of our time, because these conceptions still speak a “truth” to us about the mechanical nature of the body, and much of our current knowledge of the body’s nervous functioning resembles in remarkable ways Descartes’ modeling.) (In other words, one can tell a falsehood that is not a lie, because it is something meaningful in its context and is formulated based on a fruitful intervention of the imagination into the world that is shaped by means of it.)]

 

[ditto]

Moreover, the fact that our imagination implicitly influences our perception and our actions is in itself a rather banal thought. For example, the way in which we think about hygiene strongly depends on the images we sometimes unconsciously use about the body. In the 16th Century, a newborn was completely rubbed with fat and bound in wraps, because some doctors thought that diseases (e.g. the plague) seeped into the body through small cracks in the skin. This idea was partly formed by the fact that in their representations of the human skin, probably without knowing it, they borrowed images from architecture. They saw the skin as a kind of wall: In a house with cracks, water will seep in, and infiltrations cause mildew and weaken the entire structure. Descartes would probably have laughed very hard at these ideas, but the machines that he himself had in mind when he described the body as an automaton also have their limitations (at least, his models showed new possibilities vis-a-vis the way in which we can think about the body and imitate its functioning). Much of what he said today sounds untrue, yet, as a matter of fact, no one assumes that he was lying or trying to deceive us.

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.3.3

[Truth’s Dependence on Context Having Two Important Consequences: {1} Some Truths Appearing Worthless; {2} Lies Illuminating Truths]

 

[Thus, “truth itself is dependent upon a context and a criterion of meaning”. Breeur draws to observations from this. {1} “some truths, however scientific, sometimes appear worthless, inappropriate, or stupid in response to what they wish to prove” (discussion for this idea comes in the next chapter.) {2} “lies and scams sometimes illuminate true aspects of reality and enter into history as unshakeable truths.” For example, Adolf Eichmann was himself not banally evil and manipulative during his trial; he was spectacularly so. His trial “turned out to be a great spectacle, a conscious deception – in short, fake.” Nonetheless, on the basis of this false and remarkable performance, Hana Arendt developed her idea of the banality of evil.]

 

[ditto]

The idea that truth itself is dependent upon a context and a criterion of meaning implies, among other things, two points. On the one hand, as we will see in the next chapter, some truths, however scientific, sometimes appear worthless, inappropriate, or stupid in response to what they wish to prove. On the other hand, lies and scams sometimes illuminate true aspects of reality and enter into history as unshakeable truths. Think of the example of what Arendt said about the banality of evil. No one will question that thesis. But it was inspired by the swindler and imposter Adolf Eichmann whose appearance at the famous trial turned out to be a great spectacle, a conscious deception – in short, fake.10

(17)

10 See Johann Chapoutot, La loi du sang: penser et agir en nazi (Paris: Gallimard, 2014). See also David Cesarani, Becoming Eichmann: Rethinking the Life, Crimes, and Trial o fa “Desk Murderer” (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2007).

(17)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.3.4

[Lies and Imagination as Sharing the Same Structure: Action (The Refusal to Accept Something and the Desire to Change It)]

 

[Lies are tied to imagination. This is not because lying depends on the ability to imagine alternate facts but rather because lying and imagination have the same structure, namely, both are “expressions of the freedom to refuse to accept something and therefore the desire to change it – in short, to act” (18).]

 

[ditto]

Finally, what is a lie? Recall Arendt’s point about how “the deliberate denial of factual truth – the ability to lie – and the capacity to change facts – the ability to act – are interconnected: they owe their existence to the same source: imagination.” A lie therefore points to an internal and strict affinity with imagination. Not so much so because we need a lot of imagination to fantasize (about) “alternative facts” – for, as we will see further, many liars and imposters betray themselves precisely not because of their lack of imagination – but because lying and imagination have the same structure. After all, they are both expressions of the freedom to refuse to accept something and therefore the desire to change it – in short, to act.

(18)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.3.5

[Augustine and Lie: Duplicity (Dissimulation and Simulation)]

 

[Augustine defines lying as having one thought in your head while expressing another thought instead, with the intention to deceive. In this way, the liar has a double heart and holds a double thought. Lying is an act of duplicity in which “You dissimulate what is true, and you simulate what is untrue” (19). (Augustine: “dissimulation is pretending not to be what one actually is, whereas simulation is pretending to be what one actually is not.”)]

 

[ditto]

“Lying,” said Augustine, “is having a thought in your head and, by words or other means of expression, expressing another,” with the intention of deceiving.11 The liar is | double-hearted or has “a double heart” (duplex cor), that is, “a double thought” (duplex cogitatio). He has “a thought that he knows and judges true, but keeps to himself; and he has a second thought that he knows and judges false, but which he expresses instead of the first.”12 The hallmark of the lie is its duplicity, a game of dissimulation and simulation: You dissimulate what is true, and you simulate what is untrue. Or, put otherwise, “dissimulation is pretending not to be what one actually is, whereas simulation is pretending to be what one actually is not.”13

(18-19)

11 Augustine, “Quapropter ille mentitur qui aliud habet in animo et aliud verbis vel quibuslibet significationibus enunciat,” in: De mendacio Œuvres de Saint Augustin, II. Problèmes Moraux (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer et Cie, 1937), p. 238.

(18)

12 “ ... una rei hujus quam veram esse vel scit putat et non profert, altera ejus rei quam pro ista profert sciens falsam esse vel putans.” Augustine, “Quapropter ille mentitur qui aliud habet in animo et aliud verbis vel quibuslibet significationibus enunciat,” p. 238.

13 Perez Zagorin, Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution and Conformity in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014), p. 3.

(19)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.3.6

[Lying and Efforts to Neutralize It]

 

[Lying requires skills and activity not required for simply telling the truth; for, the liar must on the one hand deny some part of reality while at the same time evoking and simulating something non-real and non-existent. But even though all lie is fiction, that does not mean all fiction is untruthful. The distinction is that lies are told with the intention to deceive, “that is, to fraudulently change reality or to adapt its meaning” (19). Given that lying involves the intention to deceive by means of denying reality while simulating the non-real, “Traditionally, therefore, the condemnation of the lie was focused either on the subjective aspect – the intention to deceive – or on the objective aspect – to replace reality with fiction.” (Yet as we noted above, lying is possible on account of factual reality being something bendable by means of the imagination.) Thus, “in both cases this reaction is an attempt to conjure, control, or neutralize the ambivalence proper to factual reality.” There are two ways to condemn lying: {1} internally, in the mental realm, and {2} externally, among the facts themselves.]

 

[ditto]

This interplay of lying and deception requires a certain skill, as Socrates suggests in the “Little Hippias”: Those who deliberately do not tell and distort the truth must be able to do more than those who always and everywhere speak the truth. Indeed, it comes down to being able to deny a part of reality or neutralize its impact in favor of the evocation and simulation of something that is not real and does not exist. Which does not mean that any form of fiction is untruthful. A lie would be a kind of fiction with the intention to deceive, that is, to fraudulently change reality or to adapt its meaning. Traditionally, therefore, the condemnation of the lie was focused either on the subjective aspect – the intention to deceive – or on the objective aspect – to replace reality with fiction. But in both cases this reaction is an attempt to conjure, control, or neutralize the ambivalence proper to factual reality. You do this either from the inside/interior, i.e. the mental realm, or from the outside/external, i.e. the facts themselves.

(19)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.3.7

[Contemning the Inner Side of Lying or the Outer Side]

 

[{1} When we condemn the lie by concerning ourselves with the inner, mental realm, then we are blaming the inner self. Here the criticism is not on how the lie affects outer reality, because here we are assuming that the lie really has no control over it. Instead we are saying that lying involves a lack of sincerity, one’s attitude to one’s own thinking. {2} If instead we are concerned with how the lie affects reality, then our criticism is that by lying, we are “firing out ambiguities in the world” and thereby we “are unravelling the ground on which you yourself stand.” (20)]

 

[ditto]

If you put the emphasis on the inner self, you condemn the lie not for your impact on reality, since this is something over which you lack any control (it could always turn out differently); the lie is condemned as a lack of sincerity, i.e. your | attitude towards your own thinking. On the other hand, if you emphasize the effect, you are mainly referring to the destabilizing consequences of the lie on the outside world. By firing out ambiguities in the world, you are unravelling the ground on which you yourself stand.

(19-20)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Breeur, Roland. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity. Vilnius: Jonas ir Jakubas, 2019.

The book can be purchased here.

 

Breeur’s academia.edu page and researchgate page.

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