18 Sep 2020

Breeur (1.4) Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Ch.1.4, “Lying and Intention”, 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

 

1.4

“Lying and Intention”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brief summary (collecting those below):

(1.4.1) When we are concerned with the intention of the lie (see sections 1.3.6 and 1.3.7), what matters is how the lie does damage to our relationship to ourself or to God, rather than how it might do damage to the world. (1.4.2) But if lie and honesty are all simply internal things, then why did Augustine need to make his confession? It is because “the truth may not only be claimed in the heart and the mind, but has to be communicated and spread among many witnesses” (20). However, by externalizing truth into expressed language, we “expose it to the ambiguities specific to the world, the language, and the facts” (20). Breeur provides a humorous example: “In this context, I involuntarily have to think of what a faithful friend once told me about reciting the ‘Lord’s Prayer’: He never pronounced the first sentence (‘Our Father who art in heaven’) to its end because, he said, the Devil couldn’t resist to add a blasphemous ‘F’ before the ‘art’” (20). (1.4.3) Casuists found ways to deceive without lying, where one states the truth but it is understood differently by others. Breeur notes some techniques and gives examples, including a famous one for oratio mixta: “St. Francis of Assisi, when asked by some pursuers if the fugitive they were looking for had passed his way, put his index finger in the sleeve of his mantle and said ‘he had not passed here,’ meaning through his sleeve” (21). (1.4.4)  These casuist examples show how “that the emphasis Augustinians placed on ‘intention’ and interiority was based on a subjectification of the truth according to which the final meaning of reality was sought in God and inwardness rather than in the contingent field of the world. This trend was of course continued in the 17th Century by the Jansenists and by thinkers such as Malebranche” (22). In fact, the effects of our lies are not of concern really, because under this view, neither our lies nor our truths can causally affect the world around us. Rather, lying introduces the ambiguity regarding facts and action into the realm of thought. This is conducted by means of the imagination, which dissimulates the truth and can thereby ultimately lead us astray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

1.4.1

[The Internal Perspective on Lie: Its Damage to the Relationship of Self to Self or of Self to God]

 

1.4.2

[Risking the Purity of Truth by Expressing it Externally]

 

1.4.3

[Deceiving without Lying]

 

1.4.4

[Lies and Inner Life]

 

Bibliography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summary

 

1.4.1

[The Internal Perspective on Lie: Its Damage to the Relationship of Self to Self or of Self to God]

 

[When we are concerned with the intention of the lie (see sections 1.3.6 and 1.3.7), what matters is how the lie does damage to our relationship to ourself or to God, rather than how it might do damage to the world.]

 

[ditto]

Emphasizing the intention of the lie means searching for its origin in the inner world, the “interior intimi meo.” In the end, it may eventually not matter what your sincerity does to the world: Apart from that collateral damage, the relationship to yourself – or, better, to the Divine in yourself – takes precedence. In the Augustinian tradition, someone like Thomassin (1693) would go so far as to say that “if the whole human species were to be exterminated, and it were possible to save it by a lie, the lie should be avoided, and the whole human species should perish.”14 The lie must be avoided because of the ambiguity or duplicity that is part of its internal structure.

(20)

14 Thomassin, Traité de la vérité et du mensonge, quoted in Benoit Timmermans, “La chair du discours à l’âge classique,” in: Mensonge, Mauvaise Foi, Mystification: Les mésaventures du pacte fictionnel (Paris: Vrin, 2004), pp. 39-55.

(20)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.4.2

[Risking the Purity of Truth by Expressing it Externally]

 

[But if lie and honesty are all simply internal things, then why did Augustine need to make his confession? It is because “the truth may not only be claimed in the heart and the mind, but has to be communicated and spread among many witnesses” (20). However, by externalizing truth into expressed language, we “expose it to the ambiguities specific to the world, the language, and the facts” (20). Breeur provides a humorous example: “In this context, I involuntarily have to think of what a faithful friend once told me about reciting the ‘Lord’s Prayer’: He never pronounced the first sentence (‘Our Father who art in heaven’) to its end because, he said, the Devil couldn’t resist to add a blasphemous ‘F’ before the ‘art’” (20).]

 

[ditto]

In his confessions, Augustine at one point asks himself why he still has to confess his whole story anyway. God already knows everything, doesn’t he? If you confess, it is because the truth may not only be claimed in the heart and the mind, but has to be communicated and spread among many witnesses. Of course, there is also a risk that as soon as you bring out the truth you finally expose it to the ambiguities specific to the world, the language, and the facts. In this context, I involuntarily have to think of what a faithful friend once told me about reciting the “Lord’s Prayer”: He never pronounced the first sentence (“Our Father who art in heaven’’) to its end because, he said, the Devil couldn’t resist to add a blasphemous “F” before the “art.”

(20)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.4.3

[Deceiving without Lying]

 

[Casuists found ways to deceive without lying, where one states the truth but it is understood differently by others. Breeur notes some techniques and gives examples, including a famous one for oratio mixta: “St. Francis of Assisi, when asked by some pursuers if the fugitive they were looking for had passed his way, put his index finger in the sleeve of his mantle and said ‘he had not passed here,’ meaning through his sleeve” (21).]

 

[ditto]

It is interesting to note the use that the casuists made of those ambiguities in order to assuage the Augustinian prohibition of mendacity. The very existence of ambiguities (see their “theory of equivocation”) created a space in which to develop techniques to deceive without lying.15 The use of these techniques was therefore subject to strict conditions, especially when telling the truth represented high danger or would lead to disaster, and not saying anything was seen as a form of betrayal.16 The casuists developed very imaginative ways of dissimulating the truth by using the ambiguity inherent to certain propositions (“not est hic,” meaning “he is not here” or “he eats not here”)17 while other casuists made use of the “restrictio mentalis,” where it was claimed that a false statement can be made true by adding a mental reservation (e.g. after speaking the words “he’s not here” you mentally add the clause “for you,” or “today,” etc.). Another famous example of what is also called the oratio mixta and appeared in many manuals and discussions on mendacity is the following: St. Francis of Assisi, when asked by some pursuers if the fugitive they were looking for had passed his way, put his index finger in the sleeve of his mantle and said “he had not passed here,” meaning through his sleeve.

(21)

13 Cf. Jean-Pierre Cavaillé, “Non est hic. Le cas exemplaire de Ia protection du fugitif,” Les Dossiers du Grihl. Available at: https://journals.openedition.org/dossiersgrihl/300.

16 Of course, dissimulation is not limited to the Christian faith. Within the branch of Islam similar doctrines of dissimulation have been developed and is called “taqiyah”, used in cases where there is some danger to the life of one’s self or family (cf. P. Zagiron, o.c., pp. 4-6).

17 Or the use of equivocation by the “libertins” in the 18th Century: “Qui craint Dieu ne craint rien.”

(21)

[contents]

 

 

 

 

 

 

1.4.4

[Lies and Inner Life]

 

[These casuist examples show how “that the emphasis Augustinians placed on ‘intention’ and interiority was based on a subjectification of the truth according to which the final meaning of reality was sought in God and inwardness rather than in the contingent field of the world. This trend was of course continued in the 17th Century by the Jansenists and by thinkers such as Malebranche” (22). In fact, the effects of our lies are not of concern really, because under this view, neither our lies nor our truths can causally affect the world around us. Rather, lying introduces the ambiguity regarding facts and action into the realm of thought. This is conducted by means of the imagination, which dissimulates the truth and can thereby ultimately lead us astray.]

 

[ditto]

Characteristic of these methods is the form of deception or deceit that helped to bypass the lie. Pascal, in his “provincial letters,” would fulminate: “Cest dire la vérité tout bas, et un mensonge tout haut” (to be telling the truth in a low key, and falsehood in a loud one).18 In fact, one could summarize the whole set-up of the casuists using the motto: You get the lie | that you deserve on the basis of the truth that you expect. Their theories are very relevant inasmuch as they show that the emphasis Augustinians placed on “intention” and interiority was based on a subjectification of the truth according to which the final meaning of reality was sought in God and inwardness rather than in the contingent field of the world. This trend was of course continued in the 17th Century by the Jansenists and by thinkers such as Malebranche. The meaning and effects of what we do and say are beyond our control; in the world we are seldom free because – to speak with Spinoza – we are not an adequate cause of what we set in motion. In short, the lie is condemned in the name of the ambiguity inherent in every act and fact. Lying amplifies this ambiguity and injects it into a domain that is destined to be clear and distinct (thinking). This ambiguity is precisely the work of the imagination, the simulatio. You need it in order to dissimulate the truth, but the more you call upon it the greater the risk of going astray.

(21-22)

18 Blaise Pascal, Les Provinciales, Œuvres Complètes, Tome I (Paris : Gallimard [Pléiade]), 1998, p. 679.

(22)

[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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