Truth and Lies

Research such as this, exposing just how much we lie, surely calls into question Jurgen Habermas’s idea that speech is fundamentally oriented towards truth- telling.

Habermas seems to claim that truth precedes falsehood in the sense that lying can only take place against a background assumption of truth. In other words, we only lie with the intention of persuading the hearer we are telling the truth.

But isn’t the inverse possible too, that truth-telling can only take place against a background assumption of fiction? Surely we are aware that of the many, many things that language enables us to say, only a small subset of them is actually true? For this reason I think the ideal speech act is not the truth but the story.

It seems much more likely that the truth is no more than a subset of all the things it is possible to say. Language is no more concerned with ethics than art is (that is, it can be, but doesn’t have to be). In my opinion the ideal speech act is fiction.


Robert Feldman 2009 The Liar In Your Life: How Lies Work And What They Tell Us About Ourselves, London: Virgin Books.

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