Two kinds of tales, one true and one false

More on truth and lies:

‘There are two kinds of tales, one true and one false,’ Socrates claims in Plato’s Republic (trans A.D. Lindsay, 1935, London: Dent, p. 376).

‘The depth of consciousness created by the exercise of the arts of deception is the first arena for the practice of that dissimulation proper to the life of human intelligence. The same spirit permeates other expositions, for instance that of Karl Popper, who equates the capacity to lie with the capacity to imagine: the power to imagine other things, to negate, and thereby to create fiction, even hypothesis – and thence to create science’. (John Forrester 1997 Truth Games: Lies, Money, and Psychoanalysis, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, p. 9)

What, according to Nietszche, the Greeks admired in Odysseus;

‘his capacity for lying, and for cunning, his ability to be, when need be, whatever he chose’ (Frederich Nietzsche 1974 The Gay Science, trans Walter Kaufman, New York: Random House, p. 156).

These quotations are to be found in :

Linda Neil (2009) Beautiful lies my father told me. TEXT Special Issue No 5 The Art of the Real April

Now read: Truth and Lies


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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