THE VARNISHED TRUTH by David Nyberg

THE VARNISHED TRUTH

Truth Telling and Deceiving in Ordinary Life
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Is truth-telling morally overrated? Is deception a ``normal...attribute of practical intelligence?'' In this provocative, original work, Nyberg (Philosophy of Education/SUNY at Buffalo) looks at the moral and logical complexity of deception. Contending that deception and self-deception are necessary to social stability and individual mental health, Nyberg suggests that intentional deceit--white lies, selective omissions, even conscious silences--can be creative and compassionate alternatives to stark truth-telling. Unlike Sissela Bok's Lying (1978), which he finds limited by its abstract theoretical approach, Nyberg's study concentrates on deception in context--between friends, while raising children, in court cases--and emphasizes the importance of coherent interpretation of ultimate outcome over adherence to a single principle. Should you tell a dying novelist that his latest work is not up to snuff, or an especially jealous wife the details of affairs carried on before the marriage? For the most part, Nyberg uses everyday behavior or literary example to highlight the issues as, in sharp, deft sentences, he cuts to the heart of the matter: ``To live decently with one another, we do not need moral purity, we need discretion''; ``What does a child need before sleep, reality or comfort?''; ``Sometimes the truth does not set you free; it destroys the sense of freedom that hope provides.'' Moving from legal ethics to receptive aphasics responding to a Reagan speech, from The Hedgehog and the Fox to Honest Andrew, this isn't philosophy-made-simple but a spirited, accessible challenge to basic assumptions about what constitutes moral conduct.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-226-61051-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993