Lying About Books

Following a report that 46% of men lie about the books they’ve read in order to impress their partners, Matt Yglesias wonders what’s wrong with the other 54%.  I won’t quite argue that such lying is bad for the state of one’s soul, but I find myself with McDowell: ” the attractions of whatever wickedness might bring do not constitute some reason for wickedness, which is, however, overriden by the reasons against it; rather, given that they are achieved by wickedness, those attractive outcomes do not count as reasons at all.”†  I don’t suppose I’ll try my hand at paraphrase.   

One danger for those of us who make, or want to make, our living via our the quality of our opinions, is that with sufficient practice, we will mistake our fluency in conversation for actual understanding.  We need constant reminders of our own ignorance.  This paragraph is a sort of heuristic argument for the previous.  

Coincidentally, I recently was reading James Conant’s “On Going the Bloody Hard Way in Philosophy,” which contains dark sayings of Wittgenstein, two of which follow: 

  1. If anyone is unwilling to descend into himself…he will remain superficial in his writing.  
  2. Working in philosophy… is really more a working on oneself.  

 † From “Is Morality a System of Hypothetical Imperatives,” in John McDowell, Mind, Value and Reality, p. 91.


One response to “Lying About Books

  1. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read
    by Pierre Bayard