Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kant on Lying: Commentary on Kant's "Supposed Right to Lie", and Other Material

(For those looking for a quick answer to the question, "Does Kant take lying to be always wrong?", the answer is: no, he does not. For specific examples, scroll down to the excerpt fromLectures on Ethics. The distinction between mendacium and falsiloquium will be helpful.) Purpose of this Commentary:
This commentary is mainly for one purpose: to serve as a reference for me in the future whenever I encounter someone who believes that Kant holds lying to be impermissible in any circumstance at all. The reason I have decided to do this with a commentary on the article 'Supposed Right to Lie' is that it is frequently referenced through the famous 'murderer at the door example'. This example is incorrectly taken to show that Kant believed it was against the moral law to, in any way, lie to a murderer who has come to our door in order to kill a friend who is hiding within. The example is genuine, and so is Kant's response here, but I intend to point out the context which reveals these statements are not concerning the moral law but rather rights, as well as to provide some understanding of rights.
Unfortunately, due to the narrow scope of the commentary, this will not be a very helpful guide to scholarship of Kant's understanding of 'Morals', 'Right' or 'Politics' generally, and I will try to keep my comments brief and to the topic of clarifying the context as regards 'lying' as we proceed through the essay. I have made some parenthetical remarks that I felt were off the specific topic of the commentary, but would be helpful for more information.
The manner in which Kant's ethics are taught is offensive to me as a careful reader, and I hope that any educators that may stumble upon this commentary, as well as students, will consider me an available resource if I can be of service. I am not interested in a debate about Kant being correct or incorrect, but rather to further the the possibility of moral discourse and pedagogy, and to assist in the education of such a possibility.
Apart from this commentary I will also include some other quotes from Kant's work that involve lying, or right, that may help clarify and add detail to Kant's position as well. I will also provide some links to some websites that maintain the interpretation I consider standard (incorrect) on the topic of Kant and Lying.
Now, to the essay. I am using this edition available online, the footnotes have been moved more or less in-line, but are offset by square brackets ([]).
The title tells us that we are discussing a 'supposed right'. We must understand what a 'right' is to be able to understand the context of this essay, and most of all we must understand what Kant understands by 'right'. This takes us immediately on a detour to Kant's work Metaphysics of Morals.
Kant gives two definitions of 'right' in close proximity to each other in the Metaphysics of Morals:
"Right is therefore the sum of the conditions under which the choice of one can be united with the choice of another in accordance with a universal law of freedom." (Metaphysics of Morals, 6:230)
"'Any action is right if it can coexist with everyone's freedom in accordance with a universal law, or if on its maxim the freedom of choice of each can coexist with everyone's freedom in accordance with a universal law.'" (ibid.)
These expositions of 'right' are directed at the laws of a state as the principle which is to say what can and cannot be a law. In the current essay, these are the principles that we are looking at (not the Categorical Imperative, otherwise, for the Categorical Imperative is more foundational than this principle).
Now, if we have a reason to leave the realm of right in the essay to moral law generally, then we should be able to find a reason to in the essay. But, as we go forward it should become apparent that there are only more reasons to remain in the context of law. The strongest of these is the footnote which explicitly states that we are not interested in 'duties to self': "I do not wish here to press this principle so far as to say that “falsehood is a violation of duty to one’s self.” For this principle belongs to Ethics, and here we are speaking only of a duty of justice. Ethics look in this transgression only to the worthlessness, the reproach of which the liar draws on himself."
We will discuss this footnote in more detail when we come to it.
In the work called France, for the year 1797, Part VI. No. 1, on Political Reactions, by Benjamin Constant, the following passage occurs, p. 123:—
“The moral principle that it is one’s duty to speak the truth, if it were taken singly and unconditionally, would make all society impossible. We have the proof of this in the very direct consequences which have been drawn from this principle by a German philosopher, who goes so far as to affirm that to tell a falsehood to a murderer who asked us whether our friend, of whom he was in pursuit, had not taken refuge in our house, would be a crime.” [*]
[* “J. D. Michaelis, in Göttingen, propounded the same strange opinion even before Kant. That Kant is the philosopher here referred to, I have been informed by the ruthor of this work himself.”—K. F. Cramer.[**]
[** I hereby admit that I have really said this in some place which I cannot now recollect.—I. Kant.]]
This quotations is the center of the dispute, and this famous murderer at the door example is given later in a way that shows clearly what is intended by the use of 'crime' at the end of the quotation. However, even though we don't fully know what a 'crime' is understood as, we can at least remark that it is something legal in nature and distinguish this from the moral law which will not render one culpable if broken, but guilty (worthless).
(As a reader, it is troubling that those who read this passage have been so quick to pass over the difference between law and ethics, and I know that it was easy for me to see this distinction when I first encountered this essay as an undergrad. When I encountered this essay I had already spent a few courses dedicated to Kant, and so may have been better prepared than students first encountering Kant in an ethics course. However, what excuse did my professors have who had misread this essay?)
The French philosopher opposes this principle in the following manner, p. 124:—“It is a duty to tell the truth. The notion of duty is inseparable from the notion of right. A duty is what in one being corresponds to the right of another. Where there are no rights there are no duties. To tell the truth then is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth. But no man has a right to a truth that injures others.” The πρωˆτον ψενˆδος here lies in the statement that “To tell the truth is a duty, but only towards him who has a right to the truth.”
It is to be remarked, first, that the expression “to have a right to the truth” is unmeaning. We should rather say, a man has a right to his own truthfulness (veracitas), that is, to subjective truth in his own person. For to have a right objectively to truth would mean that, as in meum and tuum generally, it depends on his will whether a given statement shall be true or false, which would produce a singular logic.
Here Kant clarifies terms and we discover that, at least according to Kant's terms, the "French philosopher" is uttering nonsense.
From this passage we can test our understanding of Kant's use of the term 'right'. Why is a "right to lie" a contradiction, while "a right to the truth" is unmeaning? Kant will argue that "right to lie" contradicts the notion of rights themselves, and we take it that lying is something possible for us. On the other hand a 'right to the truth' is interpreted by Kant as something that is not possible for us, since he takes it to mean we can determine the truth by will alone. Under this understanding of 'a right to the truth' it is nonsense because it is not a possible condition of us either with or without rights.
(The "French philosopher" probably means by 'right to the truth' a right to what some person takes to be true. Kant is not fully engaging with the "French philosopher" by forcing the discussion into his own terms, but my job here is to stick to Kant's terms, since it is his view on lying we are considering. Further, it seems that the "French philosopher" may be using lie in a looser sense then Kant, and that if Kant understood by lie here falsiloquium then he may be in agreement. Falsiloquium is clarified in the quote below the commentary taken from the Kant's Lectures on Ethics.)
Now, the first question is whether a man—in cases where he cannot avoid answering Yes or No—has the right to be untruthful. The second question is whether, in order to prevent a misdeed that threatens him or some one else, he is not actually bound to be untruthful in a certain statement to which an unjust compulsion forces him.
Here are the two questions that Kant wishes to address in the essay. The first, pertaining to a right to lie generally, has a special case associated with it: "in cases where he cannot avoid answering Yet or No". This question is answered quite readily. The second question is if there can be mitigating circumstances in which there is a positive duty to lie for the sake of justice. When the the answer to the first question is established, the second question will also answered on the basis of the first.
Truth in utterances that cannot be avoided is the formal duty of a man to everyone, [*] however great the disadvantage that may arise from it to him or any other; and although by making a false statement I do no wrong to him who unjustly compels me to speak, yet I do wrong to men in general in the most essential point of duty, so that it may be called a lie (though not in the jurist’s sense), that is, so far as in me lies I cause that declarations in general find no credit, and hence that all rights founded on contract should lose their force; and this is a wrong which is done to mankind.
[* I do not wish here to press this principle so far as to say that “falsehood is a violation of duty to one’s self.” For this principle belongs to Ethics, and here we are speaking only of a duty of justice. Ethics look in this transgression only to the worthlessness, the reproach of which the liar draws on himself.]
How do we do wrong to "men in general" by telling a lie to the murderer? This is to be understood in the context of duties to justice, and rights, and as relating to criminal culpability (as we will see in the example he gives in the next passage). The way that Kant phrases the injury to men generally is in legal terms, if we look to the Doctrine of Right in the Metaphysics of Morals we can find similar passages.
(Some may be inclined to read Kant as falling into the fallacy of a slippery slope when he says that "so far as in me lies I cause that declarations in general find no credit, and hence that all rights founded on contract should lose their force". The criticism being that Kant is saying that if we allow a lie, then one thing will lead to another and suddenly no one will trust any contracts. This is an incorrect interpretation of Kant (a similar misinterpretation infects readers of Plato's Crito), which should be obvious from how ridiculous it sounds to begin with. It becomes more clear when the better interpretive option that is consistent with Kant elsewhere is bright into view.
As noted already, Kant conceives of laws in a principled and universal manner (this will get mentioned at the end of the essay as well). If the principle is violated, everything that depends upon the principle is also violated. Lying, or speaking an untruth when constrained to answer, stands as a condition for contracts generally in the state, and so lying is a violation of the possibility of contracts formally. This is not to say that if someone lies, then contracts are null, but it is to clearly represent the wrong in relation to what such wrongs imply, and in order to determine punishments appropriately.)
Because the admission of lying as a right (and I should add, lying under the conditions of a contract/promise, or under conditions under which one must answer 'Yes' or 'No') would undermine, in principle, all contracts is the entire reason why it cannot become a right - it would introduce a contradiction in the principles of law. There will be more on this point as we continue.
* Please note the footnote here which is very explicit about what is under discussion here: duties of justice. The worth or lack there of that is mentioned is what comes along with the moral law, the principle of which is the Categorical Imperative. In this remark we can see that this principle is excluded from consideration, save for that fact that the state is only possible because we have the moral law to begin with.
If, then, we define a lie merely as an intentionally false declaration towards another man, we need not add that it must injure another; as the jurists think proper to put in their definition (mendacium est falsiloquium in præjudicium alterius). For it always injures another; if not another individual, yet mankind generally, since it vitiates the source of justice. …
Reiterating what I mentioned above. The "source of justice" is vitiated in a lie in these circumstances (speaking an untruth when restrained to answer 'Yes' or 'No').
…This benevolent lie may, however, by accident (casus) become punishable even by civil laws; and that which escapes liability to punishment only by accident may be condemned as a wrong even by external laws. For instance, if you have by a lie hindered a man who is even now planning a murder, you are legally responsible for all the consequences. But if you have strictly adhered to the truth, public justice can find no fault with you, be the unforeseen consequence what it may. It is possible that whilst you have honestly answered Yes to the murderer’s question, whether his intended victim is in the house, the latter may have gone out unobserved, and so not have come in the way of the murderer, and the deed therefore have not been done; whereas, if you lied and said he was not in the house, and he had really gone out (though unknown to you) so that the murderer met him as he went, and executed his purpose on him, then you might with justice be accused as the cause of his death. For, if you had spoken the truth as well as you knew it, perhaps the murderer while seeking for his enemy in the house might have been caught by neighbours coming up and the deed been prevented. Whoever then tells a lie, however good his intentions may be, must answer for the consequences of it, even before the civil tribunal, and must pay the penalty for them, however unforeseen they may have been; because truthfulness is a duty that must be regarded as the basis of all duties founded on contract, the laws of which would be rendered uncertain and useless if even the least exception to them were admitted.
This example can be quite inflammatory, since we naturally sympathize with the man who would mislead the murderer. However, we must remain in the context of the example: we are not discussing the virtue of this man, but the legality of telling a lie.
To begin with, the example implies another option other than answering the question is available when it says, "perhaps the murderer while seeking for his enemy in the house might have been caught by neighbours coming up and the deed been prevented". If the man answering the murderer's question were to know of his plans, it would be an obvious option for him to stop him. However, all of this can be cast aside - as Kant does himself - since the matter at hand is one of legality of lying, and also under the particular conditions of answering 'yes' or 'no' being unavoidable. The charge here is that you are responsible for what you say, and for the results of what you say.
Kant is clear in other places that this other option is available. For example, we have that he said the following in lecture:
"If an enemy, for example, takes me by the throat and demands to know where my money is kept, I can hide the information here, since he means to misuse the truth. That is still no mendacium, for the other knows that I shall withhold the information, and that he has no right whatsoever to demand the truth from me." (See below the commentary for the complete passage where this appears.)
(There is another point here to address, because I fear that in light of the statements that Kant makes concerning the culpability of the man who lies people get offended additionally since they already were defending his right to lie (and Kant is as well, just not if we are to assume that he is obliged to answer 'Yes' or 'No'). This is where the example shows itself to be quite silly, since not only are we to suppose that this man is somehow obliged to answer truthfully (as if engaged in a contract with the murderer), but also that Kant tells a story about his lie leading to unintended harm (which is also seemingly unlikely). This is nothing more than pedantry on our part if we are offended, but this does not excuse Kant for his poor example: in illustrating the culpability he should have selected a different case as to appear less ridiculous.)
To be truthful (honest) in all declarations is therefore a sacred unconditional command of reason, and not to be limited by any expediency.
Since we have a context for this we can see that the unconditional command here is revealed by the contradiction that would occur if we were to allow lying as a right in principle.
M. Constant makes a thoughtful and sound remark on the decrying of such strict principles, which it is alleged lose themselves in impracticable ideas, and are therefore to be rejected (p. 123):—“In every case in which a principle proved to be true seems to be inapplicable, it is because we do not know the middle principle which contains the medium of its application.” He adduces (p. 121) the doctrine of equality as the first link forming the social chain (p. 121); “namely, that no man can be bound by any laws except those to the formation of which he has contributed. In a very contracted society this principle may be directly applied and become the ordinary rule without requiring any middle principle. But in a very numerous society we must add a new principle to that which we here state. This middle principle is, that the individuals may contribute to the formation of the laws either in their own person or by representatives. Whoever would try to apply the first principle to a numerous society without taking in the middle principle would infallibly bring about its destruction. But this circumstance, which would only show the ignorance or incompetence of the lawgiver, would prove nothing against the principle itself.” He concludes (p. 125) thus: “A principle recognised as truth must, therefore, never be abandoned, however obviously danger may seem to be involved in it.” (And yet the good man himself abandoned the unconditional principle of veracity on account of the danger to society, because he could not discover any middle principle would serve to prevent this danger; and, in fact, no such principle is to be interpolated here.)
Kant here shows how M. Constant seems to speak against himself.
Retaining the names of the persons as they have been here brought forward, “the French philosopher” confounds the action by which one does harm (nocet) to another by telling the truth, the admission of which he cannot avoid, with the action by which he does him wrong (lædit). It was merely an accident (casus) that the truth of the statement did harm to the inhabitant of the house; it was not a free deed (in the juridicial sense). For to admit his right to require another to tell a lie for his benefit would be to admit a claim opposed to all law. …
Once more, a repetition of what is being said: a right to lie is "opposed to all law".
… Every man has not only a right, but the strictest duty to truthfulness in statements which he cannot avoid, whether they do harm to himself or others. He himself, properly speaking, does not do harm to him who suffers thereby; but this harm is caused by accident. For the man is not free to choose, since (if he must speak at all) veracity is an unconditional duty. The “German philosopher” will therefore not adopt as his principle the proposition (p. 124): “It is a duty to speak the truth, but only to him who has a right to the truth,” first on account of the obscurity of the expression, for truth is not a possession, the right to which can be granted to one, and refused to another; and next and chiefly, because the duty of veracity (of which alone we are speaking here) makes no distinction between persons towards whom we have this duty, and towards whom we may be free from it; but is an unconditional duty which holds in all circumstances.
I will remark here once again that the "statements which he cannot avoid" condition of this this discussion is very important. It is clear from other things that Kant writes that this can make all the difference. (Once more, see the excerpt from Lectures on Ethics below).
Now, in order to proceed from a metaphysic of Right (which abstracts from all conditions of experience) to a principle of politics (which implies these notions to cases of experience), and by means of this to the solution of a problem of the latter in accordance with the general principle of right, the philosopher will enunciate:—1. An Axiom, that is, an apodictically certain proposition, which follows directly from the definition of external right (harmony of the freedom of each with the freedom of all by a universal law). 2. A Postulate of external public law as the united will of all on the principle of equality, without which there could not exist the freedom of all. 3. A problem; how it is to be arranged that harmony may be maintained in a society, however large, on principles of freedom and equality (namely by means of a representative system); and this will then become a principle of the political system, the establishment and arrangement of which will contain enactments which, drawn from practical knowledge of men, have in view only the mechanism of administration of justice, and how this is to be suitably carried out. Justice must never be accommodated to the political system, but always the political system to justice.
Once more, I wearily point out that the context is explicitly legal.
(There is a lot to be said about this passage and those that follow, but not much that will further clarify that the claim about the lie is limited to law. I will only point out a few more things.)
“A principle recognised as true (I add, recognised à priori, and therefore apodictic) must never be abandoned, however obviously danger may seem to be involved in it,” says the author. Only here we must not understand the danger of doing harm (accidentally), but of doing wrong; and this would happen if the duty of veracity, which is quite unconditional, and constitutes the supreme condition of justice in utterances, were made conditional and subordinate to other considerations; and, although by a certain lie I in fact do no wrong to any person, yet I infringe the principle of justice in regard to all indispensably necessary statements generally (I do wrong formally, though not materially; and this is much worse than to commit an injustice to any individual, because such a deed does not presuppose any principle leading to it in the subject. The man who, when asked whether in the statement he is about to make he intends to speak truth or not, does not receive the question with indignation at the suspicion thus expressed towards him that he might be a liar, but who asks permission first to consider possible exceptions, is already a liar (in potentia), since he shows that he does not recognize veracity as a duty in itself, but reserves exceptions from a rule which in its nature does not admit of exceptions, since to do so would be self-contradictory.
Kant distinguishes right away between 'harm' and 'wrong', focusing in 'wrong' which is to be understood as opposed to 'right'.
All practical principles of justice must contain strict truths, and the principles here called middle principles can only contain the closer definition of their application to actual cases (according to the rules of politics), and never exceptions from them, since exceptions destroy the universality, an account of which alone they bear the name of principles.
Principles of justice are mentioned, and these hearken back, as we should all know, to the definition of 'right' which I gave from Kant's Metaphysics of Morals at the outset.
What cause is there in this essay to extend beyond 'right' to morals, and to involve transcendental philosophy that is required for the Categorical Imperative?
As an upshot - if we understand lie the way we do casually it is still difficult to mistake this essay for saying that all laws in the most general sense are wrong. We can get clearer, however, by understanding how subtle the notion of lie (mendacium) is for Kant, since he does not take it to be captured in a simple untruth (falsiloquium). Below I have given a number of passages that give more detail on Kant's subtle thoughts on lying.
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Metaphysics of Morals
What is Right?
Like the much-cited query "what is truth?" put to the logician, the question "what is right?" might well embarrass the jurist if he does not want to lapse into a tautology or, instead of giving a universal solution, refer to what the laws in some country at some time prescribe. He can indeed state what is laid down as right (quid sit iuris), that is, what the laws in a certain place and at a certain time say or have said. But whether what these laws prescribe is also right, and what the universal criterion is by which one could recognize right as well as wrong (iustum et iniustum), this would remain hidden from him unless he leaves those empirical principles behind for a while and seeks the sources of such judgments in reason alone, so as to establish the basis for any possible giving of positive laws (although positive laws can serve as excellent guides to this). Like the wooden head in Phaedrus' fable, a merely empirical doctrine of right is a head that may be beautiful but unfortunately it has no brain.
The concept of right, insofar as it is related to an obligation corresponding to it (i.e., the moral concept of right), has to do, first, only with the external and indeed practical relation of one person to another, insofar as their actions, as deeds, can have (direct or indirect) influence on each other. But, second, it does not signify the relation of one's choice to the mere wish (hence also to the mere need) of the other, as in actions of beneficence of callousness, but only a relation to the other's choice. Third, in this reciprocal relation of choice no account at all is taken of the matter of choice, that is, of the end each has in mind with the object he wants; it is not asked, for example, whether someone who buys goods from me for his own commercial use will gain by the transaction or not. All that is in question is the form in the relation of choice on the part of both, insofar as choice is regarded merely as free, and whether the action of one can be united with the freedom of the other in accordance with a universal law.
Right is therefore the sum of the conditions under which the choice of one can be united with the choice of another in accordance with a universal law of freedom.
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Metaphysics of Morals
"Any action is right if it can coexist with everyone's freedom in accordance with a universal law, or if on its maxim the freedom of choice of each can coexist with everyone's freedom in accordance with a universal law."
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Lectures on Ethics
If a man announces that he means to disclose his opinions, should he knowingly disclose them in full, or keep something to himself? If he says that he intends to speak his mind, but does not, and makes a false statement instead, that is a falsiloquium, or untruth. Falsiloquium may occur, even though the other cannot presume that I shall state my views. One may impose on a person, without actually saying anything to him. I can make a pretense, and give expression to something, from which the other may deduce what I want him to; but he has no right to infer from my utterance a declaration of intent, and in that case I have told him no lie, for I never declared that I was opening my mind to him; if I pack my bags, for example, people will think I am off on a journey, and that is what I want them to believe; but they have no right to demand any declaration of will from me. That is what the famous John Law did; he kept on building, and when everyone was thinking: He'll never leave, off he went.
I can also, however, commit a falsiloquium, when my intent is to hide my intentions from the other, and he can also presume that I shall do so, since his own purpose is to make a wrongful use of the truth. If an enemy, for example, takes me by the throat and demands to know where my money is kept, I can hide the information here, since he means to misuse the truth. That is still no mendacium, for the other knows that I shall withhold the information, and that he has no right whatsoever to demand the truth from me. Suppose, however, that I actually state that I mean to speak my mind, and that the other is perfectly well aware that he has no right to require this of me, since he is a swindler; the question arises: Am I then a liar? If the other has cheated me, and I cheat him in return, I have certainly done this fellow no wrong; since he has cheated me, he cannot complain about it, yet I am a liar nonetheless, since I have acted contrary to the right of humanity. It is therefore possible for a falsiloquium to be a mendacium - a lie - though it contravenes no right of any man in particular. Whoever may have told me a lie, I do him no wrong if I lie to him in return, but I violate the right of mankind; for I have acted contrary to the condition, and the means, under which a society of men can come about, and thus contrary to the right of humanity.
When one country has broken the peace, the other cannot do so in retaliation, for if that were allowable, no peace would be secure. And thus though something may not infringe the particular right of a man, it is still already a lie, since it is contrary to the right of humanity. If a man publishes a false report, he thereby does no wrong to anyone in particular, but offends against mankind, for if that were to become general, the human craving for knowledge would be thwarted; apart from speculation, I have only two ways of enlarging my store of information: by experience, and by testimony. But now since I cannot experience everything myself, if the reports of others were to be false tidings, the desire for knowledge could not be satisfied. A mendacium is thus a falsiloquium in praejudicium humanitatis (untruth damaging to humanity), even when it is not also in violation of any particular jus quaesitum (special right) of another. In law a mendacium is a falsiloquium in praejudicium alterius (untruth damaging to another person), and cannot be anything else there, but from the moral viewpoint it is a falsiloquium in praejudicium humanitatis. Not every untruth is a lie; it is so only if there is an express declaration of my willingness to inform the other of my thought. Every lie is objectionable and deserving of contempt, for once we declare that we are telling the other our thoughts, and fail to do it, we have broken the pactum, and acted contrary to the right of humanity. But if, in all cases, we were to remain faithful to every detail of the truth, we might often expose ourselves to the wickedness of others, who wanted to abuse our truthfulness. If everyone were well disposed, it would not only be a duty not to lie, but nobody would need to do it, since he would have nothing to worry about. Now, however, since men are malicious, it is true that we often court danger by punctilious observance of the truth, and hence has arisen the concept of the necessary lie, which is a very critical point for the moral philosopher. For seeing that one may steal, kill or cheat from necessity, the case of emergency subverts the whole of morality, since if that is the plea, it rests upon everyone to judge whether he deems it an emergency or not; and since the ground here is not determined, as to where emergency arises, the moral rules are not certain. For example, somebody, who knows that I have money, asks me: Do you have money at home? If I keep silent, the other concludes that I do. If I say yes, he takes it away from me; if I say no, I tell a lie; so what am I to do? So far as I am constrained, by force used against me, to make an admission, and a wrongful use is made of my statement, and I am unable to save myself by silence, the lie is a weapon of defense; the declaration extorted, that is then misused, permits me to defend myself, for whether my admission or my money is extracted, is all the same. hence there is no case in which a necessary lie should occur, save where the declaration is wrung from me, and I am also convinced that the other means to make a wrongful use of it.
The question arises, whether a lie that affects nobody's interests, and does nobody any harm, is likewise a lie? It is, for I promise to speak my mind, and if I fail to speak it truly, I do not, indeed, act in praejudicium of the particular individual concerned, but I do so act in regard to humanity. There are also lies whereby the other is cheated. To cheat is to make a lying promise. breach of faith is when we promise something truthfully, but do not have so high a regard for the promise as to keep it. The lying promise is offensive to the other, and though it does not invariably cause offense, there is still always something mean about it. If I promise, for example, to send a person wine, but subsequently make light of it, that is already a cheat, for though he certainly has no right to demand such a gift from me, it is still cheating, in that it was already, as he saw it, a part of his property.
Reservatio mentalis (mental reservation) is a form of dissimulation, and aequivocatio (equivocation) of simulation. Aequivocatio is permitted, in order to reduce the other to silence and get rid of him, so that he shall no longer try to extract the truth from us, once he sees that we cannot give it to him, and do not wish to tell him a lie. If the other is wise, he will also let it go at that. It is quite difficult though, to employ equivocation when we state and declare that we are expressing our views, for in that case the other may infer something else from the equivocation, and then I have deceived him. Such lies, professing to achieve some good result, were called by the Jesuits peccatum philosophicum, or peccatillum (white lie), from which comes the word 'bagatelle'. But the lie is intrinsically a worthless thing, whether its intentions be good or bad, because it is even as to form; it is still more worthless, however, when it is also evil as to matter. For by lies something evil may always result. A liar is a cowardly fellow, for since he has no other way of obtaining something, or getting out of trouble, he starts to tell lies. But a bold man will love the truth, and never let a casus necessitatis arise. All such methods, whereby the other man cannot be on his guard, are utterly vile. Lying, assassination and poisoning are amongst them. A highwayman's attack is not so low, for there one may take precautions, but not against the poisoner, since one does, after all, have to eat. Flattery is not always mendacity, but rather a want of self-esteem, where we do not scruple to demean our own worth beneath another's, and elevate his, in order to gain something thereby. But one may also flatter from kindheartedness, and this is done by some kindly souls, who have a high opinion of others. So we have both well meaning and false flattery. The former is weak, but the other low. When men do not flatter, they lapse into censoriousness.
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Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Virtue
Casuistical questions
Can an untruth from mere politeness(e.g., the "your obedient servant" at the end of a letter) be considered a lie? No one is deceived by it. - An author asks one of his readers "How do you like my work?" One could merely seem to have an answer, by joking about the impropriety of such a question. Bu who has his wit always ready? The author will take the slightest hesitation in answering as an insult. May one, then, say what is expected of one?
If I say something untrue in more serious matters, having to do with what is mine or yours, must I answer for all the consequences it might have? For example, a householder has ordered his servant to say "not at home" if a certain human being asks for him. The servant does this and, as a result, the master slips away and commits a serious crime, which would otherwise have been prevented by the guard sent to arrest him. Who (in accordance with ethical principles) is guilty in this case? Surely the servant, too, who violated a duty to himself by his lie, the results of which his own conscience imputes to him.
* * *
Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View
Finally, one can also attribute to this unintentional play of productive power of imagination, which can then be called fantasy, the tendency to harmless lying that is always met with in children and now and then in adults who, though otherwise good-natured, sometimes have this tendency almost as a hereditary disease. The events and supposed adventures they narrate issue from the power of imagination like a growing avalanche as it rolls down, and they do not have any kind of advantage in view except simply to make their stories interesting. This is like Shakespeare's Sir John Falstaff, who made five people out of two buckram-clad men before he finished his story.
* * *
Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View
It could well be that on some other planet there might be rational beings who could not think in any other way but aloud; that is, they could not have any thoughts that they did no at the same time utter, whether awake or dreaming, in the company of others or alone. What kind of behavior toward others would this produce, and how would it differ from that of our human species? Unless they were all pure as angels, it is inconceivable how they could live in peace together, how anyone could have any respect at all for anyone else, and how they could get on well together. -So it already belongs to the original composition of a human creature to the concept of his species to explore the thoughts of others but to withhold one's own; a neat quality which then does not fail to progress gradually from dissimulation to intentional deception and finally to lying. This would then result in a caricature of our species that would warrant not mere good-natured laughter at it but contempt for what constitutes its character, and the admission that this race of terrestrial rational beings deserves no honorable place among the (to us unknown) other rational beings - except that precisely this condemning judgment reveals a moral predisposition in us, an innate demand of reason, also to work against this propensity. So it presents the human species not as evil, but as a species of rational beings that strives among obstacles to rise out of evil in constant progress toward the good. In this its volition is generally good, but achievement is difficult because one cannot expect to reach the goal by the free agreement of individuals, but only by a progressive organization of citizens of the earth into and toward the species as a system that is cosmopolitcally united.
* * *
Here are some offending articles about Kant's Ethics online. Finding these is as easy as searching Google for "Kant on Lying":

Monday, February 27, 2012

Interpreting Philosophy to 'Accept or Contradict'

(This is a reaction to this post, however it gives voice to a concern I have had for a long time.)

"The more conventional opinion gets fixated on the antithesis of truth and falsity, the more it tends to expect a given philosophical system to be either accepted or contradicted; and hence it finds only acceptance or rejection. It does not comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth, but rather sees in it simple disagreements. The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and one might say that the former is refuted by the later; similarly, when the fruit appears, the blossom is shown up in its turn as a false manifestation of the plant, and the fruit now emerges as the truth of it instead." -Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit

   When interpreting a text we can tell if our current understanding is satisfactory or if it still requires more work. Being satisfied does not necessarily mean that we understand something that is being said, but could also include something about the text generally, such as, finding it to be nonsense. Whatever satisfies us in our understanding of a text I will refer to as satisfying our 'interpretive goal'. These interpretive goals are often unclear to us and be satisfied in many ways, but insofar as we find ourselves satisfied to end our struggle in understanding a text (or even a sentence or word), then we have met our interpretive goal and we should be able to give a self report of what we understand. (A self-report then may contain "I don't know, I sort of blanked on most of it." If that was satisfactory, then you can tell a lot about the 'interpretive goal'.)
   Sometimes our readings are more narrow, such as, when we seek to more fully understand some concept in a text by the rest of the text, while other interpretations are more broad, such as, when we are happy to just understand the words and sentences as we read, perhaps just waiting for something to strike us as counter intuitive or novel. We probably develop habits that we are not aware of (just as in other things) that also impact our reading. In any case, the end (or ends) one has in mind when reading a text, whether explicit or implicit, is going to set a standard for how satisfied we are with our understanding. I mention this because of a particular danger in reading to decide if one 'accepts or contradicts' a text; If this tendency towards accepting or contradicting is an explicit or implicit interpretive goal does make a difference, though usually I think it is an implicit goal, since I find many readers to not explicitly consider their interpretive goals or heuristics, but, whether it is explicit or implicit, this sort of interpretive goal hinders a helpful interpretation.
   (By a helpful interpretation I mean any combination of the following: the reader learns something; it becomes possible to contribute to a project in a positive way; new problems are opened up, or opened up anew; a better understanding of why the writer has written what they have is available. There are many other possible ways for an interpretation to be helpful that I will not list here.)
   The reason why I say that reading to accept or contradict hinders helpful interpretation is not claiming that these interpretations are not helpful entirely, but rather that the spirit of this interpretation is not helpful due to what can satisfy it. For example, it is possible for me to find something that seems to be in error (or correct) in the text, and if this satisfies my interpretive goal (which would be to accept or reject the text), then I will have no motivation to try to test this understanding without having yet another interpretive goal; we can frequently fill in a problem with a text as we continue, or by altering the meaning of term, and discover that we had not gotten the author's point. If we explicitly maintain the goal of accepting or rejecting, we may be able to get around this, but if we only maintain it implicitly there is a much greater risk of stopping short with just a superficial disagreement or agreement with the text.
   The difference between implicit and explicit interpretive goals becomes important here. When our goals are explicit - or made explicit - we have an opportunity to attend to method. If I know that I am trying to agree or disagree with a text, I also know that I need to be able to understand the position I disagree with. Further reflection can tell me that in order to disagree (or agree) I need to be able to show how it was possible to maintain the position (is the author lying? Is there an outstanding empirical fact they, or I, do not possess? &c). This can be a real engagement with a text, and no longer becomes limited by just showing an author to be right or wrong so we do not need to deal with them, but forces us to truly understand the logic in play in the discourse (between the reader and author), and, quite frankly, to treat the writer as a rational being (i.e., one who has consistent thoughts, even if they may be presented in a confused way symbolically). However, maintaining and instructing this goal can habituate a reader to implicitly maintaining it, at which point we can fall into the errors above.
   Like all activities, we cannot completely jump over our own shadows, but we can implement procedures and attend to practices that can help to avoid misunderstanding.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Problem of 'The Problem of Knowledge'

   The problem of knowledge is often characterized as asking how is it that we can know anything, or something with certainty, or that something exists, &c.  This problem generates a lot of frustration both in the form of paradoxes such as the Gettier Problem, and ridiculous situations such as someone pointing to an object and saying "how do you know that's really there?".  As queer as these situations may be, there is always a sense in which they are valid for us to entertain, yet we usually dismiss them and "go on with our lives".  How is it that this 'problem' we recognize does not dog us in everything we do?  How are we still confident in our daily lives?  To answer these tangents simply: the the problem of knowledge is better grasped by us in an implicit manner than is it in an explicit manner.
   What does grasping the question better implicitly rather than explicitly mean?  To put it one way, if we explicitly take the problem of knowledge to be something that should cripple us in our daily lives, then our ability to just go on with our lives is a direct refutation of that formulation, and reveals an implicit understanding of the problem.
   When young, students of Philosophy come to expect the flippant response one finds when they raise the question of knowledge to a general audience, and have been satisfied to also then be flippant about the public. However, that the problem of knowledge actually is no problem for those who propound it should provide us with direction in evaluating the problem (rather than aggravating it as Epistemology professors I have known do).
   Descartes is taken as a forefather of the problem of knowledge, yet Descartes does not side with the problem against knowledge. However, much earlier than Descartes, Plato asked about knowledge in his work Theaetetus, and this masterpiece can be very helpful to us today in reforming our approach the question of knowledge. Unfortunately, I often encounter this dialogue interpreted so that it is infected by our more contemporary understanding of the problem of knowledge.
   In the dialogue, Socrates is discussing what knowledge is and the first answer that his interlocutor Theaetetus (a youth with a resemblance to Socrates) gives is that knowing is 'perceiving'. (I use perceiving here in a loose sense.) In many ways this answer is comparable to the Cogito of Descartes, though with a different emphasis.
   Apart from "I think, I am", an understanding of Descartes Cogito shows that there is quite a bit that we cannot doubt. We can doubt that there 'really' are objects, but we cannot doubt that it seems that there are objects; we cannot doubt any of our cognitions qua cognitions, though we can doubt the content. Theaetetus' answer is like this, but where Descartes reaches this point with reference to his capacity to doubt, Theaetetus instead begins with something like the Cogito. Descartes proceeds to try to find his way back to an assurance in real things, while Theaetetus and Socrates inquiry leads them instead to finding the problem of knowledge to be how we can account for error. It is this question of how we can be in error that more rightfully should be called the problem of knowledge.
   It is easy to point out, as many have, that if we are to have a problem of knowledge then there must already be knowledge, and an understanding of it, such that there can be a problem; having a problem of knowledge minimally implies knowledge of the problem. This is where the problem of knowledge as the question of how we can be in error is much more interesting than the more skeptical question which depends upon an understanding of knowledge that already assumes its existence to be dubious.
   This new problem of knowledge supposes that we also know what it is like to be in error. In the Theaetetus, it is recognized that we take some people to be wiser than others, and that if knowledge is 'perception', then everyone would be equally wise since they would equally have 'perception'. Out of this a theory of 'judgment' is articulated out of which comes a new way in which we see that we get it wrong: sometimes we take something we perceive to be something that it later turns out not to be. We may see Theaetetus in the distance and judge him to be Socrates - how does this happen? Now models are presented in relation to how we might make this particular error - the famous tabula rasa and the aviary and a model based on court room arguments (incorrectly equated with justified true belief); all of these fail to satisfy the argument.
   The importance of the method on display in the Theaetetus is that the argument proceeds from something known which is then compared to the understanding of knowledge. The lack in the starting point is measured against what is trying to be obtained, and the pursuit follows between two points that are known in order to try to fill in the gaps. It will be impossible to formulate a general theory for how we are wrong in any particular way, but it is possible for us to articulate different kinds of error (e.g., mistaken identity), and the general sources of these errors in relation to some mistake of procedure. There is also a question about what the structure of any error is like - a metaphysical orientation to the question.
   Concerning how we err metaphysically, Heidegger shows explicitly something that Kant shows implicitly: that our average way of being has a tendency to cover up our authentic possibilities. Put in a Kantian mode, our theoretical approach to knowledge is fundamentally unsuited for grasping the practical - being guided by a purely theoretical method covers up the practical and hinders us in advancing in practical concerns. For Heidegger there is nothing bad about averageness, just as for Kant there is nothing bad about theoretical reason, but these things can become sources of error for us through obfuscation; this makes for an important addition to what is said in the Theaetetus.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Locus of 'Time' in Kant and the Revaluation of Interpretation of Transcendental Philosophy

   It is indisputable that the term 'time' plays a central role in the Critique of Pure Reason, and there are some ways that 'time' is discussed in order to highlight what seems to be a natural difference between Kant's use of the term and the use by his contemporaries and our contemporaries. For example, Leibniz and Newton were in conflict as to whether space was real, or merely consisted in relations, and contemporary physics discusses space-time.
   In the Transcendental Aesthetic Kant calls time a pure form of intuition which  makes appearances possible in a certain way. Usually what Kant is said to have introduced here is that time is not real, but a structure that we contribute to experience ourselves; this characterization is not really incorrect, but it is also incomplete to some extent. The prevalence of discussing 'time' as it appears in the Transcendental Aesthetic may result in an imbalance in understanding what work time plays in Kant's thought.
   Time features very notably in the pure concepts of the understanding - the categories - and this is underscored in relation to intuition when the schematism is found to be the point of homogeneity between pure concepts and intuitions. With all of this, how is it that 'time' is trapped in being understood merely in terms of its description in the Transcendental Aesthetic? To give an obvious (and possibly too glib) assessment of this we can observe simply that the Transcendental Aesthetic comes first, and so is given a certain priority above how time is used in the Transcendental Logic.
   However, we must ask ourselves: what sort of priority does intuition have over pure understanding? It certainly has sequential order in terms of where it is discussed in the Critique, but it is not the case that the faculty has a logical priority to the pure understanding. Because there is a way of understanding intuition that does give a logical priority to it, I should explain what I mean.
   A priority is given to intuition over understanding when the relation to the faculties is understood in terms of a timeline (this being something temporal), and this timeline understood in a very 'scientific' manner: we receive input in our senses, our minds interpret this input and the result is an experience (a more complicated timeline is available in the Deduction of the Categories). This sort of timeline is helpful only to a limited degree, for it introduces a certain risk if it is leaned on too much and too literally.
   The starting point for Kant personally, and he claims all of us, is not intuition, but rather experience itself, and intuition and the other faculties (understanding, imagination) are only formal structures of this experience spoken of in terms of 'powers' or capacities. In a certain sense this gives us a sort of liberty to reverse the timeline and say that experience divides into intuition and understanding, which were connected in the experience originally through the imagination, and that the meaning of time in the imagination (schematism) is more important to take as characterizing time than simply how it operates as a pure form of intuition - and it certainly does operate in this way, but only as a mode of time in relation to objects of possible experience; a mode that does not have any possible object without the categories. This timeline could become just as problematic if leaned on too much, but it stands to show that depending on the sort of story you want to tell, you have different ways of construing the timeline.
   Going further, taking what is homogeneous between intuition and pure concept as the starting point for the understanding of time is not helpful without first recognizing how experience reveals the sort of objects described by Kant. When we are in the narrow view of the Critique of Pure Reason, where only theoretical reason is under discussion, then these objects appear in a rather strange way - they do not have a practical context.
   This is the sort of awkward theoretical understanding of 'things' that leads thinkers, such as Heidegger, to criticize Kant, since his first Critique begins in a place where objects are determined first as (to borrow Heidegger's term) vorhanden (present-at-hand) instead of zuhanden (ready-at-hand) in the context of some concerned engagement in-the-world. This criticism is deserved if we are to stop all at once at theoretical reason, but if we think Kant himself stops here we are mistaken, and if we give a priority to theoretical reason because it came in the first Critique, then we are revealing we are prone to the same error we make by interpreting the priority of the Transcendental Aesthetic for determining the basic source of the interpretation of 'time': the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of (the Power of) Judgment cannot be left out here. I will briefly sketch a picture that will show a potential way of reorienting Kant interpretation.
   The most important part of the Critique of Pure Reason can be seen as the introduction of the ideas (soul, World, God), and the problem of understanding these ideas through theoretical reason alone - that is, the most important part of the first Critique is that which shows that general lack on the part of theoretical reason. The ideas, as they concern theoretical reason, serve as regulative principles for guiding us towards higher forms of knowing (according to the different syllogisms - categorical, hypothetical and disjunctive). We now have a context in which - once again borrowing from Heidegger - the vorhanden shows itself as a mode of zuhanden wherein there is a concern being dealt with - the advance of knowledge. This, however, still does not get back to a characterization of the zuhanden, nor does it comprehend objects primarily in their equipmentality or concern contexts.
   A major short coming of theoretical reason is that in only comprehending objects of a possible experience it only admits of one mode of causality in understanding its objects - causes of nature - while the alternative found in the resolution to the third Antinomy - causes of freedom - are impossible for it (theoretical reason). Practical reason, then fits itself underneath the first Critique as a more basic way of understanding objects, since practical reason must make use of theoretical reason - but not in a way that is exhaustive of its dealings with things. Here the context of directed practical action is brought in as a more fundamental way of thinking objects, and noumena are found to operate for us in a way that is just as immanent as phenomena are for theoretical reason by itself (aside: I take Heidegger's use of the term phenomena to more more or less encompass both of Kant's terms phenomena and noumena).
   We should be able to see here how clearly the notion of object, when allowed in its more broad arena of practical reason is opened up to all sorts of involvements. Further, the ideas themselves (soul, World and God) also have a broader context in which they need to be understood when not narrowed down to merely theoretical reason. I will not even begin here how the third Critique continues to expand the arena, but will save this for another time. I will allow the reader to derive for themselves (or ask) concerning further implications of this way of seeing a reversal of priorities in Kant that leads him to evade the supposed criticisms of operating too much in a 'cartesian' mode.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Guideline for Concrete Philosophical Interpretation

(In reply to a discussion I wrote this description of my method. I will modify it and represent it here. The original is here.)

   My practice of interpretation has been the most concrete result of any of my work in philosophy. The individuals who have had the greatest impact have been teachers, philosophers, and particular revelations from philosophical methods I have encountered (critical method of Kant and Phenomenology of Heidegger being two of the most important). The following is a description of my interpretive process in some general terms. I hope that it can do something to reveal what is at stake when I engage with a text. I also hope that this can help me to continue to develop explicitly what interpretation entails as certain holes in my process are inevitably pointed out to me. (I have tried to put my assumptions in bold as they occur.)
   I am studying Philosopher X who has position Y.  I am interested in interpreting position Y.  This means I already have an interpretation which is called into question.  Some key assumptions I make as I proceed in my reinterpretation are as follows: first, that position Y was actually maintained by Philosopher X; second, that positions that are internally contradictory cannot be maintained by anyone.
   My next move is to consider if position Y is making an a priori or a posteriori claim. If a posteriori, then I can see what sorts of empirical knowledge would be required to maintain the point. I can usually determine if some relevant facts were not available or overlooked, but in this case I can easily understand how position Y was maintained with the outstanding evidence. If, however, I take the claim to be a priori, then I will continue considering the position in a different manner.
   A proof of something a priori always has a starting point that is analyzed as regards what is necessary for it. For our example, this starting point will be called 'object' Z.  (The result of such analysis can be a priori and still involve empirical concepts, or purely a priori and contain no empirical concepts; I will assume that we are dealing with a purely a priori case.)  There are two general ways that an analysis of 'object' Z, regarding what is purely a priori in it, can err: first, that the analysis may mistakenly included empirical concepts as part of its purely a priori result, and then used them in the derivation of position Y; second, that the 'object' Z was not fixed, and changed over the course of the analysis.  The analysis of Philosopher X's analysis burdens me with an additional question now. What is Z?
   Z is the 'object' that Philosopher X analyzed such that they were constrained to maintain position Y.  Now, this still leaves open the possibility that position Y is maintained in error, but if I am to understand the error I need to have a clear interpretation of Z in order to characterize the error as one of analysis (including empirical concepts as a priori ) or inconsistency in the object (first analyzing one thing, then later another, for the purposes of one conclusion).  Unless it is very clear that one of these errors has been committed, I will assume that it has not pending further consideration.  (Incidentally, I find these errors are rarely committed.)
   In order to have found position Y to be false, we must implicitly have an interpretation of 'object' Z that leads to an inconsistency with our understanding of position Y.  We could have misinterpreted position Y, or we could have misinterpreted 'object' Z, or both (usually if one is off, the other is too). Because of my first two assumptions (first, that position Y was actually maintained by Philosopher X, second, that positions that are internally contradictory cannot be maintained by anyone) I have at least a misinterpretation of 'object' Z or position Y (and in either case a misunderstanding of Philosopher X).
   From here comes a series of interpretive experiments and data gathering. I will re-examine definitions, look for hints of what 'object' Z is, look at explicit statements about what is being attempted in the section and even work and corpus, examine position Y again, consider in relation to similar positions, consider comments that Philosopher X makes concerning positions they mean to contradict, look at how they address criticisms of their position.
   Depending on what my experimenting uncovers, I may deem it necessary, ex hypothesis, to reinterpret position Y in a way that makes it consistent with 'object' Z as its starting point, or reinterpret 'object' Z such that position Y is a valid conclusion from it. Both of these scenarios leave open the possibility of position Y being ultimately something I would not maintain, though I will understand clearly on what basis I do not maintain it. If this is the case, then I consider further what it is about these (usually 'object' Z) that I have difficulty maintaining. What has gone unsaid about 'object' Z or position Y that I can further derive with my current understanding? Do any of these conflict with what Philosopher X has said? If so, I should probably reconsider something.
   New evidence can cause me to re-evaluate any of these steps I have mentioned from the very start. This sort of interpretation takes a considerable amount of effort and patience, but I have also found it to be very rewarding. This has been my procedure while studying Kant, and it has resulted in what I find to be a very good reading that I would not consider charitable, but rather consistent with, and mindful of, what has been said. Kant is really the most complete interpretation I have of any thinker, but it is still incredible to me how much room there is still to re-evaluate it. Also, there are many other figures in the history of philosophy who are involved in such an interpretive process: Plato, Heidegger, Gelven, Descartes, Leibniz, Nietzsche, Hegel, as well as countless others. These figures I frequently compare, not to belittle any position by something similar that came before, but as a way of letting philosophers clarify each other, both where they seem to agree and where they seem to disagree.
   My interpretations do not advance with a goal of vindicating a philosopher or not, but with enabling myself with the highest quality interpretations I can so I can continue my own work in the presence of these thinkers. At the end of the day, my work involves being thoughtful about my own life, and for this I will take as many friends as I can while trying not to lean on any of them.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Descartes and Deception

   One primary benefit of a phenomenological or philosophical interpretation is that it tries to see the phenomena that an author is discussing (even implicitly) first hand. The advantage of this is that we can use this as a common starting point for interpretation even when such a starting point has not been provided, and such a starting point is universally available.  However, sometimes it can be quite difficult to catch a glimpse of what an author is encountering, and sometimes direct glimpses of particular concepts are impossible (for example, monads).  But where a glimpse is impossible, one can ultimately trace the concept or idea back into a relation with phenomena.
   Even when the method of a philosopher is apparently straightforward, as is the case in Descartes' Meditations, it is easy to not pay enough attention to the method and what it assumes to be effective. Descartes' manner of doubting presupposes the intelligibility of deception, as well as the importance of the sort of things we may be deceived by; this latter assumption is tentative on our part.  If we consider what the essence of deception is, we find that Descartes' own procedure of looking at the world and doubting is much more complicated than it initially seems. I mean to attempt an overview of some of the current difficulties in my current considerations of Descartes.  By putting it down as a starting point I can hopefully return to it in order to advance.
   Because Descartes is interested in something indubitable, he decides that if he can find any reason that he could doubt something then he will disregard it.  Here we must clarify this procedure on a number of points:  first, a guarding against the characterization of the method as hyperbolic or radical doubt; second, deception itself must be clarified, which will require that we understand the sort of thing that the indubitable is such that we cannot be deceived by it.
   Descartes does not desire to doubt everything, rather he desires the indubitably of some foundational starting point (or if we go by his letter to the faculty of Sorbonne, he means to prove the existence of God in a manner satisfactory to atheists).  To call his method hyperbolic doubt would be to characterize the method by part of its result after the fact.  I suggest that we try to characterize Descartes' inquiry as being cautious, though I will hold off on giving it some specific name.  It may be a better plan when reading and discussing Descartes to emphasize the care that Descartes means to have at the basis of his inquiry rather than the degree to which the results shake the foundations of his former outlook on life.  With this preliminary characterization I will advance to discussing deception in Descartes.
   Characterizing deception will help us to fully disclose the sort of care that Descartes takes in his work.  Put casually, deception supposes that the way things are given to us may not relate to how they are in some un-given form.  I have put this in a very unassuming manner to begin with intentionally as I want to make use of it to point out that there is something given and something not given that are required as either corresponding or not when there is a potential for deception. However, the casual manner of putting it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I do not want to presume that this un-given thing is to be characterized as a substance, or thing-in-itself, or any other specific thing even though it may be any of these or something else in the case of Descartes.  Something else of note here is that we are not sure if deception is due to our own faculties or to the objects giving themselves in a false way, or through some other means, nor do we know the specific character of what is given.  I mention all of this so we can try to consider the wide area of possibilities available to us in understanding the sort of deception that Descartes is concerned with. It may be only one possible determination of these, or all possible determinations may fit; in each case we would have different ways of characterizing the given and un-given.  As expected, we will now need to try to get a sense of what the indubitable is for Descartes such that he can be deceived by anything else.
   We can perhaps characterize what is indubitable to Descartes with reference to what he finds to be indubitable: that he thinks, he is - the Cogito.  This is not all that Descartes finds to be indubitable, and not even what is most indubitable. (It is quite interesting to consider the option of degrees of indubitably. Why would this be more puzzling than degree of reality or perfection?)  Even though we have some of what Descartes finds to be indubitable, the proper understanding of the ego cogito is still only grasped through a recognition of what has been overcome, namely, deception.  Our interpretation here is in a place where we can co-determine deception and the indubitable.

Guides from Greek Thought:
   The Greek word for 'false' is pseudos (ψεῦδος) which involves dissembling.  Does this suggest that Greek thought also ran in parallel with Descartes' thinking on deception?  (I am considering this in relation to Heidegger's interpretation of Greek thought in his Parmenides.) This may or may not hold, but this comparison may be fruitful.