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In this chapter I examine the writings of Mark Twain on lying, especially his essays "On the decay of the Art of Lying" and "My First Lie, and How I Got Out of It." I show that Twain held that there were two kinds of lies: the spoken lie and the silent lie. The silent lie is the lie of not saying what one is thinking, and is far more common than the spoken lie. The greatest silent lies, according to Twain, were the national silent lies that there was nothing wrong with slavery (the U.S.), that there was nothing wrong with the prosecution of Alfred Dreyfus (France), and that there was nothing wrong with imperialism (UK). According to Twain, lying is unavoidable. Since lying is unavoidable, one must simply avoid injurious lies, and tell beneficial lies.


This book chapter was originally published in Mark Twain and Philosphy, edited by Alan H. Goldman, (2017) and reproduced by permission of Rowman & Littlefield.

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