positively perfect
benjamin claymier
"rhetoric of deceit"
dennis millisor
"bite the curb " (a photonarrative)
brandon walker


The Rhetoric of Deceit:

A Defense in Video & Essay

When undertaking a business so delicate as an exploration of the psychological and pre-psychological implications and assumptions that blossom from something so ill-famed as deceit, it seems entirely necessary to put forth a definition to which this exploration will adhere. For my purposes, I will use Arnold Isenberg's definition of a lie: “A lie is a statement made by one who does not believe it with the intention that someone else shall be led to believe it” (Isenberg 466). He goes on to explain that this definition makes provision for instances of an accidental telling of the truth, when what is said is actually intended to be misleading. Also, I appreciate that this definition takes embellishments and contractions of the truth into consideration; it explicitly indicates that the one performing the telling does not believe what is being told. That being said, my treatment will primarily address what I call non veritas grandis, or 'great not truth,' because not all of the principles, if they may be called principles, described here necessarily play an active role in what are referred to as “little, white lies.”

In the PSA that I created, I have outlined some fundamental principles that typically contribute to the rhetorical value of a lie, i.e., its believability. Firstly, I noted that a lie's believability is in its telling. I think that this concept is the cornerstone of telling an effective lie. In my many years of experience of deceiving people and observing others deceive people, I have become conscious of a trend that seems to be preeminent among those trends that exist in the realm of what contributes to a lie's acceptance as truth: there is no more believable lie than the one that the teller, himself seems to believe. An effective lie cannot simply be told, but it must be performed.

These performances must be approached with the utmost care and consideration for detail if they are to have the desired effect. First of all, as with any rhetorical performance, careful attention to your particular lie's kairos must be a priority. If it is to be believed, your lie should not begin with a segue that you might find in a standup comedian's act (e.g., “So, I was at the mall the other day...” or “Women always be shoppin'...”). Your lie's commencement should adhere to all conventional guidelines for social propriety concerning subject changes in conversation awaiting your turn to speak. Never speak your lie as something that has been rehearsed; just wait for the kairos; it will come. Whether you are being interrogated by the police, making excuses to your boss, or just lying to your best friends it, is imperative that you wait for the appropriate opportunity to execute your lie.

It is important to note, here, that when you are relating a lie to people who know you very well, self-awareness and attention to detail play especially important roles. Being aware of your own distinct gesticulations and style of articulation can make the whole difference during a performance. Noticing, practicing, and incorporating your own particular casual elocution will help ensure a successful execution. Pay attention to your typical eye contact habits and genuinity in your tone. Similarly, being aware of what sort of things your friends and family know that you probably would not know is important; be a humble liar. Recognize that you are not omniscient; your knowledge center is fallible and not exhaustive, and your lie should reflect this. It is necessary to engage all of the lobes of your brain to make certain that they are all embracing a proactive role in the successful telling of your lie. Another related staple of rhetorical performance that is no stranger to the principles of lying is memorization. Before a lie is performed, you should know all of the ins and outs of that lie; be able to compose a “researched” essay on your lie.

The second principle mentioned in the PSA was that the one who is telling the lie is in control of whether or not the lie is believed. The one who is performing the lie is the master of the questions that are asked through its duration. A good lie should be told in such a way that if questions will be asked during its telling, those questions will have been purposefully encouraged by its telling. These questions should lead the teller to reveal information about the lie that has been prepared beforehand. Knowing that you are in control, gullibility is never a must for a good lie; although, it can be helpful. However, it should be taken into consideration that the experience as a whole is a great deal more rewarding if you are able to deceive someone with an acute awareness of reality and a keen eye for picking out deception.

The third principle introduced in the PSA was that a good lie ought to be elastic, and therefore, malleable to different audiences and situations. The depth and breadth of a good lie should, to some degree, have the ability to be adjusted in cases of an unexpected audience, a requested retelling, or if you sense some measure of doubt. Some people may require supplementary information before they will acknowledge the validity and truthfulness of your performance. This should not be a discouragement or cause anxiety, simply account for all the things that may be considered important and the performance should run smoothly. Never be afraid to say, “I don't know,” or, “I don't remember;” just be convincing when you make these utterances and never lose sight of your goal. As I said earlier, neither your intellect nor your memory are infallible or exhaustive, so take comfort in the fact that your audience realizes and accepts this.

The next item addressed in the PSA was concerned with appropriate appeals to logic and reason and your audience's pre-performance presumptions. No reasonable person presupposes that fantasy produces truth; if you present your lie as a retelling that is based on a true story, rather than a purely fictional piece, people are far more likely to accept it as truth. Most oftentimes, an audience's logic and reason do not allow them to believe things that have very perceptible indications of the incorporation of creative license. Mankind has, more or less, perpetuated the notion that it is by way of logic and reason that truth is gotten. Having this knowledge of the human condition available should cause the liar to rest at ease, as long as this liar has a firm grasp of those things which are consistent with logic and reason. While a lie is being performed, its audience will automatically run this performance through its internal filters to determine its credibility. Having a deep understanding of what agents are able to permeate through these filters, given different audiences and circumstances, gives the liar a leg-up on those whom he desires to manipulate. Also, keeping in mind that before the liar even begins to speak, his audience presumes that whatever it is that is about to come out of his mouth is true, the opening of the performance is crucial, so be convincing from the word, “Go!” (don't actually say the word “go,” though.)

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start lying to people today!


Adler, Jonathan E. “Lying, Deceiving, or Falsely Implicating.” The Journal of Philosophy Sep. 1997: 435-452.

Isenberg, Arnold. “Deontology and the Ethics of Lying.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Jun. 1964: 463-480.

Margolis, Joseph. “'Lying Is Wrong' and 'Lying Is Not Always Wrong.'” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Mar. 1963: 414-418.

Simpson, David. “Lying, Liars, and Language.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research Sep. 1992: 623-639.

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