Lying through a constructivist lens

R. A. Neimeyer, U of Memphis (neimeyerra@MSUVX1.MEMPHIS.EDU)
Mon, 26 Feb 1996 19:44:30 -0600

Let me take Bill Chambers' invitation at face value and respond
straightforwardly by sharing a few quick thoughts on "lying" from a
constructivist perspective. At a process level, I like the Ruskin quote,
but the concept is a bit tricky at an epistemological level. If we reject
an objectivist notion of truth as something impartial, "out there,"
uncontaminated by the play of human perspectives, how can a constructivist
salvage the concept of "lying," vs. "honest," or variations on this theme?
In other words, what we need is some way of accrediting the idea that there
may be many truths, spoken from different vantage points, but each of which
can be distinguished from dissembling in its many forms.

Would an existential concept of "bad faith" (Sartre's mauvais foi) fit
here? For example, can we be "true" to (coherent with) the deep structure
of our belief system, even if we do not claim literal truth for our
position? For example, when I join other members of a psychotherapeutic
reflecting team in offering respectful, but intentionally divergent
perspectives on what has just happened in a family therapy session, can I
do so in "good faith," not holding that only my view is correct (any more
than a fixed role enactment sketch is correct), but believing nonetheless
that my part in proliferating novel interpretations may be genuinely
helpful for the family?

This line of inquiry interests me in connection with the earlier thread (to
which I hope at some point to return) about PCP and social constructionism.
An affirmative valuing of "honesty" or "personal truth" would help edge
constructivism away from the nihilism that characterizes at least some
forms of constructionist discourse.

Other thoughts would be appreciated--especially honest ones!

Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Memphis
Memphis, TN 38152
(901) 678-4680
FAX (901) 678-2579