Faking It

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In this book polymath William Ian Miller probes one of the dirty little secrets of humanity: that we are all faking it much more than anyone would care to admit. He writes with wit and wisdom about the vain anxiety of being exposed as frauds in our professions, cads in our loves, and hypocrites to our creeds. He finds, however, that we are more than mere fools for wanting so badly to look good to ourselves and others. Sometimes, when we are faking it, our vanity leads to virtue, and we actually achieve something worthy of esteem and praise William Ian Miller is the Thomas G. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. He has also taught at Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and the Universities of Bergen and Tel Aviv. His previous books include The Mystery of Courage (Harvard University Press, 2000) and The Anantomy of Disgust (Harvard University Press, 1997).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A law professor and literary scholar who plumbed other depths of moral unpleasantness in The Mystery of Courage and The Anatomy of Disgust, Miller here turns in an intelligent, articulate, somewhat convention-bound essay on the inevitable falseness of civilized behavior and the vanity of human nature that it conceals and reflects. With a blend of Jesuitical enthusiasm and Judaic ruefulness, he takes on the familiar demon of keeping up appearances. Starting with hypocrisy, which emulates and contaminates virtue, Miller considers the posturing inherent in such mechanisms of civility as religious ritual, seduction, apology and praise. After a due quota of vice spotting, Miller warms up to his central theme, the self-consciousness that compromises not only action but identity. The emphasis shifts from behavior to emotion: alienation, hatred, shame, anxiety, what Miller aptly calls the "vexations" behind routine fakeries like professionalism and cosmetics and high-stakes games like courtship and passing. The final section examines the processes by which we become the masks we assume. The book's chief philosophical strength is its light but serious treatment of germane texts: moments in the Gospels, passages from Hamlet and Tristram Shandy, a telling joke of Freud's. On the other hand, its most compelling feature is the inexorable pull of its author's Jewish identity, which he ultimately finds "at the core" of just the mode of self-consciousness that he is exploring. The book as a whole makes a fine introduction to that voice, and to the "ancient tradition of moral writing" that integrates serious thinking with everyday contexts. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this refreshing book, Miller (Univ. of Michigan Law Sch.; The Mystery of Courage) considers the human propensity for fraudulence and the correlative fear of being found out. He makes us laugh as he describes trying to wing it in his class on property law or eyeing an attractive woman a few pews up during prayer, and he entertains us with stories of adults who overestimate their sexual prowess and children who find out that saying "please" doesn't buy them what they were told it would. In short, he finds us all engaged in fakery much of the time-knaves who deceive others and fools who deceive themselves. Self-deception implies a foolish self that can be tricked and a knavish self that does the tricking. Miller reads philosophers and knows that this idea is shaky, insisting that "at a minimum" there is a "point of consciousness from which I have thoughts that are felt to be mine and mine alone." But maybe the self is just Hume's "theater of the mind"; what fills it could be a self-construction. We seek recognition on the path Miller sees strewn with banana peels, but perhaps that's how souls are made. If so, this original book is suggesting a hopeful message. Highly recommended for academic and large public libraries.-Leslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521830188
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 8/18/2003
  • Pages: 302
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

William Ian Miller is the Thomas G. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. He has also taught at Harvard, Yale, Chicago, and the Universities of Bergen and Tel Aviv. Professor Miller holds a J.D. and a Ph.D. in English, both earned at Yale. His various books, including most recently The Mystery of Courage (2000) and The Anatomy of Disgust (1997), have enjoyed critical acclaim throughout the world.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements; 1. Introduction: split in two; 2. Hypocrisy and Jesus; 3. Anti-hypocrisy: looking bad in order to be good; 4. Virtues with natural immunities to hypocrisy; 5. Naked truth: hey, wanna …?; 6. In divine services and other ritualized performances; 7. Say it like you mean it: mandatory faking and apology; 8. Flattery and praise; 9. Hoist with his own petard; 10. The self, the double, and the sense of self; 11. At the core at last: the primordial Jew; 12. Passing and wishing you were what you are not; 13. Authentic moments with the beautiful and sublime?; 14. The alchemist: role as addiction; 15. 'I love you': taking a bullet vs. biting one; 16. Boys crying and girls playing dumb; 17. Acting our roles: mimicry, makeup, and pills; 18. False (im)modesty; 19. Caught in the act; Afterword.

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