Faking It

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In this book 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 anxiety of being exposed as frauds in our professions, cads in our loves, posers in our acts of kindness, and hypocrites to our creeds. Why do we so often mistrust the motives of our own good deeds, thinking them fake good deeds, even when we get full credit for them? We know that many roles are supposed to be nothing more than fakery of a sort, playable with one hand tied behind one's back; we know that virtue itself cuts all kinds of deals with a benign form of hypocrisy that keeps us polite, kind, and acting properly. Yet we still feel tainted by what we think are our own half-hearted performances in the various social roles we must play. Much of this book deals with just that self-tormenting self-consciousness. How can we get at the truth of our identities and motives, the authentic us, beset as we are with vanity and self-deception on the one hand, and self-doubting anxieties of authenticity on the other? Miller follows an ancient tradition of moral writing whose primary article of faith is that humankind is inescapably vain, comical, and foolish, though nonetheless, both in spite of and because of these traits, capable of extraordinary achievements. In the end we are more than mere fools for wanting so badly to look good to ourselves and to others. Sometimes when we are faking it we actually achieve something worthy of esteem and praise. That is the virtue of our vanity.
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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

1 Introduction : split in two 1
2 Hypocrisy and Jesus 9
3 Antihypocrisy : looking bad in order to be good 20
4 Virtues naturally immune to hypocrisy 31
5 Naked truth : hey, wanna F***? 48
6 In divine services and other ritualized performances 58
7 Say it like you mean it : mandatory faking and apology 77
8 Flattery and praise 96
9 Hoist with his own petard 109
10 The self, the double, and the sense of self 121
11 At the core at last : the primordial Jew 132
12 Passing and wishing you were what you are not 141
13 Authentic moments with the beautiful and sublime? 154
14 The alchemist : role as addiction 167
15 "I love you" : taking a bullet versus biting one 178
16 Boys crying and girls playing dumb 186
17 Acting our roles : mimicry, makeup, and pills 195
18 False (im)modesty 211
19 Caught in the act 220
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