A lie is an intentionally false statement to a person or group made by another person or group who knows it is not wholly the truth. Lies can be told for various reasons, and with various amounts of success.
- 1 Types
- 1.1 Bad faith
- 1.2 Barefaced lie
- 1.3 Big lie
- 1.4 Bluffing
- 1.5 Bullshit
- 1.6 Butler lie
- 1.7 Contextual lie
- 1.8 Economical with the truth
- 1.9 Emergency lie
- 1.10 Exaggeration
- 1.11 Fabrication
- 1.12 Fib
- 1.13 Half-truth
- 1.14 Haystack answer
- 1.15 Honest lie
- 1.16 Jocose lie
- 1.17 Lie-to-children
- 1.18 Lying by omission
- 1.19 Lying in trade
- 1.20 Minimisation
- 1.21 Misleading and dissembling
- 1.22 Noble lie
- 1.23 Pathological lie
- 1.24 Perjury
- 1.25 Polite lie
- 1.26 Puffery
- 1.27 Speaking with forked tongue
- 1.28 View from nowhere
- 1.29 Weasel word
- 1.30 White lie
- 2 Consequences
- 3 Detection
- 4 Ethics
- 5 In other species
- 6 In culture
- 7 Paradoxes
- 8 Psychology
- 9 Religious perspectives
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
As defined by Sartre, "bad faith" is lying to oneself. Specifically, it is failing to acknowledge one's own ability to act and determine one's possibilities, falling back on the determinations of the various historical and current totalisations which have produced one as if they relieved one of one's freedom to do so.
A barefaced (or bald-faced) lie is one that is obviously a lie to those hearing it. The phrase comes from 17th-century British usage referring to those without facial hair as being seen as acting in an unconcealed or open way. A variation that has been in use almost as long is bold-faced lie, referring to a lie told with a straight and confident face (hence "bold-faced"), usually with the corresponding tone of voice and emphatic body language of one confidently speaking the truth. Bold-faced lie can also refer to misleading or inaccurate newspaper headlines, but this usage appears to be a more recent appropriation of the term.
A lie which attempts to trick the victim into believing something major which will likely be contradicted by some information the victim already possesses, or by their common sense. When the lie is of sufficient magnitude it may succeed, due to the victim's reluctance to believe that an untruth on such a grand scale would indeed be concocted.
To bluff is to pretend to have a capability or intention one does not actually possess. Bluffing is an act of deception that is rarely seen as immoral when it takes place in the context of a game, such as poker, where this kind of deception is consented to in advance by the players. For instance, a gambler who deceives other players into thinking he has different cards to those he really holds, or an athlete who hints he will move left and then dodges right is not considered to be lying (also known as a feint or juke). In these situations, deception is acceptable and is commonly expected as a tactic.
Bullshit does not necessarily have to be a complete fabrication. While a lie is related by a speaker who believes what is said is false, bullshit is offered by a speaker who does not care whether what is said is true because the speaker is more concerned with giving the hearer some impression. Thus bullshit may be either true or false, but demonstrates a lack of concern for the truth which is likely to lead to falsehoods.
A term coined by researchers in Cornell University's Social Media Lab that describes small/innate lies which are usually sent electronically, and are used to terminate conversations or to save face. For example sending an SMS to someone reading "I have to go, the waiter is here," when you are not at a restaurant is an example of a butler lie.
One can state part of the truth out of context, knowing that without complete information, it gives a false impression. Likewise, one can actually state accurate facts, yet deceive with them. To say "Yeah, that's right, I ate all the white chocolate, by myself," using sarcasm, a form of assertion by ridiculing the fact(s) implying the liar believes it to be preposterous.
Economical with the truth
Economy with the truth is popularly used as a euphemism for deceit, whether by volunteering false information (i.e., lying) or by deliberately holding back relevant facts. More literally, it describes a careful use of facts so as not to reveal too much information, as in "speaking carefully".
An emergency lie is a strategic lie told when the truth may not be told because, for example, harm to a third party would result. For example, a friend may lie to an angry husband about the whereabouts of his wife, who he believes has been unfaithful, because said husband might reasonably be expected to inflict physical injury should he encounter his wife in person.
Alternatively, an emergency lie could denote a (temporary) lie told to a second person because of the presence of a third.
An exaggeration (or hyperbole) occurs when the most fundamental aspects of a statement are true, but only to a certain degree. It is also seen as "stretching the truth" or making something appear more powerful, meaningful, or real than it actually is. Saying that someone devoured most of something when they only ate half would be considered an exaggeration.
A fabrication is a lie told when someone submits a statement as truth, without knowing for certain whether or not it actually is true. Although the statement may be possible or plausible, it is not based on fact. Rather, it is something made up, or it is a misrepresentation of the truth. Examples of fabrication: A person giving directions to a tourist when the person doesn't actually know the directions. Often propaganda is fabrication.
A fib is a lie told with no malicious intent and little consequence. Unlike a white lie, fibs rarely include those lies or omissions that are meant to do good.
A half-truth is a deceptive statement that includes some element of truth. The statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may employ some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade, blame or misrepresent the truth.
A haystack answer (or statement) is a volume of false or irrelevant information, possibly containing a true fact (the needle in the "haystack"). Even if the truth is included, it is difficult or impossible to detect and identify. In this way, the legendary Leprechaun hid his pot of gold, even after it had been found.
An honest lie (or confabulation) can be identified by verbal statements or actions that inaccurately describe history, background, and present situations. There is generally no intent to misinform and the individual is unaware that their information is false.
Jocose (cf. jocular) lies are lies meant in jest, intended to be understood as such by all present parties. Teasing and irony are examples. A more elaborate instance is seen in some storytelling traditions, where the storyteller's insistence that the story is the absolute truth, despite all evidence to the contrary (i.e., tall tale), is considered humorous. There is debate about whether these are "real" lies, and different philosophers hold different views (see below).
The Crick Crack Club in London arrange a yearly "Grand Lying Contest" with the winner being awarded the coveted "Hodja Cup" (named for the Mulla Nasreddin: "The truth is something I have never spoken."). The winner in 2010 was Hugh Lupton. In the USA, the Burlington Liars' Club awards an annual title to the "World Champion Liar".
A lie-to-children is a lie, often a platitude, which may use euphemism(s), which is told to make an adult subject acceptable to children. Common examples include "The stork brought you" (in reference to childbirth) and the existence of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny.
Lying by omission
Also known as a continuing misrepresentation, a lie by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions. When the seller of a car declares it has been serviced regularly but does not tell that a fault was reported at the last service, the seller lies by omission. It can be compared to dissimulation.
Lying in trade
The seller of a product or service may advertise untrue facts about the product or service in order to gain sales, especially by competitive advantage. Many countries and states have enacted consumer protection laws intended to combat such fraud. An example is the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act that holds a seller liable for omission of any material fact that the buyer relies upon.
Misleading and dissembling
A misleading statement is one where there is no outright lie, but still retains the purpose of getting someone to believe in an untruth. "Dissembling" likewise describes the presentation of facts in a way that is literally true, but intentionally misleading.
A noble lie is one that would normally cause discord if uncovered, but offers some benefit to the liar and assists in an orderly society, therefore, potentially beneficial to others. It is often told to maintain law, order and safety.
In psychiatry, pathological lying (also called compulsive lying, pseudologia fantastica and mythomania) is a behavior of habitual or compulsive lying. It was first described in the medical literature in 1891 by Anton Delbrueck. Although it is a controversial topic, pathological lying has been defined as "falsification entirely disproportionate to any discernible end in view, may be extensive and very complicated, and may manifest over a period of years or even a lifetime". The individual may be aware they are lying, or may believe they are telling the truth, being unaware that they are relating fantasies.
Perjury is the act of lying or making verifiably false statements on a material matter under oath or affirmation in a court of law, or in any of various sworn statements in writing. Perjury is a crime, because the witness has sworn to tell the truth and, for the credibility of the court to remain intact, witness testimony must be relied on as truthful.
A polite lie is a lie that a politeness standard requires, and which is usually known to be untrue by both parties. Whether such lies are acceptable is heavily dependent on culture. A common polite lie in international etiquette is to decline invitations because of "scheduling difficulties."
Puffery is an exaggerated claim typically found in advertising and publicity announcements, such as "the highest quality at the lowest price," or "always votes in the best interest of all the people." Such statements are unlikely to be true - but cannot be proven false and so do not violate trade laws, especially as the consumer is expected to be able to tell that it is not the absolute truth.
Speaking with forked tongue
The phrase "speaking with a forked tongue" means to deliberately say one thing and mean another or, to be hypocritical, or act in a duplicitous manner. In the longstanding tradition of many Native American tribes, "speaking with a forked tongue" has meant lying, and a person was no longer considered worthy of trust, once he had been shown to "speak with a forked tongue". This phrase was also adopted by Americans around the time of the Revolution, and may be found in abundant references from the early 19th century — often reporting on American officers who sought to convince the tribal leaders with whom they negotiated that they "spoke with a straight and not with a forked tongue" (as for example, President Andrew Jackson told the Creek Nation in 1829) According to one 1859 account, the native proverb that the "white man spoke with a forked tongue" originated as a result of the French tactic of the 1690s, in their war with the Iroquois, of inviting their enemies to attend a Peace Conference, only to be slaughtered or captured.
View from nowhere
The view from nowhere refers to journalism and analysis that misinform the audience by creating the impression that opposing parties to an issue have equal correctness and validity, even when the truths of their claims are mutually exclusive.
A weasel word is an informal term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that a specific and/or meaningful statement has been made, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated, enabling the specific meaning to be denied if the statement is challenged. A more formal term is equivocation.
White lies are minor lies which could be considered to be harmless, or even beneficial, in the long term. White lies are also considered to be used for greater good. A common version of a white lie is to tell only part of the truth, therefore not be suspected of lying, yet also conceal something else, to avoid awkward questions. White lies are also often used to shield someone from a hurtful or emotionally damaging truth, especially when not knowing the truth is completely harmless.
Once a lie has been told, there can be two alternative consequences: it may be discovered or remain undiscovered.
Under some circumstances, discovery of a lie may discredit other statements by the same speaker and can lead to social or legal sanctions against the speaker, such as ostracizing or conviction for perjury. When a lie is discovered, the state of mind and behavior of the lie teller (liar) is no longer predictable.
The discoverer of a lie may also be convinced or coerced to collaborate with the liar, becoming part of a conspiracy. They may actively propagate the lie to other parties, actively prevent the lie's discovery by other parties, or simply omit publicizing the lie (a secondary lie of omission).
Some people may be better "lie detectors" than others, better able to distinguish a lie by facial expression, cadence of speech, certain movements, and other methods. According to David J. Lieberman, PhD, in Never Be Lied to Again: How to Get the Truth in Five Minutes or Less in Any Conversation or Situation, these methods can be learned. Some methods of questioning may be more likely to elicit the truth, for instance: "When was the last time you smoked marijuana?" (a leading question) is more likely to get a truthful answer than "Do you smoke pot?" Asking the question most likely to get the information you want is a skill and can be learned. Avoiding vague questioning will help avoid lies of omission or vagueness.
The question of whether lies can reliably be detected through nonverbal means is a subject of some controversy.
- Polygraph "lie detector" machines measure the physiological stress a subject endures in a number of measures while he/she gives statements or answers questions. Spikes in stress are purported to indicate lying. The accuracy of this method is widely disputed, and in several well-known cases it was proven to have been deceived. Nonetheless, it remains in use in many areas, primarily as a method for eliciting confessions or employment screening. Polygraph results are not admissible as court evidence and are generally perceived to be pseudoscience.
- Various truth drugs have been proposed and used anecdotally, though none are considered very reliable. The CIA attempted to find a universal "truth serum" in the MK-ULTRA project, but it was an overall failure.
- A recent study found that lying takes longer than telling the truth, and thus the time to answer a question may be used as a method of lie detection. However, it has also been shown that instant-answers can be proof of a prepared lie. The only compromise is to try to surprise the victim and find a midway answer, not too quick, nor too long.
Dr. Paul Ekman and Dr. Maureen O'Sullivan spent several decades studying people's ability to spot deception in a study called the Wizards Project. They studied police officers, psychologists, judges, lawyers, the CIA, FBI and the Secret Service. After studying nearly 20,000 people, they identified just over 50 people who can spot deception with great accuracy.
Dr. Freitas-Magalhaes developed the ForensicPsy and the Psy7Faces to read lies by facial expressions.
Aristotle believed no general rule on lying was possible, because anybody who advocated lying could never be believed, he said. The philosophers St. Augustine, as well as St. Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, condemned all lying. However, Thomas Aquinas also had an argument for lying. According to all three, there are no circumstances in which one may ethically lie. Even if the only way to protect oneself is to lie, it is never ethically permissible to lie even in the face of murder, torture, or any other hardship. Each of these philosophers gave several arguments against lying, all compatible with each other. Among the more important arguments are:
- Lying is a perversion of the natural faculty of speech, the natural end of which is to communicate the thoughts of the speaker.
- When one lies, one undermines trust in society.
Meanwhile, Utilitarian philosophers have supported lies which achieve good outcomes—white lies. In his 2008 book How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, Iain King suggested a credible rule on lying was possible, and defined it as: "Deceive only if you can change behaviour in a way worth more than the trust you would lose, were the deception discovered (whether the deception actually is exposed or not)."
In Human, All Too Human, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche suggested that those who refrain from lying may do so only because of the difficulty involved in maintaining the lie. This is consistent with his general philosophy that divides (or ranks) people according to strength and ability; thus, some people tell the truth only out of weakness.
In other species
The capacity to lie has also been claimed to be possessed by non-humans in language studies with great apes. In one instance, gorilla Koko, when asked who tore a sink from the wall, pointed to one of her handlers and then laughed. Deceptive body language, such as feints that mislead as to the intended direction of attack or flight, is observed in many species including wolves. A mother bird deceives when it pretends to have a broken wing to divert the attention of a perceived predator—including unwitting humans—from the eggs in its nest to itself, most notably the killdeer.
- Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio was a wooden puppet often led into trouble by his propensity to lie. His nose grew with every lie; hence, long noses have become a caricature of liars.
- A famous anecdote by Parson Weems claims that George Washington once cut a cherry tree over when he was a small child. His father asked him who cut the cherry tree and Washington confessed his crime with the words: "I'm sorry, father, I cannot tell a lie." The anecdote has been proven to be a completely fictional story.
- The Boy Who Cried Wolf, a fable attributed to Aesop about a boy who continually lies a wolf is coming. When a wolf does appear nobody believes him anymore.
- The Sky Is Falling, similar to The Boy Who Cried Wolf, is the story of Chicken Little, an alarmist little chicken who claims that the sky is falling. This differs from The Boy Who Cried Wolf in that Chicken Little's fabrication is the result of a misinterpretation of the facts which he believes to be true.
- To Tell the Truth was the originator of a genre of game shows with 3 contestants claiming to be a person only one of them is.
The cliché "All is fair in love and war" finds justification for lies used to gain advantage in these situations. Sun Tzu declared that "All warfare is based on deception." Machiavelli advised in The Prince "never to attempt to win by force what can be won by deception," and Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan: "In war, force and fraud are the two cardinal virtues."
- In the film Big Fat Liar, the story producer Marty Wolf (a notorious and proud liar himself) steals from student Jason Shepard, tells of a character whose lies become out of control to the point where each lie he tells causes him to grow in size.
- In the film Liar Liar, the lawyer Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) cannot lie for 24 hours, due to a wish of his son that magically came true.
- In the 1985 Max Headroom, the title character comments that one can always tell when a politician lies because "their lips move." The joke has been widely repeated and rephrased.
- Larry-Boy! And the Fib from Outer Space! was a story of a crime Fighting Super-Hero with Super-Suction ears, having to stop an alien calling himself "Fib" from destroying the town of Bumblyburg due to the lies which caused Fib to grow. Telling The Truth is the moral to this story.
- Lie to Me, a TV series based on behavior analysts who read lies through facial expressions and body language. The protagonists, Dr. Cal Lightman and Dr. Gillian Foster are based on the above-mentioned Dr. Paul Ekman and Dr. Maureen O'Sullivan.
- The Invention of Lying is a 2009 movie depicting the fictitious invention of the first lie, starring Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and Tina Fey.
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen tell the story about an 18th-century baron who tells outrageous, unbelievable stories, which he claims are all true.
- Kamen Rider Den-O has Urataros who claims that "one lie is better than ten thousand truths."
Sir Walter Scott's famous couplet "Oh, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!" describes the often difficult procedure of covering up a lie so that it is not detected in the future.
Within any scenario where only "yes" or "no" answers are accepted, a person who we know is consistently lying would "paradoxically" be a source of truth if "yes" is sometimes the correct answer. There are many such paradoxes, the most famous being known as the liar paradox, commonly expressed as "This sentence is a lie," or "This sentence is false." The so-called Epimenides paradox ("All Cretans are liars," as stated by Epimenides the Cretan) is a forerunner of this, though its status as a paradox is disputed. A class of related logic puzzles are known as knights and knaves, in which the goal is to determine who, in a group of people, is lying and who is telling the truth.
The capacity to lie is noted early and nearly universally in human development. Social psychology and developmental psychology are concerned with the theory of mind, which people employ to simulate another's reaction to their story and determine if a lie will be believable. The most commonly cited milestone, what is known as Machiavellian intelligence, is at the age of about four and a half years, when children begin to be able to lie convincingly. Before this, they seem simply unable to comprehend why others do not see the same view of events that they do—and seem to assume that there is only one point of view, which is their own.
Young children learn from experience that stating an untruth can avoid punishment for misdeeds, before they develop the theory of mind necessary to understand why it works. In this stage of development, children will sometimes tell outrageous and unbelievable lies, because they lack the conceptual framework to judge whether a statement is believable, or even to understand the concept of believability.
When children first learn how lying works, they lack the moral understanding of when to refrain from doing it. This takes years of watching people tell lies, and the results of these lies, to develop a proper understanding. Propensity to lie varies greatly between children, some doing so habitually and others being habitually honest. Habits in this regard are likely to change in early adulthood.
Those with Parkinson's disease show difficulties in deceiving others, difficulties that link to prefrontal hypometabolism. This suggests a link between the capacity for dishonesty and integrity of prefrontal functioning. Pseudologia fantastica is a term applied by psychiatrists to the behavior of habitual or compulsive lying. Mythomania is the condition where there is an excessive or abnormal propensity for lying and exaggerating. A recent study found that lying takes longer than telling the truth. Or, as Chief Joseph succinctly put it, "It does not require many words to speak the truth."  Some biologists have argued that lying is an unavoidable feature of human behavior.
Augustine of Hippo wrote two books about lying: On Lying (De Mendacio) and Against Lying (Contra Mendacio). He describes each book in his later work, Retractions. Based on the location of De Mendacio in Retractions, it appears to have been written about 395 AD. The first work, On Lying, begins: "Magna quæstio est de Mendacio" ("There is a great question about Lying"). From his text, it can be derived that St. Augustine divided lies into eight categories, listed in order of descending severity:
- Lies in religious teaching
- Lies that harm others and help no one
- Lies that harm others and help someone
- Lies told for the pleasure of lying
- Lies told to "please others in smooth discourse"
- Lies that harm no one and that help someone materially
- Lies that harm no one and that help someone spiritually
- Lies that harm no one and that protect someone from "bodily defilement"
Despite distinguishing between lies according to their external severity, Augustine maintains in both treatises that all lies, defined precisely as the external communication of what one does not hold to be internally true, are categorically sinful and therefore ethically impermissible.
Augustine wrote that lies told in jest, or by someone who believes or opines the lie to be true are not, in fact, lies.
In the Bible
The Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible both contain statements that God cannot lie and that lying is immoral (Num. 23:19, Hab. 2:3, Heb. 6:13–18). Nevertheless, there are examples of God deliberately causing enemies to become disorientated and confused, in order to provide victory (2 Thess. 2:11; 1 Kings 22:23; Ezek. 14:9);
- "And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie" (2 Thess. 2:11 NKJV)
Various passages of the Bible feature exchanges that assert lying is immoral and wrong (Prov. 6:16–19; Ps. 5:6), (Lev. 19:11; Prov. 14:5; Prov. 30:6; Zeph. 3:13), (Isa. 28:15; Dan. 11:27), most famously, in the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not bear false witness" (Ex. 20:2–17; Deut. 5:6–21); Ex. 23:1; Matt. 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20 a specific reference to perjury.
Other passages feature descriptive (not prescriptive) exchanges where lying was committed in extreme circumstances involving life and death. However, most Christian philosophers would argue that lying is never acceptable, but that even those who are righteous in God's eyes sin sometimes. Old Testament accounts of lying include:
- The midwives lied about their inability to kill the Israelite children. (Ex. 1:15-21).
- Rahab lied to the king of Jericho about hiding the Hebrew spies (Josh. 2:4–5) and was not killed with those who were disobedient because of her faith (Heb. 11:31).
- Abraham instructed his wife, Sarah, to mislead the Egyptians and say that she is his sister (Gen. 12:10). Abraham's story was strictly true —Sarah was his half sister— but intentionally misleading because it was designed to lead the Egyptians to believe that Sarah was not Abraham's wife for Abraham feared that they would kill him in order to take her, for she was very beautiful.
- In the Day of Judgement, unrepentant liars will be punished in the lake of fire. (Rev. 21:8; 21:27).
Zoroaster teaches that there are two powers in the universe; Asha, which is truth, order and that which is real, and Druj, which is "the Lie". Later on the Lie became personified as Angra Mainyu, a figure similar to the Christian Devil, who was portrayed as the eternal opponent of Ahura Mazda (God).
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- How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, (2008), Iain King, p. 147.
- http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2012/02/05/imp06.asp | Sri Lanka's Sunday Observer article on lying, Feb 2012
- How to Make Good Decisions and Be Right All the Time, (2008), Iain King, p. 148.
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- 1620 T. Shelton tr. Cervantes' Don Quixote ii. xxi. Love and warre are all one. It is lawfull to use sleights and stratagems to attaine the wished end.
- 1578 Lyly Euphues I. 236 Anye impietie may lawfully be committed in loue, which is lawlesse.
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- "Lying For a Good Purpose: Book of Mormon Apologetics Over the Years" by Clyde R. Forsberg, Jr., paper at The 2008 International Conference Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and "the New Spirituality" at London School of Economics, 16–20 April 2008
- Gordon K. Thomas, "The Book of Mormon in the English Literary Context of 1837," Brigham Young University Studies, Vol. XXCII, No. 1 (Winter 1987), 21
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- Schaff, Philip (1887). A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church: St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity. Doctrinal treatises. Moral treatises. The Christian Literature Company.
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- See also: O'Neill, Barry. (2003). "A Formal System for Understanding Lies and Deceit." Revision of a talk for the Jerusalem Conference on Biblical Economics, June 2000.
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- Adler, J.E. "Lying, deceiving, or falsely implicating," Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 94 (1997), 435–52.
- Aquinas, T., St. "Question 110: Lying," in Summa Theologiae (II.II), Vol. 41, Virtues of Justice in the Human Community (London, 1972).
- Augustine, St. "On Lying" and "Against Lying," in R.J. Deferrari, ed., Treatises on Various Subjects (New York, 1952).
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