The Happiness of Deceit

“But they say it is an unhappy thought to be deceived.  To this I say no, for the unhappiest thought is not to be deceived.  For those who think that the happiness of a man can be found in things as such could not be further from the truth; this resides in opinion.  For nothing can be clearly known, since human affairs are so obscure and varied, a fact already stated correctly by my colleagues, the least impudent of the known, philosophers.  Or if there is something that can be known, it is usually something that will hinder the enjoyment of life.  Finally, the mind of man is so constructed that it is far more susceptible to accepting falsehoods than realities.” Desiderius Erasmus, The Praise of Folly, in The Essential Erasmus, trans. John P. Dolan (New York, 1964), 133. [Emphasis added]

Here Erasmus’s personification of Folly describes how most people would prefer to be deceived than to know the truth.  Folly had just described how flattery rules human discourse.  As was often the case, Erasmus used this opportunity to attack bad preachers and theologians. Then, Folly gave an example of how most prefer falsehood to truth:

“If anyone wants to make a convincing and easy test of this, let him go to church and listen to the sermons.  If something worthwhile is being said, everybody sleeps, or yawns, or is ill at ease.  But if the bawler–I made an error, I meant to say prater–as often happens, begins some old wives’ tale, then everybody awakens, straightens up, and listens attentively.” [Ibid.]

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