Honor among Liars, Liars among the Honorable?

September 15, 2011


John Selden, The Duello, 1610

In Western — that is, European and North American — dueling practices from the Renaissance through the beginning of the twentieth century, some of the common reasons for fighting a duel were “the Lie given, Fame impeached, Body wronged, or Curtesie taxed,” as John Selden, an early English historian of the duel, put it. In other words, men (always men) fought over for accusations of dishonesty, over defamation, physical assault or insult, or over someone’s failure to act appropriately respectfully toward them. They were also expected to challenge anyone who so offended them, whether they wanted to or not.

(Boy, I’m glad this no longer applies. If I had to challenge every student who begins his or her email to me with “Hey!” I’d be fighting all the time. And probably losing.)

As Selden’s list hints, and as other historians have shown, the accusation of dishonesty was the most common ground of all the reasons. So imagine a world in which you and I are having a conversation and I say, “Oh, but that’s not true” in response to something you said, and your having to challenge me to a duel immediately. (“Sir, please name a friend of yours to contact my friend, Sir Archibald here, for arrangements for the morrow.”) Would you want to live in that world?

"Honor," a stained-glass cartoon at the University of Michigan Law School

More importantly, though, think about the following. The reason accusation of dishonesty was such a grievous thing was that honorable men — the types who had the right to duel in the first place — by definition were supposed to have great integrity and therefore never lie. But maybe it was the other way round: maybe it was a world in which lying was extremely common, and the quickness with which accusations of it brought out the swords somehow related. Why, or how would that be? Discuss!

(I have explored the politics of dueling in “Dueling for Equality: Masculine Honor and the Modern Politics of Dignity” in Political Theory and in The Playing Fields of Eton.)

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About Mika LaVaque-Manty

I'm a professor of political science at the University of Michigan. I'm a philosopher by training, and I teach political theory.

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30 Comments on “Honor among Liars, Liars among the Honorable?”

  1. ianbaker2041 Says:

    I personally tend to believe that all people are pretty much the same. Now, this is not to say that we are all the SAME; I just mean that no matter where one goes in the world (or at least where I’ve gone in the world, and I’m fairly well traveled), one can find friendly people and one can find cold people. One can find inviting people, and one can find uninviting people. Similarly, one can find those with integrity and honesty and those without. With some exceptions, I tend to think that the same trend follows through history. People remain pretty much the same; they may talk differently, live differently, and think a bit differently, but they are still biologically the same and still seeking the same things in life. Think about it: why did people fight hundreds of years ago? For pretty much the same reasons as we do now. While we may say that the religious wars of the Reformation Era are over, isn’t religious conflict still a common theme that became all too apparent just over ten years ago (hard to believe it was that long ago!)? Take another example. Elites, such as the French monarchs so despised by their impoverished citizenry, have always clung to their power. Even today, those against changing the “status quo” tend to (but certainly do not always) come from society’s upper echelons. The masses have always, and probably will always, advocated for social and political change simply because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain from doing it. There’s a reason that the clergy didn’t run the National Assembly and send the king to the guillotine.

    So using the same principle and applying it to dueling, I find it hard to think that the world contained proportionally more liars during the Middle and pre-modern ages than it does now. Such an occurrence would be wholly non sequitor with the argument outlined above. So if duels didn’t exist because the world contained more dishonest men, why did they exist for so long?

    The answer is rooted in social conditions of the time, namely chivalry and the justice system. The post has already covered chivalry fairly well, and anyone remotely familiar with European (or Japanese bushido) history already understands how it works: nobles had to protect not only their own images but the reputation of their families, a pretty tall order that could only be accomplished with blood. There’s something seemingly intrinsic in people that calls for protection of personal reputation, and these men showed that by dueling others to the death. If a nobleman refused to duel, he would be seen not only as personally weak, but his legacy and the reputation of his relatives would be diminished, too. This strong desire to uphold reputation helped keep the duel alive.

    The second reason, however, is more of a reason by default. Because no other system to administer justice existed at the time, men had no choice but to take matters into their own hands (literally) and duel it out. Nations during the age of dueling did not have well established courts of law that treated everyone equally as we have now. A nobleman taking issue with another man could not simply call up his lawyer and sue the guy. The only way to go after his opponent, for lack of a better word, was to challenge him to a duel. It’s also important to remember that state-administered justice at the time typically meant torture and/or execution anyways, so a man wasn’t really any better off taking up his issue in that manner than simply going down the road and fighting it out. It’s no coincidence that with the emergence of a more modern justice system with courts of law, trial by jury, and equal rights for all came the demise of the dueling system; mankind finally found a suitable, affordable replacement for the dueling system
    Did chivalry play a part in continuing the duel? Most certainly. No nobleman was willingly going to bow down to his adversary and admit defeat. However, more importantly than that, the lack of any other way to get an answer meant that the simplest, most primal form of justice prevailed. I must say that I’m glad that I don’t find corpses on the streets of Ann Arbor when I go to class! I’ll take our endless stream of lawyers over their endless stream of blood any day.

  2. Laura Goslin Says:

    Personally, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where if I accused someone of being wrong, or challenged them, then would put my life in immediate danger. I think intellectual people need to challenge thought, even if it does insult the person who created the idea. If society discourages this through death, then there would be no progressive thought.I don’t think people who are accused of lying in an intellectual setting are actually lying, they are just stating something they think is true.
    In the reading “On Liberty”, by John Stuart Mill, he states if we discourage people to express their opinion there is a possibility that the opinion “is right, then they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth.” In other words we prevent a chance for learning. Furthermore, “if they are wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by collision with error.” Mill is declaring that if we don’t listen to people who are wrong, then we won’t be able to form a clearer image of the truth.
    Therefore, a society that discourages the chance for an intellectual discussion will only be stunted in growth.

  3. Steve Dougherty Says:

    As the integrity of one’s name was incredibly important, and social communities were likely smaller, my guess is that not defending one’s honor was seen as admission of the accused flaw; word of which could spread quickly and impact one’s reputation. It’s tempting to speculate that if the accounting practices first well-defined during the Renaissance were slow to be adapted, and a name alone could extend a line of credit, that defending one’s name also defends one’s finances. It seems unlikely that sellers of goods and services would want less money, though, so I find it doubtful that it took very long. I’ve also seen this placard, which hopefully offers more insight into the motivations behind dueling.

    I see no reason why people in the past would be more honest. If it was harder to access information, I’d think that lying would be easier – and therefore more common. Perhaps those eligible to duel were constantly attempting to balance how much falsehood they could tolerate before calling it out with their own well-being. This would only really make sense if the lying was about facts or figures, whereas a fair amount was probably about others’ character.

    And for the record, I would not want to live in that world.

  4. Baihan Li Says:

    It is a tricky to think whether people in that age were inclined to lie or not. It is apparently that no one likes to risk his life just for a verbal disagreement. In that case, it is reasonalble to predict that the audience are more likely to say ” Oh yeah ” to everysentence they hear.

    However, imagine if you will, what topic would the speaker choose ? To have a safe conversation, one might try to control the topic as safe as possible –or, maybe as true– as he could, rather than to expect that his audience would tolerate disagreement. Thus, it is also possible that conversations at that time were more reliable, as no one wanted to be challenged.

    There, I develop a furthur thought: how would this duel system influence people’s mind? In fact, I doubt if how deep would most gentlemen, who were approved and “responsible” to fight a duel, think. While the listener might randomly agree to one’s idea, the speaker was not likely to choose a profound topic. Compared with knowledge of the world, philosophical thoughts or other controversial ideas, usual topics like weather, scenery and food are much more suitable for a conversation to move on, without argument. In this environment, how deep would one develop his thinking when he has no place to express those idea?

    It also makes me consider what is wrong with the society. By setting duel in the upper class, the society is measuring males with only one standard: if they are strong enough to fight for themselves. This is, to some extend, stupid. For example, Pushkin, the poet, died from the duel with Georges-Charles, who was a former military officer. The society was putting men on the field of honor, totally ignoring whether they are capable of defending themselve in this way. In another way, isn’t this a sigh that a society places more emphasis on force than logic and law?

  5. marckarpinos31 Says:

    To start off I would like to say that i would not like to live in this time period. While I played high school football and my closest friends are no strangers to physical conflict, In addition, I believe that A) there are times where it is necessary to lie for ones safety and B) it is human nature to stretch the truth or lie to get ahead in certain situations. I would not want to be forced to duel at every minor accusation of a false claim

    To springboard off of what Steve Dougherty said, there was no internet in this time period and there were not nearly as many methods for finding information. With that being said, a plethora of claims could be viewed as false as a result of mere lack of knowledge on a subject and there would be no way to dispute it.

    With that being said, in this time period ones name was one of the more important things to the people. Without social media websites, accusations of dishonesty spread by word and there was no way of knowing such word was being spread. In order to avoid these accusations could be the reason why the people of this time period were so quick to pull the sword. It could also be debated that it was an insult to call falsehood on someone.

  6. ianbaker2041 Says:

    It seems to me that duels did not occur because there were proportionally more liars in the word but rather because protecting one’s name was most important.

    The first (and seemingly contradictory) thing about dueling is that it was not actually intended to kill the opponent. Yes, death was usually the result, but that was not the intended purpose. In “How Duels Work,” author Ed Grabianowski states that “dueling is about recovering honor, not killing.” A true gentleman would defend his honor to the death if necessary, but maiming or killing his opponent was not the primary objective.

    A second thing that is interesting to note about dueling is that its frequency varied by geographical location. Dueling was exceedingly popular in Europe until the 1800s after Frances I and Charles V of France and Spain threatened to duel in 1526. The fight never came to pass, but the idea took hold, especially in France. Over 10,000 likely died from dueling during the reign of Henry IV. It was also far more common in the American south than in the north; filled with racially-driven hierarchy and the aim to be a “southern gentleman,” this area saw more dueling than its northern counterpart.

    Finally, dueling tended to end when commoners began to duel. Ed Graianowski presents this theory in “How Duels Work.” At first, duels were between nobles to show what outstanding, respectable gentlemen they were, but when commoners began the practice, the duel no longer served as a distinction between social classes, making it meaningless to the nobles. When dueling no longer served as a divider between elites and commoners, it largely became a historical relic. Pretty interesting if you ask me.

    So why do I bring up these three points? Well, none of them indicate an abundance of lying at all; they all indicate that dueling was intended ONLY to preserve honor. If dueling was actually intended as a legitimate justice system, killing would have been the objective; after all, without many prisons, there would be few places to house criminals. Furthermore, duels were usually carried out when one man challenged another, not when a judiciary body accused a man of a crime. The fact that dueling took hold first in Europe’s nobility after two monarchs prepared to duel shows how linked the concept of dueling was with preserving honor, and prominence of dueling in the social structure of the American south also demonstrates the link between dueling and reputation. Nobles probably figured that if their rulers and fellow elites were dueling to preserve reputation, they should, too. Finally, the fact that dueling died shortly after spreading to the masses proves that the nobles saw it as a way to preserve honor because they no longer did it once the commoners began its practice. If dueling was really about removing liars, then the duel would have to have been about killing and would have continued even after the masses began using it. Since neither of these occurred and given the relevant facts about dueling, one can draw no other conclusion than to determine that dueling was based on preserving honor first.

    “How Duels Work” http://people.howstuffworks.com/duel.htm

    “Dueling History: An Affair of Honor” http://artofmanliness.com/2010/03/05/man-knowledge-an-affair-of-honor-the-duel/

  7. Connor Baharozian Says:

    The society of the Renaissance, which included dueling, seems to have suggested that people would be more careful with their words and make strong statements only when they were absolutely sure that they were correct. The idea that any lie could cause a duel of life and death might insinuate that when people spoke, they would have less creative ideas and less opinion spewing from their mouths so as to not instigate others. It seems as if Renaissance civilians would have stuck to the common view instead of challenging ideas. However, the creator of this post suggests that maybe people were constantly lying. I take this to mean that the Renaissance people, though constantly lying, always believed that they were speaking the ‘truth.’ They were lost in their own world of self-deemed ‘truths’ which may have been nothing more than personal opinions. I think that the Renaissance people were extremely stubborn when it came to their views. I also think that they were very self-confident. These two traits, hand in hand, were the reason for the quickness with which one accused another of lying. I think that the Renaissance people were so overconfident that they always believed that what they spoke was the ‘truth.’ Their definition of the truth was much different than our’s, Hobbes’ and Socrates.’ I think that their truth was a mixture of opinion and ‘fact.’ When one challenged another to a duel over lying, I believe that they were challenging another’s opinion rather than ‘fact.’ This is why, it would have been prudent for Renaissance civilians to talk convincingly, but not over passionately about their own views so as to spark disagreement.

  8. kelseymlee Says:

    I agree with the above comments, in that the purpose of the duel was to defend one’s honor, not to achieve some sort of true and deserved justice. “Honor among liars” is much more viable than the idea of “liars among the honorable”.

    Social standards and mannerisms were much different back in the day, but I still believe that people lied just as much as they do now. The only difference is that people were much more unwilling to accept that fact back then, as appearances were more important, and what people thought about you probably mattered much more.

    Defending one’s honor was one of the most important aspects of life, because honor could not be bought, only earned or taken away through the social standing of your reputation. While some people back then would chalk up the legitimacy of the duel to the idea that God supported those who were strong, so whoever won the duel was the one that deserved justice in God’s eyes, I believe this was really just a way to justify a corrupt type of procedural justice. No attention was paid to the means by which justice was reached, only the ends.

    Duels gave liars the chance to falsely defend honor that they really didn’t possess–only the honor that people wrongly thought they possessed.

  9. Lilian Baek Says:

    We often see this type of situation happen today. Although it may be considered a low class and immature act, it’s not surprising to see people, usually guys, solving a problem by asking a person to step outside to continue the conversation… with fists, typically. That’s why I find it so humorous that for centuries, challenging another man to a duel was considered a pinnacle of honor and reserved for the upper class, a society composed of true gentlemen. The only answer that I could think of as to why men would want to duel would be as the other blogger mentioned, “that not defending one’s honor was seen as admission of the accused flaw…” It only makes sense to defend your position in the argument, accusation or conversation if you were sincere in what you said. However, dueling is obviously not the way to handle the situation. What puzzles me even more than asking why elitists fought in their defense is how and why we adopted this practice. According to PBS, dueling practices originated in Europe in which “…a group of Irishmen codified dueling practices in a document called the Code Duello… An Americanized version of the Code, written by South Carolina Governor John Lyde Wilson, appeared in 1838. Prior to that, Americans made do with European rules.” Thus, I ask my fellow bloggers, why do you think Americans adopted this awful act from Europeans?


  10. sarahspath23 Says:

    I do not think that there is reason to assume that there existed more lying or less lying during the dueling time period versus today. However, with religion being so prevalent in dueling societies, I do think that lying was considered a great sin, more so than it is today. Today’s society views lying as part of every day life and does not make you a bad person. If you think about it, I am sure we all have lied at least once within the last week for various reasons whether it be to protect someone’s feelings or to have others see you in a favorable light. There is a point where people in today’s society do consider lying to be too far, but my point is that lying in dueling societies was not tolerated at all. So maybe in dueling societies, lying was hidden more because if anyone was caught lying, it was a significant offense, worth dueling over.

    I do wonder how a person was caught lying, because to some extent, it is the judgment of another that determines if a person was lying. How does one person know for certain that another is lying? Unless the potential lier explicity states that they are lying or a credible source confirms that the person is lying, it seems to me that there is no way to know for sure. In that case, many lives have been lost with no evidence to support the claim.

    Did dueling occur regardless of whether the lying was intentional? Dueling because of dishonesty seems very subjective because a person might believe they are correct, in which case I agree with the comment above about how this is not a case in which a duel should occur, but instead, should be considered a learning opportunity.

    I could not imagine a society where every time a person was accused of lying, there would be a duel that could and usually did lead to the physical harm of a person. As I said before, lying is part of our society so there would probably be duels all of the time if this was the case. Everyone would take precaution in every single thing they say and our society would not be the innovative, fast moving society it is today. If every person is afraid to say something that could be construed as a lie, we are basically instituting a society where correctness is the ultimate goal. We can only achieve new, creative ideas through processes like trial and error where we must be able to be wrong to eventually be right. Punishment because of someone else’s perception of lying will only lead to a slowing economy and frustrated, discouraged people.

  11. Michael Zanger Says:

    The big picture here is issue with honorable men being regarded as “honorable” merely because of their abilities to duel against the opposing party. The concern lies within the encroachment of power upon another man. Are men challenging theories, assumptions of defamation, and etc. truly because they believe they are experiencing public denigration, or because they have the ability to abuse power publicly without being challenged?

    I acknowledge the validity of other comments within the thread, but would like everyone to consider dueling in our societies in the present day. In my opinion we are still dueling, but dueling with civility. Lawyers, anyone?

    Today the media is flooded with cases of libel and slander. One company sues another over various publishing of opinions regarding the other. Though it does not matter who wins in this case, someone is going to file an appeal. And though the courts have final jurisdiction over the disputes, companies pump millions (even billions) of dollars into legal fees and highly regarded attorneys in order to protect their public reputation.

    I wonder if O.J. Simpson would have been regarded as the town’s “most honorable asshole”?

    Here’s an explanation of libel and slander with case references: http://www.enotes.com/everyday-law-encyclopedia/libel-and-slander

    • Brian Robinson Says:

      There are still “duels” that exist in society today yet they are drastically different than the barbaric dueling explained in the article. Society has weeded out the practice of immediate fighting and brawling that used to exist. Lawyers and court rooms are now a way to take the initial “duel” out of the equation and use a systematic and civilized resolution. The men that used to deal were simply in disagreements and were not challenging theories. Dueling did not progress society but in reality did the opposite.

  12. Baihan Li Says:

    It is a hard to claim that people in old age were inclined to lie. Apparently, no one liked to risk his life just for a verbal disagreement. On one hand, it might happen that, people were more likely to say “yes” to opinion they received.

    However, on the other hand, let’s think what topic would be chosen? To have a safe conversation, one might try to control the topic as plain as possible (or maybe as true as he could). Rather than to expect that his audience would tolerate any possible disagreement, to have a conversation full of facts was a better way to avoid potential conflict. Thus, we could expect even less liars at that time, as they had to tell truths for their own safety.

    Then, a further thought is developed: how would this duel system influence people’s mind? In fact, I doubt how deep gentlemen, who were approved and “responsible” to fight a duel, would put themselves into thought. Compared with profound issues like philosophy or psychology common topics like weather were more suitable for conversations as to the requirement of safety. With no one to debate and communicate, people might not even take a glimpse into the lasting truth. Even if someone developed his idea of the world, those opinions remained untested as there was no one to test it. In this environment, is it really possible for spiritual civilization to advance?

    Another question I have is: what was wrong with the society? By setting the dual system, the society was, irresponsibly, measuring males with only one standard: whether they are strong enough to fight for themselves. This standard is undoubtedly short-sighted. For example, Pushkin, the poet, died from the duel with Georges-Charles, who was a former military officer. The society was putting men on the field of honor, totally ignoring whether they are capable of defending themselves with violence. In another way, isn’t this a sigh that a society places more emphasis on force than logic and law?

  13. arielleshanker Says:

    While reading the original post with a 21st-century perspective, I, along with many of the other commenters, agree that the concept of a duel over “the Lie give, Fame impeached, Body wronged, or Curtesie taxed” seems like a completely over-the-top reaction to something that is so prevalent in our world today. A pre-arranged combat between two parties on the basis of private disagreement sounds like something straight out of a video game or the latest Harry Potter book.

    I am, however, curious about what Mill would have to say on this subject. In his work, “On Liberty,” he makes an argument for the uncurtailed freedom of speech and thought in order to promote sustainable knowledge. If Mill were to witness a duel over a dishonest remark, how would he respond? Assuming he would maintain some scholarly dignity and not partake in any violence himself, I would presume that he would approve about the diversity of opinions represented by the parties engaging in the duel, but disapprove of the method by which they went about solving their disagreement. Instead, Mill might encourage the dueling pair to engage their disagreement verbally so that all opinions could be equally expressed, allowing for the recognition of the pluralistic views held.

    Mill might also approve of the concept of the duel because he claims that any truth perceived to be constant and steadfast should be questioned. Like Socrates, he would argue that one must live an examined life. A duel on the issue of honesty prompts one to reconsider what they believe is true.

  14. Brandon Canniff Says:

    Ian baker makes a good point on this. He claims that duels rose out of the need to defend ones’ honor more than the provoke the liars, and this has some merit to it.
    Honor and integrity has a long history in relation to power and status, and during the times when dueling was popular in society was probably also the time of human history when honor was how you gained power. Therefore, it would be in your best interest (during the time) to provoke others as liars to further your own honor and integrity.
    My best guess for why this fell out of style is because other litmus tests for honor and power arose i.e. education, and money. The modern world is more agnostic and civil about defending one’s honor and dueling is now more a fight of words than actually fighting. My hope is that society can continue to duel in this matter, and even go one step further in making dueling less of a battle of knowledge and more an open dialogue to bring forth better ideas. This idea holds roots in Socrates and Mills theories on knowledge, yet it has still not been accomplished. We have vastly improved as a whole since the days of dueling to defend ones’ honor and life, but their is still much room for improvement. We should put our swords away and open our minds, and maybe then can we make our next great advancement as a society.

  15. matthewlocascio Says:

    In my opinion, living in this kind of world would be awful and inefficient. For one hing, dueling over any accusation of lying, any form of disrespect or any physical or verbal assault would be a complete waste of time. But that’s not the main point of my ideas; to address the question of why the dueling was so prevalent back then you have to take in the context of the time. People adopted Socrates’ model of substantive justice in thinking problematically and questioning the truth to figure out life, a greater meaning and attempt to uncover absolute truth. The most important point is that anything is just if it promotes truth or some glory in god (among others). In this period of time, this truth blended with the glory of god and people believed that God favored warriors and the strong ones. To justify this idea, as we learned in lecture, dueling was seen as an appropriate settlement because the strong warriors were most likely to win a duel, and in effect, enforced the believed favoritism of God. Warriors in a sense were honorable in the name of God. Now keeping this in mind, we must take a step back to address the question as to why dueling was so prevalent.

    I don’t think people were inclined to lying back then. Human nature in general in terms of interpersonal relationships has not changed much. Yes, Facebook and Twitter have made social interactions simpler and increased social interaction, but integrity and amount of communication with others for the most part have remained the same. One just needs to looks at the basis of our society to understand that most of political theory today is adopted from centuries ago. After all of this, it simply means that people would not be more inclined to lie back when dueling was popular. People aren’t inclined to lie all the time today, so why would they be back then?

    Looking at the argument that they are honorable so they don’t lie; it is also one that is not entirely true. Hobbes talks about pluralism and the irreconcilable differences in people that cause disagreement. Even if you are seen as honorable, you may have conflicting beliefs with someone else. Due to the fact that you questioned the beliefs of someone else and accused them of lying, you are basically required to duel. Looking at the ideas of Mills and Hobbes combined, we are all different and it a good thing for society, so in my opinion, we shouldn’t be punished and forced to duel for having these innate differences and opposing ideologies. Some “warriors” may feel they need to keep the honor in their name if someone challenges their authority with an accusation, so they duel to keep the honor in their name and show respect towards God.

    So it’s neither that people lied too much or they are too honorable to lie, it’s more of that they believed God favored the warriors and the honorable, and because of our personal differences, warriors were forced into dueling to retain the honor in God and their name.

  16. Jason Cohen Says:

    It appears as if this system of dueling over debate is detrimental to the greater good of the public. It seems to punish those who question authority, or attempt to move up in social standing. As many of us have been taught in grade school, “violence is not the answer”! Just because someone questions the validity of my claims, should not be a reason I have to fight them. That is not honorable, that is just the epitome of pugnaciousness.

    Additionally, in the context in which I was raised, it is pretty hard to believe those who are “honorable”. This is because people are so skeptical of those in charge, that it is almost second nature to question the actions of those in positions of power. So in a way, it is realistic to constantly challenge someone in “fisty-cuffs” over questioning one’s honesty, and it doesn’t necessarily solve any collective dilemmas. However, this notion of dueling should be forever instilled into people’s minds, only much more civil.

  17. michellerubin Says:

    As many others stated in their comments I concur that the act of dueling was used to defend the integrity and nobility tied to ones name. In these times, being honest and a credible man was of great importance. It seems as if they would rather put their life in extreme danger than to be known as a liar or a cheat. Although organized dueling is not prevalent in our current society, people still defend their name from being tied to negative connotations all the time. People constantly deny their actions when accused of dishonesty and among some cultures or classes fighting still occurs. This fighting, however, does not occur among the “rich and noble” as it once had, but more commonly among lower social classes. There is simply not a need for this old school type of dueling to distinguish power and nobility because we now have other ways to distinguish power, such as success and intelligence.
    Although Mill does support citizens to hold their own opinions and believes that a society is better off when everyone expresses their thoughts and opinions, I still believe he would disapprove of dueling, especially in todays society. Yes, people were dueling because they had different opinions on a matter, which Mill would view as good, but he would disapprove over the actual matter of fighting.

  18. blakesimons Says:

    After reading this post, my thoughts immediately were taken to Kathryn Schulz’s “Being Wrong”. Whether if the argument was based on dishonesty, defamation, or integrity, the basic premise of many of these duels was being wrong. Schulz, a self-proclaimed “wrongologist”, makes the case for admitting and embracing fallibility. For centuries, the men of the world have historically taken an almost 180 degree opposite approach. Instead of embracing and admitting their wrongness, being wrong carried immense burden and weight on reputation, and since reputation was so important in these ages, tension was quick to escalate in arguments. This thought process of history’s men brought upon dueling.

    Even today, people are still unwilling to admit wrongness and the idea of “honor” holds much importance to people all over the world; however, the ways that people react to someone attacking their honor has strayed away from violence. While people used to immediately pull out weaponry at the second that their honor was being sought after, people today do not commonly resort to violent actions upon each other in regards to honor. Instead, today, people call upon lawyers, friends, and family to ensue drama-filled battles when honor is being tampered with. While back in the day two people would pull out guns to resolve quarrels over truth and dignity, today it is more common to see those two conflicting parties in a courtroom.

    Personally, I don’t think these duels were the result of “extremely common” lying; in my opinion, people lie just as much today, if not more, as they did centuries ago. The difference is that lying is looked at with a different viewpoint compared to the viewpoint of citizens hundreds of years ago. Back in that time, a lie was looked at as a sin, a disgusting act of destroying one’s character. Today, lying is more accepted. Some can even make the argument that lying is a part of the 21st century culture. It is without a doubt that the ideals of honor, dignity, and integrity held much more importance throughout history than it does now.

  19. emmaknev Says:

    I think that if every opposing action or expression which was considered a “lie” by a person were to evoke a duel or challenge between that person and another, this dangerous, way of resolving issues would work to stifle discussion, debate, and therefore, progress in a given society. I say this because if I were to express my disagreement with someone over something they held true, that would mean that I would consciously expect to risk my life in order to prove my point. Being a rational human being, this does not seem like something that I would want to do unless the issue at hand were of life and death importance, which very few are. This “dueling” to reach the truth stems from, I think, the idea that through a duel the two opponents put their lives in God’s hands, and whomever prevails must be the one who holds the truth according to God. However, this medieval form of thinking is highly outdated, and anyone today could clearly see that this is not an efficient way of reaching the “truth”. Moreover, if this duel is provoked over an accusation of lying, who’s to say that the accused person doesn’t hold the “lie” to be true? Meaning that in many cases, a person accused of lying may be stating something that they hold to be true, which means the statement is not technically a lie.
    I think that instead of dueling it out and placing the answer in “God’s” hands, a society should debate controversial topics in order to arrive at a higher truth. As Mill pointed out, by listening to those who have differing opinions than our own, we can reach the truth in two ways: 1) if we are wrong, we discover the truth and 2) if we are right then we reach a higher truth by proving our point. Either way, debate promotes truth. I would much rather live in a society where things are settled in a civil manner and opposing opinions are not deemed lies for which opponents risk their lives.

  20. tyhughes2014 Says:

    I remain skeptical as to how much dueling really occurred during the Renaissance period and even more skeptical of the portion of the blog claiming that “They were also expected to challenge anyone who so offended them, whether they wanted to or not”. Although it is hard for me to provide evidence of this, I am inclined to believe that dueling would not go down between family members or friends, rather just those who angered you or those who had a motive to kill. An individual is not going to want to slay a family member or close friend, and there is no one around to force them into entering a duel for making a comment that might be perceived as a potential lie. By creating a societal rule that requires a duel between anyone who is considered a “liar”, individuals are given a great excuse to enter a dual with anyone they dislike. If last year farmer John next door accidentally destroyed some of your crops, you’d probably be mad. What better way to get rid of your problem than make up some claim that farmer John is lying and be forced by the state to enter into a duel with him. What I am getting at is that entering duels because of supposed lies by an individual was not about the lies at all, rather just an excuse to enter into a duel with someone for other, unspoken and unruly, reasons.

    This idea can be related to Plato’s “Defense of Socrates” in that Socrates was placed on trial for the supposed lies he was telling to the youth of Athens. He was ultimately killed for the supposed lies he was telling, just as an individual in the Renaissance would have been potentially killed in a dueling match for telling supposed lies. How is anyone suppose to know if Meletus had a personal vendetta against Socrates? Socrates did say at the start of his trial “For I have had many accusers, who accused me of old, and their false charges have continued during many years”. Meletus may have charged Socrates with lying just to get him on trial and have him executed, when Meletus secretly had other personal reasons to get Socrates out of his hair.

    These arguments may be a little lofty, but they are interesting to think about nonetheless.

  21. maryblee Says:

    Many of the above commenters imply that the Renaissance practice of dueling is archaic and something we have risen above. I disagree. As has been mentioned, on this blog and by Mill, there is often difficulty distinguishing between lies and opinions– it is easy for people to disagree on the basis of the other being a liar, rather than having a different opinion. Although now we may be more likely to acknowledge that it is an opinion we disagree with and not much sparring is seen on the streets, people are just as likely to fight over words now as they were then.

    People don’t agree on everything (as explained by pluralism), and they never will. As a result, conflict will always exist. Don’t people accuse deniers of global warming of being liars? Do they accept that classification? No, they just don’t fight back with swords. It is in this aspect, how we defend ourselves, that we as a civilization have changed, but the underlying instinct to call someone out for being wrong or defending ourselves and our beliefs, has remained.

    And as the post above explains, we are more likely to tolerate our family and friends– social structures that have always existed. The hesitation over killing your father for “lying” about the effectiveness of the king is comparable to the hesitation over verbally abusing him about voting for an opposing party.

  22. madisonkraus Says:

    I agree with previous posts that a reason people took lying so seriously was that there was simply less aimless chatter going on in the Renaissance. People spoke more formally and carefully, so what they said had more meaning. Because of this, if someone accused one thing you said of being a lie, it has a huge impact on your social reputation. In earlier times, when you stayed in the same area and social circle for most of your life, it was very important to keep one’s reputation clean. Not only did it affect one’s social status, but transactions were negotiated on the basis of social credit and standing. Losing one’s honorable reputation could have severe consequences for one, not only socially but financially as well.
    It seems to me that with so many forms of social media, and ways to contact people, our generation has a lot more to say than those that came before us. We say so much in a single day that we place less value on our statements and words. Because of this, lies have become much more accepted, and are seen as just another fact of life. If someone is called out on a lie, it doesn’t ruin their whole reputation, because they’ve said so many things in their life that one statement doesn’t carry as much social significance. Our words have lost their value, because we can take them back or revise them. This can be seen in the way that celebrities and public figures will often be in the news for saying something offensive or inappropriate, and all they do is make an apology and their transgressions are forgiven in within a few weeks. We’re eager to accept people’s apologies for things they’ve said even if they aren’t true or honorable.

  23. Maxwell Geisendorfer Says:

    It certainly could be that a world in which the integrity of men was perceived as being quite high would then have social norms dedicated to preserving that view. In this “Conflict Resolution: Duel” world, it is equally as possible that men strode around spouting lies as is possible that men were incorruptible fountains of truth (although I am far more inclined to believe the prior). But in order to preserve their own sanctimoniousness, accusations of lying would have needed to be met with brutal force in order to generate an image of horror; nobody wants to suggest that an offense for which the penalty is a fight to the death is pervasive in society. It would be like suggesting that today, murder is actually quite frequent a crime, and that the majority of murders just go unpunished. Nobody wants to admit that people are running around killing each other left and right and that most people walk free. They would rather preserve a view of society in which this heinous crime (be it murder or the spreading of falsehoods) is rare and heavily punished.

  24. Gregkraus Says:

    One of the things that I dislike most about politics in our country is the constant feeling of insecurity when I watch politicians debate with one another. Each year when I make an attempt to watch the presidential debates on TV, I am inevitably overcome with the feeling that I am being lied to. Like previously stated above, it seems as though honesty may not be a true character label anymore. Getting caught in a lie is often times embarrassing, but hardly a life and death situation. Although it may sound barbaric, I personally think that truth and sincerity would be more prominent in our world if people were forced to duel over their disagreements. Maybe it would do our society some good if we reinstated a less deadly, but equally confrontational way to settle our differences. Imagine if Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would have stopped the 2006 Presidential Democratic Debate, stepped away from their podiums, and had an epic duel. Now that would have been something worth watching. Not simply for the gladiator type entertainment, but as a spectator, we would appreciate the candidate’s fight and dedication to uncover truthfulness. We would have the satisfaction of knowing that the words and ideas of our candidates are sincere and heartfelt. Although this type of thing would never happen today, I sometimes wish it would. If we knew that we were going to have to fight to defend the truthfulness of your ideas, maybe we would actually think before telling a lie or making an empty promise.

  25. Alexandria Novo Says:

    While reading this post I was reminded of the card game BS which is basically about players trying to be the first to have no cards by lying or telling the truth when discarding them. The other players can accept what people put down or call out BS if they feel they’re being lied to, and the consequences are that either the accuser or accused end up picking up the cards.

    With stakes that low I tend to accuse people of BS a lot because I think it makes the game more interesting, and picking up a pile of cards really isn’t the worst thing in the world. It is also important to note that some people rarely accuse others unless they know they’re lying. I’m not as cautious when playing, but I’ve always been the type of person to ask questions during class so that I learn something.

    However, raise the stakes of me accusing someone of lying to a duel to the death, and I’ll probably keep silent 99.9% of the time which I think hampers thinking and expression. In today’s society we are free to question people and what we’re being told and we’re even encouraged to ask questions to further understand concepts. This openness and ability to question our lives and education has lead to further understanding of the world around us. Instead of accepting what we’re told students are free to question and even accuse our teachers of lying, therefore enforcing them to teach us the truth. There is no loser in these situations, anyone can learn something from asking a question, and no one should die for challenging someone else’s thoughts.

  26. Mason Bear Says:

    When I read the question of whether there were proportionally more liars in the present day than when duels were common I chuckled at the idea, then kept reading. After the entirety of the post I realized that there may very well be more liars among us. In the days when the duel ruled the justice system people, as a whole, were much more religious and “god fearing”. While religion still exists today the average person is not constantly pondering whether their actions will get them sent to heaven or condemned to hell. One of the ten commandments stating, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” which is generally translated as, “do not lie” was seen as a value to uphold in order to gain access to heaven. Addressing the question I would argue that lying was less common, but one’s honor was taken far more seriously. Therefore, if an individual challenged their honor it was expected that a duel take place. Making connections to our discussion on duels in lecture the result of a more religious society is the belief that the individual in the wrong will lose the duel, often by death. It’s not exactly an eye for an eye, but is an effective tool to keep liars at bay.

  27. Maxwell Geisendorfer Says:

    It certainly could be that a world in which the integrity of men was perceived as being quite high would then have social norms dedicated to preserving that view. In this “Conflict Resolution: Duel” world, it is equally as possible that men strode around spouting lies as is possible that men were incorruptible fountains of truth (although I am far more inclined to believe the prior). But in order to preserve their own sanctimoniousness, accusations of lying would have needed to be met with brutal force in order to generate an image of horror; nobody wants to suggest that an offense for which the penalty is a fight to the death is pervasive in society. It would be like suggesting that today, murder is actually quite frequent a crime, and that the majority of murders just go unpunished. Nobody wants to admit that people are running around killing each other left and right and that most people walk free. They would rather preserve a view of society in which this heinous crime (be it murder or the spreading of falsehoods) is rare and heavily punished.

    The central idea at work here is that the perception of the morality of a society, in the end, winds up being far more important than its actual moral content. For example, there is a general “taboo” in this country and around the world against atheism. Atheists tend to be generally distrusted, and whether that stems from Locke’s sentiments suggesting that they are not to be trusted or from the resentment of religious people that cannot believe that someone could deny the infinite truth of their personal beliefs, it is pervasive among those that do not share the atheist mindset. But when one truly investigates atheism, they may find a group of rational, moral, upstanding citizens that simply lack religious belief–their higher power may not be a deity, but could exist in convictions that they have about moral rights and wrongs. Just because these convictions aren’t rooted in the pages of an ancient book does not detract from their accuracy, but there are a large group of people who would perceive that the foundation of these beliefs does render them invalid.

    So what is the atheist to do? Try to increase his reputation as someone that is trustworthy by performing outward, public actions of selflessness and generosity. Because what people think truly matters, the atheist must work to gain this approval and acceptance into society; the same applies to people who dueled over deceit. The harsh punishment for dishonesty existed to preserve a perception that the society was a very honest one, just as an atheist’s public good works could exist to make people think, “Hey, maybe he isn’t such a bad guy after all.”

  28. zschmitt17 Says:

    I have always been interested in medieval times. Chivalry, honor, and adventures. Living in a time when you have the right to challenge anyone who insults your honor is appealing to me. I do think that the process has to be ‘tweeked’ before we put it back into practice.

    The first change that I want to instill is that the Insulter has three days to take back what he has said before any duel can happen.

    The second change is that the Insultee needs to submit a formal request to a panel of his peers. This panel will then weigh whether or not the insult is large enough compared to the ‘honor’ or the Insultee.

    The third change is that after the panel has meet and ruled that a duel can occur and the Insulter has not taken the insult back after three days, then the Insultee will name a time and place for it to occur. The duel has to be within one month of the occurence of the insult and the only weapons that can be used are fists, foam pool noodles, or pillows. A referee will supervise the duel and rule it over when a winner is clear. The Insultee has the oppertunity to end it at anytime, but the Insulter has no rights to end it.

    People should have the right to defend their honor. Using this method their lives will no longer be in danger and the Insultee can regain his honor. The three days will give both parties the chance to cool down and reach an agreement.

  29. William Burton Says:

    I think that the existence of dueling in times past, and its absence today, at least as an acceptable practice, shows how differently ‘honor’ is viewed today as opposed to earlier times.

    It is accepted that Dueling was a way for an individual to protect their honor, but what is honor? dictionary.com defines honor as “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions.” This is pretty much epitome of the type of person most people would want to do business with. I find that fascinating since the aristocracy of that period, those who were allowed to or willing to duel, were the people who did the vast majority of business.

    Without telephones, the internet, or large scale transportation, I’m assuming that most business would have been done face to face, through common acquaintances, and word of mouth. In that type of situation, being known as a person who lies, is unfair, has no integrity, or simply has no honor, can mean not being able to do business or make a living.

    I think duels probably developed out of, or at least became as popular as they did, because aristocrats needed some way to protect their names, and ability to make money, from those who would falsely – or honestly – accuse them of being a dishonorable person.
    Today, however, duels simply wouldn’t be practical. While in centuries past business had to be done with those in a relatively close proximity to yourself, today people have the ability to make transactions with people from all over the world who for the most part could care less whether a person is honorable or not, thanks largely to laws that protect them from unfair business practices.

    what I mean to say is, at times in history, dueling seems to have been the only practical way to protect ones honor without resorting to screaming nuh-uh – yuh huh at one another, while today dueling is impractical because the need for actually having honor has largely disappeared.

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