Human Duplicity: An Examination of Psychological “Doubleness”

Is it a coincidence that one of the nicknames for the devil is “the Deuce”—Number Two? Many authors have been fascinated by the idea of human duplicity—manifested in the changeling, the double, the confidence man—the Deuce. Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a powerful illustration of the notion that two distinctly different characters might come to inhabit, simultaneously or sequentially, the same physical body; for Stevenson this may have been a natural way of viewing and living in the world. We cannot explore these matters without consideration of moral duplicity. 

Nowadays we often encounter stunning examples of what appears to be blatant human duplicity. Bill Gates, for instance, with a reputation as a paragon of philanthropy, is now reported to have hobnobbed with Jeffrey Epstein, a sexual predator who allegedly committed suicide rather than face the legal consequences of his moral corruption. Other notable contemporaries conspicuous for their duplicity are Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polansky, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby. The objective of this brief course on psychological doubleness is to offer some useful, or at least satisfactory, ways to understand these matters. Most of the classic stories of doubles, confidence men, and even actors, involve conduct that is morally outrageous. But one possibility to be explored in the course is that human doubleness need not entail such conduct. Some modalities of human duplicity, including lying, may be morally neutral or even serve a positive purpose.

The course will sample works by Dostoyevsky, Melville, Mann, and Saramago, as well as Stevenson, that provide exemplary cases of doubleness in all its puzzling complexity.

Instructor: Karl Scheibe

Date: Mondays, October 4, 11, 18

Time: 4:30-6 pm

Location: Butterfield Room, Wasch Center

Cost: $115