Teaching: February 2005 Archives

Questions About Lying

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I'm still working on some replies to comments on the slavery stuff, both here and at other sites. It's going to take more work than I could do in the couple hours since we got back from the city. I don't have much energy for any post today, but I do have some questions that came up as I was preparing for teaching about lying tomorrow night. I'm curious to see what people think about these.

1. Is it lying to say something you believe to be false, to say it in order to deceive, but to be wrong about it. In other words, if you attempt to lie, but the thing you say turns out to be true, was it a lie? Can you lie by saying something that's true but that you mistakenly believe to be false?

2. Are actors lying when they perform. They're deliberately saying false things. Two views seem possible to me. One is that it's not a lie if people would be expected not to believe you. But then the perpetual liar isn't really a liar, right? The other view is that it's a lie but not a morally wrong lie. It's only wrong to lie if the people you're lying to aren't in on the lie, and here they're included in it by knowing it's all a fiction and by consenting to the lies. It's still a fiction, and therefore a lie, but it's a morally legitimate lie. I suspect most people don't like this idea, but it seems quite possible to me.

3. How does consent affect lying? In particular, I'm wondering if hypothetical consent makes a difference. Most people seem to think it's ok to lie to someone to get them to a surprise party while keeping it a surprise. Some will insist that they can do so without stating anything false, and thus it's not technically a lie if you just leave out all the information, but you can deceive someone quite well by stringing together a bunch of truths in the right way, and that seems just as immoral as lying is in cases when lying is unquestionably wrong. So the deceit here, if it's ok, should be ok whether the statements are technically lies or are just deceitful truths. What I'm wondering is why it's ok and if it has something to do with consent. If people would reasonably consent to being lied to in such cases, is that what makes most people think it's ok to lie for such purposes? Is that really a justification of lying in such cases?



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