Lying by Sam Harris | Issue 110 | Philosophy Now - Deepstash





Deepstash brings you key ideas from the most inspiring articles like this one:

Read more efficiently

Save what inspires you

Remember anything

Lying by Sam Harris | Issue 110 | Philosophy Now

Lying by Sam Harris | Issue 110 | Philosophy Now
Robin Davenport reviews Sam Harris on Lying.


Key Ideas

Save all ideas

The central thesis of Sam Harris's book, Lying (2013)

You should not lie. 

Harris implies throughout his essay that truth and honesty should prevail in all instances of human interaction,including those who employ ‘white lies’ to protect people from uncomfortable realities and unnecessary harm.



The consequence of lying

To lie is to sacrifice your integrity, and to place the possibility of deep and meaningful bonds with fellow humans at risk.


Two types of lies

  • Lies of commission. The liar is active in his or her attempt to deceive.
    Example: A job applicant falsifying his credentials in an effort to land a desired position.
  • Lies of omission. This is a passive act, involving a person’s failure to do something.
    Example: A job applicant is neglecting to list on his resume the job from which he was fired.


Skillful Truth-Avoiding

Skillful truth-avoiding is the evasive tactic of withholding one’s actual feelings by instead inserting a less relevant, albeit true, statement, and is far from being honest.

It is essentially to replace a lie of commission with a lie of omission.

Although Harris rails against active lies in this book, he fails to acknowledge that ‘skillful truth-telling’ is nothing more than lying by another name.


A Brutal Liberation

The truth-teller is a kind of liberator, rescuing the deluded individual from his protective fantasies.

Those who employ white lies in an effort to benefit others are demonstrating the “quintessence of arrogance” since in such cases the liar assumes he knows what truths can be handled by the other person.

Harris assumes that the beneficiary of these truth statements is themselves blind to reality.


The Truth About Honesty

Sam Harris’s major, and dubious, assumption, is that complete honesty is possible.

The concept of unconscious motives or maladaptive psychological underpinnings that we can know nothing about, or of ‘bad faith’ (a form of self-deceit), are not considered in Harris’s analysis.

Since we are then all liars by nature, the best course of action is only to lie in ways that are intended to promote another’s well being.



Types of lies

Types of lies
  • White Lies. People tell white lies claiming to be tactful or polite.
  • Broken Promises. Failure to keep one’s spoken commitment or promise.
  • The Lie of ...

Philosophy and truth

We think philosophy has a role to play in identifying and correcting the disconnect between perception and reality with regard to politicians’ trustworthiness. By providing a theory of lying and tr...

Augustine on lying

Augustine (354-430) was one of the first to define a lie explicitly as the intent to deceive.

Augustine argues that lying is not permissible regardless of the circumstances that provoked the lie.

Kant on lying

Kant defines a lie as an “intentionally untruthful declaration”.

Kant identifies truthfulness as an utterance that accurately represents one’s thoughts (including one’s beliefs), regardless of whether those thoughts are themselves accurate.
Kant argues that lying is not permissible, but he allows for engaging in deception through careful word choice or evasion.

2 more ideas

Narcissists are often pathological liars

Narcissists lack empathy, so telling the truth does not matter to them. They may not even realize they are lying most of the time, because they are not aware of it.

Don't ma...

Compulsive liars are not necessarily bad people

Compulsive liars are often too careless to tell the truth. They don't take the time to think things through.

Although it is really hard to break this habit, they need to learn to control their urge to lie.