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Lying by Sam Harris | Issue 110 | Philosophy Now

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.

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Lying by Sam Harris | Issue 110 | Philosophy Now

Lying by Sam Harris | Issue 110 | Philosophy Now

https://philosophynow.org/issues/110/Lying_by_Sam_Harris

philosophynow.org

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Key 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.

EXPLORE MORE AROUND THESE TOPICS:

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Lies Motivated By Compassion

When we decide to lie, we privilege some other value over honesty. The value is often compassion, as people lie more about their feelings than about anything else. 

Those who tell...

Lies Motivated By Desire for Material Gain
When a desire for material gain motivates lying, the consequences are likely to be negative. 
One factor that prevents people from lying for personal gain is the need/desire to see oneself as a moral person. 
Desire to Maintain a Positive Self-Concept
  • People sometimes lie to themselves or others out of a need to see themselves positively. 
  • People often experience greater positive emotions when exaggerating their intelligence or skill to themselves or others.
  • Liars driven by the desire to see themselves positively can forget that their dishonesty contributed to their success. Consequently, they may make misguided bets about their future performance. 
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.

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