Lying is an important social category. We, as humans, tend to react negatively to ‘‘lies and the lying liars who tell them’’ (Franken, 2003). We humans, expend considerable effort and resources developing techniques to detect lies and liars, both as a practical matter when, say, developing technologies to screen for terrorists at airports, and as a moral matter when assigning blame and evaluating character. These efforts all assume a conception of lying. A defective conception will lead to inappropriate moral evaluation of assertions and confound the effort to systematically detect lies. So there are moral and practical benefits to a complete and accurate conception of lying. And improving our understanding of the concept of lying improves our understanding of important social and moral judgments implicated by lying. What is it to lie? The standard view in social science and philosophy is that a lie is a dishonest assertion. You lie if you say something which you think is false in order to deceive your audience into believing it. Lying does not require your assertion to be objectively false, only that you believe it is false. This has long been the standard view in philosophy. Social scientists adopt the same basic definition. For example, a widely cited textbook on lying says that it is defined solely from the perspective of the deceiver and not from the factuality of the statement. A statement is a lie if the deceiver believes what he or she says is untrue, regardless of whether the statement is in fact true or false.Several studies have shown that lying requires deceptive intent. Both children and adults view deceptive intent as necessary for lying, but no empirical studies have shown that lying does not require objective falsehood. Instead, philosophers and social scientists reject a falsehood requirement by appealing to their intuitions about thought experiments (Mahon, pg2). The one empirical study of the issue found some evidence that falsity is one of several features associated with a prototypical lie (Coleman & Kay, pg 12). But falsity was judged to be the least important element of the prototypical lie, most participants attributed lying even when the assertion was true, and the study had several methodological flaws. In particular, the conditions were not minimally matched, so we cannot be confident that a difference in truth-value is responsible for observed differences in people’s judgments; participants knew the purpose of the study, which raises the possibility of socially desirable responding; and no steps were taken to avoid agreement bias or order effects. The studies reported below avoid all these problems. rest to better understanding the important social category of lying.
All human relations rely on trusting that those in the relations will, as a rule, tell the truth. Honesty seals a relationship with trust, and too many breaches in honesty can corrode any relationship beyond repair. Friendships, family, work, and civic relations all suffer whenever dishonesty comes to light. No one wants to be known as a liar because people shun liars as individuals who can’t be trusted. Honesty’s vital role in human society has been observed and celebrated for all of recorded history. The ancient Greeks considered the goddess Veritas to be the “mother of virtue”; Confucius considered honesty to be the essential source of love, communication, and fairness between people; and of course the Bible’s Old Testament prohibited bearing false witness. The two most universally heralded US presidents (George Washington, who “could not tell a lie,” and Abraham Lincoln, who was known as “Honest Abe”) were acclaimed for their trustworthiness. In this same vein, religious leader Gordon Hinckley has written that “where there is honesty, other virtues will follow” indicating, as did the ancient Greeks, the pivotal role of truthfulness in all moral behavior and development. Hinckley’s comment, which was made in his alarm-sounding book on “neglected virtues,” points to the problematic status of honesty in our society today. Truthfulness may be essential for good human relationships and personal integrity, yet it is often abandoned in pursuit of other of life’s priorities. Indeed, there may be a perception in many key areas of contemporary life…law, business, politics, among others, that expecting honesty on a regular basis is a naive and foolish attitude, a “loser’s” way of operating. Such a perception is practically a mandate for personal dishonesty and a concession to interpersonal distrust. When we no longer assume that those who communicate with us are at least trying to tell the truth, we give up on them as trustworthy persons and deal with them only in an instrumental manner. The bounds of mutual moral obligation dissolve, and the laws of the jungle reemerge.
In short, lying is a disease that has been around since the beginning of time. If I continue to lie I will be harming my own future. Honesty is one of the things that must be upheld at all times, no matter the circumstances.