The concept of lying is quite fascinating, not only in terms of the motivation behind a specific lie, but also the creativity that often underlies the lie itself.
What is even more fascinating is the reaction once someone is caught lying. Sometimes a person acknowledges the lie and apologises, which is a good thing.
More often than not the person tries to justify the lie. Sometimes the person tries to argue that it isn’t a lie at all and sometimes you are even attacked for having the gall to point out the lie in the first place. All in all, it is quite fascinating.
Why would someone lie?
Maybe to get out of a sticky situation, e.g. a student trying his best to look sober, chewing hard on the breath mints and earnestly trying to convince the traffic officer that he only had one beer, four hours ago or a child trying to deflect punishment for breaking a window or a husband/boyfriend with someone else’s lipstick on his collar.
Maybe it might be to make yourself appear better than you actually are, e.g. stating that you are an intellectual when the closest you’ll ever get to that is being condescending or calling yourself a scientist when you do not have any scientific training post-matric or claiming to be a philosopher when in reality you get sentimentally verbose after a few drinks.
Or maybe you want to give credibility to your belief system, e.g. stating that the existence of your specific deity can be proven or stating that your holy book is scientifically accurate.
The reasons for lying are virtually endless, but the end-product is the same, regardless of the reason: a lie. Period.
There is a saying: “If you wish to converse with me, define your terms”. It is a saying that resonates with me and one that is germane to this discussion.
The thing about definitions is that a dictionary seldom only gives one definition for a word, more so if a word can be used as both a noun and a verb. “Lie” is one of those and is defined as:
1. a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood. Synonyms: prevarication, falsification. Antonyms: truth.
2. something intended or serving to convey a false impression; imposture: His flashy car was a lie that deceived no one.
3. an inaccurate or false statement; a falsehood.
4. the charge or accusation of telling a lie: He flung the lie back at his accusers.
verb (used without object), lied, ly·ing.
5. to speak falsely or utter untruth knowingly, as with intent to deceive. Synonyms: prevaricate, fib.
6. to express what is false; convey a false impression.
We see therefore that you do not need to show intent to deceive for a statement to be a lie. It is simply a part of the definition. Any inaccurate or false statement is already a lie. By definition if you want. Selectively quoting only those parts of a definition that suit your argument is no different from a Christian conveniently ignoring the incest, genocide and contradictions in the Bible and only focussing on the nice and fluffy bits.
After calling an inaccurate or false statement by someone a lie, I was very vigorously told that, by definition, one has to show intent before it is considered to be a lie. It sounded so much like a lawyer or advocate vociferating that I was somewhat disappointed not to hear a milady somewhere in that lecture.
Since the intent bit was selectively quoted as the definition, one simply needs to ask oneself what possible intent could there be, other than to deceive, when you accuse someone of evading you for four years, when it is in fact less than two?
I find it amusing and just a little bit ironic that lies of this nature are readily employed while accusing someone else of lying. If you already have evidence of that person lying, why on earth would you need to augment your accusation with lies? It defeats the purpose of the accusation completely and undermines the accuser’s credibility.
A lie is a lie. Whether you subjectively consider it to be relevant to the outcome of a discussion or not, does not make a false statement any less false.
One of the readily-employed justifications for lying of this nature is to say that someone simply exaggerated. This is nothing other than clutching at straws to try and save face. Exaggerate is defined as:
verb (used with object), ex·ag·ger·at·ed, ex·ag·ger·at·ing.
1. to magnify beyond the limits of truth; overstate; represent disproportionately: to exaggerate the difficulties of a situation.
2. to increase or enlarge abnormally: Those shoes exaggerate the size of my feet.
verb (used without object), ex·ag·ger·at·ed, ex·ag·ger·at·ing.
3. to employ exaggeration, as in speech or writing: a person who is always exaggerating.
As we can see, exaggeration most certainly does not exclude lying and there is no mention of intent anywhere in the definition. Wikipedia actually lists exaggeration as a type of lie. I would also dare anyone who considers exaggeration not to be lying to try and exaggerate on a witness stand in any court in the country.
I can identify with the views of Aristotle, St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant when it comes to lying. There are no circumstances in which one may ethically lie. It undermines the truth.
While not an adherent of theosophy, I do like the Theosophical Society’s idea of there being no religion higher than truth. If everyone spoke the truth, this world of ours would be a much better place.
Some of the commenting sections below the articles on News24 can get really heated and emotionally charged. As the topics include the sensitive topics of politics, religion and sport it is to be expected. Note: in case the hyperlinks do not successfully make it into the final article, all dictionary references come from http://dictionary.reference.com/
As unlikely as it seems, it is possible to have these kinds of debates in a mature and responsible manner. Let’s see if we can do without the lies for a start. If someone shows you unequivocally that your statement was false, take it on the chin, own up to it, learn from it, incorporate the correct information into your knowledge base and don’t repeat it again.
Who knows, maybe one day we will be able to converse like adults on any topic.