The discussion of lying a few weeks ago proved fruitful. But lying is only one way to be untruthful. A full understanding of lying is possible only by comparison with, and contrast to, other forms of untruthfulness or mendacity. How many different forms are there? This post takes a stab at cataloging the forms. Some are special cases of others. The members of my elite commentariat will no doubt spot one or more of the following: incompleteness, redundancy, infelicity, ignorance of extant literature on the topic, and perhaps even utter wongheadedness, In which case I invite them to help me think better and deeper about this cluster of topics.
1. Lying proper. A paradigm case of a lie is a false statement made by a person with the intention of deceiving his audience, in the case of a spoken lie, or his readers in the case of a written lie. This is essentially the dictionary definition. I don't deny that there are reasonable objections one can make to it, some of which we have canvassed. We will come back to lying, but first let's get some other related phenonena under our logical microscopes.
2. Fibs. These are lies about inconsequential matters. Obama's recent brazen lies cannot therefore be correctly described as fibs. Every fib is a lie, but not every lie is a fib. Suppose you are a very wealthy, very absent-minded, and a very generous fellow. Suppose you loaned Tom $100 a few weeks ago but then couldn't remember whether it was $100 you loaned or $10. Tom gives $10 to Phil to give to you. Tom states to Phil, falsely, that $10 is what he (Tom) owes you. Tom's lie to Phil is a fib because rooking you out of $90 is an inconsequential matter, moneybags that you are.
3. White lies. A white lie might be defined as a false statement made with the intention to deceive, but without the intention to harm. A white lie would then be an innocuously deceptive false statement. Suppose I know Jane to be 70 years old, but she does not know that I know this. She asks me how old I think she is. I say , "60." I have made statement that I know to be false with the intention to deceive, but far from harming the addressee, I have made her feel good.
On this analysis, white lies are a species of lies, as are 'black' or malicious lies, and 'white' is a specifying adjective. But suppose you believe, not implausibly, that lying is analytically wrong, i.e., that moral wrongness is included in the concept of lying in the way moral wrongness is included in the concept of murder. If you believe this, then a white lie is not a lie, and 'white' is an alienans adjective. For then lying is necessarily wrong and white lies are impossible.
If a white lie is not a lie, it is still a form of untruthfulness.
3. Subornation of lying. It is one thing to lie, quite another to persuade another to lie. One can persuade another to lie without lying oneself. But if one does this one adds to the untruthfulness in the world. So subornation of lying is a type of untruthfulness.
4. Slander. I should think that every slanderous statement, whether oral or written, is a lie, but not conversely. So slandering is a species of lying. To slander a person is to make one or more false statements about the person with (i) the intention of deceiving the audience, and (ii) the intention of damaging the person's reputation or credibility.
One can lie about nonpersons. Obama's recent brazen lies are about the content of the so-called Affordable Care Act. But it seems that it is built into the concept of slander that if a person slanders x, then x is a person. But this is not perfectly obvious. Liberals slander conservatives when they call us racists, but do they slander our country when that call it institutionally racist?
Monokroussos and Lupu argued that a statement needn't be false to be a lie; it suffices for a statement to be a lie that it be believed by its maker to be false (and made with the intention to deceive). Well, what should we say about damaging statements that are true?
Suppose I find out that a neighbor is a registered sex offender. If I pass on this information with the intention of damaging the reputation of my neighbor, I have not slandered him. I have spoken the truth. In Catholic moral theology this is called detraction. The distinction between slander or calumny and detraction is an important one, but we needn't go further into this because detraction, though it is a form of maliciousness, is not a form of untruthfulness.
5. Malicious gossip. This may be distinct from both slander and detraction. Slander is false and damaging while detraction is true and damaging. Malicious gossip is the repetition of statements damaging to a person's reputation when the person who repeats them does not know or have good reason to believe that they are either true or false.
There is also a distinction among (i) originating a damaging statement, (ii) repeating a damaging statement, and (iii) originating a damaging statement while pretending to be merely repeating it.
6. Insincere promises. An insincere or false promise is one made by a person who has no intention of keeping it. As I have already argued in detail, promises, insincere or not, are not lies. Obama made no false promises; he lied about the extant content of the Obamacare legislation. But insincere promising is a form of untruthfulness insofar as it involves deceiving the addressee of the promise as to one's intentions with respect to one's future actions.
7. Bullshitting. Professor Frankfurt has expatiated rather fully on this topic. The bullshitter is one who 'doesn't give a shit' about the truth value of what he is saying. He doesn't care how things stand with reality. The liar, by contrast, must care: he must know (or at least attempt to know) how things are if he is to have any chance of deceiving his audience. Think of it this way: the bullshitter doesn't care whether he gets things right or gets them wrong; the liar cares to get them right so he can deceive you about them. More here.
8. Mixing untruths with truths. This is the sort of untruthfulness that results from failing to tell nothing but the truth.
9. Evasion. Refusing to answer questions because one doesn not want the whole truth known. Evasion is a form of untruthfulness that does not involve the making of false statements, but rather the failing to make true statements.
10. Linguistic hijacking and verbal obfuscation. A specialty of liberals. For example, the coining of question-begging epithets such as 'homophobia' and 'Islamophobia.' Orwellianisms: bigger government is smaller government; welfare dependency is self-reliance. More examples in Language Matters category.
11. Hypocrisy. Roughly, the duplicity of saying one thing and doing another. See Hypocrisy category for details.
12. Insincerity, bad faith, self-deception, phoniness, dissimulation. See Kant's Paean to Sincerity.
13. Exaggeration. Suppose I want to emphasize the primacy of practice over doctrine in religion. I say, "Religion is practice, not doctrine." What I say is false, and in certain sense irresponsible, but not a lie. Here are posts on exaggeration.
14. Understatement. "Thousands of Jews were gassed at Auschwitz." This is not false, but by understating the number murdered by the Nazis it aids and abets untruthfulness.
15. Perjury. Lying under oath in a court of law.
16. Subornation of perjury.
17. Intellectual dishonesty.