I once heard a radio advertisement by a group promoting a "drug-free America." A male voice announces that he is a hypocrite because he demands that his children not do what he once did, namely, use illegal drugs. The idea behind the ad is that it is sometimes good to be a hypocrite.
Surely this ad demonstrates a misunderstanding of the concept of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a moral defect. But one who preaches abstinence and is abstinent is morally praiseworthy regardless of what he did in his youth. Indeed, his change of behavior redounds to his moral credit.
A hypocrite is not someone who fails to live up to the ideals he espouses, but one who does not attempt to live up to the ideals he espouses. An adequate definition of hypocrisy must allow for moral failure. An adequate definition must also allow for moral change. One who did not attempt to live up to the ideals he now espouses cannot be called a hypocrite; the term applies to one who does not attempt to live up to the ideals he now espouses.
After Jeb Bush admitted to smoking marijuana during his prep school days, Rand Paul called him a hypocrite on the ground that he now opposes what he once did.
This accusation shows a failure on Paul's part to grasp the concept of hypocrisy.
One who lies on occasion is not a liar; a liar is one who habitually lies. Is Mrs. Clinton a congenital liar as the late William Safire claimed in a 1996 NYT opinion piece? That's rather a stretch: surely the multiple modes of her mendacity are not innate in her. She is better described as a strategic liar: lying is part of her strategy of self-advancement. She will lie whenever it is in her interest to do so. The end justifies the means.
But there is nonetheless something in her pattern of mendacity that smacks of pathology. Why did she lie about her ancestry given how easy is the exposure of such a lie? That suggests either pathology or an overweening hubris, as if she can get away with anything. She is naked AMBITION in a pants suit she fancies is bullet-proof. We shall see. Just don't underestimate her and the machine behind her.
It has been said of Bill Clinton that he'd rather climb a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth. Hillary continues the family tradition. One of her latest untruths is that all four of her grandparents came to the U.S. as immigrants when only one of them did. She lied, brazenly, about something easily checked. To prolong the arboreal metaphor, why would she perch herself far out on a limb so easily sawn off? Beats me.
What is largest lie of the Left these days? I just heard Dennis Prager say that it is the lie that opposition to Obama's policies is because of his race. If you disagree, what would be the Left's biggest lie?
Truth, as Prager rightly and routinely says, is not a leftist value. Once you understand that a lot falls into place.
Thus the Dustin Hoffman character in Hero. "There ain't no truth; all there is, is bullshit." (HT: Vlastimil V.) This very short video clip would be a good way to get your intro to phil students thinking about truth. Some questions/issues:
1. Is it true that there is no truth? If yes, there there is at least one truth. If no, then there is at least one truth. Therefore, necessarily, there is at least one truth. This simple reflection may seem boring and 'old hat' to you, but it can come as a revelation to a student.
2. What exactly is bullshit? Is a bullshit statement one that is false? Presumably every bullshit statement is a false statement, but not conversely. There are plenty of false statements that are not bullshit. So the property of being bullshit is not the property of being false. Nor is it the property of being meaningless, or the property of being self-contradictory.
3. In ordinary English, 'bullshit' is often used to describe a statement that is plainly false, or a statement that one believes is plainly false, or one that either is or is believed to be a lie. But none of these uses get at the 'essence' of bullshit.
. . . grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit." (emphasis added)
Professor Frankfurt has a fine nose for the essence of bullshit. 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.
Now if the bullshitter does not care about truth, what does he care about? He cares about himself, about making a certain impression. His aim is to (mis)represent himself as knowing what he does not know or more than he actually knows. Frankfurt again:
. . . bullshitting involves a kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely than to telling a lie. But what is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former than it is like the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a falsehood. Bluffing too is typically devoted to conveying something false. Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. In order to appreciate this distinction, one must recognize that a fake or a phony need not be in any respect (apart from authenticity itself) inferior to the real thing. What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is like, but how it was made. This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. (emphasis added)
'Truth decay' aptly describes the growing lack of concern for truth among influential players in our society. I got the phrase from Douglas Groothuis. Truth itself, of course, cannot decay, but truthfulness can and is. We are in trouble, deep trouble. Victor Davis Hanson collects some examples in Lying, Inc.:
Everyone knows that “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” was an outright lie. Michael Brown never did or said that. Forensics, logic, and the majority of eyewitness accounts confirm that the strong-armed robber struggled with a policeman, lunged at his weapon, ran away, and then turned and charged him, not that he was executed in polite submission.
Does that lie matter? Not at all. “Ferguson” is routinely listed as proof of police racist brutality — and by no less than the president of the United States. Michael Brown is now the Paul Bunyan of the inner city. U.S. congressional representatives and professional athletes alike chant and act out “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” dramatics. The public shrugs that although it is all a lie, it is felt to be sort of true on the theory that something like that could happen one day, and thus it is OK to lie that it already has. Most knew that the strong-arm robber Michael Brown was about as likely a “gentle giant” as Trayvon Martin was still a cute preteen in a football uniform.
Community agitator and frequent White House visitor Al Sharpton has lied repeatedly about his income taxes and the reasons why he cannot produce accurate tax records, in the manner that he habitually lied about the Tawana Brawley case, the Duke Lacrosse caper, and the Ferguson “hands up, don’t shoot” meme. The public assumes both that Sharpton is an inveterate liar and that to dwell on the fact is either a waste of time or can incur charges of illiberality or worse. Most are more interested in his more mysterious, almost daily-changing appearance than the untruth that he hourly espouses.
Hillary Clinton, to be candid, is a habitual fabulist. She entered public life lying about everything from her 1-1000 cattle futures con to the location of her law firm’s subpoenaed legal documents. Recently she has been unable to tell the truth in any context whatsoever. She will lie about big and small, trivial and fundamental, from the immigrant myths about her grandparents to the origins of her own name Hillary to her combat exposure in the Balkans. The subtext of “what difference does it make” was something like: “Even if you find out that I lied about the run-up to and follow up on the Benghazi killings, it won’t matter in the least to my career.” She was right, of course, in her assumption that lying had career utility and brought more pluses than negatives, as her current presidential campaign attests.
Her press conference on the disappearing emails was unique in American political history in that everything Ms. Clinton said was, without exception, a demonstrable untruth. It is not that no one believes her, but rather than no one can possibly believe her when she insisted that she would have needed multiple devices for multiple email accounts, or that public officials routinely alone adjudicate what is and is not public and private communications, or that other cabinet officers apparently created, as she did, exclusively private email accounts — and servers — for public business or that security personnel on the premises protect the airwaves from hackers. Even her own supporters know that she lied, and trust that it likely will not hamper her presidential run. Her life has become about as real as that of Annie Oakley’s.
Both Hillary and Bill Clinton lied about almost every aspect of the Clinton Foundation. She knew that the foundation was created to spend 90% on travel and insider salaries and benefits, and 10% on direct grants to charities, that it offered thin moral cover to skullduggery, and that it drew donations from zillionaires, who in turn offered Bill Clinton lopsided lecture fees that he otherwise would not have commanded, and expected favorable U.S. government treatment for their cash. Hillary assumed that beneath the skin of a “charitable organization” the three Clintons ran a veritable shake down operation that resulted in mother, father, and daughter becoming multimillionaires. The Clintons will expect the issue to dissolve, either on the premise that the notoriety cannot do much more damage to the already sullied Clinton name, or that the Democratic Party feels that it can nominate no other candidate who raises as much money and is so recognizable as the proverbial prevaricator Hillary Clinton.
President Obama’s approval ratings seem to have gone up almost in direct proportion to the degree he has lied. On over twenty occasions in reelection scenarios, Obama lied in stating that he would not issue blanket amnesties and order non-enforcement of current immigration law given that it would be unconstitutional and unlawful to do so. We accept at the time that such assurances were about as truthful as his convenient opposition to gay marriage — rhetorical constructs that warp and weave according to the realities of the next election. Who objects when Obama’s lying is felt to be for the higher cause of equality of result?
Almost every element of his promises about Obamacare — easy online signups, reduced premiums and deductibles, maintenance of current policies and doctors, national savings, and less frequent emergency room use were not just untrue, but realized in advance as simply not possible. Almost every parameter that Obama outlined in advance about the current Iranian talks proved about as true as were his redlines to Syria should it use chemical weapons. As a good community organizer, Obama accepts that his noble goals are government-mandated egalitarianism and that such utopian agendas require any means necessary to achieve them. And so he lies and the public seems bored and apparently appreciates why he must do so.
When elites customarily lie without much consequence, the public follows their examples.
This just in: Obama lied about the bin Laden raid. Fits the pattern. No surprise. A master of the multiple modes of mendacity. And Hillary is poised to out-Obaminate him. She is practicing hard to see how much she can get away with.
We really ought to start demanding basic truth-telling from our elected officials.
All of which means that Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid is an exercise in—and a referendum on—cynicism, partly hers but mainly ours. Democrats who nominate Mrs. Clinton will transform their party into the party of cynics; an America that elects Mrs. Clinton as its president will do so as a nation of cynics. Is that how we see, or what we want for, ourselves?
This is what the 2016 election is about. You know already that if Mrs. Clinton runs for president as an Elizabeth Warren-style populist she won’t mean a word of it, any more than she would mean it if she ran as a ’90s-style New Democrat or a ’70s-style social reformer. The real Hillary, we are asked to believe, is large and contains multitudes.
The allusion is to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" in Leaves of Grass wherein we find on p. 96 of the Signet Classic edition the lines:
Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
You may recall that a copy of Leaves of Grass was a gift Bill Clinton gave to Monica Lewinsky. The meaning of that I will leave you to ponder. Back to Stephens:
Cynicism is the great temptation of modern life. We become cynics because we desperately don’t want to be moralists, and because earnestness is boring, and because skepticism is a hard and elusive thing to master. American education, by and large, has become an education in cynicism: Our Founders were rank hypocrites. Our institutions are tools of elite coercion. Our economy perpetuates privilege. Our justice system is racist. Our foreign policy is rapacious. Cynicism gives us the comfort of knowing we won’t be fooled again because we never believed in anything in the first place. We may not be born disabused and disenchanted, but we get there very quickly.
This is the America that the Clintons seek to enlist in their latest presidential quest. I suspect many Democrats would jump at an opportunity not to participate in the exercise—it’s why they bolted for Barack Obama in 2008—and would welcome a credible primary challenger. (Run, Liz, Run!) But they will go along with it, mostly because liberals have demonized the Republican Party to the point that they have lost the capacity for self-disgust. Anything—anyone—to save America from a conservative judicial appointment.
As for the rest of the country, Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy offers a test: How much can it swallow? John Podesta and the rest of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign team must be betting that, like a python devouring a goat, Americans will have ample time to digest Mrs. Clinton’s personal ethics.
It has been said of Bill Clinton that he'd rather climb a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth. Hillary continues the family tradition. One of her latest untruths is that all four of her grandparents came to the U.S. as immigrants when only one of them did. She lied, brazenly, about something easily checked. To prolong the arboreal metaphor, why would she perch herself far out on a limb so easily sawn off? Beats me.
Now a liar is not a person who tells a lie once in a long while. Otherwise we'd all be liars. A liar is one who habitually lies. Evidence mounts that Hillary is a liar. Ed Morrissey:
As lies go, this is somewhere between the Tuzla dash and the bombed-out Belfast hotel that wasn’t. The problem for Hillary is that it fits a pattern, and that pattern’s emerging very early in a campaign that has to run for another 18 months. Every time Hillary campaigns, she begins to fantasize about her history and experience in a way that reminds voters about the Clintons and their lack of credibility. Last year, she blew up her book tour by trying to claim that she and Bill left the White House “dead broke,” even though they owned two expensive houses, Hillary had already been elected to the Senate, and both she and Bill immediately began lucrative speaking tours and got huge book advances.
Re-imagining grandparents as immigrants all by itself wouldn’t necessarily be fatal to any candidate, let alone Hillary Clinton, who’s already stretching credulity to the breaking point by running as a populist while locking up all of the establishment backers in the Democratic Party. The problem for Democrats is that it’s not all by itself, and the fabulism problem will only get worse the longer Hillary talks.
Hillary's mendacity makes a certain amount of sense if one bears in mind that truth is not a leftist value, and that for leftists winning is everything with the end justifying the means. But only a certain amount. How could anyone believe that her ends are served by lying about matters easily checked? It may well be that Hillary is not just a liar, but a pathological liar. But does any of this matter?
It's a funny world. NBC anchor Brian Williams lied about a matter of no significance, in an excess of boyish braggadocio, though in doing so he injured his credibility and, more importantly, that of his employer, NBC. We demand truth of our journalists and so Williams' suspension is as justified as the Schadenfreude at his come-down is not.
Journalists are expected to tell the truth. President Obama, however, lies regularly and reliably about matters of great significance and gets away with it. Part of it is that politicians are expected to lie. Obama does not disappoint, taking mendacity to unheard-of levels. There is a brazenness about it that has one admiring his cojones if nothing else. Another part of it is that politicians are not subject to the discipline of the market in the way news anchors are. Loss of credibility reduces viewership which reduces profits. That's the real bottom line, not the expectation of truthfulness.
(By the way, that is not a slam against capitalism but against our greedy fallen nature which was greedy and fallen long before the rise of capitalism. Capitalism is no more the source of greed than socialism is the source of envy.)
Obama is a master of mendacity in the multiplicity of its modes. There is, for example, bullshitting, which is not the same as lying. Obama as Bullshitter explains, with a little help from Professor Harry Frankfurt.
Communists are not against religion. We are against capitalism.
A communist who is not against religion would be like a Catholic who is not against atheism or a teetotaler who is not against drinking alcoholic beverages.
What we have here is further proof that truth is not a leftist value.
Leftists, like Islamists, feel justified in engaging in any form of mendacity so long as it promotes their agenda. And of course the agenda, the list of what is to be done (to cop a line from V.I. Lenin), is of paramount importance since, as Karl Marx himself wrote, "The philosophers have variously interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it." (11th Thesis on Feuerbach). The glorious end justifies the shabby means.
As for Islamists, their doctrine in support of deception is called taqiyya.
Islamism is the communism of the 21st century.
You should not take at face value anything any contemporary liberal says. Always assume they are lying and then look into it. Obama, of course, is the poster boy for the endlessly repeated big brazen lie. It is right out of the commie playbook. "If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan."
The only mystery about the last six years is how much lasting damage has been done to the American experiment, at home and abroad. Our federal agencies are now an alphabet soup of incompetence and corruption. How does the IRS ever quite recover? Will the Secret Service always be seen as veritable Keystone Cops? Is the GSA now a reckless party-time organization? Is the EPA institutionalized as a rogue appendage of the radical green movement with a director who dabbles in online pseudonyms? Do we accept that the Justice Department dispenses injustice or that the VA can be a lethal institution for our patriots? Is NASA now a Muslim outreach megaphone as we hire Russia, the loser of the space race, to rocket us into orbit?
[. . .]
Every statistic that Obama has produced on Obamacare enrollment, deportation, unemployment and GDP growth is in some ways a lie. Almost everything he has said about granting amnesty was untrue, from his own contradictions to the congressionally sanctioned small amnesties of prior presidents. Almost every time Obama steps to the lectern we expect two things: he will lecture us on our moral failings and what he will say will be abjectly untrue.
Mainstream media accounts of Michael Brown of Ferguson fame repeatedly refer to him as an "unarmed teenager." You may recall Rodney King and the repeated press references to him as a "motorist." Trayvon Martin, we were often told, was a "child." Was Brown an unarmed teenager, King a motorist, and Martin a child? Yes, but by the same token Hitler was a head of state and in that one respect no different from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
Here then is one of the more interesting modes of mendacity. One implements one's intention to deceive, not by stating a falsehood as is typical with lying, but by stating a truth, one that diverts attention from more important contextualizing truths. One exploits the belief that unarmed teenagers, motorists, and children are typically harmless in order to distract one's audience from such uncomfortable realities as that Brown attacked a police officer and tried to wrest his weapon away from him; King violated intersections at a high rate of speed, endangered his passenger, tried to outrun the police, and resisted a lawful arrest; Martin launched a vicious deadly attack on a man he believed to be unarmed after threatening him with death.
The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We need to hold journalists to that standard.
Barack Obama is once again lamenting the charge that he is responsible for pulling all U.S. peacekeepers out of Iraq, claiming that the prior administration is culpable. But Obama negotiated the withdrawal himself. We know that not because of right-wing talking points, but because of the proud serial claims of reelection candidate Obama in 2011 and 2012 that he deserved credit for leaving Iraq. That complete pullout prompted Joe Biden to claim the Iraq policy was the administration’s likely “greatest achievement” and buoyed Obama to brag that he was leaving a stable and secure Iraq. Think of the logic: pulling all soldiers out of Iraq was such a great thing that I now can brag that I am not responsible for it.
In regards to Syria, does Obama remember that he issued red lines should the Assad regime use chemical or biological weapons? Why then would he assert that the international community had done so, not Barack Obama? Think of the logic: I issued tough threats, and when my bluff was called, someone else issued them.
If Obama were to readdress Benghazi, would anyone believe him? What would he say? That he was in the Situation Room that evening? That he was correct in telling the UN that a (suddenly jailed) video maker prompted the violence? That the consulate and annex were secure and known to be so? That Susan Rice was merely parroting CIA talking points? Think of the logic: a video maker was so clearly responsible for the Benghazi killings that we will never have to mention his culpability again.
Does anyone believe the president that ISIS are “jayvees,” or that al Qaeda is on the run, or that there is no connection between the ascendance of ISIS and the loud but empty boasting of red lines in Syria and complete withdrawal from Iraq? (If we had taken all troops out of South Korea in 1953 — claiming that we had spent too much blood and treasure and that the Seoul government was too inept — would there be a Kia or Hyundai today, or a North Korea in control of the entire Korean peninsula?) Think of the logic: the ISIS threat is so minimal that we need not be alarmed and therefore Obama is sending planes and advisors back into Iraq to contain it. If Obama truly believes that pulling all troops out made Iraq more secure, what will putting some back in do?
Was there any Obama boast about his Affordable Care Act that proved true: Keep your doctor? Keep your health plan? Save $2,500 in annual premiums? Lower the deficit? Lower the annual costs of health care? Win the support of doctors? Simplify sign-ups with a one-stop website? Enjoy lower deductibles? Think of the logic: you will all benefit from a new take-over of health care by a government whose assertions of what it was going to accomplish were proved false in the first days of its implementation.
There are many possible explanations about why the president of the United States simply says things that are not true or contradicts his earlier assertions or both. Is Obama just inattentive, inured to simply saying things in sloppy fashion without much worry whether they conform to the truth? Or is he a classical sophist who believes how one speaks rather than what he actually says alone matters: if he soars with teleprompted rhetoric, what does it matter whether it is true? If Obama can sonorously assert that he got America completely out of Iraq, what does it matter whether that policy proved disastrous or that he now denies that he was responsible for such a mistake?
Is Obama so ill-informed that he embraces the first idea that he encounters, without much worry whether these notions are antithetical to his own prior views or will prove impossible to sustain?
On a deeper level, Obama habitually says untrue things because he has never been called on them before. He has been able throughout his career to appear iconic to his auditors. In the crudity of liberals like Harry Reid and Joe Biden, Obama ancestry and diction gave reassurance that he was not representative of the black lower classes and thus was the receptacle of all sorts of liberal dreams and investments. According to certain liberals, he was like a god, our smartest president, and of such exquisite sartorial taste that he must become a successful president. In other words, on the superficial basis of looks, dress, and patois, Obama was reassuring to a particular class of white guilt-ridden grandees and to such a degree that what he actually had done in the past or promised to do in the future was of no particular importance.
Left-wing bias at the NYT is nothing new, of course, but the following opening paragraph of a July 8th editorial is particularly egregious. But before I quote it, let me say that the problem is not that the editors have a point of view or even that it is a liberal-left point of view. The problem is their seeming inability, or rather unwillingness, to present a matter of controversy in a fair way. Here is the opening paragraph of Hobby Lobby's Disturbing Sequel:
The Supreme Court violated principles of religious liberty and women’s rights in last week’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, which allowed owners of closely held, for-profit corporations (most companies in America) to impose their religious beliefs on workers by refusing to provide contraception coverage for employees with no co-pay, as required by the Affordable Care Act. But for the court’s male justices, it didn’t seem to go far enough.
This is a good example of the sort of Orwellian mendacity we have come to expect from the Obama administration and its supporters in the mainstream media. War is peace. Slavery is freedom. A defense of religious liberty is a violation of religious liberty. Those who protest being forced by the government to violate their consciences and religious beliefs are imposing their religious beliefs. The Orwellian template: X, which is not Y, is Y.
Every statement in the opening paragraph of the NYT editorial is a lie. The 5-4 SCOTUS decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby defended principles of religious liberty. It did not violate any women's rights. Neither the right to an abortion nor the right to purchase any form of contraception were affected by the decision. The ACA mandate to provide contraceptives was not overturned but merely restricted so that Hobby Lobby would not be forced to provide four abortifacient contraceptives.
I won't say anything about the ridiculous insinuation in the last sentence, except that arguments don't have testicles.
Truth is not a value for the Left. Winning is what counts, by any means. They see politics as war, which is why they feel justified in their mendacity.
The quite narrow question the Supreme Court had to decide was whether closely held, for-profit corporations are persons under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act . "RFRA states that “[the] Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.”3 (Ibid.)
If Hobby Lobby is forced by the government to provide abortifacients to its employees, and Hobby Lobby is a person in the eyes of the law, then the government's Affordable Care Act mandate is in violation of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act. For it would substantially burden Hobby Lobby's proprietors' exercise of religion if they were forced to violate their own consciences by providing the means of what they believe to be murder to their employees. So the precise question that had to be decided was whether Hobby Lobby is a person in the eyes of the law. The question was NOT whether corporations are persons in the eyes of the law, as some benighted cmmentators seems to think.
Note also that the issue here is not constitutional but statutory: the issue has solely to do with the interpretation and application of a law, RFRA. As Alan Dershowitz explains (starting at 7:52), it has to do merely with the "construction of a statute."
Congressional investigators are fuming over revelations that the Internal Revenue Service has lost a trove of emails to and from a central figure in the agency's tea party controversy.
The IRS said Lois Lerner's computer crashed in 2011, wiping out an untold number of emails that were being sought by congressional investigators. The investigators want to see all of Lerner's emails from 2009 to 2013 as part of their probe into the way agents handled applications for tax-exempt status by tea party and other conservative groups.
Lerner headed the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt status. The IRS acknowledged last year that agents had improperly scrutinized applications by some conservative groups.
Her computer crashed and she lost the e-mail? Mendacity on stilts. Typical Obama administration bullshit. A computer crash does not cause the loss of e-mail: the stuff is stored on the e-mail provider's server. We all know that. One is struck by the chutzpah of these IRS liars. What contempt they have for the people who pay their salaries! See fourth article below.
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.
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.
The president’s belief that little of what he does is ideologically driven suggests he is living with a pampered, unchallenged mind. He has been told he is so smart for so long that he sees only clarity in his actions and unchallengeable reason in his conclusions. The president’s belief in his own intellect makes him think that whatever he does is simply the only thing a thinking person would do. Nothing ideological about that.
Roger's reading is possible, but not likely. I incline to a darker view. Obama knows that he is a leftist and that leftism is not the only option. He knows that there are sincere, highly intelligent, principled people who oppose the leftist agenda with an impressive armamentarium of facts and arguments. Although Obama hangs with his sycophantic own for the most part, he cannot not know about the black conservative Thomas Sowell, for example, and his views. And given how smart Obama is supposed to be, he will have discerned that Sowell and other black conservatives cannot be dismissed as Uncle Toms.
When Obama said that he is not ideological he was simply lying. He was stating something he knows to be false with the intent to deceive.
As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President's Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government -- I don't.
In this example, Obama's mendacity enters the Orwellian. Opposing bigger government, he is for smaller government. Bigger government is smaller government.
The truth is that the man is thoroughly untruthful. Why does he so brazenly lie, bullshit, prevaricate? Because he believes that there is nothing wrong with mendacity in the service of a noble cause. I don't think the man is simply out for his own wealth and power: he sincerely believes in the leftist agenda and that the glorious end justifies and requires the mendacious means.
For this reason he never comes clean about his real goals and values.
If you think about it this way, it all makes sense. He had to lie again and again about the content of the ACA. Otherwise it would not have passed. He knows best what is good for us, and his lies are for our own good.
This from Nancy Pelosi's website (emphasis added):
The Affordable Care Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2010, ensures that all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care and significantly reduces long-term health care costs. This historic legislation, in the league of Social Security and Medicare, will lead to healthier lives, while providing the American people with more liberty to pursue their hopes and dreams.
This is another good example of an Orwellian use of language. Americans love liberty and so Pelosi, in an attempt to deceive, works 'liberty' into her statement, advancing a claim of Orwellian absurdity, namely, that limitations on the liberty of individuals and private entities are in reality enhancements of liberty.
War is peace. Slavery is freedom. Less liberty is more liberty. The Orwellian template: X, which is not Y, is Y.
Obviously, Obamacare entails a reduction in liberty via its various mandates and penalties for not obeying the mandates. There is first of all the individual mandate that requires that citizens buy health insurance or else pay a fine or tax or fee. Obviously, if the government forces you to buy something when you were not forced to buy that thing before, that is a lessening of one's liberty, not an increase of it. There are also employer mandates and HHS mandates. Overview here. I should think that if a man is forced to buy a policy that necessarily includes maternity care, then that is a reduction in cjoice not an enhancement thereof. But maybe I'm wrong and Big Bro is right. Maybe less choice = more choice.
What would Pelosi have to say to be intellectually honest? She would have to admit that on a progressive scheme such as the one she favors, while liberty is a value, liberty is trumped by the value of (material) equality or 'fairness.' Conservatives see it the other way around. This is part of the "conflict of visions," to borrow a very useful phrase from Thomas Sowell.
But instead of being honest, Pelosi and many of the rest of her ilk try to have it both ways at once: more government control of one's life and more liberty.
This is what could be called a STFU moment, Nancy, you either speak the truth, or STFU. Nancy has a right to her vision of an ideal society. But she has no right to her stealth tactics and her Orwellianisms.
I would say the same to Obama. Come clean, my man! Man up! Make the case for your progressive vision and all that it entails: robust, 'energetic' government; increased wealth redistribution via government-controlled health care; a retreat from American exceptionalism; a "fundamental transformation of America." Make the case as best you can and try to respond to the libertarian/conservative objections as best you can. Let's have a 'conversation.' Aren't you guys big on 'conversations'?
But if you try t0 win by cheating and lying and prevaricating and bullshitting, then: STFU. Man up or STFU.
Obama and Pelosi and the Dems want us to trust them. "Just trust us; when the ACA is implemented you will then know what is it and and you will experience its manifold benefits." If Obama would be our collective mama, then we have to be able to trust him or her.
Unfortunately, Obama has lied brazenly about the content of the ACA some 30 times, and then lied about his lying. His supporters have lied and prevaricated and obfuscated as well.
So why should we trust anything Obama or any Dem says from this moment on?
The split between lawmakers and the White House reflects the dilemma the president finds himself in as he seeks to follow through on last week’s acknowledgment about his incorrect promise on health care coverage.
A statement is either true or false, correct or incorrect. "No Republican voted for Obamacare' is a statement and it happens to be true or correct. But it is incoherent to speak of a promise as either correct or incorrect. 'I promise to loan you $100 on Friday' is a promise, not a statement. A promise is either fulfilled or not fulfilled. If, come Friday, I loan you $100, then I fulfill my promise. If I don't, then either (i) the promise I made is insincere, or (ii) something happened outside my control that prevented me from loaning you the money, or (iii) I reneged on my promise.
To speak of Obama's now famous lie -- If you like your health plan you can keep your health plan, period -- as an incorrect promise shows total confusion or perhaps willful obfuscation. First, there is no such thing as an incorrect promise. Second, a lie is not a promise. Obama lied about the already existent content of the ACA. He did not promise what that content would be.
And then Bubba comes along to add a further layer of incoherence and absurdity to this sorry spectacle.
Under pressure from Bill Clinton, Obama yesterday tried to correct his 'incorrect promise' by changing the law, something he is not constitutionally authorized to do. The passing , repealing, and amending of laws is a legislative function, not an executive function.
I dedicate this, and all subsequent posts on lying and the several senses of 'is,' to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who, by their brazen mendacity, have inadvertently fueled the fires of logico-linguistic inquiry.
Tony Hanson e-mails and I comment in blue:
I hope things are well for you. Sorry for the haste of this message but time is a commodity of which lowly adjuncts have little.
Your posts on lying are interesting. You hint at this in one of your posts but I have not seen anyone raise questions about whether a falsehood is a necessary condition for lying. Further evidence perhaps of the family resemblance approach:
Shady, Bonnie and Clyde rob a bank. They stash the loot under the wood pile at the hideout. A few days later Clyde notices the money is gone. Shady and Bonnie, in a conspiracy to take the loot for themselves, bury it under the oak tree at the cemetery. Clyde drags Shady out of the house and demands to know where the money is. In an attempt to deceive Clyde, he says the money is buried under the bridge by the river. Clyde drags Shady down to the bridge and to Shady's chagrin there is the loot. (Bonnie had moved the loot from the oak tree to the bridge in attempt to have it for herself).
So Shady's statement that the loot was at the bridge was true, though he did attempt to deceive. Did Shady lie or not?
Is a false statement necessary [for a lie] or just the belief that a statement is false?
BV: Counterexamples to the dictionary definition similar to Hanson's were proposed by Monokroussos and Lupu in the discussion threads and are familiar from the literature. Here is the dictionary definition (that I was defending):
D1. To lie =df to make a false statement with the intention to deceive.
Given the Shady example, I think we have three options:
A. Take it as a clear case of lying and reject or revise the dictionary definition. B. Hold fast to (D1) and maintain that Shady did not lie. C. Maintain that there is no one univocal sense of 'lie' in English but rather a family of related senses at the center of which is the paradigmatic sense, a sense captured by (D1).
Here is a revision:
D2. To lie =df to make an untruthful statement with the intention to deceive.
An untruthful statement is one that is believed to be false by the maker of the statement and hence can be either true or false.
Here is a problem with (D2). Jones is under audit by the IRS. The high number of personal exemptions he claimed flagged him for audit. Jones, who has no children, say to an IRS agent, intending to deceive him, "All of my children live at home." Since Jones has no children, he does not believe it to be false or true that they live at home. And yet Jones is presumably lying to the IRS agent. (Example via Chisholm ia SEP article.)
But back to our metaphilosophical quandary. I suspect that each of (A)-(C) leads to trouble, but (C) leads to less trouble. Philosophers have proposed a number of definitions, see the SEP article on lying and deception, but no consensus has been reached. This does not prove that no consensus can be reached or that the quest for a definition must end in failure. But it is pretty good evidence for this conclusion.
As for the (B) approach, I could just insist that (D1) captures the essence of lying. But lacking as I do special access to Plato's topos ouranos, that insistence would smack of arbitrarity.
So what exactly is wrong with the (C) approach? Peter Lupu in conversation suggested that this leads to the abandoning of the ancient Platonic project of seeking the natures of justice, knowledge, virtue, and so on. But maybe not. If some concepts are family-resemblance concepts, it doesn't follow that all are. It could be that there are incorrect and correct (literal) uses of 'lies' and cognates, but that the correct uses are not unified by one univocal sense, but form a resemblance class. Thus there would be no strict One to their Many. But it would not follow that there are no strict ones-in-manys or ones-over-manys.
Consider this list:
lie lie lie.
How many words? One or three? Can't be both. Make a distinction. There are three tokens of the same type. The type is a one-in-many. We could also say that if each token is used in the (D1)-sense, there is exactly one sense common to all three uses.
Some pundits and journalists keep referring to Obama's signature "If you like it, you can keep it, period" as a promise.* This is an incoherent use of 'promise.'
Suppose a loan originator hands you a mortgage contract and says, "I promise you that this loan is not callable." (A callable loan is one in which the lender reserves the right to demand payment in full, plus interest, at any time.) If you are not stupid you will point out that this is not a question of the making and keeping of promises, but only one of the actual and explicit content of the contract. You will demand to see where in the contract it is stated that the loan is not callable. If the loan officer cannot locate the passage, or you find words to the effect that the loan is callable, then you know that the loan officer is lying about the content of the mortgage contract. At this point you might say to the officer, ironically, "I see you broke your promise, or perhaps it was a false promise from the start."
The point ought to be obvious and equally obvious its relevance to Obama's signature lie. One cannot promise what a document will contain given that there is an easily ascertainable fact as to what it does contain. Obamacare was a bill before it became law, but either way it has a definite content. It is not for Obama to promise what is in the ACA but to report truthfully as to what the definite content is.
Coherent: "I promise to sign the bill." "I promise to have a bill written that will provide that anyone who wants to keep his plan or doctor can do so."
Incoherent: "I promise that I was once an adjunct professor of law." "I promise that the ACA provides that anyone who wants to keep his plan can do so, period." "I promise that if you read the bill, you will see that it does so provide."
If you insist that our POMO POTUS made a promise with his signature avowal, will you say that he broke his promise or that he made an insincere promise from the start? Either way you don't understand the concept of promising.
Another mistake that some journalists make is to describe the Obama lie as a half truth. Not so. A statement that is false cannot be half-true. Compare
1. All of you who like your plan can keep your plan, period.
2. Most of you who like your plan can keep your plan, period.
(1) is false and (2) is true. (1) is not rendered half-true or partially true due to the presence of the universal quantifier or the fact that (1) entails (2).
'All politcians lie' entails 'Some politicians lie.' The latter is true; the former false, not half-true. Note finally that 'wholly true' is pleonastic.
* For example, "President Barack Obama’s “if you like it, you can keep it” promise has House Democrats facing a dilemma as they look ahead to a vote on Republican legislation to preserve existing health plans."
You host my favorite blog on the internet. I can’t believe I didn’t find out about it until just a few months ago. May you blog forever.
Here’s a counterexample to your latest definition which still includes an “intention to deceive”, i.e. here is a case of a lie where there is no intention to deceive:
Larry is on trial for felonious assault (he punched his grandma in the face repeatedly because she turned the channel when Chris Matthews came on). His whole family was there. There was blood found on him when the cops arrived that was his grandma’s, and there was no blood found on anyone else. His grandma and his own mother testify in court against him, weeping because Larry has been such a disappointment. There is no evidence presented for the side that he did not do it. His lawyer has presented absolutely no evidence in his favor. EVERYONE in the courtroom knows that he did it. Moreover (and more importantly), he KNOWS that they know that he did it (the jurors repeatedly shake their heads in disgust every time he looks at them).
But Larry is corrupt to the core, lacking any remorse. In the sentencing phase, as a last act in defiance of his family, the court, and his hometown, he coldly looks the jurors square in the eyes and says, “I did not do it.”
Very interesting case. It puts me in mind of O. J. Simpson and Bill Clinton. When Clinton told his famous lie, (almost) everybody knew he was lying, and Bubba knew that (almost) everybody knew he was lying. So when he made his false statement ("I did not have sex with that woman") he knew that hardly anyone would be deceived by what he said. I think Borland would say about this actual case what he said about his hypothetical one, namely, that the agent lied shamelessly but without any intention to deceive. If so, then any definition of lying that includes as a necessary condition the intention to deceive is mistaken.
There are at least thee ways of responding to this putative counterexample.
A. Run the argument in reverse. Borland's argument is that Larry lied but had no intention to deceive his audience; therefore, an intention to deceive is not a necessary condition of a statement's being a lie. But the argument can be run in reverse with no breach of logical propriety: An intention to deceive is a necessary condition of a statement's being a lie; Larry had no intention to deceive; ergo, Larry did not lie.
Or as we say in the trade, "One man's modus ponens is another man's modus tollens."
On this approach, Tully's example is not a counterexample to my definition but merely an illustration of a phenomenon like lying but distinct from it.
B. A second approach is to question Tully's assumption that there is no intention to deceive where there is no possibility of deception. Is the belief that it is possible for me to deceive you a necessary condition of my intending to deceive you? Or can I intend to deceive you while knowing that it is not possible to deceive you?
It seems to me that, necessarily, if an an agent A intends to do X, then A believes that it is possible for A to do X. The following, though not narrowly-logically contradictory, strikes me as broadly-logically contradictory: I fully intend to complete the 2014 Lost Dutchman marathon in under three hours but I know that this is impossible for me.
Therefore, necessarily, if a person intends to deceive his audience about his or that , then he believes that it is possible for him to deceive his audience about this or that.
The (B) response to Borland's putative counterexample, therefore, does not look promising.
C. On a third approach we abandon the attempt to capture in a definition the essence of lying. We treat lying as a family-resemblance concept in roughly Wittgenstein's sense. Accordingly, there is no one essence specifiable by the laying down of necessary and sufficient conditions that all and only lies have in common.
Or perhaps I should put the point like this. There are correct uses of 'lie' and cognates in English and incorrect uses. But there is no one univocal sense shared by all the correct uses. So if a person uses 'lie' interchangeably with 'false statement,' then he uses 'lie' incorrectly. But a use of 'lie' that does not involve the intention to deceive is correct as well as a use that does involve the intention to deceive. And there is a correct use that requires that a lie be a false statement and a correct use that allows a lie to be a true statement.
But I should think that the paradigm cases of lying all involve the intention to deceive and the notion that a lie is a false statement and not merely a statement believed to be false by its producer.
I think the best response to Tully's counterexample is (C). What he has shown is that there is a correct use of 'lie' in situations in which there is no intention to deceive, and no deception either. But this use of 'lie' is non-paradigmatic and peripheral to the main way 'lie' is used in English which (dare I say it?) is my way.
A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive.
I wonder if more should be said about what counts as a statement. You leave open the possibility that there are other ways of tokening statement-types than uttering them when you say a statement type isn’t a lie until someone “utters or otherwise tokens the type.” Do you have in mind other ways to token statements that aren’t utterances?
BV: Well, there are written statements in addition to spoken statements. A written statement is not an utterance but it tokens a statement type. Obama has been caught numerous times lying via speech acts about the content of the PPACA. But suppose he publishes a written statement that includes the sentence, "After the PPACA passes, you will be able to keep your health plan and your doctor if you so desire." That sentence is a token of a statement type. It too would be a lie. Every lie is a statement, i.e., a stating, but not every statement is a spoken statement.
If so, we need to see if they, too, count as lies on your proposal (i.e., are there forms of deception that token statements without uttering them?). If a businessman leaves his home porch light on as he leaves for vacation, is he tokening the statement “someone is home”? Or does a football player token the statement “I’m going right” when he jukes right but goes left? If so, we have false statements being made with the intention to deceive. But it would be counterintuitive to say the business man and the football player here are lying.
BV: The question Chad is raising now is whether a statement type can be tokened by a non-sentential entity. Can one make a statement without speaking or writing or displaying (as on a sign) a declarative sentence? I would say no. A statement type is a linguistic entity the tokens of which must themselves be linguistic entities. The statement type *Obama is a liar* is tokened by my stating that he is a liar, i.e., by my assertive utterance of the sentence 'Obama is a liar.' But it can also be tokened by my writing the sentence, 'Obama is a liar.'
Note that not every utterance of a sentence is an assertive utterance. I might utter the sentence 'Obama is a liar' in oratio obliqua, or in a language class to illustrate a sentence in the indicative mood. And the same holds for writing a sentence. If you ask me for an example of an English sentence, I might write on the black board, 'Obama is a liar.' But I haven't thereby made a statement.
Or here’s a possible counterexample that avoids the non-utterance category. Suppose the CIA discovers that Al-Qaida has tapped the phone line on which the president’s whereabouts are discussed in an effort to plan an attack on his life. Knowing this, a CIA agent says over the line, knowing the terrorists are listening, that the president will be at the Washington Memorial at 4pm, when in fact he will be safe at camp David at that time. Has the CIA agent lied to the terrorists? It doesn’t seem to me that he has; not just because the deception here is not wrong, but because it just doesn’t seem like a lie period.
BV: This is an interesting example that Chad intends as a counterexample to my above definition. I utter a sentence that I know to be false with the intention of deceiving any terrorists who might be listening, without knowing whether any terrorists are listening. According to Chad, I have made a false statement with the intention to deceive, but I have not lied. Chad's point, I take it, is that a lie necessarily involves an interpersonal transaction in which the maker of the false statement knows that the adressee is in receipt of it. If that is Chad's point, then I can accommodate it by modifying my definition:
A lie is a false statement made by a person P and addressed to another person Q or a group of other persons Q1, Q2, . . . Qn, Qn+1, . . . such that (i) Q or some of the Qs are in receipt of P's statement and are known by P to be in receipt of it, and (ii) P's statement is made with the intention to deceive Q or some of the Qs.
But I should say that I do think all lies are morally blameworthy. I see here a distinction similar to that between murder and killing. All murder is morally blameworthy and also killing, but not all killing is murder. Similarly, all lies are morally blameworthy and deceptive, but not all deceptions are lies. So I’m inclined to see your definition as capturing only a necessary condition of lies. I have some ideas about what sufficient conditions are needed to get a better definition, but I’ve said enough for now. What do you think?
BV: Murder, by definition, is wrongful killing, whereas killings (of human beings) are some of them morally permissible, some of them morally impermissible, and some of them -- I would argue -- moral obligatory. It seems that Chad wants to pack moral wrongness into the concept of lying, so that the following is an analytic proposition: *Lying is wrongful intentional deception.* That would give him a reason to deny that the terrorist example is an example of lying. For while there is deception, and it is intentional, it is not wrongful intentional deception.
Suppose the SS are at my door looking for Jews. I state falsely that there are no Jews in my house. On Chad's analysis I have not lied because my action is morally praiseworthy, or at least not morally wrong. On my view, I have lied, but my lie is morally justifiable. But then moral wrongness cannot be packed into the concept of lying. I agree that lying, in most cases, is wrong. But I don't see the connection between lying and wrongness as analytic.
Suppose once again that the SS are at my door looking for Jews. I state what I believe to be false, namely, that there are no Jews present. But it turns out that, unbeknownst to me, what I state is true. So I make a true statement with the intention to deceive. Monokroussos in an earlier thread took this to show that a lie need not be a false statement. What's necessary is only that the statement be believed to be false by its utterer. I wonder what Chad would say about this case.
The left-leaning Washington Post awarded President Obama four, count 'em, four pinocchios, its highest (dis)honor, for the repeatedly told lie for which he is now notorious. In one of its variations, it goes like this: “And if you like your insurance plan, you will keep it. No one will be able to take that away from you. It hasn’t happened yet. It won’t happen in the future.”
Now the sense of Obama's assertion in all its variations is clear. But when Bob Schieffer asked Senator Dianne Feinstein On Face the NationSunday morning about Obama's statements, she offered the following interpretation of its sense (at 6:06): "You can keep it [your health plan] up to the time the bill is enacted; after that it's a different story."
You heard right.
Now that is mendacity at its most creative. It is an example of an Orwellian misuse of language: semantic subversion by semantic inversion. 'True freedom is enslavement to the state." "Welfare is self-reliance." "War is peace."
And Feinstein's "Obamacare law will allow you to keep your doctor and health plan but only until the bill becomes law."
Did Schieffer call Feinstein on her outrageous insult to the intelligence of the American people? Watch the video and find out.
. . . the terms "calculated lie," "purposeful lie," "intentional lie," and "knowing
lie" (while referring to Barack Obama's claim that Americans could, if they so
chose, keep their insurance policy and their doctor). Calculation, purpose,
intention, and knowledge are built into the concept of a lie, so qualifying the
term "lie" in these ways is redundant and has the unfortunate effect of draining
the word "lie" of its meaning. Limbaugh uses "lie" as though it meant
"falsehood." It means far more than "falsehood." A lie is a very special
Right. I will now take the ball and run with it.
Every lie is a false statement, but not every false statement is a lie. A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive. Since intention to deceive is included within the concept lie, 'intentional lie' and its cousins are pleonastic. Someone who speaks of an intentional lie is treating the species as if it were a genus. 'Intentional lie' is like 'true fact.' Use of these pleonasms marks one as uneducated or worse.
There are two related mistakes one must avoid. The first is the redundancy mistake just mentioned. The other is the use of 'lie' to mean a false statement. The temptation to do so is strong indeed. Many of us are inclined to think our opponents not just wrong, but culpably wrong: you lied! Michael Medved speaks irresponsibly of ten big lies about America. But none of his ten falsehoods -- and I agree with him that they are all of them falsehoods -- is properly describable as a lie.
Here is one: "The two-party system is broken, and we urgently need a viable third party."
Like Medved, I consider that to be false. But is it a lie? Do the people who believe the quoted sentence know the truth but are out to deceive us? Of course not. I met a woman once who claimed that the moon was its own source of light. Was she lying? She uttered a falsehood, which is not the same as lying. Once I jokingly said to my wife that she was lying when she said that the room was cold. "You lie!" First of all, there is no fact of the matter as to whether or not the room is cold. Her cold is my hot. So what's to lie about? The only fact of the matter in the vicinity is wifey's feeling cold.
Jethro claims that the bottle is half-empty while Earl maintains that it is half-full. Is one of these yahoos lying? Here there is a fact of the matter but one describable in two equivalent ways.
If a person affirms (denies) the existence of God is the person lying? Here there is a fact of the matter but one hard to make out. It is rational to be a theist, but also rational to be an atheist. So perhaps my definition needs augmenting:
A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive about a definite matter of fact about which knowledge is possible.
To lie is to misrepresent willfully the way things are when the way things are is ascertainable with a fairly high degree of certainty. For example, the way things are with respect to the content of PPACA is easily ascertained: you just read the law. There is a matter of fact as to what is stated in the law and that fact is easily established.
Suppose you and I are discussing some very difficult question in mathematics or metaphysics or cosmology. I assert that p while you assert that not-p. It follows that one of us is wrong. But it does not follow that one of us is lying.
Suppose that A and B each have the intention to deceive the other. A asserts that p, while B asserts its negation. It is a very interesting question whether both are lying. One of them is lying, for at least one of them is saying something false with the intention to deceive. But are both lying? Is the intention to deceive sufficient for lying, or must the content asserted also be false?
Here is a further nuance that will bore some of you. The type-token distinction comes into play. "The two-party system is broken, and we urgently need a viable third party" is not a statement but a statement type. You don't get a statement until some definite person utters or otherwise tokens the type. (To token a type is to produce a token of the type.) But no statement-type can be a lie. For statement-types float free of language users, and to have a statement, an occurrent stating, a particular speaker must use the statement-type -- must token the type -- on a particular occasion. This is another reason to deny that Medved's ten big falsehoods are lies. Note that a falsehood is false whether or not anyone utters or otherwise tokens a sentence that expresses it. But a lie is not a lie whether or not anyone utters or otherwise tokens the sentence that expresses it.
It is also worth observing that the concept lie as I have defined it is not a normative concept. The definition merely tells us what a lie is. A lie is a statement made with the intention to deceive. But it is a further question whether deception is morally impermissible. And if it is, is it so in all cases or only in some?
Is a liar one who lies? No. One can lie without being a liar just as one can get drunk without being a drunkard. A liar is one who habitually lies. Does it suffice for a person to be a liar that he lie habitually about just one topic, or must he lie habitually about more than one topic? Interesting question.
Obama lied repeatedly when he said that under his collectivist scheme every one would get to keep his health plan if he so desired. May we infer that Obama is a liar? Or to judge him to be a liar must we also adduce his other (repeated) lies?
And then there is the epistemology of the situation. How do I know that Obama lied when he made his now-famous asseveration? I didn't peer into his soul. I know, or at least I have good reasons for believing that he lied, because he knows the subject-matter of his false statement and he had a very powerful motive for misrepresenting said subject-matter. Had he spoken the truth, it is a very good bet that the PPACA would not have passed and become law.
So plenty of evidence points in the direction of his being a damned liar.
Addendum 3 November
Dennis Monokroussos comments:
Apropos your post “On Misusing the Word ‘Lie’”, it would be better to say that a lie is (among other things) a statement its utterer believes to be false. Also, similarly, your augmented definition seems to require the same qualification; to wit, that it’s about something believed to be “a definite matter of fact about which knowledge is possible”.
My initial definition was this
1. A lie is a false statement made with the intention to deceive. (That is to be understood as a biconditional: for any x, x is a lie iff x is a statement made with the intention to deceive.)
2. A lie is a statement believed by its utterer to be false that is made with the intention to deceive.
(2), however, allows for the possibility of a true lie. For suppose a statement is made with the intention to deceive but is falsely believed by the utterer to be false. In such a situation the utterer says something true with the intention to deceive. Has he lied?
Well, what are we trying to do here? If we are trying to capture the ordinary language meaning of 'lie' and cognates, then I am inclined to say that (2) fails. For in ordinary English, a lie is a falsehood, though not every falsehood is a lie. I am making an empirical claim about English as she is spoken by people like me and Monokroussos (educated white male Americans not too far apart in age). People like us do not use 'lie' in such a way that it is sufficient for x to be a lie that x be made with the intention to deceive.
Having made an empirical claim, I am open to empirical refutation by a linguist.
If, on the other hand, we are trying to elaborate a systematic theory of lying, bullshitting and related truth-sensitive phenomena, a project that involves replacing the ordinary language concept with a supposedly better one, then perhaps (2) is acceptable.
But now we are headed for the metaphilosophical stratosphere. What is the role of ordinary language analysis in philosophical theorizing? Ought philosophy be theoretical and explanatory at all? Should it perhaps content itself with description? What is analysis anyway? And what about the paradox of analysis? And so on and so forth.
Barack Obama does not have proprietary rights in presidential mendacity: he has many illustrious predecessors. But Obama has pushed the arts of deception, prevarication, and empty bluster to new heights. Unfortunately for him, the economy is bad, which fact will make it difficult for him to get away with his lies, bullshit, and Orwellian abuses of the English language.
I'll give the guy this much: it takes balls of brass and chutzpah on stilts to lie brazenly about what can be easily checked. Was he ever a used car salesman? Of course, he would have spoken of 'pre-owned vehicles.'
Not content to say what is true, people exaggerate thereby turning the true into the false. This post analyzes a particular type of exaggeration which is illustrated by something Dennis Prager said on his radio show one morning: "Happiness is a moral obligation, not a psychological state." Since I agree that we have a moral obligation to try to be happy, I won't say anything more about the first half of Prager's assertion. What I object to is the second half. Why does he say something that is plainly false? What we have here is a form of exaggeration. Prager wants to convey to us something that he, rightly, believes is important, namely, that we ought to strive to be happy, both for our own benefit and for the benefit of others. In order to emphasize the point, to throw it into relief as it were, he follows it up with another assertion whch is false, namely, that happiness is not a psychological state. Obviously, if I am happy, I am in a psychological state. What interests me is the pattern or form of this type of exaggeration which is this:
To emphasize that a is F, say 'a is F but not G' even though a is G.
Three examples from sober philosophers.
Martin Buber, who is certainly no Frenchman, writes that "a melody is not composed of tones, nor a verse of words. . ." (I and Thou, p. 59) His point is that a melody cannot be reduced to its individual notes, nor a verse to its constituent words. But he expresses this truth in a way that makes it absurdly false. A melody without tones would be no melody at all. The litterateur exaggerates for literary effect, but Buber is no mere litterateur. So what is going on?
For a second example, consider Martin Heidegger. Somewhere in Sein und Zeit he writes that Das Dasein ist nie vorhanden. The human being is never present-at-hand. This is obviously false in that the human being has a body which is present-at-hand in nature as surely as any animal or stone. What he is driving at is the truth -- or at least the plausibility -- that the human being enjoys a special mode of Being, Existenz, that is radically unlike the Vorhandenheit of the mere thing in nature and the Zuhandenheit of the tool. So why doesn't he speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, without exaggerating?
And then there is Ludwig Wittgenstein, who, according to J. N. Findlay, "took every wrong turn a philosopher can take." (Personal communication) Wittgenstein's fideism involves such absurd exaggerations as that religions imply no theoretical views. But when a Christian, reciting the Apostle's Creed, says "I believe in God the Father, almighty creator of heaven and earth . . ." he commits himself thereby to the metaphysical view that heaven and earth have a certain ontological status, namely, that of being creatures.
Of course, the Christian is doing more than this: his 'I believe' expresses trust in God as a person and not mere belief that certain propositions are true. But to deny that there is any propositional content to his belief would be ludicrous. And yet that appears to be what Wittgenstein is doing.
While listening the other day to Barack Obama shuck and jive about fiscal responsiblity, shamelessly posturing as if he and not his Republican opponents is the fiscally responsible one, when he is in truth the apotheosis or, if you prefer, the Platonic Form of fiscal irresponsibility, I realized just how uncommonly good our POMO Prez is at bullshitting. He is indeed a consummate bullshitter. But what is it to bullshit, exactly? When is a statement bullshit?
. . . grounded neither in a
belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true.
It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this
indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of
bullshit." (emphasis added)
Professor Frankfurt has a fine nose for the essence of bullshit. 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
the bullshitter does not care about truth, what does he care about? He care
about himself, about making a certain impression. His aim is to (mis)represent
himself as knowing what he does not know or more than he actually knows.
. . . bullshitting involves a
kind of bluff. It is closer to bluffing, surely than to telling a lie. But what
is implied concerning its nature by the fact that it is more like the former
than it is like the latter? Just what is the relevant difference here between a
bluff and a lie? Lying and bluffing are both modes of misrepresentation or
deception. Now the concept most central to the distinctive nature of a lie is
that of falsity: the liar is essentially someone who deliberately promulgates a
falsehood. Bluffing too is typically devoted to conveying something false.
Unlike plain lying, however, it is more especially a matter not of falsity but
of fakery. This is what accounts for its nearness to bullshit. For the
essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony. In
order to appreciate this distinction, one must recognize that a fake or a phony
need not be in any respect (apart from authenticity itself) inferior to the real
thing. What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may
be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is
like, but how it was made. This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of
the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with
the truth, it need not be false. The bullshitter is faking things. But this does
not mean that he necessarily gets them wrong. (emphasis
Now what does this have to do with Obama? As Frankfurt points out, the essence of bullshit is a lack of concern for truth. But truth and consistency are closely related notions. Two statements are consistent (inconsistent) just in case they can (cannot) both be true. Now I do not know if there are any cases of Obama contradicting himself synchronically (at a time), but there are plenty of examples of him contradicting himself diachronically. He said things as a senator the opposite of which he says now. Victor Davis Hanson supplies numerous examples in Obama as Chaos:
. . . when the president takes up a line of argument against his opponents, it cannot really be taken seriously — not just because it is usually not factual, but also because it always contradicts positions that Obama himself has taken earlier or things he has previously asserted. Whom to believe — Obama 1.0, Obama 2.0, or Obama 3.0?
When the president derides the idea of shutting down the government over the debt ceiling, we almost automatically assume that he himself tried to do just that when as a senator he voted against the Bush administration request in 2006, when the debt was about $6 trillion less than it is now.
The problem here is not merely logical; it is also ethical: the man is not truthful. Truth, falsity, consistency, inconsistency pertain to propositions, not persons. Truthfulness, deceitfulness, lack of concern for truth and consistency -- these are ethical attributes, properties of persons. Obama the bullshitter is an ethically defective president. When Nixon lied, he could be shamed by calling him on it. That is because he was brought up properly, to value truth and truthfulness. But the POMO Obama, like that "first black president" Bill Clinton, apparently can't be shamed. It's all bullshit and fakery and shuckin' and jivin'. There is no gravitas in these two 'black' presidents, the one wholly white, the other half-white. Everything's a 'narrative' -- good POMO word, that -- and the only question is whether the narrative works in the moment for political advantage. A narrative needn't be true to be a narrative, which is why the POMO types like it. Hanson has Obama's number:
But a third explanation is more likely. Obama simply couldn’t care less about what he says at any given moment, whether it is weighing in on the football name “Redskins” or the Travyon Martin trial. He is detached and unconcerned about the history of an issue, about which he is usually poorly informed. Raising the debt ceiling is an abstraction; all that matters is that when he is president it is a good thing and when he is opposing a president it is a bad one. Let aides sort out the chaos. Obamacare will lower premiums, not affect existing medical plans, and not require increased taxes; that all of the above are untrue matters nothing. Who could sort out the chaos?
[. . .]
The media, of course, accepts that what Obama says on any given day will contradict what he has said or done earlier, or will be an exaggeration or caricature of his opponents’ position, or simply be detached from reality. But in their daily calculus, that resulting chaos is minor in comparison to the symbolic meaning of Obama. He is, after all, both the nation’s first African-American president and our first left-wing progressive since Franklin Roosevelt.
In comparison with those two facts, no others really matter.
This may well be the best column Victor Davis Hanson has written. He meticulously documents the widespread lying, prevarication, and other offenses against truth among our elites, offers a diagnosis, and then addresses the question, Why not lie? Here is his beautiful answer:
I end with three reasons to tell the truth. The majority has to tell the truth — to the IRS, to the police, to the DA, to the census — if a consensual society is to work. You readers tell the truth so that the society can survive an Eric Holder or Mike Barnicle. Average people must speak honestly or our elites’ lies will overwhelm, even destroy us. If 100 million tell the IRS lies during audits or take the 5th Amendment, our voluntary tax system collapses. We can take only so many Lois Lerners.
Two, this often sordid, sometimes beautiful world is not the end. There is transcendence. Lies damage our soul. Selling out in the here and now has consequences later on. If you are religious, your immortal soul is lost. If you are not, at least consider that your legacy, heritage, and remembrance are forever ruined. Ask the ghost of Stephen Ambrose. What good was all that money, all those interviews if based on a lie? All the insight and delight that he brought millions of readers was tarnished. And for what, exactly?
Third, we must strive to be tragic heroes, perhaps not as dramatic as Ajax, not as cool as Shane. Would you rather have been Ethan Edwards or Will Kane or have run Lehman Brothers in 2008? Sometimes, in less dramatic fashion, the choices are that Manichean.
We must try to tell the truth, not doctor films, edit tapes, erase talking points, or lie before Congress, fabricate heroic war records, or invent false sources. Again, why? Because we seek to do the right thing with the full resignation that in the here and now we will often still lose and will lose often and gladly telling the truth.
“We always lose,” says Chris at the end of the The Magnificent Seven after he did the right thing. Or to paraphrase the cinematic T.E. Lawrence about Auda Abu Tayi, we will not lie, as do our elites, because it is simply “our pleasure” not to.
The second reason is the best, though I would add that legacy counts for little: the vast majority of us will be forgotten and our works with us. We will be lucky to end up footnotes in unread archives, archives themselves slated for eventual deletion. This world is a vanishing quantity and we who for a time strut its stage even more so.
Care of the soul is the solid reason to love and honor truth.
The bathroom scale doesn't lie, but it doesn't tell the truth either. It is either accurate or inaccurate. Only a spiritual being can be either deceptive or truthful.
I cannot lie by simply saying something false. I must have the intention to deceive. That is perfectly clear. Rather less obvious is that to tell the truth it does not suffice to say something true: I must also have the intention to be truthful.
"He told the truth but he wasn't being truthful" is not a contradiction. This is no more a contradiction than "He said something false but he wasn't intending to deceive." But how could one tell the truth without being truthful? One way is by saying something that happens to be true while intending to deceive. Another way is by saying something true to distract the hearer from the salient issue. A third way is by saying something true but omitting other truths relevant to the contextualization and understanding of the first.
Suppose the following sentence is true: "Jane shot Sam several times in the chest with a .45 caliber pistol after he came at her with a knife threatening to rape her." Someone who assertively utters the first independent clause while omitting to utter the second has said something true without being truthful.
In sum, one can say what is false without being untruthful and one can say what is true without being truthful.
Persons, not propositions, are truthful or the opposite. Propositions, not persons, are true or the opposite.
And yet there is some connection between truth and truthfulness.
Here is a mere outline of an argument. In a world without mind there could be no truth. For truth is some sort of correspondence or adequation of mind and world. There are no free-floating truths, no Wahrheiten an sich. Truth is moored in mind. But truth is absolute: it transcends the contents and powers of finite minds. The true is not what you or I believe or what all of us believe. Nor is the true the believable. The true is not the rationally acceptable, not even the rationally at the ideal limit of inquiry. The true is not the warrantedly assertible. There no viable epistemic/doxastic analysis of the truth predicate. And yet truth involves mind. Enter divine mind. The truth is grounded in the divine truthfulness. In God, truth and truthfulness colaesce.
Well, I warned you that it was a mere outline. Brevity is the soul of blog.
Here is the video clip of Obama lying to Romney and the rest of us in their second debate. Obama lies when he claims that on the Arizona law (S. B. 1070) law enforcement officers can stop people whom they merely suspect of being undocumented workers. Obama has told this lie before.
President Barack Obama hailed the Supreme Court's 5-3 decision Monday that struck down most of Arizona's 2010 immigration law. In a statement released by the White House, however, the president said that he remains "concerned about the practical impact of the remaining provision of the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally."
All eight voting members of the Supreme Court upheld this provision, which requires that Arizona cops try to determine the immigration status of individuals who have been stopped for reasons not involving immigration.
Please note the difference between what the president is quoted as saying and what Saunders correctly reports the S.B. 1070 provision as requiring. The law requires "that Arizona cops try to determine the immigration status of individuals who have been stopped for reasons not involving immigration." President Obama of course knows this. So Obama lied in his statement when he said that "the Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they even suspect to be here illegally."
People are so easy to swindle because the swindler has as accomplices the victim's own moral defects. When good judgment and moral sense are suborned by lust or greed or sloth or vanity or anger, the one swindled participates willingly in his own undoing. In the end he swindles himself.
How is it, for example, that Bernie Madoff 'made off' with so much loot? You have otherwise intelligent people who are lazy, greedy and vain: too lazy to do their own research and exercise due diligence, too greedy to be satisfied with the going rate of return, and too vain to think that anything bad can happen to such high-placed and sophisticated investors as themselves.
Or take the Enron employees. They invested their 401 K money in the very firm that that paid their salaries! Now how stupid is that? But they weren't stupid; they stupified themselves by allowing the subornation of their good sense by their vices.
The older I get the more I appreciate that our problems, most of them and at bottom, are moral in nature. Why, for example, are we and our government in dangerous debt? A lack of money? No, a lack of virtue. People cannot curtail desire, defer gratification, be satisfied with what they have, control their lower natures, pursue truly choice-worthy ends.
Perhaps you have heard of taqiyya, the Muslim doctrine that allows lying in certain circumstances, primarily when Muslim minorities live under infidel authority. Now meet tawriya, a doctrine that allows lying in virtually all circumstances—including to fellow Muslims and by swearing to Allah—provided the liar is creative enough to articulate his deceit in a way that is true to him.
[. . .]
As a doctrine, "double-entendre" best describes tawriya's function. According to past and present Muslim scholars (several documented below), tawriya is when a speaker says something that means one thing to the listener, though the speaker means something else, and his words technically support this alternate meaning.
For example, if someone declares "I don't have a penny in my pocket," most listeners will assume the speaker has no money on him—though he might have dollar bills, just literally no pennies. Likewise, say a friend asks you, "Do you know where Mike is?" You do, but prefer not to divulge. So you say "No, I don't know"—but you keep in mind another Mike, whose whereabouts you really do not know.
This curious bagatelle is wending its way through the World Wide Web. The cartoon is supposed to be paradoxical in some way. The reader who brought it to my attention writes, "A friend and myself actually debated this at length over lunch, and I argued that at best it is a performative inconsistency. I'm sure you have a more nuanced opinion on this silly meme!"
Well, let's see. The salient feature of Pinocchio is that his nose grows whenever he tells a lie. From this one guesses that the paradox has something to do with lying. Now a lie is not the same as a false statement; it is a false statement made with the intention to deceive by someone who knows the truth. (Or so I will assume for the space of this post.) If this is what a lie is, then one cannot lie about matters that are not objectively the case and known to be such. Suppose I predict that tomorrow morning, at 6 AM, my blood pressure will be 125/75, but my prediction turns out false: my blood pressure the next morning is 135/85. No one who heard my prediction could claim that I lied when I made it even if I had the intention of deceiving my hearers. For although I made (what turned out to be) a false statement with the intention to deceive, I had no way of knowing exactly what my blood pressure would be the next day.
Similarly with 'My nose will grow now.' This sentence does not express an intention on Pinocchio's part to bring about a nose lengthening by the power of his will since presumably he never has such an intention. The sentence is a future tense sentence which predicts what is about to happen. 'Now' does not refer to the time of utterance, but to a time right after it. (If you argue that the presence of 'now' renders the sentence present tense, then the sentence is incoherent, and the 'paradox' cannot get off the ground.)
It follows that Pinocchio cannot be lying. Assuming the Law of Excluded Middle and Bivalence, what he says is either true or false. Either way, no paradox arises that I can see.
But suppose Pinnochio utters the present tense sentence, 'My nose grows now' or 'My nose is growing now.' Does this issue in paradox?
If Pinocchio says 'My nose grows now,' he is either lying or not. If he is lying, then he is making a false statement, which implies that his nose does not grow now. If he is not lying, then his statement is either true or false, which implies that either his nose does grow now or his nose does not grow now. Therefore, either his nose does not grow now or his nose does grow now. But that is wholly unproblematic.
Therefore I fail to find any paradox here if a paradox is either a logical consistency or a performative inconsistency.
What am I missing? There is a 2010 Analysis article under this rubric. But I don't have access to it at the moment, and I'm not sure the topic is exactly the same.
Why do people exaggerate in serious contexts? The logically prior question is: What is exaggeration, and how does it differ from lying, bullshitting, and metaphorical uses of language? A physician in a radio broadcast the other morning said, "You can't be too thin, too rich, or have too low a cholesterol level."
Note first that the medico was not joking but making a serious point. But he couched this serious point in a sentence which is plainly false. Since he had no intention of deceiving his audience, and since the point he was making (not merely trying to make) about cholesterol is true, he was not lying. He was not bullshitting either since he was not trying to misrepresent himself as knowing something he does not know or more than he knows.
Exaggeration bears some resemblance to metaphor. If I say, 'Sally is a block of ice,' I speak metaphorically or figuratively. What I say is literally false. But by saying it, I manage to convey to the listener some such proposition as that Sally is unemotional and (perhaps) sexually unresponsive. And when the sawbones exaggerated, though he said something literally false, he managed to convey to his audience the true proposition that total cholesterol levels for most of us need reducing.
But I wouldn't want to say that the good doctor was speaking metaphorically. I am merely pointing to a similarity between metaphor and exaggeration. The similarity may consist in the coming apart of sentence meaning and speaker's meaning. In both examples, the sentence meaning is that of a falsehood. The speaker, however, using those literally false sentences means something different from what the words 'by themselves' mean, and manages to convey truths to his hearers.
So I suggest that to understand exaggeration we need to understand metaphor so that we can delimit the former from the latter. But what exactly is metaphor? That's a tough one. Here I catalog three specimens of exaggeration by well-known philosophers.
Not content to say what is true, people exaggerate thereby turning the true into the false. Three examples from sober philosophers.
Martin Buber, who is certainly no Frenchman, writes that “a melody is not composed of tones, nor a verse of words...” (I and Thou, p. 59) His point is that a melody cannot be reduced to its individual notes, nor a verse to its constituent words. But he expresses this truth in a way that makes it absurdly false. A melody without tones would be no melody at all. The litterateur exaggerates for literary effect, but Buber is no mere litterateur. So what is going on?
For a second example, consider Martin Heidegger. Somewhere in Sein und Zeit he writes that Das Dasein ist nie vorhanden. The human being is never present-at-hand. This is obviously false in that the human being has a body which is present-at-hand in nature as surely as any animal or stone. What he is driving at is the truth -- or at least the plausibility -- that the human being enjoys a special mode of Being, Existenz, that is radically unlike the Vorhandenheit of the mere thing in nature and the Zuhandenheit of the tool. So why doesn’t he speak the truth, and nothing but the truth, without exaggerating?
And then there is Ludwig Wittgenstein, who, according to J. N. Findlay, “took every wrong turn a philosopher can take.” (Personal communication) Wittgenstein’s fideism involves such absurd exaggerations as that religions imply no theoretical views. But when a Christian, reciting the Nicene creed, says “I believe in God the Father, almighty creator of heaven and earth...” he commits himself thereby to the metaphysical view that heaven and earth have a certain ontological status, namely, that of being creatures.
Of course, the Christian is doing more than this: his ‘I believe’ expresses trust in God as a person and not mere belief that certain propositions are true. But to deny that there is any propositional content to his belief would be ludicrous. And yet that appears to be what Wittgenstein is doing.
What is it to bullshit? Perhaps the best way to understand bullshitting is by comparing it to lying. So what is it to lie? The first thing to understand is that a lie is not the same as a false statement. Suppose I make a statement about something but my statement turns out to be false. It does not follow that I have lied. Suppose a latter-day Rip van Winkle wakes up from a long nap and, asked about the Dodgers, says, "They are a baseball team from Brooklyn." Has our man lied? Not at all. He simply hasn't kept up with 'recent' developments.
For a statement to count as a lie two conditions must be satisfied: (a) the statement must be false; (b) the statement must be made with the intention to deceive. These conditions are individually necessary and jointly sufficient. But what if someone states what he believes to be false with the intention to deceive, but it turns out that what he states is true? Isn't that also a lie? Not by the definition I just gave. So it looks as if we are in the presence of two concepts of lying. The concept just defined is the narrower and more usual concept. The other, broader concept, results by the deletion of condition (a).