Types of Lies, Its Benefits or Harms Essay

Introduction, types of lies.

According to Lewis and Saarni, “truth and deception – like good and evil – have long been viewed as diametrically opposed and irreconcilable” (1). A lie can be defined as a falsehood or being dishonest by telling untruthful statements with the intention that people will accept the statement as truth. Lies have been part of human life since existence; for instance, in the Bible, Delilah frequently accused Samson of lying to her when she asked him about the source of his strength.

In this case, when Samson lied, he was able to maintain his strength to defeat his enemies, but the moment, he disclosed the source of his strength he lost it. Moreover, Smith mentions that lie has a biological grounds (1). The ugly side of telling a lie is revealed in Mark Twain’s statement, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything” (Carson, PP. 285).

This statement implies that if one tells lies, he/she has to remember everything pertaining to it in the future; however, if he/she sais the truth, the person is not forced to remember anything as the truth stands by itself. In my native culture, lying is condemned, and people are advised to practice good morals by being honest and telling the truth. Lie erodes trust among friends, and generally, between any two or more persons, so it should be avoided at all costs.

There are many types of lies, but the paper will only mention three of the most common types. The first type of lie is known as spiteful lie; these are lies told in order to gain benefit and hurt others. They may come in form of cheating and being dishonest.

For example, sellers lie while selling a product to woo a customer into buying it. In another instance, a politician and his party may make rumors about their rivalry party being involved in corruption or drug scandals; and this will ruin another party’s reputation. This form of lie encourages meanness and should be discouraged.

Beneficial lies are lies mainly told out of kindness to avoid hurting the third party. In this case, the liar will always be praised instead of being criticized. For example, when person has to lie to save someone or to avoid some difficult situations that can cause a lot of harm to everyone. This means to lie for good, that is why, lies can be justifiable in some cases.

White lies are seen as such that do not affect or injure the person, but can even achieve good outcomes. A general description of a white lie is to tell only a half of the truth, thus one does not lie or misrepresent the facts. This form of lie does no harm to both sides and are used as protection to private life. For example, when asked about your personal life, you can lie about it to some extend, so it will not cause any harm to anyone.

Generally, all the people tell lies in one or many occasions either in oral or written communication. In some cases, one will find out about this lie, and this may have a heavy consequence. Lies can sometimes be useful or harmful.

Before opting to tell a lie, one should consider the long-term consequences of such a decision. However, one fact that remains is that lies undermine trust among two or more people. Hence, one should only lie when he/she is certain that the results of such a move will be worth more than the trust that he/she might lose when the lies are found out.

Carson, Thomas L. The Definition of Lying. Nous, 40(2), 2006. 284–306. Print.

Lewis, Michael, and Carolyn Saarni. Lying and Deception in Everyday Life. New York: The Guilfort Press. 1993. Print.

Smith, David Livingstone. Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019, November 26). Types of Lies, Its Benefits or Harms. https://ivypanda.com/essays/types-of-lies/

"Types of Lies, Its Benefits or Harms." IvyPanda , 26 Nov. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/types-of-lies/.

IvyPanda . (2019) 'Types of Lies, Its Benefits or Harms'. 26 November.

IvyPanda . 2019. "Types of Lies, Its Benefits or Harms." November 26, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/types-of-lies/.

1. IvyPanda . "Types of Lies, Its Benefits or Harms." November 26, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/types-of-lies/.

Bibliography

IvyPanda . "Types of Lies, Its Benefits or Harms." November 26, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/types-of-lies/.

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kinds of lies essay

8 Different Types of Lies People Tell

No one would deny that lying is a bad habit. Yet many people are clueless as to how big of a problem it is. Sadly, lying can become an unconscious and destructive habit . Let's talk about the different kinds of lies and see if you recognize them.

Types of Lies

Understanding the different types of lies can go a long way in recognizing the issues that the liar is going through - whether it be you or a friend.

1. White Lies

A white lie is often called the least serious of all lies. People tell white lies claiming to be tactful or polite. For example, it could be making up an excuse for not going to a party, or showing appreciation for an undesirable gift. But telling white lies after a while can cause conflict with others because over time they understand the insincerity. That is why white liars can lose their credibility.

Patterns of white lies made over time can create distance between you and others, and destroy your credibility.

Brandon admitted, " Sometimes I say I have plans to do something when I don't, just to get out of having to tell someone I don't want to go with them. It seems like the better option, than saying I don't like you." There are other ways Brandon could turn down somebody's offer than telling a white lie.

Shariah said, " I only lie when I tell people I am doing good when I am sad or depressed. I tell them that because I don't want people knowing about what I go through and how my personal life is."  By telling this white lie she is showing disrespect for the person who asked a relationship-building question and is putting up a roadblock to a deeper relationship.

2. Broken Promises

Broken promises are a failure to keep one's spoken commitment or promise. Broken promises can be especially damaging when the person who made the promise had no intention whatsoever of keeping their word to begin with. Adam said, " I told a girl I know that I'd go with her to the game even though I knew I wouldn't be able to go. I wasn't trying to hurt her, but I didn't know what else to do."

What Adam doesn't understand is that lying to the girl and breaking the promise does double damage, causing hurt feelings that could have been avoided. By breaking his promise he did great damage to her hope. She no doubt was all excited about going to the game with him, only to have her hopes dashed. Broken promises can lead to broken lives.

3. The Lie of Fabrication

Fabrication is telling others something you don't know for sure is true. Fabrications are extremely hurtful because they lead to rumors that can damage someone else's reputation. Spreading rumors is not only a lie but is also stealing another's reputation. Paul wrote, " I admit that I love spreading rumors. It's all about telling lies about someone you don't like. It usually works."

4. The Bold-Faced Lie

A bold-faced lie is telling something that everyone knows is a lie. It's simple and sometimes cute for a little child to tell a bold-faced lie about not eating any cookies, even though there's chocolate all over his or her face.

As we get older, we try to be more clever with our cover-ups. Some people never grow up and deal with their bold-faced lying even though others know what they're saying is completely false. When people hear a bold-faced lie they are resentful that the liar would be so belittling of their time and intelligence.

Sara said, " I hate lying. Especially when I know everybody knows I'm lying . I feel so dumb."  Sara isn't the only one who feels dumb. The people she lies to could also feel the same way.

5. The Lying in Exaggeration

Exaggeration is enhancing a truth by adding lies to it. The person who exaggerates usually mixes truths and untruths to make themselves look impressive to others. An exaggerator can weave truth and lies together causing confusion even to the liar. After awhile the exaggerator begins to believe his or her exaggeration.

Amber confessed she thinks exaggeration actually helped her. " I'm not good at really anything, so I lie about stupid things so that I sound like there is more to me."  An exaggerator is a tragic person because he or she feels so little about themselves that they have to make up stories to look good to others.

6. Lies of Deception

A deceiver tries to create an impression that causes others to be misled, by not telling all the facts, or creating a false impression. Jon admitted he was a deceiver, " Sometimes I don't like being seen as smart, so I'll joke around about how smart I am just to try and get people to think that I'm not that smart. It works sometimes. It doesn't feel like lying, I guess I'm just pretending to be something I'm not." Causing deception is a powerful and hurtful tool. It can be very subtle yet deadly.

7. Plagiarism

Plagiarism is both stealing and lying. It consists of copying someone else's work and calling it your own. Plagiarism is a very serious act. Some college and graduate students have even been kicked out of school because of it.

Scott asked a question and admitted his plagiarizing. " Is it lying to copy something from the internet and call it your own? I do this sometimes when working on a paper for school and I run out of time."  Scott seems to be confused about his plagiarizing. Yes, Scott, it is lying. Just because it is easy to do does not make it right.

8. Compulsive Lying

Compulsive lying is often caused by low self-esteem and a need for attention; in fact, the compulsive liar finds it all but impossible to stop. A compulsive liar tells their mistruths even when telling the truth would be easier and better. Bree said, " This guy I grew up with tells lies like its no tomorrow. What I don't get is that I actually think he believes every word of the lie is true. I think it's ridiculous."  It is more than ridiculous, it is a tragedy.

Have you ever told anyone of these lies? Do you ever wonder if you can get away with lying? The answer is not really. You may be able to lie for a while, but in the end it will come back to haunt you. What starts as a simple white lie over time can turn into a life-destroying habit. It's important to know there is freedom in living and telling the truth. It may be difficult at first, but as Jesus said , The truth shall set you free.

 How to Tell When Someone Is Lying?

Knowing about all these different kinds of lies is great, but what good will it do if we don’t know we’re being lied to? Finding out that you’ve been deceived is a crushing feeling, most of the time… perhaps the most acceptable lie in the entire world is the one you were told so that you’d show up at your own surprise birthday party… if you like surprises, that’s when being deceived might not be the worst feeling. But most of the time, realizing you were lied to makes you feel violated, embarrassed, and sometimes angry. How can we catch liars in action?

  • Inconsistent Stories 
  • Liars often struggle to keep their stories straight. Have there been contradictions in their explanations?
  • Body Language  
  • Non-verbal cues can be telling. Look for signs like avoiding eye contact, fidgeting, or unusual gestures. These can be a sign that someone is uncomfortable or nervous, both associated with deceit.
  • Changes in Vocal Pitch  
  • A noticeable change in someone's voice, such as sudden high-pitched tones or stammering, suggests anxiety, which could be linked to dishonesty.
  • Overemphasis and Defensiveness
  • Liars may overemphasize their statements or become defensive when questioned. Excessive details or a defensive tone can be red flags. Watch for defensive language, such as excessive use of "I swear" or "to be honest," as it could be a ploy to convince you of their sincerity.
  • Inappropriate Smiling or Laughing
  • A liar might smile or laugh at odd moments. It could mean they’re trying to diffuse tension or mask their discomfort.
  • Avoidance of Direct Answers
  • Liars often avoid giving direct answers to straightforward questions. If you ask a follow-up question, do they give you a vague answer? Deflect attention to something else? Change the subject entirely?
  • Baseline Behavior
  • This one might only be helpful if you know the person well and understand their usual behavior in everyday situations. If they seem to be acting differently than normally, that may indicate they are not being truthful.
  • Changes in Blinking Patterns
  • Increased blinking or a sudden lack of blinking can be associated with anxiety, which could be because they’re trying to deceive you.

It's important to note that these indicators are not foolproof , and context matters. People may exhibit these behaviors just because they’re confused, anxious, flustered, feeling sick, or in a hurry. Being aware of these signs, however, can alert you to when you should lean in and ask more questions—you’ll either build more trust with someone by noticing when something’s off and offering support, or you’ll learn more about whether someone’s unworthy of your trust.

Are you feeling like you may have a problem with lying and want to get control? Here are 8 practical steps on - How To Stop Lying.

kinds of lies essay

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30 comments on “8 different types of lies people tell”.

I've tried to tell myself to stop lying but every time I say or remind myself that,I would lie about something or the other..

I lied to my wife to hide my feelings for my neighbor who is 23 years younger than me even though there was no intent of everdoing anything with the neighbor. I am a compulsive, conniving liar.

I lie to make other people fear/think bad of me. I exaggerate the truth and fake illness. I victimis myself and gossip about my freinds even though I was truly a victim of racism and child abuse. I can't stop lying, I have bad grades in great classes, and freinds with true mental illness who I am drawn to and put me down. I have severe depression and I am homosexual. I am religious and I have broken 7 of 10 commandments. Please help me.

This is a little off topic, but what do you call it when A tells B the truth yet somehow makes B believe that A was lying to B?

Bald Faced Lies are White Lies. No hiding Broken promises

It's not bald. It's bold faced. In that the person knows they're lying but keep a straight serious face thinking that, with a facial expression that matches the tone of the lie, they appear more credible. It is also bold because, usually, everyone knows it is a lie. An example is someone talking to the police and claiming it wasn't them when the police have all the information and know they're guilty.

You can lie to your mom. You can lie to a cop. You can even lie to a judge or your doctor. But don't lie to your partner. Otherwise, you're just shackin' up with someone you don't really love or respect.

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kinds of lies essay

Classification Essay Example: Types of Lies

In this essay I will discuss why there are many types of lies, such as but not only including, white lies, Bold-Faced Lies, broken promises, and plagiarism.

The first type of lie I will talk about is the white lie, a white lie is “a harmless or trivial lie, especially one told to avoid hurting someone's feelings.” Typically most people will use a white lie to not hurt peoples feelings. Times when you could use this is like when you telling someone if someone likes them, or if someone is in the hospital and they are really sick, then the doctor might tell them that they have a while left to live, and that they can leave the hospital even though they probably aren’t going to last. On average we are lied to 10-200 times a day! In that period of time we are also lying to ourselves 2-3 times. White lies are lies that are told to save other peoples feeling, but on the other end of the spectrum we have Bold-Faced Lies.

A Bold-Faced Lie is a lie that is blatantly obvious that it is a lie, or a lie that they don’t try to cover up at all. Examples of Bold-Faced Lies include, “Claiming voter fraud in the “millions” when clearly that is not the case”, and “Claiming that murder rates are at an historic high when they are at the lowest”. I would not recommend using bold faced lies on a daily basis, as people tent to know when you are lying, if you are going to lie, you might as well use a white lie. Now Bold-Faced lies might seem bad, but the worst type of lies in my opinion is broken promises.

Broken Promises are lies that can get pretty dangerous, if someone breaks a promise such as marriage after high school, then the partner may feel very sad and end up hurting themselves. Another type of a broken promise could be if someone were to say that they could get a dog, but then they break the promise by getting a cat. Broken promises are terrible for the mental health if it gets bad enough, although most broken promises will go unnoticed by most, there are some broken promises that can effect people for the rest of their life. Some examples of broken promises in history, such as Woodrow Wilson when he wont the election with the slogan “He kept us out of war.” Only to enter World War 1 only a year later. And one more examples is George H. W. Bush who promised slogan was “Read my lips: No new taxes” And then raised the taxes during his first and only term. And the final type of lie I will go over is Plagiarism.

Plagiarism is when someone tries to steal the work of someone else without giving them credit, such as if I were to steal someone else’s Owl Creek Essay, and treat it as if it were mine. Some examples of plagiarism in history are the case of Melania Trump who basically stole Michelle Obama’s speech in 2008, Another example is Martin Luther King Jr’s speech “I have a dream” which had parts of it that were plagiarized, Although his doctorate was not revoked, And a third and final example is The case of George Harrison, who plagiarized his hit song “My Sweet Lord, who stole this song and showed many similarities to Chiffons 1963 hit “he’s so fine”, Although Harrison was sued he got out of it by saying that he had subconsciously took in some elements of the song.

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Quote Investigator®

Tracing Quotations

There Are Three Kinds of Lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Mark Twain? Benjamin Disraeli? St. Swithin? Eliza Gutch? Charles Dilke? Charles Stewart Parnell? Robert Giffen? Arthur James Balfour? Francis Bacon? Anonymous?

kinds of lies essay

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

These words have been attributed to prominent humorist Mark Twain, British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, and others. Do you know who should receive credit? Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Mark Twain did include this saying in an installment of his autobiography which he published in 1907; however, he did not claim to be the originator; instead, Twain credited Benjamin Disraeli. Yet, there is no substantive evidence that Disraeli crafted this remark. He died in 1881, and the remark was attributed to him posthumously by 1895.

Tracing this saying is a complex task because the expression evolved over time. Changes were incremental, and there was no single originator who deserved credit. Here is an overview showing key phrases, dates, and attributions.

1882 Apr 04: three classes—liars, great liars, and scientific witnesses (Attributed to “well-known Judge”)

1885 Jun 27: three sorts of liars, the common or garden liar … the damnable liar … and lastly the expert (Attributed to “counsel”)

1885 Nov 26: grouped witnesses into three classes: simple liars, damned liars, and experts (Attributed to “well-known lawyer”)

1886 Apr 10: three kinds of liars who testify in courts: “Lawyers, liars and experts” (Attributed to “distinguished judge”)

1889 Aug 12: There are liars, and d—-d liars and experts (Attributed to “eminent judge”)

1891 Jun 13: three kinds of falsehood: the first is a ‘fib,’ the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics (Anonymous)

1891 Oct 10: There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is a lie, and then come statistics (Anonymous)

1891 Oct 14: there were three degrees of untruth—a fib, a lie, and statistics (Charles Dilke)

1891 Oct 19: false statements might be arranged according to their degree under three heads, fibs, lies, and statistics. (Attributed to Charles Dilke)

1891 Oct 28: Mr. Parnell’s dictum respecting fibs, lies, and statistics (Attributed to Charles Stewart Parnell)

1891 Nov 07: classifies falsehood under three heads: 1, the fib; 2, the lie; 3, statistics (Attributed to Mark Twain)

1892: three degrees of unveracity—“Lies, d——d lies, and statistics.” (Attributed to “some wit”)

1892 Jan: There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics (Anonymous)

1892 Feb: three degrees in liars: the liar simple, the d — d liar, and the expert witness (Anonymous)

1892 Jun 28: three kinds of unveracity—namely, lies, damned lies, and statistics (Arthur James Balfour)

1895 July 27: three degrees of veracity—viz., lies d—d lies, and statistics (Attributed to Lord Beaconsfield, i.e., Benjamin Disraeli)

1907 Jul 5: There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics (Attributed to Benjamin Disraeli by Mark Twain)

QI gives great thanks to previous researchers particularly Stephen Goranson and Peter M. Lee who located many of the citations mentioned above.

Below are selected citations in chronological order.

The notion of splitting lies into three different categories has a long history although the groupings have varied. The influential 13th century philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas discussed lying in his famous work “Summa Theologica” which was written in Latin. Here is an English rendering of the title of a pertinent section: [1] 1922, The “Summa Theologica” of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part II, Second Part, Literally Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Question 110, Article 2, Quote Page 88, Burn … Continue reading

Whether Lies Are Sufficiently Divided Into Officious, Jocose and Mischievous Lies?

Aquinas concluded that this division was inadequate, and he presented a different framework.

The prominent English philosopher Francis Bacon who died in 1626 wrote about lying within an essay titled “Simulation and Dissimulation”. He also presented a tripartite analysis: [2] 1701, The Essays, Or Councils, Civil and Moral of Sir. Francis Bacon, Essay VI: Of Simulation and Dissimulation, Start Page 12, Quote Page 13, Printed by E. Holt for Henry Herringman, London. (Google … Continue reading

There are t hree degrees of this hiding and veiling of Mans self. The first, Closeness, Reservation, and Secrecy; when a Man leaveth himself without observation, or without hold to be taken what he is. the Second Dissimulation in the negative, when a Man lets fall Signs and Arguments, that he is not that he is. and the third Simulation in the Affirmative, when a man industriously and expressly feigns and pretends to be that he is not.

In 1874 Alfred Nevin published “Notes: Exegetical, Practical and Devotional, on the Book of Exodus”, and he echoed Aquinas by mentioning three kinds of lies: [3] 1874, Notes: Exegetical, Practical and Devotional, on the Book of Exodus by Alfred Nevin, Third Edition, Chapter 19, Quote Page 241 and 242, Claxton, Remsen & Haffelfinger, Philadelphia, … Continue reading

Lies are commonly distinguished into three kinds: First, there are malicious or pernicious lies, or lies the design of which is to do mischief. These are universally condemned. Secondly, there are jocose lies, or lies told for the purpose of amusement and merriment. However common these are, and however lightly they are thought of, a strict moralist will condemn them also, because truth is too sacred to be trifled with. Thirdly, there are officious lies, which are so called because they are intended to promote the benefit of others.

In 1882 “The Times” of London printed a tripartite analysis of lying. The testimony of scientific witnesses was viewed skeptically: [4] 1882 April 4, The Times, Parliamentary Summary, Quote Page 9, Column 3, London, England. (Newspapers_com)

The evidence of experts is apt to be listened to with incredulity, and the saying of a well-known Judge that liars might be divided into three classes—liars, great liars, and scientific witnesses —recommends itself to many.

In May 1885 “The Saturday Review” of London presented a different analysis of lying: [5] 1885 May 16, The Saturday Review, Liberationism in Scotland, Quote Page 649, Column 2, Published at the Office of The Saturday Review, London. (Google Books Full View) link

Brag is bad, but fibs are worse; and a mixture of brag and fibs is worst of all; and this is what we find in the Liberationist statistics, as exhibited in the Society’s “Case for Disestablishment, 1884.”

In June 1885 “The Accountant” periodical of London presented another tripartite analysis of lying. The testimony of experts was lambasted: [6] 1885 June 27, The Accountant: A Medium of Communication Between Accountants in All Parts of the United Kingdom, (Untitled short item), Quote Page 15, Column 2, Office of “The Accountant”, … Continue reading

An expert in a sewage case described a particular river in which sewage was allowed to flow, a stream of crystalline purity. Whereupon counsel on the other side was heard to explain to his client that there were three sorts of liars, the common or garden liar to be found anywhere and everywhere, the damnable liar who is fortunately rather a rara avis in decent society, and lastly the expert, who when giving evidence is always splendidly mendacious, and altogether surpassing either of the other classes already instanced.

In November 1885 the science journal “Nature” of London printed a similar categorization of liars: [7] 1885 November 26, Nature, Volume 33, The Whole Duty of a Chemist, Start Page 73, Quote Page 74, Macmillan and Company, London. (Google Books Full View) link

A well-known lawyer, now a judge, once grouped witnesses into three classes: simple liars, damned liars, and experts. He did not mean that the expert uttered things which he knew to be untrue, but that by the emphasis which he laid on certain statements, and by what has been defined as a highly cultivated faculty of evasion, the effect was actually worse than if he had.

On April 9, 1886 “The Central Law Journal” of St. Louis, Missouri printed an expurgated version of the categorization. The word “damned” was replaced by dashes: [8] 1886 April 9, The Central Law Journal, Volume 22, Number 15, Jetsam and Flotsam, Quote Page 359, Column 2, William H. Stevenson, St. Louis, Missouri. (Google Books Full View) link

A distinguished judge of this State says there are three kinds of liars who testify in courts: “Liars, —— liars and experts.” That is sound, even if profane.—Albany Law Journal.

On April 10, 1886 “The Kansas Law Journal” of Topeka, Kansas printed an instance that criticized lawyers: [9] 1886 April 10, The Kansas Law Journal: A Weekly Record of the Law and Lawyers of Kansas, Volume 3, Number 9, Notes, Quote Page 143, George W. Crane & Company, Printers and Publishers, Topeka, … Continue reading

A certain distinguished judge says there are three kinds of liars who testify in courts: “Lawyers, liars and experts.” That is sound, even if profane.

In 1888 a piece in “The Medical and Surgical Reporter” of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania referred back to the analysis given in “The Times” of London: [10] 1888 January 14, The Medical and Surgical Reporter, Volume 58, Number 2, News and Miscellany: Humor, Quote Page 66, Column 1, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books Full View) link

An English judge is said to have laid it down from the bench in 1882 (see Times report, October 4 of that year) that “liars may be divided into three classes: Liars, great liars, scientific witnesses.”

On August 12, 1889 the “Pall Mall Gazette” of London printed an instance: [11] 1889 August 12, Pall Mall Gazette, Retrying the Maybrick Case: A Judicial Opinion of “Expert’ Witnesses, Quote Page 7, Column 1, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

An eminent judge is said to have expressed his opinion of paid witnesses as follows:– “There are liars, and d—-d liars and experts.”  The Maybrick case was principally settled by experts, and the judge may have had the opinion as above.

A speaker at a meeting of the New York State Stenographers’ Association in 1889 presented the following analysis with three categories: [12] 1889, Proceedings of the New York State Stenographers’ Association, at the Fourteenth Annual Meeting Held at the Crossman House, Alexandria, Jefferson Co., August 20th and 21st, 1889, Stenographic … Continue reading

I have a friend, an old and respected lawyer, who says that after fifty years active practice at the bar he has adopted the following declination of a certain class of witnesses: positive, liar; comparative, great big liar (or words to that effect); superlative, expert witness.

On June 13, 1891 “The National Observer” of London published a letter from T. Mackay about lying. This is the first instance known to QI in this family of sayings that employed the word “statistics”. The attribution was anonymous: [13] 1891 June 13, The National Observer, Letter to the Editor, Letter title: National Pensions, Letter date: June 8, 1891, Letter from: T. Mackay, Start Page 93, Quote Page 93, Column 2, London, England. … Continue reading

Sir,—It has been wittily remarked that there are three kinds of falsehood: the first is a ‘fib,’ the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics. It is on statistics and on the absence of statistics that the advocate of national pensions relies.

On June 27, 1891 “The Preston Herald” of Lancashire, England printed a similar statement: [14] 1891 June 27, The Preston Herald, Trifles, Quote Page 11, Column 6, Lancashire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

There are three kinds of falsehood: the first is a “fib,” the second is a downright lie, and the third and most aggravated is statistics.

On October 10, 1891 the literary journal “Notes and Queries” of London published an inquiry on this topic from prominent English folklorist Eliza Gutch who used the pseudonym St. Swithin: [15] 1891 October 10, Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc., Section: Queries, Quote Page 288, Published by John G. Francis at the Office of Notes and … Continue reading

DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD,—Who was it who said, “There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is a lie, and then come statistics”? ST. SWITHIN.

On October 14, 1891 the English politician Charles Dilke attended a protest meeting of slate quarrymen in Wales. The following day “The Morning Post” of London reported that Dilke used an instance of the expression during his speech: [16] 1891 October 15, The Morning Post, Sir Charles Dilke at Festiniog, Quote Page 2, Column 2, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

Sir Charles Dilke, on rising to support a motion in favour of boards of conciliation, was received with cheers, mingled with hisses. He alluded incidentally to the Church Congress, and observed that the speeches of the bishops on the disestablishment question reminded him that there were three degrees of untruth—a fib, a lie, and statistics.

On the same day the story and quotation above appeared in other newspapers such as the “South Wales Echo” of Cardiff, Wales. [17] 1891 October 15, South Wales Echo, Quote Page 2, Column 8, Glamorgan, Wales. (British Newspaper Archive) During subsequent days the story continued to appear. For example, on October 19, 1891 “The Bristol Mercury” credited Dilke with a similar remark: [18] 1891 October 19, The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, The Wellington Division, Quote Page 5, Column 4, Bristol, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

Sir Charles Dilke was saying the other day that false statements might be arranged according to their degree under three heads, fibs, lies, and statistics.

On October 28, 1891 a letter printed in the “The Yorkshire Post” of England discussed correct and incorrect methods for counting the number of attendees at Roman Catholic religious services. The letter writer attributed an instance of the saying to Irish politician Charles Stewart Parnell: [19] 1891 October 28, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, The Religious Census in Liverpool, (Letter to the Editor of The Yorkshire Post), Quote Page 3, Column 7, West Yorkshire, England. (British … Continue reading

Thus real information would be afforded as the relative numbers of worshippers, and Mr. Parnell’s dictum respecting fibs, lies, and statistics might—in one instance at least—be falsified.

On November 7, 1891 a letter printed in the “The British Medical Journal” of London attributed an instance to Mark Twain: [20] 1891 November 7, The British Medical Journal, Topic: Efficient Vaccination, Letter from Allen McCulloch (Public Vaccinator, Tarporley District, Nantwich Union), Quote Page 1020, Column 1, Published … Continue reading

Mark Twain classifies falsehood under three heads: 1, the fib; 2, the lie; 3, statistics.

In 1892 Cornelia A. H. Crosse published “Red-Letter Days of My Life”, and she ascribed an instance to an anonymous wit: [21] 1892, Red-Letter Days of My Life by Mrs. Andrew Crosse (Cornelia A. H. Crosse), Volume 2 of 2, Chapter: Old Memories Interviewed, Quote Page 328, Richard Bentley & Son, London. (Google Books Full … Continue reading

It has been said by some wit that there are three degrees of unveracity—“Lies, d——d lies, and statistics.” The science has had a good many hard things said of the use that Buckle and other authors have made of it in the arbitrary classification of facts.

In January 1892 statistician Robert Giffen delivered a paper at the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. He astutely commented on the evolution of this family of sayings: [22] June 1892, The Economic Journal: The Journal of the British Economic Association, Volume 2, Number 6, On International Statistical Comparisons by Robert Giffen, (Paper read at the meeting of the … Continue reading

An old jest runs to the effect that there are three degrees of comparison among liars. There are liars, there are outrageous liars, and there are scientific experts. This has lately been adapted to throw dirt upon statistics. There are three degrees of comparison, it is said, in lying. There are lies, there are outrageous lies, and there are statistics. Statisticians can afford to laugh at and profit by jests at their expense.

Versions of the saying which criticized “expert witnesses” continued to circulate in February 1892. “The Travelers Record” of Hartford, Connecticut printed the following: [23] 1892 February, The Travelers Record, Volume 27, Number 11, Comparative Liars, Quote Page 8, Column 1, Published by The Travelers Insurance Company, Hartford, Connecticut. (Google Books Full View) link

A saying was current in Lincoln’s Inn years ago of a judge who recognized three degrees in liars: the liar simple, the d—d liar, and the expert witness. The point lies in the fact that expert witnesses are allowed to give evidence as to what is their opinion, and hence are out of the reach of an indictment for perjury, which always hangs over the head of the ordinary witness, who can testify to facts only.

On June 28, 1892 British politician Arthur Balfour used an instance during a speech in Manchester, England. The following day “The Leeds Mercury” reported on his remark: [24] 1892 June 29, The Leeds Mercury, Politics and Society, Quote Page 5, Column 2, West Yorkshire, England. (The British Newspaper Archive)

Mr. Arthur Balfour is reverting to his old habits of wild and reckless assertions. Last night he made what his friends would doubtless call a stinging speech to his constituents at Manchester. He began by a contemptuous reference to his opponent, Professor Munro; and in dealing with the statistics of the latter had the good taste to say that there were three kinds of unveracity–namely, lies, damned lies, and statistics.

In July 1892 “The Pall Mall Gazette” of London credited an instance to Arthur James Balfour: [25] 1892 July 6, The Pall Mall Gazette, How Large Will It Be, Quote Page 1, Column 2, London, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

What is the outcome of yesterday’s results? One thinks at once of Mr. Balfour’s categories of untruths, “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” when one reads the amusing contradictions and audacious misrepresentations in the Unionist papers.

In 1893 an article by Perry H. Millard M.D. in “Annals of Surgery” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania aimed a barb at medical experts: [26] 1893 July to December, Annals of Surgery, Volume 18, Some Critical Observations Upon Certain Forms of Spinal Injury by Perry H. Millard M.D. (Professor of the Principles of Surgery and Medical … Continue reading

We are not disposed to criticise Judge Storey too sharply in dividing unreliable witnesses into three classes, as follows: “Liars, blanked liars, and medical experts.”

In July 1895 “The Standard” of London printed a letter from W. P. Treloar who attributed an instance to Lord Beaconsfield, i.e., Benjamin Disraeli. [27] 1895 July 27, The Standard, Sunday Opening in the City (Letter to the Editor of The Standard from W. P. Treloar), Quote Page 2, Column 6, London, England. (Gale 19th Century British Newspapers) The same letter also appeared in “The Times” of London: [28] 1895 July 27, The Times, Sunday Opening In The City, (Letter to the Editor of The Times from W. P. Treloar), Quote Page 10, Column 3, London, England. (The Times Digital Archive from Gale Cengage … Continue reading

Mr. Peake says that the figures quoted by me disguise plain facts. I think Lord Beaconsfield said that there were three degrees of veracity—viz., lies d—d lies, and statistics.

In August 1895 “The Sun” of New York City also attributed the expression to Benjamin Disraeli: [29] 1895 August 5, The Sun, Give’em Ten-Acre Farms, Quote Page 5, Column 1, New York, New York. (Fulton History)

The Earl of Beaconsfield used to say that there were three grades of veracity, lies, damned lies, and statistics.

In 1907 Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) published an installment of his autobiography in “The North American Review”, and he attributed the saying to Disraeli: [30] 1907 July 5, The North American Review, Volume 186, Number 618, Chapters From My Autobiography — XX by Mark Twain, Start Page 465, Quote Page 470 and 471, The North American Review Publishing … Continue reading

Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

In conclusion, the target quotation is a member of a large and evolving collection of sayings with incremental changes occurring over decades. The quotation cannot be credited to single creator. Eliza Gutch and Mark Twain did employ versions of this saying, but both disclaimed credit. Charles Dilke and Arthur Balfour used instances, but only after closely matching statements were in circulation. Tracing this collection of remarks is a complex task, and future researchers will probably uncover illuminating citations.

Image Notes: Illustration depicting statistical information from geralt at Pixabay. Image has been resized and cropped.

(Great thanks to Simon Lancaster, Tom Darais, Richard Vaughn, Sharon Ishika Ghose, Stuart Firestein, Jeff Braemer, Edward Banatt, and Michael Vinegrad whose inquiries and remarks led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. As mentioned previously QI owes a debt of gratitude to researchers Stephen Goranson and Peter M. Lee who located many of the citations mentioned above. Thanks to Laurence Horn who told QI about the connection to Thomas Aquinas. Thanks to Nigel Rees whose 2013 newsletter mentioned the 1895 attribution to Disraeli. Additional thanks to Jesse Sheidlower and Grant Barrett who accessed and verified the 1891 citation in “The National Observer”. Also, thanks to Grant Barrett who verified the 1891 citation in “The Preston Herald”.)

Update History: On June 23, 2022 the citation dated November 7, 1891 was added to the article.

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Mind & Body Articles & More

What’s good about lying, new research reveals how we learn to lie for the benefit of other people..

Do you teach children to lie?

I do. All the time. And you do, too! If you’re like most American parents, you point to presents under the Christmas tree and claim that a man named Santa Claus put them there. But your deliberate deceptions probably go beyond Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny.

How many of us tell our kids (or students) that everything is fine when, in fact, everything is totally wrong, in order to preserve their sense of security? Have you been honest about everything having to do with, say, your love life, or what happens at work? Do you praise drawings they bring home from school that you actually think are terrible?

kinds of lies essay

We don’t just lie to protect our kids from hard truths, either. We actually coach them to lie, as when we ask them to express delight at tube socks from Aunt Judy or Uncle Bob’s not-so-delicious beef stew.

These are what scientists call “prosocial lies”—falsehoods told for someone else’s benefit, as opposed to “antisocial lies” that are told strictly for your own personal gain.

Most research suggests that children develop the ability to lie at about age three. By age five, almost all children can (and will) lie to avoid punishment or chores—and a minority will sporadically tell prosocial lies. From ages seven to eleven, they begin to reliably lie to protect other people or to make them feel better—and they’ll start to consider prosocial lies to be justified . They’re not just telling white lies to please adults. The research to date suggests that they are motivated by strong feelings of empathy and compassion.

Why should that be the case? What is going on in children’s minds and bodies that allows this capacity to develop? What does this developmental arc reveal about human beings—and how we take care of each other? That’s what a recent wave of studies has started to uncover.

Taken together, this research points to one message: Sometimes, lying can reveal what’s best in people.

How we learn to lie

At first, the ability to lie reflects a developmental milestone: Young children are acquiring a “theory of mind,” which is psychology’s way of describing our ability to distinguish our own beliefs, intents, desires, and knowledge from what might be in the minds of other people. Antisocial lying appears earlier than prosocial lying in children because it’s much simpler, developmentally; it mainly requires an understanding that adults can’t read your mind.

More on Honesty

Explore gender differences in prosocial lying .

Learn about the life stages of trust .

Lying expert Paul Ekman discusses trust and deception with his daughter, Eve.

Are you living true to your values? Discover how to cultivate ethical courage .

Take our Relationship Trust quiz .

But prosocial lying needs more than just theory of mind. It requires the ability to identify suffering in another person ( empathy ) and the desire to alleviate that suffering ( compassion ). More than that, even, it involves anticipation that our words or actions might cause suffering in a hypothetical future. Thus, prosocial lying reflects the development of at least four distinct human capacities: theory of mind, empathy, compassion, and the combination of memory and imagination that allows us to foresee the consequences of our words.

How do we know that kids have all of these capacities? Could they just be lying to get out of the negative consequences of telling the truth? Or perhaps they’re simply lazy; is it easier to lie than be honest?

For a paper published in 2015 , Harvard psychologist Felix Warneken had adults show elementary-aged children two pictures they drew—one pretty good, one terrible. If the adults didn’t show any particular pride in the picture, the kids were truthful in saying whether it was good or bad. If the grown-up acted sad about being a bad artist, most of the kids would rush to reassure her that it wasn’t too awful. In other words, they told a white lie; the older they were, they more likely the kids were to say a bad drawing was good. There were no negative consequences for telling the truth to these bad artists; the kids just wanted these strangers to feel better about themselves.

In other words, says Warneken, it’s a feeling of empathic connection that drives children to tell white lies. In fact, children are trying to resolve two conflicting norms—honesty vs. kindness—and by about age seven, his studies suggest, they start consistently coming down on the side of kindness. This reflects increasingly sophisticated moral and emotional reasoning.

“When is it right to prioritize another person’s feelings over truth?” says Warneken. “Say, if someone cooks something for you, and it just doesn’t taste good. Well, if they’re applying for cooking school somewhere, the prosocial thing is to be honest, so that they can improve. But if they just cooked it on their own just for you, then perhaps it’s better to lie and say it tastes good.”

It’s a good sign, developmentally, when kids show the ability to make that kind of calculation. Indeed, there is a great deal of evidence that we tend to see prosocial lies as the more moral choice. For example, people seem to behave more prosocially —more grateful, more generous, more compassionate—in the presence of images depicting eyes. While one would expect people to lie less under the eyes, in fact it appears to influence what kind of lie they tell: When Japanese researchers gave students an opportunity to make someone feel good with a lie, they were much more likely to do so with a pair of eyes looking down on them .

No eyes? They were more likely to tell the cold, hard truth!

How lies change as we grow

This moral self-consciousness appears to grow in tandem with the child’s self-control and cognitive ability.

Another study published last year in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology found that “children who told prosocial lies had higher performance on measures of working memory and inhibitory control.” This especially helped them to control “leakage”—a psychologist’s term for inconsistencies in a fake story.

To tell a prosocial lie, a child’s brain needs to juggle many balls—drop one, and the lie will be discovered. Some children are simply better truth-jugglers than others. Far from reflecting laziness, prosocial lying seems to entail a great deal more cognitive and emotional effort than truth-telling. In fact, one 2014 paper found tired adults are much less likely to engage in prosocial lying.

Studies by other researchers show that as kids grow older, the relationship between theory of mind and dishonesty starts to shift. Young children with high theory of mind will tell more antisocial lies than peers. This pattern flips as we age: Older children who have a stronger theory of mind start telling fewer antisocial lies—and more prosocial ones.

Kids also gradually become more likely to tell “blue lies” as they advance through adolescence: altruistic falsehoods, sometimes told at a cost to the liar, that are intended to protect a group, like family or classmates. (Think: lying about a crime committed by a sibling, or deceiving a teacher about someone else’s misbehavior.)

Though adults can (and do) teach children to tell polite lies—and in a lab context, kids can be primed by adults to tell them—Warneken says it’s more likely that successful prosocial lying is a byproduct of developing other capacities, like empathy and self-control. When kids acquire those skills, they gain the ability to start telling both white and blue lies.

But how do other people feel if these lies are found out?

The lies that bind

As they grow older, kids are also developing the ability to detect lies —and to distinguish selfish from selfless ones. The distinction comes down to intent, which studies show can be discerned through recognition of telltale signs in the face and voice of the liar.

In a study published last year, researchers used the Facial Action Coding System , developed by Paul Ekman , to map children’s faces as they told lies that served either themselves or others. The team, based at the University of Toronto and UC San Diego, found that the two different kinds of lies produced markedly different facial expressions.

“Prosocial lying reflects the development of at least four distinct human capacities: theory of mind, empathy, compassion, and the combination of memory and imagination that allows us to foresee the consequences of our words.”

Prosocial lies (which in this case involved delight in a disappointing gift) were betrayed by expressions that resembled joy—a “lip raise on the right side” that hinted at a barely concealed smile, and a blinking pattern associated with happiness. The faces of children lying to conceal a misdeed showed signs of contempt, mainly a slight lip pucker that stops short of being a smirk.

It’s almost certainly the case that we are subconsciously picking up on these signs (along with tells in the liar’s voice) when we catch someone in a lie. But research finds that the consequences of catching someone in a prosocial lie are often very different from those of an antisocial lie, or “black lie,” as they’re sometimes called. In fact, detecting a prosocial lie can increase trust and social bonds.

A series of four 2015 studies from the Wharton School had participants play economic games that involved different kinds of trust and deception. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found that black lies hurt trust. But if participants saw that the deception was altruistic in nature, trust between game-players actually increased. A complex mathematical 2014 study compared the impact of black and white lies on social networks. Again, black lies drove wedges into social networks. But white lies had precisely the opposite effect, tightening social bonds. Several studies have found that people are quick to forgive white lies, and even to appreciate them.

These differences show up in brain scans—and how different types of lies affect the brain can actually influence behavior down the road. A research team led by Neil Garrett at Princeton University assigned 80 people a financial task that allowed them to gain money at another person’s expense if they kept on lying.

“We found that people started with small lies, but slowly, over the course of the experiment, lied more and more,” they write . When they scanned the brains of participants, they found that activity lessened (mainly in the amygdala) with each new lie.

Not everyone lied or lied to their own advantage. One variation in the experiment allowed participants to lie so that another participant would gain more money—and the behavior and the brain scans of those people looked very different. Dishonesty for the benefit of others did not escalate in the same way selfish lies did; while people did lie for others, the lies did not get bigger or more frequent, as with black lies. And it did not trigger the same pattern of activity in the amygdala, which previous research has found lights up when we contemplate immoral acts. (Their methods are described more fully in the video below.)

In short, the brain’s resistance to deception remained steady after participants told prosocial lies—while self-serving lies seemed to decrease it, making black lies a slippery slope.

The upshot of all this research? Not all lies are the same, a fact we seem to recognize deep in our minds and bodies. We may indeed teach children to lie, both implicitly with our behavior and explicitly with our words; but some of those lies help to bind our families and friends together and to create feelings of trust. Other kinds of lies destroy those bonds.

This all might seem overly complex, more so than the simple prescription to not tell a lie. The trouble with do-not-lie prohibitions is that kids can plainly see lying is ubiquitous, and as they grow, they discover that not all lies have the same motivation or impact. How are we supposed to understand these nuances, and communicate them to our children?

In fact, the argument for prosocial lies is the same one against black lies: other people’s feelings matter—and empathy and kindness should be our guide.

About the Author

Jeremy Adam Smith

Jeremy Adam Smith

Uc berkeley.

Jeremy Adam Smith edits the GGSC's online magazine, Greater Good . He is also the author or coeditor of five books, including The Daddy Shift , Are We Born Racist? , and (most recently) The Gratitude Project: How the Science of Thankfulness Can Rewire Our Brains for Resilience, Optimism, and the Greater Good . Before joining the GGSC, Jeremy was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.

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Do You Believe In White Lies?

Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.

kinds of lies essay

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

kinds of lies essay

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White Lies vs. Real Lies

  • Things to Consider

Why Do People Lie?

  • Risks of Lies

Benefits of Honesty

When it’s necessary to lie.

Is it okay to lie? Or do you believe in white lies? A white lie is a lie that is considered harmless or trivial. Such lies are often told to spare hurting someone's feelings.

The term dates back to the 14th century and is linked to historical color associations that suggest that white symbolizes "morally pure" and that black symbolizes "sinister intent."

While most people agree that lies are damaging, destructive, and downright wrong, there are times when people tell what they think are harmless lies as a way to prevent further harm. If you’ve ever told a child that Santa Claus was on his way in his sleigh or that you loved the weird socks that your aunt sent as a gift, you lied. But you can let yourself off the hook.

These were more like white lies. With a real lie, the intent is malicious and the consequence is serious. While with a white lie, often more like a harmless bending of the truth, the intent is benign and positive, and usually, the consequence isn’t major.

The adage that you always should tell the truth is mostly right, but in some situations fibs or white lies have a purpose.

The question of whether it is okay to lie often comes down to whether you are telling a white lie or a real lie. White lies are often innocuous. We tell them to create a magical world for our children, or, more often, as a way to be polite and demonstrate social manners. Some examples of white lies include:

  • Telling someone they look great in an outfit
  • Saying that you are on your way to meet someone so you can't stay and chat
  • Laughing at a joke that wasn't really funny
  • Telling someone that you'll call them later
  • Saying that you didn't see a text that someone sent you

Overall, white lies are for beneficial purposes. Being totally honest in some cases would create unpleasantness or be offensive. Some view white lies as a sign of civility.

Real lies tend to be more self-serving. They may result in negative consequences for yourself and others.

Told to protect others

Self-protective

Avoid awkward situations

Told to benefit the self

Self-serving

Create pain and discomfort for others

How White Lies Can Be Good for Us

If you believe in white lies, then you probably feel that such fibs serve an important purpose such as protecting someone's feelings. If we lie to benefit other people, these are considered white lies. Here’s a good illustration: A student had a hard time his first week at college and told his parents he was doing well so they wouldn’t worry.

In this situation, he was thinking about other people’s feelings and was guided by empathy and kindness. The second week he adjusted and was glad he didn’t upset his parents prematurely.

Scientists call these well-intended falsehoods prosocial lies . These differ from antisocial lies, which are told for personal gain. According to research, prosocial lies can actually build trust and a sense of benevolence between people.

How Real Lies Can Be Bad for Us

With real lies, the intent is often selfish. These are the most damaging kinds of lies. To find evidence of them, look for falsehoods that promote a person’s self-interests obviously at the expense of others.

To make it clearer, if your best girlfriend asks how she looks in her new dress and you think it’s too tight, but you say she looks great to boost her self-esteem, that’s a white lie. But complimenting her because you want to look better than her at the party, which is competitive and more indicative of selfish intent is a real lie.

When it comes to truth telling, deception and trust, real lies can be destructive. If things don’t add up or if you suspect someone of lying , there are ways to find out.

Before You Decide If It's Okay to Lie

Let's look at what you might want to think about before you decide to tell a white lie or a real lie.

Evaluate the Intention

When someone lies out of altruism to protect others or ease their pain, these lies are considered acceptable white lies. White lies usually benefit the person listening.

For example, if your neighbor is dying of cancer, rather than frighten your young son with his impending death, it’s okay to say he’s not feeling well right now.

This is an example of prosocial lying and reflects empathy and compassion . It also takes into account what is age appropriate for your son.

Consider the Long-Term Consequences

While white lies are often minor or inconsequential, real lies have far reaching effects. Real lies tend to initially benefit the liar, too.

For example, if Dan took the data his co-worker amassed and presented the project as his own, Dan blatantly lied and acted in a self-serving and clearly untruthful way. When his supervisor learned the truth, Dan was sent to human resources as a consequence.

Overall, it's important to look at the morality and societal acceptance of the type of life. White lies are acceptable and help our society function. Real lies are deemed to be universally wrong.

There are many reasons why people lie. Some common motives for lying include:

To Be Considerate

Lying out of consideration can mean protecting someone else’s feelings, for the sake of diplomacy, or to keep stability in our relationships. These are the common white lies that help us maintain harmony with our spouses, family, friends, and neighbors.

For example, if your child just began studying violin and is making a horrible racket, you might tell him he sounds fantastic to encourage him.

To Protect Our Ego and Self-Image

Another reason why we don’t tell the truth is based on psychological compensation: to protect how we're perceived by others. Rather than admit you lost your job, for example, you might tell your sibling that you quit because it was no longer challenging enough.

To Compensate for Our Sensitivity to Power

For example, rather than question your boss’s new plan which you find shaky, you feel compelled to support it. You respond by saying that you love the plan to protect your job.

People tell white lies to protect others, protect the self, and defer to those in power.

The Danger of Telling Too Many Lies

A 2016 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience showed that the brain adapts to dishonesty. The more participants engaged in self-serving dishonesty, the more likely that behavior would increase with repetition. Small acts escalated into bigger transgressions.

That’s as good a reason as ever to stop lying. Even seemingly innocuous lies can become a habit, like second nature. In fact, it may become easier than being honest. You get to spare people’s feelings and pretend you are less flawed than you are. That can be very enticing.

The second danger of telling too many lies might result in not getting the help you need. For example, saying "I'm fine," which seems like an innocuous fib, masks the fact that you are still struggling on many fronts. This may preclude others from suggesting you get mental health counseling or you yourself from realizing that you could benefit from therapy.

You must always be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. Then you must try to be as honest as you can be with loved ones. We are all human, but that should be the goal.

So is it ever okay to lie to your significant other? There are times when you might tell a white lie to protect your partner, but as in other cases, telling the truth is generally the best policy . Telling lies, particularly those that involve serious deception, can erode the trust and intimacy in your relationship.

After all, if your partner doesn’t know the truth and how you are evolving as a person, that person doesn’t know the real you. You are not experiencing real intimacy then.

Intimacy demands vulnerability and honesty. You might also be depriving your family of the chance to show you that they see you for all your foibles and accept and love you as you are.

Less Lying Has Been Linked to Better Health

Evidence shows that Americans average about 11 lies per week. Another reason to strive to tell the truth and reduce lies? Anita E. Kelly, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame discovered during her research that participants who reduced lies and tried to live more honestly actually reported improved relationships and better mental and physical health.

Participants stopped making excuses for being late or not completing tasks. They also figured out other ways to avoid lying and the results were significant.

So what is a good reason to lie? Sometimes the stakes are high and lies are necessary to safeguard someone’s well-being. In these types of situations, lying for the sake of protecting yourself or loved ones is deemed acceptable:

  • Lying to an abuser to escape from or protect someone from domestic abuse.
  • Lying to an abuser to protect children from child abuse.
  • Lying to someone who is playing with weapons.
  • Lying to someone who seems intoxicated or on drugs.
  • Lying to someone who seems to be experiencing a mental health issue.

Is it OK to lie to protect yourself?

While honesty is usually the best policy, it is okay to lie to protect yourself or someone else. Such lies can help ensure your safety in the moment until you are in a safer situation.

Lying to Our Loved Ones

What if our relatives are grappling with mental health problems or impairment? And it’s not an emergency situation, but it’s clear there is an ongoing problem. Sometimes lies are necessary to help them.

Meredith Gordon Resnick , LCSW, says, “Studies show that for people with severe dementia, sometimes telling an untruth, and doing it carefully and mindfully so as not to undermine trust, may be appropriate."

"Challenging someone with severe memory impairment to 'face the truth' of certain situations—even those that seem benign to someone else—can cause agitation and fear, and can break trust, too. It’s a delicate, individual balance," she also notes.

A Word From Verywell

So while honesty is usually the best policy, there are exceptions. Just about all religions and belief systems, however, extol the virtue of honesty. So while it’s okay to lie, in most cases, it’s better to strive not to.

Columbia Journalism Review. The true origins of 'white lies .'

Levine E, Schweitzer M. Prosocial lies: When deception breeds trust . Org Behav Hum Decis Process . 2015;126:88-106. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2014.10.007

Garrett N, Lazzaro SC, Ariely D, Sharot T. The brain adapts to dishonesty .  Nat Neurosci . 2016;19(12):1727-1732. doi:10.1038/nn.4426

American Psychological Association. Lying less linked to better health, new research finds .

By Barbara Field Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.

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The Definition of Lying and Deception

Questions central to the philosophical discussion of lying to others and other-deception (interpersonal deceiving) may be divided into two kinds. Questions of the first kind are definitional or conceptual. They include the questions of how lying is to be defined, how deceiving is to be defined, and whether lying is always a form of deceiving. Questions of the second kind are normative — more particularly, moral. They include the questions of whether lying and deceiving are either defeasibly or non-defeasibly morally wrong, whether lying is morally worse than deceiving, and whether, if lying and deception are defeasibly morally wrong, they are merely morally optional on certain occasions, or are sometimes morally obligatory. In this entry, we only consider questions of the first kind.

1.1 Statement Condition

1.2 untruthfulness condition, 1.3 addressee condition, 1.4 intention to deceive the addressee condition, 1.5 objections to the traditional definition of lying, 2.1 simple deceptionism, 2.2 complex deceptionism, 2.3 moral deceptionism, 2.4 non-deceptionism, 3.1 objections to the traditional definition of deception, other internet resources, related entries, 1. traditional definition of lying.

There is no universally accepted definition of lying to others. The dictionary definition of lying is “to make a false statement with the intention to deceive” ( OED 1989) but there are numerous problems with this definition. It is both too narrow, since it requires falsity, and too broad, since it allows for lying about something other than what is being stated, and lying to someone who is believed to be listening in but who is not being addressed.

The most widely accepted definition of lying is the following: “A lie is a statement made by one who does not believe it with the intention that someone else shall be led to believe it” (Isenberg 1973, 248) (cf. “[lying is] making a statement believed to be false, with the intention of getting another to accept it as true” (Primoratz 1984, 54n2)). This definition does not specify the addressee, however. It may be restated as follows:

  • (L1) To lie = df to make a believed-false statement to another person with the intention that the other person believe that statement to be true.

L1 is the traditional definition of lying. According to L1, there are at least four necessary conditions for lying. First, lying requires that a person make a statement (statement condition). Second, lying requires that the person believe the statement to be false; that is, lying requires that the statement be untruthful (untruthfulness condition). Third, lying requires that the untruthful statement be made to another person (addressee condition). Fourth, lying requires that the person intend that that other person believe the untruthful statement to be true (intention to deceive the addressee condition).

These four necessary conditions need to be explained before objections to L1 can be entertained and alternative definitions can be considered.

According to the statement condition, lying requires that a person make a statement. Making a statement requires the use of conventional signs, or symbols . Conventional signs, such as “WOMEN” on the door to a restroom, are opposed to natural or causal signs, or indices , such as women coming in and out of a restroom, as well as signs that signify by resemblance, or icons , such as a figure with a triangular dress on the door to a restroom (cf. Grotius 2005, 2001; Pierce 1955; Grice 1989). Making a statement, therefore, requires the use of language. A commonly accepted definition of making a statement is the following: “ x states that p to y = df (1) x believes that there is an expression E and a language L such that one of the standard uses of E in L is that of expressing the proposition p ; (2) x utters E with the intention of causing y to believe that he, x , intended to utter E in that standard use” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 150).

It is possible for a person to make a statement using American Sign Language, smoke signals, Morse code, semaphore flags, and so forth, as well as by making specific bodily gestures whose meanings have been established by convention (e.g., nodding one's head in response to a question). Hence, it is possible to lie by these means. If it is granted that a person is not making a statement when he wears a wig, gives a fake smile, affects a limp, and so forth, it follows that a person cannot be lying by doing these things (Siegler 1966, 128). If it is granted that a person is not making a statement when, for example, she wears a wedding ring when she is not married, or wears a police uniform when she is not a police officer, it follows that she cannot be lying by doing these things.

In the case of a person who does not utter a declarative sentence, but who curses, or makes an interjection or an exclamation, or issues a command or an exhortation, or asks a question, or says “Hello,” then, if it is granted that she is not making a statement when she does any of these things, it follows that she cannot be lying by doing these things (Green 2001, 163–164; but see Leonard 1959).

An ironic statement, or a statement made as part of a joke, or a statement made by an actor while acting, or a statement made in a novel, is still a statement. More formally, the statement condition of L1 obeys the following three constraints (Stokke 2013a, 41):

  • If x makes a statement, this does not entail that x believes the statement to be true;
  • If x makes a statement, this does not entail that x intends her audience to believe the statement to be true;
  • If x makes a statement, this does not entail that x intends her audience to believe that x believes the statement to be true.

The statement condition is to be distinguished from a different putative necessary condition for lying, namely, the condition that an assertion be made. The assertion condition is not a necessary condition for lying, according to L1. For example, if Yin, who does not have a girlfriend, but who wants people to believe that he has a girlfriend, makes the ironic statement “Yeah, right, I have a girlfriend” in response to a question from his friend, Bolin, who believes that Yin is secretly dating someone, with the intention that Bolin believe that he actually does have a girlfriend, then this ‘irony lie’ is a lie according to L1, although it is not an assertion.

According to the statement condition, it is not possible to lie by omitting to make a statement (Mahon 2003; Griffiths 2004, 33). So-called ‘lies of omission’ (or ‘passive lying’ (Opie 1825)) are not lies (Douglas 1976, 59; Dynel 2011, 154). All lies are lies of commission. It is possible for a person to lie by remaining ‘silent,’ if the ‘silence’ is a previously agreed upon signal with others that is equivalent to making a statement (Fried 1978, 57). However, such a lie would not be a ‘lie of omission’ (see People v. Meza (1987) in which, on the basis of Californian Evidence Code that “‘Statement’” included “nonverbal conduct of a person intended by him as a substitute for oral or written verbal expression,” prospective juror’s Eric Luis Meza’s silence and failure to raise his hand in response to questions was “taken for a negative answer, i.e., a negative statement” ( People v. Meza 1987, 1647) and he was found guilty of perjury).

Note that the statement condition, all by itself, does not require that the statement be made to another person, or even that it be expressed aloud or in writing. One’s inner statements to oneself are statements, and, if other conditions are also met, can be “internal lies” (Kant 1996, 553–554).

According to the untruthfulness condition, lying requires that a person make an untruthful statement, that is, make a statement that she believes to be false. Note that this condition is to be distinguished from the putative necessary condition for lying that the statement that the person makes be false (Grotius 2005, 1209; Krishna 1961, 146). The falsity condition is not a necessary condition for lying according to L1.

Statements that are truthful may be false. If George makes the statement to Hillary (with the intention that Hillary believe that statement to be true), “The enemy has weapons of mass destruction,” and that statement is false, he is not lying if he does not believe that statement to be false.

Statements that are untruthful may be true. In Jean-Paul Sartre’s short-story, The Wall , set during the Spanish Civil War, Pablo Ibbieta, a prisoner sentenced to be executed by the Fascists, is interrogated by his guards as to the whereabouts of his comrade Ramon Gris. Mistakenly believing Gris to be hiding with his cousins, he makes the untruthful statement to them that “Gris is hiding in the cemetery” (with the intention that they believe this statement to be true). As it happens, Gris is hiding in the cemetery, and the statement is true. Gris is arrested at the cemetery, and Ibbieta is released (Sartre 1937; cf. Siegler 1966: 130). According to L1, Ibbieta lied to his interrogators, although the untruthful statement he made to them was true, and he did not deceive them about the whereabouts of Gris (Isenberg 1973, 248; Mannison 1969, 138; Lindley, 1971; Kupfer 1982, 104; Faulkner 2013).

If a person makes a truthful statement with the intention to deceive another person, then she is not lying, according to the untruthfulness condition. For example, if John and Mary are dating, and Valentino is Mary’s ex-boyfriend, and one evening “John asks Mary, ‘Have you seen Valentino this week?,’” and “Mary answers: ‘Valentino’s been sick with mononucleosis for the past two weeks,’” and “Valentino has in fact been sick with mononucleosis for the past two weeks, but it is also the case that Mary had a date with Valentino the night before” (Coleman and Kany 1981, 31), then Mary is not lying to John, even if she is attempting to deceive John. This is what is called a palter (see Schauer and Zeckhauser 2009; they illegitimately add that a palter must succeed in deceiving), or a false implicature (Adler 1997), or an attempt to mislead (Saul 2012b; Webber 2013).

In addition to palters not being lies, a double bluff is not a lie either according to the untruthfulness condition. If one makes a truthful statement, intending one’s addressee to believe that the statement is false, then one is not lying. Consider the following joke about two travelers on a train from Moscow (reputed to be Sigmund Freud's favorite joke) (Cohen 2002, 328):

Trofim: Where are you going? Pavel: To Pinsk. Trofim: Liar! You say you are going to Pinsk in order to make me believe you are going to Minsk. But I know you are going to Pinsk.

Pavel does not lie to Trofim, since his statement to Trofim is truthful, even if he intends that Trofim be deceived by this double bluff.

One implication of the untruthfulness condition is that if a person makes a statement that she believes to be neither true nor false, then she cannot be lying (Siegler 1966, 133; cf. Strawson 1952, 173). For example, if a person begging for money says “All my children need medical attention,” but believes that this proposition is neither true nor false, because he has no children, then he is not lying, even if he is attempting to deceive (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 155–6; but see Siegler 1966, 135).

It is a matter of debate as to whether it is possible to lie using metaphors. For example, if a gardener who has had a very bad crop of tomatoes says “We’ve got tomatoes coming out of our ears,” intending to deceive about his having a bumper crop, then this untruthful statement made with an intention to deceive is typically not considered a lie, because the untruthful statement is metaphorical (Saul 2012, 16). Nevertheless, some argue that it is possible to lie using metaphors (Adler 1997, 444 n. 27; Griffiths 2004, 36; Dynel 2011, 149). If literally false metaphorical statements can be truthful statements, according to the beliefs of the speaker, and hence, can be untruthful statements, according to the beliefs of the speaker, then the deceptive gardener is lying in this example according to L1.

According to the addressee condition, lying requires that a person make an untruthful statement to another person (or, strictly speaking, to a believed other person, since one might, e.g., mistake a waxed dummy for another person, and lie to it). That is, lying requires that a person address another person (Simpson 1992, 626). According to L1, it is not possible for me to lie to no one whatsoever (i.e., not even myself), and it is not possible to lie to someone whom one is not addressing but whom one believes is listening in on a conversation. For example, if Mickey and Danny both believe that the F.B.I. is monitoring their telephone conversation, and Mickey says to Danny, “The pick-up is at midnight tomorrow,” with the intention of deceiving the FBI agents listening in, then Mickey is not lying to the F.B.I. agents (this is a “bogus disclosure” (Newey 1997, 115)).

According to L1, it is possible to lie to a general audience. It is possible for a person to lie by publishing an untruthful report about an event (Kant 1997, 203), or by making an untruthful statement on a tax return, or by sending an untruthful e-mail to everyone on a mailing list, or by making an untruthful statement in a magazine advertisement or a television commercial. In these cases, the readers, hearers, watchers, etc., are the addressees.

According to the addressee condition, lying necessarily involves addressing someone whom you believe to be a person capable of understanding your statement and forming beliefs on that basis. It is not possible to lie to those whom you believe to be non-persons (goldfish, dogs, robots, etc.) or persons whom you believe cannot understand the statements that are made to them (infants, the insane, etc., as well as those whom you believe cannot understand the language you are speaking in). It is possible to lie to other persons via intermediaries which are not persons, however (e.g., entering false answers to questions asked by a bank’s ATM).

According to the intention to deceive the addressee condition, lying requires that a person make an untruthful statement to another person with the intention that that other person believe that untruthful statement to be true. Making ironic statements, telling jokes, writing fiction, acting in a play, and so forth, without the intention that the addressee believe these untruthful statements to be true, is not lying (Morris 1976, 391).

If x makes an untruthful statement to y , without the intention that y believe that untruthful statement to be true, but with the intention that y believe something else to be true that x believes to be true, then x is not lying to y , according to L1. Examples of such non-deceptive untruthful statements include polite untruths (Kant 1997, 27; Mahon 2003, 109). For example, if servant Igor makes the untruthful statement to unwelcome visitor Damian, “Madam is not at home,” without the intention that Damian believe it to be true that she is not home (that would be lying on Igor’s part), but with the intention that Damian believe it to be true that it is inconvenient for Madam to see Damian now, something that Igor believes to be true, then according to L1, Igor is not lying to Damian (Isenberg 1973, 256). However, for Igor to intend that Damian believe this, it must be the case that Igor believes that this is how Damian understands “Madam is not at home.” Polite untruths may be said to be examples of “falsifications but not lies,” since the person “says just what etiquette demands” (Shiffrin 2014, 19). As it has been said about untruthful statements situations “in which politeness requires some sort of remark” and the other person “knows quite well that the statement is false,” such statements “are not really lies” (Coleman and Kay 1981, 29). They are better considered as cases of speaking in code . Another example of a non-deceptive untruthful statement is what has been called an “ altruistic lie ” (Fallis 2009, 50; cf. Augustine 1952, 57), such as when a speaker makes an untruthful statement to a hearer whom he believes distrusts him, in order that the hearer will believe something that the speaker believes to be true. This is not a lie according to L1.

Such non-deceptive untruths are not to be confused with white lies , i.e., harmless lies (Bok 1978, 58; Sweetser 1987, 54; 52 n. 73) or prosocial lies (also called social lies ), i.e., lies that do not harm social life but protect it (Meibauer 2014, 152; Sweetser 1987, 54), or fibs , i.e., inconsequential lies told for selfish reasons (Sweetser 1987, 54). White lies, prosocial lies, and fibs are all intentionally deceptive, and are all lies according to L1 (Green 2001, 169). For example, “both American and Ecuadorian cultures would probably consider Jacobo’s reply to be a white lie,” and hence deceptive, in the following case presented to Ecuadorians by linguists: “Teresa just bought a new dress. Upon trying it on for the first time, she asks her husband Jacobo, ‘Does it look good on me?’ Jacobo responds, ‘Yes’ even though he really thinks that the dress is ugly and too tight” (Hardin 2010, 3207; cf. Dynel 2011, 160). Or, to take another example, “Some people would call it a white lie to tell a dying person whatever he or she needs to hear to die in peace” (Sweetser 1987, 54). Note that both white lies and prosocial lies are to be distinguished from “lies which most people would think justified by some higher good achieved but which would not be called white lies [or prosocial lies], since their informational consequences are too major (however moral),” such as “to lie to the Gestapo about the location of a Jew” (Sweetser 1987, 54).

According to the untruthfulness condition, it is not merely the case that the person who makes the untruthful statement intends that some other person believe the untruthful statement to be true; the person intends that the addressee believe the untruthful statement to be true. Also, according to this condition, it is not merely the case that the person intends that the addressee believe some statement to be true that the person believes to be false; the person intends that the addressee believe to be true the untruthful statement that is made to the addressee . If Maximilian is a crime boss, and Alessandro is one of his henchmen, whom he secretly believes is a police informant, and Maximilian makes the untruthful statement to Alessandro “There are no informants in my organization,” without the intention that Alessandro believe that statement to be true, but with the intention that Alessandro believe that Maximilian believes that statement to be true, then Maximilian is not lying according to L1 (Mahon 2008, 220). (Maximilian has, of course, attempted to deceive Alessandro). This conclusion has prompted some to revise L1 to include more than one intention to deceive.

According to the untruthfulness condition, it is sufficient for lying that the person who makes the untruthful statement intends that the addressee believe the untruthful statement to be true; it is not necessary that the addressee believe the untruthful statement to be true. That is, a lie remains a lie if it is disbelieved . If Sophie makes the untruthful statement to Nicole “I didn’t get any homework today,” with the intention that Nicole believe that statement to be true, and if Nicole does not believe that statement to be true, then Sophie is still lying. This is because ‘lie’ is not an achievement or success verb, and an act of lying is not a perlocutionary act. The existence of an act of lying does not depend upon the production of a particular response or state in the addressee (Mannison 1969, 135; Wood 1973: 199; MacCormick 1983, 9 n. 23; but see Reboul 1994). As it has been said, “It is very odd to think that whether a speaker lies hinges upon the persuasiveness of the speaker or the credulity of the listener” (Shiffrin 2014, 13).

Because L1 does not have an assertion condition, however, according to L1 it is possible to lie by making ironic statements, telling jokes, writing fiction, acting in a play, and so forth, if the person making the untruthful statement (somehow) intends that it be believed to be true, as in the case of the ‘irony lie’ above. Similarly, if someone intends to deceive using a joke—for example, if con artist David says “Yeah, I am a billionaire. That's why I am in this dive” to his mark, Greg, at a bar, intending that Greg believe that David is a billionaire who is attempting to to pass incognito in a bar—then this ‘joke lie’ is a lie according to L1. If a novelist were to write a novel with the intention that her audience believe that this was a true story disguised as a novel—a pretend roman à clef —then this ‘fiction lie’ would be a lie according to L1. If an actor in a play were to deliver an untruthful statement with the intention that his audience believe the statement to be true—say, if an an actor delivered a line about his life being too short with the intention that the audience believed that the actor was actually dying from some disease (“it is possible that the performance is part of an elaborate deception aimed at getting members of the audience to believe that the particular line from the play is actually true” (Fallis 2009, 56))—then this ‘acting lie’ would be a lie according to L1.

Two kinds of objections have been made to L1. First, objections have been made to each necessary condition, on the basis that it is not necessary for lying. According to these objections, L1 is too narrow. Second, objections have been made to the four necessary conditions being jointly sufficient for lying, on the basis that some further condition is necessary for lying. According to these objections, L1 is too broad.

1.5.1 Conditions Are Not Necessary

Against the statement condition of L1 it has been objected that the making of a statement is not necessary for lying. Lying to others may be defined as “ any form of behavior the function of which is to provide others with false information or to deprive them of true information” (Smith 2004, 14), or as “ a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue ” (Vrij 2000, 6). Importantly, this entails that lying can consist of simply withholding information with the intent to deceive, without making any statement at all (Ekman 1985, 28; Scott 2006, 4). Those who make this objection would make lying the same as intentionally deceiving (Ekman 1985, 26).

Against the untruthfulness condition of L1 it has been objected that an untruthful statement is not necessary for lying. This objection comes in a variety of forms. There are those who argue any statement made with an intention to deceive is a lie, including a truthful statement that is made with an intention to deceive (Barnes 1994, 11; Davidson 1980, 88). Lying may thus be defined as “any intentionally deceptive message that is stated ” (Bok 1978, 13). There are also those who, relying upon a Gricean account of conversational implicature (Grice 1989, 39)), argue that someone who makes a truthful statement but who thereby conversationally implicates a believed-false statement is lying (Meibauer 2011, 285; 2014a). Importantly, such an “untruthful implicature” (Dynel 2011, 159–160) is “directly intended” (Adler 1997, 446). Thirdly, there are those who argue for the possibility of “lying ironically” (Simpson 1992, 631), or indirect lying. If a speaker makes an ironic untruthful statement, then “Through this presentation of himself as insincerely asserting he presents himself as believing” the opposite of what he says, which is “capacity to… assert in-effect” (Simpson 1992, 630). If the person is “insincere in this” and actually does believe in the truth of what he states, despite invoking trust in his believing its opposite, then “this is a lie (an indirect lie, we might say)” (Simpson 1992, 630). For example, if a person who is listening to a sappy pop song at a party is asked if she likes this kind of music and replies, ironically, “Yeah, right, I love this kind of music,” then she is lying if she actually does love this kind of music (cf. Dynel 2011, 148–149).

Against the untruthfulness condition it has also been objected that it is not necessary for lying that the statement that is made is believed to be false; it is sufficient that the statement is not believed to be true , or is believed to be probably false (Carson 2006, 298; 2010, 18). As it has been claimed, “Agnostics about the truth of their assertions who nonetheless assert them without qualification tell lies” (Shiffrin 2014, 13).

Against the addressee condition of L1 it has been objected that it is sufficient for lying that the untruthful statement is made, even if it is made to no one — not even to oneself (Griffiths 2004, 31). Lying may thus be defined as “conscious expression of other than what we believe” (Shibles 1985, 33). It has also been objected that it is possible to lie to third parties who are not addressees. In general, it is possible to distinguish between cases where “the hearer eavesdrops , unbeknown to the first and second parties” ( eavesdropping ), cases where “the speaker utters p to the interlocutor while the hearer, with the awareness of both other parties, listens in and knows that the first- and second-party know he is listening in… although it is for the interlocutor that the utterance is intended” ( kibbitzing ), as well as cases similar to kibbitzing except that “the utterance is also intended for the hearer [who knows that they know that he is listening in]” ( disclosure ), and cases similar to disclosure “except that although the first and second parties know that the hearer is listening in, the hearer does not know that they are listening in” ( bogus disclosure ) (Newey 1997, 115). Even if it is not possible to lie to eavesdroppers, or to those merely listening in, as in the case of kibbitzing, it may be possible to lie in the cases of bogus disclosure, as in the example above of Mickey saying to Danny, “The pick-up is at midnight tomorrow,” with the intention of deceiving the F.B.I. agents listening in. It may even be possible to lie in the case of disclosure. In the 1978 thriller Capricorn One about a Mars landing hoax, during a nationally televised transmission between the astronauts ‘in space’ and their wives at the control center, which is being monitored closely by NASA handlers, Colonel Charles Brubaker tells his wife Kay to tell his son that “When I get back, I’m gonna take him to Yosemite again, like last summer.” In fact he brought his son to a different place the previous summer (Flatbush, where a movie was being shot), something that his wife knows. According to this objection, Brubaker is lying to his NASA handlers about what he did last summer, even if they are not his addressees.

Against the addressee condition it has also been objected that it is possible to lie to an animal, a robot, etc., as well as to what might be another person—for example, if a home owner, woken up in the middle of the night and wondering if there are burglars below the stairs, shouts down, “I’m bringing my rifle down there,” although he has no rifle (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 157).

Against the intention to deceive the addressee condition of L1 it has been objected that, even if an intention to deceive the addressee is required for lying, it is not necessary that it be an intention to deceive the addressee about the content of the untruthful statement; it may be an intention to deceive the addressee about the beliefs of the speaker abut the statement—specifically, the belief that the untruthful statement is true (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 152; Williams 2002, 74; Reboul 1994, 294; Mahon 2008, 220; Tollefsen 2014, 24).

There are at least two ways in which L1 could be modified in response to this objection. First, it could be held that what is essential to lying is the intention to deceive the hearer about the speaker’s belief that the untruthful statement is true: “ x utters a sentence, ‘ S ,’ where ‘ S ’ means that p , in doing which either x expresses his belief that p , or x intends the person addressed to take it that x believes that p ” (Williams 2002, 74) and “the speaker believes [ p ] to be false” (Williams 2002, 96–97). L1 could therefore be modified as follows:

  • (L2) To lie = df to make a statement that p , where p is believed to be false, to another person, with the intention that the other person believe that p is believed to be true. (cf. Williams 2002, 74, 96–97)

Alternatively, L1 could be modified to incorporate either intention, as follows:

  • (L3) To lie = df to make a believed-false statement (to another person), either with the intention that that statement be believed to be true (by the other person), or with the intention that it be believed (by the other person) that that statement is believed to be true (by the person making the statement), or with both intentions. (Mahon 2008, 227–228)

Against this condition it has also been argued that it is not necessary that it be an intention to deceive the addressee about either the content of the untruthful statement or about the beliefs of the speaker about the untruthful statement. It is sufficient that there is an intention to deceive about some matter—that is, it is sufficient that the speaker intend that the hearer believe to be true something that the speaker believes to be false. Note that those who make this objection would turn lying into any deception involving untruthful statements. If this objection were combined with the objection that lying could be directed to third parties (as in bogus disclosure, or disclosure), L1 could be modified, as follows:

  • (L4) To lie = df to make a believed-false statement, to another person or in the believed hearing of another person, with the intention that some other person—the person addressed or the other person in the believed hearing—believe some believed-false statement to be true. (Newey 1997, 100)

Against this condition it has also been objected that although there is “a necessary relationship between lying and deception,” nevertheless this intention should be understood merely as the intention to be deceptive to another person, which is the intention “to conceal information ” from the other person (Lackey 2013, 5–7). According to this objection, concealing evidence, understood as hiding evidence or keeping evidence secret, counts as being deceptive to another person. L1 could be modified, as follows:

  • (L5) x lies to y if and only if (i) x states that p to y , (ii) x believes that p is false and (iii) x intends to be deceptive to y in stating that p . (Lackey 2013, 237)

Finally, against this intention to deceive the addressee condition it has been objected that no intention to deceive is required for lying (Shibles 1985, 33; Kemp and Sullivan 1993, 153; Griffiths 2004, 31; Carson et al. 1982; Carson 1988; 2006; 2010; Sorensen 2007; 2010; 2011; Fallis, 2009; 2010; 2012; 2015; Saul, 2012a; 2012b; Stokke 2013a, 2013b; 2014; Shiffrin 2014). If the sworn-in witness in the trial of a violent criminal goes on the record and gives untruthful testimony—in order, for example, to avoid being killed by the defendant or any of his criminal associates—without any intention that that testimony be believed to be true by any person (not the jury, the judge, the lawyers, the journalists covering the trial, the people in the gallery, the readers of the newspaper reports, etc.), then the witness is still lying (but see Jones 1986). Such non-deceptive lies are lies according to this objection (but see Lackey 2013 for the argument that these lies are intentionally deceptive, and Fallis 2015 for the argument that they are not intentionally deceptive).

1.5.2 Conditions Are Not Jointly Sufficient

It has been objected that L1 is not sufficient for lying because it is also necessary that the untruthful statement be false (Coleman and Kay 1981, 28; OED , 1989; Moore 2000). This is the falsity condition for lying (Grimaltos and Rosell forthcoming, see Other Internet Resources). For most objectors the falsity condition supplements L1 and makes this definition of lying even narrower (e.g., Coleman and Kay 1981). For other objectors the falsity condition is part of a different definition of lying, and makes that definition narrower (Carson 2006, 284; 2010, 17; Saul 2012b, 6).

It has been objected that L1 is not sufficient for lying because it is also necessary to intend that that other person believe that that statement is believed to be true (Frankfurt 1999, 96; Simpson 1992, 625; Faulkner 2007, 527). If Harry makes the untruthful statement “I have no change in my pocket” to Michael, but Harry does not intend that Michael believe that Harry believes it to be true, then Harry is not lying to Michael, even if Harry intends that Michael believe it to be true (Frankfurt 1986, 85; 1999, 96). This additional condition would make L1 even narrower, since it would have the result that Maximilian is not lying to Alessandro in the example above.

Finally, it has been objected that L1 is insufficient because lying requires that an untruthful assertion be made, and not merely that an untruthful statement be made. This is the assertion condition for lying. According to this objection, one is not lying when one makes a deceptive untruthful ironic statement (‘irony lie’), or a deceptive untruthful joke (‘joke lie’), or a deceptive untruthful fiction (‘fiction lie’), or deceptive untruthful acting (‘acting life’), since in none of these cases is one making an assertion. For most objectors the assertion condition supplements L1 and makes L1 even narrower (Chisholm and Feehan 1977; Fried 1978; Simpson 1992; Williams 2002; Faulkner 2007). For others the assertion condition is part of a different definition of lying, and makes that definition narrower (Sorensen 2007; Fallis 2009; Stokke 2013a).

The most important objection to L1 is that lying does not require an intention to deceive. This has led to a division amongst those writing on the definition of lying.

2. Deceptionism vs. Non-Deceptionism About Lying

There are two positions held by those who write on the definition of lying: Deceptionism and Non-Deceptionism (Mahon 2014). The first group, Deceptionists, hold that an intention to deceive is necessary for lying. Deceptionists may be divided further in turn into Simple Deceptionists, who hold that lying requires the making of an untruthful statement with an intention to deceive; Complex Deceptionists, who hold that lying requires the making of an untruthful assertion with the intention to deceive by means of a breach of trust or faith; and Moral Deceptionists, who hold that lying requires the making of an untruthful statement with the intention to deceive, as well as the violation of a moral right of another or the moral wronging of another. The second group, Non-Deceptionists, hold that an intention to deceive is not necessary for lying. They see the traditional definition as both incorrect and insufficient. Non-Deceptionists may be further divided into Simple Non-Deceptionists, who hold that the making of an untruthful statement is sufficient for lying, and Complex Non-Deceptionists, who hold that a further condition, in addition to making an untruthful statement, is required for lying. Some Complex Non-Deceptionists hold that lying requires warranting the truth of what is stated, and other Complex Non-Deceptionists hold that lying requires the making of an untruthful assertion.

Simple Deceptionists include those who defend L1 (Isenberg 1973; Primoratz 1984) as well as those who defend the modified versions of this definition: L2 (Williams 2002), L3 (Mahon 2008), L4 (Newey 1997), and L5 (Lackey 2013). For Simple Deceptionists, lying requires the making of an untruthful statement with an intention to deceive, but it does not require the making of an assertion or a breach of trust or faith.

Complex Deceptionists hold that, in addition to requiring an intention to deceive, lying requires the making of an untruthful assertion , as well as (or which therefore entails) a breach of trust or faith . Roderick Chisholm and Thomas Feehan hold that one is only making an assertion to another person if one makes a statement to another person and one believes that the conditions are such that the other person is justified in believing both that one believes one’s statement to be true and that one intends that the other person believe that one believes one’s statement to be true: “ x asserts p to y = df x states p to y and does so under conditions which, he believes, justify y in believing that he, x , not only accepts p , but also intends to contribute causally to y ’s believing that he, x , accepts p ” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 152).

A lie is an untruthful assertion, that is, the speaker believes the statement that is made is not true , or is false :

x lies to y = df There is a proposition p such that (i) either x believes that p is not true or x believes that p is false and (ii) x asserts p to y . (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 152)

In the case of a lie, the speaker is attempting to get the hearer to believe a falsehood. Note, however, that this falsehood is not (normally) what the speaker is stating. Rather, the falsehood that the speaker is attempting to get the hearer to believe is that the speaker believes the statement to be true . This is the intention to deceive in lying (although, strictly speaking, deception is foreseen and not intended (“Essentially, under this definition, you are only lying if you expect that you will be successful in deceiving someone about what you believe” (Fallis 2009, 45)).

The speaker is also attempting to get the hearer to have this false belief about what the speaker believes “in a special way—by getting his victim to place his faith in him” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 149). This is the breach of trust or breach of faith in lying: “Lying, unlike the other types of deception, is essentially a breach of faith” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 153). Their complete definition of a lie may be stated as follows:

  • (L6) To lie = df to (i) make a believed-false or believed-not-true statement to another person; (ii) believe that the conditions are such that the other person is justified in believing that the statement is believed to be true by the person making the statement; (iii) believe that the conditions are such that the other person is justified in believing that the person making the statement intends to contribute causally to the other person believing that the statement is believed to be true by the person making the statement. (Chisholm and Feehan 1977; cf. Guenin 2005)

According to L6 it not possible to lie if the speaker believes that the conditions are such that the hearer is not justified in believing that the speaker is making a truthful statement. Kant provides an example in which a thief grabs a victim by the throat and asks him where he keeps his money. If the victim were to make the untruthful statement, “I have no money,” Kant says that this is not a lie, “for the other knows that… he also has no right whatever to demand the truth from me” (Kant 1997, 203; but see Mahon 2009). Chisholm and Feehan hold that the victim is not making an assertion, and hence, is not lying, given that the victim believes that the thief is not justified in believing that the victim is being truthful (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 154–155; but see Strudler 2009 (cf. Strudler 2005; 2010), for the argument that the thief can believe that the victim is credible, even if not trustworthy, because he is motivated by the threat of violence).

Charles Fried also holds that lying requires an assertion and a breach of faith, but he rejects L6, arguing that it is possible for the victim to lie to the thief in Kant’s example (Fried 1978, 55 n1). According to him, making an assertion involves making a statement and intending to cause belief in the truth of that statement by giving an implicit “warranty”or an implicit “ promise or assurance that the statement is true” (Fried 1978, 57). When one asserts, one intends to “invite belief, and not belief based on the evidence of the statement so much as on the faith of the statement” (Fried 1978, 56). A lie is an untruthful assertion. The speaker intends to cause belief in the truth of a statement that the speaker believes to be false. Hence, a lie involves an intention to deceive. The speaker also implicitly assures or promises the hearer that the statement that is made is true. Hence, the speaker is giving an insincere assurance, or breaking a promise— “in lying the promise is made and broken at the same moment”— and every lie involves a “breach of trust” (Fried 1978, 67).

Fried’s definition of lying may be stated as follows (modified to include cases in which speakers only intend to deceive about their beliefs):

  • (L7) To lie = df to (i) make a believed-false statement to another person; (ii) intend that that other person believe that the statement is true [and that the statement is believed to be true] [or intend that the other person believe that the statement is believed to be true]; (iii) implicitly assure the other person that the statement is true; (iv) intend that that other person believe that the statement is true [and that the statement is believed to be true] [or intend that the other person believe that the statement is believed to be true] on the basis of this implicit assurance. (Fried 1978)

David Simpson also holds that lying requires an assertion and a breach of faith. In asserting “we present ourselves as believing something while and through invoking (although not necessarily gaining) the trust of the one” to whom we assert (Simpson 1992, 625). This “invocation of trust occurs through an act of ‘open sincerity’” according to which “we attempt to establish… both that we believe some proposition and that we intend them to realize that we believe it” (Simpson 1992, 625). Lying is “insincere assertion” in the sense that “the asserter’s requisite belief is missing” (Simpson 1992, 625). This entails that someone who lies aims to deceive in three ways. First, “we have the intention that someone be in error regarding some matter, as we see the fact of the matter” (Simpson 1992, 624). This is the “primary deceptive intention” (Simpson 1992, 624). Second, we intend to deceive the other person “regarding our belief regarding that matter… We don’t lie about this belief, but we intend to deceive regarding it” (Simpson 1992, 624). We intend that they be deceived, about whatever matter it is, on the basis of their being deceived about our belief in this matter. Finally, someone who lies “insincerely invokes trust” (Simpson 1992, 625). We intend that they be deceived about our belief in this matter on the basis of this insincere invocation of trust. Other forms of intended deception that are not lies do not attempt to deceive “by way of a trust invoked through an open sincerity” (Simpson 1992, 626). This is what makes lies special: “it involves a certain sort of betrayal” (Simpson 1992, 626).

Since it is possible to lie without having the primary deceptive intention, Simpson’s definition needs to be modified accordingly:

  • (L8) To lie = df to: (i) make a statement to another person; (ii) lack belief in the truth of the statement; (iii) intend that the other person believe: (a) that the statement is true and that the statement is believed to be true [or (b) that the statement is believed to be true]; (iv) intend that the other person believe: (c) that it is intended that the other person believe that the statement is true; (d) that it is intended that the other person believe that the statement is believed to be true; (v) invoke trust in the other person that the statement is believed to be true by means of an act of ‘open sincerity’; (vi) intend that the other person believe (a), or (b), on the basis of (v). (Simpson 1992)

Paul Faulkner holds that lying necessarily involves telling someone something, which necessarily involves invoking trust. He distinguishes between telling and making an assertion, and argues that in certain cases the implication of my assertion “is sufficiently clear that I can be said to have told you this” (Faulkner 2013, 3102) even if I did not assert this. He defines telling as follows: “ x tells y that p if and only if (i) x intends that y believe that p , and (ii) x intends that y believe that p because y recognizes that (i)” (Faulkner 2013, 3103). In telling another person something, the speaker intends that the hearer believe what she is stating or implying, but she intends that the hearer believe what she is stating or implying for the reason that “ y [the hearer] believes x [the speaker]” (Faulkner 2013, 3102). It follows that tellings “operate by invoking an audience’s trust” (Faulkner 2013, 3103). In lying, the speaker intends that the hearer believe what she is stating or implying on the basis of trust: “In lying, a speaker does not intend his audience accept his lie because of independent evidence but intends his audience accept his lie because of his telling it . The motivation for presenting his assertion as sincere is to thereby ensure that an audience treats his intention that the audience believe that p as a reason for believing that p ” (Faulkner, 2007, 527) A lie is an untruthful telling. The speaker believes that what she asserts or implies is false, she intends that the hearer believe that what she states or implies is true, she intends that the hearer believe that she intends this, and she intends that this be the reason that the hearer believes that what she states or implies is true: “ x ’s utterance U to y is a lie if and only if (i) in uttering U , x tells y that p , and (ii) x believes that p is false” (Faulkner 2013, 3103).

Faulkner’s definition of lying also needs to be modified to include cases in which speakers only intend to deceive about their beliefs:

  • (L9) To lie = df to (i) utter some proposition to another person; (ii) believe that the proposition is false; (iii) intend that the other person believe that the proposition is true and is believed to be true [or intend that the other person believe that the proposition is believed to be true]; (iv) intend that the other person believe that it is intended that the other person believe that the proposition is true; (v) intend that the other person believe that the proposition is true and is believed to be true [or intend that the other person believe that the proposition is believed to be true] for the reason that it is intended that the other person believe that the proposition is true. (Faulkner 2007; 2013)

It is an implication of Complex Deceptionist definitions of lying that certain cases of putative lies are not lies because no assertion is made. Consider the following case of an (attempted) confidence trick double bluff (Newey 1997, 98). Sarah, with collaborator Charlie, wants to play a confidence trick on Andrew. She wants Andrew to buy shares in Cadbury. She decides to deceive Andrew into thinking that Kraft is planning a takeover bid for Cadbury. Sarah knows that Andrew distrusts her. If she tells him that Kraft is planning a takeover bid for Cadbury, he will not believe her. If she tells him that there is no takeover bid, in an (attempted) double bluff, he might believe the opposite of what she says, and so be deceived. But this simple double bluff is too risky on its own. So Sarah gets Charlie, whom Andrew trusts, to lie to him that Kraft is about to launch a takeover bid for Cadbury. She also gets Charlie to tell Andrew that she believes that it is false that Kraft is about to launch a takeover bid for Cadbury. Sarah then goes to Andrew, and tells him, “Kraft is about to launch a takeover bid for Cadbury.” She does not intend that Andrew believe that she believes that Kraft is about to launch a takeover bid for Cadbury. However, she intends that he believe that she is mistaken, and that in fact Kraft is about to launch a takeover bid for Cadbury. As a result, he will be deceived.

According to L6, L7, L8, and L9, Sarah is not lying, because she is not asserting anything. According to Simpson, for example, Sarah would only be “ pretending to invoke trust” (Simpson 1992, 628), and would not be invoking trust. In such a case, the speaker intends to represent himself as “ intending to represent himself as believing what he does not” (Simpson 1992, 628). In order to lie, “one must pretend sincerity, but also act on an intention that this sincerity be accepted—otherwise one is pretending to lie, and not lying” (Simpson 1992, 629). Sarah would be merely pretending to lie to Andrew, in order to deceive him.

Another case of a putative lie that is not a lie according to Complex Deceptionist definitions of lying is a triple bluff (cf. Faulkner 2007, 527). Imagine an even more devious Pavel, from the example above, telling an openly distrustful Trofim, in response to Trofim's question, that he is going to “Pinsk.” He is actually going to Minsk, but he answers“Pinsk” in order to have Trofim believe that he is attempting a double bluff. If it works, Trofim will respond by telling him “Liar! You say you are going to Pinsk in order to make me believe you are going to Minsk. But I know you are going to Pinsk.” According to L6, L7, L8, and L9, Pavel is not lying to Trofim. He is pretending to attempt to deceive him with a double bluff, in order to actually attempt to deceive him with a triple bluff. At no point is he invoking trust, and breaching that trust.

Moral Deceptionists hold that in addition to making an untruthful statement with an intention to deceive, lying requires the violation of a moral right of another, or the moral wronging of another.

According to Chisholm and Feehan, every lie is a violation of the right of a hearer, since “It is assumed that, if a person x asserts a proposition p to another person y , then y has the right to expect that x himself believes p . And it is assumed that x knows, or at least that he ought to know, that, if he asserts p to y , while believing himself that p is not true, then he violates this right of y ’s” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 153, [variables have been changed for uniformity]). Nevertheless, it is not part of their definition of lying that lying involves the violation of the right of another person. According to most philosophers, the claim that lying is (either defeasibly or non-defeasibly) morally wrong is “a synthetic judgment and not an analytic one” (Kemp and Sullivan 1993, 153). However, ‘lie’ is considered by some philosophers to be a thick ethical term that it both describes a type of action and morally evaluates that type of action negatively (Williams 1985, 140). For some philosophers, “the wrongfulness of lying is… built into the definition of the term” (Kemp and Sullivan 1993, 153). For these philosophers, the claim that lying is (either defeasibly or non-defeasibly) morally wrong is a tautology (Margolis 1962).

According to Hugo Grotius, it is part of the meaning of ‘lie’ when it is “strictly taken” that it involves “the Violation of a Real right” of the person lied to, namely, “the Freedom of him… to judge” (Grotius 2005, 1212). One can only lie to someone who possesses this right to exercise liberty of judgment. Grotius’s definition of lying is therefore as follows (modified accordingly):

  • (L10) To lie = df to make a believed-false statement to another person, with the intention that that other person believe that statement to be true (or believe that the statement is believed to be true, or both), violating that person’s right to exercise liberty of judgment. (Grotius 2005)

According to L10, one cannot lie to “Children or Madmen,” for example, since they lack the right of liberty of judgment (Grotius 2005, 1212). One cannot lie to someone who has given “express Consent” to be told untruths, since he has given up the right to exercise his liberty of judgment about these matters (Grotius 2005, 1214). One cannot lie to someone who by “tacit Consent” or presumed consent “founded upon just Reason” has given up the right to exercise his liberty of judgment about some matter, “on account of the Advantage, that he shall get by it,” such as when “a Person… comforts his sick Friend, by making him believe what is false,” since “ no Wrong is done to him that is willing ” (Grotius 2005, 1215–1217). Furthermore, “he who has an absolute Right over all the Rights of another,” is not lying when he “makes use of that Right, in telling something false, either for his particular Advantage, or for the publick Good” (Grotius 2005, 1216–1218). The right to exercise one’s liberty of judgment can also be taken away in cases “When the life of an innocent Person, or something equal to it,” is at stake, or when “the Execution of a dishonest Act be otherwise prevented” (Grotius 2005, 1221). In such a case, the person has forfeited his right, and “speaking falsely to those—like thieves—to whom truthfulness is not owed cannot be called lying” (Bok 1978, 14).

Alan Donagan also incorporates moral conditions into his definition of lying (modified to include cases in which speakers only intend to deceive about their beliefs):

  • (L11) To lie = df to freely make a believed-false statement to another fully responsible and rational person, with the intention that that other person believe that statement to be true [or the intention that that other person believe that that statement is believed to be true, or both]. (Donagan 1977)

According to L11, it is not possible to lie to “children, madmen, or those whose minds have been impaired by age or illness” (Donagan 1977, 89), since they are not fully responsible and rational persons. It is also not possible to lie to “a would-be murderer who threatens your life if you will not tell him where his quarry has gone” (Donagan 1977, 89), and in general when you are acting under duress in any way (such as a witness in fear of his life on the witness stand, or a victim being robbed by a thief), since statements made in such circumstances are not freely made.

It has been objected that these moral deceptionist definitions are unduly narrow and restrictive (Bok 1978). Surely, for example, it is possible to lie to a would-be murderer, whether it is impermissible, as some absolutist deontologists maintain (Augustine 1952; Aquinas 1972 (cf. MacIntyre 1995b); Kant 1996 (cf. Mahon 2006); Newman 1880; Geach 1977; Betz 1985; Pruss 1999; Tollefsen 2014), or permissible (i.e., either optional or obligatory), as consequentialists and moderate deontologists maintain (Constant 1964; Mill 1863; Sidgwick 1981; Bok 1978; MacIntyre 1995a; cf. Kagan 1998).

It has also been objected that these moral deceptionist definitions are morally lax (Kemp and Sullivan 1993, 158–9). By rendering certain deceptive untruthful statements to others as non- lies, they make it permissible to act in a way that would otherwise be open to moral censure. In general, even those philosophers who hold that all lies have an inherent negative weight, albeit such that it can be overridden, and hence, who hold that lying is defeasibly morally wrong, do not incorporate moral necessary conditions into their definitions of lying (Bok 1978; Kupfer 1982; cf. Wiles 1988).

Non-Deceptionists hold that an intention to deceive is not necessary for lying.

For Simple Non-Deceptionists (Augustine 1952 (cf. Griffiths 2003, 31); Aquinas 1952; Shibles 1985), there is nothing more to lying than making an untruthful statement. According to Aquinas, for example, a jocose lie is a lie. This position is not defended by contemporary philosophers.

For Complex Non-Deceptionists, untruthfulness is not sufficient for lying. In order to differentiate lying from telling jokes, being ironic, acting, etc., a further condition must be met. For some Complex Non-Deceptionists, that further condition is warranting the truth of the untruthful statement. For other Complex Non-Deceptionists, that condition is making an assertion.

Thomas Carson holds that it is possible to lie by making a false and untruthful statement to an addressee without intending to deceive the addressee, so long as the statement is made in a context such that one “warrants the truth” of the statement (and one does not believe oneself to be not warranting the truth of the statement), or one intends to warrant the truth of the statement:

  • (L12) A person x tells a lie to another person y iff (i) x makes a false statement p to y , (ii) x believes that p is false or probably false (or, alternatively, x does not believe that p is true), (iii) x states p in a context in which x thereby warrants the truth of p to y , and (iv) x does not take herself to be not warranting the truth of what she says to y . (Carson 2006, 298; 2010, 30)
  • (L13) A person x tells a lie to another person y iff (i) x makes a false statement p to y , (ii) x believes that p is false or probably false (or, alternatively, x does not believe that p is true), and (iii) x intends to warrant the truth of p to y . (Carson 2010, 37)

Carson includes the falsity condition in both of his definitions; however, he is prepared to modify both definitions so that the falsity condition is not required (Carson 2010, 39). He also holds that the untruthfulness condition is not stringent enough, since, if a speaker simply does “not believe” her statement to be true (but does not believe it to be false), or believes that her statement is “probably false” (but does not believe it to be false), then she is lying.

Carson gives two examples of non-deceptive lies: a guilty student who tells a college dean that he did not cheat on an examination, without intending that the dean believe him (since “he is really hard-boiled, he may take pleasure in thinking that the Dean knows he is guilty”), because he knows that the dean’s policy is not to punish a student for cheating unless the student admits to cheating, and a witness who provides untruthful (and false) testimony about a defendant, where there is a preponderance of evidence against the defendant, without the intention that the testimony be believed by anyone, in order to avoid suffering retaliation from the defendant and/or his henchmen (Carson 2006, 289; 2010, 21). Neither person is lying according to the definitions of lying of Simple Deceptionists (L1, L2, L3, L4, and L5) or Complex Deceptionists (L6, L7, L8, and L9) (cf. Simpson 1992, 631) or Moral Deceptionists (L10, L11). Both are lying according to L12 and L13, because each warrants the truth of his statement, even though neither intends to deceive his addressee.

It has been argued that the witness and the student do have an intention to deceive (Meibauer 2011, 282; 2014a, 105). It has also been argued that they are being deceptive, even if they lack an intention that their untruthful statements be believed to be true (Lackey 2013; but see Fallis 2015). However, it has also been argued that they fail to warrant the truth of their statements, and hence fail to be lying according to L12 and L13. One argument is that, in the witness example, the statement is coerced, and “Coerced speech acts are not genuinely assertoric” (Leland 2013, 3; cf. Kenyon 2010). “In the context of a threat of violent death, the mere fact that he is speaking under oath is not sufficient to institute an ordinary warranting context” (Leland 2013, 4). Another argument is that the witness and the student are not warranting the truth of their statements because they believe that their audiences believe that they are being untruthful.

Carson has said that “If one warrants the truth of a statement, then one promises or guarantees, ether explicitly or implicitly, that what one says is true” (Carson 2010, 26) and “Warranting the truth of a statement presupposes that the statement is being used to invite or influence belief. It does not make sense for one to guarantee the truth of something that one is not inviting or influencing others to believe” (Carson 2010, 36). The result is that to lie is to breach trust: “To lie, on my view, is to invite others to trust and rely on what one says by warranting its truth, but, at the same time, to betray that trust by making false statements that one does not believe” (Carson 2010, 34). The combination of warranting the truth of one’s statement and breaching trust would appear to make Carson’s definition of lying similar to that of Complex Deceptionists such as Chisholm and Feehan. It would also appear to produce similar results. For example, Carson says the following about negotiators:

In the US, it is common and often a matter of course for people to deliberately misstate their bargaining positions during negotiations. Such statements are lies according to standard dictionary definitions of lying—they are intentional false statements intended to deceive others. However, given my first definition of lying [L12], such cases are not lies unless the negotiator warrants the truth of what he says… Suppose that two “hardened” cynical negotiators who routinely misstate their intentions, and do not object when others do this to them, negotiate with each other. Each person recognizes that the other party is a cynical negotiator, and each is aware of the fact that the other party knows this. In this sort of case, statements about one’s minimum or maximum price are not warranted to be true. (Carson 2010, 191)

If a negotiator makes an untruthful statement, “That is the highest I can go,” to another negotiator, then, since the negotiator believes that the other negotiator believes that he is making an untruthful statement, he cannot intend to warrant the truth of his statement, and/or the context (of negotiation) is such that he is not warranting the truth of his statement. As a result, he is is not lying, according to L12. He is not lying according to L13, either, at least if it is true that you cannot “intend to do something that you do not expect to succeed at” (Fallis 2009, 43 n 48; cf. Newey 1997, 96–97).

It seems that the same thing can be said about the student and the witness. If the student believes that the dean already knows he is guilty, and if the witness believes that the jury, etc., already knows that the defendant is guilty, then it seems that neither can intend to warrant the truth of his statement, and/or the context is such that neither is warranting the truth of his statement. If this is so, then neither is lying according to L12 and L13. Carson has said, about their Complex Deceptionist definition of lying, “Chisholm and Feehan’s definition has the very odd and unacceptable result that a notoriously dishonest person cannot lie to people who he knows distrust him” (Carson 2010, 23). It does seem, however, that Carson’s definition has the same result.

Jennifer Saul also holds that it is possible to lie without intending to deceive. She has provided a modified version of L12 that combines the warranting context condition, and the not believing that one is not warranting condition, in the single condition of believing that one is in a warranting context :

  • (L14) If the speaker is not the victim of linguistic error/malapropism or using metaphor, hyperbole, or irony, then they lie iff (i) they say that p ; (ii) they believe p to be false; (iii) they take themselves to be in a warranting context. (Saul 2012, 3)

According to Saul, it is not possible to lie if one does not believe that one is in a warranting context. Saul considers the case of a putative lie told in a totalitarian state: “This is the case of utterances demanded by a totalitarian state. These utterances of sentences supporting the state are made by people who don’t believe them, to people who don’t believe them. Everyone knows that false things are being said, and that they are only being said only because they are required by the state. […] It seems somewhat reasonable to suggest that, since everyone is forced to make these false utterances, and everyone knows they are false, they cease to be genuine lies” (Saul 2012, 9). Saul adds that “People living in a totalitarian state, making pro-state utterances, are a trickier case (which they should be). Whether or not their utterances are made in contexts where a warrant of truth is present is not at all clear” (Saul 2012, 11). If a speaker is making an untruthful statement to a hearer, and “Everyone knows that false things are being said,” that is, the speaker knows that the hearer knows that the speaker is being untruthful, then the speaker does not believe that she is in a warranting context. According to L14, the speaker is not lying. However, it is arguable that in both the student and the witness cases, “Everyone knows that false things are being said,” and hence, that the speaker does not believe that he is in a warranting context. If this is so, then according to L14, neither the student nor the witness is lying.

Roy Sorensen agrees with Carson that lying does not require an intention to deceive, and that there can be non-deceptive “bald-faced” lies (Sorensen 2007) and “knowledge-lies” (Sorensen 2010). However, he rejects L12, since it entails that one cannot lie when the falsity of what one is stating is common knowledge: “Carson’s definition of lying does not relieve the narrowness. The concept of warrant is not broad enough to explain how we can lie in the face of common knowledge. One can warrant p only if p might be the case. When the falsehood of p is common knowledge, no party to the common knowledge can warrant p because p is epistemically impossible” (Carson 2007, 254). According to Sorensen, a negotiator who tells “a falsehood that will lead to better coordination between buyer and seller” is telling a bald-faced lie (Sorensen 2007, 262).

Sorensen defines lying as follows: “Lying is just asserting what one does not believe” (Sorensen 2007, 256). It is a condition on telling a lie that one makes an assertion. Sorensen differentiates between assertions and non-assertions according to “narrow plausibility”: “To qualify as an assertion, a lie must have narrow plausibility. Thus, someone who only had access to the assertion might believe it. This is the grain of truth behind ‘Lying requires the intention to deceive.’ Bald-faced lies show that assertions do not need to meet a requirement of wide plausibility, that is, credibility relative to one’s total evidence” (Sorensen 2007, 255).

Sorensen provides, as examples of assertions, and hence, lies, the servant of a maestro telling an unwanted female caller that the sounds she hears over the phone are not the maestro and that the servant is merely “dusting the piano keys,” and a doctor in an Iraqi hospital during the Iraq war telling a journalist who can see patients in the ward in uniforms that “I see no uniforms” (Sorensen 2007, 253). The claim that these are assertions, however, and therefore lies, is controversial (cf. Keiser 2015). These statements neither express the speaker’s belief, nor aim to affect the belief of the addressee in any way, since their falsehood is common knowledge (cf. Williams 2002, 74). As it has been said: “Sorensen does not offer a definition of asserting a proposition (with necessary and sufficient conditions)… To the extent that he does not fully analyze the concept of assertion, Sorensen’s definition of lying is unclear” (Carson 2010, 36). It may be argued against Sorensen that the “utterances in question are not assertions” (Keiser 2015, 12), and hence, on his own account, fail to be lies.

Don Fallis also holds that it is possible to lie without intending to deceive. He has also defended the assertion condition for lying: “you lie when you assert something that you believe to be false” (Fallis 2009, 33). He has held that you assert something when you you make a statement and you believe that you are in a situation in which the Gricean norm of conversation, ‘Do not say what you believe to be false,’ is in effect. His definition of lying was thus as follows:

You lie to x if and only if (i) you state that p to x , (2) you believe that you make this statement in a context where the following norm of conversation is in effect: Do not make statements that you believe to be false, and (iii) you believe that p is false. (Fallis 2009, 34).

Counterexamples to this definition (Pruss 2012; Faulkner 2013; Stokke 2013a) have prompted a revision of this definition in order to accommodate these counterexamples:

  • (L15) You lie if and only if you say that p , you believe that p is false (or at least that p will be false if you succeed in communicating that p ), and you intend to violate the norm of conversation against communicating something false by communicating that p (Fallis 2012, 569)
  • (L16) You lie if and only if you say that p , you believe that p is false (or at least that p will be false if you succeed in communicating that p ), and you intend to communicate something false by communicating that p . (Fallis 2012, 569)

Both L15 and L16 are able to accommodate the following counterexample to the earlier definition: “when Marc Antony said to the Roman people, ‘Brutus is an honorable man’ … the citizens of Rome know that (a) Antony did not believe that Brutus was an honorable man, that (b) Antony was subject to a norm against saying things that he believed to be false, and that (c) Antony had been a cooperative participant in the conversation so far. Thus, they were led to conclude that Antony was flouting the norm in order to communicate something other than what he literally uttered. In fact, the best explanation of his statement was that he wanted to communicate the exact opposite of what he literally uttered” (Fallis 2012, 567). Since Antony does not intend to violate the norm of conversation against communicating something that he believes to be false (that Brutus is an honorable man) by saying “Brutus is an honorable man,” or, more simply, since Antony does not intend to communicate something false with his untruthful statement, it follows that Antony is not lying. However, in the case of a guilty witness, Tony, against whom there is overwhelming evidence, who says “I did not do it,” without the intention that anyone believe him, he does intend to violate the norm of conversation against communicating something that he believes to be false (that he did not do it) by saying “I did not do it,” or, more simply, he does intend to communicate something believed-false with his untruthful statement, even though he does not intend that anyone believe this.

It has been contended that non-deceptive liars do not intend to communicate anything believed-false with their untruthful statements, and, indeed, may even intend to communicate something believed-true with their untruthful statements (Dynel 2011, 151). Fallis rejects the claim that non-deceptive liars do not intend to communicate anything believed-false, even if they intend to communicate something believed-true:

Bald-faced liars might want to communicate something true. For instance, Tony may be trying to communicate to the police that that they will never convict him. But that does not mean that he does not also intend to communicate something false in violation of the norm. He wants what he actually said to be understood and accepted for purposes of the conversation. It is not as if “I did not do it” is simply a euphemism for “You’ll never take me alive, coppers!” (Fallis 2012, 572 n 24)

However, in the case of polite untruths, such as “Madam is not at home,” the untruthful statement is simply a euphemism: “For example, the words ”She is not at home,“ delivered by a servant or a relative at the door, have become a mere euphemism for indisposition or disinclination” (Isenberg 1973, 256). In the case of polite untruths, it seems, there is no intention to communicate anything believed-false. In the case of the servant who tells the female caller, “I’m dusting the piano keys,” or the Iraqi doctor who tells the journalist “I see no uniforms,” or the negotiator who tells the other negotiator “That is the highest I can go,” or the person living in the totalitarian state who makes the pro-state utterance, it is also arguable that there is no intention to communicate anything believed-false. If this is true, then there is some support for the claim that non-deceptive liars do not intend to communicate anything believed-false with their untruthful statements, and hence, that they are not lying according to L15 or L16.

Andreas Stokke also holds that it is possible to lie without intending to deceive. He has also defended the assertion condition for lying: “you lie when you assert something you believe to be false” (Stokke 2013a, 33). According to Stokke, to “assert that p is to say that p and thereby propose that p become common ground” (Stokke 2013a, 47). A proposition, p , becomes common ground in a group “if all members accept (for the purpose of the conversation) that p , and all believe that all believe that all accept that p , etc.” (Stokke 2013a, 49, quoting Stalnaker 2002, 716). Stokke thus defines lying as follows:

  • (L17) x lies to y if and only if … x says that p to y , and … x proposes that p become common ground, and … x believes that p is false. (Stokke 2013a, 49)

In the case of a speaker making an ironic untruthful statement, the speaker does not propose that the believed-false proposition (e.g., “Brutus is an honorable man”) become common ground (Stokke 2013a, 50). However, in the case of a non-deceptive liar, the speaker does propose that the believed-false proposition (e.g., “I did not cheat”) become common ground (Stokke 2013a, 52). The fact that in the case of a non-deceptive lie it is common knowledge that what the speaker is saying is (believed to be) false does not alter the fact that the speaker is proposing that the believed-falsehood become common ground. Indeed, even if the (believed) truth is initially common ground, before the speaker proposes that the believed-falsehood become common ground, it is still the case that the non-deceptive liar is proposing to “update the common ground with her utterance” (Stokke 2013a, 54). For example, in the case of the student and the dean, “The student wants herself and the Dean to mutually accept that she did not plagiarize” (Stokke 2013a, 54).

It is possible to argue that Stokke’s account of assertion, and hence L17, is faced with a dilemma when it comes to non-deceptive lies. Either, in the case of a non-deceptive lie, the speaker does propose that the believed-false proposition become common ground, but becoming common ground is too weak to count as asserting, or becoming common ground is strong enough to count as asserting, but, in the case of a non-deceptive lie, the speaker does not propose that the believed-false proposition become common ground. Stokke considers Stalnaker’s example of a guest at a party saying to another guest, “The man drinking a martini is a philosopher,” and of the two guests proceeding to talk about the philosopher, when it is common knowledge that the drink in question is not a martini. About this example Stalnaker says: “perhaps it is mutually recognized that it is not a martini, but mutually recognized that both parties are accepting that it is a martini. The pretense will be rational if accepting the false presupposition is an efficient way to communicate something true” (Stalnaker 2002, 718). However, if proposing that a believed-false proposition become common ground can mean engaging in and sustaining a “pretence,” possibly in order to communicate truths, then it is not clear that this counts as making an assertion (cf. Keiser 2015). Hence, a non-deceptive liar may be proposing that her believed-false proposition become common ground without this being an act of making an assertion. But this means that she is not lying, according to L17. Alternatively, if proposing that a believed-false proposition become common ground means something more than this, such that the speaker intends or wants herself and her hearer “to mutually accept” her believed-false proposition, then it is not clear that a non-deceptive liar intends or wants this. If this is correct, then non-deceptive lies fail to be lies according to L17.

3. Traditional Definition of Deception

The dictionary definition of deception is as follows: “To cause to believe what is false” ( OED 1989). There are several problems with this definition, however (Barnes 1997; Mahon 2007; Carson 2010). The principal problem is that it is too broad in scope. On this definition, mere appearances can deceive, such as when a white object looks red in a certain light (Faulkner, 2013). Furthermore, it is possible for people to inadvertently deceive others. If Steffi believes that there is a talk on David Lewis and the Christians on Friday, and she tells Paul that “There is a talk on Lewis and the Christians on Friday,” and as a result Paul believes that there is a talk on C. S. Lewis and the Christians on Friday, then Steffi has deceived Paul. Also, it is possible for people to mistakenly deceive other people. If Steffi mistakenly believes that there is not a philosophy talk on Friday, and she tells Paul that there is not a philosophy talk on Friday, and he believes her, then then Steffi has deceived Paul.

Although some philosophers hold that deceiving may be inadvertent or mistaken (Demos 1960; Fuller 1976; Chisholm and Feehan 1977; Adler 1997; Gert 2005), many philosophers have argued that it is not possible to deceive inadvertently or mistakenly (Linsky 1970; van Horne 1981; Barnes 1997; Carson 2010; Saul 2012; Faulkner 2013). They hold that deception, like lying, is intentional . They reserve term “mislead” to cover cases of causing false beliefs either intentionally or unintentionally (Carson 2010, 47).

A modified version of the dictionary definition that does not allow for either inadvertent or mistaken deceiving is as follows:

  • (D1) To deceive = df to intentionally cause to have a false belief that is known or believed to be false.

D1 may be taken as the traditional definition of deception, at least in the case of other-deception (Baron 1988, 444 n. 2). As contrasted with ‘lying,’ ‘deceive’ is an achievement or success verb (Ryle 1949, 130). An act of deceiving is not an act of deceiving unless a particular result is achieved. According to D1, that result is a false belief . Note that D1 is not restricted to the deception of other persons by other persons; it applies to anything that is capable of having beliefs, such as (possibly) chimpanzees, dogs, and infants.

There is no statement condition for deception. In addition to deceiving by means of lying, it is possible to deceive using natural or causal signs (indices), such as packing a bag as though one were going on a holiday, in order to catch a thief (Kant 1997, 202). It is possible to deceive by using signs that work by resemblance (icons), for example by posting a smiley face emoticon about a news item that one is actually unhappy about. Finally, it is possible to deceive by non-linguistic conventional signs (symbols), such as wearing a wedding ring when one is not married, or wearing a police uniform when one is not a police officer. It is also possible for a person to deceive by cursing, making an interjection or an exclamation, issuing a command or an exhortation, asking a question, saying “Hello,” and so forth. It is also possible to deceive by omitting to make certain statements, or by remaining silent.

There is also no untruthfulness condition for deception. It is possible to deceive by making a truthful and true statement that intentionally implies a falsehood. This is a palter. Palters include Bill Clinton stating “There is no improper relationship,” with the intention that it be believed that there was never an improper relationship (Saul 2012, 30), greeting a famous person by his or her first name with the intention that other people believe that you are a close friend of his, or making a reservation for a restaurant or a hotel as “Dr.,” intending to be believed to be a (typically wealthier) physician rather than a (typically less wealthy) academic (Schauer and Zeckhauser 2009, 44). If Pavel truthfully and truly tells Trofim that he is going to Pinsk, with the intention that the distrustful Trofim believe falsely that Pavel is going to Minsk, and as a result Trofim believes falsely that Pavel is going to Minsk, then Pavel deceives Trofim (a double bluff). It is also possible to deceive using truthful statements that are not assertions, such as jokes, ironic statements, and even the lines of a play delivered on stage, so long as the intention to deceive can be formed. If, for example, I am asked if I stole the money, and I reply in an ironic tone, “Yeah, right, of course I did,” when I did steal the money, intending that I be believed to have not stolen the money, and if I am believed, then I have deceived using a truthful statement (it is unclear if such cases of “telling the truth falsely” (Frank 2009, 57) are to be considered as cases of paltering).

There is also no addressee condition for deception. In addition to deceiving addressees, it is possible to deceive those listening in, as in a bogus disclosure (e.g., deceiving F.B.I. agents secretly known to be listening in on a telephone conversation) or a disclosure (e.g., deceiving NASA handlers openly listening to exchanges between astronauts and their wives in Capricorn One ). It is also possible to deceive an addressee about some matter other than the content of the statement made (e.g., making a truthful statement, but faking an accent).

Several objections can be made to D1. One objection is that it is not necessary that the deceiver causes another person to have a false belief that is (truly) believed to be false by the deceiver: “if I intentionally cause you to believe that p where p is false and I neither believe that p is true nor believe that p is false” (Carson 2010, 48) then this is still deception (van Frassen 1988; Barnes 1997; cf. Shiffrin 2014, 13). For example, if Michael has no belief whatsoever regarding the condition of the bridge, but he convinces Gertrude that the bridge is safe, and the bridge happens to be dangerous, then Michael deceives Gertrude about the bridge being safe (van Frassen 1988, 124). Or, if Alyce places a fake rabbit in Evelyn’s garden, in which lives a reclusive rabbit, in order to guarantee that Evelyn believes that she is seeing a rabbit in her garden (one way or the other), and Evelyn sees the fake rabbit, and calls Alyce on the phone and tells her “I am looking at a rabbit in my garden!” then Alyce has deceived Evelyn, even though she cannot believe or know that Evelyn is seeing the fake rabbit rather than the real rabbit (Barnes 1997, 11). Although this objection to D1 is not necessarily compelling (Mahon 2007, 191–2), a modified definition of interpersonal deception that incorporates this objection is as follows:

  • (D2) A person x deceives another person y if and only if x intentionally causes y to believe p , where p is false and x does not believe that p is true. (Carson 2010, 48)

The most common objection to D1 is that it is not necessary that the deceiver intentionally cause another person to have a new false belief. Although this form of deception, according to which a person intentionally brings about “the change from the state of not being deceived… to that of being deceived” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 144), is the most normal form of deception, it is not the only form. A person may deceive another person by causing that person to continue to have a false belief (Fuller 1976, 21; Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 144; Mahon 2007 189–190; Carson 2010, 50; Shiffrin 2014, 19). This is where, “but for the act” of the deceiver, the person “would have lost or given up” the false belief (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 144), or least have a greater chance of losing the false belief. A modified definition of interpersonal deception that incorporates this objection is the following:

  • (D3) A person x deceives another person y if and only if x intentionally causes y to believe p (or persist in believing p ), where p is false and x knows or believes that p is false. (Carson 2010, 50)

A further objection to D1 (and D2 and D3) is that it is not sufficient for deception that a person intentionally causes another person to have a false belief that she truly believes or knows to be false; it must also be that this false belief is caused by evidence , and that the evidence is brought about by the person in order to cause the other person to have the false belief (Linsky 1970, 163; Fuller 1976, 23; Schmitt 1988, 185; Barnes 1997, 14; Mahon 2007). If Andrew intentionally causes Ben to believe (falsely) that there are vampires in England by, for example, operating on Ben’s brain, or giving Ben an electric shock, or drugging Ben, then Andrew does not deceive Ben about there being vampires in England. Also, if Andrew causes Ben to believe falsely that there are vampires in England by getting Ben to read a book that purports to demonstrate that there are vampires in England, then Andrew does not deceive Ben about there being vampires in England. However, if Andrew writes a book that purports to demonstrate that there are vampires in England, and Ben reads the book, and as a result Ben comes to believe that there are vampires in England, then Andrew does deceive Ben about there being vampires in England (Fuller 1976). A modified definition of interpersonal deception that incorporates this objection is the following:

  • (D4) To deceive = df to intentionally cause another person to have or continue to have a false belief that is known or truly believed to be false by bringing about evidence on the basis of which the person has or continues to have the false belief. (Mahon 2007, 189–190)

All of the definitions so far considered are definitions of positive deception , where a person “has been caused to add to his stock of false beliefs” or has been caused to continue to have a false belief (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 144). A further objection to D1 (and D2, D3, and D4) is that it is not necessary for deception to cause a new belief or to cause to continue to have a false belief. One can deceive another person by causing the person to cease to have a true belief, or by preventing the person from acquiring a true belief. These are both cases of negative deception , according to which a person “has been caused to lose one of his true beliefs” or been prevented from gaining a true belief (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 143–144). For example, if I intentionally distract someone who is prone to forgetting things irretrievably when distracted, in order to make that person forget something irretrievably, and, as a result, that person loses a (veridical) memory irretrievably, then I have caused him to cease to have a true belief. (In science-fiction the same result can be achieved by using a memory-erasing device, as in the neuralyzer used in the 1997 science-fiction film Men in Black ). Also, if I hide a section of the newspaper from someone in order to prevent her from learning about some news item, such as an earthquake in a foreign country that harmed no-one, then I prevented her from acquiring a true belief about a distant earthquake. A modified definition of interpersonal deception that incorporates this objection is the following:

  • (D5) To deceive = df to intentionally cause another person to acquire a false belief, or to continue to have a false belief, or to cease to have a true belief, or to be prevented from acquiring a true belief.

However, this objection to D1 (and D2, D3, and D4) is not necessarily compelling. It may be argued that negative deception is not deception at all. After all, no false belief has been acquired or sustained. It may be argued that to prevent someone from acquiring a true belief is to keep that person in ignorance, or to keep that person “in the dark,” rather than to deceive that person (Mahon 2007, 187–188; cf. Carson 2010, 53). The state of being ignorant is not the same as the state of being mistaken. One may not know what city is the capital city of Estonia (Tallinn); this is different from mistakenly believing that Riga is the capital city of Estonia. Similarly, although it is more unusual, rendering a person ignorant of some matter is not the same as deceiving that person, at least if it results in no false belief. For example, in the 2004 science-fiction film The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind , people go to Lacuna, Inc., to have their memories of their previous relationships, as well as their visits, erased. Those who run Lacuna, Inc., make their clients forget things, or render them ignorant of things. They do not deceive them in doing this. Chisholm and Feehan admit that Augustine and Aquinas “do not call it ‘deception’” to “hide the truth” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 187).

D5 only counts as deception cases of deception “by commission” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 143–144). According to Chisholm and Feehan, it is also possible to deceive “by omission” (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 143–144). One may allow a person to acquire a false belief, or allow a person to continue with a false belief, or allow a person to cease to have a true belief, or allow a person to continue without a true belief. For example, one may allow a person to read a news story and acquire a belief that one knows is false (e.g., a news story about the CEO of your company resigning for health reasons, when you know he was forced out for mismanagement of funds), and one may allow a person to continue to have a false belief by not correcting the person’s false belief (e.g., not correcting a child’s belief in Santa Claus). Or, for example, one may allow a person to forget a veridical memory by not stopping them from getting distracted, and one may allow a person to continue without knowing about an earthquake that has occurred in a foreign country. According to Chisholm and Feehan, there can positive and negative deception by commission and by omission. A modified definition of interpersonal deception that incorporates this objection is the following:

  • (D6) To deceive = df to intentionally cause another person to acquire a false belief, or to continue to have a false belief, or to cease to have a true belief, or to be prevented from acquiring a true belief, or to intentionally allow another person to acquire a false belief, or to continue to have a false belief, or to cease to have a true belief, or to be prevented from acquiring a true belief.

Finally, D6 only counts as deception actions and omissions that are intentional. According to Chisholm and Feehan, however, deception can be unintentional. A modified definition of interpersonal deception that incorporates this objection is the following:

  • (D7) To deceive = df to cause another person to acquire a false belief, or to continue to have a false belief, or to cease to have a true belief, or be prevented from acquiring a true belief, or to allow another person to acquire a false belief, or to continue to have a false belief, or to cease to have a true belief, or be prevented from acquiring a true belief. (Chisholm and Feehan 1977, 145).

The objection to D5 that negative deception is not deception also applies to D6 and D7.

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  • The four main types of essay | Quick guide with examples

The Four Main Types of Essay | Quick Guide with Examples

Published on September 4, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

An essay is a focused piece of writing designed to inform or persuade. There are many different types of essay, but they are often defined in four categories: argumentative, expository, narrative, and descriptive essays.

Argumentative and expository essays are focused on conveying information and making clear points, while narrative and descriptive essays are about exercising creativity and writing in an interesting way. At university level, argumentative essays are the most common type. 

In high school and college, you will also often have to write textual analysis essays, which test your skills in close reading and interpretation.

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Table of contents

Argumentative essays, expository essays, narrative essays, descriptive essays, textual analysis essays, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about types of essays.

An argumentative essay presents an extended, evidence-based argument. It requires a strong thesis statement —a clearly defined stance on your topic. Your aim is to convince the reader of your thesis using evidence (such as quotations ) and analysis.

Argumentative essays test your ability to research and present your own position on a topic. This is the most common type of essay at college level—most papers you write will involve some kind of argumentation.

The essay is divided into an introduction, body, and conclusion:

  • The introduction provides your topic and thesis statement
  • The body presents your evidence and arguments
  • The conclusion summarizes your argument and emphasizes its importance

The example below is a paragraph from the body of an argumentative essay about the effects of the internet on education. Mouse over it to learn more.

A common frustration for teachers is students’ use of Wikipedia as a source in their writing. Its prevalence among students is not exaggerated; a survey found that the vast majority of the students surveyed used Wikipedia (Head & Eisenberg, 2010). An article in The Guardian stresses a common objection to its use: “a reliance on Wikipedia can discourage students from engaging with genuine academic writing” (Coomer, 2013). Teachers are clearly not mistaken in viewing Wikipedia usage as ubiquitous among their students; but the claim that it discourages engagement with academic sources requires further investigation. This point is treated as self-evident by many teachers, but Wikipedia itself explicitly encourages students to look into other sources. Its articles often provide references to academic publications and include warning notes where citations are missing; the site’s own guidelines for research make clear that it should be used as a starting point, emphasizing that users should always “read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says” (“Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia,” 2020). Indeed, for many students, Wikipedia is their first encounter with the concepts of citation and referencing. The use of Wikipedia therefore has a positive side that merits deeper consideration than it often receives.

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kinds of lies essay

An expository essay provides a clear, focused explanation of a topic. It doesn’t require an original argument, just a balanced and well-organized view of the topic.

Expository essays test your familiarity with a topic and your ability to organize and convey information. They are commonly assigned at high school or in exam questions at college level.

The introduction of an expository essay states your topic and provides some general background, the body presents the details, and the conclusion summarizes the information presented.

A typical body paragraph from an expository essay about the invention of the printing press is shown below. Mouse over it to learn more.

The invention of the printing press in 1440 changed this situation dramatically. Johannes Gutenberg, who had worked as a goldsmith, used his knowledge of metals in the design of the press. He made his type from an alloy of lead, tin, and antimony, whose durability allowed for the reliable production of high-quality books. This new technology allowed texts to be reproduced and disseminated on a much larger scale than was previously possible. The Gutenberg Bible appeared in the 1450s, and a large number of printing presses sprang up across the continent in the following decades. Gutenberg’s invention rapidly transformed cultural production in Europe; among other things, it would lead to the Protestant Reformation.

A narrative essay is one that tells a story. This is usually a story about a personal experience you had, but it may also be an imaginative exploration of something you have not experienced.

Narrative essays test your ability to build up a narrative in an engaging, well-structured way. They are much more personal and creative than other kinds of academic writing . Writing a personal statement for an application requires the same skills as a narrative essay.

A narrative essay isn’t strictly divided into introduction, body, and conclusion, but it should still begin by setting up the narrative and finish by expressing the point of the story—what you learned from your experience, or why it made an impression on you.

Mouse over the example below, a short narrative essay responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” to explore its structure.

Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.

Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.

A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.

The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.

A descriptive essay provides a detailed sensory description of something. Like narrative essays, they allow you to be more creative than most academic writing, but they are more tightly focused than narrative essays. You might describe a specific place or object, rather than telling a whole story.

Descriptive essays test your ability to use language creatively, making striking word choices to convey a memorable picture of what you’re describing.

A descriptive essay can be quite loosely structured, though it should usually begin by introducing the object of your description and end by drawing an overall picture of it. The important thing is to use careful word choices and figurative language to create an original description of your object.

Mouse over the example below, a response to the prompt “Describe a place you love to spend time in,” to learn more about descriptive essays.

On Sunday afternoons I like to spend my time in the garden behind my house. The garden is narrow but long, a corridor of green extending from the back of the house, and I sit on a lawn chair at the far end to read and relax. I am in my small peaceful paradise: the shade of the tree, the feel of the grass on my feet, the gentle activity of the fish in the pond beside me.

My cat crosses the garden nimbly and leaps onto the fence to survey it from above. From his perch he can watch over his little kingdom and keep an eye on the neighbours. He does this until the barking of next door’s dog scares him from his post and he bolts for the cat flap to govern from the safety of the kitchen.

With that, I am left alone with the fish, whose whole world is the pond by my feet. The fish explore the pond every day as if for the first time, prodding and inspecting every stone. I sometimes feel the same about sitting here in the garden; I know the place better than anyone, but whenever I return I still feel compelled to pay attention to all its details and novelties—a new bird perched in the tree, the growth of the grass, and the movement of the insects it shelters…

Sitting out in the garden, I feel serene. I feel at home. And yet I always feel there is more to discover. The bounds of my garden may be small, but there is a whole world contained within it, and it is one I will never get tired of inhabiting.

Though every essay type tests your writing skills, some essays also test your ability to read carefully and critically. In a textual analysis essay, you don’t just present information on a topic, but closely analyze a text to explain how it achieves certain effects.

Rhetorical analysis

A rhetorical analysis looks at a persuasive text (e.g. a speech, an essay, a political cartoon) in terms of the rhetorical devices it uses, and evaluates their effectiveness.

The goal is not to state whether you agree with the author’s argument but to look at how they have constructed it.

The introduction of a rhetorical analysis presents the text, some background information, and your thesis statement; the body comprises the analysis itself; and the conclusion wraps up your analysis of the text, emphasizing its relevance to broader concerns.

The example below is from a rhetorical analysis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech . Mouse over it to learn more.

King’s speech is infused with prophetic language throughout. Even before the famous “dream” part of the speech, King’s language consistently strikes a prophetic tone. He refers to the Lincoln Memorial as a “hallowed spot” and speaks of rising “from the dark and desolate valley of segregation” to “make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” The assumption of this prophetic voice constitutes the text’s strongest ethical appeal; after linking himself with political figures like Lincoln and the Founding Fathers, King’s ethos adopts a distinctly religious tone, recalling Biblical prophets and preachers of change from across history. This adds significant force to his words; standing before an audience of hundreds of thousands, he states not just what the future should be, but what it will be: “The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” This warning is almost apocalyptic in tone, though it concludes with the positive image of the “bright day of justice.” The power of King’s rhetoric thus stems not only from the pathos of his vision of a brighter future, but from the ethos of the prophetic voice he adopts in expressing this vision.

Literary analysis

A literary analysis essay presents a close reading of a work of literature—e.g. a poem or novel—to explore the choices made by the author and how they help to convey the text’s theme. It is not simply a book report or a review, but an in-depth interpretation of the text.

Literary analysis looks at things like setting, characters, themes, and figurative language. The goal is to closely analyze what the author conveys and how.

The introduction of a literary analysis essay presents the text and background, and provides your thesis statement; the body consists of close readings of the text with quotations and analysis in support of your argument; and the conclusion emphasizes what your approach tells us about the text.

Mouse over the example below, the introduction to a literary analysis essay on Frankenstein , to learn more.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is often read as a crude cautionary tale about the dangers of scientific advancement unrestrained by ethical considerations. In this reading, protagonist Victor Frankenstein is a stable representation of the callous ambition of modern science throughout the novel. This essay, however, argues that far from providing a stable image of the character, Shelley uses shifting narrative perspectives to portray Frankenstein in an increasingly negative light as the novel goes on. While he initially appears to be a naive but sympathetic idealist, after the creature’s narrative Frankenstein begins to resemble—even in his own telling—the thoughtlessly cruel figure the creature represents him as. This essay begins by exploring the positive portrayal of Frankenstein in the first volume, then moves on to the creature’s perception of him, and finally discusses the third volume’s narrative shift toward viewing Frankenstein as the creature views him.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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At high school and in composition classes at university, you’ll often be told to write a specific type of essay , but you might also just be given prompts.

Look for keywords in these prompts that suggest a certain approach: The word “explain” suggests you should write an expository essay , while the word “describe” implies a descriptive essay . An argumentative essay might be prompted with the word “assess” or “argue.”

The vast majority of essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Almost all academic writing involves building up an argument, though other types of essay might be assigned in composition classes.

Essays can present arguments about all kinds of different topics. For example:

  • In a literary analysis essay, you might make an argument for a specific interpretation of a text
  • In a history essay, you might present an argument for the importance of a particular event
  • In a politics essay, you might argue for the validity of a certain political theory

An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.

An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

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“The Ways We Lie” Analysis & “The Ways We Lie” Summary

“the ways we lie” analysis: introduction, the ways we lie (stephanie ericsson) analysis: main body, “the ways we lie” analysis: conclusion, works cited.

Nowadays people are so obsessed with lies and use lies to cover their follies and weaknesses. Some lies are harmless and do not badly affect others. Most of the people tell lies to escape from silly problems. The lies that are told for noble causes are to be neglected because the reason behind the intension to tell that is valid. But most of the people tell lies for mere pleasure. The essay, “The Ways We Lie”, by Stephanie Ericsson analysis various types of lies told by people in their day-to-day life. Even though the author deals with the various kinds of lies, the motivation behind this habit is not adequately evaluated in this essay. Stephanie Ericsson points out that once she tried to keep away from lies but it was impossible for her. She identifies the kinds of lies we all tell at one time or another. It is unavoidable and sometimes beneficial to us. She further goes on to justify the reason behind the habit of telling lies.

The essay is aimed on educated and general audience because the theme and tone of the essay is applicable to all. The essay is published in the Utne Reader for November/December 1992. ‘Companion Through the Darkness: Inner Dialogues on Grief’, is another book by Stephanie Ericsson which was published in 1993.She realized that telling truth for all the time is impossible as telling a lie for no reason has become part of everyone’s life.“ I once tried going a whole week without telling a lie, and it was paralyzing. I discovered that telling the truth all the time is nearly impossible. It means living with some serious consequences.” (Ericsson). When one tries to live without lies, he/she must be ready to face serious consequences of the same. To be extreme truthful is to face extreme serious situations in life. So, a mixture of truth and lie is the possible way for an average individual. One needs to grasp the essential difference between harmless and harmful lies; most of the lies that people use in day to day life is harmless. The motivation behind most of the lies is not to cheat others but to have a temporary escape from trivial situations. It is better to avoid lies that affect ones reputation in the society. This work explores the effectiveness and relevance of the theme selected for the essay. It further goes on to explore the evidence given by the author, effect of lying in daily life, and effectiveness of the argument in favour of lying. The logic behind the work is simple, but is based on the basic instinct of all human beings, i.e. the habit of lying. The emotion revealed by the author is irony, but not much serious. But it is able to touch the very heart of the reader. The theme selected and the personal experiences included reveal the credibility of the author. Thesis statement:-Stephanie Ericsson categorises the lies into so many categories: however, she fails to identify and analyse the hidden reasons behind telling lies. This creates a negative effect on the reader.

One’s claims for the lies are to be substantiated with evidences and the author rightly shows evidences to prove the habit of lying. Most types of lies that one uses in one’s daily life, like the white lie, ignoring plain facts, deflecting, omissions etc are discussed (described), but the reason behind the same is not revealed. Stephanie Ericsson uses the words like ‘they say’ and ‘I say’ to divide the idea of lying between her personal experience and the experience by others. The reader can easily identify the person behind idea and experience. It is evident that the seriousness of the situation forces an individual to tell lies. When one considers the seriousness of a lie, or its effect, the situation which forced the individual to do so must be considered. However, the article fails to unearth the hidden reasons behind lies: “She, basically, gave various lies that people tell on a regular basis. By not explaining why people lie has a negative affect on the reader and her essay. She did not completely explain her logic and arguments.” (Ericsson). So this creates a negative effect on the reader about the motives of lies. Moreover, the author is unable to explain her logic behind her argument and as such the article falls short of substantiation of the arguments dealt with. For example, the same lie that is used in different situations creates different effects. This is not specified in the essay even though it is important.

The essay is one sided because only the effect of lies is described but the situation and the reason behind each lie is discarded. This breaks the uniformity of ideas that are used in the essay. For example, the author points out various types of lies that are used by husband and wife, but the motivation behind them is ignored. Simple description of the types of lies may not create a positive effect on the reader. The author points out that lies are used to escape from trivial situations. But the author herself considers that, to use lies in certain situations is not dishonest. The reason that is given to clarify this point of view is that these types of lies are meant not to hurt others but to escape from silly problems. From the beginning itself, the readers can identify that the author is not against telling lies. If the author is against telling lies, readers can expect ideas against the abuse of lies.

The detailed description of lies does not help the reader to find out the hidden reason behind the habit of telling lies. But the author goes on describing various types of lies. Author says that the white lie is harmless and aiming to help others. Facades are lies that help people to pretend and sometimes they prove to be destructive. And it is similar to the next type of lie, i.e., ‘Ignoring plain facts’, which helps traitors to cover their face behind masks. For example, the author mentions the story of Father James Porter who was a sexual molester of little children. By ignoring the fact about James Porter, Church got indirectly involved in the issue. This was like an indirect co-operation from the side of church. Deflecting is another form of lie where it takes the form of refusal of responding and screaming out of frustration. Omission is another lie where the important topic is omitted and unimportant topic is focused with due importance. For example, the omission of Lilith from The Holy Bible is aimed to keep women weak. Stereotypes and clichés are used to close human mind and to separate them by categorizing them and generalizing them. Group think is a sort of lie which forces the individual to be loyal to the group and it helps the individual to ignore facts that are considered as unwanted. So one can see that Group think initiated the tendency to ignore basic facts and it is evident from this example of Japanese attack of Pearl Harbour on December 7, 1941. The decision of the American forces to stay there ignoring the warning created the critical situation. The out and out lies are the lies that are easily confronted. Moreover, this may be in the form of an argument. Usually, children use this lie to confuse the elders. Dismissal is the slipperiest of all lies and this lie is capable to create damages on personality and reputation. This lie is rooted in mental disorder and it is serious. Delusion is the end of the lies that are described by the author. This lie helps the individual to see excuses as real facts. The reality behind this tendency is that human mind has the power to transform lies to truth. It is also a survival mechanism. The last two forms of lies that are discussed are related to mental disorders and they must be treated according to medical norms. The work helps the reader to know more about the seriousness of telling lies and its effect on individual. But it fails to justify the reason behind the tendency to tell lies. But it is evident that most of the people, whether they are urban or not , show the tendency to tell lies. This creates a negative effect on the reader. The purpose of the essay is to create awareness in the reader about various types of lies in order to give a correct idea of its influence on individuals. Author is in a conversational mood and is able to have a mutual understanding with the reader through the description of various types of lies which are familiar to all.

The counter arguments against the issue of telling lie is that it is a safety valve that protects the individual from emotional burst by telling silly lies. It can be seen that telling lies provide pleasure and relief to individuals who feel frustration. The society can ignore silly lies but the lies that are related to psychological problems must not be ignored and it must undergo proper medical treatment. The essay fails to address the issue adequately and also to provide remedial measures to avoid the tendency to tell lies.

The author tries to evaluate various types of lies that influence the individuals and their lives. Some consider telling lies as an emotional outlet. Some others consider it as a silly thing equal to conversation. Some others use lies to create problem to themselves and to others. The tendency to repeat lies is to be tackled with the help of medical science because it create problem in society.

It is evident that the theme selected for the essay is general and applicable to the whole world. The essay is well worth because it helps the reader to have a broader outlook about lies and the effect of lies. The strength of the essay is that it is in a conversational mood and it helps the reader to grasp the content easily. The theme is simple and is closely connected to the day to day life of individuals. Whereas, the weakness of the essay is that it fail to verify the cause of this behaviour. The positive effect created by the use of a general topic nullifies the negative side of the essay. Her style is informal and she uses colloquial language and usages to justify her claim. The essay is based on the writer’s own experiences which possess a universal appeal. Humour keeps the free flow of idea without any interruption. For example, personal experiences on day to day life. The style of sentences used is simple and convincing and are not lengthy.For example, use of colloquial words and usages. The general organisation of the essay is loose but does not hinder the flow of ideas.

The essay, “The Ways We Lie”, by Stephanie Ericsson analysis various types of lies and their effects on the individual’s life. The author categorises the lies into categories but fails to analyse the hidden reasons behind this habit. Moreover, the author does not provide any remedial measures to avoid the influence of lies. The plot of the essay is loosely tied and it affects the unity of ideas. Analysis of the essay helps the reader to have a clear idea about various types of lies. But it fails to defend the reasons or to suggest possible solution for the focus behavioural problem, i.e. telling lies.

Ericsson, Stephanie. The Way We Lie , an Analysis. BookRags. 2006. Web.

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The Biggest Supreme Court Case That Nobody Seems to Be Talking About

This is part of  Opening Arguments , Slate’s coverage of the start of the latest Supreme Court term. We’re working to  change the way  the media covers the Supreme Court. Support our work when you join  Slate Plus .

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a pair of cases out of Texas and Florida that could force major social media platforms to carry posts from Donald Trump or others who lie about elections being stolen or obliquely encourage election-related violence. A ruling in favor of these states would turn the First Amendment upside down and create the conditions for undermining American democracy. If there wasn’t so much else swirling around our elections and democracy right now, this case would be commanding everyone’s attention.

Moody v. NetChoice LLC and NetChoice LLC v. Paxton arise out of the actions that Facebook, Twitter (now X), and other social media companies took in removing Trump from their platforms after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Trump had been relentlessly calling the 2020 election results into question despite having no reliable evidence of widespread fraud or irregularities. In an infamous tweet in December 2020, he encouraged his supporters to come to Washington for “wild” protests on Jan. 6, the day that Congress would be counting the states’ Electoral College votes to confirm Joe Biden as the election victor. After Trump and his supporters spoke in speeches on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, a crowd stormed the Capitol. The violent incident left 140 law enforcement officers injured (four later died by suicide) and four protesters dead. After Trump failed to immediately condemn the violence and call for the siege to end, the platforms had enough, determining that Trump had violated their terms of service and needed to be removed.

In response to the removal of Trump and concern over what they call “censorship” of conservatives, Florida and Texas each passed laws that make content moderation difficult if not impossible for major social media companies. The laws differ in some particulars, but both would make it illegal to remove the kinds of content we saw from Trump before he was deplatformed in 2020. A coalition representing the platforms sued, arguing that the laws violated the platforms’ First Amendment rights to decide what content to include or exclude on their platforms. The coalition won their primary arguments in the Florida case but lost in the Texas case, and the Supreme Court is hearing both of them on Monday.

The key First Amendment question is how to treat the platforms when they curate content. The platforms argue that they are private actors just like Slate or the Wall Street Journal, having a constitutional right to include or exclude content as they see fit. It’s a strong argument. In a 1974 case, Miami Herald v. Tornillo , the court held unconstitutional a (different) Florida law that required newspapers to print the reply of someone who had been criticized in the newspaper. The court held that private actors like newspapers have every right under the First Amendment to include or exclude content as they see fit.

The states argue that we should treat social media platforms as “common carriers,” the way we do the phone company. There are laws that forbid the phone company from denying you service because it doesn’t like the messages you might communicate by voice or text. In an amicus brief in the cases that I filed with political scientist Brendan Nyhan and journalism professor Amy Wilentz and co-authored with Nat Bach and his team at Manatt Phelps, we argue that the common carrier argument is a weak one.

As professor Eugene Volokh, one of the originators of the common carrier analogy, explains, what separates entities such as newspapers from entities such as phone companies is whether they produce a “coherent speech product.” Those who do are entitled under the First Amendment to exercise editorial discretion. Social media platforms surely do, however, produce such coherent products. Of course the public reasonably associates a controversial politician’s speech with a platform’s editorial message. People may be attracted to or repulsed by Trump’s speech on a platform, but they will perceive that speech as part of the platform. (In contrast, no one perceives private text messages sent over AT&T’s network as AT&T’s speech.) People know that Truth Social, where Trump commonly posts, is different from a platform where people rarely, if ever, see posts from Trump, or a platform marketed to Democrats organized around criticizing Trump.

It should be no surprise that after Elon Musk took over Twitter and changed its moderation policies to make the platform’s content less trustworthy and more incendiary, users and advertisers reevaluated the platform’s strengths and weaknesses, with many choosing to leave. Content moderation policies shape how the public perceives a platform’s messages. Content moderation decisions—including Musk’s, whether wise or not— are the exercise of editorial discretion. The public then decides which platforms to patronize, value, or devalue.

There’s also a huge irony in seeing people like Volokh or Justice Clarence Thomas express support for the common carrier theory and requiring private companies to carry speech they may disagree with or even find dangerous. In his amicus brief supporting Florida’s appeal, Trump approvingly quoted Volokh: “Recent experience has fostered a widespread and growing concern that behemoth social media platforms … have ‘seriously leverage[d their] economic power into a means of affecting the community’s political life.’ ”

That kind of equalization rationale has been rejected by the libertarians on the court in cases like Citizens United , the case that freed corporations to spend unlimited sums in support of candidates for election to office. There, the court wrote (quoting a 1976 case, Buckley v. Valeo ) that it is “wholly foreign” to the First Amendment to seek to equalize speech, and that the First Amendment can’t do anything to stop those with economic power from translating it into political power.

Now that it is conservatives yelling “censorship” rather than liberals complaining about big corporations seeking to have an outsize influence on whom is elected and on public policy, is the court really going to change its position on whether the government can mandate speech equalization depending on whose ox is being gored?

This case, though, implicates more than just the First Amendment right of platforms to curate content. It may affect the survival of American democracy itself, as the 2020 election demonstrated.

During the campaign and post-election periods, these platforms labeled and fact-checked many of Trump’s false and incendiary statements and limited the sharing of some of his content, but after Trump failed to condemn (and even praised) the Jan. 6 rioters, many major platforms, fearing additional violence fomented by the president, decided to remove or suspend Trump’s social media accounts. The platforms made voluntary decisions about labeling, fact-checking, demoting, and deplatforming content that undermined election integrity, stoked violence, and raised the risk of election subversion and democratic collapse.

In so doing, the platforms participated in the open marketplace of ideas by exercising their sound editorial judgment in a socially responsible way to protect democracy. Even if certain moderation decisions were imperfect in hindsight, the platforms’ efforts were vastly preferable to an alternative in which government fiat deprives platforms of the power to remove even dangerous speech.

We should learn by June if the Supreme Court agrees.

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  • The 15 types of lies (and their characteristics)

kinds of lies essay

You cannot live with the truth in a world of liars.

Lying is part of human nature. Everyone, whether by deliberately lying or by telling half-truths, lies. In fact, a British study indicated that, over a lifetime, men tell an average of 109,000 lies and women 65,000 lies .

There are many lies. What is more, this derives from the fact that every day we face between 10 and 200 lies uttered by the people with whom we interact and that we ourselves tell between 1 and 3 lies daily.

The reasons why a person lies are different in each case and, although they say that a liar is caught earlier than a lame person, the psychology behind the lie is very complex and it is often difficult to identify one lie. Each lie is unique.

Even so, it is true that lies can be classified into different groups depending on their purpose, objective and triggers . In today's article, then, we will dive into the world of lies to discover what types exist. Let's go there.

How are lies classified?

A lie is an expression or manifestation contrary to the truth, what is known, what is believed or what is really thought , communicated in order to deceive someone, appear to be something that is not, persuade another person or avoid a situation from which we want to escape. It is a partially or totally false statement that hides reality and that hopes to be taken as true by listeners.

As we have seen, it is part of human nature and we absolutely all lie practically every day. At the end of the day, it does not have to be with bad intentions, but it can be a protection strategy. In this sense, are all lies the same? Of course not. And now we will see the main types of lies.

1. Lies by mistake

Lies by mistake are those in which we lie without wanting to do it . They are not deliberate or premeditated lies. The person is really convinced that what he says is true, but it is not. They are very common lies, because throughout the day we can say many things that, even though they are false, we believe to be true and we express them as such.

2. White lies

White lies are those in which we lie to avoid hurting someone , so they are usually considered forgivable. We lie deliberately but with a benevolent intention towards another person, so they are lies that can have a justification.

For example, if someone who is overweight is going to the gym and asks us if the results are being noticed, we can express a white lie so that, even though we do not notice that they have lost weight, they feel good about themselves and do not lose motivation . White lies are intended not to hurt the feelings of others, so they are closely associated with emotional intelligence and empathy.

3. Lies by omission

The lies by omission are those in which we are not expressing false information, but rather lying lies in hiding relevant information . We are omitting part of the truth, so, at least partially, we are lying. We are not making up a story, but we are not communicating to the listener all the reality that we know. It is a deliberate lie closely associated with persuasion.

4. Restructuring lies

Restructuring lies are those in which we neither make up false information nor hide part of the truth by omission, but we do change the context . We restructure the context so that, by telling something that is objectively true, the perception of the person who hears the story goes where it interests us.

These lies are very common on social media, as people post things about other people that, without the proper context, can appear to be what they are not. Taking something out of context is, after all, lying, because we are not giving the listener all the necessary portion of reality.

5. Denial lies

Denial lies are those that consist of not recognize a truth . Denial of something that we know to be reality is obviously a form of lying. And this applies both externally (denying someone a truth) and internally (lying to ourselves). In the same way, we could also talk about affirmation lies, that is, confirming a lie. The opposite case.

6. Lies of exaggeration

Exaggeration lies are those that They rely on the resource of hyperbole , that is, in magnifying some situation. We do not present reality as it happened, but we exaggerate specific events in order to make a story more interesting and curious or to make the participants in it (usually the person who lies) seem more successful, capable and great. One of the most common lies, because many times we make them unintentionally when having a situation idealized.

7. Minimization lies

The opposite case to the previous one. Minimization lies are those in which we reduce the importance of something . We do not exaggerate it, we minimize it. This can be both to surround ourselves with humility (or false humility) and to belittle a situation that, either because the participants are not people to our liking or because it collides with our interests, we want it to be minimized.

In the same way, minimization lies can also be associated with reducing the importance of a previous lie, that is, what is traditionally known as "taking iron out of the matter." It is another of the most common forms of lying.

8. Deliberate lies

Deliberate or instrumental lies are those in which we intentionally lie . They may have a benevolent character (we have seen the pious ones), but the truth is that they generally seek self-interest, since we intentionally lie to achieve something. Lying in a job interview is surely the clearest example. Be that as it may, all those lies that are uttered conscientiously and with a clear objective are deliberate lies.

9. White lies

White lies, closely associated with pious ones, are those that we perform after approximately 7 years of age, when feelings of empathy develop. Younger children are not capable of lying in a "white" way, which is understood in the world of Psychology as those lies with good intentions .

10. Blue lies

Blue lies are those that are halfway between "good" and "evil", although both concepts would have to be defined, something very complicated from an ethical and moral perspective. Be that as it may, by blue lie we understand those deceptions that we express to achieve the benefit but not of a person, but of a group. They are lies that favor your community . When a soccer player deceives the referee saying that he has been fouled in the opponent's area, he is expressing a blue lie. It damages a group (the rival team) but benefits yours.

11. Black lies

Black lies are those that are clearly at the pole of "evil", since they are hoaxes we orchestrate to make a profit knowing it will cause harm to another person . Selfishness is one of the traits most associated with these lies that, deliberately, only seek the good for oneself, regardless of the effects that this lie may have on other people.

12. Lies for plagiarism

Plagiarism lies are those in which we copy someone else's work to make it look like our own . It not only involves the lies itself, but the theft itself, so it can have legal consequences. In addition, there is an act of bad faith in these lies, deliberately using someone else's work not only to make a profit, but to make it appear that we are the author of that work. Hence, they are, surely, one of the most reprehensible forms of lying that exist.

13. Compulsive lies

Compulsive lies are those hoaxes repeated over and over by so-called compulsive liars. In this sense, they are lies behind them, more than an act of bad faith or of treachery, some low self-esteem problem or other psychological disorders, so they tend to be people who need help. In this sense, the fact of compulsively lying even when it is easier to tell the truth or with deceptions that are obvious falsehoods requires a therapeutic approach.

14. Self-deception

Self-deception is lying to yourself . They are lies that we tell ourselves unconsciously because we do not want to accept reality, we are afraid of the consequences of something we do (such as smoking) or we need to stay within our comfort zone. Sometimes it is easier to lie to ourselves than to face the truth.

15. Broken promises

Broken promises are those deceptions in which the lie lies in not fulfilling a previously agreed commitment . Not keeping our word after committing ourselves to it is just another form of lying, with the aggravating factor that we had generated hope in another person that, finally, we broke.

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A new lens into the ongoing folly of Republican ‘Russia hoax’ rhetoric

kinds of lies essay

In early June 2023, Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) earned an unusual amount of right-wing media attention when she publicly reported something she said she learned from the FBI. At issue was a claim being hyped by Republicans that President Biden and his son Hunter had received a bribe from a Ukrainian business executive.

The bureau, she said on social media, “is afraid their informant will be killed if unmasked, based on the info he has brought forward about the Biden family.”

This was obviously not true even at the time. The FBI was concerned about releasing an unredacted copy of an interview with the informant who made that allegation because it might reveal the informant’s identity, putting him at risk not because of the allegation but because he was someone with connections to dangerous individuals. Which, of course, was why the FBI was using him as a source in the first place.

But Luna, amplifying Republican rhetoric in the moment about the severity of the allegation made by this informant — that the Bidens had received multimillion-dollar bribes — reshaped those concerns in a way that made it seem like the allegation itself was the source of the danger. To make it seem like the danger posed wasn’t from the shadowy world of international actors in which the informant operated but, somehow, the Bidens.

Last week, that (never-substantiated and apparently dubious) allegation was severely hobbled when the Justice Department unsealed an indictment charging the informant, Alexander Smirnov, with lying to government officials specifically about the bribery claim. Evidence presented in the indictment makes a strong argument that Smirnov never had the conversation in which he was told about a bribe because, at the time the conversation allegedly occurred, he had never met the person who had made the allegation. It also suggested that Smirnov was motivated by hostility to Biden’s candidacy.

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On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed a motion aimed at keeping Smirnov in detention until trial. This was necessary in part, it argued, because Smirnov had contacts with foreign intelligence officials who might aid his flight.

The filing articulated some of those alleged contacts, including with people linked to Russian intelligence. When the Justice Department was interviewing him in February before his arrest, for example, Smirnov allegedly introduced a new claim about Hunter Biden — a claim that was sourced to Russian actors.

“Smirnov suggested that investigators check to see if [Hunter Biden] made telephone calls from the Premier Palace Hotel since those calls would have been recorded by the Russians,” the filing states. “Smirnov claimed to have obtained this information a month earlier by calling a high-level official in a foreign country. Smirnov also claimed to have learned this information from four different Russian officials.”

“According to Smirnov, the Russians want Ukraine to assist in influencing the U.S. election,” the filing reads at another point, “and Smirnov thinks the tapes of [Hunter Biden] at the Premier Palace Hotel is all they have.”

The Premier Palace Hotel is in Kyiv, a city Hunter Biden has never visited. The filing bolsters the idea that this came from Russian actors by including raw intelligence reports documenting Smirnov’s previous reports about the hotel and its infiltration by Russian intelligence.

In other words, the filing argues, not only do the “effects of Smirnov’s false statements and fabricated information continue to be felt to this day” — that is, the fallout from his bribery claim — but he “is actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections after meeting with Russian intelligence officials in November.”

Understandably, critics of Donald Trump seized on this aspect of the filing. Here was an explicit example of Russia spreading false claims about American political actors — specifically Democrats — as it attempts to influence the presidential election.

But, of course, this is already well established.

Over the past five years, since the release of Robert S. Mueller III’s assessment of how Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election, the contours of that effort have been worn smooth in the public conversation. On the right, in particular, the hundreds of pages of research earn shrugs: It’s all a hoax !

Trump began trying to reframe Russia’s actions even before he took office and inculcated a knee-jerk hostility among his Republican allies to anything that might suggest Russia did anything untoward. However, the evidence that Moscow did so is robust, from the consequential infiltration of the Democratic National Committee’s network and a top campaign official’s emails to the probably-not-consequentia l efforts to inject rhetoric into the national conversation. There were multiple points of contact between Russia-linked actors and Trump’s campaign team, triggering the federal probe into possible coordination. This part of the story was not proved.

Trump was so successful at waving all of this away, though, that there is still a huge market for efforts to disprove Russian actions or to punish those who alleged that Russia had tried to affect the outcome of the race. Fox News recently elevated a report citing anonymous sources that purported to show how President Barack “Obama’s CIA set up the Russia hoax,” in the overheated verbiage of host Jesse Watters.

Or consider Luna. Two weeks after she seized on the bribery claim that even then seemed highly unlikely, she was the lead sponsor of a measure censuring Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for having promoted the idea that Trump’s campaign was linked to Russia. The censure motion argued, falsely, that this was a “conspiracy theory … invented, funded, and spread by President’s Trump’s political rivals.”

It is certainly the case that Schiff got out over his skis at times in arguing that Trump’s campaign was tied to Russia. But there probably was not a claim he made that was as pointed or dire as Luna’s assessment that the FBI was worried that its bribery informant, Smirnov, was at risk because of the allegation he made against Biden. If anything, Smirnov’s foreign contacts would probably have been happy to see the allegation spread.

It is worth noting that the allegation about Hunter Biden visiting the Kyiv hotel was apparently relayed to Smirnov only after the full documentation of his Biden-bribery allegation was made public by congressional Republicans. The FBI pushed back on its release out of concern that Smirnov would be clocked by his foreign contacts. Maybe he was, revealing him as a conduit for allegations back to the Americans.

There’s nothing particularly surprising about this to anyone who has seen a spy movie or two. That Russia would try to feed the United States misinformation or reshape American politics is a basic Occam’s razor assumption about how the world works. That the CIA contrived Russian outreach to hurt Trump only once he was elected — or whatever the reframing du jour happens to be — is the sort of acrobatics that Trump-loyal Republicans have been practicing for more than seven years.

Trump appeared Tuesday night on Fox News for a conversation with host Laura Ingraham. She offered that Russia and China wanted to keep Biden in office because “they can dominate the global, you know, the global situation much easier with him in office.”

Trump agreed.

“They want him very badly to be president,” Trump said. “I mean, I’m sure a lot of money is being spent on — between Russia … and China? No question with China. Russia, too.”

Setting aside the assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not prefer an American president who has publicly stated he would look the other way at Russia invading NATO countries, notice that Trump is acknowledging how this all works — when it’s not purportedly benefiting him . Sure, Russia and China are probably spending money trying to influence the election outcome. Why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t we assume such efforts are underway? We have inordinate evidence that Russia in particular attempts to do so.

The revelation from this week’s Smirnov filing isn’t that Russia is trying to influence the outcome of the election. It’s that the Trump-led effort to pretend that hasn’t happened is so blinkered that it ends up putting Republicans in rhetorically embarrassing positions.

Smirnov’s original allegation about the Biden bribe came after then-Attorney General William P. Barr had established a process for vetting information that was coming in from dubious sources. Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, had been fishing for dirt on Biden in Ukraine, working with people later explicitly linked to Russian intelligence. So Barr created a process to ensure that efforts by Russia to introduce misinformation were weeded out.

Smirnov’s June 2020 effort to spread a negative story about Biden failed to break through that barrier. It wasn’t until credulous Republican officials on Capitol Hill were told about it last year that it finally entered the mainstream — to the GOP’s eventual embarrassment.

kinds of lies essay

kinds of lies essay

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    The 15 types of lies (and their characteristics) You cannot live with the truth in a world of liars. Lying is part of human nature. Everyone, whether by deliberately lying or by telling half-truths, lies. In fact, a British study indicated that, over a lifetime, men tell an average of 109,000 lies and women 65,000 lies. There are many lies.

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