The Politics of Lying: Implications for Democracy

By Lionel Cliffe; Maureen Ramsay et al. | Go to book overview

1
Justifications for Lying in Politics

Maureen Ramsay


Definitions — lies and deception

A lie is defined here as a statement intended to deceive others. Telling a lie is not simply the opposite of telling the truth because telling the truth and being truthful are not the same thing. Nor is saying what is false necessarily to deceive. To see this, we need to distinguish between truth and falsity, truthfulness and deception ( Bok, 1978, 6-13). Questions about truth and falsity belong to the ontological and epistemological domain and involve questions about what is the case and how or if it can be known to us. A statement is true or false if what is said to be corresponds to what actually exists or is. Questions about truthfulness and deception belong to the moral domain of intention. Someone is being truthful when what they say, they believe to be true. If they intend to deceive, they are not being truthful — they are lying. They say something they believe to be false (or not true) with the intention that someone else should believe it to be true. The liar pretends that circumstances are other than they are.

Following from this definition, someone can tell a lie that contains true statements. This is either because the statements are in fact true and the liar intending to mislead, inadvertently tells the truth, or because the deceiver selectively uses true statements to intentionally mislead. Conversely, someone can think they are telling the truth, but be mistaken. Here they are being truthful, they are not lying but what they have said is false. The essence of lying then is not the truth or falsity of the statement, but the conscious intention to mislead. Whether or not someone is lying depends on their intentions and beliefs, what they believe to be true or untrue.

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