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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What is a lie?

This post is yet another installment in the series (who knew?) exploring honesty (and dishonesty) and the morality of lying. Previous posts are:
Truth and Honesty ... and Otherwise
Lying is not intrinsically immoral
Lying is not intrinsically immoral, Part II

For this post, we take as our text this recent post by Edward Feser: What counts as a lie?
... As typically defined by natural law theorists, a lie is willful speech or other communicative behavior contrary to one’s mind. That is to say, one lies when one wills to communicate the message that P when what one really thinks is not-P. But there are two crucial things to note about this definition. First, what counts as “communicating the message that P” depends in part on convention and circumstance, because the significance of words and communicative gestures is determined by convention and can vary with circumstances. Second, lying is not the same thing as deception. One can lie without deceiving someone, and one can deceive someone without lying. ...
Don't that just beat all?

Here, Mr Feser offers as definition of (the noun) 'lie' this description: "a lie is willful speech or other communicative behavior contrary to one’s mind." -- I mean, look at that: "... communicative behavior ..." I mean, of course I know that it has to be pure coincidence that "communicative behavior" is so similar to "communicative act," but still!

By the way, in lieu of the subject matter, "act" is much the better word to use than "behavior."

Now, this definition is still not very good, for it doesn't account for enough of the commonly-understood facts about lies [as see the Facts of which a definition of 'lying' must account section]. He seems, at least at first, to be no longer trying to restrict acts of lying to "speech and related behavior" [as see the section Feser's definition of 'lying'? section, where I had teased out his definition of 'lying' as: "deliberately doing the opposite of communicating (via speech and related behavior) what is on one's mind"]. I say "at first" because, continuing to read, it seems that Feser's understanding of the nature of lies continues mostly to restrict them to being instances of "speech and related behavior." That is, there is a great difference between acknowledging the fact that most, but not all, lies are communicated via verbal acts, and understanding the fact that lies are a particular class of communicative acts, rather than being a class of verbal acts.

The relationships between "communicative acts" and speech and lies are represented by this image -- All lies, but their natures, are "communicative acts," but not all acts of speech (or "verbal acts") are "communicative acts;" AND, not all lies are acts of speech.

[there is no telling when I will finish this post, as I am still working on the "Lying is not intrinsically immoral, Part II" post]