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Is Lying Immoral (Sinful, Illegal)?


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#1    coberst

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Posted 28 February 2009 - 11:44 AM

Is Lying Immoral (Sinful, Illegal)?

I was raised in a Catholic family and went to Catholic schools and was taught by nuns that lying was a sin.  To me and my fellow Catholic kids lying was the most serious sin we could imagine.  We were taught that we had to “examine our conscience” before confession and to tell the priest of our sins in the confessional.

How does a kid tell the difference between a “white lie” and a “sin lie” or any of the other forms of “lies” that we saw adults indulge in?  Surly Mom and Dad did not lie!  It was all a great puzzlement!

The nuns taught us all about moral concepts; of course, they did not use such big words.  I have later learned that the nuns taught us in accordance with a classical, also called objectivist, theory of categorical structure.

“According to the classical or objectivist theory of categorical structure, there must be a set of necessary and sufficient conditions the possession of which alone makes a speech act a lie…As a Moral Law theorist and an absolutist, Alan Donagan defines the essential features of a lie as “any free linguistic utterance expressing something contrary to the speaker’s mind”.”

Linda Coleman and Paul Kay have discovered facts that indicate that “the category of lie exhibits prototype effects; that is, there are certain central instances of speech acts that speakers easily and noncontroversial recognize as lies.”

What are these prototype effects that Coleman and Kay speak of?

Lie is a concept that displays a core structure surrounded by a “fuzzy” penumbra (fringe) of  less clear-cut cases about which the speaker may be justifiably unsure as to their moral objectionability: such a penumbra might contain such things as mistakes, jokes, exaggerations, white lies, social lies, and over simplifications.

Coleman and Kay found that these core cases that everyone could easily agree upon as being lies, i.e. those prototypical cases of clear-cut lies, fulfilled all three of the following conditions: 1) the speaker is confident that the statement is erroneous, 2) the speaker is intent upon deceiving the listener, and 3) the statement is in fact erroneous.

The less prototypical instances of lying fulfilled one or two conditions but not all three.  Furthermore, tests were run and it was discovered that subjects typically rated the conditions in order of “importance”: 1) being most important and 3) being the least important.  Subjects seemed to agree on the relative weights given to the individual elements.

We see here that lie does not follow the classical objectivist strict categorization.  A fixed set of essential conditions do not exist and there is considerable internal structure to the concept that are of a great deal of importance in determining whether a statement qualifies as a lie or not.

Quotes from Moral Imagination by Mark Johnson



#2    eight bits

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Posted 28 February 2009 - 11:59 AM

Of course lying is sometimes fine.

The species would have died out in Eden if Adam hadn't given the right answer when Eve asked him "Do these fig leaves make me look fat?"

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#3    DfizzleShizzle

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 01:09 AM

eight bits on Feb 28 2009, 06:59 AM, said:

Of course lying is sometimes fine.

The species would have died out in Eden if Adam hadn't given the right answer when Eve asked him "Do these fig leaves make me look fat?"

AHAHAHAHA! w00t.gif
Now THAT was funny!xD

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#4    Crow Woman

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 04:46 AM

I don't consider shallow lying a bad thing, but when it is important or serious, then it is very bad. I myself feel like a monster whenever I do actually lie, so I don't do it at all anymore in fear of that painful regret coming back to torture me.

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#5    eight bits

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 11:43 AM

Quote

I don't consider shallow lying a bad thing, but when it is important or serious, then it is very bad. I myself feel like a monster whenever I do actually lie, so I don't do it at all anymore in fear of that painful regret coming back to torture me.

People who take this question seriously should check out Richard Feynman's account of lying to his first wife about the severity of her final disease. He did so against his better judgment, against her direct request that he tell her the truth, and in the face of his knowing that she asked him because he was a habitual teller of the truth.

And, because he knew she wasn't looking for information. She was dying, knew perfectly well that she was dying, and she wanted to talk about it with her best friend.

He regretted that for the rest of his life.

He did it because he was persuaded that it was for her own good, on professional medical advice, under pressure from her blood family. He did it because he was reluctant to "play God." But all that he accomplished was to play God poorly.

Feynman appreciated that the physician who fully believed that lying would benefit his patient had an obligation to lie. It's not about "everybody should always tell the truth."

It's about Feynman realizing too late that he wasn't his wife's physician, he was her husband. He had other obligations. And he screwed up.

There is also a twist. Her disease was curable. Unfortunately, the newly developed drug was only available for the military, since it was wartime. Had she managed to survive another six months or a year, then she would have recovered as the treatment became widely available. She might have done, it was a lingering illness with a long course. Lying to her might have saved her life by postponing her death, even if only by months.

It didn't, but there really was a shot to take. Feynman joined her physicians and family in taking it. He wasn't a villain, just wrong, by his own reckoning, not mine.

It's a good story. Several versions of it come up on Google with "richard feynman" tuberculosis as the query.

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#6    coberst

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 03:10 PM

The purpose of this OP was to compare the nature of categorization in traditional objectivist thinking and the thinking that is recognized by new cognitive science theories.

Traditional objectivist, one might call it positivist, thinking considers that the world is made up of things that fit neatly and completely within containers and that these categories express that which is necessary and sufficient for any object that fits into that  category.

SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science) has developed revolutionary new theories about the functioning of the mind.  SGCS informs us that in many cases categories do not fit neatly into containers.  Lying is one such category fits sloppily within containers.  There exists fuzzy overlap and difficult things that must be considered.

All this is to say that if SGCS is correct then we are all very far off base when we think of categories as always fitting neatly within containers.  

One has to read the OP and think about it a bit in order to get the idea.  The idea is very important.  Reading is fundamental.



#7    Weeping Angel

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 04:49 PM

I have honestly lied a lot in my past, I do not believe lying is a sin; however, there are still certain things that are really bad to lie about, like stealing for one.

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#8    eight bits

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Posted 01 March 2009 - 07:17 PM

Quote

One has to read the OP and think about it a bit in order to get the idea. The idea is very important. Reading is fundamental.

Got it. Thanks for the tip about reading. I'll try that thinking thing, too. Sounds like fun.

My personal view is that the notion of lying is applicable only to those assertions which are categorically true or else false. To lie, it is necessary that I knowingly assert that that which is false is true, or vice versa, with the intention that what I assert may become accepted by someone else as the truth of the matter.

However, I cannot lie by asserting a fuzzy predicate. Pace Second Generation Cognitive Scientists. For example, I cannot lie when I say "Keira Knightley is homely," since homely is a matter of judgment, a fuzzy predicate. There is no truth of the matter for me to intend that another accept my assertion as such.

I have no problem with fuzzy predicates, nor with Second Generation Cognitive Science. I simply disagree that to lie is anything except a categorical evaluation of categorical assertions in relation to the knowledge and intent of the person asserting them.

And yet, "That's a lie!" responds the outraged Keira Knightley fan. No. It may be BS, but it wasn't a lie.

Perhaps those who wish to discuss other kinds of deception might consider choosing other words. I had thought SGCS was descriptive rather than normative. That people don't choose other words when they mean something different is interesting and well worth knowing. That's a poor reason to do likewise, however, IMO.

And yes, when people choose their words poorly, it is difficult to fit what they say into the containers designed for the statements of those who choose their words more carefully. Contract lawyers figured that out long ago. Zeroth Generation Cognitive Scientists?

Now, immoral - there is a fuzzy predicate. And in my second post, I gave a historical example of its toils, involving a lie about a categorical matter of fact, the only kind of lie there is.

Could've sworn it was on-topic, too.

Edited by eight bits, 01 March 2009 - 07:20 PM.

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#9    coberst

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 05:57 PM

This example of the category we call "lie" helps us to comprehend why the work of SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science), in defining the nature of a new theory of categorization called "prototype theory", is so important to our comprehension of how we humans think.

Mark Johnson takes this prototype theory and shows us its importance in the matter of morality in his book “Moral Imagination”.

Steven L. Winter, law professor, does the same thing in the matter of law in the book “A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind”.



#10    behaviour???

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Posted 02 March 2009 - 06:19 PM

Even if it was God can control everything then why doesnt he wants us to live in a good way without saying lies?
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#11    Nik Xues

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Posted 03 March 2009 - 05:41 PM

When one distorts the truth he is insulting everyone.
basically lying is like saying one is too great to aknowledge reality.

dishpnesty is what makes the simplest of problems hard to solve.

As for white lies.

DONT ASK A QUESTION IF YOU CANT HANDLE THE ANSWER!!

True Scientists consider all possibilities until they have evidence stating otherwise.
the others are idiots simply waiting for proof of existence.

#12    Rosewin

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 06:49 PM

Truth is the natural order of things. When we lie we are out of order. There are always consequences for messing with the balance no matter how subtle or how far off eventually we will feel the sting. We hurt others and eventually ourselves with lies. Positive energy is truth. Negative energy is lies. They cannot ever switch places. Lying is counter to life. Lying to save a life is defense and self defense even if using negative energy to counter a greater negative energy.

It is a sin only if you believe sin exists and that is one. What is a sin for me is not a sin for you.

It is illegal only if it breaks some law, sacred or temporal, and only if you are under such laws.

A relationship formed on lies though will not last and if it continues it will not be real.

The worse lies we tell will always be to ourselves.



Edited by Rosewin, 05 March 2009 - 06:55 PM.


#13    soulseeker

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 07:06 PM

eight bits on Feb 28 2009, 06:59 AM, said:

Of course lying is sometimes fine.

The species would have died out in Eden if Adam hadn't given the right answer when Eve asked him "Do these fig leaves make me look fat?"

Those aren't lies...they are a bending of the truth....like her stomach was bent out insted of in....


I would like to bring attention to the newest member of the endangered species list: Common Sense.




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