26
May
11

White Lies and Self-Fulfilling Lies

Some lies are malicious. I falsely tell you that someone started a rumor about you so that you fight with him. I take pleasure in your discord.

Other lies aren’t quite so bad. I may tell you something “for your own good.” I tell you something falsely so that you DO something that is better for you. I falsely tell you the other team is bad so that you have confidence and play better.

But what is interesting is that there are other types of lies that I have never seen talked about.

Consider a lie that is not designed to help me or to help you, but rather is designed to undermine your confidence in a poor justification for some belief you have. Think of this situation. You let me use your apartment for the weekend, but tell me that you don’t want X coming along with me, because you think X is dirty and irresponsible. I disagree and think that X is trustworthy but you disagree. How can I get evidence that will convince you? One way is to tell you, falsely, that he will not be with me when I come to your apartment and then bring him or her with me. If, the next day, when you check the apartment, nothing is damaged, then I can reveal that X stayed with me and there was no problem. In this scenario, I lie in order to circumvent an action that you want prohibited based on your bad evidence. My lie is somehow evidence enhancing. I don’t lie because I want you to be better off and I don’t like to make myself better off. Rather, I lie in the interest of robbing you of a misconception.

A variation of evidence enhancing lying is truth enhancing lying. This is the most interesting case to me. We condemn lying for many reasons: it conveys disrespect to the person being lied to (even if they know you’re lying), the lie is false in itself, and the lie is likely to get you to believe something false. Consider the last one: lying is bad because it is AN INSTRUMENT to make you believe something false. I can get you to believe something false in many ways including walking backwards in the snow to make you think I went in the opposite direction. Another way is to lie. If I tell you X is in the next room its likely to make you believe that, and then you believe falsely. But there are cases when telling a lie to you may actually cause you to now BELIEVE THE TRUTH. How is that possible?

Think of cases of self deception. You have a lot of evidence telling you that your girlfriend is cheating on you but you somehow rationalize around the evidence and think she is faithful. I try to give you more evidence, but you are impervious to the truth. You find ways around the true evidence that I have available to me to convince you. But then I tell you a lie that I think you will believe about her behavior. Pretend you wrongly think she is hung up on an old boyfriend (she isn’t; rather she’s cheating with someone else), and so I tell you “she’s been back with her ex-boyfriend.” This really upsets you and makes you see all the evidence in a new light and so accept the evidence that I’ve been throwing at you all along. You now see she is cheating with someone else (though if you believe my lie, you may also believe she is cheating with her ex boyfriend). The point here though is that my lie doesn’t only give you a false belief, it also gets you to see a true belief. How wrong is a lie like that? I’m not sure but the answer sheds light on what factors influence the wrongness of lying.

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