Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I resolve never to lie again, a thought on Sam Harris' Lying and a possible freebie

I've just finished reading Lying by Sam Harris, and would strongly advise you to do the same.

In it he (successfully to me at least) argues that lying, even white lies, are things to be avoided.

It only costs £2, well worth the investment* and you need only set aside 45 minutes reading time (and probably a bit of thinking time after).

I generally think of myself as a very honest person. However, following reading this, I going to take up Sam Harris and resolve to not lie again. I hope that I don't find this too much of a challenge!

The only caveat I can think of with white lies is when using them to surprise someone. I once lied about going for a run, so that I could pay a surprise visit to my (not at the time) ex. The deceit allowed me the time to drive and not reply to texts etc. which I would otherwise do. However, I think this falls into a category not mentioned by Harris - telling a lie, but with the ultimate aim of revealing the deceit later. Of course Walter Scott is right when he says "Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!" - would these kind of lies make it easier to tell lies in general? Are these the only lies worth telling? I don't know. It's easy to think of how the potential negatives from this deceit (imagine that there had been a car crash and I had died - my last communication would have been a lie. This may be an extreme, but it's well within the realms of possibility) could out weigh any positives

*If you email me, I can send it to you for free. Sam Harris says he's happy for digital/physical copies to be shared with others, but does ask that if you received your copy for free, that you buy your own copy before passing yours on. You might also like to read "The future of the book" from Sam Harris' blog.


  1. Just so you are aware, Sam Harris, a man who admittedly has spent a fair bit of time studying with Buddhists, just repackaged a series of sutras and arguments from Buddhism and is pointing something out an entire culture has been aware of since 500 BCE, with the updates from 2500 years of pushing past scientific ignorance.

  2. Thanks Doug - I was unaware of the similarity to Buddhist sutras. If you could point me to any (good translations) of the ones you're thinking of, I would be grateful, as I would like to read them.

    Even if the idea isn't novel (which Harris never claims, given as he says it was prompted by a lecturer), I think it's good if the ideas are spread further, and made more contemporary.

    I am sorry, but I'm not sure I understand your point when you say "with the updates from 2500 years of pushing past scientific ignorance." though.

  3. I'm one of those people who finds lying very, very hard. Some would say I "suffer" from "pathological honesty". Not totally true, I occasionally twist the truth, but I tend to feel guilty about it forever afterwards - I can still remember some lies I told when I was 5. I have great difficulty making the conventional reply to "How are you?" when it would be misleading.

    My colleagues at work know this characteristic in me. It makes them terrified to take me to certain meetings where they would rather certain pertinent facts were swept under the carpet, or an "honest" report on things might offend the other party. I don't see my "pathological honesty" as all good, it also makes me prone to offend people by my "honest" assessments.


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