Lying by Sam Harris

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Is it ever okay to lie? Even those tiny white lies we’ve all told at some point (and probably tell every other day). No, your bum doesn’t look big in that. Sorry, I can’t make it, I have something else on that night. Thanks, I love it; I’ve always wanted one these…

What about with Nazis knocking at the door and Anne Frank in the basement?

This is the premise of author (The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape) and neuroscientist Sam Harris’ recent e-book titled simply, Lying. His answer is given loud and clear: No, it’s not okay.

Harris first came to this conclusion after attending a Stanford seminar in which the lecturer (Ronald A. Howard) asked the very same question of his students. The result was an epiphany for Sam Harris – the seminar affected him, he said, “in ways that college courses seldom do: It made me a better person.”

Of course, the bold statement that even lies to protect another’s feelings are wrong requires some disclaimer – truthful intent versus absolute truth being an important one. As for the infamous Do I look fat in this? If you are sure that there is, in fact, a subtext to the question, Harris says, and the questioner is really asking for assurance that you love the asker, then it is not untruthful to answer in the affirmative. But don’t take that as the easy way out if the truth is that the person is, in fact, fat. A more truthful answer might be, ‘I love you no matter how you look.’ But, if the questioner really is overweight, you are certainly not doing them or their future health prospects any favours by giving them false assurance – you are, more likely, protecting yourself from an awkward or confrontational situation. It is, in effect, a cowardly way out.

This is a short book (58 pages including notes and acknowledgements), so I won’t go into its content too deeply as it has already been presented so clearly and succinctly by Harris himself. Simply put, Lying is a thought-provoking read and a great conversation starter well worth its $3 asking price.

It’s easy enough to say ‘thou shalt not lie’, or ‘white lies are okay’, but have you really thought about the moral implications of your words and actions? This is your chance.


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