On the Definition of Lies

The dictionary defines a lie as an ‘intentionally false statement’. In the Bible, a lie is a transgression of God-given laws and most traditional theists would consider a lie a bad act.

But what exactly is a lie? Anti-realism would dictate that a lie is different whatever the ‘language game’[1] of culture. So, in a collectivist culture, a lie might be a deception of a tribesperson to the tribesleader, regardless of whether this deception was in verbo, in opereve. In an individualist culture like ours, a lie might be more of a personal act; in the collectivist culture, it may be worse to commit an act of offence against the leader and, thus, against the tribe or group as a whole, than it may be to commit an offence against an individual. In an individualist culture, a ‘lie’ against an individual, though not as far-reaching as a collectivist offence, would affect the individual more.

One could argue that the dictionary definition is illogical, in that it does not take into account works of literature, which are ‘intentionally false statements’, but which we would not ourselves count as lies. These intentionally false statements are deliberately done to entertain others or to attempt to provide some good. For instance, many works of fiction are not true, even when they show situations that may mimic life. We innately know that the science-fiction ideas of space-travel (though a possible indication of the future) are not what happens in our society for real. On the other hand, lies are often created to portray one’s self in a greater light at the expense of others, or to conceal misdeeds from those who might be affected by said misdeeds.

The good thing is that, using our humanity, we are able to make this distinction.

Lies are used as a weapon against truth, a dishonourable way to act. Fiction is in no way dishonourable and has often been praised.

[1] See Wittgenstein

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