Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wittgensteinian Thoughts on Lying

Following the aphoristic style of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, here are some thoughts I have on lying and truth-telling, inspired by my recent post re. the evolutionary function of lying.
  • When someone is said to have lied, their lying seems to consist of: 1) a proposition made; 2) some kind of claim that the proposition is true; 3) the proposition is false; 4) the utterer of the proposition intends to deceive or something like that.

  • A "proposition" is a sentence that is either true or false.

  • Just because an uttered or written proposition is false does not mean the utterer is lying. They may be wrong. If I say "The Detroit Lions won last Sunday's football game," and it is false that the Lions won the game, then I am not necessarily lying. I might have forgotten who actually won the game, and thought the Lions did win the game.

  • "Lying" does not seem to fit the utterance of non-cognitive sentences, such as commands. If we're at dinner and I say "Please pass the salt," it's difficult to see how this could in any way ever be a lie. If there's not salt on the table, and I know there's no salt on the table, then the utterance is odd. Perhaps I am making a joke. Or, if I'm about to go into open heart surgery and I hear the surgeon say "Please pass the salt," I can't easily conclude that the surgeon is lying about something.

  • Could lying ever be non-propositional? Could one ever utter a command and be said to have lied? What if I request that you "Pass the salt," but I know the salt shaker is really a bomb, and that you'll be injured if you pick up the salt? If I say, "That's an ordinary salt shaker, and not a bomb," and I know this proposition is false as I tell you this, then it seems that I have lied.

  • If persons always lied, then we could never know if the statement "Persons always lie" is true.

  • To be able to claim that a person lied it seems we must have access to the truth. Otherwise I don't see how we could meaningfully say "Human beings have a propensity to lie." Don't we have to know the propositional content of a statement to be able to make that kind of claim?
  • First a theory of truth is required. Only from that can a theory of lying be developed.
  • What is truth?