Sam Harris has made his short eBook Lying (2011) available to download for free. Make the most of this opportunity and read it. It will only take you an hour or so. For those of you who cannot spare an hour, here’s a five-minute review and five-minute criticism. To the review.
In good philosophical fashion, Harris opens his essay with a definition of lying: ‘To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication’ (p. 4).
The expectation that others have about a particular piece of communication is important, Harris contends. When, for example, someone greets us in the street with a ‘Hi, how are you?’ an acceptable response is ‘Well!’, even when we aren’t well. Although such a response may be deceptive, Harris argues that it’s not a lie because both parties understand that the communication is intended as a greeting. By responding with ‘Well!’ you’re not intentionally misleading your interlocutor. They don’t expect an honest reply.