Posts Tagged Errol Morris

Lying and its forms!

Just read a very interesting article on lying in the NYT. Using one event in the Bible, the author goes on to show us, the readers, how a single statement,a veritable lie, can, in fact, be interpreted in so many ways. Each of these interpretations do concur that the statement is a lie but the degree and severity of the consequences of the lie vary with each interpretation – from the extent of absolving the liar of any crime to implicating him in the heinous crime of fratricide.

Another fascinating insight is derived by the author through a conversation he has with Ricky Jay about lying. Ricky maintains that, in a world where no one lied, there would be no conmen – thus implying that the very basic currency on which all conmen operate and feed i.e. trust would no longer exist. In that sense, therefore, Ricky argues against a world wihtout lies. A very thought-provoking and, on the face of it, rather true statement. Of course, such a situation presupposes that conmen would still exist which, I maintain, would be just as impossible in a world without lies.

The appendix to the article also makes for very fascinating reading: From Shakespeare’s “As you like it”, a description of a lie seven times removed:        ” Touchstone: Upon a lie seven times removed: — bear your body more seeming, Audrey: — as thus, sir. I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut well, he was in the mind it was: this is called ‘the retort courteous.’ If I sent him word again, it was not well cut, he would send me word, he cut it to please himself: this is called the ‘quip modest.’ If again, it was not well cut, he disabled my judgment: this is called the ‘reply churlish.’ If again, it was not well cut, he would answer, I spake not true: this is called the ‘reproof valiant:’ if again, it was not well cut, he would say, I lie: this is called the ‘countercheck quarrelsome’: and so to the ‘lie circumstantial,’ and the ‘lie direct.’ “

And, from St.Augustine, eight types of lies: ” The first type of lie is a deadly one which should be avoided and shunned from afar, namely, that which is uttered in the teaching of religion, and to the telling of which no one should be led under any condition. The second is that which injures somebody unjustly: such a lie as helps no one and harms someone. The third is that which is beneficial to one person while it harms another, although the harm does not produce physical defilement. The fourth is the lie which is told solely for the pleasure of lying and deceiving, that is, the real lie. The fifth type is that which is told from a desire to please others in smooth discourse. When these have been avoided and rejected, a sixth kind of lie follows which harms no one and benefits some person, as, for instance, when a person, knowing that another’s money is to be taken away unjustly, answers the questioner untruthfully and says that he does not know where the money is. The seventh type is that which is harmful to no one and beneficial to some person, with the exception of the case where a judge is questioning, as happens when a person lies because he is unwilling to betray a man sought for capital punishment, that is, not only a just and innocent person but even a criminal, because it belongs to Christian discipline never to despair of the conversion of anybody and never to block the opportunity for repentance…. The eighth type of lie which is harmful to no one and beneficial to the extent that it protects someone from physical defilement, at least, from that defilement which we have mentioned above.” (Augustine, “On Lying,” Treatises on Various Subjects)

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