Monday, 11 January 2010

Lies Of Omission

To lie by omission is to remain silent and thereby withhold from someone else a vital piece (or pieces) of information. The silence is deceptive in that it gives a false impression to the person from whom the information was withheld. It subverts the truth; it is a way to manipulate someone into altering their behavior to suit the desire of the person who intentionally withheld the vital information; and, most importantly, it’s a gross violation of another person’s right of self-determination.

A lie of omission is the most insidious, most pervasive, and most common lie on the entire planet. Commonly, those who use this type of lie, have conned themselves into believing that to intentionally remain silent when ethical behavior calls for one to speak up is not a lie at all. In spite of overwhelming evidence that their silence deceives, misleads, and often causes untold grief and misery, they refuse to speak the truth.

There is also the common misconception that intentional deception by silence has no consequences. Lies of commission (telling a lie) and lies of omission (withholding the truth) are both acts of intention deception.

To lie is to make statements that are untrue, when the falsity of such statements is known or suspected by the speaker. A lie can be a genuine falsehood or a selective truth, a lie by omission, or even the truth if the intention is to deceive or to cause an action not in the listener’s interests. A lie (also called prevarication) is a type of deception in the form of an untruthful statement, especially with the intention to deceive others, often with the further intention to maintain a secret or reputation, protect someone’s feelings or to avoid a punishment. To lie is to state something that one knows to be false or that one has not reasonably ascertained to be true with the intention that it be taken for the truth by oneself or someone else.

Startling to most people is that, in considering whether a statement is a lie, the least important consideration is whether it is true ! The more important considerations are : Did he believe it ? Did he intend to deceive ? Was he trying to gain some advantage or to harm someone else ? Is it a serious matter, or a trivial one ? Even a true statement can be considered a lie if the person making that statement is doing so to deceive. It is the intent of being untruthful rather than the truthfulness of the statement itself that is considered. How can that be ? If a completely truthful and accurate statement is deliberately delivered in a manner that suggests that it should not be taken seriously, then it is a lie. Also, it is a lie when a person accidentally makes a true statement when he thought it was false. It’s the intent to lie that makes it a lie.

Reasons For Not Lying
Philosophers over the millennia have agreed that there is no good reason for lying. Their most important arguments are :

  1. Lying is a perversion of the natural faculty of speech, the natural end of which is to communicate the thoughts of the speaker.
  2. When one lies, one undermines trust in society.
There are different kinds of lies that have different effects and severity. The most important categories of lies are as follows :

Fabrication
A fabrication is a lie told when someone submits a statement as truth, without knowing for certain whether or not it actually is true. Although a fabrication may be possible or plausible, it is not based on fact. Rather, it is something made up, or it is a misrepresentation of the truth. Example of fabrication : A person giving directions to a tourist when the person doesn’t actually know the directions.

Bold-Faced Lie
A bold-faced lie (often also referred to as bare-faced or bald-faced lie) is one which is told when it is obvious to all concerned that it is a lie. For example, a child who has chocolate all around his mouth and denies that he has eaten any chocolate has told a bold-faced lie. There are political statements that are way beyond exaggeration that would fall in this category.

Lies Of Omission
One lies by omission by omitting an important fact, deliberately leaving another person with a misconception. Lying by omission includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions. An example is when the seller of a car declares it has been serviced regularly but does not tell that an unrepaired fault was reported at the last service. Another example of lying by omission happens when one person witnesses, or has knowledge of, a lie by a second person to a third (who subsequently relies upon the veracity of the lie) but does not inform the third person of the lie; Here, two people are lying to the third person.

Misleading Statement
A misleading statement is one where there is no outright lie, but still retains the purpose of getting someone to believe in an untruth. Dissembling likewise describes the presentation of facts in a way that is literally true, but intentionally misleading. Sarcasm and obfuscation are frequently used to mislead or dissemble.

Contextual Lies
One can state part of the truth out of context, knowing that without complete information, it gives a false impression. Quoting out of context is a classic example. Likewise, one can actually state accurate facts, yet deceive with them. To say “Yeah, that’s right, I slept with your best friend” utilizing a sarcastic, offended tone, may cause the listener to assume the speaker did not mean what he said, when in fact he did.



For children, lying is a learned habit : Evolutionary psychology is concerned with the theory of mind which people employ to simulate another’s reaction to their story and determine if a lie will be believable. The most commonly cited milestone in the rising of this, what is known as Machiavellian Intelligence, is at the human age of about four and a half years, when children begin to be able to lie convincingly. Before this, they seem simply unable to comprehend that anyone doesn’t see the same view of events that they do - and seem to assume that there is only one point of view - their own - that must be integrated into any given story. If we grew up and lived in total isolation, lies would not exist for lack of need - there would be no one to lie to !

When children first learn how lying works, they lack the moral understanding of when to refrain from doing it. It takes years of watching people tell lies, and the results of these lies, to develop a proper understanding. Propensity to lie varies greatly between children, some doing so habitually and others being habitually honest. Habits in this regard are likely to change in early adulthood. Some never learn this lesson, or at least not the universality of the lesson. In one respect, they are lying to themselves for thinking that it is acceptable to lie when it is convenient or to their perceived benefit.



One standard form of legal oath before making a deposition or taking the witness stand in a court trial is “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth ?” For which the proper response is “I do.” There’s a reason for making the oath so complicated. It’s a reminder to the deposed and the witness how not to lie. The first clause (tell the truth) is the affirmation part of the oath, the second clause (the whole truth) reminds the oath taker to leave nothing out, that is, no lying by omission, no out-of-context lies, and no misleading statements, and the last clause (nothing but the truth) is a reminder to relate no falsehoods, including fabrications.


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