Sissala Bok's 1978 book Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life wrestles with a wide range of issues surrounding truth and its communication. Its attempt to make a systematic taxonomy of lies (e.g., paternalistic, vengeful, profitable, trivial, modest, boastful, etc.) falls short. But the examples that Bok provides, both classic and original, are always entertaining and provocative. For instance:

Among the amusing thought-experiments Bok quotes is Saint Augustine's reductio ad absurdum, "... I am not moved by the fact that, when we are unwilling to lie and men die upon hearing what is true, truth is called homicide. Why, if a shameless woman expects to be defiled and then dies of her fierce love because you do not consent, will chastity also be homicide?"

Bok argues, reasonably, that all dishonesty needs to be judged in the light of public examination, i.e., ask oneself how a lie would look on the front page of a newspaper. Lies must not be told to take advantage of someone weaker. The general corruption of society also needs to be kept in mind when evaluating untruth.

^z - 2011-10-13

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