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Lying Hardcover – November 5, 2013
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"This essay is quite brilliant. (I was hoping it would be, so I wouldn't have to lie.) I honestly loved it from beginning to end. Lying is the most thought-provoking read of the year."
"Humans have evolved to lie well, and no doubt you've seen the social lubrication at work. In many cases, we might not think of it as a true "lie": perhaps a "white lie" once in a blue moon, the omission of a sensitive detail here and there, false encouragement of others when we see no benefit in dashing someone's hopes, and the list goes on. In Lying, Sam Harris demonstrates how to benefit from being brutallybut pragmaticallyhonest. It's a compelling little book with a big impact."
Tim Ferriss, author of the New York Times bestsellers, The 4-Hour Body, The 4-Hour Workweek, and The 4-Hour Chef
"In this brief but illuminating work, Sam Harris applies his characteristically calm and sensible logic to a subject that affects us allthe human capacity to lie. And by the book's end, Harris compels you to lead a better life because the benefits of telling the truth far outweigh the cost of liesto yourself, to others, and to society."
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History
About the Author
Mr. Harris's writing has been published in more than 15 languages. He and his work have been discussed in The New York Times, Time, Scientific American, Nature, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, and many other journals. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, Newsweek, The Times (London), The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Annals of Neurology, and elsewhere.
Mr. Harris is a cofounder and the CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.
- ASIN : 1940051002
- Publisher : Four Elephants Press (November 5, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 108 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781940051000
- ISBN-13 : 978-1940051000
- Item Weight : 7 ounces
- Dimensions : 4.3 x 0.7 x 6.6 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #53,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris' long-form essay Lying approaches this question and answers with a resounding "yes". In fact, Harris' whole thesis could be summed up on pg. 24 of his book: "Do not lie."
Harris at the beginning of the book states that he started thinking about lying seriously when he took a class at Stanford University called "The Ethical Analyst", and the entire course revolved around whether or not one should lie. The book is divided into three sections, one in which Harris makes arguments about why telling the truth in all situations is best, the second section is a dialogue between Harris and his professor who taught "The Ethical Analyst", Ronald A. Howard, and the final part is Harris answering questions from readers who read the e-book version of Lying, which was released prior to the hardback version being released.
As mentioned previously, Harris book focuses on white lies, and on situations where honesty gives the person the information they need in order to live the best life possible. Perhaps one of his best examples is a situation we have all encountered or at least heard about before, namely whether someone looks fat or not in a certain outfit. Harris writes:
"Most people think that the correct answer to this question is always "No"....But this is an edge case for a reason:It crystallizes what is tempting about white lies. Why not simply reassure someone with a tiny lie and send her out into the world more confident? Unless one commits to telling the truth in situations like this, however, one feels that edges creep inward, and exceptions to the principle of honesty begin to multiply. Very soon, you may find yourself behaving as most people do quite effortlessly:shading the truth, or even lying outright, without thinking about it. The price is too high." (Lying pg. 15-16)
In short, Harris is saying that when we commit to be honest in every situation, we will be better people and less stressed with how much we have to remember, because we will have nothing to hide. Harris does also comment that tact plays a role in this, one can be truthful without being rude. I admit that I at times struggle with this, but it can be done. Harris also talks about "Faint Praise", which is giving someone a compliment when one has not been earned. For instance, Harris mentions a friend who is a successful writer, but once gave Harris a text that he thought was terrible. Rather than avoid the question, Harris told his friend that the piece was not his best work. The reaction was that Harris' friend trusted him more, and now knows if Harris praises his work, he is being sincere. Since relationships are built upon trust, it follows that we must be honest in order to have rewarding, fulfilling relationships.
If there is one failing in Harris' book, it a failure that is common to his other writings, which is not taking the arguments of his opponents seriously. On pages 28-29 of his book, Harris mentions that philosopher Immanuel Kant thought that under no circumstance could lying be justified, and then dismisses him by saying that he has no reason to take Kant seriously. Here is where Harris shows that he is a scientist first and a moral philosopher second. Kant is one of the greatest philosophers in moral theory, one can hardly find a volume dealing with moral philosophy that does not mention Kant extensively. Furthermore, Kant justified his claim in his various Critiques, but Harris fails to mention this at all, he just dismisses Kant and moves on. This is a characteristic that Harris shows in his other work, such as in The Moral Landscape, when he dismisses David Hume's Is-Ought distinction (which fellow utilitarian Peter Singer calls him out on in a recent podcast), or in The End Of Faith, when he dismisses Noam Chomsky's arguments about how interventionism by the United States in the Middle East helped to bring out the September 11 attacks. It is not enough to simply dismiss a reputable philosopher with whom one disagrees; one must show charity to their argument by presenting it at its best and showing why your position is better than theirs. Harris has not yet learned this lesson.
Overall, Lying is a book that I recommend to both the general reader and philosopher alike. It is interesting, short, and a joy to read overall. It can even be said that if we take Harris' arguments seriously, we can be better people, have better relationships, and ultimately a better planet.
For example, he states that it's better to avoid white lies whenever possible, as in being honest when your wife asks, "Does this dress make me look fat?" But there are different proper responses to this question depending on a number of undiscussed variables such as a) Is there another dress she can slip into before leaving the house? b) Is she feeling particularly insecure moments before giving a lecture before 500 people? c) Has she been working very hard to lose weight and you'd rather not risk undermining her progress?
The answers to the above scenarios could be a) "It doesn't flatter you as much as your other dresses ."(are you kidding me? You look great, and that's a great dress!" (Sam might recommend stopping at "You look Great!", though the evasion of the actual question could be disconcerting to the questioner at a particularly inopportune time. c) "Look fat? You just lost 50 pounds! I don't think any dress could make you look fat!"
You'll notice that in each of these instances, there's a bit off "wink wink, nudge nudge" going on, in that both parties really know what's going on here: That the questioner is most assuredly not asking for "transparent" absolutist truth-telling but, rather, assurance delivered on the carrier wave of the fact that the respondent is willing to forgo the easier path of ejaculating whatever factual truth first jumps to mind and, instead, offers the small gift of offering a white lie at the moment when a white lie serves, on a utilitarian level, provisionally until a more truth truth can be offered as replacement.
In other words, let the person go out on stage feeling she picked the right outfit and kill it for the audience. They'll be plenty of time to recommend a different outfit next time, while she has the opportunity to change into something else.
Harris argues that almost any case where lying in any form is desirable comes in the context of war or espionage, which he rightly says could easily put one's humanity, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, at hazard. A the philosophy 101 case is, of course, the Nazi at the door asking if you're hiding Anne Frank. You are, of course, in that case required to lie.
But when Harris discusses a moment in his youth when he was returning from travels to India, Nepal and Thailand and the security officer examining his passport and luggage asks Harris if he tried any drugs during his travels—and Sam honestly retells his experiments with weed and opium, he misses a great opportunity to link the opportunity, on could argue ethical responsibility, to lie to the official. Harris recalls his transparent honesty as a catalyst to a very pleasant, though lengthy (his belongings got a real lookover) conversation with the official. However, that moment, and the philosophical imperatives attendant to any such encounters with law enforcement, bring up the very same issues surrounding the Nazi example. One need not wonder if the Nazi at the door acts as a perfectly lovely person at home or at his local church gathering; one need only, must only, contend with the person in the uniform who, as such, is acting not as a human being with whom one might have societal obligations but, rather, with an armed representative of an oppressive State.
As marijuana laws are, as are all things one can rightly call "evil," evil to the the extent that there are indefensible (which is, in this case, to say quite evil), then it could be well argued that lying to the vector and enforcer of such ill-begotten laws, the official, is not only excusable but required. Given the fact that police and other officials carry firearms and handcuffs to bring a swift end to any discussion leading to disagreement, I think it's safe to say that any answers, or confessions, you might provide, whether "willingly"—if you could use this term under such circumstances of extreme power asymmetry—or by threat of force. As the official, or the Nazi, might contend, they're simply "doing their job." And, "Hey, I don't make the laws!" But in saying this, while wearing the uniform of State authority, they are in effect saying, "Hey, I'm not Bob Wilson, the guy who volunteers as a tennis coach. I'm Robocop, programmed to bring you in if you provide one set of answers versus another set of answers."
And, as with the earlier examples with the married couple, there is a mutual understanding happening here. The cop knows that, when he asks "Do you have any illegal drugs in the home?" you are perfectly within your ethical, though not currently legal, rights to lie to him with a straight face. And, more than likely, the officer would prefer you lie convincingly so that he may avoid having to bring you in for a chicken s*** charge rather than get on with the important duty of catching actual criminals.
One could argue that being in a position to tell the truth in such legally charged context is a privilege enjoyed by the wealthy and empowered—folks in nice neighborhoods in nice cars with nice, Harvard-trained lawyers on speed dial. The idea that a young black man slammed against the hood of his car is best advised to lie in whatever manner may keep him from being deposited into the jaws of the system. The war on drugs is—as Nixon has been recorded saying outright—a well engineered and well executed war against young black men.
But then, maybe Harris would be right to respond, "Ok, accepting this characterization, you've bought into my argument. Remember, I said exceptions can, and should, be made in times of war."
Ok, Sam. You got me. But the thing is, there is more sophisticated inquiry recognition of nuance in this Amazon review than there is within the 100 pages of your essay. And that is departure not typical of your work.
Like I say, pains me to say it. But then, I'm just being honest.
Top reviews from other countries
I think people often lie because they either struggle to be vulnerable or feel a lot of shame, yet the irony is lying only creates more shame and feelings of inadequacy, but I digress. My point is simple, Sam hits the nail on the head, lying sucks, if you are not sure, read his book to understand why.
I think if you are someone who is in the habit of regularly telling lies, this is probably a book you should read and use to explore yourself more deeply and hopefully make a real commitment to honesty in the future. X
However, I purchased the book after a final reminder from him and just...WOW!! This book should be read by everyone, it's a book that everyone at some point in their life can relate to.
It is a powerful account of all the lies we are told or lies we choose to tell day to day. Before reading this book, I would have considered myself an honest individual, after reading this book, I reconsidered!! This book highlights the un-typical types of traps we fall into which create a minefield of lies.
A brilliant read that could only serve as an insight to all.