Lying

By Sam Harris

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As it was in Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, and Othello, so it is in life. Most forms of private vice and public evil are kindled and sustained by lies. Acts of adultery and other personal betrayals, financial fraud, government corruption—even murder and genocide—generally require an additional moral defect: a willingness to lie.

Book details

October 23rd 2013 by Four Elephants Press

(first published September 2011)

Edition Language
English

Quotes From "Lying"

"Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship."
"Of course, the liar often imagines that he does no harm as long as his lies go undetected."
"By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is. Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they can make—and in ways we cannot always predict. Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to."
"To agree to keep a secret is to assume a burden"
"Unlike statements of fact, which require no further work on our part, lies must be continually protected from collisions with reality."
"The year was 1987, but it might as well have been the Summer of Love: I was twenty, had hair down to my shoulders, and was dressed like an Indian rickshaw driver. For those charged with enforcing our nation’s drug laws, it would have been only prudent to subject my luggage to special scrutiny. Happily, I had nothing to hide. “Where are you coming from?” the officer asked, glancing skeptically at my backpack. “India, Nepal, Thailand…” I said. “Did you take any drugs while you were over there?” As it happens, I had. The temptation to lie was obvious—why speak to a customs officer about my recent drug use? But there was no real reason not to tell the truth, apart from the risk that it would lead to an even more thorough search of my luggage (and perhaps of my person) than had already commenced. “Yes,” I said. The officer stopped searching my bag and looked up. “Which drugs did you take? “I smoked pot a few times… And I tried opium in India.” “Opium?” “Yes.” “Opium or heroin? “It was opium.” “You don’t hear much about opium these days.” “I know. It was the first time I’d ever tried it.” “Are you carrying any drugs with you now?” “No.” The officer eyed me warily for a moment and then returned to searching my bag. Given the nature of our conversation, I reconciled myself to being there for a very long time. I was, therefore, as patient as a tree. Which was a good thing, because the officer was now examining my belongings as though any one item—a toothbrush, a book, a flashlight, a bit of nylon cord—might reveal the deepest secrets of the universe. “What is opium like?” he asked after a time. And I told him. In fact, over the next ten minutes, I told this lawman almost everything I knew about the use of mind-altering substances. Eventually he completed his search and closed my luggage. One thing was perfectly obvious at the end of our encounter: We both felt very good about it."
"One of the worst things about breaking the law is that it puts one at odds with an indeterminate number of other people. This is among the many corrosive effects of having unjust laws: They tempt peaceful and (otherwise) honest people to lie so as to avoid being punished for behavior that is ethically blameless."
"Honest people are a refuge: You know they mean what they say; you know they will not say one thing to your face and another behind your back; you know they will tell you when they think you have failed—and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery."

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