Liar Liar, Pants on Fire

I find the amount people in this world that lie without even having to think about it to be absolutely astonishing.  And disturbing.  When I tell a lie – even a little one – I agonize over it for days.  I told a lie a few days ago and still cannot get over it; not I feel bad for the person or the consequence of the lie, but just that I truly believe lying is an awful thing to do.  There are quite a few ways a person can lie, but in all of them the only thing really going on is that the liar could care less about the person they are lying to.  Here’s why:

The first, most obvious, case of lying, is simply that the person telling the lie is says one thing while thinking something else.  I’m sure a lot of people would argue that a “little white lie” is okay, particularly when they are worried they will hurt the other person’s feelings.  A woman asks her husband:  “does this dress make my ass look like the size of Texas?”  Of course, the husband responds “no, honey … you look beautiful” while thinking it actually looks like Texas and New Mexico combined.  No harm, no foul right?  Except for the fact that the woman may be on her way to a job interview, or out to her ten year high school reunion.  By telling a lie to preserve his wife’s feelings, the husband could be potentially making a fool of his wife.

In this first case of lying as well, there is the malicious lie:  the lie that is told merely for the sake of intentionally deceiving another for the sake of the liar’s personal gain.  No matter how minor the offense (e.g. lying about taking a cookie for the sake of not getting in trouble), or major the issue at hand (e.g. lying about committing a crime), the intentional deceit of another is not to be taken lightly.  In the DSM-IV, this type of lying is listed in a myriad of mental illnesses, from narcissistic personality disorder to psychopathy, to even bipolar disorder.  A person that lies like this on a regular basis is always questionable in character.

The second case of lying is in omission, or rather leaving out information for the purpose of deceiving another.  It seems that so many people live by the adage “what they don’t know won’t hurt them;” however, again we are confronted with the same problem as in the first case of lying.  Who is to judge what information will or will not hurt a person?  As autonomous human beings in an extremely relativistic world, we are really the only ones who can judge for ourselves what is good and bad.

Now while I am sure there are plenty of cases in which information omitted has not harmed anyone, there are probably an equal number of cases where it has.  I can name off the top of my head a whole host of times in my own experiences that information left out has at the very least made life more difficult, at the most ruined entire relationships.

The final case of lying is when someone lies to themselves.  This is probably the most atrocious case of lying, for in lying to oneself you in essence double-lie.  This case of lying is probably the least damnable, for it is more a matter of the liar’s inability to accept reality; nonetheless, it is wrong.

The thing about lying is that if a person proves themselves to do it, and to do it frequently, there is absolutely no basis on which to trust them.  I can tell you that there are a lot of people I know that lie through their teeth, almost easier than they breath (and you know who you are).  Every time I catch one of their repetitive and often nonsensical lies, I trust them less and less.

From my days as a graduate student in philosophy, I am still plagued with the ramblings of Immanuel Kant – an 18th century philosopher who wrote with such verbosity my eyes bleed at the mere thought of ever reading him again.  The one thing I took to heart from Kant was that you should live your moral life according to the maxim (and I am paraphrasing):  act in a way that you would prefer others to act towards you.  In other words, that “do unto others” Golden Rule that seems to work the best when applied to most of life’s moral dilemmas.  To me, I want people to trust me and my word, just as I want to be told the truth at all costs.  So the old joke is “I Kant tell a lie,” or really I just cannot bring myself to lie without moral reserve because I know that if it were me on the other end, I would want to know the truth.


  1. The Perfect Husband « Heather Christena Schmidt

    […] doesn’t know the meaning of the truth.  Ignoring my previously expressed feelings about liars, wouldn’t it just be terribly spectacular to be married to someone that thinks a good way to […]

  2. johnnathanielfernando

    very nice article. i guess i’m guilty for all types of lies except for the last one. although i most certainly don’t want to be lied to, i have to admit that there are times when a little lie can prevent or even solve a potential catastrophe. still, i’m no saint and i’m guilty of being a liar, and even a very good one at that. im not proud of it, and neither am i trying to justify my lies but in all the times i remember lying, i gave them all much thought and concluded that it was better than telling the truth. i know i might get burned for this, but i guess everyone lies and i would be lying to myself if i didn’t admit here that i am a liar. liar liar. anyways thanks for a very stimulating post, this really got me thinking!

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      I think it would be completely naive to think that there are people who don’t lie, and as I started this post, I just did myself the other day! I think the really important thing though is to distinguish between those that actually think about what they’re actually doing and those that just do it because they can or because it is natural. As you said … “I gave them all much thought …” – this I think is a big thing people don’t often consider. Ultimately I believe lying is wrong, but I can admit that there are times when a lie is necessary. The philosopher I mentioned always argued against his point by positing a murderer asking you where your friend is. Even if you know you’ll want to lie because you don’t want your friend to be murdered (and he used to weasel out of the dilemma by saying you could say ‘I last saw him X’ even though you know he is somewhere else by that point); the most important part in that is that you think about it and the moral implications. It’s a moral dilemma in the end but I think the disturbing thing is how many people don’t view it that way – that think it really is just the norm. Thanks so much for reading my blog post and for your comment!!

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