Lying as a violation of Grice's first maxim of quality

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According to the traditional philosophical definition, you lie if and only if you assert what you believe to be false with the intent to deceive. However, several philosophers (e.g., Carson 2006, Sorensen 2007, Fallis 2009) have pointed out that there are lies that are not intended to deceive and, thus, that the traditional definition fails. In 2009, I suggested an alternative definition: you lie if and only if you say what you believe to be false when you believe that one of Paul Grice's conversational norms ("Do not say what you believe to be false") is in effect. Faulkner (forthcoming), Stokke (forthcoming), and Pruss (2012) have subsequently argued that my 2009 definition fails as well because it counts some statements that are clearly not lies as being lies. In this paper, I identify some additional counter-examples of this sort. But I argue that my 2009 definition can easily be revised to deal with such counter-examples once we clarify that the relevant norm is really against communicating something false rather than against merely saying it. Nevertheless, I show that even this revised version of my 2009 definition fails because it counts some statements that are lies as not being lies. Lies told by young children - which uncontroversially count as lies on the traditional philosophical definition - suggest that lying (as well as asserting in general) does not require believing that such a norm is in effect. Even so, I claim that, since all liars intend to do something that would violate this norm if it were in effect, there is a successful definition of lying that is at least in the spirit of my 2009 definition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-581
Number of pages19
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy

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