Book Review: ‘Lying’ by Sam Harris

12379144One of the issues ever close to my mind these days is the concept of honesty, dishonesty, truth and intention. It’s one of those things, where you can have the best of intentions, and think you’re always doing the right thing, but end up constantly making the wrong decisions.

This extended essay by Sam Harris entitled ‘Lying’ reinforces a point of view that I have been edging around to for a while, the concept of ‘Radical Honesty’. In a thorough logical and philosophical look at the concept of lying, as well as the effects that it has, both on yourself and others.

Harris begins his essay by acknowledging that while most people can see the inherent problems with outright lies, we often trick ourselves into thinking that white lies – or exaggerations intended to save others feelings, or simply massaging the truth to make life easier for everyone – is somehow morally acceptable. He gives example after example of how small lies in response to seemingly inconsequential questions such as ‘do I look fat in this?’ or ‘do you want to hang out this week?’ can have drastic and far reaching consequences in your life and the life of those you cared about.

I know from personal experience that it’s not often been the intentional lies that have gotten me into trouble, or as Harris calls them “lies of commission” but rather the “white lies” or “lies of omission” that cause the most hassle, the biggest losses of trust, and the largest breakdowns in relationships. Harris suggests in this book that quite literally honesty is the best policy, and that even the risk of appearing rude or brash should not overcloud a genuine desire to be truthful, and that whatever losses you endure are outmatched by honesty being it’s own reward.

The essay also explores such issues such as honestly as opposed to truth, and the links between dishonesty and other forms of unethical behaviour. For anyone with an interest in ethics or moral philosophy, I could not recommend reading this enough. at only 40 pages it won’t take long to read, but the ideas that it espouses will surely grip you for much longer. I know it has left me with a new goal in life.

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