Happy New Year, x-philes!
There are, primarily, three popular attempts to define 'lying', all of which claim to be capturing the ordinary concept as used by everyday folk. The "traditional" definition takes lying to be 'claiming p, where p is false, and where one intends to deceive by claiming p.' Another definition, put forth and defended by Thomas Carson, defines lying as 'warranting the truth of something that one believes to be false' (where 'warrant' involves implicitly promising or guaranteeing that what one says is true). Finally, Fallis offers his own definition of lying, inspired by Gricean norms of conversation: one lies when one says something that they believe to be false in a context where they believe that there is a norm against saying false things in force.
There are also potential counter-examples, and the debate has largely come down to whether the proposed counter-examples to the various definitions are, in fact, lies. The "traditional definition" seems to run up against cases of bald-faced lies, where one says something false without the pretext of attempting to deceive the audience (e.g., the student who lies about plagiarizing to avoid expulsion--which, at this school, can only occur when the student has admitted to cheating--even though both she and the teacher know that it's clear the student cheated). Carson's definition, according to Fallis, seems challenged by two different kinds of counter-examples: first, if one adds a proviso (e.g., "but, then, my memory's not so good these days" or "of course, I was pretty drunk at the time") to what would otherwise be a straight-forward lie, the warrant would presumably be defeated and, thus, Carson's definition would rule it out as a lie; second, if one confusedly believes that she is in a serious situation, although she actually is in a non-serious situation (such as a confused politician or a naive Colbert Report guest), and if warrant is a function of the external situation (as Carson seems to believe), then her saying something that she believes to be false would not constitute lying, according to Carson. Thus, both "proviso" lies and "confused" lies would be counter-examples to Carson, given that they in fact constitute lies.
Don and I decided that, since these definitions purport to be about the everyday notion of lying, the best way to settle the debate about bald-faced, proviso, and confused lies was to ask the folk about them. We had two sets of experiments. In the first experiment, we presented subjects with four short vignettes: one involving a straight-forward lie; one involving a bald-faced lie; one involving a proviso lie; and one involving a straight-forward truth. For each scenario, subjects were asked to rate on a 7-point Likert scale whether the person lied by saying X. The results are represented below:
Roughly 98% of respondents rated bald-faced lies above the mid-line, and more than 90% rated proviso cases likewise. Ratings for both bald-faced lies and proviso cases were significantly correlated with ratings for straight-forward lies [(r = .277 (214), p (one-tailed) <.0001) and (r = .171 (213), p (one‑tailed) <.01), respectively]. It seems that, pace Carson and defenders of the traditional definition (e.g., James Mahon), the folk treat both bald-faced lies and proviso cases as genuine instances of lying.
The second experiment utilized a 2x2 design, where we manipulated whether the person saying something they believed to be false (i) was in a serious or non-serious context and (ii) believed he was in a serious or non-serious context. So, we presented participants with one of four vignettes about a senator running for office who is participating in a series of interviews via satellite: in one condition he believes he is talking to Katie Couric on the Evening News, and is in fact talking to Katie Couric; in another, he believes he's talking to Katie Couric, but is actually talking to Saturday Night Live's Amy Poehler (in character as Katie Couric); in another he believes he's appearing on Saturaday Night Live, and is in fact on SNL; and in the final condition, he believes he is appearing on SNL, but is actually on the Evening News with Katie Couric. In all of the conditions, the senator says something that he knows to be false about his opponent. We then asked participants to rate whether the Senator lied:
Interestingly (for reasons unknown but speculated about in the paper), all of the conditions were rated significantly above midline. More importantly, though, a 2x2 ANOVA revealed that the senator's belief about the situation had a significantly greater impact on ratings than the external facts (F (1, 204) = 40.89, p<.0001). Participants rated his statement more definitely as a lie when the senator believed he was on the Evening News, regardless of whether he was actually appearing on the Evening News or on SNL. These results seem to strike a further blow to Carson's definition of lying as warranting, insofar as he cashes out warranting in terms of the external conditions (rather than in terms of one's believing that they are warranting).
Our results suggest that Fallis' definition best captures the ordinary usage of the term 'lie', since it alone can accommodate bald-faced, proviso, and confused lies (while also ruling out presumed non-lies, like performances in plays and jokes). The paper also discusses the need to disambiguate the semantic content of 'lying' and the moral features. Feedback is both welcome and appreciated!