Eff's Rambles (Archive)

6/17/2005

What is a liar?

A liar can be defined as any person stating something false, but the label is almost exclusively reserved for people willfully telling falsehoods.

Of the various types of lies, some, or perhaps all, have their severity of offense determined by the standard to which we hold the individual liar; some people can get away with some lies because of lesser expectations while others cannot. When a powerful and influential person lies, even those kinds having to do with personal matters, the character issue affects public perception. That is less important to most people when a liar is of substantially less significance. Also, people of great importance, though not apparently tangibly to the critics judging them, is held to a higher standard by such persons.

One of the later concerns, and perhaps the most important, is determining the rationalization factors of a lie and how to punish, if deemed appropriate, the liar.

Some lies are done to protect others from harm. Some lies are thought necessary in order to push through something unpopular, or things that presumably would be difficult to get acceptance for. These are lies of good, or claimed to be, intention.

One of the most difficult questions about lying is deciding what method of determination is necessary to establish a person as a liar, and one deserving of punishment. A lie that is forgiven or rationalized by most people due to the benefits it brought, or allegedly have, could still have the liar being punished. The intention behind a lie is no guarantee against punishment.

I do not know all the elements necessary for determining what a liar is. But, for consideration of use, I submit these as part of the methodology.

  • Pattern of honesty. This is important in establishing the sincerity a person is likely to have in the future, but it is weak in that it cannot in fact prove a future statement will be false or true, and it is prejudicial, though perhaps earned. Patterns show probability, not certainty.
  • Logic of claimed truth. lies can be found in the existence of factors that contradict the statements in which they are made. But, as something can be unusual, its improbability of occurence does not establish it as a lie. It is presumed that something is false because it cannot logically have happened in the way inwhich it is claimed to have been or is so unlikely that it is considered reasonable to disbelief.
  • Presumption of knowledge. This pertains to whether or not a person states something with the understanding that it is false in some or all respects. In this case we presume a lie exists, based on the status of the person, which we believe effects the probability of knowing a lie is being told. People of great position are often thought to have special access to information that can help verify and discredit what their claims. But people in such positions can be mislead. And it may be that the myriad information they are given about a matter does not serve to establish the necessity or non necessity of the course of action toward resolution of said matter. The strength of the individual elements toward one conclusion or another about the claim, might lean substantially one way.
  • Plethora of evidence. A person can be thought to be a liar based on the weight of the information that contradicts the claim made. But this falls into its own problems. I mentioned just a bit earlier the issue of evidential strength, and it, too, applies here.
  • Uncorroborated alibi. Claims which do not have verification, such as witnesses to that effect, are often considered to be false. But, since witnesses can lie, other forms of evidence are needed. But the absence of evidence to confirm a statements veracity might not prove it false. The credibility of the person and witness(es) making the, at least in part, contradictory claims, as well as the probability of involvement, in some cases, by either, and of the claim by the person being true, are what might be the needed recourse for determining the accuracy of the claim.

In the end, I must admit that I am doubtful of the ability to establish most people as liars under objective scrutiny.

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