cover image A Philosophy of Lying

A Philosophy of Lying

Lars Svendsen, trans. from the Norwegian by Matt Bagguley. Reaktion, $20 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-78914-563-2

“It is better to be fooled occasionally than to go through life with...chronic distrust,” writes philosopher Svendsen in this clever take on lying and telling the truth. He begins by exploring definitions of dishonesty and truth, writing that the “opposite of lying is not the truth, but truthfulness,” the latter made up of two components, sincerity and accuracy. Svendsen regards lying as generally ill-advised, but explores if and when it can be justified, as in the cases of politicians and diplomats. Kant’s school of thought, for example, would argue that lying has no place anywhere, including in politics, while Max Weber’s would grant that fibs are wrong but still necessary when “consideration of the consequences should override the moral rules that otherwise apply.” Svendsen looks at the philosophy of trust, as well; according to philosopher and theologian K.E. Løgstrup, humans “don’t initially decide to trust someone—we just do. Trust... is a given, and you need a reason to replace it with mistrust.” And though people can be dishonest, Svendsen remains hopeful that serial lying is an anomaly. His reflections are nuanced, his conclusions smart, and he keeps things free of academic jargon. Philosophy-minded readers will find this an enjoyable and enlightening study. (Feb.)