Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I did not have sexual relations with that woman

These words of Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky have become famous for their deceitfulness. But given the definition for sexual relations that Bill had in mind, it was the truth.

Would you call Clinton's statement a lie? Does the fact that it was in some sense the truth make it better morally, or perhaps even worse?


Anonymous said...

As President Clinton might say, "It depends on what your definition of 'lie' is."

In my opinion, the most useful definition of "lying" is not merely technical, but must include the idea of "intent to mislead or misinform." In other words, if a person makes a statement or leaves an impression that is intended to cause someone else to believe something that is not true, the person has "lied."

Ilíon said...

Pretty much. It is, in fact, possible to lie while yet speaking truth in all particulars.

At the same time, I think one also must take into account the question of whether one has the moral right to deceive or misinform the other(s) in the situation.

For instance, it is *not* lying to tell the SS patrol that no, you haven't seen a downed Allied pilot, when you know for a fact that you have him hidden in your root cellar.

Bilbo said...

ilion wrote: For instance, it is *not* lying to tell the SS patrol that no, you haven't seen a downed Allied pilot, when you know for a fact that you have him hidden in your root cellar.

It *is* lying, but I would say that lying can sometimes be morally obligatory or justified.

BTW, was it lying when the Bush/Cheney administration seemed to say that Saddam Hussein was tied to 9/11 (though they never said it in so many words), when they knew he wasn't?

And if you think it was lying (I do), which was worse: Clinton's or Bush/Cheney's?

Ilíon said...

You have a *very* simplistic understanding of what lying is and is not. That would be fine were you 5 years old, because that's all most at that age can understand; but you're an adult now.

Hint: Since one can be engaged in lying even as one is making statements which are true -- and that was, by to by, what Clinton generally tried to do -- it follows that it is not the falseness of a statement which makes it a lie.

BTW, is it lying to spread around the more moonbatish of Democratic Party talking-points as though they were actually true?

Doctor Logic said...

Hear hear, Bilbo!

Ilion, I find your statement about what constitutes lying to be quite fascinating. I've run into it once before. Someone I was debating with told me that it's not stealing if you think the taking is for the best.

He spoke as if lying and stealing were "moral atoms" that already factored in whether the action can be morally justified. If I rob you because it's the only way I can see to feed my starving family, it's not stealing.

If one takes this view, then, presumably, the 10 commandments look rather different.

-Honor your father and mother, unless dishonoring them is for the best.

-Do not kill, unless the killing is for the best.

-Do not commit adultery, unless it's for the best.


It's really baffling. It's as if we're all automatically supposed to know what "for the best" means. Now that I think about it, I can see how this fits in with the Christian idea that an individual only does good by way of the Holy Spirit (which informs his conception of "the best").

Anonymous said...

Not a lie in terms of falsehood because what the man said was true, altho' equivocally so. However, the intent to deceive or convey a false impression is obvious and in that regard, Clinton lied.

Ilíon said...

Here, Doctor (Il)logic, why don't you borrow my "Il" for a while; you clearly need it far more than I do.