If a lie isn’t a lie, is it a falsehood or the truth in masquerade?

This looks like such a simple question doesn’t it? It appears that it isn’t.  If, for example, one person, let’s call them A has a history going back over several years of misstating the events of a series of interactions between themself and another person, let’s call them B just to keep it all annonymous, and always to the detriment of person B, can it be said that person A is lying?

First of all let’s look at what a lie is. Wikipedia defines it thus: “To lie is to hold something which one knows is not the whole truth to be the whole truth, intentionally.”

I find this to be an interesting statement for many reasons. “to hold something which one knows is not the whole truth to be the whole truth”. This seems such an obvious statement doesn’t it, but in reality it may be quite complex. Let’s, for instance, take the cases of “witnesses” to a car accident. There is disagreement amongst them as to what happened. This can, easily, be put down to different perspectives, people standing in different places, beginning to notice events at different times and so on. Such people aren’t lying when they give their version of events, they are merely mistaken in their belief that what they report was the whole of the incident, and the respective lawyers will seek to clarify things by questioning. If, however, one of those witnesses is the driver of one of the cars who says that he was paying attention to the road and that his passenger was the one using the driver’s phone and not the driver himself, a “fact” corroborated by the passenger, when the truth is that it was the driver on the phone, then clearly both the driver and passenger are lying. Let’s take another example in order to examine the issue of the false statement being made intentionally. Someone, let’s call them , convinces themself that something which didn’t happen did; they claim to genuinely believe what they say and express surprise when told it didn’t happen that way. Is that a lie? Well, clearly, on the face of it, according to the Wikipedia definition it isn’t. If, however, person  A, has a history going back over several years of making this kind of statement about person B, then I submit that the statement can have been said to have been made intentionally. So, one part of the definition can be said to have been proved and yet it fails on the second part, the statement is not a lie. The question, in this circumstance must be asked, if it isn’t a lie what then is it?

In the blog killermovies Atlantis001 comments:”

“Lie is to intentionally make a false statement to mislead someone. Lie would be about our intentions, not about how we classify our senteces. (sic)” So, in the example we are looking at the question remains whether or not A knows that they are making a false statement, presumably as before we have to question the genuineness of that belief and come to the conclusions we did above. The second of Atlantis001’s sentences, however, poses a very different test, looking as it does at the intentions of the speaker, in this case A. Now, it is my belief that, under this second test, A can be said to have lied, as there is a long history of this kind of statement all with the intention of harming or damaging B.
On the same blog winddancer writes “…a lie is nothing more than a deception trying to mislead another person.” Again this appears to be a straightforward test, but, again, begs the question of deception with someone capable of convincing themselves that what they said happened did happen even though in reality it didn’t. Can such a person be capable of creating a deception? Certainly in the situation I am trying to examine I believe there was an intention to mislead a third person so I believe there was such a deception though I fully accept that others might disagree with me.
soleran30 adds their thoughts: “I believe the point to be is if you make a point to go out of your way to decieve someone for your own gain (money, politics, information) then you are creating a lie”. Under this definition the issue still turns upon the genuineness of A‘s belief. If there is an established pattern of making harmful, false statements about B then could A be said to be making a point of going out of their way to deceive someone, in this case the aforementioned third party? I believe so.

BBC articlecomments: “Lying is a form of deception, but not all forms of deception are lies”. So, are the statements which I have attributed toA deceptions? If they are deceptions are they then lies? Let’s delve further. as the article continues,”A lie has three essential features:

  • A lie communicates some information
  • The liar intends to deceive or mislead
  • The liar believes that what they are ‘saying’ is not true”
In our case was there some information communicated? Yes, quite clearly there was. Did person A intend to deceive or mislead? In the case in point my contention would be that the long history of such statements indicates that they did, though others would disagree. Did person A genuinely believe that on those several occasions over the years they were always speaking the truth? We cannot know for sure, but, once again, I believe the consistent behaviour would suggest that they either did, or, alternatively, that they chose to convince themself that it was the truth which to my mind amounts to the same thing. As with the questions above, if it is not a lie what then is it as it is clearly not the truth?
Dictionary.com offers a different definition:

“1. a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; anintentional untruth; a falsehood.

2. something intended or serving to convey a false impression;imposture: His flashy car was a lie that deceived no one.
3. an inaccurate or false statement.”
Let’s look at statement 1. I have already examined the first and second parts of this definition and have nothing further to offer, but, what about the word “falsehood”. It’s a wonderful word isn’t, conveying as it does something of an earlier, perhaps more mannerly time, when someone might well say, “I do not accuse the gentleman of lying, but I do accuse him of uttering a falsehood!” Perhaps, that’s the answer to my question! A lie is not a lie when it is a falsehood! Or perhaps Lord Byron was correct when he wrote :
“And, after all, what is a lie? ‘Tis but the truth in masquerade”
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