Sam Harris’ Lying Now Available as PDF

In case you missed picking up a copy of Sam Harris‘ e-book Lying (currently $1.99), it’s now available as a PDF for $2.99.

I really liked it and I hope Harris comes out with more of these essays.

Here’s one classic thought experiment he refers to in the book: A Nazi soldier comes to your door and demands that you tell him where Anne Frank is hiding. You know she’s hiding in your attic.

What do you do if you believe lying is *always* wrong? Is it possible to remain honest without giving up her whereabouts?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://twitter.com/ShreyGoyal Shrey Goyal

    A classic christian response to the thought experiment mentioned can be seen in this clip from when it was posed as a moral dilemma by Eddie Izzard to Christine O’Donell (who was then with the ‘Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth’) years ago on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ph7jb4humhE

  • Jude

    Any chance this will ever be available as a hard copy?

    I can remember a biblical parallel to the thought experiment mentioned in the post: during Israel’s time in Egypt, when the Pharaoh ordered all Israelite babies to be killed at birth (or was it just the male ones?) the midwives refused to do so and claimed the Hebrew women where so robust that they didn’t need midwives and had already safely delivered their babies before the midwives got there.

    Don’t know if this is mentioned in the book – but this passage made me believe that lying is sometimes justified, even back in my Christian days.

  • PJB863

    It just depends who you’re lying to and what your motivations are.  If you  lie to an evil person or a person who represents evil, how is that a bad thing?  Is the sky fairy going to strike you dead on the spot?

  • ed-words

    Send a copy to Fox News!

    • ed-words

      (and the Pope)

  • Miko

    I don’t see why the “lying about Anne Frank” dilemma  is supposed to be so difficult to resolve.  The correct solution is obviously to 1) realize that your belief that you should never lie is incorrect and then 2) lie.

    • TK

      You should really read the essay Miko. It’s not that simple.

      • Benosborne1

        That’s not the point he makes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjcano Benjamin Cano

    Fuck that noise. Lie your ass off and send the goose steppers off on their merry goose chase (see what I did there?). I read the essay, but I must respectfully disagree with Mr. Harris’ premise that it is wrong to lie as an absolute.

    • http://twitter.com/tardis_blue Tardis_blue

      My problem with this is that it’s never that easy with people like Nazis.  If they came to your door looking for info, they already suspect you know, and they are not by any means going to let you off the hook just because you say “I don’t know”;  conversely, if you tell the truth and say “Oh, she’s in my attic!” you’re still off to the concentration camp with her.  By the time the Nazi shows up on  your doorstep, you’re fucked, regardless.  The murderer, however, as the example is in the book, is another story, and probably a more usable example of why not to lie.

  • http://twitter.com/tardis_blue Tardis_blue

    I’m having an issue with the book, and I’m only part of the way through, so maybe he resolves it later.  But I’m having trouble getting through all his arguments about telling your friend the truth about her husband cheating or her dress making her look fat because she is fat because they aren’t really relevant to the actual social situation.  He says “By reassuring your friend about her appearance, you are not helping her to do what you think she should do to get what she wants out of life.”  The problem is, she isn’t looking for your help getting what she wants out of life.  She wants you to tell her she looks pretty.  She will be shocked and upset with you if you say she needs to lose weight in order to find a man.  I mean, come on!  And besides, it isn’t our job as a friend to tell everybody else how to live their lives, and it isn’t what other people want out of their friendship with us.  As Dear Abby says time and time again, it is up to the person who needs to lose weight to do what she needs to do.  Nobody can eat better for her or exercise for her, and she knows she needs to lose the weight.  Telling her isn’t going to suddenly make her sit up and go “Oh, I’m fat!  That explains it!”
    It is generally my policy to tell the truth, not because of some high ethical standard, but because I am uncomfortable lying and I’m not good at it.  I do, occasionally–I’m not trying to pass myself off as perfect by any means.  But I’m lousy at it.  Actually, I’m lousy with social interactions in general, but I’m good at observing how other people do it, and I’ve noticed that people don’t like honesty, directness or reality, and do NOT thank you for injecting some into pretty much any conversation.  Even as an established teller of the truth, people don’t feel extra flattered when I tell them a positive truth, because they are not truthful, and it’s easier to believe that everybody else does what you do, so they react to me as if I were behaving the way they would–dishonestly.  The woman whose husband was cheating on her would not have thanked anyone for telling her.  Chances are very good she knew–I mean, hello?  Really?  Her husband would book a room in their same hotel for his mistress and people think she’s so stupid she doens’t know?  Ok…  All telling her would do would be to make her mad at you.  In real life, that’s how this kind of thing works.  If you tell people they look fat or their husband is cheating on them, you become the target of their adamant refusal to deal with reality, and lay the blame on you for being rude or mean or whatever.
    Bear in mind that most of the people you interact with on a daily basis are religious to whatever extent.  Obviously reality is NOT their top priority.  Though, to be fair, most of the people I interact with on a regular basis are not particularly religious, and they don’t really want to hear the little specifics of reality (Like “you’re fat…”) either.  I don’t know.  I’ll probably finish the book, but I think he’s living in a fantasty world.

  • Laurance

    I forced myself to come into the 21st century and bought a Kindle so I could read this booket.  I was disappointed.  As much as I love Sam, I couldn’t get my head around this one.  I’m not at all clear why we must not lie in Nazi Germany and must be honest about hiding that Jewish man in the attic.  And I found much of the essay, well, sophomoric, worthy of a high school student but not someone of Sam’s stature.


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