Argumenta – Journal of Analytic Philosophy

In this paper I question the lying/misleading distinction from three different angles. I argue, first, that if speakers are responsible for what they explicitly say only and hearers for what they infer that speakers implicitly convey, it is practically impossible to enforce speaker responsibility. An implication of this view is that the lying/misleading distinction is untenable. Other attempts at questioning the distinction have been countered by empirical evidence of the robustness of the distinction. However, there is also contrasting empirical evidence that people do think that it is possible to lie by implicit means. I argue, second, that empirical evidence is irrelevant to the question which ought to be at issue, namely whether there are good reasons to make the distinction. Third, I argue that to the extent that the notion of misleading is in the service of inducing false beliefs by the statement of truths, the distinction does not seem to be morally well-founded. In short, I sketch an argument to the effect that there are no conceptual, empirical or moral reasons for making the lying/misleading distinction.

Many speakers, hearers and theorists take the distinction between lying and misleading to be a matter of course. It is commonly held that speakers lie when they say something which they believe to be false, whereas they are merely misleading when what they convey in addition to what they say is false. Speakers are responsible for what they explicitly say only; it is hearers who are responsible for what they take speakers to convey by implicit means. Therefore, speakers can be charged with lying, but are not responsible for…


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