David Mytton

Book Review (4/5) – Lying (Sam Harris)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

The brilliance of Sam Harris is his ability to distill a philosophical and ethical idea into a short description with just the right number of applied examples. Too much of ethics, philosophy, and many books in general are excessively verbose. Harris does not suffer from this problem.

The main text of this edition is short but it nicely accompanied by an interview and then a Q&A chapter with readers from earlier editions.

As to the topic, Harris quite effectively describes why lying can never be ethical, unless in a situation of “war”.

I would like to think this is a practical approach to always telling the truth, but the reality is that it is a difficult endeavour. Having to think about how to respond in a way that isn’t a lie will sometimes reveal one’s true thoughts just by having to pause to consider a response.

Harris provides examples of situations where one might be tempted to tell “white” lies but they actually have significantly more harm than one might suspect. Alternative approaches are offered, although they certainly require either preparation or a quick wit to respond in the moment.

Given how few people adopt Harris’ position on never lying, successfully applying it could actually be a powerful way to stand out and differentiate oneself. But it also requires a commitment to tact and kindness, not just a dedication to the truth.