Re: Lying through a constructivist lens

Lois Shawver (
Mon, 26 Feb 1996 20:09:30 -0800 (PST)

On Mon, 26 Feb 1996 wrote:

> can a constructivist
> salvage the concept of "lying," vs. "honest," or variations on this theme?
> In other words, what we need is some way of accrediting the idea that there
> may be many truths, spoken from different vantage points, but each of which
> can be distinguished from dissembling in its many forms.
> Other thoughts would be appreciated--especially honest ones!

How about some relevant quotes from Wittgenstein to ponder? The
following passages are from Wittgenstein's
_Philosophical_Investigations_, which represents the major treatise of
his later philosophy. Like most of Wittgenstein's work, it consists of a
set of numbered aphorisms. The numbers here will help you locate them in
the text. The bracketed comments are my own commentary.


249. Are we perhaps over-hasty in our assumption that the smile of an
unweaned infant is not a pretense?--And on what experience is our
assumption based?

(Lying is a language game that needs to be learned like any other one.)

[ Wittgenstein is not suggesting here that the smile on the unweaned
infant IS a pretense but is asking how we are so sure about this. The
parenthetical remark suggests an answer. The infant must learn how to
lie, how to play the language game of lying. A young child does not do
it very well. Having tis familiarity with children, we assume that the
infant's smile is not a pretense.]

250. Why can't a dog simulate pain? Is he too honest? Could one teach a
dog to simulate pain? Perhaps it is possible to teach him to howl on
particular occasions as if he were in pain, even when he is not. But the
surroundings which are necessary for this behavior to be real simulation
are missing.

[ If a dog cannot lie (do you agree with this?) then what is needed for a
human to do so? Also, could I "lie" while telling the truth? What if I
did not know that what I said was true?]

..Lois Shawver