Thursday, September 18, 2003

Lying vs. Mistaken

In light of all the recent posts (and news) about "Bush lies" [sic], I'd like to remind my readers of the following:

There is a difference between lying and being mistaken. I can state something which is not true, but it is only a lie if I believe that it is not true, and I state it anyway. If I don't believe that what I'm stating is false, then I'm not lying; I may be mistaken, but it's not a lie.

Curiously, it is possible to tell the truth and still lie... if I state that x is true, believing it to be false, then I am lying, even if x turns out in fact to be true. The point is that I intended to mislead, i.e. I stated what I believed was in fact not the case.

For example, imagine that Billy took a twenty-dollar bill from his mother's purse and put it in his wallet. His mom discovers that the money is missing, and on a hunch, looks in Billy's wallet and finds it (she memorized the serial number, you see). She then asks Billy if he has the twenty, and Billy denies it. Now, he is actually correct, because he doesn't have the cash, but he is still lying, because he thinks he has it and he tells his mom otherwise.

Now, all of that was an aside... my point is that there is a difference between being mistaken and lying.

If it turns out that Saddam in fact did not have WMDs or even a WMD program (which I still do not believe will be the case), we cannot automatically assume that Bush lied... he may have been (and I would argue, would have been) mistaken as to the reality of Saddam's WMD status, just as Clinton and so many politicians of both parties were.

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