White Lies

by ChrisHallquist5 min read8th Feb 2014902 comments



Background: As can be seen from some of the comments on this post, many people in the LessWrong community take an extreme stance on lying. A few days before I posted this, I was at a meetup where we played the game Resistance, and one guy announced before the game began that he had a policy of never lying even when playing games like that. It's such members of the LessWrong community that this post was written for. I'm not trying to encourage basically honest people with the normal view of white lies that they need to give up being basically honest.

Mr. Potter, you sometimes make a game of lying with truths, playing with words to conceal your meanings in plain sight. I, too, have been known to find that amusing. But if I so much as tell you what I hope we shall do this day, Mr. Potter, you will lie about it. You will lie straight out, without hesitation, without wordplay or hints, to anyone who asks about it, be they foe or closest friend. You will lie to Malfoy, to Granger, and to McGonagall. You will speak, always and without hesitation, in exactly the fashion you would speak if you knew nothing, with no concern for your honor. That also is how it must be.

- Rational!Quirrell, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

This post isn't about HMPOR, so I won't comment on the fictional situation the quote comes from. But in many real-world situations, it's excellent advice.

If you're a gay teenager with homophobic parents, and there's a real chance they'd throw you out on the street if they found out you were gay, you should probably lie to them about it. Even in college, if you're still financially dependent on them, I think it's okay to lie. The minute you're no longer financially dependent on them, you should absolutely come out for your sake and the sake of the world. But it's OK to lie if you need to to keep your education on-track.

Oh, maybe you could get away with just shutting up and hoping the topic doesn't come up. When asked about dating, you could try to evade while being technically truthful: "There just aren't any girls at my school I really like." "What about _____? Why don't you ask her out?" "We're just friends." That might work. But when asked directly "are you gay?" and the wrong answer could seriously screw-up your life, I wouldn't bet too much on your ability to "lie with truths," as Quirrell would say.

I start with this example because the discussions I've seen on the ethics of lying on LessWrong (and everywhere, actually) tend to focus on the extreme cases: the now-cliché "Nazis at the door" example, or even discussion of whether you'd lie with the world at stake. The "teen with homophobic parents" case, on the other hand, might have actually happened to someone you know. But even this case is extreme compared to most of the lies people tell on a regular basis.

Widely-cited statistics claim that the average person lies once per day. I recently saw a new study (that I can't find at the moment) that disputed this, and claimed most people lie rather less often than that, but it still found most people lie fairly often. These lies are mostly "white lies" to, say, spare others' feelings. Most people have no qualms about those kind of lies. So why do discussions of the ethics of lying so often focus on the extreme cases, as if those were the only ones where lying is maybe possibly morally permissible?

At LessWrong there've been discussions of several different views all described as "radical honesty." No one I know of, though, has advocated Radical Honesty as defined by psychotherapist Brad Blanton, which (among other things) demands that people share every negative thought they have about other people. (If you haven't, I recommend reading A. J. Jacobs on Blanton's movement.) While I'm glad no one here is thinks Blanton's version of radical honesty is a good idea, a strict no-lies policy can sometimes have effects that are just as disastrous.

A few years ago, for example, when I went to see the play my girlfriend had done stage crew for, and she asked what I thought of it. She wasn't satisfied with my initial noncommittal answers, so she pressed for more. Not in a "trying to start a fight" way; I just wasn't doing a good job of being evasive. I eventually gave in and explained why I thought the acting had sucked, which did not make her happy. I think incidents like that must have contributed to our breaking up shortly thereafter. The breakup was a good thing for other reasons, but I still regret not lying to her about what I thought of the play.

Yes, there are probably things I could've said in that situation that would have been not-lies and also would have avoided upsetting her. Sam Harris, in his book Lyingspends a lot of arguing against lying in that way: he takes situations where most people would be tempted to tell a white lie, and suggesting ways around it. But for that to work, you need to be good at striking the delicate balance between saying too little and saying too much, and framing hard truths diplomatically. Are people who lie because they lack that skill really less moral than people who are able to avoid lying because they have it?

Notice the signaling issue here: Sam Harris' book is a subtle brag that he has the skills to tell people the truth without too much backlash. This is especially true when Harris gives examples from his own life, like the time he told a friend "No one would ever call you 'fat,' but I think you could probably lose twenty-five pounds." and his friend went and did it rather than getting angry. Conspicuous honesty also overlaps with conspicuous outrage, the signaling move that announces (as Steven Pinker put it) "I'm so talented, wealthy, popular, or well-connected that I can afford to offend you."

If you're highly averse to lying, I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you to tell white lies more often. But I will implore you to do one thing: accept other people's right to lie to you. About some topics, anyway. Accept that some things are none of your business, and sometimes that includes the fact that there's something which is none of your business.

Or: suppose you ask someone for something, they say "no," and you suspect their reason for saying "no" is a lie. When that happens, don't get mad or press them for the real reason. Among other things, they may be operating on the assumptions of guess culture, where your request means you strongly expected a "yes" and you might not think their real reason for saying "no" was good enough. Maybe you know you'd take an honest refusal well (even if it's "I don't want to and don't think I owe you that"), but they don't necessarily know that. And maybe you think you'd take an honest refusal well, but what if you're lying to yourself?

If it helps to be more concrete: Some men will react badly to being turned down for a date. Some women too, but probably more men, so I'll make this gendered. And also because dealing with someone who won't take "no" for an answer is a scarier experience with the asker is a man and the person saying "no" is a woman. So I sympathize with women who give made-up reasons for saying "no" to dates, to make saying "no" easier.

Is it always the wisest decision? Probably not. But sometimes, I suspect, it is. And I'd advise men to accept that women doing that is OK. Not only that, I wouldn't want to be part of a community with lots of men who didn't get things like that. That's the kind of thing I have in mind when I say to respect other people's right to lie to you.

All this needs the disclaimer that some domains should be lie-free zones. I value the truth and despise those who would corrupt intellectual discourse with lies. Or, as Eliezer once put it:

We believe that scientists should always tell the whole truth about science. It's one thing to lie in everyday life, lie to your boss, lie to the police, lie to your lover; but whoever lies in a journal article is guilty of utter heresy and will be excommunicated.

I worry this post will be dismissed as trivial. I simultaneously worry that, even with the above disclaimer, someone is going to respond, "Chris admits to thinking lying is often okay, now we can't trust anything he says!" If you're thinking of saying that, that's your problem, not mine. Most people will lie to you occasionally, and if you get upset about it you're setting yourself up for a lot of unhappiness. And refusing to trust someone who lies sometimes isn't actually very rational; all but the most prolific liars don't lie anything like half the time, so what they say is still significant evidence, most of the time. (Maybe such declarations-of-refusal-to-trust shouldn't be taken as arguments so much as threats meant to coerce more honesty than most people feel bound to give.)

On the other hand, if we ever meet in person, I hope you realize I might lie to you. Failure to realize a statement could be a white lie can create some terribly awkward situations.

Edits: Changed title, added background, clarified the section on accepting other people's right to lie to you (partly cutting and pasting from this comment).

Edit round 2: Added link to paper supporting claim that the average person lies once per day.


Rendering 500/902 comments, sorted by (show more) Highlighting new comments since Today at 3:35 AM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

There are certain lies that I tell over and over again, where I'm 99% sure lying is the morally correct answer. Stereotypical example: my patient is lying in a lake of poop, or is ringing the call bell for the third time in 15 minutes to tell me that they're thirsty or in pain or need a kleenex, and they're embarrassed and upset because they're sure I must be frustrated and mad that they're making me do so much work. "Of course I don't mind," I've said over and over again. "This doesn't bother me. I've got plenty of time. I just want you to be comfortable, that's my job." When it's 4 am and I desperately want to go on break and eat something, none of these things are true. But it's my job, and I want to want to do it, so the fact that sometimes I desperately don't want to do it is kind of moot. But the last thing a patient in the ICU needs to hear from their nurse is "yes, I'm pissed that you shat in the bed again because I was about to go on break and now I can't and I'm hungry and cranky." I keep that to myself.

...Other than that, I generally don't lie to friends, although I do lie by omission, especially when it comes to my irrational feelings of fr... (read more)

When a student asks me to write her a letter of recommendation and expresses some concern that this will be a bother for me I have said "Don't worry, that's part of my job" to signal that the request is appropriate.

Upvoted for a rare case of lying where I find myself unable to suggest a good alternative way to not lie, even for people with high verbal SAT scores.

"Don't worry about it."

Imperatives are often a nice fallback.

But is that literally as good for a patient in an ICU who really, really needs to not shut up about these things? i mean, in that situation, it would probably occur to me that the nurse might still be lying... but telling a lie like that is still a kind of permission to bother her which "Don't worry about it" isn't.

Agreed. One of the things I think is wrong with lying in general is that it can mess up the incentives for behaviours you want to see more of (i.e. a white lie to your friend, claiming to like her awful haircut, doesn't do anything to help your friend improve her future haircuts.) In my example, I'm lying with respect to my first-order desires, but telling the truth according to my second-order desires. I may first-order want a few more minutes to drink tea and socialize with the other nurses, but I don't endorse myself wanting that, and I certainly don't want to encourage my patients to not call me because they're worried I'm too busy or tired or cranky. I second-order want to encourage the behaviour where my patients call me for all the little things and 90% of the time it's annoying and stupid but 10% of the time it's super important.

If I ever had a patient with a rationalist background, maybe I could explain all of that, but maybe not even then; most people aren't at their best for following complex logic when they're loopy on drugs or having trouble breathing or whatnot. So I go for the emotional reassurance, because that gets through. Still working on different phrasings, and I don't always succeed; I was helping out another nurse with her patient who had diarrhea, putting her on the bedpan every half hour, and at one point she fell asleep and pooped in the bed while asleep and then cried with frustration the whole time I changed her, and I wasn't able to reassure her.

You can expand "Don't worry about it" to include permission to bother her. "Don't worry about it - please never give it a second thought if you need me for anything. That's what I'm here to do."

8private_messaging7yI don't think "This doesn't bother me" gets parsed literally anyway. In either case what ever you say they are pretty sure it is annoying for you, albeit they do want reassurance that it is not so annoying that you would snap "yes this is annoying!".
[-][anonymous]7y 14

Well, that's a good idea right there. You could tell them: "Please don't be embarrassed, and don't hesitate to call me. You're in an ICU and it's very important that you communicate with us, even if it's just a matter of discomfort. You shouldn't assume you can tell the difference between something trivial and something serious, or something that requires immediate attention and not."

I would interpret that as a straightforward confirmation that it was in fact annoying. There would be no resulting awkwardness but it would definitely not make me more likely to speak up again.

8Raoul5895y"Taking care of you is my sacred duty. I care about you. It is important that you tell me if there is something wrong." This is true literally and in spirit.
8brazil847yWell the classic lie in medicine is when a sibling confides in the doctor that he doesn't want to donate a kidney to his brother or sister and he's just getting tested out of family pressure. I understand that in such a situation, the doctor will normally lie and say that they ran the tests and the sibling is not a compatible donor.

Actually, regardless of the reason, they just say that "no suitable donor is available." If pressed, they say they never release potential donors' medical information to recipients, for confidentiality and to protect donors from coercion.

3brazil847yThat's interesting . . . what happens if the potential donor asks for (and is willing to sign a release) so that his medical information can be released?
4Kawoomba7yDepends. Different countries have different laws governing such. For the most part, if the hospital sees any legal liability at all, they'll do the standard CYA [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cover_your_ass]. Signing waivers / releases often doesn't do a whole lot, some of your rights you cannot sign away. Regarding your question, with releasing medical information, such waivers shouldn't be a problem, although the transplant scenario may be a special case. Regardless of the legalese, transplant doctors typically get to know you quite well, and more information slips out (implicitly and explicitly) than may be allowed by law (HIPAA be damned). Nullum ius sine actione, as they say. If noone complains, noone sues. Bit like driving without seatbelts.
6ThisSpaceAvailable7yYour reference to SAT scores is rather odd. I suppose there is probably some correlation, but they are really quite different skill sets.

I'm not sure there's a lie happening... it seems to me that in said circumstances the meanings of the sentences are conventionally mapped, like:

"yes, I'm pissed that you shat in the bed again because I was about to go on break and now I can't and I'm hungry and cranky." -> I'm incredibly angry with you and I'm going to find out a way to kill you so you don't bother me again. (Exaggerating a bit here for effect)

"Of course I don't mind" -> of course I do mind but it is not as bad as the example above.

Sentences mean what the listener makes of them, that's why you have to speak a foreign language when talking to a foreigner who doesn't speak your language.

4ThisSpaceAvailable7yA similar argument occurred to me, but I think it does border on proving too much. It also depends on knowing what the listener will make of the sentence. I think that the concept of "lying" does depend largely on the idea that the explicit, plain meaning of a sentence having a privileged position, over implications, signalling, Bayesian updates caused by the statement, etc. If someone says "Well, the probability of me telling you that I am not having an affair, given that I am having an affair, is not much smaller than the probability given that I am not having an affair, so if you significantly updated your prior simply because of my denial, the blame is on your end, not mine", I don't think many people would find that a reasonable response.
7private_messaging7yI think I pinned down the distinction here. If you tell something like this: "yes, I'm pissed that you shat in the bed again because I was about to go on break and now I can't and I'm hungry and cranky.", the patient is going to form a lot of important beliefs regarding the question they're asked that are not true, more than if you say "this doesn't bother me". You have to say what ever sentence ends up misleading the patient the least about what they want to know. For the affair on the other hand, it is not so, they'd form more valid beliefs if you said that you are having an affair, than if you say you don't. The truth is such word noises, body language, intonation, and so on, that mislead the listener the least. Usually has to be approximate due to imperfect knowledge and so on.
2private_messaging7yHaving an affair is discrete, while the annoyance level is continuous. There's simply no explicit, plain meaning possible for continuous variable like that, one has to deduce it from the tone of the voice, body language, etc etc etc etc. One could of course have friendly body language and tone while saying something like "yes, it is incredibly annoying" but that would merely confuse the listener.
6badtheatre7yMy ex wife is in Geriatrics and I've heard a few situations from her where she, possibly appropriately, lied to patients with severe dementia by playing along with their fantasies. The most typical example would be a patient believing their dead spouse is coming that day for a visit, and asking about it every 15 minutes. I think she would usually tell the truth the first few times, but felt it was cruel to be telling someone constantly that their spouse is dead, and getting the same negative emotional reaction every time, so at that point she would start saying something like, "I heard they were stuck in traffic and can't make it today." The above feels to me like a grey area, but more rarely a resident would be totally engrossed in a fantasy, like thinking they were in a broadway play or something. In these cases, where the person will never understand/accept the truth anyway, I think playing along to keep them happy isn't a bad option.
4Alicorn7yI'm curious about how you, being a nurse, would prefer that the patient behave in situations like this? There don't seem to be great options - is there a least-bad attitude?

...I feel like a lot of that boils down to stuff out of patients' control, like "don't be confused or delirious." Assuming that my patient is totally with it and can reasonably be expected to try to behave politely, I prefer that patients tell me right away when they need something, listen to my explanation of what I'm going to do about it and when I'll be able to do it, or why I can't do anything about it, and then accept that and not keep bringing up the same complaint repeatedly unless it gets worse. I have had patients who rang the call bell every 5 minutes for hours to tell me that they were thirsty, when I'd already explained that I couldn't give them anything by mouth, or that their biggest concern was being thirsty but I was more concerned that their heart rate was 180 and I really really needed to deal with that first.

I obviously prefer it when patient's aren't embarrassed and I can joke around with them and chat about their grandkids while cleaning their poop. But emotional reactions aren't under most people's control either, so it's not a reasonable thing to ask.

I find it takes a great deal of luminosity in order to be honest with someone. If I am in a bad mood, I might feel that its my honest opinion that they are annoying when in fact what is going on in my brain has nothing to do with their actions. I might have been able to like the play in other circumstances, but was having a bad day so flaws I might have been otherwise able to overlook were magnified in my mind. etc.

This is my main fear with radical honesty, since it seems to promote thinking that negative thoughts are true just because they are negative. The reasoning going 'I would not say this if I were being polite, but I am thinking it, therefore it is true' without realizing that your brain can make your thoughts be more negative from the truth just as easily as it can make them more positive than the truth.

In fact, saying you enjoyed something you didnt enjoy, and signalling enjoyment with appropriate facial muscles (smiling etc) can improve your mood by itself, especially if it makes the other person smile.

Many intelligent people get lots of practice pointing out flaws, and it is possible that this trains the brain into a mode where one's first thoughts on a topic will be ... (read more)

If I am honest without accuracy... if I am proud to report my results of my reasoning as they are, but my actual reasoning is sloppy... then I shouldn't congratulate myself for giving precise info, because the info was not precise; I simply removed one source of imprecision, but ignored another.

Saying "you are annoying" feels like an extremely honest thing, and I may be motivated to stop there.

However, saying "sorry, I'm in a bad mood today; I think it's likely that on a different day I would appreciate what you are trying to do, but today it doesn't work this way, and it actually annoys me" is even more honest, and possibly less harmful to the listener.

A cynical explanation is that while attempting to be extremely honest, we refuse to censor the information that might hurt the listener... but we still censor the information that would hurt us. For example, the short version of "you are annoying" contains the information that may hurt my friend, but conceals the information about my own vulnerability.

Perhaps a good heuristic could be: Don't hurt other people by your honesty, unless you are willing to hurt yourself as much (or 20 % more, to balance for your own biased perception) -- and even this only if they agreed to play by these rules. (Of course you are allowed to select your friends according to their ability and willingness to play by these rules. But sometimes you have to interact with other people, too.)

This is my main fear with radical honesty, since it seems to promote thinking that negative thoughts are true just because they are negative. The reasoning going 'I would not say this if I were being polite, but I am thinking it, therefore it is true' without realizing that your brain can make your thoughts be more negative from the truth just as easily as it can make them more positive than the truth.

My own (very limited) observation of trying to be radically honest has been that until I first say (or at least admit to myself) the reaction of annoyance, I can't become aware of what lies beyond it. If I'm angry at my wife because of something else that happened to me, I usually won't know that it's because of something else until I first express (even just to myself) that I am angry at my wife.

Until I actually tried being honest about such things, I didn't know this, and practicing such expression seemed beneficial in increasing my general awareness of thoughts and emotions in the present or near-present moment. I don't even remotely attempt to practice radical honesty even in my relationship with my wife, but we've both definitely benefited from learning to express what we fe... (read more)

This made me think; I may have some luminosity privilege that needs checking...

5Benquo7yWow. This comment made me happy, even with the jargon. Positive reinforcement for thinking about how your experience might be atypical and other people might have needs or disabilities you hadn't considered! If you are interested in some more things that may distinguish your experience from ChrisHallquist's, you might consider that his examples are mainly about lying in self-defense to hostile people or people who have deliberately asked questions that are costly to evade or answer honestly. Picture an Aikido expert who lives and works in a safe neighborhood getting angry at a janitor who lives in a violent slum for saying they reserve the right to throw a punch if the situation calls for it. I might think the poor janitor has the right to defend themself, but that doesn't mean I'd be very likely at all to punch someone at your dinner party.
3Alicorn7ySome of his examples were like that. The part of his post that most bothered me was "accept others' right to lie to you", and the title has now been changed to "White Lies", which I've never heard used conversationally to cover things like "no, Mom, not gay".
6Vaniver7yI have always interpreted "white lies" as "lies I approve of" rather than "small lies," because the size of a lie is clearly a subjective measurement. It looks like wiki [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_lie#White_lie] mostly agrees.
6blacktrance7y"Lies I approve of" and "white lies" are overlapping sets, but aren't quite the same. For example, if a Nazi asks you if you're hiding any Jews (and you are), I approve of lying to them, but this isn't a white lie. On the other hand, if your horrible racist aunt asks you if she's racist, telling her that she's not would be a white lie, but not one that I approve of.
2Vaniver7yLooking at Augustine's taxonomy [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_lie#Augustine.27s_taxonomy] the terminology seems clearer, as it differentiates "lies told to please others in smooth discourse," which is what I think Alicorn would associate with 'white lies,' with "lies that harm no one and that protect someone from bodily defilement." (And note how the lies in religious teachings mirrors the discussion of lies in science!) As expected, Augustine thinks it's better to lie to the Nazi than to lie to your aunt. But again it seems the subjectivity shines through in the definition of harm, if you want to put the hidden Jew lie in Augustine's last category. Isn't the Nazi harmed when you lie to him, and he doesn't get to catch the hidden Jew?
8drethelin7ymost people WANT the nazi to be harmed.
2Armok_GoB7yProbably. I mean, you literally wrote the book. And the sequence. Even the name... I'm sure a floodlight is of great use up on your hill, but it doesn't do much deep down here (wherever here is) in what might be fog and might be mud I can't tell because I can't see it well enough.
3ChristianKl7yIn that case a real honest answer might be: "I felt uncomfortable during that activity but I don't know whether it's because of the activity or because it's I generally focus to much on the negative." That gives the person you are dealing with a lot of useful information to interact with you. Sharing something deeper about yourself builds trust. If the person is well intentioned they can use the information in a way that makes the interaction for both of you better. The goal of honest communication is to give the other person useful information. Transmitting more useful information is being more honest. If you just say your loathe the activity or you say you liked it, you might be holding something back. If you have a trustworthy friendship than knowing about your emotional state is useful information for your friend. Your friend might be good at reading body language and be able to tell the difference between your fake smile and a real smile but it makes it so much harder for a friend to help you when you aren't open about what you are feeling. To me not being open about your emotions on a deep level when you are with friends or loved ones feels like defecting in a prisoner dilemma. You might get some immediate benefit but overall it's not the path of the game tree that's optimal. To the extend that there are people who can't deal with me being open about what I feel I don't want them as friends or loved ones.

What has to happen in your head for you to be willing to come to my house and eat food I cook and participate in charming conversation and then blithely slash our tires if we ask the wrong question because you think we're going to become hysterical or behave immorally should we gain access to information or be told that we cannot have it? Why does that sound like a welcoming environment you'd like to visit, with us on such a supposed hair trigger about mere true facts?

There are some communities I consider incredibly welcoming where I don't imagine by any means that anything I say will be received well just because it's true. On the other hand, a subculture that not only has idiosyncratic social norms but aggressively shuns anyone who follows mainstream norms, likening violations of their idiosyncratic norms to slashing people's tires... that sounds incredibly unwelcoming to me.

"Hair trigger about mere true facts" is hyperbole. But the truth is that the overwhelming majority of the human race consists of people who sometimes respond badly to being told "mere true facts." Insisting you are an exception is quite a brag. It's possible, but the prior is low. I'd g... (read more)

This post makes me less interested in inviting you over for dinner again. What has to happen in your head for you to be willing to come to my house and eat food I cook and participate in charming conversation and then blithely slash our tires if we ask the wrong question because you think we're going to become hysterical or behave immorally should we gain access to information or be told that we cannot have it? Why does that sound like a welcoming environment you'd like to visit, with us on such a supposed hair trigger about mere true facts?

Not really my business, but a reaction like this may give people an incentive to lie to you.

9ChristianKl7yI think that reaction is walking her talk. She could have changed her preference for inviting him over for dinner silently. Being truthful about her position is an example of being radically honest.
6David_Gerard7yThat doesn't, however, make the response incorrect.
6Alicorn7yIt doesn't make sense to adopt a policy where a person sharing information about what it is like to interact with them must never affect how likely you are to interact with them. If someone tells me they've taken up smoking, they have contracted tuberculosis, they have decided that punching people in the arm is affectionate behavior, etc., then it's kind of them to warn me and they could achieve short-term gains by deceiving me instead until I inevitably notice, but I will not reward the kindness of the warning with my company. The case of lying recurses here where the other examples don't, but my goal is not, "make sure that people who have a tendency to lie don't lie about having that tendency". It's "don't hang out with people who are going to lie to me, like, at all".

It's "don't hang out with people who are going to lie to me, like, at all".

Good luck with that.

Failure to realize a statement could be a white lie can create some terribly awkward situations.

While this is true, it is also true that knowing that a given person won't lie, that they will tell you how bad the acting in your play is, makes their praise even more valuable; because one knows that it is not a white lie.

By allowing yourself the small lies, that is what you are trading away. Whether it's worth it or not, I can't say for sure...

8Douglas_Knight7yIn theory, committing to not lying has some advantages, but in my experience, it doesn't actually work. In my experience, people who commit to not lying are less accurate and less trusted than those who don't. And I'm pretty sure the causality flows from the commitment and not from a third factor.
2CCC7yThis runs contrary to what I would expect. Could it be that people who commit to not lying: * Do not follow up on their commitment * Proceed to twist their words so as to be dishonest without technically lying * Or is there some other reason for this?
3Douglas_Knight7yFailure to keep the commitment is not the problem in my experience. A person who deceives by technical truths usually gets a reputation as a pathological liar; a well-deserved reputation, I would say. Self-deception is a much bigger problem for accuracy. But that hardly scratches the surface of the problems. You have a theory. Theories are great! But test it. Pay attention to people's reputations for honesty, accuracy, and trustworthiness.

A few years ago, for example, when I went to see the play my girlfriend had done stage crew for, and she asked what I thought of it. She wasn't satisfied with my initial noncommittal answers, so she pressed for more. Not in a "trying to start a fight" way; I just wasn't doing a good job of being evasive. I eventually gave in and explained why I thought the acting had sucked, which did not make her happy. I think incidents like that must have contributed to our breaking up shortly thereafter. The breakup was a good thing for other reasons, but I still regret not lying to her about what I thought of the play.

Boy, I sure wouldn't want to date a person like this (your girlfriend-at-the-time). She asked for your opinion; pressed you to actually give it, thus communicating (by any reasonable measure) that she actually wanted your opinion; and then, when you gave it honestly, was unhappy about it? That's horrible.

I don't think I'd ever willingly choose to be close to someone to whom I'd ever regret not lying in response to being asked for my opinion. The thought of living like that, living with the knowledge that honest communication is basically impossible because any time the person asks me (and presses me) about my opinion, I have to consider the possibility that what they actually want is lies — that this person prefers lies both to truths and to no comment — repulses me.

Demand by rational men for rational women exceeds supply, even taking into account that some of the women have harems. If you're one of the lucky men, or a woman, be aware of your privilege and don't criticize men who lack it.

I think the set of women you can be honest with in a relationship is much larger than the set of women who are full on CFAR style rationalists.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky7yMy experience is more like "real honesty, in or out of a relationship, only works with the upper echelon of CFAR style rationalists" though admittedly exposure to the naked, sharp gears of my own intellect may have more Lovecraftian results than it would in the population average.
8Said Achmiz7yI agree with the point in your first sentence, but I'm not sure I follow what your advice is in the second sentence. Are you suggesting that my criticism comes from having rational women to date, whereas Chris (at the time of the anecdote) did not, and so was forced to date an irrational woman, for which I was criticising him? Those are three wrong things, it seems to me: 1. I don't find it to be the case that rational women occur in abundance in my dating pool; 2. No one (presumably) forced Chris to date the young lady in question; 3. I wasn't criticising him for his dating choices; if I was criticising anything, it was his advice that we accept such behavior in our partners / friends, and expressing the view that I, personally, would not accept such behavior. P.S. Really?
4hairyfigment7yThat surprises you? Do you think rational women wouldn't want harems? Scott tells us that polyamory seems like a suboptimal way to get sex, and I assume this holds true even for women - technically. But sex is not fungible [http://lesswrong.com/lw/igd/link_aaron_sell_psychology_today_on_the/9num].
2[anonymous]7yThat doesn't entitle any irrational woman to date any rational man. Men are allowed to stay single, you know.

As best I can tell, "people who sometimes ask questions they might not want to hear the answer to" are a large majority of the population. "Does this dress make me look fat" is a cliche put-you-on-the-spot question for a reason.

Sometimes is an important word here. Too often, and it might be an issue, but it's not like this was a regular occurrence with her. (A big THANK YOU here to Pablo and hyporational for noticing they shouldn't be making too many assumptions based on one anecdote.)

Now, another approach is to exclusively date people who value total honesty at all times. But (1) there are other qualities I value more in a mate and (2) I suspect such openness to "total honesty at all time" tends to correlate with being social inept and overly honest even with people who don't want that, qualities I'd like to avoid.

Now, another approach is to exclusively date people who value total honesty at all times. But (1) there are other qualities I value more in a mate and (2) I suspect such openness to "total honesty at all time" tends to correlate with being social inept and overly honest even with people who don't want that, qualities I'd like to avoid.

To reiterate a point I have made several times in this post's comments:

"Valuing total honesty at all times" and "refraining from pressing someone for an honest answer when what you actually want is a lie" are two very different things.

Correspondingly, being totally honest at all times, unprompted, is not the same as being honest when specifically pressed for an honest answer.

"Does this dress make me look fat" is a cliche put-you-on-the-spot question for a reason.

I try to restrict my circle of friends to people who do not ask precisely such put-you-on-the-spot questions. That, among other policies and attitudes, makes my circle of friends small.

Or, to put it another way: people worth being friends with are rare. And those are the only people I want to be friends with.

[-][anonymous]7y 11

"Does this dress make me look fat"

(BTW, I usually answer that with "you looked better in that other one", so I don't offend her but I still help her choose flattering clothes.)

7Lumifer7yYou're misunderstanding the message. "Does this dress make me look fat?" is not really a question. It's a request for a compliment. If I may engage in gender generalization for a moment, men usually understand words literally. This annoys women to no end as they often prefer to communicate on the implication level and the actual words uttered don't matter much.
5ChrisHallquist7yIn a sense, yes. But less-cliche questions sometimes get used the same way, and you have to be on guard with that. (You can argue that giving the expected responses to such questions isn't technically lying, but that seems like semantic hair-splitting to me.)

Boy, I sure wouldn't want to date a person like this [...]

Depends on the details. I don't think there's anything necessarily unreasonable about the following sequence of events: A wants some information from B, and presses for it despite B's reluctance. When the truth actually comes out, A finds it upsetting. ("Do you love me?" "Yes, of course." "It sometimes doesn't seem that way. Seriously, and honestly, do you really love me?" "Well ... no, not really. I just enjoy having sex with you." "Oh, shit.")

Now, being upset because your boyfriend thinks the acting in a play wasn't much good? Yeah, that seems less reasonable. So I agree that this probably wasn't a great relationship to be in. But I really can't endorse any general claim that it's bad to press for someone's opinion when one of the possible answers would upset you.

Having the truth upset you, and being angry at a person for telling you the unpleasant truth, are two very different things.

[-][anonymous]7y 10

But there are times when both are appropriate. Example: "did you strangle my puppy?" It's hardly unreasonable to expect an honest answer and then be angry at the person when the honest answer is "yes."

More generally, it is not inherently contradictory to expect total honesty and to be occasionally angry at what that honesty reveals.

3Kaj_Sotala7yIn that case, you're not angry at the person for telling the truth, you're angry at them for having strangled your puppy. Similarly, in the love example, the problem isn't so much the fact that B told A the truth, the problem is that B had systematically lied to A in order to get sex before. In neither case are you actually angry at the person for telling you the truth, you're angry at them for committing a separate moral wrong. This seems different from "did you like my play", since disliking a play isn't a moral wrong by itself. In that case you really are angry at someone for telling the truth.
2[anonymous]7yI personally am not so much of a saint as to only get mad at people for moral wrongs. I can absolutely see myself getting angry at a close person for not liking a book I wrote / play I directed / whatever. It still has nothing to do with truth -- I want them to be honest, I just want them to honestly like my stuff! (Of course that isn't entirely mature and fair, but people get their emotions all tied up in their artistic work).
6gjm7yThat's exactly my point. And I conjecture that what upset Chris's girlfriend was the fact that her boyfriend wasn't impressed by her friends' acting. I could, of course, be wrong. If her problem was simply that he'd been tactless enough to tell her what she asked him to tell her, then indeed she was bring grossly unreasonable.
4Said Achmiz7yIf that's indeed what upset her, then she was also being unreasonable. Consider: * Chris could have been unimpressed because the acting was, in fact, bad. (Let's not get into whether art can be objectively bad, or any such thing; that's not the point of the discussion.) If so, then his reaction is information that the acting is bad. Being angry at the messenger who is conveying this information to you is unreasonable. * On the other hand, Chris could have thought the acting sucked because of differing tastes, and not any objective badness of the acting. If so, then what his girlfriend has just found out is that their tastes don't entirely align in this arena. Being angry at Chris for this revelation is, also, unreasonable. So, in either case, being angry at your boyfriend for not being impressed with your friends' acting is unreasonable. Unless, of course, you take the view (as did another poster elsewhere in the comments) that one may, and should, alter one's opinions on the basis of what one thinks will please one's close ones. I strongly reject such views.
7Alicorn7yIt could be that she thought the most likely explanation for him not liking their acting was because he had unrealistic expectations or didn't watch the show with an open mind.
2Said Achmiz7yBoth of those suggestions confuse me. "Their acting sucked. I expected it to be good!" "Well, that was unreasonable of you! Clearly, you should have expected it to suck!" "Oh, well, in that case... yep, it sucked." ??? What on earth does that mean...?
7Alicorn7yMore like: "That show was not in the top 30% of all entertainment I have ever consumed." "...How was it as amateur theater goes?" "Oh, easily top fifteen percent there." The open-mindedness criterion is a little harder to explain.
3plex7yIn that scenario lying may be better for both in the short term, but lying about being in love with someone to trick them into sleeping with you seems pretty likely to upset them more in the long term. And there are more gentle ways to put it which could make honestly explaining that it's mostly a physical thing which would reduce the immediate negativity considerably, though the amount depends on the listener's disposition. I agree that it's not necessarily unreasonable for a truth to be upsetting, but it is somewhat unreasonable to press someone for a truthful answer (especially something important), then be upset with them specifically for being honest, especially if they have indicated discomfort giving a direct answer and tried skirting around the subject (since this hints that it's something which may be an uncomfortable truth they may want to avoid), even if it's pretty common in many circles.
9Pablo7yHuman beings are complex creatures, and the decision to date a person involves weighing up the different elements that make up that complexity. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I'd say that in your current state of almost total ignorance about the physical and psychological traits of Chris's ex girlfriend, you are simply not in a position to know whether or not you'd want to date her. (Perhaps a focusing illusion [http://www.edge.org/response-detail/11984] --"nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it"--was involved in causing you to believe otherwise.) ETA: After reading the replies below, I realize I had misinterpreted Said's comment above as making an all-things-considered claim, when it fact the claim was supposed to be subject to a ceteris paribus clause.
6wedrifid7yIt seems this objection could largely be ameliorated by the inclusion of a ceteris paribus clause. Or, given the way you phrased it, perhaps a measure of how just how many units on the Craziness/Hotness [http://how-i-met-your-mother.wikia.com/wiki/Hot/Crazy_Scale] scale the behavioural pattern moves her. EDIT to remove references to mythical three headed guardians of hades.
7hyporational7yLooks pretty normal to me. One incident isn't a strong indicator of personality, I think. There are situations where a significant fraction of people want to be lied to in a reassuring way, and these situations can be recognized reliably enough if one has the necessary skills to do so. There are skills that allow you to discern when people actually want your opinion and when they're just asking for reassurance. Wouldn't you rather have those?
[-][anonymous]7y 13

Looks pretty normal to me.

That word always¹ sounds to me like its only point is to sneak in the connotation that what's usual must therefore also be desirable.

“Normal is a cycle on a washing machine.”

  1. Not literally.
4hyporational7yMy point is you mostly don't get to choose what's normal whether it's good or bad, so might as well consider adapting to it*. If you come up with a less disagreeable expression of usuality that fits this case, I'll make the switch. *this obviously applies only if this fits your other goals
5Said Achmiz7yA significant fraction of people do all sorts of things. That doesn't mean I want to associate with them, much less data them. Yes, I would definitely want to have those skills — and I would just as definitely want to not have to use them on someone I was dating, or otherwise close to.
3hyporational7yThose people you're narrowing out might have other redeeming qualities that will be less available to you because of this restriction. Why is this one so horrible that they aren't even worth considering?
5Said Achmiz7yWell, I didn't exactly say such people wouldn't be worth considering. (See my reply to Pablo_Stafforini [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jkr/in_defense_of_lying/ainy] .) I do think this one's pretty bad, though. (Elaboration here. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jkr/in_defense_of_lying/aio8]) As for "but if you rule out X, then you won't get the chance to potentially get Y!", I find such arguments unconvincing, because they generalize so easily. "If you rule out serial killers as potential friends, you might miss out on some people with whom you could hold such interesting after-dinner conversation, not to mention the many other redeeming qualities that a person might have in spite of a predilection for axe murder!" Sure, maybe, but I think I can manage to find interesting friends without a history of violent crime. I don't have to settle. Likewise with abhorrent personality traits: my choice isn't "accept people who are terrible in some important way" or "be alone forever". (And even if it were, I might strongly consider option b.) There's always "find someone who isn't terrible in any important way". Such people exist, it seems to me. I don't know, maybe I'm just an optimist?
3hyporational7yThe obvious difference here is that serial killers are rare. White liars are extremely common and the kind of honesty you're preferring is rare, so you're ruling out a lot more people. (ETA: in those elaborated comments you seem more specific and reasonable than I thought.) How probable do you think it is that you're hanging out with people who are more dishonest than you think they are? Are you comfortable with your ability to discern these kinds of qualities in people? Do you acknowledge the prior?
7[anonymous]7yBut each of the people you're ruling out is in turn ruling out lots of people other than you and therefore is more likely to be available. In other words, honesty is a high-variance strategy [http://lesswrong.com/lw/63i/rational_romantic_relationships_part_1/].
3hyporational7yThat makes sense. The only problem it seems is recognizing the right individuals. The goth guy vs normal guy is much more obvious than the honesty guy vs pretending-to-be-honesty-guy. Everyone benefits from being seen as honest.
6pianoforte6117yThat actually reminded me of my parents. My dad is not allowed to say that he dislikes a dish prepared by my mom, even if asked for his opinion. Whenever I ask him if he liked one of my dishes, if I notice any hesitation I usually qualify it with "You can say no".

Wow. Yeah, see, that's exactly the kind of relationship dynamic of which the very thought horrifies me.

I, too, sometimes make similar comments to people to convey that yes, I really do want their feedback on my cooking/baking, because getting better is important to me. Empty praise is worthless to me.

2Mestroyer7yEmpty praise is actually useful, for absence of evidence reasons. Especially if the work you want feedback on is the type that that person should be able to effectively critique. Once you start considering empty praise to be evidence of dislike, you may also want to fake people into thinking you think they like things, because they are probably modeling you using themselves when they decide that lying is best for you. They are not truth-obsessed rationalists, so they probably prefer to think their attempt to trick you was successful. Being asked for a critique of someone's work can be uncomfortable, and thinking you've hurt their feelings is even more uncomfortable.

Ok, that's beyond my ability to keep a chain of models-within-models straight in my head. Could you elaborate?

Actually, you know what — scratch that. The more salient point, I think, is that having to strategize basic conversation to that extent is a) much too hard for my preference, and more importantly, b) something I definitely do not want to be doing with close friends and loved ones. I mean, good god. That sounds exhausting. If someone forces me to go through such knots of reasoning when I talk to them, then I just don't want to talk to them.

7Mestroyer7yI wouldn't want to be in that kind of relationship long-term either. But I still have to interact with normal people too, and enjoyment is often not the goal there. Edit: also family, whose company you don't want to discard entirely because of a few flaws like playing social games like this. Sorry if I said it unclearly, but all I meant was, "make them think they tricked you."
6Antisuji7yI understand the sentiment, but I'd caution that the desire to be able to express yourself freely can be seen as cover for having license to say whatever you want without regard to how it effects the other person. This is bad even if you don't intend to use it that way: you should be spending some cycles thinking about how the other person will feel about what you say. I speak from experience: saying what's on my mind has at times been hurtful to people I care about and I should have censored it or redirected the impulse. Perhaps part of what you're objecting to is not that the person prefers you to lie, but that they prefer a world that can't exist to exist. If this were really what's going on, that would be a severe lapse of rationality. But that world can exist: our opinions are mutable and it's quite possible to decide to like the play. The conversation is actually about something completely different: whether you're willing and able to emphasize the positive over the negative aspects of something for her sake, which is an essential skill in any relationship. The conversation is also about asking for acknowledgement and approval for something she's worked hard on and probably partially identifies with. Please note that I'm not saying this is easy or obvious. Empathy is a difficult skill and requires training (or socialization), followed by practice and attention even for those to whom it comes easily.
8Said Achmiz7y(and now, the other part of my reply to your comment, with a quite intentional difference in tone) Certainly. I'm not suggesting that you ought to just run your mouth about any opinion that pops into your head, especially without giving any thought to whether expressing that opinion would be tactful, how the other person will feel about it (especially if it's a person you care about), etc. Often the best policy is just to shut up. The problem comes when someone asks you for an opinion, and communicates that they really want it. If they then take offense at honesty, then I am strongly tempted to despise them immediately and without reservation. (Tempted, note; there may be mitigating factors; we all act unreasonably on occasion; but patterns of behavior are another thing.) One of the issues with behaving like this is: so what happens when you really do want the person's opinion? How do you communicate that? You've already taught your partner that they should lie, tell you the pleasing falsehood, rather than be honest; how do you put that on hold? "No, honey, I know that I usually prefer falsehood to truth despite my protestations to the contrary, but this time I really do want the truth! Honest!" It erodes communication and trust — and I can think of few more important things in a relationship. Behavior like this also makes your partner not trust your rationality, your honesty with yourself; I don't think I could be with a person whom I could not trust, on such a basic level, to reason honestly. I couldn't respect them. Yes. Certainly. Heck, I sometimes don't want to hear the truth, or someone's honest opinion of me. Not because I am necessarily in denial, or any such thing, but because I don't want to think about it at the moment; or any number of reasons. But you know what I don't do in that case? I don't ask them for their honest opinion! I don't do what the girlfriend in the anecdote did, which is essentially demand that someone close to her to lie to her,
2Said Achmiz7yPossible, but utterly abhorrent. Doublespeak for "doublethink, self-deception, and lies". One can acknowledge hard work without lying about outcomes. Approval given regardless of worth is meaningless and devalues itself (because if I approve of what you made, even if it's crap, then my approval is worthless, because it does not distinguish good work from bad, good results from dreck). Perhaps, then, she should heed Paul Graham's advice to keep her identity small; and apply the Litany of Tarski to whether the thing she worked on was good. Sure, but something can be difficult, non-obvious, and undesirable. I strongly disapprove of equating empathy with deception and tacit support for irrationality and emotional manipulation. They are not the same.

This reminds me of something Mark Horstman (I think) said, that people are entitled to honest answers to questions to which they are entitled an answer. He was using it in a workplace context, for example that if one's boss asks about one's sex life it's okay to lie, because she is not entitled to an answer thus she is not entitled to an honest answer. Good post.

I think an important additional concept being invoked in the above example is that the person you are lying to has social power over you. While generally abiding by a wizard's code of speaking the literal truth, I consider there to be a blanket moral exemption on lying to the government. It is not always pragmatically wise to lie to a government official, but in a moral sense the option is at your discretion.

For example, when the TSA asks you if anything in your luggage could be used as a weapon, you just lie.

Certain interactions with the government (assuming you are behaving peacefully) seem like a special case of dealing with an adversarial or exploitative agent. When an agent has social power over you, they might easily be able to harm or inconvenience you if you answer some questions truthfully, whereas it would be hard for you to harm them if you lied. Telling the truth in that case hurts you, but lying harms nobody (aside from foiling the exploitative plans of the other agent, which doesn't really count).

A more mundane example would be if a website form asks you for more personal information than it needs, and requires this information. For instance, let's say the website asks for your phone number or address when there is suspiciously no reason why they should need to call you or ship you anything. If you fill in a false phone number to be able to submit the form, then you are technically lying to them, but I think it's justified. Same thing for websites that require you to fill in a name, but where they don't actually need it (e.g. unlike financial transactions, or social networks that deal with real identities).

The website probably isn't trying to violate your rights, but it's ... (read more)

8private_messaging7yMost people are neither too dull to imagine or recall from a movie the ways to use ordinary items in their luggage as weapons, nor lying, when they say no...
2Said Achmiz7yEither you have included an unintended negative, or you are saying that nothing in most people's luggage could be used as a weapon.

Or it's just that "lying" implies an attempt to deceive.

Words are meant to communicate meaning. I wouldn't consider it lying if someone communicates in a sense that properly answers the meaning of the question, even if the question is clumsily asked.

Likewise, I would consider it lying if someone uses words which are literally true, but does so in a manner meant to deceive the listener.

9private_messaging7yThere's no time to explain in excruciating detail that TSA wants to hear about, say, handguns that people forget to remove from their luggage [http://blog.tsa.gov/2014/02/tsa-week-in-review-37-firearms.html], tools such as nail guns, assorted sharp pieces, etc, but not about how you can hit someone on the head with a laptop. And that if it's here by mistake, a lot of time is saved by you telling about it and them not having to assume that you're a bad guy trying to conceal it. And within the limited number of sufficiently short sentences there's not a single one that exactly describes what is meant. Words have to be used, in lieu of telepathy, such as "weapon" meaning something that is sufficiently weapon-like and effective as a weapon to be a problem. As much as we need accessibility, there is just no practical way to accommodate for communication related disabilities in a screening line at an airport.
2Said Achmiz7yThis seems like a good heuristic to cover my "nosy relatives" example, as well as many others, and fits my moral intuitions. Good work, Mark Horstman (or whoever)!
1Burgundy7yYes. There are also questions which interviewers are legally prohibited from asking during job interviews, which probably have good moral reasons behind them, not just legal ones. In my recent comments, I've been developing the concept of a "right to information," or "undeserving questions."

This post makes me less interested in inviting you over for dinner again. What has to happen in your head for you to be willing to come to my house and eat food I cook and participate in charming conversation and then blithely slash our tires if we ask the wrong question because you think we're going to become hysterical or behave immorally should we gain access to information or be told that we cannot have it?

I think it's a mistake to interpret "I will sometimes do (extreme thing)" as "my threshhold for doing (extreme thing) is low enough that I'd be likely to do it in everyday situations".

If I visited your house, ate your food, and then you asked me "I want to kill my son by running him over with my car because he told me he's gay. What's the best way to do this without being caught by the police?", depending on circumstances, I might slash your tires, or do things that cause as much damage to you as slashing your tires.

So if you asked me if I would slash your tires if you told me something bad, I'd have to say "yes". But it doesn't mean that if you invited me to your house you would have to watch what you say to me in fear that I might slash your tires, because the kinds of things that would lead me to do that would also imply that you're seriously messed up. Nobody would just say those things by accident.

I see this fallacy a lot in rational idea discussions.,

to come to my house and eat food I cook and participate in charming conversation and then blithely slash our tires if we ask the wrong question

It seems like this is an example of my new favorite conversational failure mode: trying to map an abstraction onto the reference class of your personal experience, getting a strange result, and getting upset instead of curious.

ChrisHallquist said there are some circumstances in which he feels compelled to lie. It seems like Alicorn assumed both that this must include some circumstances she'd be likely to subject him to, and that what he thinks of as a lie in that circumstance is something that will fall into the category she objects to. Of course, either of those things or both could be true - but the way to find out is to consider concrete examples (whether real or fictional).

Personally I used to make this mistake a lot when women complained (in vague abstract terms) about being approached by strangers in coffeeshops, and talk about how they're not obligated to be polite or nice in those cases. Once I got curious and asked questions, and found out that "approached" meant a guy persistently tried to engage her in conversation w... (read more)

9drethelin7yI really really like this comment. I really want more clarification now. But from my perspective, someone who has a categorical rule against lying is like learning I'm being graded on everything I say. I suddenly have the massive cognitive burden of making sure everything I say is true and that I mean all the implications or I can suddenly be shunned and outcast.
4blacktrance7yI'm curious. Is telling the truth really a cognitive burden?
9drethelin7yWalking is not a cognitive burden. Walking on a tightrope is. Being able to say whatever I feel like saying without having to analyze it constantly for punishment is the equivalent of simple walking. I may tell the truth in 90-99 percent of the statements I make, but when I get put into a context of punishment, suddenly I have to worry about the consequences of making what would otherwise be a very small step away from the straight and narrow.
1[anonymous]7yWell, I feel like I'm walking on a tightrope much less when I'm allowed to be honest about everything than when I feel like there are things I'd be supposed to lie about.
5Jayson_Virissimo7yIt seems more like the opposite to me. Telling the truth involves keeping track of what is going on in my head, but lying involves keeping track of what is going on in my head and keeping track of what appears to be going on in my head (and making sure they aren't identical).
9drethelin7ySaying whatever is in my head is easier than making up lies is easier than picking the phrasing of the truth that doesn't offend or scare people.
2blacktrance7yThis has been my experience as well. Telling the truth requires just saying what's on your mind, sometimes adjusting to avoid making people mad or to be better understood. Lying requires a lot of effort and is stressful.

I don't normally like to blather on about myself, but I feel that a bit of self-exposition might help some people with their apparent ... Fundamental Attribution Error, perhaps?

I have an extremely malleable identity in certain types of social situations, to the point that I literally come to believe whatever I need to believe in order to facilitate rapport with whomever I'm talking with.

For example, I normally have a pretty strong aversion to infidelity in relationships, but on a few occasions I've deeply connected through prolonged conversation with friends who were engaged in relationship infidelity. It is sort of a running joke among my closest friends that I can get almost anybody to open up to me and share their deepest darkest secrets, and the way I do it is that I am genuinely nonjudgemental, and the method by which I am genuinely nonjudgemental is that I have a "core" module that has my actual beliefs and then I have my surface chameleon module which is actually talking which just says whatever it needs to say to establish the connection.

All of this babbling is to convey that if you were to interrupt me in the middle of doing this and say, "moridinamael, was... (read more)

9Said Achmiz7yWell, I'm not going to call you a monster or anything, but I will say that I sure would hate to find out one of my friends was the way you describe yourself. I don't think I could continue to be friends with that person, and I sure wouldn't choose to be close to a person if I knew in advance they were like this. Basically, it seems like you're saying: I am really good at self-deception, and so when I lie to you, it's not really a lie because I'm also lying to myself! And believing that lie! Which doesn't change the fact that what you're saying, in such a circumstance, isn't the truth. Your attitude seems to boil down to: "Truth? Haha! What is truth anyway, eh? If I believe any old lie I can come up with, then it becomes my truth, doesn't it? That's just as good as 'the truth'! Whatever that is!" Furthermore and separately: Once you decide to not care about whether your beliefs are true, almost any conversation I could have with you about any of your beliefs, or that is based on any of your beliefs, becomes pointless. Because I know that what you believe has no correlation with truth, and that you just don't care about whether it does. If you'll say anything to establish a rapport with me — even if you make yourself believe that thing while you're saying it — then that rapport is worthless to me; because (however much you may protest the terminology) that rapport is based on a lie. (However, all of that said, I do think your post is valuable, as it contributes a useful data point, as was your stated intention.)
5Bugmaster7yI agree with everything you said on a personal level, but I think you're committing the fallacy of false generalization. You (and I) both place a very high value on truth over comfort. We feel incredibly uncomfortable -- perhaps even painfully so -- when we suspect that any of our beliefs might be false. Therefore, for us, finding out that a friend was lying to us (as well as to himself) is tantamount to experiencing a direct attack. However, not everybody in the world is like us. Other people place a very high value on comfort and positive reinforcement. When they talk to their friends, they do so not in order to Bayes-adjust their beliefs, but in order to reinforce their feeling that they are valued, needed, and cared about. Note that this does not necessarily mean that such people do not care about truth. They often do; but truth-seeking is not the reason why they engage in conversations. So, for people who value comfort in their relationships, having a friend like moridinamael would be ideal. And I can't state with any amount of certainty that their worldview is inferior to mine.
6Said Achmiz7yWell, sure. That's why I phrased my comment the way I did, referencing what I like/prefer/feel. I agree with your assessment of how we (you and I, and others here on Lesswrong) compare to most other people. However, I don't entirely agree with this: I, too, like feeling that I am valued, needed, and care about; and I don't necessarily engage in conversations only for truth-seeking. I sometimes have conversations for the purposes of entertainment, or validation, or comfort. It's not like truth-seeking is my only reason for talking to another human-being, ever. But! But. One thing I never want is to be entertained by lies[1]; to be validated with lies; to be comforted by lies. As I said in another thread, truth may be brutal, but its telling need not be. There are many ways to comfort and to validate without lying. If I come to a friend for comfort, and they comfort me by lying, I would feel somewhat betrayed. How betrayed, to what extent — that would depend on the subject matter and magnitude of the lie, I suppose. [1] Obvious exceptions include storytelling, hyperbole, sarcasm, performance, and all the other scenarios wherein a person says something that they don't believe is the truth, but they correctly expect that their audience is not expecting that statement to be true, and is not going to believe it as the truth.

Well, sure. That's why I phrased my comment the way I did, referencing what I like/prefer/feel.

Yes, good point.

I sometimes have conversations for the purposes of entertainment, or validation, or comfort. ... But. One thing I never want is to be entertained by lies[1]; to be validated with lies; to be comforted by lies.

I agree, and I feel the same way. However, I believe that you and I see conversations somewhat differently from other people.

When you and I engage in conversation (unless I misunderstood your position, in which case I apologize), we tend to take most of the things that are said at face value. So, for example, if you were to ask "did you like my play ?", what you are really asking is... "did you like my play ?" And, naturally, you would feel betrayed if the answer is less than honest.

However, I've met many people who, when asking "did you like my play ?", really mean something like, "given my performance tonight, do you still consider me a a valuable friend whose company you'd enjoy ?" If you answer "no", the emotional impact can be quite devastating.

The surprising thing, though (well, it was surprising to me w... (read more)

2Burgundy7yThis observation fits my model of others. Most people are not perfectionists, over-achievers, or ravenous truth-seekers above all. Consequently, I believe that people aren't those things unless they specifically give me reasons to believe they are. And I treat them accordingly, and interpret their requests for feedback in accordance with my impression of what they are looking for. If someone wants more critical feedback from me, or more unvarnished opinions, then they can get it by (a) acting like the type of person who values those things and who can handle them, (b) asking me explicitly.
2ChristianKl7yI don't think being genuinely nonjudgemental is lying. If I'm having an intellectual argument it's also not lying to agree for the sake of having a good argument with the opposing side on some points. If I disagree with someone about A, B, C and D it's completely fine to assume for the sake of the discussion that A, B and C are true to convince them that D is right. If specifically asked you might say that you don't believe A, B or C but you don't have to be open about everything that you disagree with by default. That just leads to confusion and no effective intellectual exchange. Any good therapist learns that he doesn't tell his client everything that the therapist thinks but that he tells the client what's helpful for the client. A good therapist will still honestly answer direct questions about the beliefs of the therapist. I put much more trust into the people who have a strong core and are judgmental so that they can morph into whatever they need to connect on a deep level with another person. All the people who I would trust to jump from a bridge if they would tell me to jump from a bridge have that quality. My first reaction would be to ask: "Do you really think that's a great idea?" but to the extend that I know they come from a warm and pure place and are in strong empathy with me that's why I would follow them. I wouldn't extend that kind of trust to someone at a lesswrong meetup who has the reputation of always telling the truth but who sometimes says things from a judgemental state and sometimes says things from a warm place. Over the last year I developed a stronger personal identity and got more clear about what I value. On the other hand in a game of Werewolf people who could read my emotions to sometimes find out whether I'm lying can't anymore. Knowing who I am allows me to be a lot more socially flexible to do whatever I want in the game of Werewolf in a way that's not readable by the people I'm playing with.

I endorse the vast majority of the post. Lying in most of those circumstances seems like an entirely appropriate choice, particularly to people you do not respect enough to expect them to respond acceptably to truth. Telling people the truth when those people are going to screw you over is unethical (according to my intuitive morality which seems to consider 'being a dumbass" abhorrent.)

If you're highly averse to lying, I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you to tell white lies more often. But I will implore you to do one thing: accept other people's right to lie to you.

People have the right to lie. People do not have the right to lie without consequences. I suggest people respond to being lied to in whatever way best meets their own goals and best facilitates their own wellbeing. Those adept at navigating a sea of social bullshit and deception may choose to never treat lies as defections or provide any negative consequences. Those less adept at that kind of thinking may be better served by being less tolerant of lies from those with a given degree of closeness to them.

I implore you to respect other's right to treat lies, liars, and you in whatever way ... (read more)

9hyporational7yDoes this really serve many of them better though? Combine implicit high trust in people with judgmentality and poor lie detection in an environment where everybody lies. From an outside perspective the most extreme version of this seems like a recipe for lashing out at random people and alienating them. People openly judgmental about lying actually seem like good targets for deception, because you can expect them to be worse at spotting it. Can lying averse people reliably spot the other nonliars?
7ChrisHallquist7yThanks! Some lies should have consequences. But I think "respect other people's right to you [about some topics]" is a really important principle. Maybe it would help to be more concrete: Some men will react badly to being turned down for a date. Some women too, but probably more men, so I'll make this gendered. And also because dealing with someone who won't take "no" for an answer is a scarier experience with the asker is a man and the person saying "no" is a woman. So I sympathize with women who give made-up reasons for saying "no" to dates, to make saying "no" easier. Is it always the wisest decision? Probably not. But sometimes, I suspect, it is. And I'd advise men to accept that women doing that is OK. Not only that, I wouldn't want to be part of a community with lots of men who didn't get things like that. That's the kind of thing I have in mind when I say to respect other people's right to lie to you. I agree with this. Though I think some degree of acceptance of white lies is the majority position, and figuring out when someone deviates from that and to what degree is tricky. Such social defaults tend to be worth going along with unless you have a pretty damn good reason not to.

An emotional response to your statement is not indiscriminate braindumping. I'm not talking about always saying whatever happens to be in my mind at any time. Since I've probably already compromised any chance of going to a rationalist dinner party by being in favor of polite lies, I might as well elaborate: I think your policy is insanely idealistic. I think less of you for having it. But I don't think enough less of you not to want to be around you and I think it's very likely plenty of people you hang out with lie all the time in the style of the top level post and just don't talk to you about it. We know that humans are moist robots and react to stimuli. We know the placebo effect exists. We know people can fake confidence and smiles and turn them real. But consequentialist arguments in favor of untruths don't work on a deontologist. I guess mostly I'm irate at the idea that social circles I want to move in can or should be policed by your absurdity.

I don't think the above constitutes an indiscriminate braindump but I don't think it would be good to say to anyone face to face and I don't actually feel confident it's good to say online.

9Sarokrae7yThis is a summary reasonably close to my opinion. In particular, outright denouncement of ordinary social norms of the sort used by (and wired into) most flesh people, and endorsement of an alternative system involving much more mental exhaustion for the likes of people like me, feels so much like defecting that I would avoid interacting with any person signalling such opinions.
3moridinamael7yIncidentally (well after this thread has sort of petered out) I feel the same sort of skepticism or perhaps unenthusiasm about Tell Culture. My summarized thought which applied to both that and this would be, "Yes, neat idea for a science fiction story, but that's not how humans work."
7Said Achmiz7yUpvoted for the entire comment, but especially this. And this.

Has his post offended you or something? You employ pretty strong language, and "this post makes me less interested in inviting you over for dinner again" is a kinda public way of breaking off a friendship, which (regardless of cause) is somewhat socially humiliating for the person on the receiving end. Is that really necessary? Settle such personal details via PM?

I don't see it as a sort of grey fallacy argument to note that "lying" isn't much of a binary property (i.e., either you lie, or you don't). There may be simple enough definitions on the surface level, but when considering our various facets of personality, playing different roles to different people in different social settings, context-sensitivity and so on and so forth, insisting on anything remotely like being able to clearly (or at all) and reliably distinguish between "omitting a truth" and "explicitly lying" versus "telling the truth" loses its tenability. There are just too many confounders; nuances of framing, word choice, blurred lines between honesty and courtesy, the list goes on.

Yes, there are cases in which you can clearly think to yourself that "saying t... (read more)

3Lumifer7yWhy is this is problem? I'm not Alicorn but I wouldn't have any issues admitting in public that yes, I've fantasized about killing someone. And the situation is very easy to steer towards absurd/ridiculous if the asker starts to demand grisly details :-)

I worry this post will be dismissed as trivial. I simultaneously worry that, even with the above disclaimer, someone is going to respond, "Chris admits to thinking lying is often okay, now we can't trust anything he says!"

If you extract the hyperbole this is an entirely valid reasoning. An observed pattern of lies (or an outright declaration of such a pattern) does mean that people should trust everything you say somewhat less than they otherwise would. Reputation matters. Expecting people to trust your word as much when you lie to them as when you don't would be foolish. This is a tradeoff that seems worthwhile but you must acknowledge that it is a tradeoff.

If you're thinking of saying that, that's your problem, not mine

False. It is their problem and yours. People not believing you is obviously a negative consequence to you. Acknowledge it and choose to accept the negative consequence anyway because of the other benefits you get from lies. (Or, I suppose, you could use selective epistemic irrationality as a dominance move and as the typical way to defect on an ultimatum game. Whatever works.)

all but the most prolific liars don't lie anything like half the time

... (read more)
5ChrisHallquist7yReally? Someone saying "I do the socially normal thing with white lies" is reason to distrust what they say about science?
6wedrifid7yYes. (I question the claim that this is merely an expression of normality but assume it for the sake of the answer.) Yes, it is a reason to trust what they say about science less. The "socially normal" thing to do with respect to mentioning science is to be much more inclined to bring up findings that support one's own preferred objectives than to bring up other things. It also involves a tendency to frame the science in the most personally favourable light. An above normal obsession with epistemic accuracy and truthfulness (which is somewhat typical of people more intellectually inclined and more interested in science) ought to (all else being equal) make one more comfortable trusting someone talking about science. I, for example, often can't help making references to findings and arguing against positions that could be considered "my side". That political naivety and epistemic honesty at the expense of agenda is some degree of evidence. Possibly evidence that I can't be trusted as a political ally on the social-perceptions battlefield but that I can be more useful as a raw information source. Again, assume "all else being equal" is included in every second sentence above.
5Douglas_Knight7ySaying "I do the socially normal thing" is pretty good evidence that you don't do the socially normal thing. Structurally, this post and its comments are extremely similar to the pua threads.
3Kaj_Sotala7yTo some extent, though probably not to a large extent. An older version of my recent article about trust [http://kajsotala.fi/2014/02/dont-trust-people-trust-their-components/] used to have the following paragraphs, which I then cut since the essay was already long enough:
2Burgundy7yMy views on lying are similar to your friend's. Thanks for having a charitable reaction. After reading some of the attitudes in this thread, I find it disconcerting to think that a friend might suddenly view me as having inscrutable or dangerous psychology, if they found out that I believe in white lies in limited situations, like the vast majority of humans. It's distressing that upon finding this out, that they might so confused about my ethics or behavior patterns... even though presumably, since they were friends with me, they had a positive impression of my ethics and behavior before. Maybe finding out that a friend is willing to lie causes you to change your picture of their ethics (rhetorical "you"). But why is it news that they lie sometimes? The vast majority of people do. Typical human is typical. Maybe the worry is that if you don't know the criteria by which your friends lie, then they might lie to you without you expecting it. If so, then perhaps there are ways to improve your theory of mind regarding your friends, and then avoid being deceived. You could ask your friends about their beliefs about ethics, or try to discover common reasons or principles behind "white lies." While people vary on their beliefs about lying, there is probably a lot of intersubjectivity. Just because someone isn't aware of intersubjective beliefs about the acceptability of lying, it doesn't mean that their neurotypical friends are capricious about lying. (Of course, if future evidence shows that everyone lies in completely unpredictable ways, then I would change my view.) For example, if you know that your friend lies in response to compliment-fishing, then you can avoid fishing for compliments from them, or discount their answers if you do. If you know that your friend lies to people he believes are trying to exploit him, then you don't need to be worried about him lying to you, unless (a) you plan on exploiting him, or (b) you worry that he might think that you are e

Thanks for telling the truth. But downvoted for "I dislike this position, don't want to hear it defended, and will punish those who defend it." This is a much stronger rationalist anathema than white lies to me.

I think behaviorly I act almost exactly as you do in terms of trying never to lie but often to evade questions. But for some reason the comment I'm responding to rubs me incredibly negatively. I'm reflecting on why, and I think the difference is that you actually have it easy. You're trying to live radically honestly in, if I'm not mistaken, the middle of an enclave that has far more of the sort of people that would appreciate Lesswrong in your immediate vicinity than most people do. So you can basically choose to be extremely choosy about your friends in this regard.

Try holding everyone around to the same standard you live by when most of your neighbors and colleagues are not associated with the rationalist movement at all, and let's see how far you get. Let me tell ya, it's a wee bit harder. For most of us, "be lenient with others and strict with thyself" is a pretty natural default.

I suspect, from Chris' perspective, if his choices are "be invited to Alicorn's parties" and "be friends with other people at all," he may go with the latter.

Usually when I think of "white lies" I think of things that are not primarily intended to produce a belief about the literal content of that sentence at all - they're a totally different type of social move only loosely related to their "meaning". I'm thinking about things like this:

Alice is at a party and sees her friend Bella walk in, wearing a new dress. Bella asks Alice what she thinks of her new dress. Bella is making a bid for reassurance, not a request for information - it's too late to go home and change, she wants to hear that she looks good in this dress in order to feel more confident at the party.

Charlie passes Doris in the hallway at work. "How are you?" asks Doris. "Fine," says Charlie, who five minutes ago got a call from the doctor telling him that he has a life-threatening illness. Charlie is not fine, but doesn't want to talk about it. He wouldn't mind Doris knowing about his condition, but couldn't think fast enough of a way to politely avoid bringing up the topic except by lying. He correctly assumes that Doris won't actually update her opinion of how he is or take his response seriously anyway.

Later, Charlie is talking

... (read more)
4Alicorn7yIn this comment [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jkr/white_lies/aj8c] I list some things that are not lying, which include many of your examples. I'll add now that I think anybody can waive any right they don't happen to want, including the right not to be lied to, and reiterate also that you have to intend to be believed to count as lying, and clarify that being mistaken - including sincere mistaken-ness about remembering to include a caveat necessary for factual accuracy - does not constitute a lie. If Bella has successfully communicated to Alice what she's looking for, if Charlie isn't making an attempt to cause Doris to believe he's fine, likewise with Edward - then that might well be fine. (Is it a coincidence that every single name you chose except Doris is a Twilight character?) ...then you may well have forfeited contextually relevant rights. I read Chris's post, saw an undisclaimed second-person pronoun telling me to respect others' right to lie to me, and was like: "But... I didn't do anything."
2Benquo7ySometimes people cause others to feel cornered or threatened, without knowing it. That doesn't make them bad people, but it would explain what might otherwise be "bad behavior" on others' parts. And if anyone finds that people seem to regularly lie to them about certain kinds of thing, they should seriously consider the hypothesis that they are misunderstanding the interaction. I know what that feels like. I've had that response to a lot of things that turned out not to be about me at all. It hurts at first. I try to read those things a second time, when I'm not feeling indignant anymore, to figure out whether it's actually about me, or things I do. I try to avoid the generic "you" and "we", and abstract pronouncements like that, for exactly that reason - I don't want to be misunderstood in that way.
4Said Achmiz7yThese are good examples. I want to add one that I've observed/experienced, somewhat related to this one: Sometimes, you're talking to a person who has some importance in your life — a relative, let us say — and they ask you a question about your life (some aspect of your life that doesn't affect them directly). You know that, if you tell them the truth, their reaction will be to lecture you, berate you, give you unwanted advice, yell at you, or otherwise engage you in an unproductive mode of interaction. You know this because this has happened before; you are quite sure that this interaction won't change your mind (because you have good reasons for living your life the way you do, as opposed to the way your interlocutor wants you to), nor will your protests or arguments change their mind (because of their irrationality). Neither is it likely that this person will respond to requests to drop the subject. So, you lie. Result: continued peaceful, pleasant conversation. What do people here think of the moral status of such lies? I am genuinely curious. I myself am somewhat torn, and I'd like opinions.

There's a fundamental problem with lying unaddressed - it tends to reroute your defaults to "lie" when "lie"="personal benefit."

As a human animal, if you lie smoothly and routinely in some situations, you are likely to be more prone to lying in others. I know people who will lie all the time for little reason, because it's ingrained habit.

I agree that some lies are OK. Your girlfriend anecdote isn't clearly one of them - there may be presentation issues on your side. ("It wasn't the acting style I prefer," vs., "It's nice that you hired actors without talent or energy, because otherwise, where would they be?") But if you press for truth and get it, that's on you. (One my Rules of Life: Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to.)

But I think every lie you tell, you should know exactly what you are doing and what your goals are and consciously consider whether you're doing this solely for self-preservation. If you can't do this smoothly, then don't lie. Getting practice at lying isn't a good idea.

I note here that I think that a significant lie is a deliberate or seriously reckless untruth given with the mutual expect... (read more)

4fubarobfusco7yWhen you tell one lie, it leads to another ... [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thyffmWejtM]

My instant urge when you compared polite lies to slashing your tires is to insult you at length. I don't think this would be pleasant for anyone involved. Radical Honesty is bad for brains running on human substrate.

It signals fear, lack of confidence, untrustworthiness, incompetence at navigating the flow of conversation and submissiveness.

I don't know -- depends on the context. Imagine a relationship that is strongly based on the Guess culture. The interpretation then would be quite different:

  • Request for feedback.
  • Evasiveness (this is a signal: I won't comment positively, don't ask)
  • More requests (either "I didn't understand your signal" or "I really want your positive comments")
  • More evasive answers (another signal: I REALLY won't say positive things, back off, you're setting yourself for a fall)
  • Push for clear communication (either "I'm clueless about your signals" or "I don't fucking care")
  • Critical comment ("Well, you forced the situation to this, if you really insist you can have it")

Certainly not the best way a conversation can develop, but it's mostly miscommunication, not lack of confidence or being not trustworthy.

3wedrifid7yI agree that the implications of a conversation can vary drastically based on the context. If we had a video of the conversation (even without the sound) we would have much more information about the social meaning than just seeing the words. For whatever it is worth in my evaluation even in the 'guess culture' perspective would be that there is still some signal of both undesirable traits and likely of an underlying lack of respect when it comes to this kind of conversation. In not small part this is because guess culture initiates are supposed to get to the white lies sooner! I can't claim particular expertise at social dynamics---I'm just a curious observer who tries to comprehend what was once incomprehensible as best he can. As best as I can establish from what I do know that particular configuration of social persona---in the 'normal' guess culture---has some degree of social weakness of the kind that tends to result in bad outcomes for both parties. It is the kind of thing that reduces respect and happens to an instance where that instinctive reduction in respect happens to be practical and not just the human desire for association with the socially powerful.

Further, the idea that the tribe of Honest Except When I Benefit is the vast majority while Always Honest is a tiny minority is not one that I'll accept without evidence.

Here's one relevant paper: Lying in Everyday Life

I read that paper, and was distressed, so I set about finding other papers to disprove it. Instead I found links to it, and other works that backed it up. I was wrong. Liers are the larger tribe. Thanks for educating me.

5ChrisHallquist7yUpvoted for publicly changing your mind.

I was at a meetup where we played the game Resistance, and one guy announced before the game began that he had a policy of never lying even when playing games like that.

That's exactly what I'd say too. And then, I'd commence the lying :-)

'Continue', you mean :-)

I wouldn't too much on your ability to "lie with truths," as Quirrell would say.

You accidentally a verb.

4ChrisHallquist7yThanks. Fixed.
7maia7yOff by one.
5ChrisHallquist7yOkay. Now I think it's fixed.

This seems like a wilfully unfair description of Chris's position.

It's a scam if you take someone's money intending to do something other than what you tell them you'll do with it, or (maybe) intending to do it for very different reasons from the ones you give them, or with very different prospects of success. But Chris's hypothetical youngster is doing with the money exactly what his/or her parents expect (getting educated), with the same purpose and the same likely outcomes as if s/he were straight. Where's the scam?

And the donors in question aren't generic "people". They're hypothetical-youngster's parents. Maybe that makes it worse ("you'd lie to your own flesh and blood?"), maybe it makes it better (arguably they owe him/her an education, if they can afford it and s/he would genuinely gain from it), but it certainly makes a difference.

I think there is an argument to be made against Chris's position along those lines, but such tendentious language isn't the way to start it.

4Strange77yThe parents are presumably intending to support their child along a particular path, which leads through college, and involves a good career, marriage to a nice woman, and grandchildren.
4fubarobfusco7yAnother factor is that the student is protecting their parents from doing something that they will likely later regret. I've known a number of folks who came out to their parents and got fearful and hostile responses — which the parents later apologized for and tried to make amends for. This seems to be a pretty common pattern, in fact. Broadly, people want to have good relations with their families, but they may not always act that way in the moment — and they come to regret actions that harm those relations. Putting people in situations where they will predictably behave in ways they will later regret is widely regarded to be pretty crappy social behavior. It's certainly not the sort of thing that people endorse doing to those they love. If avoiding that situation requires a certain amount of narrowly targeted deception, so be it. Adopting a deontological-style rule of not explicitly lying (using evasion or refusing to answer, for instance) may be worthwhile. Avoiding deception in general is a good idea for consensual relationships willingly entered and willingly left. Parent/child is not that kind of relationship, though — not in our society and economy. Even though it would be desirable to cultivate a world in which there were no violent outbursts in response to true facts, it would be negligence to the point of malice to advise people in dependent social situations to pretend that they live in such a world.
3Prismattic7yPeople whose families eventually realized the error of their ways are probably rather more comfortable talking about their experiences than people whose families really did reject them permanently. Suspecting there may be some availability bias going on here.

People uncomfortable with that term can either replace it with a preferred one or do a search for previous discussions here of the etymology.

There are numerous ways you could have said the same thing (including the same connotations) without alienating parts of your audience. You clearly were aware you were going to alienate part of your audience, so why didn't you use an alternate phrasing?

I can see how a reputation for lying would be a bad thing to have, but I can also see why a reputation for not being capable of lying would be a bad thing (mainly in social contexts). From one of my other comments:

For almost a year my best friend was dating a man without telling her ex-husband, and I was seeing her ex-husband every time I went to play with my godson, and I had to remember to lie about a whole bunch of random things like "what did you and my ex-wife do on Saturday?"

This was hard for me. There've been other times where I've slipped up and forgotten. Usually not in the context of friends explicitly telling me to lie about something, but in the context of Person X them telling me something which, to them, is obviously something that they want to conceal from Person Y because of conflicts it would cause. However, I don't model this–I model Person X and Person Y both as friends who I trust with details about my life, and assume that's commutative. I don't even think about it on a conscious level–it's not "I want to tell this person the truth about the thing this other person did because lying is complicated"–they just ask me a question and I answ... (read more)

If you told me this in person, I wouldn't want to hang out with you any more either.

I think the big thing to remember is that the meaning of something isn't the dictionary definitions of the words combined with the rules of syntax. If someone asks you what you though of a play, wanting to know what you thought of them, and you know this, saying "the acting was bad" is intentionally misinterpreting their question. It is an example of lying with truth.

I would expect someone who presses me for an answer would actually want to know the answer, but maybe I just have bad social skills.

There is one thing I dislike about lying. It's considered rude to tell the truth in certain situations, because it signals that you don't care about that person, because people who care lie, because people who care don't want to appear rude. If people didn't try to signal, things would be better off, but if you lie, you're not only signalling that you care, you're increasing the need everyone else has to signal. You're making things more confusing for other people. It's basically a large-scale prisoner's dilemma. It's like talking in a noisy room, where the other person can hear you if you speak up, but that just makes it noisier for everyone else.

6Strange77yThe solution to the noisy room problem is to either pass notes, or lean over and speak at a low-to-normal volume as close as reasonably possible to the intended listener's ear. Alternative communication channels and building up trust/intimacy can be generalized to some, though probably not all, other versions of the problem. Pressing for an answer could also mean you've said approximately the right thing, but your tone and phrasing didn't convey a sufficient degree of conviction, or that you've said something wrong-but-not-unconscionable and they're giving you a chance to retry. (I do not like "guess culture" very much.)
3JQuinton7yThis is something I also struggled with for a long time and I'm definitely sure it was because I had (or probably still have) poor social skills. The thing I started to notice was that people might seem to be asking a question, but that question is really just a proxy for another question. It's like people were communicating at two different levels. Like the stereotypical asking a girl to get coffee at 2am; the guy isn't literally asking the girl if she wants coffee, and everyone knows this, and to answer as though he's literally asking for coffee is demonstrating poor social skills. If the girl says yes to the coffee suggestion, she's actually "lying" because she doesn't want coffee, but wants the implication of what the guy is asking for when he suggests coffee. If a friend asks me what I thought about a poem she wrote, she might be asking me literally about the poem, or she might be asking some other underlying question like her worth as a person or something else, using the poem as a proxy for that question. Giving my honest opinion about the poem might be, to her, me giving my honest opinion about her underlying question.

Moreover, the policy signals you have bad social skills and are unlikely to spot lies. This doesn't matter much though if you strongly signal it in other ways already.

Also, if someone wanted to tarnish your reputation, they'd lie to you, get caught and try to make you act hostile when other people are around. You possibly hedge against this already. The other people, unless close friends, will be on the liar's side in a situation like this, no matter how justified you feel.

My policy: if I catch someone lying to me about something significant, I put them in a zero trust zone. I will not confront them about their lies unless absolutely necessary or the person is absolutely useless and I will act friendly or neutral. Since they think they haven't been caught, their lies will get stupider and easier to spot, combine this with my heightened suspicion and they will be relatively harmless. This also enables me to trip them over better if need be since I can plan and time my moves. On top of this I'll still get the benefits of their friendliness if any.

I find the reaction to this comment, both in the downvotes and some of the responses, interesting in light of the recent discussion about Tell Culture. That post was highly upvoted, but some people in the comments expressed the opinion that even the people who claim to endorse Tell culture really don't, and that people who actually consistently operated on Tell Culture would end up getting punished, even in a community where most people claimed to endorse Tell.

As far as I can tell, the reactions to this comment are support for that hypothesis, as I see you as a person who consistently operates on Tell, and then (as in this case) occasionally gets censured for that, even in a community where a lot of people previously claimed that Tell sounds awesome.

6Douglas_Knight6yI think you have it backwards. Chris Told, Alicorn punished him for it, and the community retaliated. This is a great victory for Tell culture and radical honesty, as long as you don't believe Alicorn embodies them. A key difference is that the community is incrementalist and consequentialist, while Alicorn is absolutist and deontologist. A lot of the comments don't believe that Alicorn accurately identifies liars. Expelling him is a step backwards from her claimed goal of honest associates. And, indeed, she did specify it was instrumental to this goal and not just a rule she follows without regards to consequences. But it's probably also that. The community's failure to grasp the deontological aspects may make its reaction unfair; but I cannot judge for the same reason. The basic reaction is that she is a very strong instance of Guess culture, where her associates have to guess how much to lie to her and are strongly discouraged from talking about it.
6Jiro7yI don't think that follows. The fact that we punish people for telling others about X, and we don't punish them if we don't, doesn't mean we're punishing them for telling; it means we're punishing them for X. We'd really like to punish them for X whether they tell or not, it's just that telling makes it easier. It may be more understandable to think about it as cheating. You can either lose, or cheat and win. If you lose, you suffer all the effects of a loss. If you cheat, you may not suffer at all. But we don't describe that as "punishment for not cheating". It's the same here: you can lose (have your opinions judged poorly) or cheat (conceal your opinions by not telling anyone, and escape being judged for them).

I think this is a great post. I fully agree about accepting other people's right to lie... in limited circumstances, of course (which is how I interpreted the post). I figured it was primarily talking about situations of self-defense or social harmony about subjective topics.

I think privacy is very important. Many cultures recognize that some subjects are private or personal, and has norms against asking about people's personal business without the appropriate context (which might depend on friendship, a relationship, consent, etc...). Some "personal" subjects may include:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Heath issues
  • Configuration of genitals
  • Reasons for sexually/romantically rejecting someone
  • Current physical state of pain
  • Sexual history (outside STI discussion between partners)
  • Sexual fantasies
  • Past traumatic experiences
  • Political views that would be controversial or difficult to explain in the current context

The ethics of lying when asked about personal subjects seems more complicated. In fact, the very word "lying" may poison the well, as if the default is that people should tell the truth. I do not accept such a default without privacy issues being addressed. I will ... (read more)

Write the bad version now. Don't worry about the good version until you have a complete bad one.

5[anonymous]7yK. opens gedit

Lies are good. We should evangelize good things. Saying you support white lies signals to everyone who might talk to you that they are more able to trust you to not reveal for example private details about their lives.

By that reasoning if there was some situation where he had to sell himself into slavery to save his sibling's life, similarly disturbing conclusions could be drawn from his refusal to do that.

You're making an awful lot of assumptions, including the assumption that the person is a utilitarian and that their reasons for not wanting to donate don't also involve life or considerations that a wide range of people consider as important as life.

You favor lying to people to scam money out of them because it would be inconvenient for your education plans to not be able to scam money out of them?

You present a compelling argument that "scamming money out of people because it would be inconvenient not to" can be an entirely ethical and appropriate course of action.

Lumping a particular scenario already analysed on merit seems reasonable into a despised reference class serves to change the reference class, not the instance.

The thing I'm measuring here is not, actually, the distance traveled in the audience towards or away from omniscience. It's something else.

Something perplexes me about the view you describe, and it's this:

What is the point?

That is to say: You say lying is bad. You describe a certain, specifically circumscribed, view of what does and does not count as lying. The set of conditions and properties that define lying (which is bad) vs. things that don't count as lies, in your view, are not obvious to others (as evidenced by this thread and other similar ones)... (read more)

When people misunderstand or misread what I say — as happens sometimes, a couple of comments to this post being examples — my response is usually an attempt to clarify my position, correct the misreading, etc. Most of the people with whom I have engaged here on LessWrong do similarly.

A response to an alleged misreading that consists of saying "That's not what I meant; I won't explain what I meant; and I won't talk to you about this anymore" is not a particularly honorable discussion tactic. If you think I have misread you — as is, of course, possible — please explain how.

Just saying "this is part of my job and I love my job" is not good enough?

It sounds evasive and not like the natural response, and I'm not all that worried about my patients yelling "no, you're a liar!" and getting mad if I tell them I don't mind at all, and I don't have any particular reason to want to not lie in this situation.

"I think about killing my characters off pretty regularly, though often I come up with more creative things to do instead. As far as I know I'm an average amount of susceptible to intrusive thoughts, if that's what you're asking, but why are you asking?"

(In the role of a hypothetical interlocutor)

"See this here?" (Pulls out his Asperger's Club Card) "I have trouble distinguishing what's socially acceptable to ask from what isn't, and since you're such a welcoming host, I hope you also welcome my honest curiosity. I wouldn't want... (read more)

All this needs the disclaimer that some domains should be lie-free zones. I value the truth and despise those who would corrupt intellectual discourse with lies.

Can anyone point me to a defense of corrupting intellectual discourse with lies (that doesn't resolve into a two-tier model of elites or insiders for whom truth is required and masses/outsiders for whom it is not?) Obviously there is at least one really good reason why espousing such a viewpoint would be rare, but I assume that, by the law of large numbers, there's probably an extant example somewhere.

5TheOtherDave7yCan we taboo "intellectual discourse"? As I think about your question I realize that I'm not sure I understand what that phrase is being used to refer to in this context.
4ChrisHallquist7yI'm trying to take the idea of not lying in science journals and broaden it to include fields other than science, and public discussion in places other than journals. A specific example would be Christian apologist William Lane Craig (who I've been following long enough to become convinced that the falsehoods he tells are too systematic to all be a matter of self-deception.)
2ChristianKl7yDo you believe that Sokal was immoral when he wrote his famous paper? There are people who suggest that Bem wrote his latest famous paper for the same reason. If you think that the system is inherently flawed and corrupt and has no error correction build in, the strategy of placing lies into the system to make it blow up makes sense.
4EHeller7yDaryl Bem? I think people suggesting Bem isn't being serious (though sadly mistaken) haven't talk to him. If Bem is trying to do something like Sokal, he has been doing an Andy Kaufman level job of trolling for many years now.
5ChristianKl7yI think I remember reading that sentiment from someone who's a student with him on a blog. Bem is certainly deeply serious about his belief that the academia is full of hypocrites. Even if Bem does belief in psi he's not as stupid as believing that the data he gathered for that paper proves that psi really exists. But if he can use that data to show how deeply wrong academia happens to be and shake up academia from his perspective maybe academics start to take data more seriously. To the extends that he beliefs taking data seriously leads to believing in psi shaking up academia serves that agenda. In a world full of pseudoskeptics someone who's serious about evidence gets annoyed at pseudoskeptics. To the extend that you don't mentally distinguish pseudoskeptics from the real thing, it's hard to understand people like Bem. I'm enough like Bem in that regard to feel with him. I'm the kind of person who goes on skeptic exchange to write a question asking for whether there evidence that supports the core assumptions of evidence-based medicine and have the highest upvoted answer be for a year a answer opposing evidence-based medicine. Part of the trick was to take the most authoritative source as definition for evidence-based medicine and that source actually puts up a strawman that nobody in their right mind would defend at depth. I'm deeply troubled when I read people saying that the evidence for climate change is comparable to the evidence for evolution because I think the evidence for evolution is pretty certain and better with p<<0.0000001 and climate change isn't in that reference class. I'm serious enough about evidence to find that claim a big lie that offends me, especially when made in highly authoritative venues. Bem is deeply serious but that paper is him saying: "Even if I play by your strange and hypocritical rules of "evidence", I still can provide "evidence" that psi exists. Take that." I think that the data he measured is real but I don't think
2EHeller7ySo you are bringing up a whole lot of unrelated, or only loosely linked ideas. I'll be honest, such a long reply of (at best) loosely connected ideas pattern matches to "axe-to-grind" for me, so I strongly considered not bothering with this post. As it is, lets limit the scope to discussing Bem. Anyway, what exactly do you believe Bem is doing with his paper? I assumed the claim in your first post is that Bem was publishing silly results to highlight the danger of deifying p-values (as Sokal published a silly paper to highlight the low standards of the journal he submitted to). I contend this is not true, and Bem believes the following (based on interviews, the focuses of Bem's work, and a personal conversation with him): 1. psi is a real phenomena 2. ganzfeld experiments (as interpreted through standard statistical significance tests) are strong evidence for psi 3. "Feeling the Future" and other similar experiments are evidence for precognition I contend all of these beliefs are mistaken. In response to further claims you've made regarding the academic response to Bem, I further contend: 1. the academic community is right to be skeptical of such work, and in fact its a sort of informal Bayesian filter. 2. the academic response raised valid statistical objections to Bem's work The biggest problem I see is that an effect has to have as ludicrously small a prior as Bem's before proper scrutiny is applied. Lots of small effect that warrant closer methodological scrutiny slip through the cracks.

Luckily, I have a one strike rule against ultimatums. :)

Why doesn't simply not trusting them work for you? How does being hostile to them further your interests?

8Said Achmiz7yIf your interests include being hostile to people who you think deserve it, then being hostile to said people furthers your interests in a fairly straightforward way, it seems to me. (General comment: I have to admit I'm getting somewhat tired of the "how does doing X further your interests" refrain, used, as it seems often to be on Lesswrong, as a fully general criticism of any action that can be construed to be sub-optimal with respect to goals and values that are assumed to be held by some ideal rationalist, rather than the actual goals and actual values of one's interlocutor.)
5Douglas_Knight7yI am very confused by this thread. When I ask "How does this work?" there is an implicit assumption that it does work.
4Said Achmiz7yOften, when people say "how does X work?", what they're actually communicating is their belief that it doesn't work. It's an expression of incredulity.
4gjm7yI take a different view. That question is simply a good general question to ask, and one that people can easily forget to ask themselves. In this it resembles "How sure are you of that, and on what grounds?". Of course if you ask either question you need to be prepared for the possibility that your interlocutor has a good answer, and if you find that happening too often then you should consider that maybe your questions are more posturing than genuine helping. But I've not seen any particular sign that that's happening a lot on LW. Maybe I haven't been watching closely enough?
3hyporational7yIt wasn't a criticism, it was a question. I'm just going with the information I have. Should I assume the person has this goal, or should I ask him questions?
2wedrifid7yYou say 'ultimatums', he says "explanation of his personal boundaries and likely respond to given stimulus". If you can't (or will not) distinguish between those two then your heuristic would seem to fail with respect to all human interaction. There is no fundamental difference between Carinthium's policy and the policy of others. People's behaviour is conditional on the behaviour of others and sometimes those conditions can be expressed verbally. Righteous indignation and playing games like 'ultimatum' labelling seems out of place. Fairly obviously it is intended to create significant distance between himself and the undesired person and so help prevent the need for further interaction.
2hyporational7yThere are fairly straightforward ways of ignoring people that don't make them your enemies. Removing enemies from your life might prove more difficult than getting rid of friends depending on the circumstances.
4wedrifid7yI do not endorse Carinthium's strategy. It seems naive. I also don't endorse misleading rhetorical questions. When there is an obvious answer to a rhetorical question which does not support the implied argument then the rhetorical question is an error for the same reason speaking your intent clearly is an error. Your argument-by-question was wrong even though your conclusion (along the lines of 'Carinthium's strategy is stupid') is correct.
2hyporational7yUm, yes there is. Most people don't become indefinitely hostile to other people for single transgressions, in this case even pretty trivial if we include white lies. They also take apologies, which I assume Carinthium doesn't do.

I agree that the immediate consequences of lying are sometimes better than telling the truth, however, one big problem is lying then having to tell the truth later or lying then getting caught. The more complex the lie, the bigger the risk. The social conventions surrounding lying - feel free to lie, accept other people's right to lie, the guess culture (don't make your desires and feelings explicit) - are a good solution to interacting with strangers since under those conventions, no one is making and effort to detect your lies. This is useful when you do... (read more)

5hyporational7yI suggest you explore the concept of trust on a less binary basis. Trust makes no sense to me unless it has some kind of a rough probability estimate attached to it. Different truths have different probabilities and different moral weights.

In addition to mistakes other commenters have pointed out, it's a mistake to think you can neatly divide the world into "defectors" and "non-defectors," especially when you draw the line in a way that classifies the vast majority of the world as defectors.

4fubarobfusco7yThose sorts of mistakes are just gonna happen. A lot of folks also still believe that words have meanings (as a one-place function [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ro/2place_and_1place_words/]), that the purpose of language is to communicate statements of fact, and that dishonesty and betrayal can be avoided by not saying any statements that are "technically" false. Someone ought to write up "Five Geek Linguistic Fallacies" to accompany this old thing [http://www.plausiblydeniable.com/opinion/gsf.html]. "I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar." —Nietzsche

It is known that lots of people enjoy inflicting pain on the helpless. Anyone who punishes prisoners because they enjoy doing so is in a conflict of interest, at least if he has any discretion in how to carry out the punishment.

No, it's really not.

In fact, it's precisely the opposite. The central feature of rapes we care about is the fact that they are extremely unpleasant, to put it politely. "Consent", when formalized so that it no longer captures the information we care about, is noncentral.

Or at least, I think it is. In fact, I believe this should also be clear to Alicorn, on reflection (and indeed she has an explanation for why her system doesn't fall into this trap.)

Do you disagree?

If you mean that it takes fewer bits to encode a utility function then a collection of maxims...

Not necessarily. You are correct in saying that any given arbitrary utility function can be a lot more complex than any given arbitrary set of rules; so strictly speaking I was wrong. However, in practice, we are not dealing with arbitrary functions or rules; we are dealing with limited subsets of functions/rules which are capable of sustaining a human society similar to ours in at least some way. Of course, other functions and other rules can exist, but IMO ... (read more)

2Said Achmiz7yUpvoted for this, and the excellent (if trivial) digital copying example. I will add that progress in such cases may also sometimes be made by attempting to discern just what are the origins of our moral intuitions about the wrongness of theft, seeing if those intuitions may be decomposed, and whether they may be reconstructed to yield some concepts that are appropriate to the digital realm. (I've got an essay where I attempt to do just that for software piracy, which I may post online at some point...) The general principle here is that since the basis of our consequentialism systems is the contents of our brains, we can refer to the source material for guidance (or attempt to, anyway). With deontology, since it doesn't reduce to anything, that move is not open to us. (I think. I remain unclear about where the rules in a deontological system come from.)

An extended answer to your question is given in the original post - the post is all about answering that question, and it seems very clearly written to me. So I think you're being silly.

yes of course. Someone asks how I'm doing. I'm having a terrible day but say fine because I don't want to talk about it. Is this example clear enough for you?

4blacktrance7yAs noted elsewhere, that's not really a lie, because "How are you?" isn't actually a question, it's more of a greeting protocol.
9drethelin7yThat statement only makes the web of lies/things that technically don't count as lies I have to keep in my head to stay on Alicorn's good side even more complicated.

Thanks very much for writing and posting this.

3ChrisHallquist7yYou're welcome!

Here's an excerpt from an attorney disciplinary code:

In the course of representing a client, a lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a third person.

And from the commentary on that rule:

This Rule refers to statements of fact. Whether a particular statement should be regarded as one of fact can depend on the circumstances. Under generally accepted conventions in negotiation, certain types of statements ordinarily are not taken as statements of fact. Estimates of price or value placed on the subject of a transaction and a

... (read more)

One of the points here is that, as usual, it depends. Let's say someone I know lied to me and I found out that it was a lie. My response would depend on three major factors:

  • The kind of relationship with that person. Relationships have (mostly implicit) rules and promises. A lie may or may not break such a promise. A co-worker lying to you about where he was last weekend is different from your partner lying to you about where he was last weekend.

  • The motivation behind the lie. A lie to avoid embarrassment is different from a lie to gain some advantage ov

... (read more)

At LessWrong there've been discussions of several different views all described as "radical honesty." No one I know of, though, has advocated Radical Honesty as defined by psychotherapist Brad Blanton, which (among other things) demands that people share every negative thought they have about other people. (If you haven't, I recommend reading A. J. Jacobs on Blanton's movement.) While I'm glad no one here is thinks Blanton's version of radical honesty is a good idea, a strict no-lies policy can sometimes have effects that are just as disastrous.

... (read more)

This seems broadly correct, but could you say more about

have a clear boundary against being pressed.

What does that look like? (A bit of sample dialog or somesuch would be particularly appreciated.)

Another thing I should note that it can simply be a matter of human preferences. I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of having any truely close relationship (lover or close friend) with somebody who would be willing to lie to me. I see no reason why other wants should somehow override this one.

I will implore you to do one thing: accept other people's right to lie to you

I don't quite understand what are you imploring.

Of course other people have the right to lie to me. And I have a right to change my attitude and my expectations on that basis.

Rephrased in a slightly different way, other people have the right to lie to me but not the right to escape the consequences.

2ChrisHallquist7yThis [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jkr/white_lies/aiwx] may clarify what I meant there.

War on Drugs bad. Agreed. But not a More Right point, as it is regularly lambasted on the left.

For profit prisons are a perverse incentive. Ageed. But not a symptom of the decline of western civilisation. Typical country fallacy.

Systems are about coercion. Sure, and that's good. I like people being coerced into not killing and robbing me. I need to be coerced into paying taxes, because I wouldn't do it voluntarily.

Sociopaths. You're looking in the wrong place. Politicians are subject to too much scrutinyto get away with much. The boardroom is a much better hiding place.

In the unlikely case of someone who has, for instance, been infected by nanobots that force his brain to act carelessly, I would of course not hold him to blame.

As opposed to, say, just a reduced capacity for impulse control or learning? Or an ingrained aversion to thinking before acting?

EDIT: Heh. Actually... It looks like your specific example is more plausible than I thought.

Put more bluntly: are there some classes of people which are less a product of their environments and biologies than others?

(And I'm not merely saying this from the perspective... (read more)

What do you mean by "consequentialist thought experiment"?

One of the standard thought experiments used to demonstrate and/or explain consequentialism. I'm really just trying to see what your model of consequentialism is based on.

Yes, you can always argue that any behavior is instrumental, replacing it with the reason it came to be thought of as moral, but if you go down that route, you'll end up concluding the purpose of life is to maximize inclusive genetic fitness.

Well, we're adaptation-executors, not fitness-maximizers - the environment... (read more)

3blacktrance7yAnd there's a very real danger of this being a fully general counterargument against any sufficiently simple moral theory.
4MugaSofer7yYou're absolutely right about that. In fact, there's a danger that it can be a fully general counterargument against any moral theory at all! After all, they might simply be rationalizing away the flaws... I wouldn't endorse using it as a counterargument at all, honestly. If you can point out actual rationalizations, that's one thing, but merely calling someone a sophisticated arguer is absolutely [http://lesswrong.com/lw/he/knowing_about_biases_can_hurt_people/] a Bad Idea.

That really isn't a good argument for the current state of US prisons, is it? Clearly, even openly allowing institutional rape has failed to help; yet other, less harsh countries have not seen soaring crime rates by comparison.

I've seen studies suggesting that certainty of punishment is much more important for determining behavior than the extremity of it - it's more a question of a strong justice system, a respect for authority (or fear, one might say), than people performing expected utility calculation in their heads.

[-][anonymous]7y 6

Retracted comment

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

This would be easier with a sample maybe-a-right but I haven't examined any of those recently.

If I may offer one —

Suppose that I am photographed on the street outside a place that has a bad reputation (with some people). The photographer might publish the photo, which could lead viewers to believe bad things of me.

One acquaintance of mine, M, claims that I have a right to forbid the photographer from publishing this photo; I have the right to control publicity about me or the use of my image, even though the picture was taken in public.

Another acquainta... (read more)

4Alicorn7yOkay, I'll walk through my process of apprehending and making a call on this situation. It looks like a good example, thanks for coming up with it. The conflict here is between you, and the photographer - other persons in the story have opinions but aren't directly involved. The steps are that there was an opportunity to ask you if it was okay to photograph you (which the photographer passed over), the decision to photograph you, the opportunity to ask you if it's okay to publish it (which the photographer also passes over), and the decision currently at hand of whether to publish the photo. If there's a rights violation potential or actual, it's probably in one of those places. The statement of the problem doesn't suggest that you've committed any rights violations by happening to be in this location. The fact that two chances to ask for consent have been passed up is suspicious. It's not a guarantee that something has gone wrong - the photographer is allowed to look at you without securing permission, for instance - but it's a red flag. In the normal course of things, people waive some of their rights when asked explicitly or by other mechanisms all the time. People waive their right to refuse sex, for instance, on a per-occasion basis in order to have non-rape sex. You don't actually do anything in this story, except exist in a place that by stipulation you are quite entitled to be, so only the photographer might be committing a wrong here. So the obvious candidate possibilities are that you have a right not to be photographed, or that you have the right not to have your likeness publicized, or that you have no such rights and the photographer may do as they like with the photograph provided no other wrongs (such as libel, a form of lying) are committed in so doing. But earlier I said the photographer is allowed to look at you without permission. You're in a public place, where anyone, including photographers as an unspecial class of anyone, may walk by. The

A note w.r.t. the quote:

But please keep in mind that, beyond the realm of science, the views of the characters may not be those of the author. Not everything the protagonist does is a lesson in wisdom, and advice offered by darker characters may be untrustworthy or dangerously double-edged.

-- The Author, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

As long as enemies exist, secrets must be kept.

3drethelin7yAnd never forget, human minds are our own worst enemies. We run on broken substrates that are hurt more sharply than they should be by comments like "You look gross and I don't want to talk to you". We have enemies even within the minds of our closest friends. It's best not to awaken them.
4Vulture7yI think the reason you're being downvoted is that people would prefer you to just edit this addendum into your original comment rather than replying to yourself. It's all I can think of since your point is in itself quite insightful. Edit: Okay, would anyone care to explain what's actually going on, then?

Definitely covered by "alternatively, evil". Especially when considering a two-person relationship!

My problem with calling these behaviors "evil" is that they don't have to be consciously decided upon - they're just ways that happened to keep our ancestors alive in brutal political environments. Cognitive biases and natural political tendencies may be tragic, but calling them "evil" implies a level of culpability that I think isn't really warranted.

This is a forum for discussing ideas, it's not a forum for playing social games. (I'm saying this as someone who is extremely reluctant about white lies and who hates the idea that they are socially expected to lie. Asking a question when one doesn't want an honest answer is just silly.)

Asking a question when one doesn't want an honest answer is just silly.

Except when you're looking for the social / mental equivalent of a shibboleth.

4Creutzer7yOkay. Asking as question and then being offended and/or hurt when one gets an honest answer is just silly (alternatively, evil).
4ialdabaoth7yExcept when acting offended and/or hurt signals solidarity and prompts your allies to attack the alien who got the shibboleth wrong. (You can argue that that's evil, of course, but then you're trying to break away from some very, very deeply ingrained instincts for coalition politics.)
2Creutzer7yI think that's covered by "alternatively, evil". ;) More seriously, though: how is "knowing what the preferred answer is and either agreeing with it or being willing to lie" a reasonable criterion by which to filter your group?
6ialdabaoth7yIt proves that you value loyalty to your group more than you value your own capacity to reason, which means that authoritarian leaders don't have to consider you a threat (and thus destroy you and everything you hold dear) if they order you to do something against your self-interest. Thus, perversely, when you're in an environment where power has already concentrated, it can be in your self-interest to signal that you're willing to disregard your self-interest, even to the point of disregarding your capacity to determine your self-interest. Once ingrained, this pattern can continue even if those authoritarian leaders lose their capacity to destroy you - and perversely, the pattern itself can remain as the sole threat capable of destroying you if you dissent. (Put a few layers of genteel classism over the authoritarian leadership, and it doesn't even have to look autocratic in the first place.)
3ChristianKl7yIf you are just want to discus ideas, keep out words like I. Don't say: "But I will implore you to do one thing: accept other people's right to lie to you." Say: "Here are reasons why you might profit from accept other people's right to lie to you." Maybe even: "Here are reasons why a person might profit from accept other people's right to lie to them"
3Creutzer7yYou have a point there.

Well I think most people are reasonably comfortable with the idea that every adult should have complete discretion over what -- if anything -- is done with his organs.

The more interesting question is what to make of people who lie to conceal decisions in this area, especially physicians.

Because of your predictability. If you are guaranteed to react in a specific way to certain stimuli, that is useful to someone who wants to manipulate you.

To make this point yet again[1], there's a difference between not wanting (or outright forbidding) spontaneous criticism, to forbidding criticism that is provided when asked. In pianoforte611's example, his dad is forbidden from saying the cooking's bad even if he's asked for his opinion.

Telling your girlfriend "Oh, today you look terrible", apropos of nothing, seems like a reasonable thing for said girlfriend to object to. If she asks you "How do I look today? Please be honest", and then you're not allowed to answer honestly, lest you ... (read more)

3Lumifer7yThat depends. Words are only one of many levels of communication between a couple. You should understand your girlfriend enough to know when she actually means "Please be honest" and when she doesn't even if she says the same words and their literal meaning is "be honest". Again -- it may well be a symptom of a dysfunctional relationship but it does not automatically have to be. A lot of communication is non-verbal. A lot of meaning flies across regardless of which words are being said. I feel it is a mistake to focus solely on the literal meaning of the words pronounced.
2Said Achmiz7yWell, ok. I suppose if people are ok with having relationship where communication is that complicated, and it works for them, then far be it from me to speak against that. (Not being sarcastic or passive-aggressive here; I generally genuinely don't care how other people conduct their relationships so long as it doesn't affect me.) But I certainly am not interested in being with someone who would say "Please be honest", but then expect me not to be honest, but only sometimes, and then expect me to know when is which. Nooo sir, I surely am not.

Mmmnope, that definitely doesn't change the horror.

(I'm not sure how to take what looks to be a correction to a statement about my feelings about something. Regardless, it's misplaced.)

3Lumifer7yThat was just a shorthand way of saying "I am surprised that you feel this way given that I see the world in a way that..."

(nods) Well, that's certainly simple.

So it seems to follow that if I offer someone the choice of murdering their child in exchange for greater pleasure, and they turn me down, we can confidently infer that they simply don't believe I'll follow through on the offer, because if they did, they would accept. Yes?

4Jiro7yBelieving that there is no such thing as greater pleasure than the loss from having your child murdered, is a subset of "not believing you'll follow through on your offer".
4TheOtherDave7yYes, that's true. If you believe what I'm offering doesn't exist, it follows that you ought not believe I'll follow through on that offer.
1blacktrance7yNo, for a few reasons. First, they may not believe that what you're offering is possible - they believe that the loss of a child would outweigh the pleasure that you'd give them. They think that you'd kill the child and give them something they'd enjoy otherwise, but doesn't make up for losing a child. Though this may count as not believing that you'll follow through on your offer. Second, people's action-guiding preferences and enjoyment-governing preferences aren't always in agreement. Most people don't want to be wireheaded, and would reject it even if it were offered for free, but they'd still like it once subjected to it. Most people have an action-guiding preference of not letting their children die, regardless of what their enjoyment-governing preference is. Third, there's a sort-of Newcomblike expected value decision at work, which is that deriving enjoyment from one's children requires valuing them in such a way that you'd reject offers of greater pleasure - it's similar to one-boxing.
3TheOtherDave7yAh, OK. And when you talk about "values", you mean exclusively the things that control what we like, and not the things that control what we want. Have I got that right?
2blacktrance7yThat is correct. As I see it, wants aren't important in themselves, only as far as they're correlated with and indicate likes.
3TheOtherDave7yOK. Thanks for clarifying your position.

Would you like to be the innocent bystander sacrificed to save an idiot from the consequences of his own stupidity.

Me in particular, or people in general? Because there is a particular class of idiot that most people would GLADLY be sacrificed to save; they're called "children".

As for me, personally, that depends on the calculus. Am I saving one idiot, or ten? Are they merely idiotic in this circumstance, or idiotic in general (i.e., in most situations a normal human being might reasonably find themselves in)? Are we talking about a well-medic... (read more)

1Jiro7yI think that here, "idiot" refers to idiocy for which the person is to blame. Children are not generally to blame for being idiots.
2ialdabaoth7yCan you describe the mechanism by which children are not to blame for their stupidity, but other beings are?

why don't you care about the suffering and death of someone "stupid"

Why should I?

Would you prefer that others care about your suffering and death, if something happened such that you became (temporarily or permanently) "stupid"?

If they chose to take that kind of risk, they are responsible for its consequences.

In many cases, people are not aware of the risks they are taking; in many other cases, people may not have less-risky alternatives. Should they still be entirely responsible for their consequences? Because that seems to l... (read more)

Yes, I clicked the link.

OK, that's a little scary (or would be, anyway). Um ... why don't you care about the suffering and death of someone "stupid" (or risk-taking)?

Alicorn, you just acknowledged that most people being punished are not asked whether they consent to it.

Indeed, attempting to use one's "guarantee of exit" in these situations is often itself a crime, and one carrying punishments you classify as "rights violations" if I understand you correctly.

That's sort of why I commented on the potential issues this introduces?

1Alicorn7yPeople in the real world do not have guarantee of exit. I'm aware of that. I've been over this topic elsewhere in thread more times than I wish to have been.
3MugaSofer7ySo ... I'm sorry, are you saying you're actually against these laws, but where rather saying that you would be in favour of them in an ideal world? I appear to have misunderstood you somewhat, so perhaps these repetitions and rephrasing are not in vain. Thank you for your patience, I know how frustrating it is dealing with inferential gaps and the illusion of clarity better than most :)

I find that, sometimes, perfectly honest words are interpreted as white lies because they sound like such.

"What are you doing this weekend?" Me (very early in the term) "Studying for midterms."

"Let's be just friends from now on, okay?"

"You're a wonderful person, and I wish you the best of luck."

On another topic, I find myself lying, not to protect others' feelings but out of cowardice, to hide misdeeds, especially those that I irrationally didn't expect anyone to notice. The worst instances have involved frequent and... (read more)

How so? It's an unpleasant thing to say, and conflicts with our raw intuition on the matter. It sounds evil. That's all biting a bullet is.

Remember, it's sometimes correct to bite bullets.

Well, no. Utilitarian systems are based on a utility function (although I'm not aware of any requirement that it be immutable... actually, what do you mean by "immutable", exactly?). Consequentialist systems don't have to be utilitarian.

Even so, the origin of a utility function is not that mysterious. If your preferences adhere to the von Neumann-Morgenstern axioms, then you can construct a utility function (up to positive affine transformation, as I understand it) from your preferences. In general, the idea is that we have some existing values o... (read more)

Sorry, that was uncharitable. Tapping out is a good idea.

I also discovered I was like this as a teenager -- that I had an extremely malleable identity. I think it was related to being very empathetic -- I just accepted whichever world view the person I was speaking with came with, and I think in my case this might have been related to reading a lot growing up, so that it seemed that a large fraction of my total life experience were the different voices of the different authors that I had read. (Reading seems to require quickly assimilating the world view of whomever is first person.)

I also didn't make much disti... (read more)

And the worst argument in the world rears its ugly head once more.

It upset me. I don't like to see lying defended. I would react about the same way to an equally cogent "Defense of Pickpocketing" or "Defense of Throwing Paint On People", though I imagine those would be much more difficult to construct.

I knew you were a deontologist (I am a cosequentialist), but I had sort of assumed implicitly that our moralities would line up pretty well in non-extreme situations. I realized after reading this how thoroughly alien your morality is to me. You would respond with outrage and hurt if you discovered th... (read more)

8Alicorn7yPickpocketing-as-theft is to lying-in-general as pickpocketing-as-consensual-performance-art is to, say, storytelling, I suppose I should clarify. I think we legitimately disagree about throwing paint on people unless you are being facetious.
4Vulture7yIn terms of pickpocketing, I agree that we seem to pretty much agree; I think that pickpocketing for the purposes of stealing what doesn't belong to you is rarely justified. I was not being facetious about the paint part, though.

I guess one problem that crops up when dealing with the issue of lying is that there is no clear litmus test. It may be possible to give broad guidelines such as "it is ok to lie in situations A,B and C, but most definitely not OK to lie in situations D,E and F." Real life is far more complex and subject to all manner of interpretation (not to mention all manner of bias as well). I strongly suspect that before we can rule on when it is ok to lie, or when it is ok to use a half truth we need to perfect the art of communication i.e. develop a syste... (read more)

Yeah, it seems I misunderstood the original comment.

To be fair on your reply the original comment is worded rather strongly and without care for precision. As such your reply is valid even if slightly less charitable than it could have been.

Your discussion of Harris's 'Lying' is a little terse, and does miss some of his arguments. I think anyone interested should get his book, its very short and can be read in about half an hour to an hour, depending on your speed. PM me for a PDF copy of the first edition (note: second edition is much updated).

Here's two extended quotes, that I think contains ideas not addressed in the post:

Once one commits to telling the truth, one begins to notice how unusual it is to meet someone who shares this commitment. Honest people are a refuge: You know they mean

... (read more)
3brazil847yThat's an interesting example, because in her more reflective moments, the friend is almost certainly already aware that she is fat and that it makes her significantly less sexually attractive. She is probably reminded of this unpleasant truth on a regular basis and it's not entirely clear that an additional reminder will be helpful. She has probably tried at least 10 or 15 diets and they have all failed. If you are considering reminding a fat person that they are fat, you need to ask yourself what your motivations are for doing something which (1) will certainly cause short-term emotional pain; and (2) is unlikely to result in the person getting their shit together and losing the weight. Are you really trying to help them? Or are you just trying to make yourself feel superior at their expense? My impression is that there are a lot of "concerned" people who are happy to give free advice to fatties (often something along the lines of "eat less and exercise more -- you're killing yourself") but unwilling to give $20 or $30 towards a gym membership for said fatties. This suggests that often the motivation is more status-mongering than actual concern. Whatever the value in being honest with other people, I suspect there is more value in being honest with yourself.
1Said Achmiz7yRemember that we're discussing a case where the person asked you for your opinion. I certainly wouldn't just randomly say to someone "Hey, guess what? You're fat", especially if that person was my friend or someone else I cared about. But if they asked me? That's a different story altogether. Do you really think this is the case for good friends, or loved ones? Unwilling to give $20 or $30, really? And furthermore, do you in fact believe that not having the money for a gym membership is the important obstacle between an overweight person and an effective weight-less solution?
[-][anonymous]7y 5

I wouldn't count non-literal use of language (“it was okay” when it's obvious to both interlocutors that the actual intended meaning is ‘[it sucked but I don't want to hurt your feelings]’) as lying.

But still, I prefer to be with people to whom I can also say why it sucked (so they get a chance to do better the next time) without hurting their feelings either. I can't choose my own parents and I can't choose whether the Nazis will come to my door, but I can choose whom to interact with in most other situations (excluding NPC-like situations, where topics ... (read more)

I actually prefer the honest types, but don't judge normal people either. This preference is of minor importance. In most situations I can't choose who to interact with and being stubborn about it won't help.

I reject this idea for a fairly simple reason. I want to be in control of my own life and my own decisions, but due to lack of social skills I'm vulnerable to manipulation. Without a zero-tolerance policy on liars, I would rapidly be manipulated into losing what little control of my own life remains.

You seem to be treating lack of social skills as a static attribute rather than a mutable trait. This may not be the most productive frame for the issue.

8Carinthium7yImproving my social skills is HARD. I could invest a massive effort into it if I tried, but I'm at university right now and my marks would take a nosedive. It's not worth the price.
3Nornagest7yNever claimed it wasn't. As a matter of cost-benefit analysis, though, I think you might nonetheless find it attractive in comparison to unilaterally declaring war on the liars of the world, which I'd expect to be strenuous, socially costly, and largely ineffective in preventing manipulation. As a matter of fact, drawing a sufficiently hard line on lying opens up entirely new avenues for manipulation of your trust.
2wedrifid7yI did not read Carinthium's statement to be a declaration of war against liars. At most it would be analogous to a trade embargo. One can make choices about what one welcomes in one's own personal life and attempting to change or fight everyone who doesn't do those things. The choice to not welcome lies limits Carinthium's social options quite significantly but it needn't be as strenuous or overt as you suggest.
2Strange77yThere's a widely-used term for the political environment embargoes create: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_war [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_war]
2wedrifid7yIt's a good term (ie. I signal that downvote you received wasn't from me but rather the compensating upvote was so as to slight facilitate future cooperation). I do observe that I was uncomfortable with saying 'trade embargo' while I was saying it. It felt off because 'embargo' has too much of a connotation of "trying to punish or damage an enemy for some reason" where I wanted to more emphasise "choosing systematically to avoid trading with the person because you deem them to be bad trading partners and expect to lose out on deals". This does depend a little on implementation detail. I don't know Carinthium and don't know to what extent he really does try enforce his will upon the world in general rather than choose which parts of it to hang out in and clumsily keep the rest away. I chose to interpret it the most charitable way (ie. assuming that it is an awkward pattern that could kinda work rather than the rather glaringly self destructive and futile one).
4wedrifid7yNeither the extreme of treating social skills as static nor the extremes of refusing to take into account current skill or refusing to acknowledge a comparative neurological weakness in that particular area are likely to be optimal.

Without a zero-tolerance policy on liars, I would rapidly be manipulated into losing what little control of my own life remains.

I suspect this is inaccurate and you would be better off with rules like "I won't do large favors for friends who haven't reciprocated medium favors in the past" or "I won't be friends/romantic partners with people who tell me what to do in areas that are none of their business." Virtually none of the manipulation I've been harmed by in the past has involved actual lies. Though maybe your extended social circle (friends of friends of friends, people at university, etc.) has different preferred methods of manipulation than mine does.

9ChrisHallquist7yI strongly suspect this is harming you in the long run, and you'd benefit from trying to work on your social skills. Does your social circle consist only of people whose social skills, feelings about lying, etc. are similar to yours? Also, do you think you can distinguish between "people who never lie to me" and "people who sometimes lie to me" more reliably than "people who are mostly honest but tell socially acceptable white lies" and "people who will manipulate me in ways that will seriously harm me"?
3ChristianKl7yIf you have no social skills do you have enough status and enough friends to still have friends to hang out with with a zero-tolerance policy.
3hyporational7yHow do you execute this zero tolerance policy? There's a vast space between alienating people and simply not trusting them.
[-][anonymous]7y 4

People do not choose to be children.

They don't quite choose to live in places with lots of lead, more omega-6 than omega-3 fats, and little lithium either, for that matter.

Well, since Alicorn's system does not take account of that

As you may have noticed, I'm not Alicorn.

Well ... yeah. Because you're replying to something I said to Alicorn.

Both, also I have some more examples, that could fall under one or both depending on how one defines "defection" and "foolishness". If someone decided that they'd rather not work and rely on my charity to get food, they won't be getting my charity. Also if CronoDAS comes by my house begging for food, the answer is no.

Is this for game-theoretic reasons, or more ... (read more)

most of the well known consequentialist dilemmas rely on forbidding considering the path

As I said, "I can see how someone might pick up this definition from context, based on some of the standard examples."

I don't think it's the intention of those examples, however - at least, not the ones that I'm thinking of. Could you describe the ones you have in mind, so we can compare interpretations?

not caring about is one of the premises of the VNM theorem

I ... think this is a misinterpretation, but I'm most definitely not a domain expert, so could you elaborate?

I don't know if it's more so because comparing degrees here is hard, but I would say that we should not hire prison guards who enjoy punishing prisoners and have discretion in doing so.

Huh? We aren't discussing the sibling's decision to give or not give the kidney, we're discussing the doctor's decision, given that the sibling isn't donating the kidney, to tell the patient that the sibling is a match. Are you implying that the doctor should reveal the match, so the patient will pressure the sibling into donating?

Is there a named fallacy of using words which radically downplay or upplay the seriousness of a situation?

You favor lying to people to scam money out of them because it would be inconvenient for your education plans to not be able to scam money out of them? That seems unethical.

Teenagers sometimes get thrown out of their families for coming out. This is more than an inconvenience, and affects more than their educational plans.

6brazil847yIf there is a fallacy here, I would say it's the fallacy of the "loaded question" or the use of "loaded language." Here, the question presupposes that it's a "scam" to lie to one's parents about sexual orientation in order to obtain their financial support for college. Nominull makes an interesting argument but he ruins it by loading by his use of the word "scam." Here's a charitable interpretation of the point: -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- You don't have an entitlement to educational support from your parents and your parents have the right to withhold that support for any reason. So by lying to them about your sexual orientation, you are fraudulently depriving them of their rights; in effect you are scamming your own parents. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I still disagree with this argument but I think it's a close call. Part of the problem is that in determining financial aid, colleges assume there will support from one's parents. If you tell the college financial aid office that your parents have cut you off because they disapprove of homosexuality, chances are the college won't step up and help you. So there is kind of a quasi-right to college support from one's parents. The other thing is that the parents probably already know at some level that their child is a homosexual just like fat people already know that they are fat and cheated-on spouses often know that they are being cheated on. So there's something to be said for allowing the person to continue in their state of denial or at least not reminding them of things they prefer not to know. And last, there is an idea that it's wrong to discriminate based on sexual orientation. I'm not sure how strong this argument is in the context of personal and family relations.

Can you expand on what you mean by "final outcome" here, and why it matters?

For my part, I would say that the difference between the world in which a person lives N years and then dies and all the effects of that person's actions during those N years are somehow undone, and the world in which they didn't live at all, is the N years of that person's life.

What you seem to want to say is that those N years aren't a consequence worthy of consideration, because after the person's death they aren't alive anymore, and all that matters is the state o... (read more)

Those are two different consequences.


One of these cases involves the consequence that someone gets killed. How is that not morally neutral?

Really, to me it looks more like they take one moral intuition extrapolate it way beyond it's context and disregard the rest.

Which moral intuition is that...?

Also you do realize there are bookshelves full of philosophers who've reached different conclusions?

Yes, I studied some of them in college. My assessment of academic philosophers is that most of them are talking nonsense most of the time. There are exceptions, of course. If you want to talk about the positions of any particular philosopher(s), we can do that (although perhaps for that it might ... (read more)

(3) and (4) are the quasi-consequentialist decision theory "translations" of (1) and (2)

I'm not entirely sure what you mean by this. Are you suggestions that people who advocate (3) and (4) as actual justifications for having prisons do not have those things as their true, internal motivations, but are only claiming them for persuasion purposes, and actually (1) and/or (2) are their real reasons? Or are you saying something else?

Rehabilitation (5) is what I called a fake reason as can be seen by the fact that the people promoting it are rema

... (read more)

First of all, I must ask that you stop equating utilitarianism with consequentialism.

Second of all, torturing children is not a new behavior, in the way Bugmaster was using the phrase. A new behavior is something that wasn't available before, wasn't possible, like "copying digital media". You couldn't copy digital media in the year 1699 no matter what your moral beliefs were. You could, on the other hand, torture children all you liked.

How would you experience getting your preference to be lied to without thereby knowing the unpleasant truth that you wanted to avoid?

It's not usually (though it is sometimes) a preference to be lied to in this particular instance - it's a preference to be told a nice thing regardless of whether that nice thing is factually true. Being told nice things can feel good even if it doesn't cause you to update your beliefs - and sometimes even if you believe the nice statement is false.

How would you safely determine that someone prefers to be lied to, withou

... (read more)

Likewise. For what it's worth, though, I don't actually think there is a good answer to the epistemological questions you asked; that's one of the reasons I favor consequentialism rather than deontology. Of course, I imagine Alicorn's views on the matter differ, so I, too, would like to see her answer (or that of any other deontologist who cares to respond).

I think Alicorn's answer concerned the ontological status of rights, not the epistemology thereof.

Which totally misses the point of the comment you're responding to. This isn't about whether we are radically honest. It's about whether we insist on everyone we associate with also being radically honest as a condition of our association with them.

In the sequence Armok_GoB mentions I use light as an extended metaphor for self-knowledge.

Not being friends with people you hate is nearly a tautology. I'm saying you shouldn't hate and shun people just for prioritizing your comfort over their own integrity.

If your social circle consists entirely of straight-talkers, where will you go when you need to be comforted? If a putty-person wants to associate with you, but you have a well-established reputation for shunning putty-people and a relatively homogenous social circle... well, then, they'll pretend to be a straight-talker, because blending in is what they do. Eventually the game-theory of thi... (read more)

4Said Achmiz7yOh, and: To the "straight-talkers", of course. Can you find comfort only in lies?
5Strange77yIf brutal honesty satisfied all human emotional needs the world would look very different than it does. By "comfort" here I am referring particularly to the feeling of finding someone who agrees with you closely on some essentially subjective issue, such as taste in art or the moral worth of specific individuals. It is in principle possible to find someone who holds the ideally matched set of opinions persistently, for their own reasons, but there are search costs, and such a person might have other features inconvenient or prohibitive to long-term friendship. A less-close match provides a weaker degree of the feeling. Someone you know to be, on some level, insincere, also provides a weaker degree of the feeling, but that can be outweighed by them being effectively a closer match, and the reduced costs in other areas. Is my reasoning flawed, or is this a matter of you experiencing the latter effect (suspension of disbelief) more strongly?
3Said Achmiz7yIt's easier (though still non-trivial) to find a set of someones, each of whom holds matching views on some subset of the relevant opinions, and who together cover most or all relevant opinions. It's not easy to find people with whom you match thusly! Finding good, true friends is not something that just happens trivially. But it's worth it. I wouldn't want to settle for less. If I'm interpreting your phrasing correctly, then... um, yes. It's a matter of that. I value truth, and honesty. If I know someone is lying to me, I'm not just going to "suspend disbelief" and pretend I don't know they're lying. Not to mention: how am I going to get around the fact that their lies and deceptions make it very difficult for me to respect them? More pretending? More self-deception? No thank you. Finally: Who said honesty has to be brutal? The truth may be, but its telling may not. And I am not comforted by lies.
2Said Achmiz7yEr, what? What are you talking about? This doesn't happen. Is that something you experience in your life? People infiltrating their way into friendships with you, when they know that their personality traits are something you hate? That must suck. :( "You can't prove I hate your pie, so I might as well lie and say I like it."? No thanks. If that's how you (the hypothetical you, a person who wants to be my friend) behave, then, all else being equal, I don't want to be your friend.
6Strange77yIt is a thing which I have seen happen to people. There are known countermeasures, which I am attempting to discuss and you are discarding as repugnant.
4Said Achmiz7yWell, ok. Let's posit that this is a thing that happens. What are the countermeasures?
8Strange77yIf you want me to boil it down to three words, "business before pleasure." Accumulate some people you can count on to cover their own specialties and communicate with you accurately and precisely, and some other people who are fun to be around. Optimize those groups separately. If someone wants to straddle the line, never let them apply leverage from one mode to the other. Never forget which mode you're currently operating in. Business gets priority in emergencies and strategic decisions, because survival, but there should be a balance overall: it's "before," not "instead of."
3Said Achmiz7yWow. That sounds like a terrible life. I thank you for the information/advice, but with respect, I am going to ignore it entirely. I will continue to have a small circle of close friends who are both fun to be around, and don't lie to me. I will continue to avoid closeness with people who lie to me; should any infiltrate my circle of friends (for reasons that I still can't imagine), I will cut them off utterly as soon as I discover their true nature.
2blacktrance7yPersonally, I find people who lie aren't fun to be around.
4CCC7yI suspect it happens to celebrities and very rich people all the time.

And the guy will be fully justified in coming to the conclusion that (a) the woman doesn't trust him;

Indeed. And will be fully justified in feeling insulted; after all, that lie communicates the sentiment "I think there's a non-trivial possibility that you will turn hostile/abusive/violent if I reject your advances". I'd sure feel insulted at having such a sentiment expressed toward me.

Of course, if in this situation the man and woman don't know each other, or are very casual acquaintances, then it's not really a big insult, because hey, rando... (read more)

[-][anonymous]7y 10

"I think there's a non-trivial possibility that you will turn hostile/abusive/violent if I reject your advances"

Other possibilities include some or all of: "I think you'll be hurt by my real reasons for rejecting you. I see no benefit in making those reasons clear, and it makes me uncomfortable to cause other people distress (I don't think you'll get angry! probably just sad). You might prefer the painful truth, but given that we're merely acquaintances, that preference of yours doesn't outweigh my wish to avoid an awkward scene. In fact, I doubt you value the truth about the matter so highly that I'd be fulfilling your real (if not espoused) preferences by delivering a harsh truth. Finally, I think that while you're not partner material, you're fun enough to hang out with on occasion. Telling you that I think you're a 5.5/10 kind of person would make future encounters awkward too, so on balance it seems better to lie and preserve a mildly pleasurable, casual friendship."

Still insulting, I guess, but not for the same reasons. I think the 'hostile/abusive/violent' thing is a lot rarer than the above.

3Said Achmiz7yYes, your description seems plausible. I was responding specifically to the reason Chris was describing, but you are correct that your described reason also happens. Yeah... most of that isn't insulting, but "In fact, I doubt you value the truth about the matter so highly that I'd be fulfilling your real (if not espoused) preferences by delivering a harsh truth." is, somewhat. Well, maybe. Depends on which feminist websites you read, you might get different estimates. I have witnessed and heard about (from friends / acquaintances) of both sorts of situations, certainly.
6ChrisHallquist7yMost people we meet will not have as high an opinion of us as we might hope. Politeness dictates they should not spell out all the ways in which this is true. When you manage to indirectly infer they don't have such a high opinion of you in spite of their politeness, you probably shouldn't get too insulted.
2Burgundy7yThere's a lot of possibilities here, which are potentially less insulting. To add some: * If she reveals the true reasons for rejecting him, then he might might express judgmentalness about them, or some other reaction which is negative, but not actually hostile/abusive/violent. * If she reveals the true reasons for rejecting him, he might briefly express an emotional reaction that he regrets later. * If she reveals the true reasons for rejecting him, then he might not understand and ask for an explanation, which could result in discomfort, or her needed to reveal information that she doesn't want to reveal. * If she reveals the true reasons for rejecting him, then he might try to change the situation to have her change her mind. If she doesn't want him to try to change her mind, then it might be better to not let him think that he might be able to. * If she reveals the true reasons for rejection him, he might take it too hard and develop unwarranted insecurities in the future. (I am using she and he to be consistent with ChrisHallquist's example, though I believe that these concerns apply to rejection in other gender combinations). In my experience, and hearing the experience of friends and partners, there are plenty of good reason to anticipate a non-graceful response to hearing someone's "true rejection" in a sexual or romantic context. Most of these reactions will be more in the embarrassing/awkward category, rather than hostile/abusive/violent. Even if there is a low probability that a given person will react ungracefully, the negative utility of that reaction might be sufficiently high that the expected value of revealing the truth is low. For these reasons, I would not automatically be offended if someone won't tell me the truth about why they are rejecting me, and I won't take it as perceiving me to be untrustworthy, hostile, abusive, or violent. Of course, I would prefer to hear th
3NancyLebovitz7yThis matches my experience from the female side of the situation-- except that I'll add that a lying rejection doesn't necessarily represent explicit thought. Subjectively, it can be like a feeling or a reflex. This doesn't mean I think it's genetically innate, but I do think it can be learned so early and subtly that it seems like the obvious thing to do.

I think of such tactics as Aes Sedai mode :-)

What's wrong with wimp? Wuss might work too if the etymology is obscure enough to people.

I didn't find your comment offensive and pretty much agreed with it, but might care if other people did.

4wedrifid7ySaidA's answer is likely better than the explanation I could come up with. Those words cannot stand alone to convey the same meaning. (Tangentally, they are also frankly much more sexist and presumptively gender normative in practical usage than the term I used.) There is also the critical desiratum that this kind of heuristic needs to be simple. It can't be obfuscated behind a sentence of political correctness if it is to be used as the first step in a diagnostic flowchart. There needs to be a single word that has precisely the connotations that 'pussy' has. If there was another word that meant the same thing then I would be eager to use it. However the kind of people most inclined to suppress that term tend to be the same kind of people who don't want there to be a word for the concept at all because they find any bare bones and literal discussion of social reality to be uncouth. This is the kind of situation where I would be (and in the past have been) reasonably content to submit to the will of the participants 'write off' lesswrong as a place where useful conversation cannot occur but not willing to distort the discussion to appease social politics. I happen to think it's an error to learn "My problem is that I don't lie enough" when the explanation "I was being a pussy" fits perfectly but it isn't a battle I am willing to spend social capital to fight.
4Said Achmiz7y"Wimp" and "wuss" have the connotations of weakness in conflict with other men, in personal, or at best, professional, circumstances. "Pussy" has the connotation (among others) of weakness in relationship power dynamics, which your suggestions do not.
4hyporational7yIf these indeed are the usual distinctions in connotation, thanks for the clarification. Some kind of a connotational dictionary would be nice, but I suppose the contents might change quite rapidly.
4Vulture7yA strange idea, but not necessarily a bad one. I am intrigued.
2Strange77yHow well does http://www.urbandictionary.com/ [http://www.urbandictionary.com/] fit?

I'd hoped I addressed this in the edit, "cannot not communicate" and such.

You may find yourself in situations (not at your parties, of course) in which you can't sidestep a question, or in which attempts to sidestep a question (ETA: or doing the silent stare) will correctly be assumed to answer the original question by the astute observer ("Do you believe our relationship has a future?" - "Oh look, the weather!").

Given your apparently strong taboo against lying, I was wondering how you'd deal with such a situation (other than fighting the hypothetical by saying "I won't be in such a situation").

The breakup was a good thing for other reasons, but I still regret not lying to her about what I thought of the play.

Why? Best case scenario is she keeps taking you to unenjoyable plays until you find you have to end the relationship yourself anyway or finally tell her the truth. Out of all the things in a relationship whose end was "a good thing for other reasons", one argument about whether a play was any good seems like a trivial thing to regret.

I can't favour lies as such. I am however on board with people honestly communicating the connot... (read more)

It's kinda funny that one man's joke is another man's righteous indignation. Added a smiley just to be sure.

In the example given, I think if people are incompetent enough to risk themselves physical injury or death for the sake of picking up pennies, that's pretty good evidence that they can't safely live on their own without supervision.

I don't think that's a consequentialist thought experiment, though? Could you give examples of how it's illustrated in trolley problems, ticking time bomb scenarios, even forced-organ-donation-style "for the greater good" arguments? If it's not too much trouble - I realize you're probably not anticipating huge amounts of expected value here.

(I think most LW-style utilitarian consequentialists would agree there is probably an optimal one, but unilaterally deciding that yourself might lead to additional consequences - better to avoid selfish infighting and, most importantly, perceived unfairness, especially when you may be too uncertain about the outcomes anyway. So that's a data point for you.)

If you're a gay teenager with homophobic parents, and there's a real chance they'd throw you out on the street if they found out you were gay, you should probably lie to them about it. Even in college, if you're still financially dependent on them, I think it's okay to lie. The minute you're no longer financially dependent on them, you should absolutely come out for your sake and the sake of the world. But it's OK to lie if you need to to keep your education on-track.

In the ordinary course of events, parents are allowed to not support their children in ... (read more)

5Jiro7yI would say that it is possible that it may be moral to unconditionally do X or to unconditionally refuse to do X, yet immoral to do X based on conditions. For instance, it may be moral for a politician to vote against a bill, or to vote for the bill, but it would not be moral to vote for or against the bill based on whether I pay him a bribe. Few people would accept the argument "paying him the bribe doesn't cause him to take any actions that would be immoral in the absence of the bribe". I would apply that to parents who will only pay for their child's college if the child is straight. Just because they could morally pay (period), or morally refuse to pay (period), doesn't mean that they can morally refuse to pay conditional on the child's sexuality. And for the Communist analogy to work you would have to say something like "It is moral to pay a charity, and moral to not pay a charity, but immoral to pay a charity conditional on the charity being for a cause you like". which comes out as nonsense.

Let's start with basic definitions: Morality is a general rule that when followed offers a good utilitarian default. Maybe you don't agree with all of these, but if you don't agree with any of them, we differ:

-- Applying for welfare benefits when you make $110K per year, certifying you make no money.

Reason: You should not obtain your fellow citizens' money via fraud.

-- "Officer Friendly, that man right there, the weird white guy, robbed/assaulted/(fill in unpleasant crime here) me.."

Reason: It is not nice to try to get people imprisoned for cr... (read more)

1Said Achmiz7yI'm not entirely sure what "a good utilitarian default" means, but I suspect I disagree, since (I strongly suspect) I am not a utilitarian. It's not clear to me that deserving or needing your fellow citizens' money is what entitles you to their money (assuming anything does), so I don't think I entirely agree. This is one of those cases where it feels to me like I'd be doing something wrong, but trying to pin down exactly what that something is, is difficult. "not nice" is quite an understatement, so yes, I agree. Why is some respect warranted? What warrants it? I neither understand finance well enough to grasp this situation, nor do I have any idea what "compound prior harm" means, so I can't comment on this one. Agreed. It seems like the pattern so far is: lying to the government is clearly bad when it would clearly cause harm to your fellow humans. Otherwise, the situation is much more murky. And I think that's consistent with the way I interpreted Eliezer's comment, which was something to this effect: "There's nothing inherently wrong with lying to the government, per se (the way there might be with lying to a person, regardless of whether your lie harmed them directly and tangibly); however, lying to the government may well have other consequences, which are themselves bad, making the lie immoral on those grounds." That is, I don't think Eliezer was saying that if you lie to the government, that somehow automatically counterbalances any and all negative consequences of that act merely because the act qualifies, among other things, as a lie to the government. Let's see if we can't apply this principle to the rest of your examples: I would certainly never attach my name to any suggestion that I endorse lying to the IRS. This seems fine to me. Depends a whole lot on the circumstances. I can't make a blanket comment here. Such lies might very well harm people, and so are bad on those grounds. This does seem bad for rule-consequentialist reasons. Seem
3TheOtherDave7yThis example particularly amuses me, since this is the first year in a while where I won't have to lie on my federal tax return about my marital status, and I'm really happy about that.
1Eugine_Nier7yThat's not lying. To see this try tabooing "marital status".
1Said Achmiz7yNo doubt! I do wonder what JRMayne would say about cases like yours, though. To me it seems obvious that you did nothing wrong in those previous years.
3TheOtherDave7y(nods) I think even by the government's standards, I didn't actually do anything wrong. Come to that, I'm not sure I was even lying, technically speaking, as I'm not sure if filing single-head-of-household is technically asserting that I'm unmarried in the first place. It just felt like it.
6Jiro7yAssuming it is asserting that you're not married, it's asserting that you're not married by the Federal tax definition. You weren't, so it's not a lie.

That is the usual meaning; at least, I thought it was. Perhaps what we have here is a sound/sound dispute.

3TheOtherDave7yI dunno. At the risk of repeating myself: it seems to me that if action A results in a year of my life followed by the eradication of all traces of my existence, and action B results in two years of my life followed by the eradication of all traces of my existence, then if I consider years of my life an important differential consequence with which to evaluate the morality of actions at all, I should prefer B to A since it creates an extra year of my life, which I value. The fact that the state of the world after two years is identical in both branches of this example isn't the only thing that matters to me, or even the thing that matters most to me. For my own part, I don't see how that makes "consequences" a meaningless term, and I can't see why anyone for whom the only consequences that matter are the "final" outcome should be a consequentialist, or care about consequences at all.
7MugaSofer7yAgain, I suspect this is a terminological confusion - a confusion over what "consequentialism" actually means caring about. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- To you - and me - a "consequence" includes the means, the end, and any inadvertent side-effects. Any result of an action. To Eugine, and some others, it includes the end, and any inadvertent side-effects; but apparently the path taken to them, the means, is not included. I can see how someone might pick up this definition from context, based on some of the standard examples. I've done similar things myself with other words. (As a side note, I have also seen it assumed to include only the end - the intended result, not any unintended ones. This is likely due to using consequentialism to judge people, which is not the standard usage but common practice in other systems.) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Perhaps not coincidentally, I have only observed the latter two interpretations in people arguing against consequentialism, and/or the idea that "the ends justify the means". If you're interested, I think tabooing the terms involve might dissolve some of their objections, and you both may find you now disagree less than you think. But probably still a bit.
2TheOtherDave7yAs I understand Eugine, he'd say that in my example above there's no consequentialist grounds for choosing B over A, since in two years the state of the world is identical and being alive an extra year in the interim isn't a consequence that motivates choosing B over A. If I've understood properly, this isn't a terminological confusion, it's a conflict of values. If I understood him correctly, he thinks it's absurd to choose B over A in my example based on that extra year, regardless of whether we call that year a "consequence" or something else. That's why I started out by requesting some clarification of a key term [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jkr/white_lies/akd7]. Given the nature of the answer I got, I decided that further efforts along these lines would likely be counterproductive, so I dropped it.
4MugaSofer7yRight, as a reductio of choosing based on "consequentialist grounds". His understanding of "consequentialist grounds".
2TheOtherDave7ySorry, I'm not following. A reductio argument, as I understand it, adopts the premise to be disproved and shows how that premise leads to a falsehood. What premise is being adopted here, and what contradiction does it lead to?
1MugaSofer7yUm, the premise is that only "consequences" or final outcomes matter, and the falsehood derived is that [http://lesswrong.com/lw/jkr/white_lies/ak67] "creating a person and then killing him is morally equivalent to not creating him in the first place because the consequences are the same". But it looks like there may be an inferential distance between us? Regardless, tapping out.

No. It doesn't feel consequentialist to me at all. It's a patch, but it's not a consequentialist-flavored patch.

Yeah, I didn't understand your position as well when I asked that.

Isn't that unfair to people in situations where there is no attacker for you to focus on, where relieving their suffering is not a matter of taking out a convenient target?


How about tragedies of the commons, for example?

Also, I just realized this, but doesn't that mean you should be really concerned about any laws punishing things that don't violate rights, sin

... (read more)

I was relying on the framing;

I have no idea how to interpret this even semi-charitably.

It's less likely that someone will ignore facts that have been recently brought to their attention. You're right, I wasn't quite sure what word to use there, I may have screwed up.

you are yourself relying on the fact that this is obvious nonsense to most people for your rhetorical point.

I was relying/hoping that you weren't sufficiently caught up in the panic to no longer recognize this as obvious nonsense.

With respect, have you ever said that to someone and... (read more)

So how do you know that rights "naturally fall out of" personhood, if you don't really know what personhood even is ?

I'm starting to get concerned that you have some intractable requirements for completeness of a philosophical theory before one can say anything about it at all. Do you think your ethics would withstand a concerted hammering like this? Do you know how to compare utility between agents? What are your feelings on population ethics? How do you deal with logical uncertainty and Pascal's muggings in complex Omega-related thought ... (read more)

2Bugmaster7yI wasn't trying to Gish Gallop you if that's what you're implying. That said, I think you are underestimating the inferential distance here. When you say, "rights naturally fall out of personhood", I literally have no idea what that means. As you saw from my previous comments, I tried to stay away from defining personhood as long as possible, but I'm not sure I can continue to do that if your only answer to "what are rights" is something like "an integral part of personhood". Pretty much the only possible ways I can translate the word "wrong" are a). "will lead to highly undesirable consequences", and b). "is physically impossible". You ask, Yes I did, and I failed to fully understand it, as well. As I said before, I agree with most (or possibly all) of the rights you listed in your comments, as well as in your article; I just don't understand what process you used to come up with those rights. For example, I agree with you that "killing people is wrong" is a good rule; what I don't understand is why you think so, or why you think that "photographing people without permission is wrong" is not a good rule. Your article, as far as I can tell, does not address this.
3MugaSofer7yTreat "acting in a way that violates a right" as "undesirable consequences" - that is, negative utility - and everything else as neutral or positive utility (but not positive enough to outweigh rights violations). "Wrong" here is, essentially, "carrying negative utility" - not instrumentally, terminally. Disclaimer: I am not a deontologist, and I'm certainly not Alicorn.
2Alicorn7yWell, I'm out of ideas for bridging the gap. Sorry.

Where does your belief that observing the world will lead us to true beliefs come from?


... and many posts in the Sequences. (The posts/essays themselves aren't an answer to "where does this belief come from", but their content is.)

First, where do those definitions come from?

We made 'em up.

Second, as Lewis Carrol showed a definition of a formal system is not the same as a formal system since definitions of a formal system don't have the power to force you to draw conclusions from premises.

ht... (read more)

With respect, both hen's comment and your reply read to me like nonsense. I can neither make sense of what either of you are saying, nor, to the degree that I can, see any reason why you would claim the things you seem to be claiming. Of course, I could merely be misunderstanding your points.

However, I think we have now gone on a tangent far removed from anything resembling the original topic, and so I will refrain from continuing this subthread. (I'll read any responses you make, though.)

2nshepperd7yI think Eugine_Nier might be trying to say that the reason we evolved the emotions of anger and thirst for vengeance is because being known to be vengeful (even irrationally so) is itself a good deterrent. And possibly that this therefore makes these the same thing. But I'm not sure about that because that seems to me like a straightforward case of mixing up adaptation executors and fitness maximizers [http://lesswrong.com/lw/l0/adaptationexecuters_not_fitnessmaximizers/].

And? I should hope anyone reading this thread has already figured that out - from all the times it was mentioned.

Is there some sort of implication of this I'm too stupid to see?

What possible reasons there could plausibly be for jailing people, and what actually in fact motivates most people to support jailing people, are not the same thing.

Some possibilities for the former include:

  1. Retribution (i.e., punishing criminals because they deserve it)
  2. Closure/satisfaction for the victim(s), or for family/friends of the victims(s).
  3. Deterrence, i.e. protecting society from counterfactual future crimes we expect other people to otherwise perpetrate.
  4. Protecting society from counterfactual future crimes we expect this same criminal to other
... (read more)

That is one possible purpose to have prisons, but not the only one.

If you are trying to violate someone's rights, then your contextually relevant rights are forfeited. For example, the Nazi has forfeited the right not to be lied to.

Yes, I know. Hence my question:

You've said that you will do nothing, rather than violate a right in order to prevent other rights being violated. Yet you also say that people attempting to violate rights waive their rights not to be stopped. Is this rule designed for the purpose of allowing you to violate people's rights in order to protect others? That seems unfair to people in situation

... (read more)
2Alicorn7yI do not see; can you start that line of inquiry over completely for me? I haven't actually thought about this before, but my instinct is no. Although if you arrange for it to be really hard to communicate a change of mind, someone who went by their last communication with you might not be doing anything wrong, just making a sincere mistake. I try to minimize it from and around myself. I am not on a Global Dickishness Reduction Campaign of any kind. Maybe I should have said not that I'm not a consequentialist about it, but rather that I'm neither agent- nor recipient-neutral about it? How I would like things to be certainly refers to dickishness.
2MugaSofer7ySure, I can rephrase. You've said: You also say that attackers lose their contextually relevant rights, so you can violate their rights in order to defend others. * My original question was, doesn't that feel like a patch to allow you to act like a consequentialist when it's clear you have to? * Isn't that unfair to people in situations where there is no attacker for you to focus on, where relieving their suffering is not a matter of taking out a convenient target? * Also, I just realized this, but doesn't that mean you should be really concerned about any laws punishing things that don't violate rights, since those criminals haven't waived their rights under your system? For example, suing someone for violating your "right to privacy" by publicising a photo taken of you in a public place. Huh. This universal right to change your mind about commitments seems like the most radical part of your philosophy (although obviously, you're more tentative about endorsing it) - I noticed you endorsed the right of private individuals to secede from the state. Yeah, you mentioned being a sort of virtue ethicist here ... you would vote for (prudent) anti-dickishness laws, that sort of thing?

I wish everyone in this thread would be more careful about using the word "right". If you are trying to violate somebody's rights, you don't have "a right not to be stopped".

Well, sure. I did read your explanation(s). I was assuming the worst-case scenario for the hypothetical, where you have to violate someone's rights in order to protect others. For example, the classic lying-to-the-nazis-about-the-jews scenario.

That's a good question, but the answer is no. A marriage does not constitute a promise to be permanently sexually avail

... (read more)

So the potential donor still has complete discretion and thus there is no reason for the doctor to lie.

I disagree. For example, the potential donor might want to lie to spare the feelings of his sibling. Or to forestall family members from getting annoyed at him.

In which case, what would he do if the tests came back positive?

Lie and say he was incompatible. That's kinda the point of this subthread.

Near as I follow your logic, the reason for lying is that the doctor is trying to protect the patient's right to over what -- if anything -- is done

... (read more)

What kind of scope of omission are you looking for here? If someone asks "what are you up to today?" or "what do you think of my painting?" I can pick any random thing that I really did do today or any thing I really do think of their painting and say that. "Wrote a section of a book" rather than a complete list, "I like the color palette on the background" rather than "...and I hate everything else about it".

Also, not speaking never counts as lying. (Stopping mid-utterance might, depending on the utterance, again with a caveat for sincere mistake of some kind. No tricks with "mental reservation".)

I'm pretty sure Eliezer intended that arc to partly be about how horrible lying is;

Interesting. I hadn't thought of that - personally, I have to admit that I think the model of Rational!Quirrell has left me significantly more favorably disposed towards lying than I would have been otherwise.

Heh. "I don't want to talk about that" or "That's personal" don't come anywhere close to working in certain cultures (by which I mean both the unique culture specific to a family, and cultural groups such as e.g. Ashkenazi Jews — the archetypal Jewish mother who says "So, are you meeting any nice girls? What do you mean it's none of my business?? Of course it's my business! I'm your mother!" etc. etc.).

Edit: What's with the downvotes all over this thread...?

Yes, but my friend who is advocating for a welfare state will not be among them. I have nothing to fear from him.

2Lumifer7yOther than that he probably votes for people who pass laws telling you how much of your money will be taken "for the beggars" and who have no problems sending men with guns to enforce their commands.
3blacktrance7yHe only has one vote out of the many necessary to send men with guns after me. Even if he changed his mind and voted against the welfare state, the probability that anything would change is minuscule. The expected harm from him voting for the welfare state is smaller than that of him sitting next to me after not showering for a couple of days. But if the pool of voters were much smaller, I'd take a more negative view of his actions.

Lying is acceptable when done to protect your life or livelihood, but for most of our lives, most opportunities to tell lies won't be in situations like that. You shouldn't lie to friends or romantic partners, because if you can't communicate with them honestly, they shouldn't be your friends/partners in the first place. And I'm not going to respect other people lying to me. Instead of teaching men to accept lies (as in your date example), teach them to accept a "no".

What's good enough for alleviating discomfort so cheaply as with a few words if there's still better left? Showing you care about the people instead of some abstraction called a job usually works better for making them comfortable.

I've been trying to figure out which group I belong to, and reached the conclusion my strategy is entirely tangential: In between the oversimplification, steelmaning, multilayered metaphor, ambiguus sarchasm, faulty grammar, omission of disclaimers on source of information, bad epistemic standards etc. a truth value is simply not a property sounds coming out of my moth or symbols from my keyboard have. Including this post. Unless I'm making a very specific oath it should be fairly obvius a statement I make is not to be taken as actual knowledge or oppinion, simply brainstorming.

I feel your policy makes you more easily manipulable, not less.

All this needs the disclaimer that some domains should be lie-free zones. I value the truth and despise those who would corrupt intellectual discourse with lies.

I don't think this will work in practice. Lying is a habit. If you habitual lie in private life I won't you expect you to be completely honest when you are in academia. Even if you try to be honest I doubt you will be so completely. It relatively easy to try to control your data in different ways and then report the way that provided the best p value while not reporting the other ways. Yes, the ... (read more)

2AshwinV7y< In intimate relationship I think it's very worthwhile to be open about feelings so that the other person can react to what you feel. When in doubt, focus on communicating what you feel instead of making judgements. I agree with this part. Derren Brown talks about communication in his book "tricks of the mind", and about what an important role it plays in relationships. He envisages a situation in which both members of the relationship are actually very much in love with one another, but their inability to express that affection leads to all sorts of complications and a lack of feeling of being loved back. As far as making judgments go, that part is not as much in your control as you think it is. Judgments are speedy mental processes and happen before you even realise that its happening. I doubt any one purposely thinks of all the ways in which their significant other is lacking and tries to use it to improve their position in the relationship (at least not in the kind of relationship that we are talking about here). I dont believe the earlier part about the habit of lying transferring itself to academia automatically. Most people speak a certain way and write with another style. The difference between the two is that you simply have a lot more time in an academic situation in which you can analyse and decide exactly what you want to put across, something which is quite impractical in day to day communication. So unless you are already pre-decided on committing "Academic SIN" I doubt telling day to day white lies will send you to "Academic HELL".
3[anonymous]7yNot only style -- if you aren't in an English-speaking country, you write academic articles in a different language altogether than what you speak with friends.

If you're highly averse to lying, I'm not going to spend a lot of time trying to convince you to tell white lies more often. But I will implore you to do one thing: accept other people's right to lie to you.

This sounds right and is the central idea of you post.

Maybe you should place "accept other people's right to lie to you." as a summary at the top?

3ChrisHallquist7yI think it's a very important sub-point, but I wouldn't call it the central idea of the post.
2wedrifid7yBy my way of interpreting the post treating this idea as central does the post a great disservice. Most of the post is excellent but that particular paragraph is a clumsy social move and questionably simplistic advice.
5Gunnar_Zarncke7yThen I'm interested as what you see as the central point. When I read exactly that paragraph it seems to sumarize it nicely. But maybe I fell prey to the "clumsy social move" although I believe I read over that appeal. If you really see a different central point then this might mean that the post has less clear a focus as Chris might wish.

What about if she just said: 'duty'?

Nobody here defends the practice of throwing paint.


And throwing paint on people? Hilarious. It's not a terribly nice thing to do, especially if the person is wearing nice clothes or is emotionally fragile, but [...]

Sounds to me like that means "throwing paint is extremely funny and pretty much OK".

You presuppose that lying is the most effective way to create political change. Having a reputation as someone who always tells the truth even if that's produces disadvantages for himself is very useful if you want to be a political actor.

2TheAncientGeek7yAnd he presupposes that the system can't be changed indirectly through the normal political process.

The Libertarians absolutist NIoF principle is known not to work,

Our values are psychological drives from a time in our evolutionary history before we could possibly be consequentialist enough to translate a simple underlying value into all the actions required to satisfy it. Which means that evolution had to bake in the "break this down into subgoals" operation, leaving us with the subgoals as our actual values. Lots of different things are useful for reproduction, so we value lots of different things. I would not have found that wiki article convincing either back when I believed as you believe, but have you read "Thou art godshatter?"

1blacktrance7yPeople have drives to value different things, but a drive to value is not the same thing as a value. For example, people have an in-group bias (tribalism), but that doesn't mean that it's an actual value.

But they have no right to depend on that expectation, or to hold their child to that expectation.

The point isn't just that the parents expect their child to be heterosexual; the point is that the parents make it known that they would treat the child poorly if he/she were not heterosexual. The basis for a reasonable expectation of transparency is thereby destroyed regardless of the child's actual orientation.

Separately and unrelatedly: never having noticed signs of homosexuality is not evidence of heterosexuality if:

a) You don't have sufficient experience w... (read more)

Newcomb-like problems: I estimate my confidence (C1) that I can be the sort of person whom Omega predicts will one-box while in fact two-boxing, and my confidence (C2) that Omega predicting I will one-box gets me more money than Omega predicting I will two-box. If C1 is low and C2 is high (as in the classic formulation), I one-box.

Counterfactual-mugging-like problems: I estimate how much it will reduce Omega's chances of giving $10K to anyone I care about if I reject the offer. If that's low enough (as in the classic formulation), I keep my money.

What does it mean? How was it false? Are there legal obligations to disclose something in such a case? What are they? What are the consequences (practical, not legal) of that lie? Who is harmed by the lie? Who is harmed, on the other hand, by the actual fact which you are lying about?

It means that Madoff was claiming he'd invested his clients' money at an annual rate of return of... let's see... a little under 20% (Wikipedia cites 10.5 to 15) when he'd actually had it in the bank at a RoR in the low single digits. Because of that, there would have been... (read more)

1Said Achmiz7yOk, thanks. That makes sense. If you don't mind a bit of followup explanation: where does the lie to the government come into this? Like, clearly Madoff defrauded his clients and that's terrible, but I'm still not clear on the role of the disclosure to government institutions (or lack thereof). Is it just that the government in this case is the channel by which one disclose information about operations to one's clients, i.e. the government acting on behalf of the clients? Or is it something else...?

Well, I'd agree that there's no special time such that only the state of the world at that time and at no other time matters. To talk about all times other than the moment the world ends as "the world's history" seems a little odd, but not actively wrong, I suppose.

As for counterfactuals... beats me. I'm willing to say that a counterfactual is an attribute of a state of the world, and I'm willing to say that it isn't, but in either case I can't see how a counterfactual could be an attribute of one state of the world and not another. So I can't see why it matters when it comes to motivating a choice between A and B.

Beats me. Why does that matter?

To be more precise: given two possible actions A and B, which lead to two different states of the world Wa and Wb, all attributes of Wa that aren't attributes of Wb are consequences of A, and all attributes of Wb that aren't attributes of Wa are consequences of B, and can motivate a choice between A and B.

Some attributes shared by Wa and Wb might be consequences of A or B, and others might not be, but I don't see why it matters for purposes of choosing between A and B.

Well, fair enough. While I'm disappointed not to be able to further improve my understanding of your beliefs, I treasure the LessWrong custom of tapping out of conversations that are no longer productive.

Have a nice day, and may you continue to improve your own understanding of such matters :)

(I think you were actually downvoted for missing the point of my response, by the way. I certainly hope that's the reason. It would be a great shame if people started downvoting for "tapping out" statements.)

you've completely misread what I said

The imperative to maximize utility is utilitarian, not necessarily consequentialist. I know I keep harping on this point, but it's an important distinction.

Edit: And even more specifically, it's total utilitarian.

The fact that the fundamental laws of physics are time-reversible makes such variations on the 1984-ish theme of "we can change the past" empirically wrong.

Well, the fact that these laws were only passed very recently suggests that it is you who is out of step with the psychological unity.

I was relying on the framing; obviously I wouldn't expect people to respond the same way in literally any context. (You're right, I didn't make that clear.)

The context appears to be a moral panic about rape that among other things argues for despising with due process for accused rapists, and that if two drunk people have sex and regret it later this means the man raped the woman. So no, the law today is not in fact val

... (read more)

That is quite a false equivalency, since the term "fat" is loaded with all sorts of normative connotations and judgments, which the word "short" is not.

If you take "fat" to mean something like "in the Nth percentile of mass to height ratio, for some appropriate N", then you are misunderstanding how most people use the term. When your friend asks you "do I look fat in this dress", she most certainly is not asking you about the physical facts of her weight in pounds, and how that number relates to relevant population measures. If you answer "yes", you have not merely provided your best assessment of a physical measurement.

1ialdabaoth7yDon't be so sure of that. [https://twitter.com/ShortPeopleHate]. I'll grant that it isn't quite as widespread or vocal, but it's definitely there.
2hyporational7yOn a lighter note, "I expected someone taller" [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ExpectingSomeoneTaller].

Because our physical intuitions tell us that should work.

I'm not really sure what you mean by this.

Then why are we focusing on those particular formal systems?

Why indeed? Mathematics does sometimes examine formal systems that have no direct tie to anything in the physical world, because they are mathematically interesting. Sometimes those systems turn out to be real-world-useful.

Also where do our ideas about how formal systems should work come from?

What do you mean, "how formal systems should work"? Formal systems are defined in a cer... (read more)

Do you think it fits the girlfriend case in the OP?

I do not. I think you are entitled to the truth about your partner's opinion of things that are important to you. Your partner's, note; perhaps also your close friends'; not anyone's.

I mean, do you think you are wronging your partner if, when they press you for an assessment of their performance, you lie to spare their feelings?

I would feel wronged, if I was said partner. I think that if you're in a relationship with a person who values truth, then yes, you are wronging them by withholding it to spa... (read more)

No, I really don't think that it does.

Consequentialists get their "whatever procedure" from looking at human moral intuitions and shoring them up with logic — making them more consistent (with each other, and with themselves given edge cases and large numbers and so forth), etc., while hewing as close to the original intuitions.

It's a naturalistic process. It's certainly not arbitrarily pulled from nowhere. The fact is that we, humans, have certain moral intuitions. Those intuitions may be "arbitrary" in some abstract sense, but they ce... (read more)

No, I don't, as you're well aware from our many, many lengthy discussions on the point.

I'll note that my prediction in this case was correct, no?

2Eugine_Nier7yAlicorn is part of the same WEIRD cultrue you are, so I don't see how this is evidence that the belief is universal.
3MugaSofer7yThe belief is not universal. The ability to empathise with rape victims is (well, actually, we define our terms so as to exclude psychopaths and the like.) Also, yes, I share certain cultural assumptions and conventions, so I have reason to think Alicorn may respond the same way. My model predicted Alicorn would react to this specific question about that belief, after living her sort of life, with a reluctance or outright refusal to bite the bullet and endorse rape. Not that every human ever would unilaterally endorse my particular belief about rape. [Kawoomba - you have no way of knowing this - strenuously objects to my model of human nature, since it predicts human CEV coheres rather well, whereas they believe that ethics are (and should be?) entirely relative and largely determined by one's circumstances. They like to jump on anything I say that even vaguely implies human morality is somehow universal. There are some quite comprehensive discussions of this point scattered throughout LessWrong.]

(For the record, it looks like you may not be a consequentialist, but it seems worth asking.)

I think that the use of prisons as a deterrent or to modify behavior is downright evil: you're not allowed to put people in a box and not let them out just to change the way they act, and especially not to communicate something to other people.

Um ... why not? I mean, when we all agree it's a good idea, there are reasonable safeguards in place, we've checked it really does reduce rapes, murders, thefts, brutal beatings ... why not?

I think the purpose of prison

... (read more)
3MugaSofer7yI should probably mention that hen has answered me via PM, and they are, in fact, basing this on consequentialist (more or less) concerns.

I, personally, find this situation morally repugnant. Psychological unity of mankind leads me to hope Alicorn does too. What more justification could you ask?

However, even though signing a contract does not seem to remove the harm of rape, I of course cannot rule out the possibility that I am picturing the situation incorrectly, or that that the benefits would not outweigh the rape. (Yes, Alicorn has stated that they care about harms outside their framework of rights.)

Alicorn, on the other hand, likely already holds the standard opinion on rape (it is ba... (read more)

EDIT: Wait, you mean "punish" in the consequentialist sense of punishing defection, right?

Yes, but this does not imply that the current level of awfulness is optimal. It certainly does not mean we should increase the awfulness beyond the optimal level.

But if someone proposes that the current level is