Bookcover - Lying


by Sam Harris

Rating: 7/10


A very short book. It might take you an hour or so to read in full, so the summary is quite short as well.

Main Ideas:

Lying (intentional deception) erodes trust on both sides. It damages relationships in unforeseen ways, needs maintenance and leads to psychological stress. It doesn't help other people live a better life and often leads to slow but sure decline of beautiful relationships. And the benefits are not nearly enough, especially in the long run, to justify all of that.

Hence lying is bad and we shouldn't do it, in any circumstances where we expect to have any sort of ongoing relationship with the people lied to. Only exceptions are extreme, the lives of spies, or war times, or when murderers ask you for help etc.

Detailed Notes

Chapter 1 - What is a Lie?

Not all acts of deceptions are lies.

Lying is not telling the truths if other expect you to tell the truth. It's about the intent to deceive.

When lying we damage the person being lied to. Nobody wants to be on the receiving role of a lie.

Chapter 2 - The Mirror of Honesty

Honesty is a gift we can give to others.

Being honest ist simple. It's being yourself. Its being.

Because lies can hide the truth, they can shield us from uncomfortable realities. Addictions, Broken Relationships or even Things we are too afraid to do, but too proud to admit. This way lying forces us to grow.

Chapter 3 - Two Types of Lies

Actions that take energy to do, are judged more harshly if morally reprehensible. It's different to steal, than to not pay back money wrongly received.

Lies fall into the same category. Omission and Commission.

Lying is denying access to reality. And that is something harmful.

False encouragement is stealing away time that could have been used better.

Lies in the medical context forsake the chance of facing the horrible truth of death, and sharing it with the family, opens up the world a little more, for wisdom, compassion and love to be shared, although it creates pain.

Chapter 4 - Trust

People stop trusting people, if they observed them lying in the past.

When found out, lies produce huge embarrassment, that is never worth the benefit of the lie.

Chapter 5 - Faint Praise

Changing course when a project is not good or even doomed is nice, but to do that we need accurate information. False praise (lies) don't help us.

Chapter 6 - Secrets

Chapter 7 - Lies in Extremis

Lying in extreme cases might make sense, but only if the person lying to and you never have any chance to form a relationship in the future.

Laws that target ethically good behavior are bad, because they corrode otherwise good people. Now the question is, which laws fall under that category?

Chapter 8 - Mental Accounting

Lies have psychological costs. They cause stress.

Maintaining lies is unsustainable, and people notice the mental dance done, at least subconsciously and put less trust in people who lie regularly.

Liars themselves trust others less. They project their behaviour out to the person's they interact with. If I am not trustworthy, probably others aren't either. Hence good relationships are very hard to find.

Chapter 9 - Integrity

Vulnerability comes in pretending to be someone you are not.

Be yourself. Don't lie to anybody, including yourself, about who you are. This opens an interesting question: How does fake it till you make it into that picture?

Chapter 10 - Big Lies

Eroded trust in information nowadays combined with the spread of fake news is undermining the democratic process.

The illusory truth effect - Even after statements have been disproved we mentally handle them as if they were still true.


Lying is a refusal to cooperate with others.

Lies damage the autonomy of others, which leads to unpredictable, and often harmful, changes in how they behave in the future.

To lie, we need to keep track, of what we said. And make sure that further lies don't collide with old ones or things that are obviously true. Truth is maintenance free.

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