From Lying to Perjury: Asserting and Implicating Falsehood
Laurence R. Horn
In recent months, a vigorous debate has arisen in the press on whether and how journalists should distinguish lies from other false statements in a “post-truth” era. The framing and enforcement of perjury statues requires a regimentation of the intuitive notion of lying, invoking the key roles played by utterance context and interlocutors’ goals in distinguishing a speaker who lies from one who intentionally misleads, a distinction that in turn maps onto the corresponding dichotomy in neo-Gricean pragmatic theory between what is said and what is implicated. Ever since Augustine and Aquinas, the characterization of lying has focused not (just) on objective falsity but on the roles of speakers’ intent, as well as on the difference between assertion and (mere) implication. The traditional definition recognizes four components of a lie: a speaker S lies in uttering p if and only if (i) S says/asserts that p, (ii) S believes that p is false, (iii) p is in fact false, and (iv) S intends to deceive H into believing that p is true. To assert something one correctly believes to be false with the intent to deceive H is surely to lie. But must all four criteria be satisfied? Several recent theoretical and experimental studies by philosophers and linguists that have explored this question (with varied results), largely concentrating on the conceptual and empirical status of criteria (iii) and (iv). But in defining perjury, it is the status of (i) that is of particular interest, along with the difficulty of ascertaining the practical satisfaction of (ii). Over several centuries, the practice of “hiding the truth”—a key subspecies of misleading or deception in which falsity is implicated rather than directly asserted—has historically been regarded both within and outside the courtroom as a lesser offense than outright lying. An analysis of interactions drawn from ordinary interchanges, political speech, and both fictional and forensic contexts helps clarify the criteria for distinguishing lying from intentionally misleading in language and law.