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Truth and lies - Journal of Interest
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29 Aug

Truth and lies

Truth

On my way to work today I was thinking about abstract things, and I came across the interesting question of whether a statement is truthful if, only by the fact of saying it, it becomes true.  The example I was thinking of was the following: Imagine a person, me, and I want to go swimming with two beautiful girls (philosophy can be so enjoyable sometimes).  I ask one of them, Jane, “will you go swimming with me?” She replies, “I will, but only if Sarah comes with us.” So I go to Sarah and ask her the same question, and she replies, “I will, but only if Jane is coming too.”

Now, can I say to either Sarah or Jane that the other girl is coming?  They aren’t at the moment I begin saying it, but by the time I have finished saying it, the person whom I have said it to will be coming because of their previous agreement to go if the other is going, and because of this the other girl will also be coming due to their identical agreement.  Therefore, the statement that she is coming will become true, but only by virtue of me having said it.  It is untrue when I begin saying it, and true by the end of it.  Is it then a truth or a lie?

My personal interpretation is that although I think it could be reasonably argued to be true in a technical sense, you have omitted from mentioning the whole truth, perhaps due to your motive to organise the swimming trip.  If it is your intention to avoid mentioning the whole truth, then your intention is a deceptive one and you intend to mislead.  Though you have spoken only truthfully, you have not been truthful in spirit.

It might also be of note that it is not true until after it has been said.  It requires a kind of jump between neither girls having agreed to come, to both of them coming, with each one’s agreement depending on the other having agreed to come first.  In computer science, this concept is known as a deadly embrace,1 where two processes are mutually dependant on the prior action of the other and thus neither can ever finish execution.  It must be untruthful for the moment in which it convinces the girl to come, and only after that moment does it become truthful.

But it could, I suppose, be considered a white lie if it’s intended to lead to an anticipated *ahem* favourable outcome.


  1. See the Wikipedia article on deadlocks

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