Over at his website, Sam Harris has announced the publication of a short e-essay for Kindle, “Lying,”” with endorsements by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ricky Gervais. I haven’t yet read it (I don’t own a Kindle), but it’s only about two bucks for 26 pages on Amazon.
The book apparently grew out of Ronald Howard’s course on practical ethics that Sam took at Harvard, a course that apparently condemned nearly every kind of lie one could envision, a view Sam apparently promulgates in this book:
One of the most fascinating things about this course, however, was how difficult it was to find examples of virtuous lies that could withstand Professor Howard’s scrutiny. Even with Nazis at the door and Anne Frank in the attic, Howard always seemed to find truths worth telling and paths to even greater catastrophe that could be opened by lying.
I do not remember what I thought about lying before I took “The Ethical Analyst,” but the course accomplished as close to a firmware upgrade of my brain as I have ever experienced. I came away convinced that lying, even about the smallest matters, needlessly damages personal relationships and public trust.
It would be hard to exaggerate what a relief it was to realize this. It’s not that I had been in the habit of lying before taking Howard’s course—but I now knew that endless forms of suffering and embarrassment could be easily avoided by simply telling the truth. And, as though for the first time, I saw the consequences of others’ failure to live by this principle all around me.
This experience remains one of the clearest examples in my own life of the power of philosophical reflection. “The Ethical Analyst” affected me in ways that college courses seldom do: It made me a better person.
As I said, I haven’t yet read this, but I’ll need convincing that there are no instances when it’s better to lie, and the Anne Frank/Nazis at the door scenario is one of these.