Sam Harris offers “Lying” for free

In his new post on the tribulations of Jonah Lehrer, Sam Harris has an interesting last sentence:

I consistently meet smart, well-intentioned, and otherwise ethical people who do not seem to realize how quickly and needlessly lying can destroy their relationships and reputations. This is why I wrote a short ebook on the subject. Since it contains more or less everything I want to say in response to the Lehrer debacle, I’m offering the full text of LYING as a free download for the rest of the week.

Note: I’ve disabled the link as the book will soon be available in hardcover.

So here’s your chance (and mine; I haven’t yet read it); you have until Friday, so just click on the link above.

Thanks, Sam, and also alert reader Heintje, who brought this to my attention.


  1. Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Figures. I just paid to buy it a few weeks ago.

    Actually, I’m happy to contribute to such a worthy cause and a worthy person.

  2. Nate
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink


  3. Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Must first be able to recognize the truth
    then comparison is easy.

    • Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      No. You must first download Harris’s piece. Then read it. Then comment. Should be an easy procedure for a humble Christian.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      More lying for free, I take it.

      Thanks, creationists are always reliable when one needs to be reminded about the problems plaguing this world. But really, Lehrer was plenty this time around, no need to overdo it.

    • Posted August 1, 2012 at 11:35 am | Permalink

      that’s quite amusing, a Christian who lies with basless claims of nonsense. Aw, look what I found on such a “good Christian’s” website: “John E Jones III, a member of the National Organization Of Pentagram Squatters” Why, I’ve not seen such false witnessing about Judge Jones in a while! So much for Paul being “humble” at all, with such vile things coming from his writings. Poor thing can’t help but be a hypocrite.

    • Posted August 1, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      How kind of you to use quotations from so many atheists!


  4. Dominic
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I hope that does not constitute a form of self plagiarism!

  5. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I bought and read it in March. It is a pretty straight forward essay.

  6. Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    I just skimmed the chapter on white lies, and I have to say that this is Sam at his best. His philosophizing goes off the rails in other areas, but not this one. Here he’s absolutely spot-on.

    Thanks for the free book, Sam — and thanks to you too, Jerry, for pointing us to it. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of it soon.



    • JBlilie
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Agreed. I read this when it came out and I also found it to be Sam at his very best. He always makes you think.

    • Marella
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      Just out of curiosity, where do you think Sam goes off the rails? Because both you and Sam are people I seldom disagree with so I’d be interested to know where you two disagree.

      I thought Lying was great when I bought it. But in my case he was preaching to the converted. Most of it was pretty much how I’ve always seen things.

  7. Chris Quartly
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    Yes it’s a great and very short read. I bought it when it was first released and it really had a big impact.

    I should have done a little review at the time, but better late than never.

    • edward hessler
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Thanks to Sam Harris, WEIT alert reader Heintje and Jerry Coyne.

  8. Mary - Canada
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Thanks for posting the link. Looking forward to reading it.

  9. Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    Thank you Sam, Heintje & JAC

  10. ladyatheist
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    I am currently reading The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely.

    He has studied cheating extensively. I haven’t hit on anything that would specifically address this situation (yet) but it’s a good book if you’re curious about the subject.

    He’s an interesting fellow too: survived burns on 70% of his body, and frequently refers to his experience as a burn patient.

    …and he has attended “Burning Man.” I don’t understand that, but anyone with his history that can go to an event called “Burning Man” has something going for him!

  11. dunstar
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    well that’s pretty cool.

  12. Alex T
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I read it in the spring. It’s a short essay but well argued and, I think, highlights what I think good philosophy looks like: it not only says what we should do, but explains *why* and what the consequences are when we stray. It has stuck with me and I still think about it when I find myself exaggerating. I’ve even started correcting myself after I (almost unconsciously) lie or omit things.

    And at the risk of beating a dead horse, I can’t help but compare it to the “good” bits of the bible which just offer a bunch of edicts and commandments with little insight.

    • Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      The good bits of the Bible are generally pretty horrific, too. The Ten Commandments not only encode chattel slavery but directly equate wives with slaves and livestock. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemns to infinite torture all men who’ve ever looked at a pretty woman, thought silently to themselves that she was attractive, and failed to immediately gouge out their own eyes and chop off their own hands.

      I could continue…but I won’t. The short version is, take any part of the Bible that you consider “good,” read the actual text, and be amazed at just how much shit is thickly spread over the “good” nuggets that people claim to have extracted from it.



      • JBlilie
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        I’ve read the thing cover-cover and my reaction in the end (even though at the time I still had a soft-spot for belief), was like Randolph Churchill’s reaction as related by Evelyn Waugh: “God?! God is a shit!”

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Friedrich Nietzsche’s remark was “It is not exactly the eye that is meant”.

        Though seriously, the Sermon on the Mount is very confused on the idea of minding one’s thoughts (a good idea) and thought-crimes.

  13. Caroline52
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I like pretty much everything Sam Harris writes, but– as someone familliar with well known cognitive psychology researchers’ books for lay readers, e,g., Why We Lie by Robert Hare and several others– I felt Sam’s effort with Lying was uncharacteristically dilettantish. It was clear he hadn’t even read those prominent books, because he would have incorporated or referred to their ideas, and his analysis was, on its face, mostly from introspection. I agreed with his point in the Moral Landscape that it wasnt necessary from him to address the philosophical literature on morality in order to make his points, but that doesn’t mean it’s equally unnecessary to be familiar with the experimental psych research before publishing a book about on an aspect of human psychology, especially if you’re trading on your reputation as a scientist.

  14. Posted August 1, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Believe this kind of self-destructive behavior is not conscious (well we know that) but due to defective inherited brain circuit birth defects.

    Is JL “responsible” for his lies? Probably not.

  15. zendruid1
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    …[W]ar and espionage are conditions in which human relationships have broken down or were never established in the first place; thus the rules of cooperation no longer apply. (p.44)

    The ethics of war and espionage are the ethics of emergency…. (p.46)

    Clears up the Nazi conundrum quite neatly.

    • Posted August 1, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      lol — “Here Come the Nazis”….always luv when weird guys trot out that old rhetorical trick….

      Anyone mentioned Hitler yet?

      • zendruid1
        Posted August 1, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        That is, the ‘lying to the Gestapo about hiding Jews’ conundrum.

    • Marella
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Surely this Nazi thing is joke right? No-body ever really believed that you owed the Nazis the truth did they? The truth is precious, the more I love someone the more I am likely to think they deserve the truth from me. Someone I do not know or do not like is more likely to get an easy lie, ie be told what they want to hear, than the more difficult and nuanced truth, than someone I care about. I have always lived by Sam’s precepts but there is no doubt the truth if often difficult and not everyone is entitled to it.

  16. Myron
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    The Definition of Lying and Deception:

  17. Korou
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Sam Harris and WEIT!

  18. Dianne Leonard
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    This (lying) is why I left the Catholic Church. At the age of 9 or so, about a year after my first confession, I realized that I was lying each week when I went to (forced) confession. I was basically a good kid, worked hard at school, tended my younger siblings, and–above all, because this is what my parents had taught me– didn’t lie about things. Well, each week, I realized, I was making up things to tell the priest in confession. I asked my mom why I had to do this, and she didn’t have an answer–maybe she was lying, too? Ever since that, I’ve had no use for the Catholic Church. They are liars (see pedophilia scandals) and they force their adherents to do the same. Sam’s piece was very good, and I hope to buy a hard copy of it to have on my shelf. So, thank you Sam, for doing this, and thank you Jerry Coyne for calling attention to it.

  19. stabbinfresh
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for pointing this out, I just finished reading this and it is terrific!

  20. gillt
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    This is the first time I noticed the image on the cover of the ebook. It’s a fly, a dry fly from the looks of it. The way it’s used, dropped down from above, makes it look as if it’s being used as a jig, which would be silly for a dry fly as they float gracefully atop the water’s surface. While the fly is certainly more aesthetically pleasing to look at than a worm, I question its use in the vague metaphorical cliche, as flys (those used to mimic specific larval stages of a specific insect species) are some of the most meticulous and precisely engineered deceptions anglers have ever devised. If Sam Harris wanted to stick with the same aesthetic–say over an ugly rubber worm–I would recommend a salmon fly as they are not representational of much since the salmon have stopped eating and are just reacting to something shiny for the most part.

    • Filippo
      Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

      A flea and a fly were caught in a flue,

      So what on Earth were they going to do?

      Said the flea, “Let us fly!’

      Said the fly, “Let us flee!”

      So they flew through a flaw in the flue.

    • RF
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

      Is the plural of “fly” “flys”?

      • gillt
        Posted August 3, 2012 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        I’ve seen if both ways, but grammatically it would probably be flies.

  21. Filippo
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Dan Ariely of Duke will be similarly generous with his own latest tome.

  22. BillyJoe
    Posted August 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    $#!+, I paid 99 cents for it a few months ago. 😦

  23. DV
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    I read the book. Basically says honesty is the best policy. But haven’t we all heard that before already?

    What I miss in Harris’s discussion of topics on human behavior and morality is always the evolutionary light and evolutionary viewpoint. Sam’s book is prescriptive but not so much descriptive. You don’t learn anything new. In comparison Dan Ariely’s talks on this similar topic is more explanatory and eye-opening.

    Also it’s always a bit odd for anyone to be offering prescriptions on behavior and morality when they think there’s no such thing as free will in the first place.

    Lastly, I wonder what Sam Harris thinks of closeted homosexuals and closeted atheists.

  24. DV
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Did not quite finish the last point. Meant to add: “Does he think being in the closet is lying”?

    • DV
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Argh! Messed up. That was supposed to be a response to my original post.

  25. Vaal
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I’m going to read it, but I wish to pay for it actually.

    Somewhat off topic: I find Sam’s web site to be a model of graphic web design in terms of the fonts, graphics, layout and the choice of images per blog post. It’s so uncluttered, elegant and neatly ordered, and reflects the similar qualities in Sam’s writing.


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