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Lies of omission

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I was in a discussion recently about what I called "lies of omission."

My assertion was that if a husband tells a wife he is "going out with friends" (but fails to mention they'll be going to a strip club), or if a teenager tells his parents he is "going camping with friends" (but fails to mention they'll be drinking), then they are engaging in lies of omission. They are withholding information that would be relevant and of concern to the other party.

My friend tried to defend the lies of omission. She said the other party (the wife or the parents) "didn't ask," and therefore the husband or son was not lying. She further suggested that my examples were no different than if someone asked me if I have a cat, and me just saying "yes" rather than further specifying its breed, color, gender, etc. To her, a teenager failing to tell his parents he was going to get drunk while camping is no different than me giving only a simple response to a question about my cat.

I know something is wrong here but can't figure out the exact nature of her error. Any insights?

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In both of your hypothetical examples, the person who is committing the lie of omission is doing so in order to gain a value from the deceived; in the first case, the wife's approval, and in the second, the parents' permission. Furthermore, the person doing the omitting knows that this information is material to whether or not the value will be given. He knows if he gives this information to his wife, she'll probably withdraw her approval. He is using the person's ignorance to get what he wants out of them. This is clearly dishonest.

The cat example has neither of these elements. The questioner is not deciding whether or not to extend a value, and the breed, color, gender etc. are not material to any decision the questioner is making. Now, if the questioner was looking to adopt the cat, and you withheld information that you think would affect their decision, then it would have both elements, and it would be dishonest.

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I was in a discussion recently about what I called "lies of omission."

My assertion was that if a husband tells a wife he is "going out with friends" (but fails to mention they'll be going to a strip club), or if a teenager tells his parents he is "going camping with friends" (but fails to mention they'll be drinking), then they are engaging in lies of omission. They are withholding information that would be relevant and of concern to the other party.

Beyond the parameters of your question which Dante addressed so well, consider the betrayal of trust. Once that border has been crossed, it becomes very difficult to return.

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Getting the (dis)values one seeks from another and the sanction of (disvalues) the victim (does not actively seek) resonate at quite different frequencies.

As I see it... what we only think we did not actively seek has already been predetermined by what we are... as each naturally attracts their own kind.

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As I see it... what we only think we did not actively seek has already been predetermined by what we are... as each naturally attracts their own kind.

Your simplification of 'like attracts like' aligns the white with white, grey with grey, black with black. Contrast this against Peikoff's one line summary "The “sanction of the victim” is the willingness of the good to suffer at the hands of the evil, to accept the role of sacrificial victim for the “sin” of creating values."
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Your simplification of 'like attracts like' aligns the white with white, grey with grey, black with black.

Yes. It is elegantly simple objective moral law: Others treat you exactly as decent as you are, and even if they are not, they treat you as if they were.

Ah, that explains the difference, weaver...

I've never studied Peikoff and came to my own interpretation of "the sanction of the victim" from the reality of my own life experience. In my view, I am the only one who is personally responsible to set the moral tone in my interactions with others by doing what is right. This appears to fall outside the doctrine of Objectivism.

Edited by moralist
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Yes. It is elegantly simple objective moral law: Others treat you exactly as decent as you are, and even if they are not, they treat you as if they were.

Ah, that explains the difference, weaver...

I've never studied Peikoff and came to my own interpretation of "the sanction of the victim" from the reality of my own life experience. In my view, I am the only one who is personally responsible to set the moral tone in my interactions with others by doing what is right. This appears to fall outside the doctrine of Objectivism.

Some of us consider Objectivism a philosophy, not a doctrine.
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I was in a discussion recently about what I called "lies of omission."

My assertion was that if a husband tells a wife he is "going out with friends" (but fails to mention they'll be going to a strip club), or if a teenager tells his parents he is "going camping with friends" (but fails to mention they'll be drinking), then they are engaging in lies of omission. They are withholding information that would be relevant and of concern to the other party.

hmmm...

I'm not a fan of deliberate lies of omission with intent to gain value via withholding vital information but what about this-

what about omitting information just because you don't believe it's any of the asker's damn business and it is not worth having a confrontation over?

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hmmm...

I'm not a fan of deliberate lies of omission with intent to gain value via withholding vital information but what about this-

what about omitting information just because you don't believe it's any of the asker's damn business and it is not worth having a confrontation over?

Well, if you're trying to gain a value from them, then that alone would seem to make it their business. If you're not, then there's no problem.

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If one accepts the premise that Objectivists actively seek truth - rather than merely passively absorb facts as they randomly arrive -

then so should we 'actively' practise honesty to others. IE, never to wait for the exactly-worded question "Are you going out with your friends tonight?". Etc, etc.. Omission then, is a 'passive' dishonesty, I reckon.

Not that there's any dissent from anyone about that here.

(As a valuable premise-checker, one might find situations in which one feels the inclination to lie, or withhold truth, and some introspection will establish the reason - mixed premises, lack of integrity to one's convictions, faint distrust of someone, and so on.)

However, given this firm default position of 'always honesty', there also follow the "need to know" contexts: who? when? what?

Do you value a person enough to give them sensitive/personal info? What amount of revealing of truth can be contrary to your rational selfishness?

The point is surely not to sacrifice oneself to others' arbitrary, or damaging reactions because of one's primary principle.

Long story short, beyond those whom you will never lie to, or when truthfully (perhaps unpopularly) correcting an injustice to someone - context applies, and "Its none of your business" is the most honest answer, I believe.

Edited by whYNOT
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  • 2 weeks later...

I was in a discussion recently about what I called "lies of omission."

My assertion was that if a husband tells a wife he is "going out with friends" (but fails to mention they'll be going to a strip club), or if a teenager tells his parents he is "going camping with friends" (but fails to mention they'll be drinking), then they are engaging in lies of omission. They are withholding information that would be relevant and of concern to the other party.

My friend tried to defend the lies of omission. She said the other party (the wife or the parents) "didn't ask," and therefore the husband or son was not lying. She further suggested that my examples were no different than if someone asked me if I have a cat, and me just saying "yes" rather than further specifying its breed, color, gender, etc. To her, a teenager failing to tell his parents he was going to get drunk while camping is no different than me giving only a simple response to a question about my cat.

I know something is wrong here but can't figure out the exact nature of her error. Any insights?

Presuming the information is being withheld because the husband/teenager knows their wife/parent would disprove, the primary error is a betrayal of trust. The wife trusts her husband to behave appropriately on his own, and the parent trusts their teenager not engage in underage drinking. Failing to divulge relevant information in order to get away with something that might not be allowed were the information revealed is dishonest.

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