This Statement is False. (Am I Lying?)

One of the first problems we had to solve in my novice level philosophy class was:

"This statement is false."

We were asked to determine if the statement was true or false, which is, of course, difficult to determine since if the statement is true, then it is false; and if it is false then it is true.

A few people dropped out of the class after that.

It brings up a good point though. Can things only ever be true or false? Is truth binary, living only as black or white with no gray overlap?

Most people would say yes: things can only be true or false, but what if there was another option?

Ancient Greek Philosophers from Wiki Commons

Ancient Greek Philosophers from Wiki Commons

The statement above, as well as "everything I say is a lie", definitely points at the idea that something that can be both true and false at the same time, which got me thinking about the definition of truth.

Truth is generally defined as "that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality". However, does "telling the truth" have the same definition? When something isn't true is it automatically a lie?

For instance, if I tell you that my cat is outside, but it isn't, would that be false? Yes, but would it be a lie?

For all you know, I really believed my cat was outside and thought I was being truthful, but what I said was still false. I'm clearly not telling the truth, but am I a liar?

However, if I was purposely trying to deceive you by saying my cat was outside, then what I would have said would have been false, as well as me attempting to lie to you.

Another question, what if the cat was outside but I thought it wasn't, so I told you it was outside in an attempt to deceive you. Then what I said would have been true but I would still have attempted to lie. Would I still be a liar?

Because of these tricky situations, my college roommate and I developed "tries" or half-truths. They are things you thought were true but ended up being false. The main point with tries though, is that there is no intent to deceive anyone. We felt that if you are trying to trick someone whether what you say ends up being true or false, you are still a liar.

Do you agree that intent is what separates liars from truth-tellers? Have you ever accidentally told tries?

Until next time,