The traditional definition of a lie is intentional delivery of false information to mislead someone else into believing that it’s true. Juan Samuel Santos, Andrea Catalina Zárate and Gustavo Gómez, philosophers at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia, suggest that political lies are different from other kinds of lies. The university held a symposium on the subject last August.
An article in the latest issue of the university’s Spanish-language magazine describes their positions.
Santos notes that politicians often speak to motivate their audience to feel something or take some action, but not necessarily with the intent that the audience will believe the statements. Sometimes politicians claim certain accomplishments when the audience already knows those claims aren’t quite true. These political lies nevertheless (regardless of the politician’s intent) do perpetuate false beliefs and are dangerous.
Zárate focuses on why some lies are more believable and popular than others. She examines the relationship between specific speakers and listeners, especially in light of modern mass communication and social media that allow lies to be easily replicated.
Gómez, beginning with Plato’s dialogues and citing Derrida’s notion of a “truth effect,” discusses how a publication or a repetition can create the semblance of truth even if that is not the speaker’s intent. Authors and readers alike, he says, have the responsibility to evaluate the truth of what is communicated.
To sum up: In political contexts, speakers and listeners may not care primarily about factual information. Political speech may instead serve another purpose, and people may replicate those messages because of their existing relationships and platforms, not because of the quality of the information. When they pass on the message, others may begin to perceive it as true, even if it was never intended as a factual communication.
“¿La mentira política es diferente a las otras mentiras?” Alejandro Tamayo Montoya. Pesquisa Javeriana. Sept-Nov. 2019 (available free online as PDF). pp. 10-11.
At the end of the article, these sources were recommended as further reading:
- The podcast La Claraboya, Episode 9, “Mentiras políticas,” produced by Pesquisa Javeriana
- J. S. Santos Castro, “Políticos mentirosos y tramposos democráticos: ¿es la mentira política diferente de otras clases de mentiras?” Universitas Philosphica, 36(72), 2019