So if person A is fed false information by person B, and person A goes on to tell this information to person C in the best way possible in the exact way they heard it are they lying? Person A would be telling the truth if the information was correct but unbeknownst to them it is incorrect information.

Is person A lying to person C?

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    I'm not sure this is a question directly related to the English language as the same situation could arise in any language. The real question is whether passing on false information in any circumstances constitutes a lie or whether an intent to deceive is required?
    – KillingTime
    Jun 9 at 15:58
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    So do you suggest I visit another site or do you have an answer?
    – HomegrownPotatoes
    Jun 9 at 16:00
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    Check Fillmore's "Verbs of Judging". The concepts of "truth" and "lie" are a big deal in philosophy. The Cretan puzzles are a good example.
    – jlawler
    Jun 9 at 16:09
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    @KillingTime Lying requires mens rea. Without intent to deceive there can be no lie, but that doesn't make it true! Even telling the truth can be done with the intention to deceive, but that doesn't make it a lie.
    – tchrist
    Jun 9 at 16:11
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    This question must be answered 'indeterminate' unless pragmatics of normal usage are considered, when according to every dictionary I've checked in the intention to deceive is a necessary element of lying. What does your research show? There are probably stipulative definitions in logic etc meaning an unqualified 'utter etc something not factually accurate', but before using these non-standard-default usages one would have to be sure of the domain default/define terms, or be violating the Gricean maxim of clarity. Jun 9 at 16:20

1 Answer 1


As some of the comments allude to, a lie is generally considered a communication with an intent to deceive. WP uses this definition:

A lie is an assertion that is believed to be false, typically used with the purpose of deceiving someone.

As such, if person B is relaying with good faith a communication from person A, they are not lying because they most likely have themselves been deceived, although it is arguable that person B has ethical obligations to verify the communication from person A. For instance, if person B is a newspaper reporter and mindlessly passes on a claim, then they may very well be in violation of journalistic ethics. This notion of the difference between those who intentionally and unintentionally pass false information is covered by a distinction between misinformation and disinformation. Note that if person B is doing a favor for person A, then B's noble intentions may not absolve A from ethical responsibilities. A classic proverb is "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Thus, a ethical consequentialist will ultimately judge person B and their ethics by the outcome of spreading misinformation.

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    If someone passes on a lie that they should have verified, they can be said to have reckless disregard for the truth, which isn't the same as lying, but may have less legal protection than something which you sincerely and reasonably believe to be true.
    – Stuart F
    Jun 9 at 17:55
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    @ScottRowe Lie by omission as opposed to lie by comission.
    – J D
    Jun 10 at 1:21
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    @ScottRowe Inaction in the face of an act of violence is negligence at best and complicity at worst. Both are crimes.
    – J D
    Jun 10 at 2:05
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    This is why I don't watch the News. I am guilty in billions of violent acts and murders. Well, everyone knows now.
    – Scott Rowe
    Jun 10 at 2:09
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    @ScottRowe Yes you are. Buber calls it existential guilt.
    – J D
    Jun 10 at 4:08

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