Present Interpretation of the Term Lying


Criticized by ancient philosophers, lying has become an inherent trait of modern community. An episode from The Andy Griffith Show about Mr. McBevee demonstrates the complexity of the modern concept of lying and deception which requires taking into account not only the individual’s motives in telling a lie, but also the awareness of delusiveness of words and the achieved results.

Classical and modern definitions of lying and the related aspects

Though historically the concept of lying obtains negative connotation, the underlying motives and consequences of telling a lie need to be taken into account for reconsidering the classical definition of the concept. An ancient philosopher Augustine claims that all lying is wrong without differentiating between various reasons which can make people to distort the reality. “Lying speech is evidence of an attempt to own and control what is not ours, when we lie we enact a ‘kind of treachery’” (Meilaender 56).

Emphasizing the fact that one lie will result in a set of following lies, Augustine neglects the context and peculiarities of every individual case of deception. The biblical definition of lying is negative as well. One of Solomon’s wise sayings proclaims that “a lying mouth destroys the soul” (The Book of Common Prayer and the Holy Bible Red 44).

Thus, the traditional definitions of the concept not only did not go to the roots of the social phenomenon of deception, but also promised the negative consequences for any instances of lying for the individual’s spiritual and physical existence. “Lying lips conceal hatred” (The Book of Common Prayer and the Holy Bible Red 624).

However, taking into account the complexity of the concept of lying, modern theoreticians incorporate the parameters of intentionality and personal purposes into the definition of phenomenon. “A person S deceives another person S1 if, and only if, S intentionally causes S1 to believe X, where X is false and S knows or believes that X is false” (Carson 48). Thus, expanding the biblical concept of lying, it can be stated that individual’s awareness of delusiveness of certain message is critical for regarding the act as lying.

Examples of lying and telling the truth from The Andy Griffith Show

The instances of more or less innocent lying are used for producing a comic effect in an American sitcom The Andy Griffith Show which was released by CBS between 1960 and 1968. In the episode in which Andy asks his son not to enter the kitchen with an imaginary horse, both of them are aware of the fact that the horse is only a part of the boy’s game. Moreover, Andy knows it for sure that Opie does not believe in the existence of the horse.

Thus, this sample cannot be regarded as lying because it lacks a mercenary motive for deceiving an interlocutor and the end effect of misleading is not achieved. However, playing the same trick with Barney can be regarded as lying because not only the motivation of deceiving the man, but also the end effect of misleading him is present. A successful combination of the ethos, pathos and logos components predetermined the success of the lying pattern.

Regarding the ethos element, it was Andy’s silent support that made Barney believe Opie because he first hesitates about the trustworthiness of the boy’s words. The pathos element implies affecting Barney’s feelings because he is impressed and starts discussing the responsibility of having such a large animal. As to the logos element of the utterance, though having a horse sounds weird, it does not go beyond the limits of reality.

Though there was no any mercenary motive in deceiving Barney, this seemingly innocent lie is intended to be a joke and Opie as a speaker successfully achieves this initial goal, producing a comical effect. “Lying is indulged in sometimes for its own sake, without an instrumental motive” (Carson 42).

However, this trick has a negative impact upon Opie’s reputation and the credibility of his future words. When in the following scene the boy tells about his new friend Mr. McBeevee, nobody believes him. Thus, the moral messages of this episode imply that lying has a negative impact upon the individual’s credibility as a speaker, destroying the ethos element of his following words.

The reconsidered concept of lying

Reconsidering the classical definition of the concept of lying, the aspects of context, intentionality and following consequences need to be taken into account for regarding certain act as telling a lie. Analyzing the two examples of Opie’s statements that there is a horse Blackie in his garden and that he has met Mr. McBeevee in the wood, it can be stated that the logos element is preserved I both of them. Thus, listeners could believe both of these utterances.

The main difference is the ethos element because Opie’s words are not taken seriously by adults. In the first case with the horse, the boy’s lying game was supported by his father while in the second case his father himself supposes that Mr. McBevee is an invisible imaginary man. “Children soon discover the benefits of lying for much the same reason that adults do – to impress others, to avoid punishment or disapproval, or to get out of something they don’t want to do” (Scott 149).

Still, the episode under consideration contains an interesting example of not confusing a lie and the truth. Viewing the lying game through the child’s eyes adds special appeal to the episode which demonstrates that children may be much sincere and more successful in detecting a lie than adults with all their life experience.


Providing an example of telling a lie for the lying sake and difficulties with distinguishing between a lie and the truth, an episode from The Andy Griffith Show demonstrates the complexity of the concept of lying.

Works Cited

Carson, Thomas. Lying and Deception: Theory and Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Meilaender, Gilbert. The Way that Leads There: Augustinian Reflections on the Christian Life. Cambridge: Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2006. Print.

Scott, Gini Graham. Playing the Lying Game: Detecting and Dealing with Lies and Liars, from Occasional Fibbers to Frequent Fabricators. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2010. Print.

Sorensen: Lying is just asserting what one does not believe (36). The Book of Common Prayer and the Holy Bible Red. Church Publishing, 2007. Print. New Revised Standard Vers.

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