Is Omission the Same as Lying?

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by jessiej920, Jun 18, 2010.

  1. jessiej920 Shake them dice and roll 'em Valued Senior Member

    I have been thinking a lot lately about the truth and what it means to lie.

    What, exactly, constitutes lying?

    At what point does ‘omission’ become a lie?

    I always think of lying as an act that one knowingly participates in, knowing that they are probably doing wrong, but at what point does omission become an active lie?

    Is it wrong to just not tell your lover that you are sleeping with someone else when you have an open relationship?

    Is it wrong to just omit the fact that you killed somebody?

    What about omitting the fact that you are bisexual?

    What about omitting that you are in love with more then one person?

    What about omitting the fact that you hate meat, but eat it anyway for the person you love?

    Exactly, at what point, is omission considered lying? Or is it a lie at all? At what point do you draw the line? Obviously most people would consider omitting the fact that you killed someone a lie, but why? When does it become a lie, versus an omission?

    What do people think?

    Have you omitted something you felt was a lie? Or do you think omission is simply that…the act of not telling the whole truth and therefore not an active lie?

    Please discuss respectfully and please don’t be racist, sexist, or unusually idiotic in any way.
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  3. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    I would say yes

    I tend to think deliberate omission is a lie. That lack of information alters outcomes, be it perception or decision. Now, this doesn't mean you owe everyone your innermost life story in order to be honest with them, but if you are withholding relevant information in order to sway a person's judgment in some way, you're lying to them.

    Omission was my last girlfriend's primary art of deception. After a while, it became impossible to not suspect there was more to any issue she was asking me to decide than she was telling me, because whenever my decision bit me in the ass, it had to do with something fairly obvious that she never mentioned.
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  5. jessiej920 Shake them dice and roll 'em Valued Senior Member

    I am torn about it for selfish reasons, I won't lie.

    I feel like omission is lying, but if I admit that then I admit that the person I am "with" is lying to the one he supposedly loves. Which sucks.

    I guess I feel that omission is lying because if you can't tell the whole truth then obviously there is a lack of trust and if there is a lack of trust then there is a failure in the relationship. I sympathize with the pain you went through with the girlfriend who omitted things...I do think omission is lying...just because you don't tell someone about your actions doesn't mean it wasn't wrong and it doesn't cancel out your actions either way.
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  7. Lori_7 Go to church? I am the church! Registered Senior Member

    I think ommission becomes a lie when you're intentionally hiding something from someone. I mean, it would be difficult and time consuming to tell everything to everyone. But if you know its relevant, and you have a specific motive, that's lying.
  8. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    I'd say omission is a lie only if the intent is to deceive by withholding pertinent information.
  9. Thoreau Valued Senior Member

    Jessie, you raise some very good questions. Personally, yes I do feel omission is the same as lying. The purpose of both is to hide the truth. The difference is that when one lies, not only are they hiding the truth but furthermore submitting another lie to be believed as truth; whereas no such effort is taken by omittion. But regardless, the end result is the same.
  10. superstring01 Moderator


    Though I will add one qualifier: any attempt at deception is, by net result, the same as a lie. Whether it's done through delivering false information or the omission of critical information, the end result and overt attempt is exactly the same and should be treated as such.

  11. jessiej920 Shake them dice and roll 'em Valued Senior Member

    Sadly, I agree

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  12. stratos Banned Banned

    Omissions are sometimes a way of avoiding intense engagement. A lot of men, if they could deceive their wives into thinking they were working - without telling an outright lie - would just have a quiet sit-down with a newspaper and a drink.
  13. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    I feel omission is only the same as lying if you withhold something relevant that the other person needs to know.
  14. Randwolf Ignorance killed the cat Valued Senior Member

    One indicator as to whether omission constitutes a "lie" involves fear, IMHO. I didn't see where that aspect has been broached in this thread, but perhaps I missed it.

    When you are contemplating whether to omit something during a discussion, ask yourself the following:

    Am I afraid to mention this particular fact, emotion, POV, etc.?

    If so, it probably constitutes a lie. After all, there is a reason why you fear disclosure. Will the person in question no longer like / love me? Will I lose respect? Will it cause embarrassment? These are all clues that the omission can be construed as a lie.

    Not all omissions are lies, and defining which are still doesn't address the wisdom of such disclosure. For example, will telling the tale hurt a friend? Even, will it hurt you, or damage a relationship beyond repair? At what cost?

    My view is that it comes down to a risk / benefit analysis - if the other person has a "need to know", and you withhold the information for selfish purposes - well, you are guilty of lying. To the other, if the disclosure serves no purpose other than to cause harm, perhaps it's better to hold your tongue. Propagating gossip may serve as a relevant example of this sort of "omission".

    I don't think there is any cut and dried answer here, too much depends on content and context. Sorry about that...

    I guess it boils down to the old saw: "Let your conscience be your guide."

    Good luck!

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  15. Medicine*Woman Jesus: Mythstory--Not History! Valued Senior Member

    M*W: Lying is intentional. Omission can be a faulty memory. Lying is intentional. Omission can be a faulty memory.
  16. WillNever Valued Senior Member

    The *same*? No. However, both are dishonest.
  17. Anti-Flag Pun intended Registered Senior Member

  18. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    I think relevancy, as a lot of people said, is what makes it equivalent to lying.

    I wouldn't say that not telling people about your disgusting bowel problems equals lying.

    Not telling your boyfriend that you're pregnant by someone else...Yeah, that IS lying.
  19. Café Cappuccino Truth can only be half said Registered Senior Member

    Purposefully omitting is not a lie, but it can be dishonest, depending on the situation.

    Sometimes lies and omissions are necessary and ethical, if they are the better of two evils.

    For instance, in health professions there is an ethical statement that goes: "And above all, do not harm". But is slicing a person an evil? One would think so. But surgery is sometimes necessary to stop a greater evil over slicing some of the person's tissues a bit.

    When offered an ethical conundrum in life where there are several evils no good, don't ask yourself "What would Jesus do?", because he has (if he exists) superpowers, so there's no comparing. Ask yourself, "I am a limited being in the world -which is the lesser of the two (or more) evils available?
  20. Enmos Valued Senior Member

    Omission is not a lie.
    Lying is knowingly trying to represent things as something other than what they really are. Omission doesn't do that.
  21. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member


    The main definition of "lie" in any dictionary is, in essence: a false statement made knowingly and deliberately. A lie is something you say, not something you don't say.
    Well, we do have the term "lie of omission." Deliberate and knowing failure to reveal information whose disclosure is ethically appropriate has the same effect as lying, even if it doesn't qualify as a lie grammatically.
    I don't think you should get hung up on semantics. Leave that kind of argument to the kids in college who have too much time and not enough work.

    The word we should be using, and which indeed has been used on this thread several times already, is deception. It doesn't matter how you deceive somebody. If it's a person with whom you have a relationship in which honesty and candor are expected, then to deceive them is to disrespect the relationship, and therefore to disrespect the person.
    "Open relationship" is not a precisely defined term. The two of you define what "open" means. But if it's the standard 1960s-style "swinging" arrangement, then you're supposed to keep each other reasonably well-informed about your relationships with other people. Maybe you have tacitly agreed that you don't need to name everyone you sleep with, or even keep an approximate running total, but (at least back in my day) it was important to let the partner know whether you are still swinging, or have perhaps moved into a space where you feel more positive about exclusivity. It doesn't work very well if one person is starting to feel comfortable with monogamy while the other one is still out there having multiple partners and/or one-night stands; and it really doesn't work very well if you don't even know!
    Who exactly are we talking about giving this information to or withholding it from? If it's a lover or even a serious dating relationship, I think all of those bits of information are really important! Uh, especially that little murder thingie? I don't know how I would feel about someone just wanting to be my friend if he had killed another human being. I suppose I would have to ask a lot of questions. But if he had killed another human being and hid that really important fact about himself from me so I couldn't use it to make my decision, then that is really shitty.
    As I said, get past the semantics and realize that what you're really talking about is deception.

    The Golden Rule is far from perfect, but sometimes it's all we've got. Put yourself in the other person's position and ask whether you would be outraged by having that information withheld by someone you were ready to get close to.

    I have a feeling that this will make it much easier to figure out.

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  22. joepistole Deacon Blues Valued Senior Member

    I think we are confusing two concepts here, one the practice of communicating false information (lying) and dishonest. Dishonesty would include omission.

    So while not telling the complete truth might not be lying. It is certianly not honest. And it happens all the time in politics, unfortunately.
  23. Mrs.Lucysnow Valued Senior Member

    Fraggle's description is quite correct.

    Maybe it is somewhat off topic but wouldn't some of you agree that sometimes we place too a high value on the idea of complete honesty? I mean there are times when complete honesty can be destructive. Sometimes it is required to withhold information or to simply not tell the truth but I guess one would have to discern ones intent at those times.

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