« AnteriorContinua »
To our minds that is true, or false, which after careful examination we believe to be so. Before we make our declarations, we are bound to examine as impartially, and as thoroughly, as we After such an examination, if we declare, agreeably to the best knowledge which we are able thus to obtain, and with no more confidence than such an examination warrants, our veracity is, I apprehend, unimpeachable. We may indeed mistake; but are in no sense guilty of lying. But if we declare that which is contrary to our belief, although the declaration should be exactly true, we are still intentionally, and therefore in the criminal sense, liars.
3. In rashly asserting what is not true, when the assertion springs from a sinful Neglect of Examining.
Inconsiderate and rash men assert roundly, although they do not know that, which they assert, to be true; and have no sufficient reasons for believing it to be true. This conduct is derived only from the want of a just sense of the importance of Truth, and the value of Veracity. Such a sense will prompt every man, who possesses it, to examine before he asserts; to assert with watchfulness and caution; and, where he does not feel himself warranted to make unqualified declarations, to express his belief, his opinion, or his apprehension.
No excuse can be given for this indifference to truth. To mankind its importance is infinite. The sacrifice of it is, in all instances, an injury which can neither be repaired, nor recalled. Every man is bound to regard it in this manner, to enable himself to speak truth only, whenever he speaks at all. He therefore, who by a voluntary negligence is led rashly to make false assertions, is without excuse.
4. In professing to declare the whole truth, and yet concealing a part of it, with an intention to deceive.
A wilful deception is here intended, and accomplished: the very thing, which constitutes the essence of Lying. The means, indeed, differ; but the spirit, the guilt, and the purpose, are the
There is, I acknowledge, a prudent and justifiable concealment, as well as a guilty one. What others have not a right to know, we are not bound to declare. Nor are we, of course, bound to disclose the whole of a subject in many cases, where we may be willing to communicate a part. But in every case, our disclosures, and our concealments, must be exactly accordant with our professions. The writer, who professes to record the whole of a story, is inexcusable, if he narrate only a part; although every thing which he actually declares, may be true. The witness, who, under the oath of evidence, withholds any thing which he knows, pertaining to the subject in debate, is perjured.
5. In Colouring the subject of our declarations so as to give it a different aspect from the true one.
This is an extensive field of falsehood; too extensive, indeed, to be thoroughly explored at the present time.
A common mode of transgressing, in the way here generally described, is to represent the conduct of others truly, perhaps, as to the principal facts, and to surround it with such circumstances, annex to it such appendages, and attribute it to such motives, as, taken together, will give it an appearance either partially, or wholly, false; and as is common in instances of this nature, very injurious to them.
Another mode of transgressing in this way is to exhibit the opinions, or doctrines of others, not in language which they would acknowledge, but in language of our own choice; selected for the purpose of rendering such opinions or doctrines, absurd and deformed, and of rendering those, who hold them, odious to others. This is, almost of course, accompanied with, what is exactly of the same nature, charging upon them consequences, which we make, and they disclaim.
The doctrines of the Reformation have, in a very remarkable manner, been followed, and persecuted, with this species of falsehood. It is at least extraordinary, if not singular, that these doctrines are never, or very rarely if ever, represented by those who oppose them, in such terms, as are used by those who profess them; but in terms, which materially vary the nature of the doctrines. In this manner it is plainly intended to make them objects of alarm, and abhorrence, to others; and to engage by this obliquity of representation the passions of mankind in a course of hostility against their defenders. Every class of men have undoubtedly a right to express their own opinions in their own terms; and to admit, or reject, such consequences of their opinions, as they think proper. The doctrines may indeed be fairly impeached, and by argument shown to be absurd, if it can be done; and any consequences may, so far as it can be shown by reason, be proved to follow from them. But to vary the terms, in which the doctrine is exhibited, from those, in which it is declared by its defenders, and to charge them with holding it in such a manner, as we are pleased to express it: to draw consequences from it at our own pleasure, and exhibit them as the opinions of those, with whom we contend, although disclaimed by them; is plainly disingenuous, false, and criminal.
Another example of the same nature is presented to us by Constructive Narration.
By this I intend that Narration, in which the writer, or speaker, construes events, together with the actions, motives, and characters, of those, concerned in them, in such a manner, as he pleases; that is, in a manner, accordant with his own views, interests, passions and prejudices; and interweaves his constructions in the recital, without giving any notice of this fact, so as to make them an inseparable part of the Narrative. The reader, here, is unable to tell what is
fact, and what is construction; and of course, unless preserved from it by superior discernment, is betrayed into a belief of all the errors, created by the prejudices of the writer. A great part of modern history is, if I mistake not, written in this unfortunate manner; and, in this respect, differs essentially, and unhappily, from the ancient manner of Narration. Falsehood is here taught in a mode, which seems often to defy detection, and which, at least in my view, is inexcusable.
The ridicule of what is true, just, good, honourable, or sacred, is an evil of the same nature. The things, represented by him who uses the ridicule, are commonly real; and, were they represented in their own native and true colours, would not be, and could not be, made ridiculous. But they are falsely coloured; are violently connected with appendages, with which they have naturally no connexion; are distorted, maimed, and forced into every unnatural and monstrous attitude. The ridiculousness and absurdity, which cannot be found in the things themselves, are fastened upon them. When presented to the eye, once in this association, created by the hand of ill-natured ingenuity, it will be difficult for the mind to disjoin them afterwards. In this manner, things of the most important, solemn and venerable nature, having been onceseen in the light of absurdity through an artificial association, are often regarded as absurd, and contemptible, through life. No excuse can be pleaded for this unworthy and disingenuous conduct.
Of the same nature are, also, what are called Marvellous stories.: Persons of a lively imagination are prone greatly to admire almost! every thing, which they see or hear, and to find an excessive plea sure in whatever is really wonderful. With this disposition they are led to represent almost all things, which they relate, as extra.. ordinary and surprising. Were we to give full credit to what they say; we should be ready to believe, that their lives had passed only through scenes of a marvellous kind, and that they had hardly ever met with ordinary beings, or ordinary events. The language of these persons is, to a great extent, made up of superlatives only; and their images are drawn only in the strongest and most glowing colours.
Such persons have, I acknowledge, as little intention to deceive> in many, perhaps in most, instances, as other men. Still, through an eagerness to enhance every thing, which they relate, the representations, which they give, are continually untrue; and the ap prehensions, which they excite, are regularly erroneous. There may be, there often is, no intentional deception in their thoughts. Still, they continually deceive; and that of choice; that they... may enjoy the pleasure, found in the indulgence of an eager imag
6. In Flattery and Censure.
Flattery is the ascription of good qualities to others, which they do not possess, or in greater degrees than they possess them. Sometimes, this ascription is the result of the mere warmth of affection; and is then, though not wholly undeserving of censure, undoubtedly less criminal than in other cases. No warmth of affection, and no worth in the object of it, will however justify us in speaking that, which is not true. Usually, it is dictated by sinister views, and intended to be the means of accomplishing unworthy purposes. In this case, the author of it is a palpable, though a very pleasing liar. The purpose, which he has in view, is a sinful one; and the means, which he adopts to compass it, are always sinful and contemptible. Accordingly, mankind have proverbially declared the flatterer to be an odious and despicable wretch.
Censure is, often, just and vindicable; often a duty; and not unfrequently a proof of superior worth. This, however, invariably supposes, that the censure is deserved; that it is demanded by the nature of the case; and that it is administered, solely to promote the good of the censured, and not to gratify the pride, or ill nature of the censurer. But as the word is used above, it is intended to denote a false denial of good qualities, or a false ascription of bad ones, adopted, to gratify our own unworthy feelings, and to wound those of another. Falsehood of this nature is too well understood, and too generally detested, to need any
7. In alleging to support a doctrine, or a cause, arguments, which in our own view are unsound; or alleging those, which have some degree of soundness and weight, as having more weight than we. believe; or alleging them with more confidence, than we really experience in our minds.
Veracity, as it respects arguments, demands, that we allege such, as in our view are really sound; that we attribute to them exactly the weight, which we believe them to possess; and that we advance them with expressions of no more confidence in them than we actually feel. No reason can be alleged, why we may wilfully deceive in our Arguments, any more than in our Declarations; or why Sophistry is less guilty, than what is approprately called Lying. The conduct in both cases is the same; viz. a wilful deception. The design is the same. The mischiefs, also, are as great in the former case, and often greater, than in the lat ter. Nor can any reason be alleged, to prove the guilt less.
Of the same nature is the concealment of such arguments, as we possess, when the support of truth and justice demands them, or the overthrow of falsehood and injustice.
8. In Promise-breaking.
A promise is an engagement to do, or abstain from, something, either absolutely, or conditionally. When this engagement is made to God, it is termed a Vow; when to our fellow-men, a VOL. III.
Promise The laws of morality, which regulate both, are in substance the same. When a Promise is made absolutely, or when the conditions, on which it is made, are performed, we are bound to fulfil it, exactly, according to its tenour. Nor can we be released from this obligation, unless the performance is either impossible, or unlawful; or unless by the consent of him to whom the promise is made. In every other case, the violation of the promise is a lie; at least as criminal, base, and detestable, as any other.
Our obligations to Veracity are greatly enhanced by an Oath: one of the most solemn and affecting transactions, in which man is ever concerned. In this transaction, God, our Creator, Judge, and Rewarder; God, who requireth truth in the inward parts; God, who seeth not as man seeth, but who looketh on the heart; is invoked as an awful Witness of the manner, in which we speak. If we speak truth; we declare our hope of His Mercy: if we speak falsely, we imprecate His Vengeance. What rational being, hitherto ignorant of the perjuries, which deform this guilty world, could believe, that any man, thus situated, would fail to speak truth with the deepest solicitude, and the most perfect exactness! Yet perjury is in the list of human crimes; and forms no inconsiderable part of that dreadful Catalogue.
The guilt of every species of lying, when perpetrated under the solemnities of an oath, is enhanced by these considerations. The sin in almost all cases is more deliberately committed. The person to whom an oath is administered, has every opportunity, which he can wish, for summoning up to the view of his mind every motive to the performance of his duty, and every induce ment to abstain from falsehood. These, inducements, also, are the strongest conceivable. God in a peculiar manner is present to his thoughts the God of Truth, who has declared, that all liars shall have their part in the lake, which burneth with fire and brim stone. His soul is put at hazard on his utterance of truth or falsehood. If he speaks falsehood, he voluntarily consigns himself to perdition. If he is guilty of perjury, he is ruined, also, for this world. The stain is too deep, ever to be wiped away. At the same time he does what is in his power to cut up confidence by the roots. An oath for confirmation, says St. Paul, is to men the end of all controversy. Heb vi 16. If the confidence, reposed in an oath, could be reposed no more human disputes must either be unsettled, or terminated by the strength of the arm; and to this end he, who perjures himself, does all in his power to conduct them.
At the same time, it is ever to be remembered, that God Hime self has been pleased, on various occasions, to confirm his own word by an oath In this manner he has testified to us, that, in his view, an oath adds a peculiar sanction to that, which has been mid even by Himself Universally, he, who utters a falsehood