ideas | July 03, 2011

Why Do Humans Lie? David Livingstone Smith Explains

A fascinating philosopher,
David Livingstone Smith is obsessed with making complicated ideas—such as what drives humanity’s darker impulses—accessible to broad audiences, while losing none of the rigorous depth of academia. In this video from the Ciudad de las Ideas Conference, in Mexico, Smith draws from his popular book Why We Lie to tell us why humans are the most deceptive creatures on the planet. Lying, says Smith, is a natural and necessary part of being a human. He explains that humans lie all the time. He then dives deeper into humanity's penchant for lying, pointing out that it is possible to believe the lies we tell ourselves--to potentially catastrophic degrees. If the Nazis, for example, could convince themselves that the Holocaust was just, and if the conquistadors of colonial Spain could convince themselves that indigenous people were subhuman, then the power of the human mind to lie to itself is simply too great to ignore.  If we value truth as a virtuous principle—whether on a personal or a societal level—we must understand why humans lie, how these lies are executed, and we must learn from the deadly lies of the past.

Smith’s latest critically hailed work, Less Than Human, is a nuanced book that tackles a thorny topic: why we demean and enslave others, and what we can learn from this behavior.

Read more about human behavior speaker David Livingstone Smith

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