When is a lie not a lie?

The word “bachelor” is a noun for those individuals defined as being an unmarried adult male. Most people would not say that the Pope is a bachelor even though he is an unmarried adult male.

Let us examine the process that is called “framing the issue”. We see an example of this when one side calls it self ‘pro-life’ and the other side calls it self ‘pro-choice’. The pro-choice individual is framing the issue about that beautiful concept ‘freedom’. The pro-life individual is framing the issue about that beautiful concept ‘life’.

Framing the issue is about choosing categories based upon often ideological and self-serving purposes. However, we do also frame the issue by categorization with or without ideological or self-serving motivations. Frames are one type, among many, of cognitive models.

What day is this, it’s Monday, the worst day of the week! Monday can only be defined in reference to what might be called an ICM (Idealized Cognitive Model). The concept ‘week’ is an ICM. The week is a whole that has seven parts. The model of the week is idealized, meaning that the seven-day week has no concrete existence, it is an abstract idea that we humans have created. It belongs to our culture; other cultures may have all kinds of different ICM for dividing up their cycles of the sun.

Back to the category of “bachelor” and the question ‘is the Pope a bachelor?’ There is generally a social context when using this word. We do not consider a gay male couple to be a set of bachelors. Catholic priests are not generally considered to be bachelors. I suspect that we do not think of Tarzan as being a bachelor.

Bachelor is an ICM like ‘week’ and in this case it does not fit even our culture in a complete and exact manner. “An idealized cognitive model may fit one’s understanding of the world either perfectly, very well, pretty well, somewhat well, badly, or not at all. If the ICM in which bachelor is defined fits a situation perfectly and the person referred to by the term is unrequitedly an unmarried adult, then he qualifies as a member of the category bachelor.”

When is a politician lying?

The category ‘lie’ can be a very important category especially when perjury is a question; perhaps it is even more important when citizen confidence is at stake. When is a lie, a lie, and when is it something more innocuous and can we know the difference?

There are a number of conditions that classical categorization of ‘necessary and sufficient’ place upon a statement before we catalogue it as being a lie: falsity of belief, intended deception, and factual falsity. A good example of a lie wherein there is little or nothing in which we might quibble is ‘when I steal something and then deny doing it’.

Empirical research has turned up a surprising conclusion about this matter of lies and liars. Most people consider that Fred is lying when Fred says something that Fred considers to be false, regardless of its factual falsity.

Bachelor, bird, and lie are example of prototypes. While some cognitive models are classical; that is to say, that they share rigid boundaries and are characterized by necessary and sufficient conditions, many are not.

Often there are is a prototype of the category by which we judge whether something belongs to a category. In the case of the three categories mentioned we use prototypical characteristics to judge whether a man is ‘really’ a bachelor or a liar. In the case of dinosaur I suspect most of us recognize that for zoological science the dinosaur is a bird but we would ordinarily not consider that a dinosaur is much like a sparrow or robin, which for many of us is a prototypical bird.

This business of categorization is what President Clinton was talking about when he replied “It all depends on what is is!”

Quotes from A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind by Steven L. Winter professor of Law.