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Ethics / Psychology

Conditions of Deception

In my last post, I showed that deception is the only perversion proper to speech. In philosophical terms, only that which is symbolized can be used to deceive others. Deception does not always occur. Deception is either intentional or accidental: accidental deception requires success and intentional deception requires an intent to deceive.

Deception requires three elements: a deceiver, a deceived person and a deceptive message. A deceiver is the person who writes the deceptive message. This person may or may not intend to deceive another person. A deceived person is the person who reads the deceptive message. This person may or may not be deceived. The deceptive message is a message that represents the world falsely. This message need not be verbal or written. It simply needs to be meaningful. Someone who fails to send a message may be deceiving someone else if the lack of a message is itself a message.

Deception may be viewed in two ways. The first way is if the deception is successful. The second way is if the deception is intentional. If the deception is successful then there is a deceived person who believes a deceptive message. If the deception is intentional then there is a deceiver who intends to deceive and message that is intended to be deceptive. This means that there are two ways that a message might be deceptive. In the first way, the deceiver believes that the message is false. In the second way, the deceived believes that the message is false. If the deception is not successful nor intentional, then no deception has happened. But due to difference in understanding, it is still possible for the deceived to believe that he was the target of deception. This last possibility cannot be called deception. I will refer to this as a pseudodeceptive misunderstanding.

When discussing moral action, it is not really possible to account for all cases of success. It is only possible to account for those that are reasonably known. This means that deception cannot be wrong merely because it succeeds. It must be wrong because it was reasonable to believe that it would succeed before it was tried. This means that there are only two possible circumstances under which deception would be wrong. The first circumstance is when deception is intended. The second circumstance is when it is reasonable to believe that a deceptive message will successfully deceive the person who reads it.

But it is rather difficult to evaluate whether or not a message will successfully deceive someone. Furthermore, it is not really necessary. All that is necessary is to evaluate whether or not the readers would believe that the message itself is false. If we are reasonably sure that the message is true and would be understood that way by them then there is nothing wrong with sending a person this message. If not, then sending the message would not be advisable.

This leads into a discussion of three areas: the proper amount of time spent on determining such things and whether or not intentional or accidental deception is ever permissible. Next, I will discuss accidental deception in further detail.

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