Are some lies worse than others? This week, a philosophy session-plan that delves deep into the nature of deception.
Starter: Auction of Lies
Tell a tiny lie that could be true like “My middle name is Susan”. Ask them to raise their hands, as if in an auction, to tell a slightly bigger lie. If you want, ham it up and repeat back their lie to the group in an auctioneer voice.
“Thank you, we have ‘I have never eaten chocolate’ from the gentleman with the short hair and glasses… is anyone else willing to bid a little higher? Going once, going twice…”
Emphasise that it can only be a tiny bit bigger of a lie, no huge jumps. You’re expecting a progression from mild untruths, to whoppers, to physical impossibilities then finally, self-contradictions such as “I am not speaking”.
You might find that they don’t agree that they are all lies – do lies require meaning, understanding, desire to lie etc.?
Stimulus: The Paintball Party
Reveal the following story bit by bit and get them to rank the lies from most to least acceptable each time.
It is Ruth’s birthday and her parents have planned a surprise birthday for her at Porkie’s Paintballing. Ruth’s brother, Gary, is in on the surprise, but doesn’t want to go.
Mum: lies to the birthday girl about the surprise party.
Gary: lies to get out of going to the party
Dad: lies to the brother, about who was going
Ruth, her parents, her brother, and a group of her friends turn up at Porkie’s Paintballing. They are met by the manager, who has some disappointing news.
Manager: lies by saying they have discontinued their popular snack Porkie Pies, because he wants them to have to buy more expensive menu items so he can make the business’s financial targets for the week.
Mum and Dad: lies to the venue and say all the kids are under 14 because they get cheaper tickets that way.
The paintballing game begins. Ruth’s friends start to employ a range of tactics.
Maya: pretends to be walking back to homebase, as if they’ve been eliminated from the game, but then ambushes the opposing team.
Chris: claims he had never played paintball before, to make himself look better, even though he’d been half a dozen times.
Gurdeep: gets shot one too many times, but wipes the paint off her goggles to pretend she hadn’t so she could keep playing.
Ruth’s brother Gary is looking bored. He finds his sister’s friends annoying. Some of Ruth’s friends aren’t fully getting into it either.
Gary: purposefully wastes all his ammunition and gets hit so he can be out of the game faster. He announces how sad he is to have to stop.
Tyrone: pretends to be really bad and miss because he knows he’s better than everyone else, and doesn’t want to be runaway winner.
Anna: is a pacifist, she isn’t comfortable shooting anyone, so pretends to be bad, but doesn’t want to be a spoilsport.
These follow-up questions can be asked at any point they become relevant, or held back for a discussion at the end:
- Are some lies worse than others, or are they all the same?
- What makes a lie worse than another?
- Are any kind of lies acceptable? If so, what kinds?
- Is a happy lie better than an unhappy truth?
- Is there anything wrong with a lie if nobody is harmed by it?
- Do all lies harm people?
- Does a lie have to be spoken? Is non-verbal deception lying? Is one better than the other?
Construct a “Tree of Lies” – a taxonomy of all the different kinds of lies, like an animal or plant taxonomy. What kingdoms, classes, families and species of lies are there?
Try to come up with examples for all the lies and explore any disagreements.
Don’t miss out!
By the end of this month alone, we will have worked with over 200 teachers and over 1500 children – through a mixture of training, talks and demonstration lessons. Introducing or revamping P4C as a whole-school approach seems more popular than ever – so why not get in touch and see if we can help your school? Our partnerships with schools take many forms – there’s something to suit everyone, in any location, and every budget (or lack of). You can read more about training at:
Tom and Jason
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