City Research Online

Lying, Speech and Impersonal Harm

Hatzis, N. (2019). Lying, Speech and Impersonal Harm. Law and Philosophy, doi: 10.1007/s10982-018-9338-4


Should the law punish the mere utterance of lies even if the listener has not been deceived? Seana Shiffrin has recently answered this question in the affirmative. She argues that pure lying as such harms the moral fabric of sincerity and distorts the testimonial warrants which underpin communication. The article begins with a discussion of Shiffrin’s account of lying as a moral wrong and the idea of impersonal harm to moral goods. Then I raise two objections to her theory. First, it does not explain persuasively why the fabric of sincerity is so vulnerable to pure lying. Second, it underestimates the need for a causal link between the alleged harm and the speech the government suppresses. I explore the function of the causal inquiry in constitutional law and suggest that if Shiffrin’s theory were to become the standard for adjudication in freedom of expression cases, protection for speech would deteriorate.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Subjects: K Law
Departments: The City Law School > Academic Programmes
The City Law School > Institute for the Study of European Laws
Text - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons: Attribution International Public License 4.0.

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