Some Personal Thoughts on Lying - Excerpt from "The Brothers Karamazov" by F. Dostoyevsky

A passage from The Brothers Karamazov on lying:

"Above all, do not lie to yourself. A man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point where he does not discern any truth either in himself or anywhere around him, and thus falls into disrespect towards himself and others. Not respecting anyone, he ceases to love, and having no love, he gives himself up to passions and coarse pleasures, in order to occupy and amuse himself, and in his vices reaches complete bestiality, and it all comes from lying continually to others and to himself. A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. 

It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it? And surely he knows that no one has offended him, and that he himself has invented the offense and told lies just for the beauty of it, that he has exaggerated for the sake of effect, that he has picked on a word and made a mountain out of a pea—he knows all of that, and still he is the first to take offense, he likes feeling offended, it gives him great pleasure, and thus he reaches the point of real hostility …"

Lying is the First Step Towards Damnation 

Here Dostoyevsky lays out an interesting progression that the liar undergoes as he begins to lie. 

1) He becomes skeptical of truth altogether.
2) He loses respect for himself and others.
3) He loses the ability to love and turns towards bodily pleasures.
4) He reaches the point of pure corruption, an animalistic state.
5) He becomes aggressive to those who challenge his lies, taking pleasure in his abuse.

Words are the bridges that bind our souls together. As humans we share the same physical reality, but the subjective world which takes place within our minds is its own world, one that is impenetrable. We can never directly know the subjectivity of experience and thought that another person goes through. Instead we rely on indirect attempts at understanding them. We rely on words and language as signs and symbols of agreed meaning and shared experience to communicate with one another the depths of who we really are and what we really think. And so language is the medium through which we come to truly know one another. It is therefore the medium of communion between people. To be united with another means that I can know them and express myself to them. 

And so to lie destroys both of those realities. Not only does it destroy the possibility that I can know who they are, but it corrupts the trust necessary to form a relationship of communion. What this does is it isolates the liar from the other person in the relationship. While they make take-up or share the same physical space, on the deeper human level there is no bridge between them. This is also why, traditionally, the Devil is called a liar and a murderer. The word "diabolein," in Greek, from which we get the word "devil," means to scatter. Lying scatters people spiritually one from another. There is no possible spiritual communion that can be shared. 

When this is taken to its extreme, the lying will even alienate the person from themselves. As spiritual creatures with intellect and will, we have a relationship with ourselves in that we know ourselves as an idea. We build a conceptual avatar of ourselves which we interact with all day long as we converse and act in the world. In a certain sense, this avatar speaks back to us. It is a reflection of the person that we have become and cultivated. How can we even love ourselves if we lie to ourselves? And so we do not even have an inner dialogue to retreat to when things outside of us may be going badly. The comfort of a good conscience is absent. Again, we are isolated. 

Likewise, we too build conceptual models of the world. If I lie, though, to myself about the nature of reality, about how it works, about cause and effect then we have reached a level of full nihilistic skepticism. This is because if I cannot tell myself the truth about reality then I can never escape the hell that I have placed myself in and find redemption. The world become incomprehensible and we are overwhelmed with complexity and chaos. We are left with total isolation as we cannot interact with others, with ourselves, or with reality. At that point, all that is left is either "coarse pleasures" or a desire to destroy that which that which brings to light the fact that we are not in a good state. 

If one could conceive of human relationships and society as a physical structure, truth-telling would be the material out of which the building is constructed. And thus to lie is to begin to tear apart the building brick by brick, beam by beam on the pathway to destruction. 
- Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Brothers Karamazov (p. 44). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.