There was an interesting exchange in the comments section between two members of the studio audience that generated some interesting comments on the nature of lying, the nature of punishment, and what counts as a moral reason.
Since this is an ethics blog, I thought I would weigh in on some of those comments.
This post concerns the question of whether an omission is a lie.
"First - is not an omission of crucial and possibly life-destroying information as morally reprehensible as a lie?"
Why does the type of information being omitted matter? Either not mentioning something is the same as lying, or it isn't--the actual information being omitted should not matter.
(I would like to add that while companies may omit things when giving information freely, such as in marketing, it is not acceptable to omit information that has been directly asked about. I probably made that clear already, but I just wanted to be sure).
Ultimately, we cannot consider the omission of information to be the same as a lie.
In any given instance of communication, there must necessarily be a huge quantity of information that people do not give. We simply do not have time to say everything. So, we must pick and choose which information to give, and which to refrain from giving - for the sake of efficiency.
However, Eneasz did not say that withholding information is the same as lying. Eneasz said that withholding "crucial and possibly life-destroying information" is as reprehensible as lying.
Assume that I was comparing my wife to a rose bush outside of our house. I could say, "The rose bush is as tall as my wife." In saying that, I am not saying that my wife is a rose bush. I am merely saying that they have a common property. In this case, I am comparing their height.
Accordingly, Eneasz is comparing the moral quality of crucial and possibly life-destroying information to lying.
Not all lies have the same moral qualities. In fact, the lies associated with surprise parties and "white lies" are not morally bad at all. So, I am going to assume that withholding information, in this case, has the same moral quality as lying.
So, let's take an example. I invite my noisy, obnoxious, co-worker to my home for dinner. I then poison the food (because we are both in line for the same promotion and I want the job).
As luck would have it, my guest does not as what is in the food. Consequently, following Katesickle's recommendation, I do not have to tell him what is in it. If he had asked, "Is the food poisoned" or even "What's in this?" I would have been obligated to say that it contains a deadly poison. Fortunately, I was not asked, and I am not under any obligation to reveal information not asked for.
Katesickle, then, would have to conclude that I am not guilty of murder. Or, at the very least, under the presumption of innocent until proven guilty, prosecutors will have to demonstrate not only that I intentionally put poison in the food, but that I was asked if the food was poisoned and did not provide an honest answer.
Actually, Eneasz was mistaken. It is not the case that an omission of crucial and possibly life-destroying information is the same as lying. Instead, the omission of crucial and possibly life-destroying information is the same as attempted or actual homicide.
We would have to ask about the agent's intentions to determine if the agent is guilty of an intentional murder (wanting the victim dead), or a lesser form of murder (simply not caring that the victim ended up dead), but the charge is murder either way. This defines not only what the moral crime is, but what the legal crime should be.
I have defined lying elsewhere as an act of communication that seeks to persuade the victim to adopt a proposition that the agent knows to be false.
It is possible to lie through silence. However, for this to happen, silence has to be given a meaning within a language. Silence itself has to communicate a proposition that the speaker knows to be false.
For example, if we agree on a convention that says, "If you answer my question with silence, I will understand to mean that you were out with your wife." I then ask the question, and the person asked remains silent. In this case, the silence is a lie.
However, in general, it is not a lie.
Yet, there are a lot of different types of wrongs in the world. Lying is just one of them.