Should You Go To Jail for Lying?

In The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Dr. Walter Block argued with his libertarian colleague Frank van Dun over the issue of lying and criminal law. In an earlier article, Van Dun had offered the case of a man under the bridge who lies to some hikers about the safety of the bridge. The poor folks die, and it’s a very sad story. For Van Dun, the lying scum should be held guilty for his cold and seemingly murderous act. Block argued, however, that it is not a crime to give bad information or even to maintain silence, which also would have resulted in the hikers’ deaths. “His analysis implies either compulsory good Samaritanism or truth telling,” Block said.

Walter Block argued that the only scenario in which the man should be guilty is if the hikers had paid him for the information and he had been “contractually obligated” to tell them the truth. “Then he would be guilty of a contract violation that resulted in death, a very serious matter indeed.”

A lie is not a threat of violence. You might use my bad information to get yourself into trouble, but, if I had no legal obligation to give you “good” or accurate information, then it is simply up to you to weigh my advice against other kinds of information. People are sometimes helpful, sometimes competitive or mischievous. This is how life works; you are responsible for your own life and property.


Block, Walter.  “Reply to Frank van Dun’s ‘Natural Law and the Jurisprudence of Freedom’” Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring 2004. pp. 65-72.

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