lying

Some still hold to the unassailable idea that it is never acceptable to lie. But consider this: is it acceptable for me to lie to you if i can convince you afterwards that i was right in lying to you and in such a way that you still trust me after the fact just as much as before the incident? Is it ever admissible to lie in any other case?

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3 Comments to “lying”

  1. There are other times when lying is the right thing I believe.
    If you were hiding Jews from the Nazis, should you have told the SS where they were if they asked? An extreme example, yes, but it is a type of ethical situation having many gradations. One must consider the motives of the person lied to.

  2. You are right that you should certainly lie in this classical case. However, i don’t think it would be _right_, nevertheless – the reason being that i would still feel uneasy lying, even though i knew i could not do otherwise. I think that in this situation there are two moral imperatives in play: (a) do not lie and (b) do not kill or allow someone to be killed. Lying here conforms with (b) but not with (a), and (b) being obviously more important, we _must_ lie, though the act in and of itself remains in some sense wrong. (Call this the Bonhoeffer defense of lying).

    The reason we are put in such a conundrum is that the asker of the question is intending evil and has thus deformed the situation in such a way that we cannot keep all our moral rules at the same time. So, in effect, i can convince any ‘good’ person after the fact that i was right in lying and they would still trust me henceforth. But you are right that the evil person would not accept my explanation.

    So all in all, i think my maxim can hold – if i add your caveat that the interlocutor must be a _reasonably good_ person (which of course probably begs the question, but that is the way ethics works).

  3. Yes, didn’t Bonhoeffer say something to the effect of ‘It is better to do evil than be evil’.

    Another example (less extreme but momentous nonetheless): Should Bill Clinton have lied about his indiscretions w/ Monica Lewinsky knowing the Republicans who were trying to lynch him were less concerned about his sexual morality than about the broad political agenda he was working on for America, which included huge social justice advances (huge for america anyway)? Of course, the actions he lied about were reckless and foolish in a tragic Shakespearean way, but, having done them, he was trying to protect his agenda and the power of his presidency to make the world a better place (in his mind… mine too).

    In hind sight, we can say he should have told the truth from the beginning, given he only made it worse. But in the moment, the likes of Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay and Ken Starr had the tenacity and (in their minds) moral certitude, to paralyze the national agenda of the executive branch for 2 years.

    “Reasonably good” is an extremely squishy catagorization, given that good people do bad things, either through lapses of judgment or ignorance. I would say Clinton was/is a good man who somethimes does bad things in his personal life, but many republicans think Bill Clinton (and Hillary too) are the embodiment of evil. My brother’s father-in-law (an broadly educated man w/ a Ph.d in Chemistry) gets rabid at the mention of Clinton, and is strangely silent about the bombing of civilians in Iraq.

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