Telling Lies

Telling Lies

Defining Lies

  • A lie is a false statement deliberately presented as being true.
  • Lies are not merely inaccuracies or errors; they involve intent to deceive.
  • Telling lies involves distorting reality to fit individual motives or objectives.

Morality of Lying

  • The morality of lying hinges on philosophical perspectives such as consequentialism and deontological ethics.
  • Deontologists like Immanuel Kant saw lying as inherently immoral irrespective of outcomes.
  • Consequentialists, on the other hand, consider the impact or the outcome of the lie before stating its morality. A lie with good consequence might be justifiable.

Kant’s Perspective on Lying

  • Kant’s categorical imperative states, “Act only according to the maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
  • According to this, lying is always immoral, since if everyone lied, trust and communication would crumble.
  • Kant posited that lying to a would-be murderer about the location of his intended victim is still morally wrong.

Utilitarianism and Lying

  • Utilitarianism, a consequentialist theory, can justify lying if it leads to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.
  • The ‘White Lies’ often involve a Utilitarian justification: these are lies told to prevent harm or to bring about some benefit.
  • However, utilitarianism may find lying unacceptable if it leads to overall distrust in society.

Virtue Ethics and Lying

  • Unlike deontology and consequentialism, Virtue ethicists look at the character traits promoted by actions.
  • From this perspective, a virtuous individual would inherently value honesty and not lie.
  • Yet, some circumstances might warrant lying as part of compassion or benevolence, demonstrating the flexibility of this approach.

Relativism and Lying

  • Relativists hold that the morality of lying is dependent on context—cultural, historical, situational—and not universal principles.
  • According to cultural relativism, whether lying is considered moral or immoral depends on cultural norms.
  • For example, in some societies, lying might be a necessary social lubricant or a means of saving face, and would hence be considered morally acceptable.

The Legal Perspective

  • Legally, lying becomes an offence, such as perjury, only when it is used to distort justice.
  • However, lying itself is not illegal and remains largely a moral issue.
  • This highlights the divergence between morality and legality, where some actions may be legal yet morally questionable.