Is there a moral argument for lying?

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Kroni
 
Reply Mon 2 Nov, 2009 03:59 pm
Is lying an absolute wrong, or can a little white lie be justified? You might lie to avoid hurting someone's feelings or to prevent a wrongdoer from completing an evil act. Should the intent to deceive be considered morally unacceptable regardless of reasons, or can the end justify the means?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 2 Nov, 2009 04:11 pm
@Kroni,
Kroni;101344 wrote:
Is lying an absolute wrong, or can a little white lie be justified? You might lie to avoid hurting someone's feelings or to prevent a wrongdoer from completing an evil act. Should the intent to deceive be considered morally unacceptable regardless of reasons, or can the end justify the means?


Whether the end can justify the means would depend on the end, and on the means. Just as whether the purchase is worth the cost would depend on the purchase and that cost. If you assert that under no conditions is it morally permissible to lie, you would have to give reasons why this is so. Kant defended this view in an essay called, "On the Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives".

http://philosophy.ucsd.edu/faculty/rarneson/Courses/KANTsupposedRig
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 11:58 am
@Kroni,
You're less accountable for less data, so the opposite is...
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 12:07 pm
@ValueRanger,
ValueRanger;101532 wrote:
You're less accountable for less data, so the opposite is...


??................
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 12:27 pm
@kennethamy,
The general moral abhorance for lying seems to be based on the general need of social animals to have basic trust in their peers. I need to trust that if I go in public that a majority of the people will act in accordance to standards that will not only benefit me but benefit the group. Thus dissaproved behavior; lying, criminal, or other, although normally defined as one person against another person, is really one person against the norms of the group. Those norms being that which makes the social network for social said animals function with the least friction, given the pressures of individual gain, politics, terretorial struggles, and a plethora of other strains against the normative functional system. Thus I say that lying is morally wrong insomuch that lie upsets the system, or rather, the liar's place in that system. Although some lies outright protect the system and protect the feelings, safety, or wellbeing of one's peers. So I would say that lies that bolster the system are not morally wrong and ones that strain it are.
 
ValueRanger
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 12:51 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;101537 wrote:
??................

Those that take on the role of inquisitor, must be prepared to eventually be held accountable for the opposite.

Try again?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 12:59 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead;101545 wrote:
The general moral abhorance for lying seems to be based on the general need of social animals to have basic trust in their peers. I need to trust that if I go in public that a majority of the people will act in accordance to standards that will not only benefit me but benefit the group. Thus dissaproved behavior; lying, criminal, or other, although normally defined as one person against another person, is really one person against the norms of the group. Those norms being that which makes the social network for social said animals function with the least friction, given the pressures of individual gain, politics, terretorial struggles, and a plethora of other strains against the normative functional system. Thus I say that lying is morally wrong insomuch that lie upsets the system, or rather, the liar's place in that system. Although some lies outright protect the system and protect the feelings, safety, or wellbeing of one's peers. So I would say that lies that bolster the system are not morally wrong and ones that strain it are.



Your argument seems to be that:

1. All that bolsters up the system is moral.
2. Some lies bolster up the system.
Therefore, 3, some lying is moral.

The argument seems valid (the conclusion follows from the premises). But what about the premises? Let's look at premise 1. Would the truth of that premise not depend on the particular system? Suppose the system were the system of government in Germany in the 1930 and the first half of the next decade. We might say that anything that bolstered up the Nazi system was immoral. Then, look at premise 2. Kant's argument is that there are no "good" lies, because lying in general, and in the long run, undermines truthfulness, and that undermines the society. If everyone thought it proper to lie whenever he believed the lie would have good consequences, than no one would ever believe anyone else. And it would make no sense ever to tell the truth, because no one would believe you.
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 01:25 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;101555 wrote:
Your argument seems to be that:

1. All that bolsters up the system is moral.
2. Some lies bolster up the system.
Therefore, 3, some lying is moral.

The argument seems valid (the conclusion follows from the premises). But what about the premises? Let's look at premise 1. Would the truth of that premise not depend on (1) the particular system? Suppose the system were the system of government in Germany in the 1930 and the first half of the next decade. We might say that anything that bolstered up the Nazi system was immoral. Then, look at premise 2. Kant's argument is that there are no "good" lies, because lying in general, and in the long run, undermines truthfulness, and that undermines the society.(2) If everyone thought it proper to lie whenever he believed the lie would have good consequences, than no one would ever believe anyone else. (3) And it would make no sense ever to tell the truth, because no one would believe you.


(1) Nothing was said about political system, the post was about the general tendency of society and a person's place in it as a social animal. The Nazi's, The Khmer Rouge, the happy happy unicorn lover's nation, doesn't really matter, the basic interaction of human to human and the participating in the survival of the species in group is the point. It was a post based from a socio-biological base, not a political one. the beauty of arguments like that is that they describe human behavior not logic.

Also if I were talking about a political system, the morality of the system was not in the original question. It still stands that people within the system no matter how corrupt are still people with the same basic needs to trust one another for their core social wellbeing. The overarching political ideology of a nation has little to do with the day to day personal interaction of its people. If a person's lie upheld the Nazi political system but still provided inner stability to that system, then the liar and his/her peers would still be living in a more stable social setting.

(2) The post had no mention of intent. It had mention of the result. Aside from this most of us have an ingrained knowledge of what is an acceptable lie in our social system and what is not. It is built into the larger cultural system. If a lie or an option for a lie is built into the system, it cannot really be immoral as the lie is expected. Again see number one for "system"

(3) Again the rationality of a system and the practice of its participants are not the same thing. We believe people because we want to, even when we know they are lying in many cases it does not make us distrust them on a fundamental level. We distrust people when their actions, words, lies etc... hurt us and ours or do perceptable damage or threaten to do perceptable damage to the social system. Say you have a fundamentally good child that you catch in a small lie, you really don't distrust that child because of the lie, s/he may get punished for continuity's sake, but your fundamental attitude is unchanged.
 
Kroni
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 05:05 pm
@Kroni,
Honesty is considered one of the necessities for human society. Like Kennethamy said, if there was no rule against lying then nothing anyone said would have any meaning, therefore there would be no meaningful social interaction. But is lying an absolute wrong, or is it wrong prima facie? If a woman asks you if she looks fat, does it provide any good, directly or indirectly, by telling her yes? You could argue that even though it hurts her feelings, it still reinforces honesty which is something she will need even more in the long run. Or you could argue that in these types of situations, people don't necessarily want the truth, but instead want a compliment. It would not be all that unreasonable. If you have a very negative image of yourself you don't need that image to be reinforced. Perhaps a positive lie is what that person really needed to gain a little confidence.
 
GoshisDead
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 05:40 pm
@Kroni,
Kroni, why is honesty a necessity for human society? wouldn't it be more accurate to say that trust is the necessity? Honesty although an idealic virtue, is not the strict practice of even the most trustworthy of people. We trust people to act in a way that experience, biology, and living in a society has conditioned us. exactly what are we being honest about? And exactly who or what is our honest intention for?

There are several sets of percieved truths one could be honest about in the "does my butt look fat in these jeans?" question. If in fact she looks fat and I am being honest about my opinion, that is one type of honesty. If my experience has told me that she doesn't really want my opinion, it is also honest to answer that she doesn't look fat, because she is not really asking me if she looks fat, she is asking me to reassure her that she doesn't. By answering that she looks fat when she's really asking me to reassure her that she doesn't I am betraying a trust that she has in me and in the social system that we both have been conditioned to maintain.

It would also be wrong, I think, to say that her asking one question while meaning another is dishonest or decieveing or even illogical. She has been conditioned as well to hedge insecurities, as well as to not blatantly fish for compliments. Most of us with any social/relationship skill at all have learned to interpret these sorts of hedges for what they are. Therefore I'd say it would be disengenuous/illogical for the a person to answer by calling her fat and it would not in the long run teach her anything, except that whoever she is asking the fat question to is either socially incompetent, or just an ass.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 05:50 pm
@Kroni,
Kroni;101621 wrote:
Honesty is considered one of the necessities for human society. Like Kennethamy said, if there was no rule against lying then nothing anyone said would have any meaning, therefore there would be no meaningful social interaction. But is lying an absolute wrong, or is it wrong prima facie? If a woman asks you if she looks fat, does it provide any good, directly or indirectly, by telling her yes? You could argue that even though it hurts her feelings, it still reinforces honesty which is something she will need even more in the long run. Or you could argue that in these types of situations, people don't necessarily want the truth, but instead want a compliment. It would not be all that unreasonable. If you have a very negative image of yourself you don't need that image to be reinforced. Perhaps a positive lie is what that person really needed to gain a little confidence.


But isn't the point that a short-term small gain, by lying, will cause a long term great loss, by undermining truthfulness. How long will women believe you when you tell them they do not look fat (when you know they do) if everybody keeps lying in such situations? So maybe honesty is the best (long-term) policy.
 
prothero
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 02:01 am
@Kroni,
If the Nazi's ask if you are hiding any Jewish citizens in your attic,
I do not think you are committing a moral transgression by lying.
One has to weight the consequences of telling the truth.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 07:26 am
@prothero,
prothero;101691 wrote:
If the Nazi's ask if you are hiding any Jewish citizens in your attic,
I do not think you are committing a moral transgression by lying.
One has to weight the consequences of telling the truth.


Kant weighed the consequences, and thought that we should not lie even for altruistic motives.
 
salima
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 07:33 am
@Kroni,
i would say that lying hurts the liar even more than society-and of course all individuals added up and hurting themselves hurt society. but the point is that when a person lies, they distort the truth in their own mind. they break down their own sense of integrity and sooner or later they will start telling lies to themselves and even believing them. at that point, they will not be able to judge who is lying to them and who is telling the truth. it may sound like a small thing because so many people do it-but it is serious.

i have noticed that the people who are the most angered by being lied to are those who tells lies-they are also the most suspicious, and the most gullible at the same time. their judgment is severely impaired.

so i would say for their own sake, it is best for everyone to always tell the truth. there are any number of ways to minimize hurting other people with the truth, which i also do not condone, as in the case of the 'do i look fat' question.

the only time i would say it is morally right, in fact imperative, to lie is in a case such as prothero produced, and only one that extreme. that is highly unlikely to happen to most people.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 09:51 am
@Kroni,
As I look at this question, what immediately comes to mind is Kant's categorical imperative. Would we be OK if everyone lied in some, most or all communications? So no, in a straightforward sense, lying isn't a moral act. By definition, it passes on false information to someone who, presumably, trusts that what spews forth from our pie-holes is reliable and in so doing betrays a trust we, ourselves, generally wouldn't be happy with. So no, it's not moral.

I also believe it can be justified - as can many acts which are otherwise immoral. This is spurious ground however. If I justify a lie, in my mind, I don't delude myself that it's therefore moral - that'd be inconsistent and hypocritical.

Such should be kept to an absolute minimum and done so only with full understanding of what's actually taking place.

.. my random thoughts
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 11:11 am
@Khethil,
Khethil;101764 wrote:
As I look at this question, what immediately comes to mind is Kant's categorical imperative. Would we be OK if everyone lied in some, most or all communications? So no, in a straightforward sense, lying isn't a moral act. By definition, it passes on false information to someone who, presumably, trusts that what spews forth from our pie-holes is reliable and in so doing betrays a trust we, ourselves, generally wouldn't be happy with. So no, it's not moral.

I also believe it can be justified - as can many acts which are otherwise immoral. This is spurious ground however. If I justify a lie, in my mind, I don't delude myself that it's therefore moral - that'd be inconsistent and hypocritical.

Such should be kept to an absolute minimum and done so only with full understanding of what's actually taking place.

.. my random thoughts


You may not be able to justify a lie, but be able to excuse a lie. Those are quite different. To excuse a lie is to admit the lie is wrong, but to try to show that in the circumstances it was understandable, and should carry no blame. What would it mean to justify what you admit was immoral? What kind of justification would that be? Not moral justification. I think you mean "excuse", and not "justify".
 
Pangloss
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 11:23 am
@Kroni,
So, as the old point made by Socrates goes, if your lunatic friend breaks out of the local asylum in a murderous rage and comes to you, asking where you've been storing his weapons while he was away, you don't have a moral imperative to lie to him?
 
Zetherin
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 11:31 am
@Pangloss,
Pangloss;101796 wrote:
So, as the old point made by Socrates goes, if your lunatic friend breaks out of the local asylum in a murderous rage and comes to you, asking where you've been storing his weapons while he was away, you don't have a moral imperative to lie to him?


Why would you lie to him? You give him the weapons. They're his after all, aren't they?

I'm no thief!
 
Kroni
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 01:31 pm
@GoshisDead,
GoshisDead;101628 wrote:
Kroni, why is honesty a necessity for human society? wouldn't it be more accurate to say that trust is the necessity?


Well, in order for there to be trust, there must be honesty. There are certain things that are without a doubt neccessary for society to exist. One is a prohibition on lying, prima facie. If it did not matter one way or the other whether you told the truth to someone, why would you take anything you hear from anyone seriously? This destroys the purpose of communication, which is what social constructs are based on. I suppose I'm using honesty and trust synonymously. You must have trust that those you communicate with will provide honesty, this is why people who frequently lie tend to lose friends. Even though some of the best people will lie at some point, I doubt they will use that to say that their lie was morally acceptable.
I agree that there are some circumstances where lying will provide the best outcome. (If a murderer is chasing your brother and asks you which direction he went, a lie could save your brother's life) But it seems that it is just the lesser of two evils, rather than a morally right thing to do.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 01:33 pm
@Pangloss,
Pangloss;101796 wrote:
So, as the old point made by Socrates goes, if your lunatic friend breaks out of the local asylum in a murderous rage and comes to you, asking where you've been storing his weapons while he was away, you don't have a moral imperative to lie to him?


It is certainly possible just to refuse to tell him, isn't it? I think that Socrates simply said you had no obligation to give him the weapons. (It wasn't about lying. It was about whether it is always right to return to someone what he owns. And Socrates offered this case as a counterexample to the principle that it is always right to return what a person owns).
 
 

 
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