Hello, late in writing coursework ? Don't worry I know who can help you !Trusted Academic Service
O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
Lying is probably one of the most common wrong acts that we carry out (one researcher has said 'lying is an unavoidable part of human nature'), so it's worth spending time thinking about it.
Most people would say that lying is always wrong, except when there's a good reason for it - which means that it's not always wrong!
But even people who think lying is always wrong have a problem. Consider the case where telling a lie would mean that 10 other lies would not be told. If 10 lies are worse than 1 lie then it would seem to be a good thing to tell the first lie, but if lying is always wrong then it's wrong to tell the first lie.
Nobody who writes about lying nowadays can do so without acknowledging an enormous debt to this groundbreaking book: Lying: Moral choice in public and private life. by Sisela Bok, 1978.
Lying is a form of deception, but not all forms of deception are lies.
Lying is giving some information while believing it to be untrue, intending to deceive by doing so.
There are some features that people think are part of lying but aren't actually necessary:
This definition says that what makes a lie a lie is that the liar intends to deceive (or at least to mislead) the person they are lying to. It says nothing about whether the information given is true or false.
This definition covers ordinary cases of lying and these two odd cases as well:
Some philosophers believe that lying requires a statement of some sort; they say that the liar must actually speak or write or gesture.
Sisella Bok, author of a major philosophical book on the subject of lying, defines a lie as:
an intentionally deceptive message in the form of a statement
Others stretch the definition to include doing nothing in response to a question, knowing that this will deceive the questioner.
Others include 'living a lie'; those cases where someone behaves in a way that misleads the rest of us as to their true nature.
There are many reasons why people think lying is wrong; which ones resonate best with you will depend on the way you think about ethics.
Lies obviously hurt the person who is lied to (most of the time), but they can also hurt the liar, and society in general.
The person who is lied to suffers if they don't find out because:
The person who is lied to suffers if they do find out because:
Those who tell 'good lies' don't generally suffer these consequences - although they may do so on some occasions.
The philosopher Sissela Bok put forward a process for testing whether a lie could be justified. She calls it the test of publicity:
The test of publicity asks which lies, if any, would survive the appeal for justification to reasonable persons.
Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, 1978
If we were to apply this test as a thought experiment we would bring together a panel of everyone affected by a particular lie - the liar, those lied to and everyone who might be affected by the lie.
We would then put forward all our arguments for telling a particular lie and then ask that 'jury' of relevant and reasonable persons if telling this lie was justified.
This sort of test is most useful when considering what we might call 'public' lying - when an institution is considering just how much truth to tell about a project - perhaps a medical experiment, or a proposed war, or an environmental development.
One executive observed to this writer that a useful test for the justifiability of an action that he was uncertain about was to imagine what the press would write afterwards if they discovered what he had done and compared it to what he had said in advance.
In most cases of personal small scale lying there is no opportunity to do anything more than consult our own conscience - but we should remember that our conscience is usually rather biased in our favour.
A good way of helping our conscience is to ask how we would feel if we were on the receiving end of the lie. It's certainly not foolproof, but it may be helpful.
Bok sets out some factors that should be considered when contemplating a lie:
Different theories of ethics approach lying in different ways. In grossly over-simplified terms, those who follow consequentialist theories are concerned with the consequences of lying and if telling a lie would lead to a better result than telling the truth, they will argue that it is good to tell the lie. They would ask:
‘Would telling the truth or telling a lie bring about the better consequences?’
In contrast, a dutybased ethicist would argue that, even if lying has the better consequences, it is still morally wrong to lie.
Consequentialists assess the rightness or wrongness of doing something by looking at the consequences caused by that act. So if telling a particular lie produces a better result than not telling it, then telling it would be a good thing to do. And if telling a particular lie produces a worse result than not telling it, telling it would be a bad thing to do.
This has a certain commonsense appeal, but it's also quite impractical since it requires a person to work out in advance the likely good and bad consequences of the lie they are about to tell and balance the good against the bad. This is hard to do, because:
So most Utilitarian thinkers don't apply it on a case by case basis but use the theory to come up with some general principles -- perhaps along the lines of:
This is an example of 'rule-utilitarianism'; considering every single action separately is 'act-Utilitarianism'.
These two forms of Utilitarianism could lead to different results: An act-Utilitarian might say that telling a lie in a particular case did lead to the best results for everyone involved and for society as a whole, while a rule-Utilitarian might argue that since lying made society a less happy place, it was wrong to tell lies, even in this particular case.
Deontologists base their moral thinking on general universal laws, and not on the results of particular acts. (The word comes from from the Greek word deon. meaning duty.)
An act is therefore either a right or a wrong act, regardless of whether it produces good or bad consequences.
Deontologists don't always agree on how we arrive at 'moral laws', or on what such laws are, but one generally accepted moral law is 'do not tell lies'.
And if that is the law then lying is always wrong - even if telling the truth would produce far better consequences: so if I lie to a terrorist death squad about the whereabouts of the people that they’re hunting, and so save their lives, I have in fact done wrong, because I broke the rule that says lying is wrong.
Most of us would accept that an unbreakable rule against lying would be unworkable, but a more sophisticated rule (perhaps one with a list of exceptions) might be something we could live with.
Virtue ethics looks at what good (virtuous) people do. If honesty is a virtue in the particular system involved, then lying is a bad thing.
The difficulty with this approach comes when a virtuous person tells a lie as a result of another virtue (compassion perhaps). The solution might be to consider what an ideal person would have done in the particular circumstances.
Some philosophers, most famously the German Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), believed that that lying was always wrong.
He based this on his general principle that we should treat each human being as an end in itself, and never as a mere means.
Lying to someone is not treating them as an end in themselves, but merely as a means for the liar to get what they want.
Kant also taught 'Act so that the maxim of thy will can always at the same time hold good as a principle of universal legislation.' This roughly means that something is only good if it could become a universal law.
If there was a universal law that it was generally OK to tell lies then life would rapidly become very difficult as everyone would feel free to lie or tell the truth as they chose, it would be impossible to take any statement seriously without corroboration, and society would collapse.
Every liar says the opposite of what he thinks in his heart, with purpose to deceive.
Christian theologian St. Augustine (354-430) taught that lying was always wrong, but accepted that this would be very difficult to live up to and that in real life people needed a get-out clause.
Augustine believed that some lies could be pardoned, and that there were in fact occasions when lying would be the right thing to do.
He grouped lies into 8 classes, depending on how difficult it was to pardon them. Here's his list, with the least forgivable lies at the top:
Thomas Aquinas also thought that all lies were wrong, but that there was a hierarchy of lies and those at the bottom could be forgiven. His list was:
The reason for lying that gets most sympathy from people is lying because something terrible will happen if you don't lie. Examples include lying to protect a murderer's intended victim and lying to save oneself from death or serious injury.
These lies are thought less bad than other lies because they prevent a greater harm occurring; they are basically like other actions of justified self-defence or defence of an innocent victim.
The reasons why we think lies in such situations are acceptable are:
Since such lies are often told in emergencies, another justification is that the person telling the lie often has not time to think of any alternative course of action.
Threatening situations don't just occur as emergencies; there can be long-term threat situations where lying will give a person a greater chance of survival. In the Gulag or in concentration camps prisoners can gain an advantage by lying about their abilities, the misbehaviour of fellow-prisoners, whether they've been fed, and so on. In a famine lying about whether you have any food hidden away may be vital for the survival of your family.
When two countries are at war, the obligation to tell the truth is thought to be heavily reduced and deliberate deception is generally accepted as part of the way each side will try to send its opponent in the wrong direction, or fool the enemy into not taking particular actions.
In the same way each side accepts that there will be spies and that spies will lie under interrogation (this acceptance of spying doesn't benefit the individual spies much, as they are usually shot at the end of the day).
There are two main moral arguments for lying to enemies:
This legalistic device divides a statement into two parts: the first part is misleading, the two parts together are true - however only the first part is said aloud, the second part is a 'mental reservation'.
This device seems outrageous to the modern mind, but a few centuries ago it was much used.
One common occasion for mental reservations was in court, when a person had sworn an oath to tell the truth and expected God to punish them if they lied.
If they'd stolen some sheep on Tuesday they could safely tell the court "I did not steal those sheep" as long as they added in their mind "on Monday". Since God was believed to know every thought, God would hear the mental reservation as well as the public statement and therefore would not have been lied to.
Sissela Bok says that this device is recommended to doctors by one textbook. If a feverish patient, for example, asks what his temperature is, the doctor is advised to answer "your temperature is normal today" while making the mental reservation that it is normal for a person in the patient's precise physical condition.
The Dutch philosopher and lawyer Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) taught that a lie is not really wrong if the person being lied to has no right to the truth.
This stemmed from his idea that what made a wrong or unjust action wrong was that it violated someone else's rights. If someone has no right to the truth, their rights aren't violated if they're told a lie.
This argument would seem to teach that it's not an unethical lie to tell a mugger that you have no money (although it is a very unwise thing to do), and it is not an unethical lie to tell a death squad that you don't know where their potential victim is hiding.
In practice, most people would regard this as a very legalistic and 'small print' sort of argument and not think it much of a justification for telling lies, except in certain extreme cases that can probably be justified on other grounds.
If someone lies to you, are you entitled to lie to them in return? Has the liar lost the right to be told the truth? Human behaviour suggests that we do feel less obliged to be truthful to liars than to people who deal with us honestly.
Most moral philosophers would say that you are not justified in lying to another person because they have lied to you.
From an ethical point of view, the first thing is that a lie is still a lie - even if told to a liar.
Secondly, while the liar may be regarded as having lost the right to be told the truth, society as a whole still retains some sort of right that its members should use language truthfully.
But is it a pardonable lie? The old maxim 'two wrongs don't make a right' suggests that it isn't, and it's clear that even if the liar has lost their right to be told the truth, all the other reasons why lying is bad are still valid.
But there is a real change in the ethics of the situation; this is not that a lie to a liar is forgivable, but that the liar himself is not in a morally strong position to complain about being lied to.
But - and it's a big 'but' - even this probably only applies in a particular context - if I tell you lies about the number of children I have, that doesn't entitle you to lie to me about the time of the next train to London, although it would make it very hard for me to complain if you were to lie to me about the number of children in your family.
Nor does it justify lying to someone because you know they are an habitual liar - once again all the other arguments against lying are still valid.
There are cases where two people (or groups of people) willingly engage in a mutual deception, because they think it will benefit them. Sisela Bok puts it like this:
Such deception can resemble a game where both partners know the rules and play by them. It resembles, then, a pact of sorts, whereby what each can do, what each gains by the arrangement, is clearly understood.
Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, 1978
An example of this is a negotiation in which both parties will lie to each other ('that's my best price', 'I'll have to leave it then') in a way that everyone involved understands.
If both parties know that the liar's statement is NOT intended to be taken as a definitive and important statement of the truth then it may not count as a sinful lie, because there's no intention to deceive.
There are many cases where no reasonable person expects what is said to them to be genuinely truthful.
It's not always easy to see the difference between these statements and white lies.
Incidentally the Ethics web team disagreed amongst themselves as to the status of lies that don't deceive - your thoughts are very welcome.
A white lie is a lie that is not intended to harm the person being lied to - indeed it's often intended to benefit them by making them feel good, or preventing their feelings being hurt.
For example, I go to a dinner party and my hostess asks how I like the dish she's prepared. The true answer happens to be 'I think it tastes horrible' but if I say 'it's delicious' that's a white lie. Most people would approve of that white lie and would regard telling the truth as a bad thing to do. (But this lie does do some harm - the hostess may feel encouraged to make that dish again, and so future guests will have to suffer from it.)
White lies usually include most of these features:
White lies weaken the general presumption that lying is wrong and may make it easier for a person to tell lies that are intended to harm someone, or may make it easier to avoid telling truths that need to be told - for example, when giving a performance evaluation it is more comfortable not to tell someone that their work is sub-standard.
Health professionals have to reconcile the general presumption against telling lies with these other principles of medical ethics. While healthcare professionals are as concerned to tell the truth as any other group of people, there are cases where the principles of medical ethics can conflict with the presumption against lying.
Telling the truth is not an explicitly stated principle of most systems of medical ethics, but it is clearly implied by the principle of respect for autonomy - if a patient is lied to, they can't make a reasoned and informed choice, because they don't have the information they need to do so.
Respect for patient autonomy is particularly important in the case of people who are terminally ill, as they are likely to be particularly vulnerable to manipulation of the truth.
So why might healthcare professionals want to lie 'for the good of patients', and what are the arguments against this sort of lying?
Healthcare professionals must tell the truth and make sure that the patient understands it properly when they are obtaining the patient's consent to a procedure or treatment.
If the patient is not told the truth they cannot give 'informed consent' to the proposed course of action.
A patient can only give informed consent if they know such things as the truth about their illness, what form the treatment will take, how it will benefit them, the probabilities of the possible outcomes, what they will experience during and after the treatment, the risks and side-effects, and the qualifications and track-record of those involved in the treatment.
There is also evidence that patients do better after treatment if they have a full understanding of both the treatment and the illness, and have been allowed to take some participation and control of the course of their treatment.