Home The Logia Is it ever right to lie?

Is it ever right to lie?

by Gil Sanders

Is lying always wrong? Stated this way, yes, lying by definition is immoral. It’s like asking, “Is murder always wrong?” The better question to ask is, “Is killing always wrong?” and the answer is no, not always. So likewise, perhaps it is better to ask, “Is intentionally uttering falsehoods always wrong?” And the answer seems to obviously be no. I can utter falsehoods to Siri or my friends saying, “I’m a helicopter” but it would not be a lie. The debate then is over *what* counts as a lie. Some think that a lie only counts as such if and only if (i) one intentionally states a falsehood, and (ii) we have an obligation to the person to state the truth. Those who think it is permissible to “lie” to Nazis would deny that (ii) applies. Nazis do not deserve to know the truth, and we have no obligation to speak the truth to someone who intends to do evil. Therefore it is not a lie. But others disagree, arguing that a lie is just intentionally acting contrary to the end of communication, which is truth. Whether the person deserves to know is irrelevant. To the surprise of some, I stray from several prominent natural theorists because I am not convinced that stating falsehoods to Nazi’s is impermissible and thus a “lie.” But out of pragmatic caution, I would resort to broad deception (which both camps agree is not wrong) as far as I can instead. What counts as “contrary to the end of communication” though depends at least in part on the context and intention. I do find the appeals to intuition (or common sense) rather compelling, but not indefeasible. I’m open to it being defeated by some more fundamental, metaphysical truth but so far I am not convinced.

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Brian Forbes May 24, 2021 - 11:30 am

4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.)

6:25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

God spared and blessed Rahab for her “lie”.

One of the major prophets, maybe Isaiah, was told by the king to speak what he knew to be false. He did. Another prophet was called upon to prophesy, and he said what all the other prophets were saying (sarcastically?), and then the king asked for the truth. Started with the “lie” and ended with the truth.

There was a place where, I think it was Jesus, acted like he was going to continue walking, but he stayed when they begged him.


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