Have you told a lie today? Tell me about it!

No, I do not want to hear anyone’s confession. It is only that since I read yesterday’s article in the Independent about the science of lying, researched by Robert Feldman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, I do very much think about how much I have lied and how much those I am talking to have lied in the last 24 hours. If this question is bizarre for most people, it is even more so for a philosopher. We are interested in the TRUTH, not in how the truth is bended to fit our or anyone’s purpose. The article claims however that the latter is what we are doing constantly. We are using white lies to make our daily life smoother and often we even do so unintentionally and without being able to quickly control it. Even just making an affirmative sound about something we wholeheartedly do not believe is in essence telling a lie. The Ten Commandments forbid lying. But what do you do if, like Richard Dawkins, you claim that the Bible is lying? If you see it that way, the Ten Commandments are not really a good guide to go by and lying might not be a moral problem. However, many philosophers likewise have condemned lying by asserting that a lie undermines trust in people and society at large. Kant understood lying as never being morally admissible. On the other hand, there are situations in which lying, telling a fact with the clear intention to deceive, can be life saving. People who during WWII hid Jews were forced to lie on a daily basis and nobody would condemn this as a morally questionable act. I am sure it is easy to see the difference between lying and lying here. However, what are we supposed to do if it is true that we are telling lies without even meaning to do so? The answer should be that we learn to control ourselves and our actions and words because telling lies normally leads to telling more lies and to become entangled in a sort of spider’s web of lies. But still we have to decide in which situations a lie saves others and us. Morality and ethics are not about black-and-white decisions, as much as we sometimes wish it so. We still have to see the shades of grey and act accordingly.

Related Articles:
Recent Work on Free Will and Moral Responsibility
By Neil Levy and Michael McKenna, University of Melbourne, Florida State University
Vol.3, December 2008
Philosophy Compass

Recent Work on Kantian Maxims I: Established Approaches
By Rob Gerris, California State University, Northridge
Vol.5, March 2010
Philosophy Compass

Recent Work in Kantian Maxims II
By Rob Gressis, California State University, Northridge
Vol.5, March 2010
Philosophy Compass

Author: the medical philosopher

I am a philosopher of science with the main focus on philosophy of medicine. I write about evidence based medicine, medical research versus medical practice, ethics in medicine and why medicine needs to be patient centred and how we can achieve that.

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