Lies, Lying, and Deception – An Armchair Ethics Post
There are many things people dislike with being lied to close to the top of the list. Not only is it deceptive and deceiving, but it does not provide the information that is sought. That being what actually is the fact of the matter. Everyone wants to know not some falsehood, but the truth. There is value in the truth in that it is, as we understand it, factual. Is lying always a bad thing though? Must we always have and provide “the facts”? I would say in fact we do not and any question to know objective truth is not founded on any known right.
In this post, for simplicity I will merely refer to lies and not distinguish between lies, the act of lying, and deception, as they are all interrelated and no distinction is necessary to share my thoughts on the matter. Furthermore, we are not washing the statements made in this article by taking the term lies to mean white lies. Lies in this context are bold face untruths meant in many cases to obscure the facts.
So what might be one reason why it is permissible to lie? I think first and foremost it would be when a person, group, or government is confronting you and is being unjustly hostile. A clear example of this would be a lesbian couple in the 1960’s when such behaviour was illegal and would cause not only lack of work, but could potentially result in imprisonment, or in actuality for lesbians, result in admission to a mental asylum. We know now that it would be clearly permissible for both of those women to lie in order to conceal a harmless behaviour however at the time many thought it necessary to “out” these couples and demonize them with punishments. Those punishments had in many cases deep consequences. Examples such as this can be used for unjustly stigmatized groups from all era’s including in society today.
Thinking about the example above, it is clear then that lying is not wrong in all instances and that includes when the lie is used to cover up a crime as was homosexuality at the time. So if we can agree that it is acceptable to lie in order to avoid punishment from an unjust law or hostile person, group, government, then it seems even more acceptable when you have not broken the law and are merely deciding not to tell the truth. Outside of the legal system telling the truth is a “nice to do” but what about within the legal system. There are even a few measures for people not to oblige with the truth and offer an alternative which is to plead the fifth and remain silent. In most contexts, however, remaining silent is often seen as a sign of guilt. When you are not guilty, outside of the legal system, and only wish to be free to act as you please, a lie may serve to dismiss unwanted probing into the private sphere of someone’s life in a practical and harmless way when remaining silent is not viable option although would be preferred.
Another instance of when lying is acceptable is when there is no harm in telling a lie. We should not assume the absence of truth is negative and wrong. Not knowing whether a statement is true of false is not in itself wrong it’s simply being unsure. It itself is not bad, it merely is a state of knowledge. Furthermore, achieving a state of knowledge which is fact in all matters is far from necessary. There are instances when this state of unknowing is indeed wanted such as in the example already provided and many others. When no law has been broken in the act of lying, those who would pry themselves into a person’s private sphere to discover the truth that they have no objective right to and are unwanted, should be treated as criminals in this matter. A strangers desire to know, use of word desire used as there is no right to know, should never trump a citizen’s right to privacy. Caution should also be made with those who proclaim a right to know as I believe there is no justified foundation for such a claim. This lack of foundation may be due to how information is often used maliciously and the higher right to privacy. Lies that have been told to avoid malicious acts should never be said to be unethical and wrong. Our freedom and right to privacy allows for people to lie if they wish.