Not every liar is a deceiver. So does that mean lying can be right at times too? Are there situations in life where dishonesty can be justified on moral grounds? Can lies be also categorized under noble and good deeds? The ethics of lying is much more interesting than mere day-to-day life routines. And to be put it straight – some bear a lot of consequences in how we choose to think and act. Imagine someone lying to extract money from someone else. That’s surely immoral. But what about concocting stories to your little kid that Santa would arrive at Christmas? Or even something graver – when you have to lie to an aging parent about his or her spouse having left the world already, at least for the time being? Questions like these can bombard you with even more troubling aspects concerning lies.
The Significance Of Morality
To start with, it’s worth delving into exploring how right or wrong the act of lying has been. Over the ages, philosophers and even psychologists have considered ethics and morality of behavior. However, experimental research and studies have revealed great truths about the underlying psychology of our moral judgments. Kurt Gray, a notable psychologist, along with several others has shown us that we deem acts as immoral after sensing that a person who knew all along that lie would cause harm to someone else, still does the same.
From the standpoint of lying, we can certainly label that lie as an immoral act, since the person knowingly told a lie, and also the fact it inflicts harm that can be felt by the other person. How far the morality of the lie is justified is also best left to situations. Several disagreements have popped up over this, simply because there’s a lot of ambiguity about the degree to which the lie is capable to cause harm. Since we don’t consider all lies as harmful or immoral, the variability largely stems from the amount of harm the lie is likely to cause.
Broad Classification Of Lies
Deception researchers have proved differences in the several categories of lies. One of them is called ‘self-interested lie’, which is largely exploitative in nature. All liars who fall under this category engage in telling lies just because they have to gain or retain some advantage over others. An example would be when you lie about a job interview or your whereabouts to your spouse, to avoid some confrontation. Here, liars can be at a momentous advantage.
The next category is that of ‘other-oriented lie’, wherein a motivation lies underneath to protect or help others. With an altruistic intent, these lies are somewhat no so harmful. Examples would be what we say in colloquial terms- ‘white lies’. We often choose to compliment someone who had a haircut, even when he or she isn’t looking that great. Or let’s take another similar instance when a son wanted a new blazer for the birthday and parents sold their wristwatches to purchase the expensive clothing so that the little one can smile.
This category also contains paternalistic lies that people tell to help someone. Take the instance of a woman who knows that her husband will surely lose weight if he maintains his regular regime, but is somehow lackadaisical on the diet front. So she might choose to lie about all the cookies disappearing from the house when in reality she has hidden them!
Coming To Moral Decisions
Now whether the lies are morally permissible or not can best be decided after seeing that these fall into either of the two approaches- deontological perspectives or consequential perspectives. On the one hand, the deontological perspective opines that the morality of lying is present in the universal or inherent sensing of right or wrong about the act.
Contrasted to that is the consequential perspective that argues morality of the immorality of the lie is dependent upon the outcomes the lie brings along. So in that respect, some lies are good and some are bad.
If seen carefully, the deontological viewpoint considers self-interested lies as wrong, owing to our cultural values shaping it for the most part. However, the consequential perspective sees other-oriented lies as producing positive outputs. So it’s morally acceptable to tell lies, as long as it’s not harming anyone.