Not every liar is a deceiver. So does that mean lying can be right at times too? Are there situations in life where you can justify dishonesty on moral grounds? Can we categorize them as noble and good deeds? The ethics of lying is much more interesting than mere day-to-day life routines. And to put it straight – some bear many 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 their spouse passing away, 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 the 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, and several others have shown us that we deem acts immorally 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 the fact it inflicts harm that the other person can feel. But the morality of the lie is something that only situations can justify. Several disagreements might pop up over this simply. And that is simply because there’s a lot of ambiguity about the degree to which the lie can cause harm. Since we don’t consider all lies 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 a ‘self-interested lie,’ which is largely exploitative. 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 noteworthy advantage.
The next category is ‘other-oriented lie,’ wherein a motivation lies underneath to protect or help others. With a charitable intent, these lies are somewhat not 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 they aren’t looking that great. Or let’s take another similar instance when a son wanted a new blazer for his birthday, and parents sold their wristwatches to purchase the expensive clothing so that the little one could 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 it is somehow lackadaisical on the diet front. So she might choose to lie about all the cookies disappearing from the house when she has hidden them in reality!
Coming To Moral Decisions
Whether the lies are morally permissible or not is a decision one can make only after seeing that these fall into either of the two approaches- deontological or consequential perspectives. On the other 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.
This is in contrast to that is the consequential perspective. It argues that the morality or immorality of the lie depends on the outcomes of the lie. So in that respect, some lies are good, and some are bad.
If seen carefully, the deontological viewpoint considers self-interested lies as wrong. However, this is owing to our cultural values which shape 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. But remember, it is fine as long as it is not hurting anyone or causing them any form of distress.