Lying and philosophy: three approaches
Immanuel Kant treats lies in his short essay entitled On a supposed right to lie from Benevolent Motives, as a reaction to the text of Benjamin Constant (political reactions), which advocates a right to lie from mankind. Before discussing the Kantian argument, let’s summarize Constant’s argument:
“The moral principle that telling the truth is a duty, if taken as absolute and isolated, would make any society impossible […]. Telling the truth is a duty. What is a duty? The idea of duty is inseparable from rights: a duty which, in a being, is the rights of another. Where there are no rights, there is no homework. Telling the truth is a duty towards those who are entitled to the truth. But no man has a right to the truth that harms others. ”
Against Constant, Kant says that lying is always morally wrong, that lying is never right. This is based on a conception of subjectivity. Indeed, he argues that all people are born with an “intrinsic value” he calls human dignity. This dignity comes from the fact that humans are rational agents, capable of taking their own decisions independently.
Thus, according to Kant, lying is doubly wrong:
- Lying corrupts the moral capacity of human
- It prevents others to act rationally and freely, ie lie undermines the dignity of others.
The ethics of Kant is a moral formalism, leads straight to refute a lie. A second perspective, that of virtue ethics, also maintains that lying is morally wrong, but less stringent than Kant. Moralists virtue greater emphasis on the development of quality issues as their intentions or the fulfillment of a formal rule. According to them, honesty is a virtue to be cultivated because it is a foundation upon which man can support his moral development.
Utilitarianism and falsehood:
A third perspective, utilitarianism, lie or the truth must be judged by a calculation between advantages and disadvantages. In other words, if a lie to maximize the benefits of a situation, the utilitarian moral is lying, it would be even worse immoral not to lie. The weak point of utilitarian ethics is in estimating the consequences of lying, on which the individual may be wrong. But it is interesting to note that utilitarianism considers the lie is always possible as an option. For example, if the doctor to the patient lying on his chances of survival, thinking he will enjoy the remaining time, refers to the utilitarian logic.
Kant Quotes on lies:
– Because the night always lie to others: even if does not harm another man, it hurts humanity in general and it makes vain the source of law
– The truth is a formal duty of man towards each
– The opposite of truth is falsehood: when it is held for truth, it is called error
Click on this link to see all the Kant quotes
Quote by Stuart Mill:
It is a fact acknowledged by all moralists that same rule [the truth], as sacred as it is, may contain exceptions and – and this is the main – if, to preserve someone one (especially one other than yourself) an undeserved misfortune, should conceal a fact (eg information in a criminal or bad news to a person dangerously ill) and we could not do in denying the fact. But for the exception is not extended more than is necessary and the least weaken confidence in the truth, we must know how to recognize and, if possible, give limits
The truth was never included among the political virtues, and lies have always been regarded as a perfectly justified in political affairs
Quote by Diderot:
There is no example that the truth was not harmful for the present nor for the future.