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Philosophy of Lying to Others

After lying for many years, on 18th January 2013, Lance Armstrong (7 times winner of Tour de France) admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs.

What is lying? It involves giving information you know is untrue for the purpose of misleading or deceiving someone or an organisation. Why do people lie? Some of the reasons why we lie are: to save one’s reputation; to try to salvage a situation; to minimise consequences of bad decisions or actions; due to a low self-esteem and psychological-related issues, such an unhappy childhood; to hide unacceptable behaviour or an embarrassment; and to exploit someone’s trust in order to achieve a selfish end.

Is there such a thing as lying for a good reason, like “White lie”, -- not intended to harm the person being lied to but instead to do the opposite, which is to make him/her feel good or save her/him from a forthcoming emotional catastrophe?

We all have heard about “big and small” lies, and that the former (e.g. case of L. Armstrong) is wrong but the latter is not. An example of a small lie is a parent telling his child that there’s no more chocolate when in fact there are some in the cupboard. Why doesn’t a parent say “You’ve enough and can’t have more because eating too much chocolate is not good for your health”?

A father had told me that he encourages his young children to believe in Santa Claus, and describes this as “postponed truth” and not lying.

How about hiding information? When one partner becomes secretive and nervous every time s/he gets calls or texts, s/he is hiding something, which is a cause for alarm because lies are more likely to come. People in love and trust each, such as married couples, share their correspondence and information with each other without worrying about who is texting or calling them. One lie after another establishes a pattern that is described as cheating -- if you are in this situation, get out while you can… s/he’ll do it again.

How about not answering or purposely avoiding a question? Isn’t this a strategy to avoid lying? For example, management ignores insecurity and low morale among staff caused by the rumour that their company will be taken over and there will be some retrenchments? Well, do your own research and start revising your CV.

Why is lying wrong? Because Why is lying wrong? Because the one being lied to loses trust; is deprived of her/his right to the truth thus can’t make an objective and fair decision; gets hurt or suffer from psychological or physical damage; or becomes very angry and seeks revenge. All these impact on individuals and the society, particularly in terms of health, social and welfare services, legal and criminal justice system, and general well-being of families (e.g. serious lying, such as in extra-marital affairs, destabilises or destroys family cohesion). It has also been observed that children who are exposed to the lying of a parent get conflicting messages and are more likely to lie, too.

Those being lied to should note that liars avoid mea culpa and are often defensive blaming and finding faults in you. You don’t have to be an expert to know that when there’s a gap between verbal expression and gesture, e.g. showing hesitation then touches a particular part of her/his face and refrains from looking at you in the eyes, it’s more likely that s/he is lying.

Meanwhile, the liar can get used to lying and loses his/her integrity. As well, as lying becomes a habit s/he will fail to understand the damage caused by this which can have wider consequences.

Before lying, we should ask ourselves if this would give better long-term results than telling the truth.

American naturalist and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), said “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth”. (From Being Intelligent Gifted)

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