14 December 2015

Are lies justified?

NT Times has a sad article about lying, The author, a professor of philosophy, poses 10 cases in which he believes that lying is justified.

I am inclined to agree with a few of them. For rexample, #6 is, "In November of 1962, during the Cuban Missile crisis, President Kennedy gave a conference. When asked whether he had discussed any matters other than Cuban missiles with the Soviets he absolutely denied it. In fact, he had promised that the United States would remove missiles from Turkey." I don't know what else was going on, so I am inclined to let him off the hook. Still, I think that the President could have said, "I won't discuss matters of national security."

For most of the list of 10 dilemmas in the article, a little thought provides a truthful alternative. For example, "9. I am negotiating for a car with a salesperson. He asks me what the maximum I am prepared to pay is. I say $15,000. It is actually $20,000." Why not just say, "I would like to pay around $15,000"?

But the article is sad for what it implies about lying, that lying is now part of our culture, that lying is acceptable. I so wish this to be false!  I don't want to live in a nation of liars. What about the tobacco companies lying about the dangers of smoking, or the oil producers' elaborate misinformation about climate change, or Volkswagen's deception about their cars' pollution? What of those Nigerian phishing emails we get, promising us 50% of $1.2 billion? The ads that tempt our vanity, "try this one weird old trick to lose 30 pounds in a week"?  Donald Trump's statements about immigrant rapists and a fantasy two-thousand-mile-long wall to keep them out? Or shall we become a society of lies like Russia?

Prof. Dworkin! How about an article that helps people finesse their ways through complex situations with integrity?  How about a set of brain teasers, "Here are some ethical dilemmas, now find the honest way through them"?  Can you give us reasons to speak the truth, not reasons to lie?

Think about what you want from your grocer, from your employer, from your family, from your friends. You want them to be straight with you, to be honest with you, to deal with you in genuine fairness. The only way we as a society can have this is if we all choose to be honest ourselves.

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