A Lie: Social and Philosophical Definiton of Lying
Someone could argue that from an early age, the parents, the school teachers and everyone who is being involved with children, advise them that lying is evil and they should not use it as a practice. However, is it always bad to lie? What if the circumstances are such that there is no other option rather than lying?
This assessment will analyze lying from a social and philosophical aspect. This assessment will start by giving the definition of lying. Given the definition of lying, a part of this essay will be dedicated in various opinions from philosophers in order to prove that it is not always bad to lie as under certain circumstances lying is justified.
In order to understand why someone lies or use lies to deceive or persuade someone else we need to define it. Hence, a lie is a statement made by one who does not believe it with the intention that someone else shall be led to believe it. It could be argued that this definition leaves open the possibility that a person should be lying, even though he says what is, true. For instance, a man who does not know that his watch is one hour slow says, it is ten o’clock, thinking that it is nine, he gives what he thinks is the wrong time; but it happens to be the right time.
According to this definition there are three important parts of the lie. First of all, a lie is a statement, a proposition and an utterance. Secondly, a lie includes disbelief or a lack of belief on the part of the speaker and thirdly the latter two elements of a lie are obvious. This definition, also, implicates that in order for a lie to be justified, intention is needed. If the speaker does not intend to make someone believe what he or she himself/herself does not believe, he or she is not lying. At this point, it is crucial to define the meaning of intention. It could be said that by intention someone means that if someone lie he or she wish to make someone believe something – the same motive that so often prompts us to tell the truth.
However, an assertion, the content of which is made with the intention to deceive the hearer with regard to that content constitutes a lie according to Williams. Williams also adds that ‘‘it seems to me that in everyday use this is clearly its definition.’’ In my point of view, this definition is closer to everyday life; however, an elaboration is needed in how the liar intends his asserting to deceive the hearer. Therefore, lying is a form of intentional deception. More specifically, it may be said that the liar’s primary intention is to deceive as to some matter of fact and the liar aims to accomplish this deception by asserting what he believes to be false. A liar in order to succeed his or her aim, he or she tries to deceive as to this matter of fact by further deceiving as to his or her beliefs about it.
Before this assessment continue with the theories of lying, it is essential to clarify the types of it. Therefore, according to Vincent and Castelfranchi, a distinction between several types of the lying action should be done in order to name an action as lying. Thus, pretending or faking, acting, lying, indirect lying, insinuation, reticence, half-truths, precondition or presupposition faking, deliberate ambiguity, pretending to lie, and pretending to act, or joke form ways of lying. The above types of lying, they may constitute instances of lying while saying the truth.
Having explained what constitute a lie and the different types of it, this assessment will continue by representing some theories in lying practice. To begin with, it is essential to mention the two key factors that constitute the basis of a lie. First, a deontological factor which means that in order to identify the ethicality of an action, specific universal rules must be followed and secondly a consequentialist factor, which means that the impact of an action is being reflected by the ethicality of an action.
A philosopher that he was known for his for his deontological theories was the German philosopher, Kant. His theory was based on the concept of rule-making. The main arguments in favour of this theory were two. First, if something is wrong according to rules, it is always wrong as the rules say it’s wrong and secondly, if you want to make sure it is not ‘wrong’ then you should change the rules. Furthermore, Kant named his main ideas for ethics ‘’categorical imperative’’ in which unconditional ideas that must be obeyed at all times were including. An example of this idea is that someone should not lie because it is intrinsically unethical to do so. According to Kant the human reason should be the foundation of an ethical conduct and not the subjective experience of a human. Furthermore, Kant argued that one should only act only according to a maxim whereby one can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. On the other hand, there is another theory, the utilitarianism. The argument in favour of this theory is that lying is just. Additionally, consequentialists believe an act like lying is ethnical or not based on its real-world impact. Hence, for utilitarianism, lying could be justified if it increases the sum of human happiness.
Another opinion about lying states that ‘lying is not always wrong.’ More specifically, a lie could be justified under certain circumstances. An act in so far as it is an act of lying is wrong, but it may not be wrong or wholly wrong or ‘really’ wrong, morally considered. It will be useful here to contrast such a tautological principle as ‘Lying is wrong’ with a nontautological principle like ‘One ought to contribute to the happiness of others’ and also with certain rather special tautological principles like ‘One ought to do what is right,’ ‘One ought to act ethically,’ ‘The greater good ought to be preferred to the lesser good.’ Because principles like ‘lying is wrong’ demand explication but no justification: the principle is a tautology; we have only to know what counts as a lie. But the nontautological principles demand justification.
In order to understand the above statements, let’s use the obvious example of someone who lied. It is clear that someone who lied, acted wrongly. However, the question that may arise, concerns the wrongful action of lying under specific circumstances? That is, how are we to judge in terms of a moral verdict that is not directed merely to lying or not lying but rather to right and wrong action?
Let’s assume that someone claims that lying is wrong, except to save a life. Now, this is to formulate a more comprehensive principle than ‘Lying is wrong’ and also a principle that is not a tautology. Such a principle will have to be justified, and the justification will seek to show that saving a life by lying is tantamount to preferring the greater good to the lesser good or ‘preferring the lesser evil to the greater evil. To summarize, the justification will drive us on to unconditional moral principles. And the intermediary principle, ‘Lying is wrong, except to save a life’ will not only require justification, but it will also be open to exception. It will, for instance, be perfectly possible to assert, ‘Saving a life by lying is not always right.’ There will, therefore, be no theoretical gain in advancing such intermediary moral principles. This sort of reconstruction serves to clarify the importance of insisting that lying is not always wrong.
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