This is a question on which I have to write an essay. I haven’t started yet, but had been thinking about it while reading Sissela Bok’s book Lying.
I know we all tell white lies. I’m likely to tell someone “I’m fine” when I’m really feeling a little off. Mostly, it’s because I want to avoid a boring discussion of my health or I’m tired because I stayed up too late.
But other lies Bok writes about is are ones that we face that could have serious consequences. This includes whether or not doctors tell us the truth about our illness because they are afraid we don’t want to hear the bad news. What about protecting peers, clients or parishioners with confidentiality and secrecy? We hear lies regularly from our politicians with the excuse they’re for “the public good.” Right now it’s to win an election. Bok even discusses how exaggerated letters of recommendations fit into the discussion on lying. There are many other examples in her book about lying that could be mentioned. But I’ll let you read the book to learn more if you’re interested.
The main thing I’m getting out of Lying is that there are consequences that need to be taken into account. Lies can be harmful to the “duped” and to liar. According to Augustine, it’s the liar’s soul that will be harmed. But most likely, those that are lied to won’t trust the liar. Utilitarians, on the other hand, believe the end justifies the means and if that means lying so be it. In most of the situations she discusses, she has arguments on why the truth is better. People don’t want to be duped. We want the truth. We can make better decisions when we have the truth. We know we can work together better if we work with truthful, honest people.
The only thing negative about truth is blatant truth meant to harm someone. This I have problems with when it comes to being a virtue for its own sake.
I know I prefer truth and honesty. I have felt guilty and horrible whenever I was caught in a lie in the past and do everything I can to avoid them now. Do you think truth is a virtue for its own sake?