University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Truth or Lie
Admit it: You’ve lied. You told your boss you were at home with the flu when really you are spending the day going shopping at the mall. You told your friend that she looked fabulous in that new polka dot dress she just bought. According to the free online dictionary, a lie is defined as a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood. There are several different reasons that a person might lie. For example, you might lie to keep yourself or a friend out of trouble, or even lie to impress others. Most of the time, whatever the lie may be, there is going to be serious consequences and effects to lying.
Lying begins early. By the age of 3, most children, know how to fib, and by 6, most lie a few times a day. People lie everyday to, in some way or another, keep themselves out of trouble. Many teenagers, for example, will lie to their parents about what their plans are for the night, whether they finished all their homework or not, or even how that expensive picture frame got broken while they were out of town. Furthermore, we will even lie to our significant others about who that man was that was texting your phone the other night, and even about how much money we spent at the grocery store.
Everyone has in some way has been associated with lying. But, when and in what ways does lying become a moral problem? Well, first let’s begin by establishing what it means to tell a lie. I believe a lie must have two components:
1. The statement must be false.
2. The speaker must know their statement is false.
I don’t think it would be appropriate to assign moral weight to something a person has no idea they’re doing. I also don’t think lying in itself is inherently wrong. However, I do believe that any moral problem associated with lying must come from what happens when you tell a lie to others.
Tiny Lies in Polite Conversation
Some lies told to others have no negative consequences that I can see. If anything, they have positive effects of streamlining interpersonal interactions. I consider these types of lies to be morally permissible. For example, have you ever been listening to someone telling a story about this person they know who did something heroic to save someone else’s life, and they get sidetracked by explaining how that some one was related to them? Maybe it was, “my cousin; well actually he’s my uncle’s friend’s neighbor.” Whether or not this person was really related to them or not, was not really of any interest to me. This is one of those lies that, in my opinion, don’t really matter.
Little White Lies
“White lies,” are defined as, “minor or unimportant lies, especially ones uttered in the interest of tact or politeness (freedictionary.com). These type of lies are usually told to make someone feel good, spare someone embarrassment, etc. For example, if your friend, who had just recently had a baby, asked you if you thought she looked fat in a dress she was wearing. Even though you think she could probably find something a little more flattering for her body, you instead tell her that she looks good. The vast majority of the time, white lies do more good than harm.
Lying in Important Situations
Next, there is the kind of situation where someone has requested information from you and obviously intends to make important decisions based off of that information. This is a situation where lying could result in a number of different consequences. Most importantly, your trust with that person could be lost.
An example of this sort of lying would be if your roommate had given you his portion of the electric bill, and you were to go pay it, but instead you went and spent it on something else. Then the next week when your electric turns off, due to your nonpayment, and your roommate verifies with you that you went and paid it, and you say yes. Overall, lies under this category I would consider to be morally bad/wrong.
Lying for the Greater Good
Lastly, these are the kind of lies a person tells in order to avoid something bad from happening, as a result of telling the truth. Withholding information from someone, such as a person who is asking whether or not your store has cameras or not, so that they can properly plan a robbery. I think that with the information I have presented, the moral costs that would be associated with a lie in cases like this one, are definitely outweighed by the moral good brought about by telling the lie.
Clearly, lying is an issue worth examining, as many people believe it is a bigger problem in today’s world than it has ever been. In comparison with Voirst’s essay, “The Truth About Lying,” I found that through a bunch of my research, that most people agree with Voirst’s view on lying. I too, agreed with most, if not all, of what she had presented in her essay. Like Voirst mentioned, if the lie does more good than harm, I don’t see the problem in telling the lie. Overall, I have come to the conclusion that lying isn’t always considered to be immoral. Just like most things, there is a time and place for telling lies.
Borghini, Andrea. “The Ethics of Lying.” Web
Boser, Ulrich. “We’re All Lying Liars: Why People Tell Lies, and Why White Lies Can Be OK.”
Web. 18 May 2009.
“Lying is Immoral.” Simply Philosophy. Web. 13 July 2012. Viorst, Judith. “The Truth About Lying.” Redbook magazine. March 1981.