Is Lying Ever Acceptable?
|📌Published:||16 March 2021|
The ethics of lying are among one of the most debated and discussed topics in Philosophy. Philosophers are usually divided when it comes to their stance on lying, with some holding an utilitaristic view on the matter while others hold more deontological views. One thing for certain however is that lying is an unfavourable act in society's eyes. According to an article published by BBC, “Lying is probably one of the most common wrong acts that we carry out.” Many believe that lying is both morally and ethically wrong and should be avoided at all costs as it usually harms the person that is being lied to. This is justifiable and most of the time we see cases or even experience cases ourselves where a person has been harmed due to a lie. However, lying is not always necessarily a “bad thing.” Lying is acceptable in cases where the principle to “do no harm” comes into play.
In our society, there are lies we tell in order to give people happiness. We see this usually with children. For example, we commonly tell our children that figures such as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are real, however, this is not the case. They are lies that we tell them. Still, we have a good reason to do so as they come from a place of love. If we were to tell the truth about these fictional characters to our children at a young age during their childhood, then I believe that we would be doing more harm than good for them. Children’s emotions tend to be jumbled at a young age and the impact that the truth would cause could be upsetting. The holidays would not be the same for the rest of their childhood. The joy of Santa Claus would disappear and children could be left feeling “empty.” This makes lying in this case justifiable as you are telling a lie for the sake of maintaining happiness in your children; your intention is to evidently, not cause any harm.
Lying is acceptable where you want to protect a loved one from harm. A quite personal case of this acceptable lie is when my grandfather was sick. When my mom was visiting him at his nursing home, my grandfather asked “How is work going for you”? With my grandfather already being in a painful state, my mom told a lie, saying that work was going relatively well for her. This was false. My mom was struggling with her job at the time and hated it all together, however, she fibbed. Her reasoning to lie was arguably justifiable; she did not want to cause my grandfather more pain than he already was in. If he knew that my mom was hurting then he would have been crushed. Some would argue that this is still a morally wrong thing to do, a notable example being the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant argues that “There is a perfect duty to tell the truth, we must never lie, even if it seems that lying would bring about better consequences than telling the truth.” Kant believes that no matter the outcome of telling the truth, even if it is bad, we still have an obligation to tell the truth. I disagree with his stance; I believe it would have been morally wrong for my mother to tell my grandfather the truth. It would have caused him suffering, which, to me, goes against the basics of morality (to not inflict harm on another person). My mom in this case was, therefore, lying with good intentions and doing so based on the moral code; she lied to protect him from the harmful realities of the truth.
Many lies that we tell are what's known as “merciful lies.” We frequently see situations in the medical field where this form of lying is utilized. When patients who have been suffering from illnesses pass away, their families may ask their doctor “Did they suffer?”. The doctor would not say in return, “Yes, they suffered immensely,” which in truth, they would have if they were suffering with an unbearable illness. They instead lie and say to the families “No, they went peacefully.” The act of lying in this case is okay as the truth would have caused a dreadful result from the family of the victim. The doctors cannot see themselves being capable of inflicting that kind of psychological pain on somebody. If they were to tell the truth to the family, then they would evidently be saying that the patient was in agony until their last breath; nobody would want to hear that. An article published by West Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer states that “Almost all doctors tell lies in some form of the word. Most lie to give hope where it otherwise wouldn’t exist” This further explains how in some cases, doctors lie to protect families who are already suffering; they can't see themselves telling the truth as they know it would cause harm. Telling merciful lies such as in this case are excusable as they are doing more good than harm by giving the family a sense of peace and telling them what they want to hear.
To conclude, lying can be justifiable when there is an intent to not cause harm. Lying for the sake of perceiving happiness in our children, lying to protect a family member from pain and lying in the medical field to protect from the unbearable truth are all cases where I believe the act of lying can be excused. The outcomes that the truth can have in these situations can be too exhausting for the person telling the lie to endure, as well as for the person being lied to. Therefore, sometimes it is better to lie to avoid the consequences that the harsh truth can have on a person.