Liar Liar Pants On Fire

Disposed to or characterized by untruth

Lying, we all do it. No one on earth can say any different. So why do we lie? Who taught us how to lie? The answer is mind boggling but if the truth be known we taught ourselves.

We start lying as early as preschool. Of course, lying is not part of our parents’ curriculum like potty training or dressing ourselves but somehow by the time we enter school we know all about lying.

No one really knows how we developed the skill to lie. Television is the most likely suspect. We learn that lying can be used to avoid pain. We also learn that lying can bring pleasure. Young children test the water with little white lies. As parents we react with some level of punishment. So the child associates getting caught lying with pain. This doesn’t teach the child not to lie it teaches the child not to get caught.

“My child doesn’t lie”.
Well, you know that’s not exactly true and lying to ones self is also considered a lie. Believe it or not there are three studies on lying. All three considered lying morally and ethically wrong. However one supports the belief that a lie could be moral based on the consequence that follows.

Immanuel Kant said that lying is always morally wrong. He said all humans are borne with an intrinsic worth that he called dignity. He believed humans are uniquely rational and capable of freely making their own decisions, setting their own goals and guiding their conduct by reason. He also stated that we have the power of free choice; to be ethical is to respect the power of ones self towards others.

Lying corrupts the most important aspect of being human, the ability to make choices freely. Lying robs others of the freedom to choose rationally. In short, Kant believed that we should value ourselves and others as ends instead of means. We should avoid trying to damage or interfere others ablility to make free choices. In other words no lying

The second study aligns with the concept of Virtual Ethics. Virtual Ethics does not judge right or wrong rather it focuses on the development of character. Fairness is a virtual aspect allowing people to strive for or pursue a goal. To be virtuous is to be ethical.
The nature of virtual ethics makes it difficult to assess individual acts of immorality however those who advocate this theory still believe lying is wrong because it opposes the virtue of honesty.

For example a brother that lies to a sisters’ drunken husband is motivated by compassion for his sisters’ safety, is this right or wrong? This conflict between virtues is managed by most ethicists through a concept called the unity of virtues. This concept states that the virtuous person, the ideal person we strive to be, cannot achieve one virtue without achieving them all. Therefore when facing a conflict between virtues, like a passionate lie, our virtue ethics helps us to imagine what would the ideal person do and then act accordingly. Virtue ethics finds lying immoral when it’s a step away, not closer toward, the best person we could possibly be.

The final study is based on Utilitarian ethics which include tests necessary for judging the morality of a lie. Utilitarianism bases its reasoning on the claim that lying is morally acceptable when the results or consequences maximize benefit or minimize harm. Therefore a lie is not always immoral.

For example a Mother’s dying request to her son is to be buried with her money in the coffin. The son does not keep his promise and instead offers the money to a local charity. Although the son promised his mother while she was alive he knew he would not. So he lied to her on her death bed. Was this immoral?

The son knew the money would be wasted or possibly stolen and the local charity would be denied this generous offering. Utilitarianism supports the son’s decision to lie on the determination the greater good would be served. Altruistic or noble lies, which specifically intend to benefit someone else, can also be considered morally acceptable by utilitarians.

Clearly lying is alive a well in today’s society. Lies flourish in social uncertainty, when people no longer understand, or agree on, the rules governing their behavior toward one another." Maybe social uncertainty abounds because we are a mixture of Kantians, virtuists, and utilitarians who share no common ground.

Now, what if nobody lied, would your life be different? If no one ever lied to you and you never told a lie would you be where you are right now? Would you be richer or poorer? Would you be living somewhere different? Would you be married or single? How did lies affect your life so far? It’s interesting to think about.

The greatest question is; what if you made the choice never to lie again. What profound challenges and triumphs would be in your future?


Stephanie Faris February 28, 2010 at 12:02 PM  

I've heard the saying, "Politeness is the degree to which you censor your thoughts." So is censoring our thoughts lying? Is it a lie by omission? And if we ALWAYS told the total truth, wouldn't we be hurting many people as we went throughout our lives?

Autore February 28, 2010 at 12:46 PM  

As long as your thoughts stay your thoughts and you don't express them, no gain-no foul.

I guess you have to put yourself in one of the three categories. A utilitarian would think its not immoral to lie to someone as long as the outcome is good.

I've made decisions based on what someone has told me only to find out they were lying. I've also lied trying to convince someone to change their mind thinking I was protecting them in the long run.

Maybe that Mom should have told their child they are too fat and need to loose weight instead of telling them "its just baby fat."

Hurting someones feelings by telling them the truth just might be the catalyst that helps them turn a corner and lead them down a better path. Yes, at that moment they might be mad at you but they may thank you later on.

I was cursed with the ability to know when I'm being lied too. When people lie to you and you know it--it still hurts.

It's not the lie that hurts its the lack of trust.

I just found the subject interesting and wanted to share.