The New Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a lie as an untrue statement with intent to deceive (1989). Lying is the act of telling a lie, and is defined by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology as “intentionally (trying) to mislead someone” (DePaulo et. al, 1998 p. 63). Furthermore, it violates the openness and authenticity that people value in their close relationships. In addition, social interactions where lies were told were found to be less pleasant and less intimate than those in which no lies were told (DePaulo et. al., 1996).
In “Lying in Everyday Life,” authors argue that lying is often seen and or described as a selfish act, and that lies are often told to benefit the self rather than benefit others. They conclude that people lie to get jobs, promotions, raises, good grades, and better commissions. In support of that, lies are also told in order to gain psychological rewards such as esteem, affection, and respect. Some social interaction theorists believe that lies of everyday life are told to avoid tension and conflict and to minimize hurt feelings and ill will. They also believe that when people lie about their feelings, preferences and opinions, they are likely to receive a positive response rather than a negative one.
Lying is a part of social life. Surprisingly, day-to-day lying is of minor cognitive or emotional significance to the liars themselves, even though in general, lying is somewhat of a condemned behavior in western society. In a study conducted by DePaulo and Kashy people reported telling one lie in every five of their social interactions, and college students reported telling three lies per interaction (1998). “In both groups, the participants were about twice as likely to tell lies that benefited themselves in some ways (self-centered lies) than to tell lies that benefited others (other-oriented, or altruistic, lies)” (DePaulo et. al., 1998 p.63).
However, even though lying has become a common part of life, which most have come to accept, Sissela Bok notes that lying (deceit) is a form of deliberate assault on human beings, which can coerce people into acting against their will (1999). She argues that lying distorts information and our situation as we perceive it, as well as our choices. Bok quotes Hartmann in that a lie “injures the deceived person in his life” (1999, p.19). According to Bok, lying (deceit) takes on two different perspectives: (1) the perspective of the deceived, and (2) the perspective of the liar (1999).
The perspective of the deceived is that following the deceit they are left with feelings of resentment, disappointment, suspicion, and left wary of all deception. It is shared by all those who feel the consequences of a lie. Bok uses the following example: “When, for instance, the American public and world opinion were falsely led to believe that bombing in Cambodia had not begun, the Cambodians themselves bore the heaviest consequences, though they can hardly be said to have been deceived about the bombing itself” (1999, p.21). Bok believes that lying requires a reason, while truth-telling does not, and reasons must be produced to show why a particular lie is not mean and culpable (1999). In contrast, the perspective of the liar takes on a different twist from the latter. Oddly enough, liars do not like to be deceived as don’t their counterparts. It is okay for them to lie, but insistent that others practice honesty. Bok calls this a “free-rider” status, having the benefits of lying without the risks of being lied to (1999). Liars use this “free-rider” status as an excuse to lie. It is often clear to people how lying can affect those who have been lied to, but often fail to understand that lying also affects the liar. If the liar is found out, his credibility and respect are damaged.
Moreover, lying has some of the same components as secret keeping. A secret is something that is kept intentionally hidden, set apart in the mind of its keeper as requiring concealment (Bok, 1989). Psychology Today examined secret keeping and said that it is more difficult to keep secrets than imagined. People must constantly monitor what they do and say, especially in the presence of those from whom they are keeping the secret. Secrecy also requires the suppression of thoughts about that secret. All of the work and effort involved in keeping secrets can take a biological toll. A study showed that the greater the concealment, the higher the rates of disease and death (Anderson, 2003).
The Ethics of Lying…
The question in debate is whether or not one should lie. Is it right or not? Is lying acceptable in certain situations? Immanuel Kant argues that lying is morally wrong. According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, Kant also argues that “all persons are born with an “intrinsic worth” that he called human dignity.
Mazur notes that lying is morally wrong for two reasons: (1) lying corrupts the most important quality of being human: the ability to make free, rational choices, (2) lying robs others of their freedom to choose rationally. When lying leads people to decide other than they would had they known the truth, their human dignity and autonomy have been harmed. Furthermore, Kant believed that to value ourselves and others as ends instead of means, we have perfect duties to avoid damaging, interfering with, or misusing the ability to make free decisions (1993).
However, utilitarians base their reasoning on the claim that actions, including lying, are morally acceptable when the resulting consequences maximize benefit or minimize harm. A lie is not always immoral. When lying is necessary to maximize benefit or minimize harm, it may be immoral not to lie.
I think that lying is a very important issue which should always be addressed seriously. Lying takes place everyday, by all kinds of people, especially successful ones. It has become habit to some, and second nature to others. Just like with anything there are always two sides of a coin, or better yet, two sides of a story. However, from my perspective lying is an immoral behavior which should not be condoned, unless the justification exceeds the means. People often don’t realize the severity of a little white lie and how many little white lies can turn into a perpetual cycle of lying affecting the liar and the ones lied to. Moreover, it could forever damage relationships, careers, and reputations. Lying is probably one of the biggest ethical dilemmas which currently exist. So the question still stands “to lie or not to lie?” my answer is this, “it depends.”
From Kant to Bok there are a number of ways one could analyze the dynamics and moral stances of lying. All agree that lying is making an untrue statement with the intent to mislead. There is not a single way to look at the issue of lying. Some believe that doing the right thing means not lying ever, despite valid justifications possibly involving one’s life. Others believe that it is okay to lie given sound reasoning, or for the better good of people. There is a happy medium, which is the position I choose to take on the issue. I agree with both the Kantian view as well as the Utilitarian view…it just depends on the situation.
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