12 votes

When can lying be a virtue?

  1. You're with your wife at a party. At your eyes, she looks absolutely stunning. But, with the years, she gained a lot of weight. She asks you: "Honey, does this dress makes me look fat?". And it does. It definitely does. Is lying virtuous in this situation?

  2. You're in a relationship. He's handsome, tender, caring and perfect. You feel a bundle of good feelings towards him, but you don't even know what "love" really is. You don't know the true nature of your sentiments, but you know they're strong and you don't wanna hurt his feelings. He asks if you love him. Saying no would be false. Saying yes would be false too. Is lying virtuous in this situation?

  3. A three-year-old is dying of cancer. He's only got a few days. He asks you if he's gonna live. You say "yes". Is lying virtuous in this situation?

  4. Your fellow soldier lost his legs and torso. He's bleeding through his mouth and high on morphine. He asks you if everything's gonna be okay. You say yes. Is lying virtuous in this situation?

  5. You've been married for 5 years and, after some problems, you decide to take a real break (not like Ross and Rachael). During this break, you have sex with several woman/men. You decide to resume the relationship, but you know your partner would not be able to deal with your sexual adventures. When he/she ask about it, you say you didn't see anyone in the time you were apart. Is lying virtuous in this situation?

  6. You know the project is dead. You also know that saying so will have absolutely no effect on its direction. Do you say the project is shit, or do you say it's got a shot just to save face? In that case, is there any virtue in telling the truth?

  7. You believe A is true, but you also know that declaring A right now will lead to unfavorable result C. Do you declare A right now, or do you wait to declare it when it will lead to favorable result D? This guy knows what I'm talking about...

25 comments

  1. [19]
    Akir
    Link
    Lying is never a virtue. The only social value it can possibly provide is the bliss of ignorance, and that isn't something you should be in charge of. But just to disect, let's take a look at your...

    Lying is never a virtue. The only social value it can possibly provide is the bliss of ignorance, and that isn't something you should be in charge of.

    But just to disect, let's take a look at your examples:

    You're with your wife at a party. At your eyes, she looks absolutely stunning. Be, with the years, she gained a lot of weight. She asks you: "Honey, does this dress makes me look fat?". And it does. It definitely does. Is lying virtuous in this situation?

    Is it not better to hear this from you instead of gossiping strangers? Use tact and be honest and she'll understand. She wouldn't be asking you if she didn't want an answer.

    You're in a relationship. He's handsome, tender, caring and perfect. You feel a bundle of good feelings towards him, but you don't even know what "love" really is. You don't know the true nature of your sentiments, but you know they're strong and you don't wanna hurt his feelings. He asks if you love him. Saying no would be false. Saying yes would be false too. Is lying virtuous in this situation?

    You don't have to say yes or no - give an honest answer of "I don't know". If you tell him you love him and you later figure out it wasn't love, he's going to go through so much more pain when you break up.

    A three-year-old is dying of cancer. He's only got a few days. He asks you if he's gonna live. You say "yes". Is lying virtuous in this situation?

    Is this a random kid? Then you don't know. You can simply assume he is going to live and nobody will judge you.

    Is this kid close to you? Then take the time to learn everything and explain everything to the kid. They won't understand much of it at first, so give them plenty of patience. Be there for them to help them cope. Help them live the best life they can.

    Your fellow soldier lost his legs and torso. He's bleeding through his mouth and high on morphine. He asks you if everything's gonna be okay. You say yes. Is lying virtuous in this situation?

    Once again, lying gets you nowhere here. The virtuous thing to do is to be there for him, not to give him empty platitudes.

    (Unless you mean he just lost his limbs and is imminently dying - but even then, it's empty platitudes. The guy probably understands he's going to die already. On the other hand, lying might actually provide comfort, in which case I would consider the good outweighs the bad considerably. It turns out moral relativism might just have something going for it. 😉)

    You've been married for 5 years and, after some problems, you decide to take a real break (not like Ross and Rachael). During this break, you have sex with several woman/men. You decide to resume the relationship, but you know your partner would not be able to deal with your sexual adventures. When he/she ask about it, you say you didn't see anyone in the time you were apart. Is lying virtuous in this situation?

    If you knew your partner would not have been OK with them, you shouldn't have hid them when you were getting back together. That's lying by omission. If you keep lying and get caught later on, they will still leave you, but this time because they can't count on you to be honest.

    You know the project is dead. You also know that saying so will have absolutely no effect on its direction. Do you say the project is shit, or do you say it's got a shot just to save face? In that case, is there any virtue in telling the truth?

    Nobody wins with this lie. Heck, if you do some analytics to prove to the bosses what a waste of time the project is, you might get a raise.

    9 votes
    1. [7]
      mrbig
      Link Parent
      Of course, it is. Let's say I'm captured by the Taliban and tortured to reveal the location of my fellow soldiers. In that situation, lying would be absolutely virtuous.

      Lying is never a virtue.

      Of course, it is. Let's say I'm captured by the Taliban and tortured to reveal the location of my fellow soldiers. In that situation, lying would be absolutely virtuous.

      8 votes
      1. [3]
        mundane_and_naive
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I don't see how lying is a virtue even in that case. The virtuous thing here is the guy is willing to lie to protect his comrade. He sacrifices the virtue of honesty in order to uphold the virtue...

        I don't see how lying is a virtue even in that case. The virtuous thing here is the guy is willing to lie to protect his comrade. He sacrifices the virtue of honesty in order to uphold the virtue of altruism. If we change this example into "I'm captured by the cops and interrogated to reveal the location of my cartel hideout", suddenly lying doesn't seem so virtuous anymore. The true arbiter of good in this example is the benefit of the act toward society as a whole, which is another consideration all together and says nothing about lying in and of itself.

        In general, I'd say lying provide short term benefits at the cost of long term ones. So it's a necessary evil, especially when other virtues are at stake, but we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that it isn't a vice and should always tell the truth whenever possible. In the context of the posted scenarios:

        1. At the party, no, she needs the confidence to mingle. Back at home, I'll tell her, so she can get another dress.
        2. Just say you're unsure, that you feel a bundle of good feelings towards him but you don't even know what "love" really is, that you don't know the true nature of your sentiments but you know they're strong and you don't wanna hurt his feelings. I mean, that sounds like a pretty legitimate sentiment to me, any decent person will understand.
        3. I'd say lie away. What you're doing is trading your personal righteousness for the happiness of a child, that's a worthwhile trade off. But again, necessary evil.
        4. Similar setup to 3, but the adult solder likely has more sophisticated emotional and moral compass. Deciding what to say in order to provide him the most peace of mind in his final hours would depend on what kind of person he is. If he value blissful ignorance, tell him a good story; if he value sincerity, tell him the truth.
        5. No. If you think what you did wasn't wrong, you should let your SO know where you stand. If you think it was wrong, you should question your commitment in the first place, in which case it's better to talk about it now so as not to prolong the inevitable.
        6. There's no virtue in not telling the truth here. The only reason this is even a concern is because you want to keep your paycheck, so weigh your pros and cons and decide accordingly. Again, it's a necessary evil, not righteousness.
        7. I don't know much about history and politics so I'm assuming you're talking about the time he lied about the US financial status in order to bring the US out of the Great Depression? If so then a) the livelihood of an entire nation is definitely a much greater concern; b) politicians are never the bright beacon of honesty anyway, in my mind they are all a-virtuous; c) we still learn about it today aren't we, so we could say the politicians deem it beneficial for society to know the truth in the end.
        5 votes
        1. mrbig
          Link Parent
          It seems to me that you're making several logical twists to support a premise that is ultimately false.

          It seems to me that you're making several logical twists to support a premise that is ultimately false.

          2 votes
        2. mrbig
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          Nope. I’m referring to the time Roosevelt had to pretend to be a pacifist to avoid losing a voice to advocate for entering WWII later on.

          Nope. I’m referring to the time Roosevelt had to pretend to be a pacifist to avoid losing a voice to advocate for entering WWII later on.

      2. [3]
        Akir
        Link Parent
        The virtue in this situation is not that you lied, but because you didn't tell them what they were looking for.

        The virtue in this situation is not that you lied, but because you didn't tell them what they were looking for.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          mrbig
          Link Parent
          And you did so by performing the speech act of lying.

          And you did so by performing the speech act of lying.

          5 votes
          1. Akir
            Link Parent
            You are talking about a branch of philosophy that I am unfamiliar with. But then again, I realize I made a contradictory statement about lies of omission. That is where I fall back on utilitarianism.

            You are talking about a branch of philosophy that I am unfamiliar with. But then again, I realize I made a contradictory statement about lies of omission. That is where I fall back on utilitarianism.

            4 votes
    2. somewaffles
      Link Parent
      I disagree with this entirely. You're not in charge of providing blissful ignorance but you're also not in charge of keeping everyone informed and then having to deal with the consequences of it....

      Lying is never a virtue. The only social value it can possibly provide is the bliss of ignorance, and that isn't something you should be in charge of.

      I disagree with this entirely. You're not in charge of providing blissful ignorance but you're also not in charge of keeping everyone informed and then having to deal with the consequences of it. A lot of your points make sense in a rational world filled with rational people, but that's not how it works in real relationships (romantic or otherwise.)

      Is it not better to hear this from you instead of gossiping strangers? Use tact and be honest and she'll understand. She wouldn't be asking you if she didn't want an answer.

      You don't have to say yes or no - give an honest answer of "I don't know". If you tell him you love him and you later figure out it wasn't love, he's going to go through so much more pain when you break up.

      If you knew your partner would not have been OK with them, you shouldn't have hid them when you were getting back together. That's lying by omission. If you keep lying and get caught later on, they will still leave you, but this time because they can't count on you to be honest.

      These all fall into a category in which anyone who has actually been in these experiences can attest to the net positive of a lie. While I agree a strong relationship should withstand blunt truths, these are harmless situations where a lie produces a night that isn't ruined because you had to "tell it like it is."

      Once again, lying gets you nowhere here. The virtuous thing to do is to be there for him, not to give him empty platitudes.

      (Unless you mean he just lost his limbs and is imminently dying - but even then, it's empty platitudes. The guy probably understands he's going to die already. On the other hand, lying might actually provide comfort, in which case I would consider the good outweighs the bad considerably. It turns out moral relativism might just have something going for it. 😉)

      Nobody wins with this lie. Heck, if you do some analytics to prove to the bosses what a waste of time the project is, you might get a raise.

      You're assumption that these people understand the ramifications of their situation is a huge logical leap. Humans like to hope even when there is no reason to. Why rip that away from someone so that you could be the logical one. What is the net positive of being the person to break the news. To the dead project scenario, is it your place to even be making those decisions? I currently am in a job where I COULD suggest that sort of thing, but I've also worked jobs where I'd be a giant asshole / looked down on for trying to derail a project. Plus in that situation, how do I know I am knowledgeable enough of the product/project/whatever to even comment?

      Point is, no one likes that guy (or girl) who constantly needs to be the light of rationality. I think it's useful but OP's question is an old one and for good reason. I don't think these scenarios were meant to exist in a vacuum, and that's what makes ethical philosophy fun, I guess.

      7 votes
    3. [10]
      mrbig
      Link Parent
      You clearly haven't been with many women, my friend.

      She wouldn't be asking you if she didn't want an answer.

      You clearly haven't been with many women, my friend.

      12 votes
      1. [9]
        Akir
        Link Parent
        Im not a woman, nor have I ever been in a relationship with one, but I think that stereotype is insulting. It's like you are calling them vain and unable to take criticism.

        Im not a woman, nor have I ever been in a relationship with one, but I think that stereotype is insulting. It's like you are calling them vain and unable to take criticism.

        7 votes
        1. [7]
          Micycle_the_Bichael
          Link Parent
          I won’t speak for all women, but neither my partner nor any woman I have dated or been friends with would side with you if they were on tildes. It’s not calling them vain or being unable to take...

          I won’t speak for all women, but neither my partner nor any woman I have dated or been friends with would side with you if they were on tildes.

          It’s not calling them vain or being unable to take criticism, it’s about not liking their partner saying hurtful things to them.

          8 votes
          1. pallas
            Link Parent
            To hopefully give a different perspective on this question: different people ask this type of question for different reasons. Some ask, expecting a positive answer, for reassurance and confidence,...

            To hopefully give a different perspective on this question: different people ask this type of question for different reasons. Some ask, expecting a positive answer, for reassurance and confidence, while others ask for an outside opinion that they can then act on. Answering either in the wrong way, I think, can be offensive.

            My wife and I both ask each other such questions for actual opinions, as does my mother, and would be offended if they were answered dishonestly. The point, for us, is to be able to have opinions on matters that are hard to judge by oneself given by someone whom we are comfortable with. If our hair isn't right, if clothes are unflattering, and so on, these are all matters that can be addressed, even at a party. Perhaps the problem is how the clothes move when one stands or sits. Perhaps moving with awareness of the problem can lessen its visibility. Or perhaps it's something that can actually be quickly changed. Giving a dishonest answer would risk exposure of the problems to others.

            Yet at the same time, I might suggest that this isn't necessarily the better way. We are perhaps are led to ask such questions from an excess of vanity, compared with someone who simply wants to feel better about themselves.

            5 votes
          2. [5]
            Akir
            Link Parent
            If you are saying hurtful things, then you are probably not communicating properly. Otherwise you have some relationship problems to work out. Keep in mind that this question is about her fashion...

            It’s not calling them vain or being unable to take criticism, it’s about not liking their partner saying hurtful things to them.

            If you are saying hurtful things, then you are probably not communicating properly. Otherwise you have some relationship problems to work out.

            Keep in mind that this question is about her fashion choice, not her body. The question implies she is already having issues with her body image, so if you call her fat you will demoralize her during a time of weakness. A much better answer is to tell her that she is not wearing a good look or to suggest something you would like to see her in.

            1. [4]
              Micycle_the_Bichael
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              Alright man, I'm dipping out of this. You clearly think you're right here and I think I'm right. As I always try to do when I get in an argument online, I went and asked members of group the...

              Alright man, I'm dipping out of this. You clearly think you're right here and I think I'm right. As I always try to do when I get in an argument online, I went and asked members of group the argument is about (in this case, female-presenting people) to read the link and both of our arguments and both my partner and the 3 women I asked agreed that they'd find your response hurtful. As with all moral arguments, there isn't a black and white answer and I'm sure we could find women who would agree with you. So far I'm batting 0/4 on finding them though.

              EDIT: I have removed a portion of my comment that misrepresented @Akir's stance. I accidentally attributed a comment from another user to them and it didn't represent Akir's actual views, which is unfair to them. Sorry to them for that.

              5 votes
              1. [3]
                Akir
                Link Parent
                If you don't want to argue with me about this specific point, that's fine. But you are misrepresenting my arguements as a whole. I never said that lying is unacceptable. I even threw out the...

                If you don't want to argue with me about this specific point, that's fine. But you are misrepresenting my arguements as a whole. I never said that lying is unacceptable. I even threw out the morality is relative in the very first post in this topic. I myself have lied many times in the past. My arguement is that it is never a virtue.

                To better explain, let's reexamine an earlier example by @mrbig in greater detail. Saving the lives of his comrades is absolutely virtuous. But the lying itself is not. But it is still overwhelmingly a better choice to lie in this situation because so much more good comes out of that decision.

                What you consider to be virtuous will depend on your personal sense of morality. But if you value honesty or integrity, lying can never be a virtue, as lying is a corruption of those principles.

                1 vote
                1. Micycle_the_Bichael
                  Link Parent
                  OK so I will come back and address one point: I am sorry. I misremembered your original comment and put another user's argument into your mouth by remembering them as one post. That is unfair. I...

                  OK so I will come back and address one point: I am sorry. I misremembered your original comment and put another user's argument into your mouth by remembering them as one post. That is unfair. I am going to go back and edit my previous comment to address this point.

                  4 votes
                2. mrbig
                  (edited )
                  Link Parent
                  The main justification for which lying can never be a virtue seems to be the fact that lying can never be a virtue. See the problem here?

                  The main justification for which lying can never be a virtue seems to be the fact that lying can never be a virtue. See the problem here?

                  2 votes
        2. mrbig
          Link Parent
          That is the product of experience, not prejudice. Regardless, I bet many men would behave the same way. I know I would.

          That is the product of experience, not prejudice.

          Regardless, I bet many men would behave the same way. I know I would.

          3 votes
  2. Silbern
    Link
    Plenty of situations. There's a Dr. House episode actually that explores this theme, where a normally nice guy develops a disease that forces him to yell out his thoughts that he normally...

    Plenty of situations. There's a Dr. House episode actually that explores this theme, where a normally nice guy develops a disease that forces him to yell out his thoughts that he normally concealed or lied about. Does that mean he was never a nice guy? Depends on your school of philosophy I guess, but I believe that a person is defined by their actions and words, not their internal feelings. I don't think the truth is always 100% virtuous because if telling it hurts someone, and the only downside is that you're not telling the truth, it strikes me as a little selfish.

    Lying is a tool just like fire - when used too liberally or not properly controlled, it can cause spectacular damage, but in moderation and in the right places, it keeps you going even in unpleasant situations and shields you from harm. It's neither inherently virtuous nor unvirtuous, it depends on the context.

    5 votes
  3. NeoTheFox
    Link
    No to all these. In relationships honesty and trust is key, and that means 1, 2 and 5 all you have to do is ask the question "Would I want my partner to lie to me if..." . If you think yes is a...

    No to all these. In relationships honesty and trust is key, and that means 1, 2 and 5 all you have to do is ask the question "Would I want my partner to lie to me if..." . If you think yes is a good answer to any of the three, well, maybe you and I are just incompatible.
    3 is the hardest one, since a child is not a real person yet, they are still developing and I am not even sure a 3 year old child would be able analyze anything. But you can dodge the question or brush it with something sugarcoated, just so the child wouldn't really understand it and wouldn't loose hope. The case 4 is much easier. You say yes, it's going to be fine, because fine here means his pain will stop. He is drugged, so I am assuming he is not receptive. But if he wouldn't be drugged the truth would be the best way to go - I would've liked to say my last words instead of hearing bullshit. Number 6 is the most bizzare one, because there is no context attached. What project? How would you possibly save face by digging yourself deeper into a pit? "Yeah, I said that project had a shot and it flopped" - is it better than "The project is shit, we have to cut losses as soon as possible" ?

    3 votes
  4. [4]
    mrbig
    Link
    I'm yet to meet a person who would want the truth in this case The problem here is the definition of what is actually love. Because of a linguistic imprecision, you might be telling a falsity...
    1. I'm yet to meet a person who would want the truth in this case

    2. The problem here is the definition of what is actually love. Because of a linguistic imprecision, you might be telling a falsity without knowing.

    3. This is not so black-and-white. If I'm on an actual break, I have a right to privacy. In this case, lying is a way to protect such privacy. Furthermore, omitting certain details of my previous involvements can be a valid strategy to keep the sanity of the relationship. Not everything must be said. If this means staying with the person love, I would (and I had) absolutely lie ("omit" would be a better word) in that situation. This obsession with the truth seem to be a WASP thing I take no part of.

    4. Suppose the project will definitely go down, taking several jobs with it. Saying so or not will have absolutely no result on the outcome. But it will change the public perception of yourself.

    1 vote
    1. [3]
      vivaria
      Link Parent
      I think you're setting up a false dilemma here with some of these scenarios. You don't only have "lie" or "tell the truth" at your disposal. 1., for example. I think I'd probably ask my partner...

      I think you're setting up a false dilemma here with some of these scenarios. You don't only have "lie" or "tell the truth" at your disposal.

      1., for example. I think I'd probably ask my partner more about their feelings? I image the conversation would pivot towards self-image and unrealistic/harmful beauty standards. What does it mean to them to look fat? How do they feel about themselves? Just... active listening, making sure they feel heard and comfortable, giving them a nonjudgmental space to voice their thoughts. Fostering trust in this way is super important to me in relationships. Having difficult conversations shouldn't be something to avoid!

      Hearing y'all say:

      She wouldn't be asking you if she didn't want an answer.
      You clearly haven't been with many women, my friend.

      Your relationships sound very different than my relationships!

      9 votes
      1. [2]
        mrbig
        Link Parent
        That is why I framed it in the middle of a party!

        1., for example. I think I'd probably ask my partner more about their feelings?

        That is why I framed it in the middle of a party!

        1. vivaria
          Link Parent
          Ah, missed that. I wouldn't even try to answer such a complex question in the middle of a party! That's not an appropriate place at all... I'd be pretty taken aback if my partner asked me that.

          Ah, missed that.

          I wouldn't even try to answer such a complex question in the middle of a party! That's not an appropriate place at all... I'd be pretty taken aback if my partner asked me that.

          2 votes