Is lying to someone wrong?

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Answered by: Marcus, An Expert in the Ethics and Issues of Morality Category
We lie to people all the time and it seems to be more and more acceptable as time goes on. Curiously enough, it would seem that these days, more and more people are keen to ask questions. It would make sense that the two are correlated. For example, Tom asks Bill "Why did you and Jenna break up?" If the truth was that Bill got caught having an affair, he would more likely mumble something about he and Jenna growing apart. Fifty years ago, Tom might have been out of line asking about that sort of thing. The lie Bill told was obviously told to preserve his reputation with Tom. A less audacious lie we can all relate to is the explanation of where babies come from. Of course, when a toddler asks about reproduction, we see nothing wrong about lying to someone to preserve their innocence, if that is the result. This begs the question: Is lying to someone wrong? More importantly, where is the line? What if you fib for a good or selfless reason?

To frame this properly, let us examine the terms "right" and "wrong." Popularity of a decision is often cited, so we will start with that. Note that populations can be divided over issues of morality. Same-sex marriage, the death penalty, and war all serve to show how an individual's moral compass can differ drastically from that of another. That is to say that what is wrong to one person could be considered right to another. Thus we arrive at the next question: Who are you asking? But this one is more easily answered. You are asking yourself. You are in control of your actions and the most pertinent set of rules for you to follow is your own. Morality is self defined, and a self-governed being is acts according to what it thinks is most pertinent, if indeed it thinks about it's own morality at all. Potentially doing something considered "wrong" is not at stake, but rather that others may disagree with you. Lifting the veil of "right" and "wrong" allows one to look at what truly matters to themselves, which is truly the only thing that guides us.

Consider the following: a house catches on fire, and the family runs for the front door. Before reaching it, however, the daughter wants to go back for her pet dog. The father quickly lies, saying that the dog is trapped and only the firefighters will be able to save him. The daughter persists, but the father pushes on, saying that if they stay behind, the firefighters will be looking for them and not the dog, but the truth is that the father could probably save the dog, but would rather not risk his life or his daughter's. Here we see a man lying to protect what is most valuable to him: him and his family. Though the daughter might be angry with him when or if she learns the truth, if the father really values her life more than anything else, he'll understand that her resentment is price to pay.

Consider this next scenario: Phillip had an affair with a woman, just like Bill, and upon being confronted by his wife, he lies and convinces her that he has been a loyal husband. Here we see yet again a man lying to protect what matters most important to him: his marriage. Though he maybe an undisciplined individual capable of destroying that which he loves, he is still looking out for his own interest. To those who know the truth, he is probably a despicable human being who does not deserve his good looks, but if he doesn't care about that, if he doesn't care about lying to his wife, if he only wants for her to think that he is the best husband there is, he has committed no crime in his mind. He sleeps at night feeling guilt-free.

Now the answer to the question is revealed. The answer is that there is no answer to a vague question about lying. The question can be more easily answered if it is phrased "Should I lie, considering the consequences of being caught, considering the consequences of burying this secret, and considering that which I cherish most." As long as you know what you want and can competently calculate worst case-scenarios, you will answer your own question every time.

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