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The Morality Of Lying In Contrast To The Philosophies Of Kant

2329 words - 9 pages

The young girl gazes at you helplessly from within the tangled wreckage. You witnessed the crash – a massive truck careened into a minivan as it passed on the highway, killing the driver on impact, and virtually tearing the girl in half. Now she hangs from the car, held together by the seatbelt. Her nervous system critically damaged, she can’t feel much pain, but she knows that her situation is not optimal, to say the least. She is six years old – she probably doesn’t understand the concept of death. As you stare equally helplessly into her fear stricken eyes, the only words that you can muster are: “Don’t worry, everything will be okay.”
This is obviously a lie – there is absolutely no chance that the dying girl will indeed survive and have no cause for worry – but this lie contains ideas to sooth her fear, allowing a comparatively peaceful passage out of this life. Surely few would argue that the little girl did not deserve to be comforted, as the alternative seems somewhat heartless – “Why should I help you? You’re not worth my time, you’ll be dead in a minute.” Indeed, telling the truth, in this case, appears even less moral than the lie. There is, however, at least one who would disagree with this scenario: a certain Immanuel Kant, whose philosophy insists that lying is wrong in every circumstance. But despite Kant’s fervent belief, it is not hard to see how lying can be a beneficial, mutually advantageous, and in fact moral act that still consistently complies with Kant’s own moral imperatives.
Because Kant’s philosophy does not specifically define what a “lie” is, we are led to believe that speaking an untruth, no matter what the context, is strictly immoral. But speaking untruth does not necessitate the negative connotation that has become associated with the idea of lying. Omitting unintentional lying (i.e. expressing a misconception, or otherwise unwittingly speaking an untruth), deliberate lying takes many different forms. For this paper, it is necessary to distinguish several of those forms, which vary in severity. First, there is the simple white lie, which is defined as “a trivial lie that is told for diplomatic or well-intentioned reasons.” These are typically inconsequential responses made in an effort to preserve one’s feelings, such as in the cliché case of a spouse asking, “Do these jeans make me look fat?” They rarely have any lasting effect, and are, for this argument, considered moot. On the other side of the scale is the outright lie, also known as deception, which is “a sender intentionally trying to get someone to believe something that the sender knows to be false” (Gass & Seiter, 1999). These lies are the sort that have most often garnered scorn, as they are typically malevolent (or at the very least, selfish), and utilized to serve a personal end. We will see that this is not always the case, but for the sake of argument, the “outright lie” will begin as an evil. Lying, as a whole, is perceived negatively, because...

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