Lies and the Vices of Self-Deception

Faith and Philosophy 15 (4):514-537 (1998)
Abstract
This essay applies to the morality of lying and other deception a sketch of a kind of virtues-based, input-driven, role-centered, patient-focused, ethical theory. Among the questions treated are: What is wrong with lying? Is it always and intrinsically immoral? Can it be correct, as some have vigorously maintained, that lying is morally wrong in some circumstances where other forms of deliberate dissimulation are not? If so, how can that be? And how can it be that lying to someone is immoral when other, harsher ways of treating her are permissible? The essay examines several responses to the first question, and suggests that lying violates morality as an excessive departure from the role-derived virtues of charity and justice: the liar wills another person the evil of false belief precisely in the proposition for which the speaker offers her assurance and takes special responsibility in asserting. So conceived, lying is an especially egregious form of treachery and degrading manipulation of another person. Appeal is then made to the gravity inherent in lying so conceived to suggest ways of answering the other questions which would support the traditional Augustinian claim that lying is inherently impermissible and ineligible in circumstances where other forms of deliberate deception may not be, and even in situations where violent attack may be permissible.At the end, a taxonomy of more and less rigorist positions of lying is offered. A tentative proposal is made that, while consistent with the traditional Augustinian rigorist position that Iving is always immoral, nevertheless has some features that may slightly soften that view’s practical application. The proposed view does this in a way similar to that in which allowing moral dilemmas may soften it, for allowing dilemmas means there may be cases where an act of a type always immoral may still be more eligible than any alternative. However, it is maintained that the view here proposed need not countenance genuine dilemmas
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