The question is frequently posed to me, and though I am often vague with my answers, I usually air on the side of cautious honesty.  Is it ever ok to lie?

In this society, or rather our social construct, where almost all is left up to the individual’s interpretation, the line between virtue and vice seems less perceptible than ever before. At least in my experience, of something I have noted repeatedly and in my observation of people’s communication regarding the issue, I have come to my own conclusions. Albeit arrogantly, and with a sense of disdain for the tales that have been “made-up” in support of human hypocrisy, I am convinced that most people cannot discern between right and wrong, good and evil and least of all, true or false. Stories comprised of innumerable causes for our disregard for logic, abound; some invoke the most mundane psychological truisms, and others, which in their obscurity and significant anonymity, warrant their own merit.

To me nothing could be more simple and complex at the same time. And though I occasionally resort to contempt for the minds who can’t grasp it as well as I do, I find exulting pleasure in knowing that they are simply incapable.  Despite my most fervently “honest” efforts to elucidate my perspectives upon those who request an account of my familiarity with deception, I have so far, failed to convince the majority. Please note that this is not a reflection of my powers of persuasion, but rather, it points to a pervasive flaw in the human psyche, which is the innate ability to self-deceive.

Rationalizing, self-justification, and abnegation are all forms of self-deception and while being ubiquitous in the species, with useful functions as defense mechanisms; they can be the lowest forms of emotional and psychological regulation in which humans engage. I am appalled by people’s willingness to lie to themselves, and much more indignant at their ability to deny it, in the light of evidence. Concordantly, there are times when people must lie to themselves in order to manage the tremendous stress of dissonant experiences. And paradoxically – only on these grounds can such attitudinal cacophony be justified without trespassing into moral dishonesty.

Having dispensed with some of my animosity towards those who lie to themselves unnecessarily, I would like to reiterate that self-deception, like all other forms of the transgression are only truly reprehensible when committed consciously. Moreover, it is important for human beings to understand the difference between fact and pretense, if we are to halt suffering and come to an apposite understanding of our core. Deep, honest introspection is necessary to accomplish the endeavour of self-discovery. Nevertheless, the reservation infringes on the moral responsibility of honesty with our neighbors and kin, and the potential philosophical disharmony inherent in such a question. Is it then, ever, ok to lie?

This subject and the possible results of its examination threaten to further erode the already unkempt, human moral landscape – a condition I attribute to the misunderstanding of moral source. Although, this is a complex issue in itself, and I will not attempt to present my thoughts about it here; I once again appeal to your intellect to consider the expectation of recompense, intrinsic in most human action.

The question takes me through the spectrum of human emotion and psychology, to the darkest, recesses of the human “heart” where hypocrisy and insincerity duel. Yes it is! There are times when it is perfectly ok to tell a lie, and given the precise circumstances, expected of the noble being.  The mistreated principle of compassion should make this clear, and when I surrender to its affect on my intellect, I am reminded of my previous conclusions, which perhaps due to my own ignorance, seems inexorable.  To be able to fight for the truth, to defend it against the incongruence of human honesty, one must understand it and know it; one must respect it.

The question I have often posed to myself is: How can a species, whose balance and order depend on contrive knowledge and self-deception, ever know when it is ok to lie to or to tell the truth?

… the wise thing is to train [yourself] to lie thoughtfully, 
judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie
 for others’ advantage, and not [y]our own; to lie healingly, 
charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie
 gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly,
 frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with
 pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of [y]our high calling.    

Samuel Clemens

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Comment by ichbindaswortistich on March 27, 2012 at 6:16am
Although it is a bit difficult to follow your train of thought because it unsystematically involves – nay, mixes – a purely emotionally charged pessimism about human nature with both scientific research results and a philosophic question, I shall try to answer you.

Yes, there are cases in which it is not only permissable, but ethically obligatory to lie. In order to see why, let us engage in a little thought experiment. Imagine that one day, A comes to your house and requests you to allow her to hide at your home, since B wants to kill her. Imagine further, then, that after a while the very B comes to your house and asks you whether you knew where A were. If it were categorically, that is to say, under any conceivable circumstances, ethically obligatory not to lie, you would be required to reveal to B that A hides at your home from him. Since this would enable B to kill A, and, under the assumed circumstances, killing is worse than lying, it is, on the contrary, ethically obligatory to lie so as to prevent killing; quod erat demonstrandum.

Needless to say, we could construe cases and circumstances in or under which the conclusion would be a different one. The basic idea should be clear, however.
I am not certain, though, that you were looking for this kind of answer, or rather one relating to less hypothetical and more real-life based cases.
Comment by John R. on March 27, 2012 at 9:38am

I think your question goes to the "Objective Morality" question which I have ALWAYS had a problem with.  IMHO, morality is anything BUT "Objective." 

You stated, "I am convinced that most people cannot discern between right and wrong, good and evil and least of all, true or false..."  This implies that there is "right and wrong", "good and evil" "true or false."  Other than math, MOST things have an infinite "grey zone" making absolutes VERY dangerous.   This is what makes religion so horrible in my opinion, it's absolute assuredness that it is 100% correct!  Talk about self-deception.  Is it OK to lie?  This is a great question to discuss with a beer or two...  I heard a comic that stated very eloquently in my opinion, that the bible (and this question) can be boiled down to one simple sentence...  "Do you best to not be a dick!"  If everyone did that, the world would be a better place!  My $0.02


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