Why truth needs moral investment to matter
The morality of lying and deception may depend on the conditions under which these acts occur, and on their motives, purposes, and consequences. An approach to the morality of lying and deception may therefore be to consider whether there are circumstances that mitigate the prima facie moral wrongness of acts that are intended to mislead or deceive people1 (although the liar may in some cases know that he has no hope of misleading or deceiving people, and he may in such cases merely hope to subvert the notion of truth).
The morality of lying may also depend on whether lying as an act of self-interest is able to reconcile itself with the interests of others. Another approach to the morality of lying may therefore be to consider whether the liar’s motives are predominantly egoistic or altruistic, and whether the act of lying produces harmony or disharmony between the liar’s self-interest and the interests of others.
According to deontological theory, lying is morally wrong if the liar has a duty or obligation to be truthful. Lying is not necessarily morally wrong if the liar does not have a duty or obligation to be truthful. The obligation to be truthful may apply to all, most, or only some situations.
According to consequentialist theory, lies that have harmful consequences may be judged as more morally wrong than lies that are harmless (if lies can be harmless). If lying has only good (or more good than bad) consequences in some cases, then it may be good (or more good than bad) in those cases. If it has only bad (or more bad than good) consequences in some cases, then it may be bad (or more bad than good) in those cases. If it has only bad (or more bad than good) consequences in all cases, then it is always bad (or more bad than good).
According to utilitarian theory, lying is good if it promotes a greater total amount of happiness (or the sum of the happiness experienced by the liar and the unhappiness experienced by his/her victims) than telling the truth. Lying is also good if it promotes a greater total amount of happiness for a greater number of people than telling the truth. The moral quality of lying is determined by the degree to which it promotes the greatest amount of pleasure or happiness for the greatest number of people.
According to pragmatic theory, lying is bad if it is unsuitable for the circumstances in which it occurs or if it hinders adaptation to the demands of experience. However, lying may in some cases be considered suitable for immediate circumstances and yet be unsuitable for less immediate or more distant circumstances. The supposed immediate or direct advantages of lying must be carefully weighed against the possible long-term or indirect disadvantages of lying. For the liar, the act of lying may initially seem to have desirable consequences and yet may later have undesirable consequences. According to pragmatic theory, if lying about one aspect of personal experience prevents the liar from getting into satisfactory relation with other aspects of personal experience, then this must also be considered in determining the moral value of lying.
A lie may be described as a statement that misrepresents, conceals, distorts, or suppresses the truth, and that is usually made for the purpose of deceiving someone. The act of lying is usually an act of intentionally trying to deceive someone by making a false statement or misrepresenting, concealing, or distorting the truth.
According to this description, a lie does not necessarily have to be a successful act of deception in order to be called a lie. Even if a liar knows that his act of lying will not deceive anyone, his act may still constitute an endorsement of falsity or an attempt to subvert the notion of truth.
The nature of the moral responsibility that a liar must bear for telling a lie may partly depend on whether, prior to telling that lie, he was aware, or should have been aware, of the possible consequences of telling that lie. The nature of his moral responsibility may also depend on whether he lied impulsively or deliberately. If he lied impulsively, then before he lied he may not have had sufficient opportunity to reflect on the possible consequences, and he may not have been as aware of the possible consequences as he would have been if he had lied deliberately.
A liar is a person who intentionally makes false statements, usually for the purpose of misleading or deceiving others. A liar may be a person who knowingly tells mistruths in order to deceive others into having false impressions of things. A liar may be fully aware that his statements or actions are false and deceptive, but he makes those statements or performs those actions because he has some purpose that can be fulfilled (or he perceives some advantage to be gained) by misleading or deceiving others. He may at the same time lie to himself about the nature and extent of his own lying.
A hypocrite may be described as a person who pretends to have qualities or virtues that he does not actually have or who pretends to have beliefs, attitudes, and principles to which he does not actually subscribe or remain faithful. A hypocrite may also in some cases be a liar. He may lie to himself as well as to others about the nature of his beliefs, attitudes, principles, values, and conduct. Hypocrisy may be a form of self-deception.
However, it may sometimes be difficult to know when one is lying to oneself and when one is being hypocritical. Hypocrisy may often be accompanied by reluctance or unwillingness to determine whether one’s actions are consistent with the values and principles that one has pledged oneself to uphold.
A person may in some cases deceive herself about whether she is lying. A person may not think of herself as a liar when in fact she is a liar. A person who does not initially intend to lie about something may, for a variety of reasons, still lie about that thing. On the other hand, a person who initially intends to lie about something may find that, for some reason, her beliefs or principles prevent her from lying about that thing.
A person who makes an unintentionally false statement may in some cases be perceived as a liar, even though she did not intend to deceive anyone. A person who is perceived as having some motive or reason for lying may be perceived as a liar, even though she may actually be telling the truth. A person whose nonverbal behavior arouses suspicion or mistrust may also be perceived as a liar, even though she may actually be telling the truth.
A person who thinks that, and acts as if, he is telling the whole truth about something may not actually know the whole truth about that thing, and thus he may be viewed as an untrustworthy and unreliable source of information by those who are aware of his incomplete knowledge of that thing. If he is actually aware that he does not know the whole truth and yet claims to know the whole truth, then he may be trying to deceive others about the extent of his knowledge, and he may in fact be lying. If it is not possible for a person to know the whole truth about something, then it might be mistaken for him to pretend that he knows the whole truth about that thing if he intends to mislead or deceive others into having false beliefs about that thing. Those who are aware of his incomplete knowledge of the truth may perceive him as a charlatan, confabulator, prevaricator, or liar.
There may in some cases be degrees of truth and falsehood about things. Statements that are true in most cases may not be true in all cases. Some statements may, for the most part, be true, while others may, for the most part, be false. There may also in some cases be half-truths about things, and half-lies about things.
A habitual liar may not always know whether the statements that he is making are actually true or false. Thus, he may accidentally tell the truth. Telling the truth may be intentional or unintentional, deliberate or accidental.
It may be argued that the rightness or wrongness of making a true or false statement about something may depend on the particular situation. If telling the truth in a particular situation is harmful to another person, then it may not necessarily be good to tell the truth in that situation.
In some cases, it may be morally wrong to tell the truth (for example, if telling the truth is harmful to another person). In some cases, lying may be excusable or morally justifiable (for example, if lying can protect another person from harm). If there is no value in telling the truth in a particular situation, then it may perhaps not be morally wrong to tell a lie in that situation (if telling a lie is not intrinsically wrong, or wrong regardless of the particular situation in which it occurs).