Is it ever OK to lie?

Background

Parents tell young children never to lie. However, as we grow up, it becomes less black and white. Governments lie to protect their citizens. People lie to protect their loved ones.

Many of the big name Western philosophers had stricter views: Augustine, Aquinas and Kant held that lying is always wrong, no matter the intent. Kant argued that you shouldn’t lie even in order to save someone’s life. That may seem too extreme, but it’s not easy to draw the line around when it’s acceptable to lie, especially given our capacity to be self-deceived about our true motives. We invite you to honestly consider the arguments on both sides.

Discussion Questions

1. The PRO side presents examples in which the benefits of lying would supposedly outweigh the costs. Can you think of additional examples from real life?

2. Think about a time you lied recently. (Or omitted to tell the truth.) Why did you do it? Looking back, do you still feel that you had a good reason to lie?

3. Think about a time when someone lied to you. Do you feel that they had a good reason? Why or why not?

4. The CON side says that it can be wrong to lie in someone else’s supposed best interest (AKA a “paternalistic” lie), since it can be wrong to assume that you know what is best for someone else. How persuasive do you find this, and why?

(For teaching resources to improve classroom discussions, check out our Teachers Pay Teachers page!)

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