Are lies ever acceptable?

Even for a good intention?

Philosopher's reply

Dear John,

Yes, sometimes lying is morally acceptable. Some things are more important than truth-telling, at least in certain circumstances. When the only way to prevent a great harm is to lie, it seems fetishistic to tell the truth.

That said, it isn’t clear if lying is ever acceptable because of good intentions. When lying seems permitted; it seems like there will always be other factors that explain why – e.g. lives will be saved. And when there are just good intentions – e.g., when you think the lie is worth it but you’re wrong – having good intentions doesn’t seem to make it ok.

Thanks for the question!
Errol Lord

Philosopher's profile

Errol Lord

University of Pennsylvania, USA

Murdoch is a beacon for work in moral philosophy that embraces rather than eschews the immense complexities of a real moral life. Her emphasis on the role of perception in moral life is important, and her willingness to embrace the mystery of contemporary existence rather than the artificial precision of analytic moral philosophy is a model we should all keep in mind.

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