Is Lying Immoral (Sinful, Illegal)?

Discussion in 'Human Science' started by coberst, Feb 28, 2009.

  1. coberst Registered Senior Member

    Is Lying Immoral (Sinful, Illegal)?

    I was raised in a Catholic family and went to Catholic schools and was taught by nuns that lying was a sin. To me and my fellow Catholic kids lying was the most serious sin we could imagine. We were taught that we had to “examine our conscience” before confession and to tell the priest of our sins in the confessional.

    How does a kid tell the difference between a “white lie” and a “sin lie” or any of the other forms of “lies” that we saw adults indulge in? Surly Mom and Dad did not lie! It was all a great puzzlement!

    The nuns taught us all about moral concepts; of course, they did not use such big words. I have later learned that the nuns taught us in accordance with a classical, also called objectivist, theory of categorical structure.

    “According to the classical or objectivist theory of categorical structure, there must be a set of necessary and sufficient conditions the possession of which alone makes a speech act a lie…As a Moral Law theorist and an absolutist, Alan Donagan defines the essential features of a lie as “any free linguistic utterance expressing something contrary to the speaker’s mind”.”

    Linda Coleman and Paul Kay have discovered facts that indicate that “the category of lie exhibits prototype effects; that is, there are certain central instances of speech acts that speakers easily and noncontroversial recognize as lies.”

    What are these prototype effects that Coleman and Kay speak of?

    Lie is a concept that displays a core structure surrounded by a “fuzzy” penumbra (fringe) of less clear-cut cases about which the speaker may be justifiably unsure as to their moral objectionability: such a penumbra might contain such things as mistakes, jokes, exaggerations, white lies, social lies, and over simplifications.

    Coleman and Kay found that these core cases that everyone could easily agree upon as being lies, i.e. those prototypical cases of clear-cut lies, fulfilled all three of the following conditions: 1) the speaker is confident that the statement is erroneous, 2) the speaker is intent upon deceiving the listener, and 3) the statement is in fact erroneous.

    The less prototypical instances of lying fulfilled one or two conditions but not all three. Furthermore, tests were run and it was discovered that subjects typically rated the conditions in order of “importance”: 1) being most important and 3) being the least important. Subjects seemed to agree on the relative weights given to the individual elements.

    We see here that lie does not follow the classical objectivist strict categorization. A fixed set of essential conditions do not exist and there is considerable internal structure to the concept that are of a great deal of importance in determining whether a statement qualifies as a lie or not.

    Quotes from Moral Imagination by Mark Johnson
  2. dixonmassey Valued Senior Member

    Lying is unavoidable. Lying makes coexistence (and making a living for that matter) possible. One can lie without lying, news coverages are great examples :)
  3. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    If the nuns went about telling you lying was a sin, they were lying. If they told you gods existed, they were lying. If the nuns told you the priest could help you, they were lying.

    A lie is still a lie, no matter what color you attach to it.
  4. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Everybody lies - House MD

    Sometimes by omission.
  5. (Q) Encephaloid Martini Valued Senior Member

    And some, much more than others.
  6. weed_eater_guy It ain't broke, don't fix it! Registered Senior Member

    I'm sure it's the motive behind the lie that makes lying a sin, and even then the distinction between "good" and "bad" is seperated by a fat, fuzzy grey area.

    I can see being intentionally dishonest and manipulative to gain via the hinderance of others to be a sin, though, and probably why such a concept as "lying is a sin" exists in the first place. More of a guideline perhaps?
  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    The motive is a slippery slope too since justification is defined by the one who is telling the lie.
  8. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    Lying is no more immoral, in the abstract, than "firing a gun." Lying has the potential to be immoral depending on the circumstances, but in the abstract there is no reason to ascribe a moral position to it. You may lie to hurt someone for no reason, just as you may fire a gun to do the same, and that would be immoral.

    That said, my ethics are consequentialist in nature. Yours may not be. Kant was very clear that if a man is hiding from a killer and that killer asks you if you know where that man is, that it would be unethical to lie, even knowing that the truth would lead to the hiding man's death. In pure Kantian ethics, the people who hid Anne Frank from the Nazis were wrong to do so, because it involved a lie.

    So opinions vary.
  9. coberst Registered Senior Member

    The purpose of this OP was to compare the nature of categorization in traditional objectivist thinking and the thinking that is recognized by new cognitive science theories.

    Traditional objectivist, one might call it positivist, thinking considers that the world is made up of things that fit neatly and completely within containers and that these categories express that which is necessary and sufficient for any object that fits into that category.

    SGCS (Second Generation Cognitive Science) has developed revolutionary new theories about the functioning of the mind. SGCS informs us that in many cases categories do not fit neatly into containers. Lying is one such category fits sloppily within containers. There exists fuzzy overlap and difficult things that must be considered.

    All this is to say that if SGCS is correct then we are all very far off base when we think of categories as always fitting neatly within containers.

    One has to read the OP and think about it a bit in order to get the idea. The idea is very important. Reading is fundamental.
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Motivation has as much to do with the morality of a lie as anything. If the purpose of a lie is to commit fraud--to manipulate another into doing something for your benefit that he is under no obligation to do otherwise--then it's evil.

    But lying--and manipulation--can be done out of kindness or for some other good purpose. Unfortunately the second-order effects of the deception may outweigh the good that is done.
  11. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    "The need to lie is because of the need to hide the truth"

    so maybe the question could be:

    Is forcing someone into hiding the truth illegal or a sin?

    If this is the case then we are all "sinners"

    Normally IMO people lie to each other because they feel that the receiver of the lie is incapable of dealing with the truth adequately so they bend the truth or outright lie to avoid conflict and still maintain their truth.

    The persons narrow mind set or lack of experience or lack of emotional maturity there for can force a person into continuously lying as an act of compassion toward self and the other.

    For example how often does a woman lie about the men she flirts with where she works because she has experienced her partners jealousy in the past. She is forced to deny her truth because of her partners mind set. [ btw all people flirt in some form as a generalised rule ]
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2009
  12. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    What pretty much everyone said. It depends on the motivation for the lie, and also the consequences of the lie.

    Lying to your girlfriend that no, those pale jeans don't make her ass look big? Nah.

    Lying to the police that your friend who murdered someone is innocent? Shit yes...that's immoral.
  13. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    Depends upon how much money you are willing to spend. ;)
  14. mikenostic Stop pretending you're smart! Registered Senior Member

    For once Q, I am in total agreement with you.

    Nothing good ever comes out of a lie, even with the best of intentions.
    While I'm no longer theistic, I do love some of their proverbs, like, 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'

    Even when person 1 lies to person 2 to save person 2's feelings, person 1 is not actually doing so to save person 2's feelings. They are doing it to save themselves from feeling bad for hurting person 2's feelings. They figure what person 2 doesn't know won't hurt them. I've had that done to me before and when I found out, I lost all respect for that person, as they were someone I knew.

    But unfortunately like dixon mentions above, lying is more or less unavoidable. Even if you try your damndest to avoid lying to relatives/friends/loved ones, you will still find yourself lying at work. And most people will lie for their relatives and friends anyway.
    It seems the perception of what is an acceptable lie and what is not varies as greatly as the types of lies themselves.
  15. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    I understand your feelings Mikenostic, but why tell the truth for the sake of integrity when all that comes out of it is hurting someone's feelings?

    Why not tell someone their shitty hairstyle looks ok? It's on their head not yours...
  16. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    The problem with lying is that it's become too easy and too acceptable. "Everyone does it!" is the age-old excuse for wrong-doing.

    Just look at this thread ...look how many people justify lying. Yet, those same people would probably scream bloody like hell if some political lie became public. And yet, they justify their OWN lies with hardly a thought.

    Baron Max
  17. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    There is a difference between withholding important information from the public, and telling someone their shitty hairdo in fact looks okay because you don't want to wound their feelings.
  18. Cortex_Colossum Banned Banned

    Morality is a man-made invention so we can immediately scrap it. Thus, we can allow for the mere act and balance of justice that is offset by lying. If the liar lies to benefit a group of people then he is lying for the life of others, a very necessary lie. Its necessity makes it just. In that case we can question the definition of what constitutes a lie. Who is to say what is moral and what is sinful? When does the line between lying and truth become blurred?
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2009
  19. mikenostic Stop pretending you're smart! Registered Senior Member

    I wasn't referring to something that trivial. I was talking more in the manner of dating (It's not you, it's me) and more important issues (like at work; why you didn't get a raise, why you didn't get the promotion, etc.). I know I'm expecting too much as people just don't grasp the concept very well.

    As for their shitty hairstyle. I wouldn't tell them it looked shitty but I would tell them that I liked it better longer/shorter, etc.
  20. Baron Max Registered Senior Member

    See? You're already making justifications for more lies. And if you can justify lies, why can't all of the other people in the world ....their OWN justifications that YOU might not agree with? See?

    Lying is the act of willfully, and usually maliciously, deceiving someone. "Deceiving"? How can that ever be considered moral?

    Let's say that a soldier lies (deceives) the enemy, the enemy soldiers fall into the trap and are captured. That's a good thing in war, right? Ahh, but the key to it is ....even while the lie apparently did some good, it was STILL immoral. See?

    You can lie to your spouse or lover all you want, but you know, and so does everyone else, that telling that lie was/is immoral. Plain and simple.

    Baron Max

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