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Lying and Objectivism

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Ok, so I think I understand a good portion of Objectivism. I am trying my best to get it all to line up but it can at times be difficult. My question here pertains to lying. I completely agree with Rand on the idea that lying is not a good thing because then you are in service to someone else and lying to serve yourself doesn't work either because it would not line up with reason and logic which are absolutes. My question lies in lying to say save someones life: if a man had a gun to my head and said "Dave tell me where your wife is so I can kill her", would Rand say that because it is by forced the lie would be justified?

Thanks,

David C.

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Sure.

She didn't only write that lying is wrong because it implicitly puts one at service to others, through abnegation of one's mind, btw.

Rand also said "The only real moral crime that one man can commit against another is the attempt to create, by his words or actions, an inpression of the contradictory, the impossible, the irrational, and thus shake the concept of rationality in his victim."

So, immoral both ways.

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Ok, so I think I understand a good portion of Objectivism. I am trying my best to get it all to line up but it can at times be difficult. My question here pertains to lying. I completely agree with Rand on the idea that lying is not a good thing because then you are in service to someone else and lying to serve yourself doesn't work either because it would not line up with reason and logic which are absolutes. My question lies in lying to say save someones life: if a man had a gun to my head and said "Dave tell me where your wife is so I can kill her", would Rand say that because it is by forced the lie would be justified?

Thanks,

David C.

Yes, the lie would be justified. Since the would-be murderer has decided to deal with others on the basis of force (and not reason) you are permitted to retaliate in kind.

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whYNOT- your answer confused me a bit, so it would be just to lie in such a situation?

Thanks,

David C.

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As Rand would have said "All bets are off" when faced with force.

You can only be moral when you have alternative options to choose from, and know you can act freely towards your self interest - force eliminates those.

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I disagree with Doctor Peikoff when he writes that little white lies, are morally wrong, if a person is legitimately trying to NOT hurt another.

Peter

Honesty as an Objectivist virtue, from OPAR:

Conventional moralists usually regard honesty as a form of altruism. They regard it as the selfless renunciation of all the values one could have obtained by preying on the naiveté of one's fellows. Objectivism discards any such notion. In both its forms - honesty with oneself and to one's fellows - the present virtue, like every other, in an expression of egoism. Every virtue defines an aspect of the same complex achievement, the one on which man's survival depends: the achievement of remaining true to that which exists.

We can now deal summarily with the issue of "white lies." The ethical status of a lie is not affected by the identity of its intended beneficiary. A lie that undertakes to protect other men from the facts represents the same anti-reality principle as the con-man variety; it is just as immoral and just as impractical. A man does no service to his fellows by becoming their accomplice in blindness. Nor does he gain any moral credit thereby; an improper practice is not improved by attaching to it an altruistic justification. If anything, the latter merely compounds the evil. It removes the liar a step further from reality.

Is honesty then an absolute?

Just as particular objects must be evaluated in relation to moral principles, so moral principles themselves must be defined in relation to the facts that make them necessary. Moral principles are guides to life-sustaining action that apply within a certain framework of conditions. Like all scientific generalizations, therefore, moral principles are absolutes within their conditions. They are absolutes - contextually . . . A man is obliged to practice what he preaches - when he has the political freedom to do it. But he has no obligation to preach or practice any idea that would invite the attention, say, of the Gestapo or the IRS.

The same approach applies to the interpretation of honesty. The principle of honesty, the Objectivist view, is not a divine commandment or a categorical imperative. It does not state that lying is wrong "in itself'" and thus under all circumstances, even when a kidnapper asks where one's child is sleeping (the Kantians do interpret honesty this way). But one may not infer that honesty is therefore "situational," and that every lie must be judged "on its own merits," without reference to principle. This kind of alternative, which we hear everywhere, is false. It is another case of Intrinisicism vs. Subjectivism preempting the philosophical field.

Lying is absolutely wrong - under certain conditions. It is wrong when a man does it in the attempt to obtain a value. But, to take a different kind of case, lying to protect one's values from criminals is not wrong. If and when a man's honesty becomes a weapon that kidnappers or other wielders of force can use to harm him, then the normal context is reversed; his virtue would then become a means serving the ends of evil. In such a case, the victim has not only the right but also the obligation to lie and to do it proudly. The man who tells a lie in this context is not endorsing any anti-reality principle. On the contrary, he is now the representative of the good and the true; the kidnapper is the one at war with reality (with the requirements of man's life). Morally the con-man and the lying child-protector are opposites. The difference is the same as that between murder and self-defense.

There are other than criminals or dictators to whom it is moral to lie. For example, lying is necessary and proper in certain cases to protect one's privacy from snoopers. An analysis covering such detail belongs, however, in a treatise on ethics.

In discussing integrity, I said that to be good is to be good "all the time." I can be more precise now. To be good is to obey moral principles faithfully, without a moments exception, within the relevant context- which one must, therefore, know and keep in mind. Virtue does not consist in obeying concrete-bound rules ("Do not lie, do not kill, do not accept help from others, make money, honor your parents, etc.") No such rules can be

defended or consistently practiced; so people throw up their hands and flout all rules.

The proper approach is to recognize that virtues are broad abstractions, which one must apply to concrete situations by a process of thought. In the process, one must observe all the rules of correct epistemology, including definition by essentials and context-keeping.

This is the only way there is to know what is moral - or to be honest."

end quote

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Geez ... now we need to assign subscripts because Peter1 is addressing Peter2 ....

Unless this is a discussion within Peter1 within himself...

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Tony writes:As Rand would have said "All bets are off" when faced with force.
You reminded me of a scene from the comedy, "Snatch".637475182.gif?1344998106
You can only be moral when you have alternative options to choose from, and know you can act freely towards your self interest - force eliminates those.
That is very well put, Tony. Technically there is always a choice, but if one of them happens to be getting shot, it's usually ruled out. Thankfully in America, encountering outright force is a very rare situation.Greg

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Force is not always a gun, Greg. There, it's clear cut. That's where the absolute/contextual conundrum begins: For one, is it moral to lie when, say, you are up for a career promotion and in formal interview, are asked a question by your employer that you consider irrelevant, unethical or intrusive on your privacy? Would it be in your self-interest to reply "That's my business, not yours"- instead of lying?

Since self-interest is for the long haul, it may well be.

Taken one way, nothing but full disclosure is honesty. Would you agree there are lies of commission, and of omission?

If a man is being unfaithful to his wife, it would be deeply evasive and immoral of him to claim "Ah, but she never once asked me if I were having an affair - so I have never lied to her!" No, his dishonesty is implicit and worse than any lie.

But full disclosure could mean that you feel it incumbent to pass out all personal and financial details of your life to every stranger who asks you. Which would be a selfless act, betraying your core values.

Truth (reality) is absolute. An individual's life is absolute. His continuous and effortful growing knowledge is contextual and never complete. So his path is a solitary one nobody can ultimately assist him with. However, taking from Rand's statement, it must be the worst act (excepting brute force) which can be committed on another, to deliberately and maliciously falsify the truth to him, to even TRY to lead him astray, iow.

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Force and Fraud are kin. Fraud is an abstract form of force and precisely because it is often not visible and tangible it is the more dangerous instrument. Fraud is very nasty because it often turns a person's reason against him.

The the strife of human against human force is the concrete blunt instrument and fraud is ju-jitsu. You use the opponents own motion against him.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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That's very true as I understand you to mean "fraud", Bob. Synonymous with deceit or dishonesty which "turns a person's reason against him".

Only, I'm quite sure, in Objectivism, fraud has the specific, legal meaning of non-delivery of goods or services that have been paid for, or promised. Therefore, fraud is also explicit force.

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Force is not always a gun, Greg. There, it's clear cut. That's where the absolute/contextual conundrum begins: For one, is it moral to lie when, say, you are up for a career promotion and in formal interview, are asked a question by your employer that you consider irrelevant, unethical or intrusive on your privacy? Would it be in your self-interest to reply "That's my business, not yours"- instead of lying?

Since self-interest is for the long haul, it may well be.

That's why I'm self employed in my own business. I refuse to work for anyone who is unethical, and because I work for myself, I'm the one who chooses who I work for.

No one can force me to do anything unethical.

Taken one way, nothing but full disclosure is honesty. Would you agree there are lies of commission, and of omission?

Oh, yes, of course... and there are infinite gradations in the wrongness of lies as well.

If a man is being unfaithful to his wife, it would be deeply evasive and immoral of him to claim "Ah, but she never once asked me if I were having an affair - so I have never lied to her!" No, his dishonesty is implicit and worse than any lie.

Yes it is. And if a relationship sinks to that level it's, for all practical purposes, already null and void.

But full disclosure could mean that you feel it incumbent to pass out all personal and financial details of your life to every stranger who asks you. Which would be a selfless act, betraying your core values.

I follow the advice of Jesus. He said to be "as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove". Works for me. :smile:

Truth (reality) is absolute. An individual's life is absolute. His continuous and effortful growing knowledge is contextual and never complete. So his path is a solitary one nobody can ultimately assist him with. However, taking from Rand's statement, it must be the worst act (excepting brute force) which can be committed on another, to deliberately and maliciously falsify the truth to him, to even TRY to lead him astray, iow.

The foundation for all evil acts is to first believe a lie. So a person cannot successfully lie to you unless there is something within you which wants to believe that lie. Now this is an important personal discovery to make, for it immediately nullifies the lie of blaming (unjustly accusing) others for your own moral failure.

If someone lies to you and you know they are lying, then you know the truth about their lies. I love the movie line...

"In your lie I found my truth." :wink:

Greg

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Force is not always a gun, Greg. There, it's clear cut. That's where the absolute/contextual conundrum begins: For one, is it moral to lie when, say, you are up for a career promotion and in formal interview, are asked a question by your employer that you consider irrelevant, unethical or intrusive on your privacy? Would it be in your self-interest to reply "That's my business, not yours"- instead of lying?

Since self-interest is for the long haul, it may well be.

There are a number of issues here.

In the case of a criminal pointing a gun to your head, it is moral to lie because the criminal is using force. However, one does take a risk by lying --- the risk that the lie will be discovered before the problem can be overcome. So, even in this circumstance, one should be careful about lying.

In the case of a boss considering you for a promotion or a landlord deciding whether to rent to you, it is almost never in your self interest to lie. As you say, self-interest is for the long haul. If you lie in such a circumstance and are discovered later, you may suffer negative consequences. More fundamentally, if you violate the principle of being honest when no one is forcing you to do anything against your will and if you're doing it for personal gain, then what is to stop you from doing it again in the future? If the principle of honesty is thrown out the window, then the choice of when to be honest becomes a complex calculation of the odds of being caught, etc., which has a high likelihood of leading down hill to failure and suffering.

Taken one way, nothing but full disclosure is honesty. Would you agree there are lies of commission, and of omission?

If a man is being unfaithful to his wife, it would be deeply evasive and immoral of him to claim "Ah, but she never once asked me if I were having an affair - so I have never lied to her!" No, his dishonesty is implicit and worse than any lie.

But full disclosure could mean that you feel it incumbent to pass out all personal and financial details of your life to every stranger who asks you. Which would be a selfless act, betraying your core values.

Truth (reality) is absolute. An individual's life is absolute. His continuous and effortful growing knowledge is contextual and never complete. So his path is a solitary one nobody can ultimately assist him with. However, taking from Rand's statement, it must be the worst act (excepting brute force) which can be committed on another, to deliberately and maliciously falsify the truth to him, to even TRY to lead him astray, iow.

Being honest doesn't necessarily mean full disclosure. Cheating on one's spouse isn't necessarily dishonest and it's not really cheating either, it's breaking a promise. The promise is either explicit as made in one's marriage vows or implicit --- it is the promise of fidelity. Naturally, in the course of cheating a person is likely to end up lying. "Where were you?" "Oh, I was having a beer with my friends from work," or whatever. But, the primary sin of stepping out isn't the dishonesty, it's the act of having sex with someone other than your spouse --- it's the act of breaking the promise of fidelity to that person. Of course, if you never intended to keep the promise of fidelity, that would be incredibly dishonest.

In the case of the financial details of your life, there is no reason to tell people that have no business knowing. If a stranger asks you about your finances, you'd be perfectly justified in telling him to buzz off.

Darrell

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Darrell, do you believe that fidelity is only about sex? By definition, fidelity is about faithfulness demonstrated by loyalty and support with no mention of sex specifically. Depending on what you mean by "stepping out," even if no sexual acts occur, it could still be considered infidelity.

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Darrell, The *principle* (as opposed to a moral imperative or Commandment), is of commiting fully to a life of truth and truthfulness - by choice. Living by principle is a kind of personal culture, I'm sure you agree.

With that in mind, I don't believe a "principle" can be surrendered by one act of dishonesty.

Which is NOT to say the person has carte blanche to flout his principles according to a random given situation.. That's veering to the subjectivist side of the intrinsicist- subjectivist divide. The result or repercussions of a dishonest act, are on the individual's head - and require his self-judgment and a change in direction, to avoid in future.

Because there's little doubt about it, apart from the extreme and unlikely scenarios of guns and force, an individual usually permits this very situation - of deceit and dishonesty - to arise, by the compromises he's made (or his unawareness/evasiveness) long prior to reaching this point. One lie leads to many - simply - until one day, his principle has vanished.

It is rightly said "You take yourself with you wherever you go". So, to people who have had past experience of one's commitment to truthfulness (like in a work environment... and marriage) one is known as someone who does not have to prove himself by being asked gratuitous and invasive questions. The standards a person of high integrity places on himself exceed by a long way, those which are expected by others' standards: BECAUSE they are formed selfishly, not altruistically.

People might not openly acknowledge that fact, but underneath, they do subconsciously recognise it in you.

If however the personal questions persist, "It is not your business to know"- would be what they deserve to hear, and what they should expect and accept. If they still don't, then "Go to hell!" would be the rational reply.

In this sense, honesty is indeed contextual: The context is an individual, his character and his entire life.

I do agree with your points, I just think there's more. The scope of honesty/dishonesty has to be widened from the explicitly of merely telling falsehoods, to include the whole, implicit, range, e.g. on cheating; or revealing the truth to those who have the moral right to know it.

(A great and selfish consequence of it is a sense of light-heartedness, the release that comes from opening to the truth, and guarding oneself from living in a lie in future. Um, in my experience...)

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Tony wrote about honesty:

(A great and selfish consequence of it is a sense of light-heartedness, the release that comes from opening to the truth, and guarding oneself from living in a lie in future. Um, in my experience...)

end quote

Well put. I either tell the truth, or ignore the question or observation. Living ones life in the open, is a liberating first step to personal peace and a sense of self worth.

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Lying is a waste of energy. One has to keep -two- sets of books. The first set is the facts as actually remembered and the second is the lies which have to be constantly checked to see that they do not contradict each other and the facts which are just what they are. It is like trying to live in multiple timelines at the same time. What a waste of energy!

I am just a poor civilian schmuck. I like to keep things simple and unburdened.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Sure.

She didn't only write that lying is wrong because it implicitly puts one at service to others, through abnegation of one's mind, btw.

Rand also said "The only real moral crime that one man can commit against another is the attempt to create, by his words or actions, an inpression of the contradictory, the impossible, the irrational, and thus shake the concept of rationality in his victim."

So, immoral both ways.

Authors of fiction can do this on a small scale quite readily. Ditto for actors. Undercover agents have a harder time however.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Lying is a waste of energy. One has to keep -two- sets of books. The first set is the facts as actually remembered and the second is the lies which have to be constantly checked to see that they do not contradict each other and the facts which are just what they are. It is like trying to live in multiple timelines at the same time. What a waste of energy!

I am just a poor civilian schmuck. I like to keep things simple and unburdened.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Couched in fancy terms, you avoid epistomological confusion.

I think you have the crux of it Bob - simplicity (and "personal peace", as Peter says)is why

honesty is rationally selfish.

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Cheating on one's spouse isn't necessarily dishonest and it's not really cheating either, it's breaking a promise. The promise is either explicit as made in one's marriage vows or implicit --- it is the promise of fidelity.

But doesn't the very notion of "cheating" automatically involve dishonesty?

Can one 'cheat honestly'? This sounds incompatible, 'oxymoronic'.

So whether one cheats at a school test, at a game, or on one's spouse - dishonesty is always involved. For the cheater always wants to conceal the truth about what he/she is doing.

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Sure.

She didn't only write that lying is wrong because it implicitly puts one at service to others, through abnegation of one's mind, btw.

But can't an accomplished liar also be quite succesful at putting others at service to him/her?

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Hi Angela: That's pertinent to the fine distinction between what I consider, roughly, explicit and implicit altruism.

Putting others at service to one through deceit (or force) is implicitly altruist of him/her, in that it emerges from an earlier self-sacrifice of his independent mind to others. Also in consequence, he's explicitly altruistic in his subsequent dependence on them.

Lying cuts both ways, one becomes the server by way of being the served.

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anonymous writes:

But can't an accomplished liar also be quite successful at putting others at service to him/her?

Only those who love the liar's lies can be put into service. Without preexisting matching values, it is impossible for a transaction to take place.

Greg

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