(When) Is Lying Moral?

November 4, 2011

Dirty Hands


While some people distrust politicians intensely for their perceived lack of honesty, is it necessary for politicians to lie to the very people that elect them?  After reading about the dirty hands problem that faces all politicians, I wondered how justified people think politicians are when they lie to the populace.  While hardly nonpartisan, Steve Benen’s blog post on lies in the republican party provides an interesting starting point for this discussion:

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal/2011_09/the_incentive_to_lie032398.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+washingtonmonthly%2Frss+%28Political+Animal+at+Washington+Monthly%29

Some may see a middle road where politicians are justified in lying but only in situations where the consequences of telling the truth are worse than the immorality involved in lying, though I tend towards thinking full disclosure is necessary to a well functioning government.  Because the politicians deciding whether or not to lie will always be biased towards saving face and hiding the negative consequences of their policies there needs to be some sort of check against the ability of the government to cover up whatever it wants. In Benen’s post, he sees the media as this necessary, and eroding, check against the lies made my political candidates as they jockey for their party’s nomination.  Additionally, what may constitute a lie for one person may seem like a perfectly true statement depending on their political ideology.  With so much room for “gaming the system” providing politicians with the ability to lie without remorse, I feel like there must be a decently strong check against politicans ability to skew the truth.

With issues like the digitalization of news, along with the simultaneous death of the newspaper and journalism as a profession, what can be done to prevent politician’s lies from becoming too rampant, to the point where they interfere with the smooth function of our free market of ideas.  While social capital drains from the main bulwarks against government oppression, will blogging and independent journalism come to replace traditional punditry?

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5 Comments on “(When) Is Lying Moral?”

  1. weinben Says:

    While people often would say they have a hard time saying it is ok for politicians and major political leaders to fib, many would probably not want to know the whole truth to many situations and problems these leaders and their governments face on a day to day basis. For example, there are many levels of secret information above government issued Top Secret that even the President of the United States is forbidden to view. Why? Because it would impede his ability to lead the country and act his role out as a national figurehead. The national populace’s opinion on many issues facing the country are often mislead or incomplete due to a lack of education on the topic or misinformation from the media, who you claim in your blog to be the champion of truth and honesty from the government. Although I agree the media is a powerful tool to dissolve illusions promoted by politicians and allow citizens a clear view of who they elect or what their policies are, today’s media is often run and owned by individuals with their own political agendas, who use their widespread influence to gain followers who believe in their very own ideals.
    Additionally, in America especially, short term lying, or achieving goals in a Machiavellian nature, is frowned upon and looked on as unfair or crude. In France, for example, white lies, while maybe not more commonplace, are viewed very differently. The French see them as perfectly acceptable tools to gain what you want and protect people from truths which would harm them or stop them from being happy. Additionally, their use displays cunning and shrewdness, which are necessary characteristics to being successful in many industries.

  2. jrphilli Says:

    In our world, nobody ties the whole truth. In certain situation a lie, may be the best option. Many people do complain about the fact that politician lie, but if they told the truth many people would not want to believe it. Now, this is a line drawn when a lie should be told, but that line seems to be disappearing in our political world. I believe that political should be able to lie if it is for the national security of the country, but they should no be able to lie just because they want too. The idea that polictian lie, makes people not trust in them. And trust is what gets support.
    This idea of the blogging world and journalism is a good and bad thing. With people being able to express themselves on blogs, they can express anything and everything they say is not right. I we get to the point where people trust what the bloggers are saying over what the government is saying we have a problem. The information being put on the internet is not always accurate, so it can not be a main source. But blogging and journalism is good when done right. they can help find the truth in politicians story. They can help make sure citizens are not getting a blind pulled over them, a scam.

  3. celekinn Says:

    Everybody lies at one point or another in their life. Like a comment above stated, sometimes telling a lie proves to spare someone from the ugly truth of a situation. Sometimes, it is more beneficial to have someone believe one thing while you rectify the thing you lied about in the first place.

    However, while telling a little white lie can be considered acceptable, trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes and run a scam on them, is crossing the line. Some politicians give off an air of scamming, and lose the trust of voters.

    Blogging and news reports by journalists are extremely beneficial not only when the public is trying to find out the political platform of candidates, but also in exposing some politicians for the liars they are. Granted, not all politicians are flat out liars, in fact few are. However, there is a downside to blogging and the internet in general. The fact is, anyone can put anything on the internet. Not all sources found on the internet are credible, and should be taken with a grain of salt. So, blogging and independent journalism while beneficial, should be regarded with extreme caution.

  4. #jasonschwartz Says:

    No matter what happens in the world, there are way to much technology and photos and videos for people to keep track of everything going on in the world. This coupled with the fact that all politicians are constanly invaded and have no privfacy at all would lead me to think that as a result of this I think that it depends on the situation for deciding when politicians lie. For example, if a politician were caught making a funny joke and that joke were misinterpreted by someone to mean a completely different thing. Then I think that it definately is not a lie. As politicians spend more and more time in the spotlight, its tough for them to not make promises that they can’t keep. As news travels so fast around the world, one slip could destroy a politicians entire career. As a result of this I would advocate for there to be more guidlines to protect the privacy of each and every political candidate before you can say that a politician is corrupt for saying one thing one time in front of a camera.

  5. ayablan Says:

    A lie with good intentions is often referred to as a white lie. This brings up the question frequently discussed in class on who has the power to decide what constitutes a lie that is beneficial to the recipient of the lie. Mill’s would argue that no one has the jurisdiction to decide what is in the best interest of another person. This being said, is there such thing as a white lie? Can lying being moral? I personally think that lying can be moral. I obviously disagree with politicians who tell all out lies. For example, if they say they are pro-something, but are truly against it. However, I feel as though it impossible to tell the whole truth. If every single politician was forced to take a lie detector test, then no politician would ever be elected. I think it is fine for politicians to lie to an extent. They want whats best for the American people and they have to appeal to as many people as possible. Say something does happen where the politician can be seen as a liar, he will not be reelected.
    I agree completely with #jasonschwartz. I definitely believe that there should be more guidelines to protect the privacy of every political candidate. They are always being watched even when they don’t know it. Anything they say can be interpreted the wrong way, thus deeming the politician unfaithful. This is a great point that was brought up by a different blogger.
    In conclusion, it is okay for politicians to lie to an extent. If it is in the best interest of the American people then I say go right ahead. Also, politicians should definitely have more privacy. Many things are interpreted the wrong way and this can severely hurt a political candidates chance of winning an election.

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