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Should we lie to people for the greater good?


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This is a very good question.

IMO, the only reason to withhold something that you think to be true, after reflection and examination of evidence, is not because it may cause anger or demoralization, but because of the danger of this piece of knowledge being revealed.

I remember this point to have come up before in my life, and I've compared the anger or demoralization that you mention to the cauterization or sterilization of an injury: Pain or annoyance are different from harm. I'm a firm believer that people are better off if they are able to rule out assumptions that are not worth considering. seriously.

As to topics about which I haven't made up my mind yet, I prefer to stay quiet, as you say, and let others talk until I find my position, if at all.

What's your position?

 

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There are many factors to consider...

Should an Oncologist withhold cancer news from a patient because of the emotional 'hurt' it will cause ?

On the other hand, if your wife asks " Do these jeans make me look fat ?", run out of the room. There is no possible answer that will save you from a long scolding. ( no, I'm not married; but this generalization applies to girlfriends also )

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58 minutes ago, VenusPrincess said:

If you believed something was true,

Can you define how you're using "believed" in this context? Is this a gut feeling, wishful thinking, makes perfect sense? Or is this a belief based on evidence and observation, something you could actually trust? 

I have a hard time with the word "true", since it's often used subjectively, and gets defined however the user wants. Your "truth" could be that the QAnon people are right.

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When my mother was near the end of her life she emotionally suffered whenever any of her kids or grandkids experienced any setbacks. We instituted a policy, at my urging, that we lie like crazy to my mom. David got into graduate school. Mary's debt was forgiven. I got that promotion. 

I've never been happier about a decision to lie in my life.

For the most part I believe that people should be told the truth, but I'm sure there are dozens of exceptions depending on the circumstances.

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3 hours ago, zapatos said:

When my mother was near the end of her life she emotionally suffered whenever any of her kids or grandkids experienced any setbacks. We instituted a policy, at my urging, that we lie like crazy to my mom. David got into graduate school. Mary's debt was forgiven. I got that promotion. 

I've never been happier about a decision to lie in my life.

For the most part I believe that people should be told the truth, but I'm sure there are dozens of exceptions depending on the circumstances.

Completely agree, 100%.

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I will point out that op said something you "believe" to be true. My first thought is the level of evidence, but also the motivation to bring it out in the first place. 

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I think in these times people like it when you tell the truth, I read all over reddit about people exposing certain people and groups and companies etc all the time and people love to know about it. It depends a lot also on what people are willing to accept, truth can hurt some if they lived knowing or living by a lie for a period of time but people seem to grow from it and move on and I am talking about stuff that is considered something like conspiracy theories. I've read and watched stuff that show 100% video evidence plus questionable events that happened ON VIDEO that people just rule out because they believe so much in the NORMALITY OF THINGS and that somethings that are possible could never happen.

Overall it comes down to intention, you say what you say, live with it and move on. Sometimes trying to understand what it all leads to is too much to understand.

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On 12/5/2020 at 1:31 PM, zapatos said:

When my mother was near the end of her life she emotionally suffered whenever any of her kids or grandkids experienced any setbacks. We instituted a policy, at my urging, that we lie like crazy to my mom. David got into graduate school. Mary's debt was forgiven. I got that promotion. 

I've never been happier about a decision to lie in my life.

For the most part I believe that people should be told the truth, but I'm sure there are dozens of exceptions depending on the circumstances.

This is a good example of what we would call a white lie. 

When people are talking about lying, they are really only talking about one form of falsehood. It often ends up being a catch all term for all falsehoods. 

On 12/5/2020 at 11:58 AM, VenusPrincess said:

If you believed something was true, but also knew that others would be demoralized and angry at you for sharing that truth, should you stay quiet or lie about it instead?

If you present what you believe to be the truth with a clear argument and justification for believing in that claim, by way of logical consistency and preferably evidence, you should not stay quiet about it or lie about it. To be clear though, just because you are not lying about what your belief is, does not mean you are not just wrong and engaging in a falsehood. 

However, if your argument runs the risk of being dangerously misconstrued, you have a duty to stay silent and be careful about who you are speaking to about it. Once you've said what you say, it is out there in the world and it is your epistemic responsibility to make sure it is not misinterpreted in a way where an outcome that you did not want comes to fruition. Like an argument being used to advocate violence against a group, or an argument that claims superiority of one group over another, which can be misconstrued as justification for said violence. 

If you believe you can make an argument for a moral claim and are confident it will not be misinterpreted to ill effect, then by all means speak it from the hilltops. Reality does not have to match your confidence however and you can still choose poorly. 

This is why Wittgenstein only released one book while he was alive and why he detested people taking notes of what he said in casual conversation. Words are dangerous. Talking about ethics, is very dangerous and is very high stakes. A lot of people do not appreciate or understand the gravity of this. 

It's one thing to be wrong when making claims about what the answer to a mathematical problem is, being wrong in ethics, can have some very far reaching consequences. Nietzsche for example is often greatly misunderstood and misinterpreted to ill effect for him and his readers.

 

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  • 2 months later...

I would tell the truth
I think it's funny how people always want you to be honest with them. But this only applies until you are not disappointed with the truth.
I think you have to ask yourself what is actually worse. The lie in itself or having to come to terms with the truth.
It would bother me more to waste my time on a lie.

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25 minutes ago, Zerbo said:

I would tell the truth
I think it's funny how people always want you to be honest with them. But this only applies until you are not disappointed with the truth.
I think you have to ask yourself what is actually worse. The lie in itself or having to come to terms with the truth.
It would bother me more to waste my time on a lie.

You're not very good in social situations are you... [/rhetorical] 

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It's a problem in multi-variable logic. Solutions agreeable to most will vary, depending upon the specifics. The OP offers a general situation which, as such, has no right or wrong answer. But the discussion is valuable and I'm appreciating the answers of others.

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18 hours ago, ltlredwagon said:

It's a problem in multi-variable logic. Solutions agreeable to most will vary, depending upon the specifics. The OP offers a general situation which, as such, has no right or wrong answer. But the discussion is valuable and I'm appreciating the answers of others.

It's only a problem in multi-variable logic.

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