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Old 02-02-2005, 07:25 PM   #1 (permalink)
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The "Kind Liar", or the Importance of Truth.

Now, before people think I'm getting riled up about next to nothing, let me just say that Honesty is by far the most important quality to me, so bear with me here . Some people are obsessed by Justice, some by Purity, some by Courage, for me, it's all about the Truth.

For example, the saying "What you don't know can't hurt you" enrages me, it seems so wrong, and on so many level, that I can't believe people would actually go by that. In the same way, I HATE the "kind lies", when someone lies about, or hide a fact that directly concerns me, because they supposedly "didn't want to hurt me".

I much prefer to face an ugly truth than to live in a pretty illusion, even if only for the fact that, once the illusion is dispelled, you're gonna fall from very, very high, and it'll hurt more than having known the truth in the first place.

Now, I recently bumped into some Kant philosophy which I had long forgotten.. it was the part about the "Universal imperatives" (for those unfamiliar, these are the rules without any "if", that everyone should abide to, always), and I nodded in agreement upon seeing a "Do not lie" in the examples of Universal Imperatives.

The next part, however, made me wonder.
It was about the "exceptions", when breaking a promise, or an Universal Imperative, is the morale thing to do, if doing so avoids a greater bad aspect..

"Well, DUH" are you all thinking. Of course, in some crazy weird scenario, like, if by lying to some criminals I'd then save the lifes of innocent, if course I would lie... but the example given was more subtle than that, and that's what bothered me. (And no, it wasn't the dilemna about a poor guy stealing medication to save a life, either )
It went like this:

"Your mother is dying. She has a terminal illness, and has only a week or two left. During one of your last visit, she asks you how is your little family doing, how is it with the wife, and the kids, etc. She always has seen you as a model family, and took great pride in her son's accomplishment of forming such a nice family. Now the truth is, you and your wife are thinking about divorce. Do you tell her, or lie and pretend everything is well?"

Now in this case, telling the truth accomplishes nothing, except maybe standing up to your values in any situations, and causes unnecessary pain.
So yeah, I tend to agree that, in this case, lying would probably be the right thing to do.

The problem is, what prevents this to apply in less extreme situations as well? Where is the limit where it becomes unacceptable? Is it only the possibility that the truth might be found eventually that makes "kind lies" bad? Does an hypotethical "kind lie" which has 0% chance of ever being disproved become good, and morale?

Sorry for the rambling and the incoherency, I had little time to write this and had to get it off my chest, I suppose
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Old 02-03-2005, 12:47 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by El Kaz
"Your mother is dying. She has a terminal illness, and has only a week or two left. During one of your last visit, she asks you how is your little family doing, how is it with the wife, and the kids, etc. She always has seen you as a model family, and took great pride in her son's accomplishment of forming such a nice family. Now the truth is, you and your wife are thinking about divorce. Do you tell her, or lie and pretend everything is well?"

Now in this case, telling the truth accomplishes nothing, except maybe standing up to your values in any situations, and causes unnecessary pain.
So yeah, I tend to agree that, in this case, lying would probably be the right thing to do.

The problem is, what prevents this to apply in less extreme situations as well? Where is the limit where it becomes unacceptable? Is it only the possibility that the truth might be found eventually that makes "kind lies" bad? Does an hypotethical "kind lie" which has 0% chance of ever being disproved become good, and morale?
For me, communication is more important than telling the truth. Because in the course of communication, a brutal truth has the opportunity to reveal itself gently, and a warming truth can be poetic. And in the depth and breadth of just sitting down to talk to someone for a while, you'll often get a more rewarding experience than you would if you were dead-set on honesty. People lie small and large to protect themselves as well as to hurt other people, and you shouldn't deny yourself some space things for you'd rather not talk about with a given person at a given time. Confessional talk can lift weight off your shoulders, but to enforce it as a policy can be just as draining as keeping a guilty secret or two.
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Old 02-03-2005, 05:01 AM   #3 (permalink)
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My Mum would know already - but even assuming the 0% chance of being disproved, I'd still consider telling the truth in this case.

For me, the largeness/smallness of a lie depends on the relationship I have with the person, and the importance of the topic at hand. So I wont care about skimming over some detail with someone I've never met, but lying to my Mother about my family? That would be a lot harder to bear.

The real point I'm trying to make is that lies don't hurt the one you tell them to. They hurt the one who tells them. It would hurt me a whole lot to not tell my own Mother something like this days before she died - it would live with me for a long time, and I'd be upset about it.
 
Old 02-03-2005, 06:29 AM   #4 (permalink)
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El Kaz, I'm like you in that honesty is a (or even The) central virtue for me; perhaps just because it's one of the few I'm actually good at. Even so, I'm divided about whether or not to tell mom about the pending divorce. It's cases like this that just plain call for what Aristotle called 'practical wisdom'; you can't make general laws about ethics, because it's just too damn complex. So you need to just be familiar with what a virtuous life looks like, and navigate your way by feel and intuition at least as much as by cold logic.

As a side note, Kant is actually infamous for not allowing *any* exceptions to the 'do not lie' rule. Most neo-Kantians these days (who generally aren't very much like Kant anyway) water this down a bit.
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Old 02-03-2005, 11:23 AM   #5 (permalink)
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The whole idea of morality is totally subjective, expecially in a situation like this, so there can really be no correect answer. However, I think there could be a system by which to judge if it would be "proper" to lie in a situation, and this would be based on two factors:

1) How much would the individual be negatively/positively affected by the truth?
2) How much would the person, looking at the situation objectively, mind being lied to if he/she knew about it.

Note that I said that the lie can positively affect the person. I give the scenario of a surprise party. The information would positively affect the person, however the person's preference to not know is greater, so the lie becomes "proper". Most often it works the other way, however, as in the case with the mother in the hospital.

This being said, it is truly a situational matter, both in terms of the events and the people involved.
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Old 02-03-2005, 12:07 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I tell small "kind" lies or white lies all the time. There a couple of reasons for this:
-most people do not handle the blunt truth very maturely
-when I lie, telling the truth in that situation will generally not create a positive result in any fashion (such as: "What are you doing tonight?" - "I don't know" or "Nothing" as a response is normally either a lie or at least a vague semi-truth. Does that person knowing what you may be doing benefit them? Most likely not.)

So basically, I personally gauge when to lie and when to tell the truth on which path will be most beneficial/least harmful (in my judgment) to both the person with whom I am communicating, myself, and anyone else involved.
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Old 02-03-2005, 12:14 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I agree Suave. When someone at the office asks "How are you doing?" they really don't want to hear that you've been up all night with explosive diarrhea and you feel like your body is nothing more than a dessicated husk. At least, I'd hope not.

So, yeah, telling the whole truth every single time isn't always in everyone's best interest.
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Old 02-03-2005, 02:42 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by asaris
Kant is actually infamous for not allowing *any* exceptions to the 'do not lie' rule.
Kant, like most philosophers, was aiming for an ideal, an Utopia.. if you open the door to exceptions, when do you close it? That's the problem with exceptions.

And on another note, when I say honesty and truth are important to me, I don't mean that any and all informations about everything and anything should circulate freely.
"It's none of your bussiness" or
"I don't want to talk about it"
are not lies, they're totally honest answers IF you're telling them to someone whom the information has nothing to do with.. basically, it's more of a matter of intentions than anything else.

Here's an example

Few years ago, I got dumped by the girlfriend I probably had the most trouble ever going over in my life. It was a blunt break-up too, I totally stopped seeing, talking to, or hearing about her immediatly after the break-up.
She got with another guy almost immediatly, but I didn't know of this. A group of common friends to me and her did know, though. They avoided telling me or talking about it when I was around.
Now if you look at it objectively, the information didn't have much to do with me.. not being with the girl anymore removed all my "rights" to know about her life. But the fact is, my friends knew that was something I'd have wanted to know about it, and intentionaly kept me from learning it, under the cover that knowing it would hurt me.
Fast forward almost two months, I'm still totally ignorant about the ex. We have a big project to go out with a large group of friends (friend of a friend of a friend, etc.), and of course, they avoid telling me if she'll be there or not, so I have to ask them directly.. the answer was "Not sure yet", untill the very last day before, during which my best friend came to see me, and just before leaving, he blurted out a "Yeah, she will be there, and huh.. not alone.. she's with (this guy), now."
Ow, yeah, kind of a hard blow and all.. but after thinking about it a little, I said "Wait a friggin' minute there", I realized it was doubtful that it was a new thing.
So I did my little investigation, and indeed, it wasn't recent, and indeed, everyone knew about it from that start cept good ole' me.
Am I needed to specify I was very, very, VERY pissed off about how the whole situation was handled? I was kept in ignorance, by MY FRIENDS, because they didn't want to "hurt me" ?

This, in my opinion, is how a "kind" lie hurts much more than truth, in the end.
As cliche'd as it may sounds, I prefer the quick pain of truth that goes away after a while than the slow, everlasting poison of lies.


Ok, I realize I kind of got carried away with this example, but the main point is, being honest doesn't mean being blunt and truthful about EVERYTHING, it means never lie, and don't hide informations from people you reasonably think they "deserve" to know, especially not under the cover of "not wanting to hurt them"
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Last edited by El Kaz; 02-03-2005 at 02:46 PM..
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Old 02-03-2005, 08:45 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Well Kaz, you mentioned all the attributes I see that make a decent person... but truth as it has been shown has it downsides through these examples. C4 said it best

Quote:
1) How much would the individual be negatively/positively affected by the truth?
2) How much would the person, looking at the situation objectively, mind being lied to if he/she knew about it.
If I know that the truth is something that will hurt that person... I try my best to avoid it completey with them. But if that fails then a little lie for the time being is acceptable. However if it's been brought up directly by them (which would then answer how they would react when lied to about it) I will tell them as tactfully I can. Euphemisms can go a long way. However you also have to account for how you will feel hidding such truth from someone else. I am the type to just hide my own emotions so that it will not hurt another. I just can't bring myself to hurt another when I could just as easily deal with the effects.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Asaris
...you can't make general laws about ethics, because it's just too damn complex. So you need to just be familiar with what a virtuous life looks like, and navigate your way by feel and intuition at least as much as by cold logic.
Some of us try regardless. :-/ I say virtue would include to know when it is best to lie and when to tell the truth. I know I wished that some of my friends had bent the truth about certain events... but they hadn't and I dealt with it nonetheless.
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Old 02-04-2005, 08:48 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by El Kaz
"Your mother is dying. She has a terminal illness, and has only a week or two left. During one of your last visit, she asks you how is your little family doing, how is it with the wife, and the kids, etc. She always has seen you as a model family, and took great pride in her son's accomplishment of forming such a nice family. Now the truth is, you and your wife are thinking about divorce. Do you tell her, or lie and pretend everything is well?"
I would tell her the truth anyway. Why should I not? If she were not terminally ill I would tell her and I don't see why her imminent death would change that. If I were in her place, I would want to know. I think that it is always better to tell the truth then to lie. When I don't want to tell the truth, I just make a non-commital answer. Lying so as not to hurts someone is just an attempt to make reality something it is not and always fails.
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Old 02-04-2005, 09:09 AM   #11 (permalink)
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Regina, I see where you are coming from but what if she were to directly ask you and a non-commital answer can not do? Wouldn't it be more humane to keep her time in this world as peaceful as possible and not disturb her already painful thoughts with your failing relationship?

It is funny how a simple thing like telling the truth can become so leveled and complicated.
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Old 02-05-2005, 08:00 PM   #12 (permalink)
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My powers of articulation are fading so I'll make what has been turning into a horribly incoherent glob of text into something moderately poignant.

You are partly the summation of your life experience, and in lying to your mother so that she may be happy in her last days, you are putting her happiness over your integrity. This is an excercise is moral subjectivism. We are inherently dynamic, just as our realities, and our morals.
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Old 02-06-2005, 11:57 AM   #13 (permalink)
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Augi, put yourself in her place. Would you want to know the truth? I think the truth is much kinder than the lie even if the lie was ment to make her feel better.
Happiness is a fleeting state but the truth is eternal.
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Old 02-06-2005, 12:24 PM   #14 (permalink)
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The truth is just as fleeting as happiness. It changes by the minute.
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Old 02-09-2005, 07:20 AM   #15 (permalink)
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I would agree that lying is not necessarily the best thing to do. It's so much easier to tell the truth, regardless of how much pain it can deal. A "kind lie", depending on the situation, is okay. In the example of the dying mother, I would say that there is no reason to give her the bad news. Even if she were very ill I would say the same thing, why give them stress, wait until they're better. Nothing wrong with saying, "I didn't want to tell you this when you were sick, but...".

What about lies by omission? That's my wife's big thing. If you just leave stuff out to ease the blow, or you just plain forget something, then isn't that kind of the same? I suppose a lie by omission is just another way of lying kindly.

I will say that I have told some whoppers in my life, but only to save my ass. I've never lied to a cop though.


On another note:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Coppertop
I agree Suave. When someone at the office asks "How are you doing?" they really don't want to hear that you've been up all night with explosive diarrhea and you feel like your body is nothing more than a dessicated husk. At least, I'd hope not.

So, yeah, telling the whole truth every single time isn't always in everyone's best interest.
That had me crying! Thanks, Coppertop, I needed that.
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Old 02-12-2005, 05:10 AM   #16 (permalink)
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As we have a choice to either tell the truth or tell a lie, should we not also choose as to how we percieve being lied to? I am not out there for being lied to, however I usually try to look at why the lie.

I don't remember going into any formal contracts with my friends on this subject, but usually if you know them well enough and they are the kind of person who does not, under any circumstance, want you to lie to them... they'll tell you. This makes it easy... you can do just that, tell them the brutal truth at any given moment. On the other hand there are other people that you know will not want to know, cannot face, are not ready for, or will not handle your perception of the absolute truth... I've been thanked on occasion for the 'kind lie' ???

I can see where Suave & Xell101 are coming from. Well said guys
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Old 02-12-2005, 08:44 AM   #17 (permalink)
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The following is an extract from The Meaning Of Things, by the British philosopher A. C. Grayling.

I post it not as being necessarily representative of my own views, but because it is well written, and is related to the topic on hand.

<HR>
"That lies should be necessary to life is part and parcel of the terrible and questionable character of existence"
-Nietzsche


In the related arts of politics and government, judicious economies with truth are a stock-in-trade; neither art would be
possible without them. We accept the necessity at times for evasions, equivocations, dissemblings and downright falsehoods in the practices of public life, and regard as naive anyone who insists otherwise. At the same time it is universally agreed
that lying is in itself wrong, and the discovery of a lie always impugns the liar - indeed, a single lie can destroy a whole
reputation on for integrity.

Plato said that lies are not only evil in themselves, but infect the soul of those who utter them. He thereby states the uncompromising view that a moral life has room only for truth. And the point generalises to social life: 'In plain truth, lying is an accursed vice,' wrote Montaigne; 'we have no tie upon one another, other than the reliability of our word. 'But these austere views are not universally shared. Lying finds champions in those who recognise that without lies people would have no inner privacy that life might be infected with boredom and despair, much evil could result.

We second Homer's applause for Odysseus's cunning and famously foxy deceits - he was a liar consummate in word and deed, elevated to heroic stature, who could outwit sirens, the giant Polyphemus, the witch Circe, and assorted denizens of Hades.
Yet we agree that society can only operate on an assumption of probity; for the ordinary transactions of daily life we have to believe that most people are telling the truth most of the time. In thus having a deeply divided attitude to lying ~ accepting its utility, even necessity, but maintaining a strong background disapproval of it as if to keep it somehow within limits - we imply that there are sometimes justifications for lying. And that means we disagree with Plato.

Some argue that lies are justified when truth would gratuitously cause or heighten conflict. Moreover, they say, lies
can be merciful, in protecting people from agonising knowledge; as when a doctor tells a terrified patient that all is well. And we can think of countless cases where lies promote harmony, restore justice, remedy injustice, counteract worse lies, and
protect important truths. In all these cases what justifies the lie is the benefit of its outcome; if more good than harm flows from its telling, it is justified.

What troubles those like Plato who find lying unacceptable no matter what the consequences, is this: to tell a lie you have to know the truth but deliberately intend to communicate its very opposite to your audience. (If you tell your audience something which is false but which you do not know is so, you are not lying.) You thus commit a double crime: of knowing but
concealing truth, a precious possession; and of purposefully leading others away from it. The hard justice of this view led
later philosophers, notably Kant, to box clever in the way only philosophers know how. Lying is always wholly unacceptable,
he said, but it is all right sometimes to tell an untruth, which is a different and lesser thing; where lying outright is like poisoning someone, telling him an untruth is like attacking him in the street (these are Kant's own similes) - a more honest thing, so to say. It is accordingly acceptable to tell an untruth when it protects the other from injury, to his feelings or otherwise. 'Am I ugly?' asks your neighbour, who makes Quasimodo look like a beauty queen. 'I wouldn't use the word "ugly",' you reply; 'you have a distinctive face.' Even religious moralists agree; they say that the Bible cautiously licenses Kantian untruths, as when Proverbs say, 'When words are many, transgression is not lacking; but the prudent are restrained in speech', and the Kirk in Scotland teaches that it is a sin to tell an untimely truth.

So we accept, even sometimes applaud, 'white lies', and recognise that the truth need not always be the whole truth. In the end, though, one is left with the feeling that Nietzsche is right: the fact that lies are necessary says much that is uncomplimentary to life, for it means that human relationships are never truly free of the unease and tension which sensitivities, jealousies and uncertainties bring.
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Old 03-06-2005, 09:58 PM   #18 (permalink)
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I hate lying as well. Typically, if faced with a situation where the truth is a little too brutal, I just steer around it with a neutral response. However, something like complimenting someone on a clothing choice (for example) to brighten their day does no harm.

Also, the truth really helps people open their eyes. About two or three weeks ago, my dad blurted out angrily that he thought I was messy, I used him for money, that I treat him like crap, etc. Well, you can imagine, I was upset and hurt. But after thinking about it, I realised he was right, and that I should probably improve my attitude.

It's really a judgment call- will this lie affect this person later along? Am I directly affecting something/someone by lying?

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Old 03-07-2005, 01:32 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Have you ever considered that by telling your dying mother that you were considering getting a divorce that a larger conversation could then open up? Granted this would all depend on the mother, but I know that my mother would love nothing more than one final chance to make a difference in her son's life by helping him through some hard times. The truth can often lead down paths that we never knew were there.
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Old 03-10-2005, 11:43 AM   #20 (permalink)
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i am rather interested in this A. C. Grayling fellow, if only for one simple thing. Plato did not believe that lies infect the soul of the lier. a significant portion of the Republic was set aside to describe the process of "noble lies" that must be told in order to maintain society, and indeed to fulfill one's praxis and be a good (just) ruler. if any of you are interested in this question, see plato's myth of the metals in the republic, and to a lesser degree, the tale of the ring of gyges.

the simple truth, as i see it, is this: lies are neither good nor evil. what importance we put on them is based on our individual biases and prejudices one way or the other. a lie to accomplish good can be good, or it can be evil, just as one to accomplish evil can be good or evil. Perception is the only reality. if you feel you should be honest with your mother even on her death bed, then you must act according to those beliefs. if you do this, you have done well.
alternatively, if you feel you must lie to her, then lie. good and evil, right and wrong are just words, and we define where one ends and the other begins.
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Old 03-10-2005, 02:27 PM   #21 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pennywise121
i am rather interested in this A. C. Grayling fellow, if only for one simple thing. Plato did not believe that lies infect the soul of the lier. a significant portion of the Republic was set aside to describe the process of "noble lies" that must be told in order to maintain society, and indeed to fulfill one's praxis and be a good (just) ruler. if any of you are interested in this question, see plato's myth of the metals in the republic, and to a lesser degree, the tale of the ring of gyges.
Plato did indeed say what Grayling attributes to him;
"False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil."
-Plato, Dialogues, Phaedo
http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/24203.html

But you are correct in your statments about "noble lies". I think Plato would respond to such accusations of a tension by 'boxing clever' as Grayling says.
I don't think that Plato wanted outright falsehoods told to the citiziens. Rather the 'noble lies' would have consisted of myths and stories, which while not literally true, carried an underlying 'moral' which was a truth of a kind.

Or maybe I'm wrong and Plato did indeed contradict himself.
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Old 03-10-2005, 03:39 PM   #22 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CSflim
Plato did indeed say what Grayling attributes to him;
"False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil."
-Plato, Dialogues, Phaedo
http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/24203.html

But you are correct in your statments about "noble lies". I think Plato would respond to such accusations of a tension by 'boxing clever' as Grayling says.
I don't think that Plato wanted outright falsehoods told to the citiziens. Rather the 'noble lies' would have consisted of myths and stories, which while not literally true, carried an underlying 'moral' which was a truth of a kind.

Or maybe I'm wrong and Plato did indeed contradict himself.
"False words" don't have to mean lies or at least all lies, do they? I haven't read the work from which that quote originates, and therefore don't have any context, but I think "false words" could be interpreted as a certain type of lie, for example.
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Old 03-11-2005, 02:07 PM   #23 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Suave
"False words" don't have to mean lies or at least all lies, do they? I haven't read the work from which that quote originates, and therefore don't have any context, but I think "false words" could be interpreted as a certain type of lie, for example.
That could be it also.
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Old 03-30-2005, 09:08 PM   #24 (permalink)
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Whether lying is a good thing is subjective. Not telling my boyfriend's father that I intend on shagging his son that evening when he asks at the dinner table "What are you up to tonight" is probably for the best for the both of us. Yes, it could turn into a more comfortable relationship or lead to interesting discussion, but there's a certain point where we'll both be happier if I lie. On the other hand, not telling my mum she looks hideous in her new dress would be a bad lie. Lying to keep people safe is probably a bad thing, unless that person is you and you're just keeping yourself out of trouble.

Here's the thing. I enjoy lying once in a while. Like convincing a bunch of geek boys (I love geek boys, so I hope no offence will be taken by this) that you're a huge gamer chick when you're just lining up for Half Life Two in order to buy it for your love. It was harmless and stupid, but fun. And they were pleased with me for being a hardcore gamer and a chick at the same time. I don't think it was wrong at all.
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