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Pte 70 Score Essay on “Can Telling lies ever be Justified?”

Can Telling lies ever be Justified?


The old admonition to children, ‘speak the truth and shame the devil’, runs contrary to what is called the schoolboy’s eleventh commandment; ‘tell a lie, and stick to it’. The one adage advocates honesty at whatever personal cost. When charged with some illicit tree-felling, the young George Washington is said to have said ‘I cannot tell a lie’. Those who advocate moral rectitude always argue that honesty is the best policy. Those who do not say ‘get away with wrong-doing if you can’. Thus, as a child you avoid punishment. As an adult, you hope to avoid the consequences of your actions. The one is the result of a strong sense of morality. The other stems from self-interest and indifference to the fate of other people. Silence itself may amount to a lie, particularly when it is meant to shift blame from oneself.

Cicero said it is the nature of a scoundrel to deceive by lying , and it may well be argued that truth is an integral factor in the health of society. Justice itself depends on witnesses pledging themselves to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The law has severe penalties for those who perjure themselves after taking this oath. So logically there should be no circumstances in which lying can ever be justified. Yet, we can all chink of occasions when to tell the truth would be a very mixed blessing.

This applies especially to those who have access to secrets of national importance, particularly in wartime, or when there is danger of war. In these circumstances another moral issue is raised, and that is where personal loyalty, lies. Most would say to one’s own country.

For others, a strong political belief, based on conviction, is more cogent. So, during the ‘Cold War’ between NATO and the Communist bloc, people on both sides were prepared to betray their country’s secrets. This was generally out of conviction rather than for money, though the spy was usually rewarded in some way, sometimes by asylum and the conferring of honors and position. Such men and women would argue, and some still do, that the ultimate end justifies the means, if the means included lying and deception, so be it.

The same principle applied particularly in the 1939 – 45 war. The allies relied heavily on agents, and the lies which were part of their stock-in-trade. Disinformation was born and played a prominent role on both sides. Some of the deception was very elaborate indeed. Hitler’s forces in France were tricked into believing that the invasion would be at the Pas de Calais rather than along the Normandy coast. England created a wholly fictitious army in the wrong place by setting up a subtle system of signaling, designed to be picked up across the channel. German doubts were settled by the planting of spurious invasion plans by agents in France.

As a result, the invasion was given a good start. Every patriotic Englishman would say that all the lies and deception were amply justified both by the motivation and in the event. In much the same way, the British Ministry of Information concealed some failures and exaggerated some successes for the sake of morale. It was morale which enabled Britain to counter what seemed to be inevitable defeat.

So, the good of others seems to go a long way towards justifying the lie, and this applies in some personal as well as national concerns. Nobody would applaud the man or woman who lied about extra-marital relations. The more honorable course is not to have any. Yet, it is not always kind to tell the brutal truth about a severe illness such as a cancer to a patient or to his or her relations just as soon as the illness is diagnosed.

Treatment may be successful, so unnecessary sadness has been caused. Yet if not, there must come a time when the facts are disclosed. Not to do so prevents the patient from making testatory provisions. It also increases the shock to the family and friends when death actually occurs. Kindness may be a good reason, if not to tell a lie, at least to be economical with the truth. Another is tact. These two virtues oil the wheels of all social relationships. A lady may have chosen a hat which she obviously loves dearly, but you think it is hideous. Never tell her, even if you cannot bring yourself to say `Wonderful! Super!’ There are ways of side-stepping the issue. Anyway, dress is a matter of opinion rather than of fact, and what does it matter? No good at all could be done by telling the truth, and absolutely no harm done by withholding it.


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