Wednesday, June 20, 2007


One of my wife's and my favorite contemporary novelists is Alexander McCall Smith. Last night we were reading his Sunday Philosophy Club and came across these two paragraphs about lying:

"Of course, not all lies were wrong, which was another respect, Isabel thought, in which Kant was mistaken. One of the most ridiculous things that he had ever said was that there was a duty to tell the truth to the murderer looking for his victim. If the murderer came to one's door and asked, Is he in? one would be obliged to answer truthfully, even if this would lead to the death of an innocent person. Such nonsense; and she could remember the precise offending passage: 'Truthfulness in statement which cannot be avoided is the formal duty of an individual to everyone, however great may be the disadvantage accruing to himself or to another.'...

The answer, surely, is that lying in general is wrong, but that some lies, carefully identified as the exception, will be permissible. There were, therefore, good lies and bad lies, with good lies being uttered for a benevolent reason (to protect the feeling of another, for example). If somebody asked one's opinion of a newly acquired--but tasteless--possession, for instance, and one gave an honest answer, then that could hurt feelings and deprive the other of the joy of ownership. So one lied, and praised it, which was surely the right thing to do. Or was it? Perhaps it was not as simple as that. If one became accustomed to lying in such circumstances, the line between truth and falsehood could become blurred."

Tomorrow I'll try to get back to the morass I've gotten into regarding the flesh and spiritual formation (the folks on Facebook, where this blog automatically posts, are jumping all over me!).

1 comment:

Crowbard said...

To tell the truth in circumstances where to do so would be detrimental to the welfare of self or others is contrary to the law of love, as also is telling lies. This is the time for a truthful negative response. "I will not tell you but I will call the police" would seem the right sort of reply to the assasin and saving yourself from becoming an accesory to murder. An honest "It is not to my tastes but I respect the possibility that your tastes may be more refined than mine" should not give offence to a reasonable person and may lead them to consider more carefully what 'tasteful' means for them.