In Defense of Lying

On more than one occasion, Talking Ethics has looked at the ethics of telling so-called white lies that may seem like they’re not doing much harm—“Dinner was delicious.” “I like your new haircut.” In doing so, we found that our readers (a self-selected group who take their ethics seriously) generally frown on lying of any kind, though most reject the absolutist view of Immanuel Kant and others who insist lying is always wrong because it undermines trust and constructive discourse. Now comes a new study suggesting that not only is lying sometimes okay, but it actually can be the right thing to do.
Continue reading

The Slippery Slope in Business Ethics

Tempted to take an extra shampoo bottle from your hotel room? Or to say you’ve got a bad headache so you can leave work early to get ready for a big date? Be careful. What may seem like a small ethical transgression now could lead to much bigger problems in the future. At least that’s the result of a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Researchers trying to understand big corporate scandals found that when a small ethical sin goes unchecked, bigger sins are much more likely to follow.
Continue reading

No Free Pass for Lying Politicians

When we conducted an informal survey last year asking people when it’s okay to tell a white lie, a large majority, 71%, came down hard on politicians, saying it’s wrong for them to shade the truth, even when it’s just a matter of emphasizing facts that support their point of view and ignoring those that don’t.

But lying by politicians remains rampant. Continue reading

Deciding When It’s Okay to Lie

One of the age-old problems in ethics is whether and when it is permissible to lie. While most of us might agree in principle that truth and transparency are critical ethical principles and that lying and deception are intrinsically wrong, we don’t always agree on how to apply this to everyday life. Is truth always required? And if not, just when is it okay to lie?
Continue reading