Thursday, 9 June 2011

Kant and the right to Lie

Kant's ethics surrounding truth and lies is quite complex, even though it is often taught with the simplistic example: if a murderer comes to your house and asks you where his desired victim is; and you're hiding that victim, Kant says it's wrong to lie. Ergo, according to Kant, you must tell the murderer where the person is. This example is at best horribly misleading. Here is an excerpt where Kant explains just such an example:
"I  can also, however, commit a falsiloquium, when my intent is to hide
my intentions from the other, and he can also presume that I shall do so,
since his own purpose is to make a wrongful use of the truth. If an enemy,
for  example, takes me by the throat and demands to know where my
money is kept, I can hide the information here, since he means to misuse
the  truth. That is still  no mendacium for the other knows that I shall
withhold  the  information,  and  that he  also  has no right whatever to de-
mand the truth from me...  
Not every untruth is a lie; it is so only if there is an express declaration of my willingness to inform the other of my thought. Every lie is objectionable and deserving of contempt, for once we declare that we are telling the other our thoughts..."
 From his Lectures on Ethics, p.203