A Question About Lying

The question is frequently posed to me, and though I am often vague with my answers, I usually err on the side of cautious honesty.  Is it ever alright to lie?

In this society, or rather our current social climate, where almost all is left up to the individual’s interpretation, the line between virtue and vice seems less perceptible than ever before. At least in my experience of something I have noted repeatedly – and in my observation of people’s communication regarding the issue – I have come to my own conclusions. Albeit arrogantly (and with a sense of disdain for the tales that have been “made-up” in support of human hypocrisy), I am convinced that most people cannot discern between right and wrong, good and evil and least of all, true or false. Stories comprised of innumerable causes for our disregard for logic abound; some invoke the most mundane psychological truisms and others, which in their obscurity and significant anonymity warrant their own merit.

To me nothing could be simpler and more complex at the same time. And though I occasionally resort to contempt for the minds who can’t grasp it as well as I do, I find exulting pleasure in knowing that they are simply incapable.  Despite my most fervently “honest” efforts to explain my perspectives to those who request an account of my familiarity with deception, I have so far failed to convince the majority. Please note that this is not a reflection of my powers of persuasion, rather, it points to (philosophically) a pervasive flaw in the human psyche, which is our innate ability to self-deceive.

Rationalising, self-justification, and abnegation are all forms of self-deception and while being ubiquitous in the species, with useful functions as defense mechanisms, they can be the lowest forms of emotional and psychological regulation in which humans engage. I am appalled by people’s willingness to lie to themselves, and much more indignant at their ability to deny it in the light of evidence. Concordantly, there are times when people must lie to themselves in order to manage the tremendous stress of dissonant experiences. And paradoxically only on these grounds can such attitudinal cacophony be justified without trespassing into moral dishonesty.

Having dispensed with some of my animosity towards those who lie to themselves unnecessarily, I would like to reiterate that self-deception, like all other forms of the transgression, are only reprehensible when committed consciously. Moreover, it is important for human beings to understand the difference between fact and pretense if we are to halt suffering and come to an apposite understanding of our core. Deep, honest introspection is necessary to accomplish the endeavour of self-discovery. Nevertheless, the reservation infringes on the moral responsibility of honesty with our neighbours and kin and the potential philosophical disharmony inherent in such a question. Is it then, ever, alright to lie?

This subject and the possible results of its examination threaten to further erode the already unkempt human moral landscape – a condition I attribute to the misunderstanding of moral source. Although, this is a complex issue in itself, and I will not attempt to present my thoughts about it here; I once again appeal to your intellect to consider the expectation of recompense intrinsic in most human action.

The question takes me through the spectrum of human emotion and psychology, to the darkest recesses of the human “heart” where hypocrisy and insincerity duel. Yes it is! There are times when it is perfectly okay to tell a lie, and given the precise circumstances it is expected of the noble being .  The mistreated principle of compassion should make this clear, and when I surrender to its affect on my intellect, I am reminded of my previous conclusions, which perhaps due to my own ignorance seems inexorable.  To be able to fight for the truth, to defend it against the incongruous nature of human honesty, one must understand it and know it; one must respect it.

The question I have often posed to myself is: How can a species, whose balance depends on contrive order and self-deception, ever know when it is alright to lie to or to tell the truth?

… the wise thing is to train [yourself] to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not [y]our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of [y]our high calling.    

Samuel Clemens



  1. ” I would like to reiterate that self-deception, like all other forms of the transgression, are only reprehensible when committed consciously.”

    Please give an example of self-deception being committed consciously.


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