#Everyday #ethics #Sorting #lies
Question: When is a lie not a lie?
Answer: When it’s the truth.
Philosophers hold a range of opinions about the ethical dimensions of lying. Some hold that lies are contextual, meaning there are times when lying is better than telling the truth if this benefits others. Plato and John Stuart Mill fall into this category. Other philosophers say lying is always wrong; the most famous of these is Immanuel Kant, who believed telling lies treats people as objects.
Of course, we live in an age of lies, half-truths, and lies masquerading as truths. Remember the famous line in the “Seinfeld” television series: “Just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.” On the scale of lies, this ranks as somewhere in the middle of the worst because the liar can at least say he thought what he was saying was true.
Now before you say there is no truth but only shades of it, I suggest that there are some truths bigger than others, just as there are some lies bigger than others.
For example, some tell little white lies to save other people’s feelings. Others with a more ethical reason lie lto save someone’s life. Anne Frank’s story of hiding in the attic to save her from the Nazis who come to the door asking if you are hiding people from arrest and you lie to save her serves a greater purpose — to save a life.
Then there are some people who lie often. During his four years in office, former President Donald Trump lied more than 30,000 times, according to The Washington Post Fact Checker. His lies were often told to avoid telling the truth or protecting himself.
And then there are the most unethical liars — those who know the truth and lie for some other reason, perhaps to gain influence or power. The most recent examples of this kind of immoral behavior are the Fox News commentators who lied about the last presidential election so as not to upset their viewers and lose ratings and profits.
How do we know these commentators knew the truth but lied anyway? Because they said so.
Fox majority owner Rupert Murdoch said under oath in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against his company that in the wake of the 2020 vote many hosts of his shows were endorsing lies from Trump about election fraud. Why? Because they reportedly didn’t want to disturb their viewers and lose audience share.
Dominion charged in its defamation suit against Fox that the network pushed conspiracy theories that the election was stolen, the so-called “big lie,” many times without solid evidence, and that Fox commentators spread these lies despite knowing they were false. According to the Dominion filing, Tucker Carlson, one Fox host, called the election fraud lies ‘ludicrous”” and “totally off the rails,” while Sean Hannity called proponents of the idea “lunatics.” In other words, they knew the big lie was itself a lie but told their viewing audiences otherwise.
It’s bad enough to spread a lie if you believe it’s true but morally reprehensible to spread lies when you know they are not true. That’s the lowest form of ethical behavior because it not only shows a lack of character but also a willful attempt to mislead others who believe you are telling the truth. It’s a betrayal of trust.We may not like the truth, but freedom requires it in order to make judgments based on facts. So, by willfully spreading lies, democracy itself is damaged.
John C. Morgan started out as a reporter and editor but has written about and taught ethics for many years. His weekly columns can be read at www.readingeagle.com.
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