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Kant’s Ethics: Objection to Lying Essay


Introduction

The concept of lie is probably one of the most controversial and complicated issues to discuss because as many people as many different points of view. Immanuel Kant regarded lying as “the greatest violation of man’s duty to himself regarded merely as a moral being (the humanity in his own person)” (Kant & Gregor 1991, p. 225).

This German philosopher offered too influential ideas, and one of them was the idea of the categorical imperative that was the major standard of rationality and a ground for all moral requirements. If the Golden Rule states that lying is possible under certain conditions, the Kantian categorical imperative denied lying and identified it as something immoral.

Any form of lying cannot be approved even the one that aims at saving someone’s life or protecting somebody from anxiety. According to Immanuel Kant, lying has to be prohibited and considered as morally wrong under any possible circumstances; lying cannot be defensible, because any case of lie will be a violation of the Categorical Imperative by means of disrespect to the rationality.

On a Supposed Right to Tell Lies from Benevolent Motives: an Idea of a Rational Person

In his On a Supposed Right to Tell Lies from Benevolent Motives, Immanuel Kant identified “truth in utterances that cannot be avoided” as “the formal duty of a man to everyone” (Kant 2009, p. 362). In this work, Kant offered to accomplish a test according to which lying was an example of immoral behaviour. If person’s behaviour leads to a certain contradiction, this behaviour has to be called immoral. In case a person does not say truth, he/she is considered to be a liar.

As a rule, any liar wants to inform other people about the truth somehow, because in other case, all other people lie as well, and no one can believe each other, and as a result, person’s lie cannot be effective. In other words, if people accept lies, they lie as well, and all their words do not make any sense, and such behaviour does not work, so, it has to be regarded as immoral and wrong.

According to such attitude to the problem of lie, there cannot be any exception and any reason that may justify lying and make it morally correct. All people were born with some kind of human dignity, and this dignity underlines the fact that all people are rational and able to make decisions independently and behave reasonably.

“A rational agent is one who has the power to act in accordance with his idea of law – that is, to act in accordance with principles” (Kant 2005, p. 19). When a person is rational, he/she is ready to respect the power of oneself and the power of other people, and lying will be certainly prohibited for those powerful and respected people, who live according to own principles.

Lying as a Form of Communication between People

Nowadays, people get a chance to communicate with each by numerous means. Kant regarded lying as one more form of communication between people (Johnson & Irwin 2009, p. 271). By means of communication, people enlarge their knowledge, study other people, share information, and improve their positions.

It is not even obvious to lie all the time, because even one case of lie may lead to negative results and make people being suspicious to each other. Without any doubts, communication is such thing that requires trust and understanding. If a person is already aware that the information that comes out of interlocutor’s mouth is not true, this person does not actually communicate.

If people lie all the time, no one can trust each other’s words, and communication turns out to be impossible. And as lying is a form of communication, and people know this fact, the only way out in order not to be defrauded is stop communicating. Of course, each person on the world realizes that it is impossible to stop communicating, and because of that it is impossible to stop lying. It is one more proof that lying is immoral, and no exception can be used to justify lies.

Communication makes people lie to each other, requires destruction of rationality, undoes the purpose of human language, and does not allow to believe that people may be rational in themselves. This is why Kant admitted that “lying is a radical evil” (Oehlschlaeger 2003, p. 241).

Ethics of Rights and Lying

Immanuel Kant was one of those philosophers, who spent much time to develop proper ethics of rights and each people to behave ethically correct. He underlines the importance of motives and duties at expense of results, because morality was the question number one for the philosopher (Hinman 2007).

Morality is regarded as an absolute notion, and moral duty has to have reasons, which prove the essence of human existence. As an example, Kant suggested to justify lying as an ethical issue. A person lies and believes that lying is ethical and acceptable.

As a result, everyone around this person may also believe that it is ethical to say lies. With time, saying lies will become a norm for everyone, and chaos gets all chances to develop and destroy the society that lies. Lies lead to chaos, and chaos leads to disaster, so that lies serve as a ground for human disaster.

This is why lying cannot be ethical. Even white lie may lead to disaster. On a Supposed Right to Tell Lies from Benevolent Motives presents one of the most terrible and at the same time the most correct examples of how truth is obligatory according to ethics of rights.

If a murder knocks to your own door in order to find out your friend and kill him and asks whether your friend is here, you cannot lie to this person, because the murder as well as you or your friend has the right to know the truth. If you say lie, death may find your friend in other place, but your moral duty will be failed (Kant 2009). “You do not know for sure what the consequences will be if you tell the horrible truth, but you do know for sure that you will have lied if you fail to tell it” (McCloskey 2006, p. 354).

Lying in accordance with a Good Will

When we talk about lying and people inability to stop telling lies, we have to take into consideration such notion as a good will. “The only thing in the world which is good without qualification is a good will” (Warburton 2001, p. 139). Only good intentions may be good under any conditions, and other actions, thoughts, virtues, and words may be good under some certain conditions.

In Kant’s Foundations, it is discovered that such issues like wisdom, courage, perseverance, power, and even health may be considerably bad if a good will is absent (Kant & Beck 1969), because good will is an essence of morality. All above mentioned human virtues are immoral and may lead to bad outcomes because they can be based on lies. This is why lying is such notion that may be present even along with the best human qualities.

People should be very careful with lies, because it may become one day that truth is something not inherent to people, and the phrase of the famous modern character Dr. House that “Everybody lies” would become the motto not only of this medical drams but also the motto of our life, and Immanuel Kant would be right stating that lying is “a violation of a perfect duty to oneself” (Korsgaard 1998, p. 199) and proving that our world would become chaotic within a short period of time.

Conclusion

The studies, offered by Immanuel Kant in the far 18th century, turn out to be acceptable nowadays. So many people have already lost their ways because of constant lying and tricking people, and lying has all chance to become a universal norm in all senses.

Kantian objection to lying is one more attempt to save human lives and tech them to conduct in accordance with own wills in order to be fair to people around and to yourself. Kant did not accept any exception that could justify lies, and his ideas were rather defensible, because in order to live happy and satisfied life, it is crucially important to be honest to yourself, and lying is the most terrible barriers to trust and happiness.

Reference List

Hinman, LM 2007 Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory. Belmont, California, Wadsworth Publishing.

Johnson, DK & Irwin, W 2009 Heroes and Philosophy: Buy the Book, Save the World. New Jersey, John Wiley and Sons.

Kant, I 1969 Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Lewis White Beck. Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill.

Kant, I 1991 Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary Gregor. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Kant, I 2005 The Moral Law: Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Translated by Herbert J. Paton. New York, Routledge.

Kant, I 2009 ‘On a Supposed Rights to Tell Lies from Benevolent Motives’, Critique of Practical Reason, and Other Works on the Theory of Ethics. BiblioBazaar, LLC.

Korsgaard, CM 1998, ‘Kant on Dealing with Evil’, Ethics: The Big Questions by James P. Sterba. Malden, MA, Wiley-Blackwell.

McCloskey, DN 2006 The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Oehlschlaeger, F 2003 Love and Good Reasons: Postliberal Approaches to Christian Ethics and Literature. Durham, NC, Duke University Press.

Warburton, N 2001 Philosophy: The Classics. New York, Routledge.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Kant’s Ethics: Objection to Lying." February 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/kants-ethics-objection-to-lying/.

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