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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

T is for Truth

T is for Truth

It is generally accepted that the 'morally' correct thing to do is tell the truth. Kant for example has telling the truth as one of his categorical imperatives, even being as rigid as stating that no matter what the circumstances you must tell the truth.

I take a little bit of a different approach. Lying to protect a life (eg if a murder asked you where his potential victim went) is always a higher priority than telling the truth. Alternatively I believe it is okay to lie to spare someone's feelings long term. It is important to stress here that I simply mean things that are not important.

So if you and your other half are spending the day inside and her hair is a mess, asks if it is alright, then what would the point be in telling her it isn't? All that would happen is she would get upset with no benefit because if she went and fixed her hair then no-one else would see it anyway and all you're left with is the upset of her being hurt.

It would be a different story if you were going to be seeing other people, then you must tell the truth to prevent further harm from embarrassment. I weigh up the potential upset or pain, and if the benefits of white lies outweigh the harm then it is okay. I must admit though I cannot think of many examples where white lies cause less upset than telling the truth.

There is a reason why there is a saying about the truth hurts, it does, but only because it is a confirmation. If something hurts me when someone is being truthful it is usually only because I already knew it deep down and did not want to admit it. If you are afraid of telling the truth from fear of someone getting upset with you then remember that the upset is not necessarily with you.

Obvious exceptions to this spring to mind straight away. Cheating, for example, when you tell the truth there of course the other person is going to be mad at you, and not necessarily because of some 'inner acceptance' of the fact.

This just presents to me more that the truth is a very subjective area and you cannot introduce absolute laws for how to manage it. So "You must always tell the truth" doesn't work and nor does "Lying is always bad". It works simply on a situation by situation basis.

It is also very important to note that by 'harm' to a person this does include yourself. So a victim of that horrendous evil known as domestic abuse might interpret what I'm saying here as "Me telling the police will harm the abuser, I have to reduce harm as much as possible, so I should not call the police". Harm to a person includes yourself!

Should we then have a guideline saying that telling the truth is generally better? I'd still argue no. I'd say we should not be having the truth itself as the subject for a guideline. I think harm to another should be the preset. "Does this harm someone? If so, all things (immediate and future) considered is it better to lie or tell the truth?"

Again there are problems with this model as you can never fully predict the consequences of actions, but that's life so you can only work with what you have. There is little point in factoring in every possible outcome because you'll spend all day doing it so assume the most like few options and if something completely unexpected happens then you still judged it as best you could with the information at hand.

Going back to the distinction of who is being harmed, the case of domestic abuse is in some ways an easy one, as you are being seriously harmed and you need protection, but it does present more complicated cases where someone is trying to prevent themselves from being arrested or something such because you need to protect yourself before others. This is where my model falls down as I have not quite worked out a way around this.

Frankly people know that this is not what I mean. Humans do enjoy looking for any loophole they can to get out of trouble they know they are responsible for. I suppose the word 'victim' is important here, if you are a victim you should prioritize your wellbeing. If you are a criminal simply trying to get away with what you have done... not so much


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