Ethics in Focus: Lying and Truthfulness

What makes lying so bad? Is it because it harms others or because it harms oneself or because of both? If you have lied to someone, can you still rectify your moral status and regain that person’s trust? To put it differently, is lying still forgivable if it is done only once and contemptible only when you develop the habit of lying? Two philosophers, Immanuel Kant and the greatest influencer on him, Alexander Baumgarten, give completely opposite answers to these questions. Offering tools for philosophising for yourself, this course casts philosophical light on the moral issues of lying and truthfulness.


SUGGESTED READING

  • Baumgarten, A. G.: Ethica philosophica [Philosophical Ethics], 3rd ed. (Halle, 1763) [As there is no translation of this work into a modern language, I will provide my own].
  • Kant, I.: Metaphysics of Morals, (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  • Kant, I.: On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy, In Practical Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  • Kant, I.: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
  • Kant, I.: Lectures on Ethics, (Cambridge University Press, 1997)


COURSE OUTLINE

  • Share your own views on lying and truthfulness. Do you think lying is really that bad? Or, do you think lying is sometimes bad and sometimes good, depending on the situation? Do you trust your friend if he lies to you once, or do you unfriend him only when he lies multiple times, but how often does he have to lie to become untrustworthy? Do you think some types of lying are excusable? If so, in what cases do you think lying is permissible?
  • How can I tell if the other person is lying? We often do not know if the other person, who appear to be nice to me, hides his hatred against me or not. We also often do not know if the other person is lying to me or not because the other person is from a different culture and we do not understand their code of conduct. How should we deal with these situations? Baumgarten advises us to become friends with them anyway, since, as long as there is no hostility between us, we can still become friends. Do you agree with this view or not?
  • Lying in relation to oneself and to others. Is lying bad because it harms others or because it harms oneself or because of both? Kant argues that lying is bad primarily because it harms oneself, and that it does not matter much whether it harms others or not. Do you agree with this view or not?
  • Who is a liar? When am I accused of being a liar? Even when I lie to someone in just one instance? Or, when I develop the habit of lying and it becomes my “second nature”, as it were? Kant thinks that the first one is the case, whereas Baumgarten sides with the second. Which of these views do you agree with?
  • Lies of necessity, officious lies, and humorous lies. We might think that lying out of necessity is sometimes justifiable, such as when we need to save one’s own or someone else’s life. We also might think that there is a type of lies that is useful, such as when we lie about trivial things to make social interaction smoother. We also might think that telling a lie to amuse others is excusable. Are these types of lies really lies? If they are not lies really, then they might be permissible, at least occasionally. Or, are these types of lies still contemptible because they reveal one’s untruthfulness anyway? Which of these views do you sympathise with more?
  • Reflect on your views on lying and truthfulness. Have you changed your views on lying and truthfulness since the beginning of the course? Why or why not?


PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Understand some of the major theories and debates in philosophical accounts of lying and truthfulness.
  2. Understand and analyse arguments in the relevant literatures.
  3. Evaluate these theories and arguments critically.
  4. Develop their own views and arguments through consideration and analysis of the views and arguments presented in the course.
  5. Engage constructively and respectfully with the views and arguments of others, even if they disagree with them.
$192 Limited / $173

<p>What makes lying so bad? Is it because it harms others or because it harms oneself or because of both? If you have lied to someone, can you still rectify your moral status and regain that person’s

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19 Aug

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