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Thread: Is Lying Immoral (Sinful, Illegal)?

  1. #1 Is Lying Immoral (Sinful, Illegal)? 
    Forum Ph.D.
    Join Date
    Feb 2007
    Is Lying Immoral (Sinful, Illegal)?

    I was raised in a Catholic family and went to Catholic schools and was taught by nuns that lying was a sin. To me and my fellow Catholic kids lying was the most serious sin we could imagine. We were taught that we had to “examine our conscience” before confession and to tell the priest of our sins in the confessional.

    How does a kid tell the difference between a “white lie” and a “sin lie” or any of the other forms of “lies” that we saw adults indulge in? Surly Mom and Dad did not lie! It was all a great puzzlement!

    The nuns taught us all about moral concepts; of course, they did not use such big words. I have later learned that the nuns taught us in accordance with a classical, also called objectivist, theory of categorical structure.

    “According to the classical or objectivist theory of categorical structure, there must be a set of necessary and sufficient conditions the possession of which alone makes a speech act a lie…As a Moral Law theorist and an absolutist, Alan Donagan defines the essential features of a lie as “any free linguistic utterance expressing something contrary to the speaker’s mind”.”

    Linda Coleman and Paul Kay have discovered facts that indicate that “the category of lie exhibits prototype effects; that is, there are certain central instances of speech acts that speakers easily and noncontroversial recognize as lies.”

    What are these prototype effects that Coleman and Kay speak of?

    Lie is a concept that displays a core structure surrounded by a “fuzzy” penumbra (fringe) of less clear-cut cases about which the speaker may be justifiably unsure as to their moral objectionability: such a penumbra might contain such things as mistakes, jokes, exaggerations, white lies, social lies, and over simplifications.

    Coleman and Kay found that these core cases that everyone could easily agree upon as being lies, i.e. those prototypical cases of clear-cut lies, fulfilled all three of the following conditions: 1) the speaker is confident that the statement is erroneous, 2) the speaker is intent upon deceiving the listener, and 3) the statement is in fact erroneous.

    The less prototypical instances of lying fulfilled one or two conditions but not all three. Furthermore, tests were run and it was discovered that subjects typically rated the conditions in order of “importance”: 1) being most important and 3) being the least important. Subjects seemed to agree on the relative weights given to the individual elements.

    We see here that lie does not follow the classical objectivist strict categorization. A fixed set of essential conditions do not exist and there is considerable internal structure to the concept that are of a great deal of importance in determining whether a statement qualifies as a lie or not.

    Quotes from Moral Imagination by Mark Johnson

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