Telling Lies Study Guide
Telling Lies Study Guide

Telling Lies Study Guide

Source: Open Book Publishers

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A study guide on introductory concepts in philosophy.

Telling Lies Study Guide

​Philosophers, in many issues, like to start by asking what we mean by the key term. Once we ask the question “what is it to lie?” it becomes quickly apparent that the issues are complex and unclear. To lie does not just mean to say something false, rather it has something to do with trying to get another person to believe what you claim to be true, when you in fact think it is false.

Is it wrong to lie? The utilitarian says “it depends”. That is, if the consequences of lying are better than telling the truth then we are morally required to lie. The deontologist — the Kantian or Divine Command Theorist for example — thinks that lying is always wrong. There are no situations at all when it would be morally acceptable to lie.

Both the consequentialist and the deontologist’s responses seem to lead to counterintuitive claims. One possible way to respond to this is to revisit the definition of lying and claim that the counterintuitive responses to moral questions regarding lying arise because of a false or incomplete understanding of what it is to lie.

Finally, we might simply reject the requirement of capturing our intuitions at all. We might simply say, so much the worse for our intuitions! We finished this chapter with some general thoughts about truth and lying in the political arena.

Key Terminology

  • Lie
  • McCloskey’s Sheriff
  • Rule-utilitarian
  • Duty
  • “Post-truth”

Do you ever think it is morally acceptable to lie? When?


Could a robot lie?


In the local town there is a sign at the roundabout — “Happy birthday Keith, 40 today!” It has been there about a year. Is this lying?


Do you think it makes sense to talk about “lying to oneself”? If it does, how might this change our definition?


Reflecting on your answers so far would you agree with our definition of “lying”? Or do you think it needs modifying?


Give an example where the consequentialist would say we are morally required to lie.


How might the rule and the act utilitarian differ in their response to the question whether it is morally wrong to lie?


Give an example where the deontologist would say we ought not to lie.


If you had to go for either a deontological approach to lying or a consequentialist approach, which would it be?


Do you think that we are living in a “post-truth” era? If so, how does this change (if at all) how we think of lying?

​© 2017 Mark Dimmock and Andrew Fisher

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