The Benevolent Lie
Adam has a very interesting post on the ethics of “benevolent lying” up at Within Reason. It made me think about a few things. Are we always under the obligation to tell the truth to a person? In this case, my immediate question is this: must we tell the truth to a person when the “person” we are speaking to is not the ideal person we associate with that entity in question? That’s a lot of technical mumbo jumbo, so here’s an example:
You know Andy well. Andy feels deeply that it is important to always live life in full knowledge of the truth. So Andy despises self-deception, and the kinds of fake comforts that come along with it. Now let’s assume that Andy’s wife cheated on him, and you know this for a fact. Further assume that Andy’s wife has just died. Sometime later on, you are having a discussion with Andy, and he says “well, she was a faithful wife, wasn’t she?” And he looks to you for confirmation. What do you do?
First, I think there are two Andy’s here.
1. Ideal Andy. This is the Andy you have known and cared about for years. This Andy hates self-deception, and it’s one of his fundamental “plans and projects” in life not to be in deception. To the ideal Andy, self-deception, say, is inconsistent with human excellence.
2. Apparent Andy. This is the Andy who, at the moment, appears to have as a plan and project (a value) self-deception.
What do you do? You could lie, thus assisting apparent Andy and thwarting ideal Andy. My question is, here, whose values or projects must I be sensitive to? My strong intuition is that apparent Andy has no claims on my sensitivity. I’m not friends with apparent Andy. In fact, apparent Andy is like an imposter, some interloper who has possessed the body of my actual friend. As a matter of fact, being sensitive as a friend may require that I thwart apparent Andy in favor of ideal Andy, even if it causes a lot of pain. So it looks like a benevolent lie is not acceptable in this case.
This idea is not thought through. Just a quick thought, and I’m wondering what others think.
UPDATE: I’ve updated the example to make better sense of what I was trying to say (hat tip to Adam here). In the new version, I kill off the wife (I’m under no obligation to construct TEs that are maximally benevolent).
UPDATE 2: Adam responds to this with a new post over at his place.