September 2006

It's better for a lover of the truth to lie than for a liar to tell the truth.” I've often wondered about the ethics of lying. Honesty is a sound general principle, but in certain cases I have no problem with lying—covering for someone, for instance, or the dreaded “how do I look in this?”; even the legendary “are you hiding Jews in your house?” In some cases, lying is clearly the right thing to do.

KT commented:

Do you believe in any absolute moral principles? I don't think I do anymore. At least not at the strictest theoretical level.

I generally see them now as guides for children, as it were, but as one matures ethically, and comes to understand the reasons behind the principles, one doesn't need them anymore, because one has the reasons.

I think there is one ultimate underlying 'reason', namely, 'love your neighbour as yourself', and that, when principles come into conflict with that, they should be abandoned.

However, at the same time, principles also provide a guide for ambiguous situations where the outcome is very uncertain and one doesn't have enough information to apply the 'reason' confidently. In such cases, it is helpful to have a principle to fall back on if someone questions your conduct later on, or you feel guilty yourself and need to feel that you were compelled to act as you did, in obedience to a principle. Whether one is inclined to think situations like that are going to be frequent enough to make absolute principles pragmatically necessary, I guess is a matter for debate. In any case, I don't think ethical absolutes are theoretically 'real'.

Though I also consider that this picture explains why God might have felt it necessary to lay down some absolutes - on the one hand because he was dealing with 'children', and on the other, because maybe we never do have enough information to apply the 'reason' confidently. Whereas He, of course, does, and therefore His recommendations are to be trusted.

Uh...that's my highly abstracted and inconclusive 2 cents :)

Matt commented:

Yeah, I'm with you on that. Dangerous as it is, more and more I find myself in the quagmire of utilitarianism—‘the greatest good for the greatest number' balanced with ‘love your neighbour' as the closest things I hold to absolutes.

Andrew W commented:

Heathen liberals! Deniers of morality! :p

I agree (with you guys). :)