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Should We Tell the Truth at All Times?

Updated on December 21, 2017

Categorical imperative

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Kant on telling the truth


In his work on "Ethics" Kant described human beings as having intrinsic worth (human dignity). This, according to Kant was due to the fact that unlike other animals, human beings are unique with the capacity to freely make their own decisions guided by reason. To remain ethical therefore, Kant emphasized that it was important that this be respected not only in oneself, but also others. Given that lying affects the ability of an individual to make free and rational choices, Kant argued that it is always wrong to lie. Here, a lie affects the decisions made given that it results in one making a decision that they would otherwise not have made. According to Kant, this directly harms human dignity

Can lying be good?


While most people understand lying to be a bad thing given that it misleads and conceals the truth, many will also agree that in some cases, telling the truth can be immoral. A good example of this is with Anne Frank, who was herself a victim of the Holocaust. Through her writing, it becomes evident that she was not an evil person, but rather a good, innocent person who hoped for the best in humanity (even of the Nazis). While she and her family were in hiding, it is said that someone tipped the State Police (told the truth of their whereabouts) which resulted in her capture (along with others), deportation to a camp and ultimately to her death from Typhus. In this case, telling the truth can be said to be immoral given that it resulted in the capture and harm of a young innocent girl where lying would have potentially spared them of such suffering.
Here, lying can be justified on the basis that it would have saved lives and not resulted in any harm of the innocent. Here, it can also be argued that by telling the truth about Anne's whereabouts, the individuals knows that it will result in her capture and suffering at the camps.

Kantian ethics

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Final words


With such knowledge, the individuals can be said to be doing an immoral thing given that he/she understand that his/her actions will result in the suffering of an innocent person. By choosing to tell the truth, he/she condemns her to suffering when lying that he/she never knew her would have resulted in saving a life. In this case therefore, it can be concluded that telling the truth can be immoral particularly in the event that it results in other immoral consequences such as the suffering of innocent people (in this particular case, the individual has knowledge that telling the truth will result in such suffering).

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