That’s according to a new study about the ethics of lying released today by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
“We say lying is wrong in our personal and professional lives, but we often catch ourselves feeling very uncomfortable when we have to tell the truth, such as when we deliver critical feedback or when we tell grandpa that we don’t like the oranges he sends us every year as a birthday present,” says Emma Levine, a doctoral candidate at Wharton, who co-authored the study. “We lie all the time and we see other people doing it, so we get very mixed messages.”
Levine and her co-author, Wharton professor Maurice Schweitzer, dig into these issues by showing that lies come in many flavors: well-intentioned lies are considered moral, while selfish or meaningless lies are considered immoral.
The truth is that we all lie–but sometimes it’s with the intention of sparing the feelings of others or preventing others from experiencing psychological harm. The new Wharton paper points to many examples of this: We might tell our host that their meat loaf is delicious or tell a colleague that their work makes a valuable contribution, when we don’t believe these things to be true.
In everyday speech, we sometimes call these statements “white lies,” but this phrase gives the impression that these deceptions are inconsequential. Yet people lie in high-stakes scenarios all the time: Parents might deceive their children about the state of their marriage or doctors might lie to their patients about exactly how terrible their diagnosis is to help them recover better. “We are often very conflicted when we lie and are spend a lot of energy wrestling with our decision to lie,” Levine says.
Levine and Schweitzer wanted to scientifically identify exact instances when lying is considered immoral. To do this, they put hundreds of subjects through scenarios involving deception to see whether they judged particular forms of lying to be good or bad. For example, in some cases, lying to someone might result in giving the recipient of the lie a few dollars; in other cases, lying to someone might result in taking a few dollars away from the recipient of the lie.
The results were unanimous: Lying to help another person was consistently perceived to be good, while lying that had no effect on the other person or that actually harmed them was perceived to be wrong. In the paper, Levine and Scheweitzer write: “Individuals with altruistic intentions are perceived to be more moral, more benevolent, and more honest, even when they lie.” (Emphasis theirs.)
This is a major development in ethical research, because until now, lies have been studied as a single category of selfish, wrongheaded behavior. Levine and Scheweitzer make it possible to think critically about lying and to consider instances when it might be productive and healthy. “There might be interpersonal benefits that help others that require lying,” Levine says. “It’s important to move the conversation in that direction.”
So what can we do with this information? As a first step, we can stop feeling guilty about every lie we utter. This sinking feeling prevents us from thinking rationally about our objectives and intentions: In some cases, benevolent lies may be the kindest and most reasonable course of action.
“From a business perspective, most managers feel very conflicted about lying to their employees,” Levine says. “Most companies say that they really value honesty and integrity, but every day managers are not sharing complete information for the sake of protecting employees’ feelings or privacy. The advice on the table is that rather than saying something is bad then doing it anyway, we should be thinking critically about when lying might be the right thing to do.”
She hopes that this research allows people to have a more nuanced and open discussion about their behavior and motivations.
However, Levine makes it clear that not all lies are good: There are many lies that are harmful, self-interested, and just plain wrong. “I want to reiterate that people tell lies that are selfish and lies that don’t help anyone,” she says. “The point of our study is that helping others is often more important than honesty.”
Truth is a term used to indicate various forms of accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. The opposite of truth is falsehood, which, correspondingly, can also take on logical, factual, or ethicalmeanings. Language and words are a means by which humans convey information to one another in semiotic associations, and the method used to recognize a truth is termed a criterion of truth. There are differing claims as to what constitutes truth, what things are truthbearers capable of being true or false, how to define and identify truth, the roles that revealed and acquired knowledge play, and whether truth is subjective or objective, relative or absolute.
- The national argument right now is, one, who's got the truth and, two, who's got the facts… Until we can manage to get the two of them back together again, we're not going to make much progress.
- Michael Adams, lexicology professor at North Carolina State University, discussing the neologism "truthiness", defined as "the quality of stating concepts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts" in "Linguists Vote 'Truthiness' Word of 2005", AP via Yahoo! News, (6 January 2006)
- Art is magic delivered from the lie of being truth.
- Theodor Adorno in Minima Moralia (1951), as translated by E. Jephcott (1974), § 143, p. 222.
- Truth is strong enough to overcome all human sophistries.
- Time, beneath whose influence the pyramids moulder into dust, and the flinty rocks decay, does not and cannot destroy a fact, nor strip a truth of one portion of its essential importance.
- Anonymous statement, quoted in The Homilist; or, The pulpit for the People (1873) edited by David Thomas, p. 55.
- To say of what is, that it is, or of what is not, that it is not, is true.
- Why, then, does truth generate hatred, and why does thy servant who preaches the truth come to be an enemy to them who also love the happy life, which is nothing else than joy in the truth—unless it be that truth is loved in such a way that those who love something else besides her wish that to be the truth which they do love. Since they are unwilling to be deceived, they are unwilling to be convinced that they have been deceived. Therefore, they hate the truth for the sake of whatever it is that they love in place of the truth. They love truth when she shines on them; and hate her when she rebukes them.
- These bitter accusations might have been suppressed, had I, with greater policy, concealed my struggles, and flattered you into the belief of my being impelled by unqualified, unalloyed inclination; by reason, by reflection, by everything. But disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just.
- Change in our views seems to be the only permanent phenomenon, and in no science has the maxim: "Much arises which has already perished, and what is now honored is already declining," attained such extended verification as in the very science of medicine. Even so in this same science has been proven the truth of that other saying: "As long at man struggles he errs". To err in its struggles after the truth is, however, according to the resigned expression of Lessing, the portion of humanity, and absolute truth is of God alone.
- You must be ever vigilant to discover the unifying Truth behind all the scintillating variety.
- Not being known doesn't stop the truth from being true.
- The logic now in use serves rather to fix and give stability to the errors which have their foundation in commonly received notions than to help the search for truth. So it does more harm than good.
- What is truth? said jesting Pilate, but would not stay for an answer.
- Francis Bacon, Essays 1: Of truth.
- But no pleasure is comparable to standing upon the vantage ground of truth.
- Francis Bacon, Essays, Of Truth; reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 603; in Hoyt's New Cyclopedia Of Practical Quotations (1922), p. 818.
- Yes, there is a Divinity, one from which we must never turn aside for the guidance of our huge inward life and of the share we have as well in the life of all men. It is called the truth.
- Unfortunately, truth is neither a listable nor a decidable property; nor is the truth of a statement of arithmetic. The American logician John Myhill has used the term 'prospective' to characterize those attributes of the world that are neither listable nor decidable. They are properties that cannot be recognized by the application of some formula, made to conform to a rule, or generated by some computer program. They are characterized by incessant novelty that cannot be encompassed by any finite set of rules. 'Beauty', 'ugliness', 'truth', 'harmony', simplicity', and 'poetry' are names we give to some of the attributes of this sort. There is no way of listing all examples of beauty or ugliness, nor any procedure for saying whether or not something possesses either of those attributes, without redefining them in some more restrictive fashion that kills their prospective character.
- [T]he single equation of nature, aimed at by Lagrange and Hamilton, by Weber and Maxwell in their several ways, has... reached a more profound significance and now even holds dynamics, awkwardly it is true but none the less inexorably, in its grasp. That it is not complete, that it never can be complete, is admitted (for the absolute truth poured into the vessel of the human mind would probably dissolve it); but that it is immeasurably more complete to-day than it was yesterday is as incontrovertably true as it is inspiring.
- Carl Barus, "The Mathematician in Modern Physics" (Nov. 20, 1914) Science Vol. 40, Jul-Dec 1914, p. 727.
- Science leads to great achievements, which, quite rightly, fill of joy those who seek the truth, but if pursued, teaches us that we must seek other sources of ultimate truth and find answers to existential questions about the meaning of life and the mystery of death.
- Franco BassaniKnowing the universe. For whom? at the XXVII edition of the “Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples”, Rimini meeting 2006, August 23, 2006.
- Nothing is wholly obvious without becoming enigmatic. Reality itself is too obvious to be true.
- Jean Baudrillard, The Perfect Crime (1993), as translated by Ian Michel and William Sarah (1995).
- Relations between States and within States are correct to the extent that they respect the truth. When, instead, truth is violated, peace is threatened, law is endangered, then, as a logical consequence, forms of injustice are unleashed. These form boundaries that divide countries far more deeply than the frontiers outlined on maps and are often not only external but also internal.
- Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth. Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:32). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6).
- Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space.
- The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim “to interfere in any way in the politics of States.” She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation. Without truth, it is easy to fall into an empiricist and sceptical view of life, incapable of rising to the level of praxis because of a lack of interest in grasping the values — sometimes even the meanings — with which to judge and direct it. Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development. For this reason the Church searches for truth, proclaims it tirelessly and recognizes it wherever it is manifested. This mission of truth is something that the Church can never renounce. Her social doctrine is a particular dimension of this proclamation: it is a service to the truth which sets us free. Open to the truth, from whichever branch of knowledge it comes, the Church's social doctrine receives it, assembles into a unity the fragments in which it is often found, and mediates it within the constantly changing life-patterns of the society of peoples and nations
- The aim of life is inquiry into the Truth, and not the desire for enjoyment in heaven by performing religious rites, Those who possess the knowledge of the Truth, call the knowledge of non-duality as the Truth, It is called Brahman, the Highest Self, and Bhagavan.
- Bhagavata Purana 1.2.10-11, translated by Daniel Sheridan 1986, p. 23
- Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believed.
- William Blake, Proverbs of Hell, Line 69, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–1793)
- Two sorts of truth: profound truths recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth, in contrast to trivialities where opposites are obviously absurd.
- Niels Bohr, As quoted by his son Hans Bohr in "My Father", published in Niels Bohr: His Life and Work (1967), p. 328
- Unsourced variant: The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
- As quoted in Max Delbrück, Mind from Matter: An Essay on Evolutionary Epistemology, (1986) p. 167. It is the hallmark of any deep truth that its negation is also a deep truth.
- Without free speech no search for Truth is possible; without free speech no discovery of Truth is useful; without free speech progress is checked, and the nations no longer march forward towards the nobler life which the future holds for man. Better a thousandfold abuse of free speech than denial of free speech. The abuse dies in a day; the denial slays the life of the people and entombs the hope of the race.
- Charles Bradlaugh, Speech at Hall of Science c.1880 quoted in An Autobiography of Annie Besant; reported in Edmund Fuller, Thesaurus of Quotations (1941), p. 398; reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989).
- For Darwinism there is nothing in the world like value or good or evil. Anything implying evolution, in the ordinary sense of development or progress, is wholly rejected. But... there is a coincidence between that which prevails and that which satisfies. ...Whatever idea satisfies or prevails (no matter what else it is) is true.
Darwinism often recommends itself because confused with a doctrine of evolution which is different radically. Humanity is taken in that doctrine as a real being, or even as the one real being, and Humanity advances continuously. Its history is development and progress to a goal because the type and character in which its reality consists is gradually brought more and more into existence. That which is strongest on the whole must therefore be good, and the ideas that come to prevail must therefore be true. This doctrine, which possesses my sympathy, though I certainly cannot accept it, has, I suppose, now for a century taken its place in the thought of Europe. For good or evil it more or less dominates or sways our minds to an extent of which most of us, perhaps, are dangerously unaware.
- F. H. Bradley (1846 –1924) "On Some Aspects of Truth," as quoted in Bradley, Essays on Truth and Reality (2011)
- The world is made up, for the most part, of fools and knaves, both irreconcilable foes to truth.
- George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, "Letter to Mr. Clifford, on his Human Reason"; also in The Works of His Grace, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham (London: T. Evans, 1770) vol. 2, p. 105.
- We talked of the casuistical question, Whether it was allowable at any time to depart from Truth? JOHNSON.'The general rule is, that Truth should never be violated, because it is of the utmost importance to the comfort of life, that we should have a full security by mutual faith; and occasional inconveniences should be willingly suffered that we may preserve it. There must, however, be some exceptions. If, for instance, a murderer should ask you which way a man is gone, you may tell him what is not true, because you are under a previous obligation not to betray a man to a murderer.' BOSWELL. 'Supposing the person who wroteJuniuswere asked whether he was the authour, might he deny it?' JOHNSON. 'I don't know what to say to this. If you were sure that he wrote Junius, would you, if he denied it, think as well of him afterwards? Yet it may be urged, that what a man has no right to ask, you may refuse to communicate; and there is no other effectual mode of preserving a secret and an important secret, the discovery of which may be very hurtful to you, but a flat denial; for if you are silent, or hesitate, or evade, it will be held equivalent to a confession. But stay, Sir; here is another case. Supposing the authour had told me confidentially that he had written Junius, and I were asked if he had, I should hold myself at liberty to deny it, as being under a previous promise, express or implied, to conceal it. Now what I ought to do for the authour, may I not do for myself? But I deny the lawfulness of telling a lie to a sick man for fear of alarming him. You have no business with consequences; you are to tell the truth. Besides, you are not sure what effect your telling him that he is in danger may have. It may bring his distemper to a crisis, and that may cure him. Of all lying, I have the greatest abhorrence of this, because I believe it has been frequently practised on myself.'
I cannot help thinking that there is much weight in the opinion of those who have held, that Truth, as an eternal and immutable principle, ought, upon no account whatever, to be violated, from supposed previous or superiour obligations, of which every man being to judge for himself, there is great danger that we too often, from partial motives, persuade ourselves that they exist; and probably whatever extraordinary instances may sometimes occur, where some evil may be prevented by violating this noble principle, it would be found that human happiness would, upon the whole, be more perfect were Truth universally preserved.
- Questions don't change the truth. But they give it motion.
- Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again;
The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies among his worshippers.
- Truth makes on the surface of nature no one track of light — every eye looking on finds its own.
- For truth is precious and divine;
Too rich a pearl for carnal swine.
- 'Tis not antiquity, nor author,
That makes truth truth, altho' time's daughter.
- 'Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange,
Stranger than fiction.
- They tell me that truth lies somewhere at the bottom of a well, and at virtually the door of our home is a most notable if long dried well. Our location is thus quite favorable, if we but keep patience.
- James Branch Cabell, The Silver Stallion (1926), Kerin, in Book Seven : What Saraïde Wanted, Ch. XLII : Generalities at Ogde.
- Where this will end? In the Abyss, one may prophecy; whither all Delusions are, at all moments, travelling; where this Delusion has now arrived. For if there be a Faith, from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live for ever. The very Truth has to change its vesture, from time to time; and be born again. But all Lies have sentence of death written down against them, and Heaven's Chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour.
- "...The virtue of truth gives another his just due. Truthfulness keeps to the just mean between what ought to be expressed and what ought to be kept secret: it entails honesty and discretion. In justice, "as a matter of honor, one man owes it to another to manifest the truth.
- "Catechism of the Catholic Church §2469"
- Before all other things, man is distinguished by his pursuit and investigation of Truth. And hence, when free from needful business and cares, we delight to see, to hear, and to communicate, and consider a knowledge of many admirable and abstruse things necessary to the good conduct and happiness of our lives: whence it is clear that whatsoever is True, simple, and direct, the same is most congenial to our nature as men. Closely allied with this earnest longing to see and know the truth, is a kind of dignified and princely sentiment which forbids a mind, naturally well constituted, to submit its faculties to any but those who announce it in precept or in doctrine, or to yield obedience to any orders but such as are at once just, lawful, and founded on utility. From this source spring greatness of mind and contempt of worldly advantages and troubles.
- I smile when I'm angry, I cheat and I lie. I do what I have to do to get by. But I know what is wrong and I know what is right, and I'd die for the truth in my secret life.
- Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don't mean the argument over who came up with the word. I don't know whether it's a new thing, but it's certainly a current thing, in that it doesn't seem to matter what facts are.