August 8, 2009

"If everyone you knew spoke the truth, it would be almost as terrible as if everyone you knew lied."

"Kant, who was searching for some universal moral principle, believed that if everybody lied the world would fall into shambles. Nobody would ever trust another person.... I say, “You wouldn’t want to live in a world where you can’t be conned, because if you were, you would be living in a world with no trust. That’s the price you pay for trust, is being conned."

The relationship between lying/truthtelling and trust.

24 comments:

rastajenk said...

Dems lie all the time, yet for some reason more than a few people still trust them. I'll never figure out why.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Morris is flat-out wrong about what Kant said. Morris says the categorical imperative is "Kant’s version of the Golden Rule. Would you like others to lie to you? Then don’t lie to others." Nope, that's a classic Philosophy 101 blunder. According to Kant, you should ask whether you could consistently will that the maxim you're following be applied universally. If not, then don't act according to that maxim. This isn't the Golden Rule at all. The Golden Rule says to treat others as you would like to be treated. Kant's view takes no account of what you personally want. It's supposed to be based on reason, not anyone's personal preferences.

wordsprite said...

I never thought the Categorical Imperative had anything to do with the Golden Rule at all.

But this quote just sounds like a mental excercise- like a Sudoku.

twolaneflash said...

Mother would say that you don't have to tell everything you think you know, and you don't tell "family". She would remind me that none of the six blind men touching the elephant possessed the whole truth, only a piece of it, but that did not make them liars. Declaring lie or truth often depends on how blind one is to the whole or how tunnel-visioned one is about the part. The current political environment buries truth under part of the elephant not mentioned in the story: the dung heap. So, if you seek the truth in government, be prepared to have to wade deep into the pile and be covered in it.

William said...

I've been reading about the two fraudulent hedge fund promoters: Allen Stanford and Bernie Madoff. Allen Stanford's third wife was a cocktail waitress. Prior to his career as a financier, he ran a chain of failed health clubs in Texas. He didn't wear turquoise jewelry and leave crumpled copies of the Racing Form around the office, but short of that, there was every reason in the world to suspect his integrity.....Contrast his behavior with that of Bernie Madoff. Bernie was happily married to the same woman since forever. He was by all accounts a good family man. He had a background as a founder of NASDAQ and everything about him pointed towards coiffed respectability.....My question is this: Who is the bigger liar: the wheeler dealer from Texas or the sedate bourgeoise from Queens? Both men were living a lie, but it seems to me that Bernie became his lie. When you become that immersed in your own lie, your loyalty to the lie becomes a form of integrity....Stanford presented himself a wheeler dealer who made money based on his ability to wheel and deal. Madoff presented himself as a man of probity who made money based on research, smarts, and hard work. Both men were truly who they pretended to be: Stanford really did make money (although only for himself) by his wheeling and dealing. Madoff really did make money (although only for himself) based on smarts and hard work.....Is a liar who imitates a liar a bigger liar than a liar who imitates an honest man?

traditionalguy said...

In my experience, truth is like a refined metal that comes in varying purities. But without an attempt to purify our expressions of "present facts" we are acting as Frauds. The acting as a fraud for fun or profit is always an enemy's actions. A friend will say "I don't know", before telling you a story. (My point of view harmonizes with Crack Emcee's point of view here). So take time to verify facts, which means a skeptical attempt to disprove them, before risking the family future. A true "Confidence man" will always challenge your courage to take a risk on him. Never do it.

rhhardin said...

Raise your hand at required business ethics seminars and ask the expert if it's ever okay to tell a lie.

rhhardin said...

You can defeat creative liars by asking whether he knows that they're giving away free beer in the village, and following him whether he says yes or no.

Synova said...

Makes sense to me... if lies aren't possible trust isn't necessary. You don't trust you *know*.

Likewise, proof destroys faith.

And a person who does not have the freedom to be vile can't have virtue.

A person who is compelled to help others can not perform charity.

And a teenager required by their school to "volunteer" has that possibility of self-less service taken from them.

The River Otter said...

And a teenager required by their school to "volunteer" has that possibility of self-less service taken from them.
I think that the public service requirement is supposed to be kind of like "gym class"- that is, instilling a lifelong interest in it, or giving a person skills to be able to do it in the future, or at least showing that it doesn't kill you.

Revenant said...

Makes sense to me... if lies aren't possible trust isn't necessary.

Certainly it is. At a bare minimum, you have to trust whatever or whoever told you that lies aren't possible.

MamaM said...

"Lying effectively in many situations is generally superior than telling the truth, because often we have to search our minds for the truth, whereas a good lie can be easier to produce (though of course caution is indicated if the lie can be easily unmasked). Invariably a skillful liar makes a calculation about his chances of being exposed and avoids situations where a lie can be revealed. Lying is punished only if it is detected"
...from #5 of the 7 principles listed in the link

Does this connect to the search for fishiness?

What if figuring out exposure and avoiding situations of revelation seemed easier and more self promoting than "searching our minds for the truth"?

Synova said...

"I think that the public service requirement is supposed to be kind of like "gym class"- "

Whatever it's supposed to be like, it *is* very much like gym class, engendering a life long aversion to the ritualized torture of dodge ball.

Walter said...

In the words of the immortal Lester "Roadhog" Moran - "A man that don't lie ain't got nothing to say!"

Chris said...

First Kant.

Awesome link.

KLDAVIS said...

All sorts of assumptions there. #1 being that trust is inherently and extremely valuable. Right, because liberals depend wholly on trust. If people didn't trust them, they'd never get anywhere, because they certainly can't back up their grandiose schemes with facts or science. They want you trust your feelings and have compassion and understanding and all that other bullshit. I don't care if I can trust someone, in fact almost always assume I can't. That doesn't mean I can't still interact with people, conduct business and so forth. Trust is highly overrated.

rhhardin said...

Lying is part of an account or narrative, not a report of a thing in itself.

I can't say I'm going to tell a lie now, and then tell a lie, no matter how sincere a mental state I manage to produce to accompany it.

``If everybody told the truth'' is a scientist's fantasy about the usage of ``telling the truth.''

His thought experiment is incoherent.

bagoh20 said...

Thought experiments are immoral and the ends can't justify the means. Consequently, I'm againt the government funding them. In fact they should be banned internationally. Except in the Principality of Sealand where they can be safely carried out without danger of the resulting "wisdom" infecting the planet.

ricpic said...

Given that a child is a very little thing surrounded by very big threatening things it is only natural that he is in the grip of paranoia, which makes him lie to protect himself in, as he sees it, his endangered position, all the time. As adults we never wholly outgrow that condition, or conditioning. Which is why the world is a tissue of lies and always will be a tissue of lies. This is not terrible. It is the sea we swim in and we could never ever swim in any other sea.

Eddie said...

To say that the Categorical Imperative is Kant's version of the Golden Rule is not unreasonable. There are differences between them, but the common point is that you shouldn't make an exception for yourself, i.e., you should hold yourself to the same standards that you believe are appropriate for others. I think that Kant may well be right that this is the foundational idea of morality, and that those who possess it can be said to have good will.

I would add too that, while the Categorical Imperative is not centered on promoting one's own happiness (personal preferences), Kant was very concerned about happiness. The greatest good, according to him, would be a world where doing the right thing is not at odds with your happiness. I find this insight to be very satisfying as well, and I believe that all institutions should be guided by it.

Alex said...

Left-wingers insist that they are 100% truth-tellers. Really they do.

Revenant said...

Given that a child is a very little thing surrounded by very big threatening things it is only natural that he is in the grip of paranoia, which makes him lie to protect himself.

Perhaps more importantly, children are regularly lied to by adults. So even if humans were capable of being taught never to lie -- we aren't. :)

Largo said...

Morris: Sir Walter Scott wrote, “O’ what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive.” (Marmion, Canto VI, XVII).

When first we practice, we do weave a tangled web -- but the skill comes with the practice.

John Althouse Cohen said...

To say that the Categorical Imperative is Kant's version of the Golden Rule is not unreasonable. There are differences between them, but the common point is that you shouldn't make an exception for yourself, i.e., you should hold yourself to the same standards that you believe are appropriate for others.

I'm sorry, but you're simply misinformed about what Kant said. (I made the same mistake in philosophy class and was emphatically corrected by the prof.) If Kant said what you're attributing to him, then you could accurately say Kant's ethical theory is a version of the Golden Rule. Kant's theory doesn't depend on "the standards you believe are appropriate for others." It's about standards that could consistently be applied to everyone.