TED Conversations

Jean-Charles Longuet

This conversation is closed.

Telling the truth: are there limits?

Two recent talks focused on "Truth" as something good/moral. Practically, however, some information may cause havoc: the Wikileaks diplomatic data disclosure, for example, coulad have put some people at risk.

How should we manage the decision to disclose (or not) such information? Or manage the moral dilemma when telling a lie may have a positive outcome?

[update 2012/11/25] The conversation initially mixed a few things : Truth is something that is not as obvious as it seems, and Lies are more related to a deceiving/manipulative intention that to the hiding of some Truth.

Anyway, all points of views are welcome.


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 18 2012: The commandment says "thou shalt not bear false witness". It was based on telling the truth for the moral good of all.

    People lie in order to hide the truth. And mostly it isn’t for the moral good. It is to protect the guilty from having to deal with consequences.

    There are some lies that are harmless. There are some lies that protect the innocent. There are some lies that lead to unspeakable horrors. There is no simple answer when it comes to lies – it depends on the motive and the consequences.

    I was at a retirement party. The person retiring points to me and says to his friends; “if you ever want to know the truth, just ask that guy”. That’s a reputation that you can’t buy. And once you’ve lost it, you may never get it back.

    Anyone who tolerates lies has no right to complain about evil because they are willing to defend it.

    I have known people to overlook a lie because it was for the common good that it was told. I can accept that. But I can't accept a lie that is a deliberate deception to avoid having to face the truth. Such lies only get bigger with time.
    • thumb
      Nov 18 2012: Re: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor"

      I always wondered if this is really a commandment against lying in general. It does not say so. It specifically speaks about lying to harm another person.

      And it raises another question: is it moral to lie "for thy neighbor"?

      Anton Chekhov said: "A good upbringing means not that you won’t spill sauce on the tablecloth, but that you won’t notice it when someone else does." Is it always prudent to "speak the truth"?
      • thumb
        Nov 18 2012: The answer to your question is who does it hurt? If it causes no harm, then there are many things that can be overlooked. In fact, if a lie prevents an injustice from being done, then it was for a good cause. A prudent man knows the difference.

        Those who bear false witness against their neighbor are trying to pass the blame and have them take the fall as well. People have died because the truth was kept silent. It has to do with righteousness, not whether or not you broke the commandment. It was never black and white to the spiritual leader.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.