TED Conversations

Jean-Charles Longuet

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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.


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    Nov 18 2012: This conversation has a lot of subtopics, just to name a few :
    - moral, as it covers both the wrongness of lying (for Deontologists) and the analysis of the consequences of a lie (for Utiliarians).
    - truth & perception, as several people pointed out that there is a gap between both.
    - language, that Mich defined as being a somewhat incorrect information about our representation of our perception (that is itself a somewhat incorrect representation of reality)

    Big topics here under such a basic question... Feel free to provide you own point of view about it.
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      Nov 18 2012: With respect to the morality of lying, does it matter whether or not there is an objective, knowable reality that is consistent with our perception and model of it? I would argue that it does not, that it is the intention of the liar to deceive, and that it does not matter how the liar's model of reality matches up with the "real" world.

      I would also like to point out that "truth" and "lies" are not opposites. Lying involves an intention to deceive. The opposite of truth is falsehood, which has no intentions associated with it.

      I would argue that when judging the morality of lying, this comes down to judging the morality of the intent behind the lie. It is a generally accepted moral principle, that it is OK to do something generally considered immoral, in order to prevent an even bigger crime or injury from happening. This even has some legal basis: You can for example drive right through a red traffic light to prevent an accident, or allow an ambulance to pass, or shoot a murderer in self defense.

      For all those who argue that it is NEVER OK to lie: Is it *ever* OK to shoot an attempted murderer in self defense? Would it not be far better if you could protect yourself with a lie rather than killing someone? Or would you say lying is so evil, it's better to kill the murderer rather than lie to save yourself and prevent a death?
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        Nov 18 2012: I share your view about the definition of the lie : it is all in the intent (deceive) and is indeed not opposite to "truth" or its perception. However, as I started this conversation as "Telling the truth", it may have biased the whole topic.

        But despite all people here claiming that you should never lie, I am pretty sure none of them told the children that Santa Klaus do not exist... Liars ! :)
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          Nov 18 2012: I do agree a title that was something like: "Is it ever morally acceptable to lie?" might be more clear. However, the first and last sentence of your description specifically used the word "moral", so I stayed to that topic. The ontological nature of truth seems to me a mostly unrelated though fascinating issue in its own right.

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