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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?
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[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 26 2012: My answer:
    like all actions/decisions - telling the truth or a lie can both be good or bad - depending on the purpose.

    Clarification (short):
    1) the same action can be considered "good" or "bad" depending on purpose = "god" action or "bad" action are dependant on pourpose = good/bad are relative terms to a pourpose (nothing is pure good/pure bad)

    simple example: eating french fries (action) is good if purpouse is to stop your hunger/quench a craving. is bad if purpose is to lose weight & you're on a diet

    2) considering good/bad = relative terms (to a purpose) - we can postulate that depending the influence it can have on the (most important) purpose - both truth/lies can be good or bad.

    simple example of "good lie/bad truth":

    you're a soldier comming from batle. your mate Dan died in battle 1 hour ago. You meet Dan's mother - she's sick & will die in a few minutes. She asks you if Dan is OK. If u tell the truth (Dan is dead) she'll be very sad & hurt & will spend her last minutes alve very unhappy.
    If you lie to her (Dan is OK) you can make her happy for the last few minutes of her life.

    So: if your purpouse is for you to feel "good & honest" = you tell the truth = she dies unhappy. You hurt another person - but you were honest while doing it. Selfish? fair? Honest?
    if your purpouse is the happiness of others = you lie to her. She dies happy, you amde her happy - by lying. Dishonest? bad?

    This is just a simple example - usualy most situations are more complicated.

    Conclusion: if telling the truth / lying is good or bad one must analyse the whole situation & the cosnequences for all involved.
    • Nov 26 2012: Most of us might tell the mother a lie at this difficult time in her life. However, who are we really protecting from the truth? To own this I might consider the truth to be emotionally difficult, uncomfortable and in lying I protect myself while at the same time making out I am protecting someone else. Besides, the mother might reach out to the idea that she will be soon reunited with her son in death and be quite euphoric, content. ( a long shot) but you get what I mean?

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