Kant and the Absolute Prohibition against Lying

Thomas L. Carson

in Lying and Deception

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199577415
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722813 | DOI:
Kant and the Absolute Prohibition against Lying

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In several works, Kant claims that lying is always wrong, no matter what. He is probably the most well‐known defender of an absolute prohibition against lying in the history of Western philosophy. The chapter surveys what Kant says about lying in his writings. It is noteworthy that he never directly appeals to the categorical imperative in any of his arguments to show that lying is always wrong. The chapter argues that the universal law version of the categorical imperative does not imply that lying is always wrong – one can consistently will that everyone follows maxims or principles that sometimes permit lying. Korsgaard to the contrary, the second version of the categorical imperative, which says that we should never treat another person as a mere means, does not imply that lying is never permissible. The chapter contends that Korsgaard's arguments rest on contentious interpretations of several ambiguous passages in Kant. None of the versions of the categorical imperative commits Kant to an absolute prohibition against lying. Not only does Kant fail to give a compelling argument for an absolute prohibition against lying, there are positive reasons to reject his absolutism. The duty not to lie can conflict with other moral duties. If lying is always wrong no matter what, then the duty not to lie must always be more important than any conflicting duty. However, it is most implausible to hold that the duty not to lie is always more important than any conflicting duty. Kant's own example of lying to thwart the plans of a would‐be murderer is one of the best illustrations of this.

Keywords: Kant on lying; murderer at door; definition of lying; absolutism; categorical imperative; Alan Wood; Christine Korsgaard; Ross

Chapter.  11684 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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