Thomas L. Carson

in Lying and Deception

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780199577415
Published online September 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191722813 | DOI:

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Act‐utilitarianism implies that lying is morally permissible when, and only when, there is no alternative course of action open to one that has better consequences than lying. Many critics contend that utilitarianism is too permissive about the morality of lying. Mill attempts to answer this objection in Utilitarianism where he claims that lying always has indirect bad consequences (lying makes one less honest and undermines trust between people). Mill claims that, therefore, utilitarianism implies that there is a strong moral presumption against lying. The chapter defends Mill's argument and note two ways in which it can be extended and strengthened. First, there is another indirect bad consequence of lying that Mill does not mention – the difficulties that liars incur in trying to “keep their stories straight.” Second, in addition to the indirect bad consequences of lying (and deception), there are also direct bad consequences. We are (generally) harmed when we are deceived because we cannot effectively pursue our ends and interests if we act on the basis of false beliefs.

Keywords: act‐utilitarianism on lying; act‐utilitarianism on deception; Mill on lying; indirect consequences of lying; harmfulness of lying; harmfulness of deception; criterion of rightness; action‐guide; secondary moral principles

Chapter.  5880 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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