White Lies, Excuses and Justifications
- White lies:
o Definition: a falsehood not meant to injure anyone and of little moral import.
o Motivations: avoiding hurt feelings, flatter, cheer up, exaggerate, understate.
- Are they harmless?
o Bok: rarely permissible, to avoid hurt feelings and as a last resort.
o One white lie, in isolation, may not be harmful, but the culture of white lies leads to
the gradual increase of white lies, a cumulative effect, which is morally conflicting.
- Excuses: sometimes to excuse a lie and sometimes to replace a lie.
o “not really a lie”
o Wrong, not blameworthy and not responsible
Excuses function as redirection of blame.
o Bok’s understanding of excuses: Action acknowledged as wrong, and as personally
responsible but not blameworthy (or only partially blameworthy).
Presumption against lying, although outweighed in some circumstances,
excuses are the reasons/arguments for why the lie’s negative worth is
It somehow undercuts our blameworthiness, even though the lie is still
o Reasons given to Excuse Lies:
Avoiding harm (hurt feelings, personal injury, self-preservation, avoid
trouble, save face)
To avoid self-harm, lying is biased, and not such a good excuse – it is
a better excuse to avoid harm from coming around to others.
Producing benefit (make someone feel good/better)
Again the benefit of telling a lie for ourselves is less honorable than
telling a lie for the benefit of another. Altruism is an acceptable
Problem: it does not always have the intended effect.
Fairness/Justice (lying as the fair, the right thing. Tied up with notion of
deserving in some way- if someone is being ex