Is lieing ever morally acceptable

alright so im taking this ethics class a very interesting entertaining class, and right now we are studying Kantian ethics which goes under the category of deontology.

Kant says that there is never an instance that lieing would be morally acceptable, mainly becuase you can’t conceive of that type of a world (categorical imperative)

then my teacher explains objections to this claim that there could be situations where telling the truth would appear to be the bad thing to do


your roommate (bob lets say) runs by you and is yelling “help help he is trying to kill me” your roommate runs to the library and hides then a few seconds later a madman comes by and says hey have you seen bob. Now the question here is would it be morally acceptable to tell the madman where your roommate bob is, or would it be morally acceptable to lie in order to save your friends life. Kant argues that it is better to tell the truth then lie.

another example he brought up with this is your aunt makes you this really really ugly scarf, its ichy the colors make no since its uneven at the bottoms and you absolutely hate it. The she calls you and asks do you love the scarf I sent you? would it be morally acceptable to tell her the truth even though it could ruin her day, or if she is suicidal end her life. Or would it be better to lie to her saying oh i loved it even though your really hatted it making her feel better inside

a third and final example your dieing grandpa big cubs fan is on his death bead about to die. He knows the cubs are in game 7 of the world series but he didn’t know the outcome so right before he takes his final breath he says asks you “did the cubs win the world series” but you know that they didn’t win the world series they blow the lead in the 9th. Would it be morally acceptable to lie to him and say yeah the cubs won the game, or would it be morally acceptable to tell the truth ending his life on a low note.

these are very complex ethical issues so its not a very clear issue.

all these are examples he used in class

I agree that this is a complex issue, so don’t take anything I say as any solid truth.

Example 1: I would say it is morally acceptable to tell a lie, or do something else to try to lead the madman away. Your friend’s life is in your hands, and you must protect it.

Example 2: Kind of a difficult situation, but false praise is worse than no praise IMO. The best thing to do is to find something about it that is good, or thank the aunt who made it and tell her how much you appreciate it. You could even call it beautiful even if you personally don’t like it.

Example 3: I would strongly say no you cannot lie in this situation. I would say that is a trivial matter, and lying would be petty and disrespectful.

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this… well done!

Ex 1) You do not have to lie here. Refusing to answer is not a lie.

Ex 2) You do not have to lie here either. “Hey, Aunt ____. You must have put a lot of love and time into this scarf. Thanks.”

Ex 3) I agree with Alexander Smith on this one.

If you accept the premise ‘there is never an instance that lieing would be morally acceptable’, then you must be open to a third option.

i agree with you on all these examples

but let me ask you a question if there is a way to tell a truth that won’t actually reveal where the person is would that be better then lieing

cause kant makes the point that you can say an untruth that really isn’t a lie (i may be off on this)

example you would say oh i saw bob a week ago (this is the truth but not what the madman was looking for)

Lying is ALWAYS a sin. Its a matter of whether the lie is venial or grave but its always a sin.

The Church teaching:

CCC 2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

CCC 2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

CCC 2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

CCC 2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray.

CCC 2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears apart the fabric of social relationships.

ex1 what if he threatens to kill you if you don’t answer

ex2 what if she isnsit you answer the question but do you love it?

ex3 i think we all agree here

Lying is ALWAYS a sin. Its a matter of whether the lie is venial or grave but its always a sin.

i agree but ex1 could be an exception

I’ve heard it said, if you have Anne Frank in the attic and the Nazis were at your door would you lie?"
I would, and I wouldn’t confess that lie because I believe it’s not a sin.

Folks, life is not an ethics exam. There are very, very few moral absolutes in life, and, sadly, lying is one of them.

Two overriding points:
One: Life is complex.
Two: The Catholic faith is about LOVE, and about having a relationship with God and humanity - it is NOT about mindlessly following imperatives, in 100% of situations, consequences be damned – because then we’ve substituted the spirit of the faith, with the letter of the law,

Are there instances where lying is not only morally acceptable but imperative? Yes.

The “Nazis at the door asking for Anne Frank” is one of them, and fortunately one none of will ever face (most likely).

But there are others. Just of the top of my head:

  1. Your 16 year old daughter is in her room. There’s a knock at the door. It’s an abusive gang member who you hear carries a gun and you know is smitten with your daughter. It’s 11pm and he’s drunk, He asks, “is [daughter] here?”

–Tell me I’m sinning by saying, “no,” and I will charitably respond that I could not possibly care less what your opinion is, nor do I believe the Catholic Church would hold that my response “no!” is a sin.

  1. The police lie to suspects all the time. They say things like, "you might as well confess, since we have your fingerprints on the knife!’ when they secretly know the knife handle was wiped clean and there is no other evidence. They get LOTS of confessions to real crimes because they can and do lie to suspects.

I’m sorry, Thistle, I respectfully think you are incorrect when you state, “Lying is ALWAYS a sin. Its a matter of whether the lie is venial or grave but its always a sin.” Your examples from the CCC do not so state.

“CCC 2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.””

–If I speak with the intent to save a life, I have no intention of deceiving.

“CCC 2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.” The key is “in order to lead someone into error.” If my intent is to lead someone to confess a crime, I have not led them to error, I have instead lead them to the truth.

Also, it is not a lie to keep the truth to oneself, or to tell only part of the truth. For example, if I tell the gangbanger at the door “my daughter is not at home,” I have not lied inasmuch as I privately mean “she is not at home FOR YOU.”

Once again, life is complex. Any religion that purports to tell us how to act in 100% of circumstances is nothing more than a cult, The Catholic Church teaches us to have well-informed consciences, not to be robots.


thanks for clearing this up VTD

but one hting i must respond to is that sometimes we need to ponder these ethical situations becuase you never know you could find yourself in this situation one day

plus i just want to see what people think.

I don’t think God is going to say you should have told the truth in that very difficult hard to discern situation therefor depart from me you evil doer

You are correct regarding the need to ponder items like this – too many people do not.

On a personal level, I say there are many gray areas in life – but we do well to avoid those areas which are dark gray.

I think the best rule to go by is, if telling the truth would cause an even bigger sin to be committed, then it is not a sin to lie. That is why #1 is not a sin.

On that note, is it a sin to lie about your income on your tax return (as much as you can get away with) in order to avoid giving your money to a government that promotes abortion?

i would say yes

but thats another interesting issue

No. But say you were having a surprise party for somebody and you lied to them to not let them find out, I wouldn’t really call that a ‘lie’.

In wartime, deception is a tactic, a defence, a tool and a weapon. The OT is full of stories of Godly men and women who deployed deception for the greater good. So perhaps we need to clarify what constitutes lying and what constitutes a just tactic of deception. For in cases of dealing with an enemy, whether a nation, a gang or an armed burglar, our lie is not, as the CCC states, the “The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error,” but the deliberate intention of leading an ENEMY into error.

Lying is ALWAYS a sin no matter the intention. Its just a question of whether the lie consitutes a venial sin or a grave sin.

The favourite topic in these forums about lying is always about WWII and if the Gestapo comes to your door and asks if there are any Jews hiding in the house. If there are but you say no is that lie a sin? Well the answer is yes it is a sin but it is not a grave sin.

Are you sure about that? In Exodus 1 we have a Nazi-type scenario where Pharoah wanted the Hebrew babies to be killed and the midwives refused to kill them. When Pharoaoh confronted them, the midwives lied and said that the babies were born before they could get there. So we read in Exodus 1:20-21 “Therefore God dealt well with the midwives: and the people multiplied, and waxed very mighty. And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that he made them houses.”

So either A. Not all lying is sin. B. All lying is sin and what is said to deceive the enemy in times of war and danger is not a lie at all but a weapon of deception to deceive not a neighbor but an enemy, such as in the case in Exodus, or C. All lying is sin, even if only venial, and we have a God who would reward venial sins. If there are other scenarios please let me know. I still stick with B.

The Church teaching is clear. I refer you to the CCC again.
ALL lies are sinful but its whether the sin is only venial or grave that makes a difference.

In Judaism human life is so highly valued that it is permitted to act against Torah (except for committing idolatry, incest or murder) in order to save another life. This is found in the moral value concept of “pikuach nefesh”. For the Jew there is no moral dilemma if he/she should lie to save another life; the value of saving a life, takes precedence over the value of not telling a lie.

Here are some discussions from the Jewish perspective:…ng-values.html…_ne62tldt.html…ch_nefesh.html…sion-questions

The teaching is clear, however it does not follow that our understanding is likewise clear. So you are saying that God rewards venial sin? I can only assume that you chose option C: All lying is sin, even if only venial, and we have a God who would reward venial sins.

I am saying that lies are wrong, but deception is not always a lie as you are understanding it, because at times it is an acceptable tactic. God would not command anyone to sin, venial or otherwise, would he? In Joshua Chapter 6 Rahab hid the spies and then “lied” to the rulers to protect their lives. In Hebrews 11:31 we read not the Rahab lied, not that she was causing error or confusion, but that “by faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” James 2:25 goes so far to ask “likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” The wages of sin is death, yet the practice of deception in this case was not only justified, but also led to both peace and faith…How can this be? Obviously the CCC is clear, but again, our understanding of it may need some assistance. I see no contradiction when we realize that maybe all lies as you understand them to be are sins, but only if we accept that not all practices of deception should constitute lying. Otherwise we have some big theological problems to deal with here. Like, is God a liar then? Or are we to believe like the Muslims, that God is not bound by His own moral law? God himself uses deception as a tactic in 1 Samuel 16:2 when he had samuel bring a heifer as an offering to Bethlehem so Saul wouldn’t suspect that Samuel’s real reason for going was to anoint David as King. So here is God lying, for the CCC states “To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error,” which was exactly God’s intent. So now we have to understand error as an enemy of righteousness, not as wrong conclusions, and we have to understand lying as separate from tactical deception.

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