LYING: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life by Sissela Bok

LYING: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life

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Is it not naive to set forth on a general exploration of lying and truth-telling?"" Bok asks at the outset. But her purview--lying in everyday life--has reasonable limits, her approach is circumspect, and her arguments are subtle yet direct and accessible to those less familiar with the classical philosophers she cites. ""Lying"" here means an intentionally deceptive statement (little-white-lie to epic cover-up), a practice rarely discussed but increasingly pervasive in public and private usage. Most people concede that Nixon's Watergate lies merely accelerated an erosion of public trust begun earlier; Johnson, Kennedy, and even Eisenhower also justified false statements in times of crisis, invoking some ""public good"" motive as explanation. Bok reviews the implications of these policies and further examines other areas in which last-resort or habitual lying is often justified: in medicine, where patients are ""protected"" from the truth of their ailments; in social science research, which continues to grant recognition to false-front experimentation; in paternalistic relationships, where those affected may be denied personal information; and among businessmen, lawyers, priests, and other confidants who uphold privacy rights. A teacher of ethics at Harvard Medical School, Bok does not conclude that lying is never justified, but she does demonstrate the difficulty of drawing demarcation lines for permissible lies and notes the progressive patterns that frequently follow from white-lie beginnings. All of this could bog down in dull moralizing but her argument is actually quite lively; she expresses her observations clearly, uses apt contemporary examples, augments her case with succinct quotations (from Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Kant), and appends excerpts from relevant works.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1978
ISBN: 0375705287
Publisher: Pantheon