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argive99

The Ethics Of Lying To A Dying Person

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If the conversation continues on the personal level, I'll be forced to report all of you to the Federal Elections Commission, since they have jurisdiction on all internet related commentary.

Does this mean I need to refrain from discussing political candidates?

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With this in mind, I don't think it's accurate to say that "lying is immoral in all contexts," though I'm not sure you're saying this, Megan. 

I haven't said that at ALL, so, you are correct in thinking that.

The reason that one would lie to the Gestapo is that they are irrational, immoral, and in the service of destruction; in treating them as moral men that have respect for reality, you would be turning your VIRTUES into the service of EVIL.

That is the only acceptable reason to be dishonest; when it is not a breach in morality, but the only way to support it.

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That's what I was grasping at, but didn't have the words for: when your virtues can be used for the destruction of your values, a la what Lillian tried with Hank. So then, the virtue of honesty in the case of the dying patient would only go to their destruction if they had no will to live in the first place, correct?

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That's what I was grasping at, but didn't have the words for: when your virtues can be used for the destruction of your values, a la what Lillian tried with Hank.  So then, the virtue of honesty in the case of the dying patient would only go to their destruction if they had no will to live in the first place, correct?

Possibly, a really viciously blunt person could push a borderline case into despair, which is another point I was trying to make; all the "values" that the responders think they can gain by lying, they can gain MORALLY by telling the truth, stressing the positive, and exerting some EFFORT.

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Does this mean I need to refrain from discussing political candidates?

No, but if you live in San Francisco, and this ordinance passes, you will have to report political comments and pay a registration fee.

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The very premise that some of our parents have lied to us in an attempt to "shield us from the 'evil'" is precisely the root of our difficulty concretizing an all encompassing "life philosophy".

Just think about how much easier your life would have been if your parents would have told you the objective truth (pros and cons) when it comes to everything that they have experienced. Think of the time you could have saved!

Stop lying to your damn children!!

LOL I have no clue.  It's all idiocy to me.

Ahhhhhh... Likemindedness. ;)

No, but if you live in San Francisco, and this ordinance passes, you will have to report political comments and pay a registration fee.

Good Christ! What kind of beast of satan came with this ordinance!? One chip on free speech and the first ammendment and the next thing you know the whole damn thing is going straight to hell! It's the same thing as with all the "indecency" garbage their trying to pass!

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What, precisely, is the difference between dishonesty and lying?  That's like saying there's a difference between "eyes closed" and "eyes shut"!

I don't understand your example, I see them both as different.

Anyways, I believe Ayn Rand was careful to make a distinction between dishonesty and lying, like in the way killing and murder are different. In Atlas Shrugged, Hank and Dagny would fill in fake names at hotels in order to keep their privacy.

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I don't understand your example, I see them both as different.

Anyways, I believe Ayn Rand was careful to make a distinction between dishonesty and lying, like in the way killing and murder are different. In Atlas Shrugged, Hank and Dagny would fill in fake names at hotels in order to keep their privacy.

Yes, and later on in the book Hank realizes that his practice of hiding his relationship with Dagny as guilt delivered her straight into the hands of the looters, forcing her to make that radio speech and bare their private, personal lives to the entire country. She didn't blame him, but the result was the same.

I.e. he realized he had sold the best woman in his life to the worst.

I know a dictionary entry is no argument, but dishonesty is defined as "an attempt to lie, cheat or deceive"; either way you want to say it, dishonesty, lying, deception, take your pick, it all means the intentional presentation of an untruth, no? There may be slightly differing implications (as in my example, "shut" is a harsher term, you would usually use it when someone is squinting their eyes shut to avoid getting soap in them, etc, whereas closed is more relaxed, I think) but the BASIC meaning is the same.

In other words, I don't think you can distinguish dishonesty as being "permissable" untruth and lying as being "evil" untruth; it depends on the situation where they are being exercised.

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If I were on my death-bed and a person I loved lied to me, I would be terribly disappointed. It would mean that I had been wrong to believe that this person was honest and trustworthy--and, therefore, that I had been wrong to love her; that all the effort I had expended on gaining and keeping her had been a waste. This kind of discovery is unpleasant enough to make while you are in the prime of your life, but to have your entire life invalidated when you know it's about to end--that is the worst kind of death I can imagine!

BTW, Jennie, I think you did an admirable job of arguing and defending your position on this thread. Kudos!

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The very premise that some of our parents have lied to us in an attempt to "shield us from the 'evil'" is precisely the root of our difficulty concretizing an all encompassing "life philosophy".

Just think about how much easier your life would have been if your parents would have told you the objective truth (pros and cons) when it comes to everything that they have experienced. Think of the time you could have saved!

Stop lying to your damn children!!

I completely agree. One major thing I'm working through is even *realizing* what kind of deceptions I've been led to believe. I would never want to do that to anyone I loved, though it will take work before I am in control fully of my *tendencies* I think like CF states also, that this is the one step backwords that can erase thousands of steps forward.

I also like your signature quotes :)

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Can someone tell me how the subjects 'political candidates' and 'lying' came up in a thread about Barbara Branden? Oh yeah, well of course I can understand the subject of 'lying' arising in any thread about the Brandens, but other sub-discussions seem to be really off topic.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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Final Post

For the record, I strongly disagree with JMeganSnow's latest characterizations of me. I think she is mistaken in many of her arguments (including the recent one collapsing lying into dishonesty), and her general approach is not conducive to a collegial atmosphere.

I'd also like to state that I will not be responding in detail to her latest litany of accusations, a few of which are: that I'm a "claimed" Objectivist; I attack Objectivist principles; I'm fighting the onslaught of reason; I'm a pragmatist; etc. However, please don't take my non-response as agreement with her or as a sign that I am incapable of answering her: I don't and I most certainly can. The bottom line is that it's becoming apparent to me that she has endless time and energy to wage a back and forth war. I, however, have neither the time nor interest in such an enterprise.

If anyone is interested in discussing my reasons for disagreeing with her, they can send me a PM.

I'd just like to finish by saying that I'm a little saddened that a well-intentioned example introduced for discussion has been twisted into something diabolical. I honestly thought it was an interesting case. If someone wanted to know why I raised it and where I was planning to go with it, they simply had to ask. It was also clear from the onset that I hadn't come down squarely on one side of the issue or the other. But, this was conveniently ignored and I was subsequently villified.

*******

A little friendly advice: we shouldn't be afraid of or feel threatened by examples. Rather, we should embrace and endeavour to apply our philosophy to reality; even if certain cases, at times, prove difficult. This isn't a call for pragmatism but a warning to guard against rationalism. I'm not here directing this at anyone in particular. If the shoe fits wear it.

Edited by Gabriel_S

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Can someone tell me how the subjects 'political candidates' and 'lying' came up in a thread about Barbara Branden? Oh yeah, well of course I can understand the subject of 'lying' arising in any thread about the Brandens, but other sub-discussions seem to be really off topic.

The thread isn't about Barbara Branden, it's about her story of lying to her mother when her mother was dying.

Political candidates came up because Felipe threatened to report us to the FEC.

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Barbara Branden is a known liar herself (see "The Passion of Ayn Rand" as evidence). I seriously doubt any account she may have of what Ayn Rand did or did not say.

I find it especially despicable to lie to someone on their death-bed. Who among you would like to volunteer for that treatment? Who would like to spend their entire lives working, producing, gaining self-esteem by means of remaining consistent with reality -- only to spend one's final moments living a complete and utter lie at the hands of one's closest friends and family?

If any of you would do that to me, you may count yourselves among my non-friends, permanently.

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(This thread belongs more in "Ethics" than in "Misc"...with a change of TopicName)

I'm going to recap my understanding of the arguments thus far, the points on which there is agreement and the points on which there isn't.

Everyone here agrees that honesty is a virtue that should be applied strictly, without compromise.

Everyone here agrees that a full grasp of reality is essential to living a moral life, at least when it comes to any context one would encounter on a regular basis.

Everyone here agrees that virtues are contextual. Everyone also agreed on one specific context where a lie would be acceptable (to Nazis etc.).

Everyone also agrees that typical "white lies" ("That dress looks great on you, honey") are not moral.

(Don't reply that your opponent does not agree with one of the above. If you disagree, "speak now or forever be silent".)

So far, so good... because that's my understanding of what Objectivism says too!

The question, then, is this: other than lying to folks like Nazi's, and thereby not putting one's "morality" in the service of evil, are there contexts where one would lie? Either cases where morality does not apply, or where lying is moral?

Three specific examples have been provided:

1) A dying old mother

2) A dying child

(Assume in both these cases that the person does not know or suspect they are being lied to.)

3) A person who would recover better if they did not understand the real seriousness of their condition. It is safe to assume that once the person recovers, they will be told the truth.

Cases 1 & 2) The context in the first two cases is different from the context in the third. The context is different because dying is a pretty special case. The ethical question in the first two cases is this: Does impending death create a context where lying may be the moral thing to do?

If we agree that philosophy is a science of living as man qua man, it would seem that impending death is a context to which morality is really not relevant. Why does a person who is about to die need philosophy?

Ofcourse, when we ask if lying is moral, we are assuming that there at least appears to be some benefit to doing so. In the case of a dying person, the perceived "benefit" they get is that they worry less. It is easy to see why a person who lives a regular life needs to grasp reality and perhaps even worry about it when appropriate. Why would a dying person need such a code of values?

As a corollary, if we assume a context where you would definitely tell a person something in the course of regular life (not "I didn't shave my legs today", but "Honey, the neighbours called to say our house just burned down"), how is holding back the truth different from lying? In regular life, if my wife did not tell me that our house just burned down, that would typically be dishonest. If we consider a situation where non-disclosure is dishonest, would the context of impending death be relevant, or would honesty still call for full disclosure?

Case 3) In the third case, the context is different. The context presented is one where a person's full grasp of reality would be harmful to them. Some have said that this is impossible. I'm guessing that this is not just an objection to the validity of the immediate medically ascertainable facts. I understand the objection being made to broader, as in: even if "faking reality" leads to a better medical outcome, that is not to the person's benefit. Is this the objection? If so, can someone explain it better? In what way is it different from (say) the example of a doctor giving a person an anesthetic to reduce their perception of reality?

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The reason that someone else's death doesn't change the morality/immorality of lying in my mind is that THEY aren't the one telling the lie, YOU are, and YOU are, presumably, still going to be alive shortly. YOU are the one trying to gain the benefit, YOU are the one victimizing your loved one, YOU are the one that will have to live with the guilt that, in your loved one's last moments, YOU compromised your principles.

The only person to whom the lie can matter are those that are still alive, namely you and anyone else that finds out about it. It is not an emergency, lifeboat, or metaphysically different situation because, as I said, there is no threat to YOU.

---------

How does one establish a principle for what someone "would ordinarily tell you?" That's going to vary from person to person by such a tremendous degree dependant upon their personal desire for privacy, their relationship with you, etc. etc. etc. ad nauseum. In failing to identify any underlying facts tying all these situations together, I must conclude that no one has a "right" to be informed of something; perceiving reality is the job of every individual man to the extent of his capability; you cannot observe reality for another man, so it would follow that he has no "right" to be informed of your observations.

Informing other people of your observations, however, can be of tremendous benefit to you, and if you have undertaken a contractual obligation to do so (a doctor contracted to diagnose an illness, for example), then you must fulfill the terms of the contract or be judged in abeyance of your responsibilities by a court of law.

Children cannot enter into legal contracts, thus the contract in the case of a child's health is between the doctor and the parent/guardian, not the doctor and the child: it is up to the parent to determine how much information the child requires, if any.

In the case of an adult with a serious condition, the contract is between the doctor and the patient, and it is the patient's option (and only the patient, I don't understand this practice of informing family members first as though a sick person becomes a mental incompetant) to determine the extent of knowledge they desire.

The placebo effect is also little understood; making medical decisions based on the possibility of it functioning is, I think, akin to burning incense and praying; there's substantial evidence that PRAYER helps the seriously ill, also, shall we advise Objectivists to believe in God while they're sick? It might help them, after all.

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