Sunday, February 13, 2011



Sometime ago NYT magazine had an article by Robin Marantz Henig on lying. It gets caught up in the current technology for detecting lies, but comes around to some of the interesting ethical issues about lying. In referring to the research of psychologist Belle DePaulo, Hening notes:

Still, DePaulo said that her research led her to believe that not all lying is bad, that it often serves a perfectly respectable purpose; in fact, it is sometimes a nobler, or at least kinder, option than telling the truth. "I call them kindhearted lies, the lies you tell to protect someone else's life or feelings," DePaulo said. A kindhearted lie is when a genetic counselor says nothing when she happens to find out, during a straightforward test for birth defects, that a man could not possibly have fathered his wife's new baby. It's when a neighbor lies about hiding a Jewish family in Nazi-occupied Poland. It's when a doctor tells a patient that the new chemotherapy might work. And it's when a mother tells her daughter that nothing bad will ever happen to her.

So, there can be good lies and bad lies: that seems uncontroversial. But what would Confucianism and Taoism have to say about it?

I think, on the face of it, Confucianism would agree that some lies can be good. Most famously, in the Analects Confucius suggests that it is good for a son to lie to protect his father from prosecution for a non-violent crime (from the Lau translation):

The Governor of She said to Confucius, 'In our village we have an example of a straight [upright, virtuous] person. When the father stole a sheep, the son gave evidence against him.' Confucius answered, 'In our village those who are straight are quite different. Fathers cover up for their sons, and sons cover up for their fathers. In such behaviour is straightness to be found as a matter of course.'(13.18)

This is not to say Confucius is free and easy with lying. When confronted with an inconvenient truth, a noble-minded person should not lie to protect one's own personal interest:

Tzu-lu asked about the way to serve a lord. The Master said, 'Make sure that you are not being dishonest with him when you stand up to him.'(14.22)

The Gentleman speaks truth to power, which could be personally dangerous for the Gentleman, should the ruler decide to kill the messenger of bad news.

In sum, a Confucian approach to lying would be something like this: lying is generally to be avoided; best to live an honest life that does not require lying. But if lying is necessary to preserve the social relationships through which we enact our humanity, and magnify humanity in the world, then dishonesty is acceptable. Lying is not good, however, in those situations where speaking the truth will improve the nature of political rule or serve some other larger social purpose.

Taoists would take a dimmer view on lying. Lies are social conventions and, as such, would be seen as unnecessary diversions from the ultimate truth of Way. Fate is more powerful than human thought or action; so, any untruth we utter in the course of our lives is largely meaningless in the face of the natural unfolding of ziran - "occurrence appearing of itself," in Hinton's translation. We cannot lie our way out of death or discomfort. We may be able to trade one discomfort for another but, since we cannot control Heaven's fate, lies are ineffective.

But here's a classic conundrum for a Taoist: would he or she lie to protect a Jew from the Nazi's? To this I think the best answer is: maybe. On the one hand, a great evil like that of the Nazi's is so obviously not in keeping with Way, and it's general avoidance of violence and coercion, that lying to them might be consistent with wuwei, or "do nothing." Generally, wuwei is understood as doing nothing that might contradict the natural flow of things. But, if Nazi's were seen as already contradictory to the natural flow of things (and that point might be debated by Taoists; perhaps humans are naturally evil...), then deceitful resistance against them would be acceptable.

On the other hand, I do not believe there would be, in Taoism, a positive necessity to lie to protect Jews from Nazi's. Unlike Christianity, which has more direct ethical commandments that might bolster strong action, Taoism's ethics are more diffuse and contextual. If a Taoist did not try to protect Jews, he or she would not face the same kind of moral critique a Christian might face (of course, it should be noted that many, many Christians did not protect Jews, Pope Pius XII being one [emphasis mine]). For a Taoist, protecting Jews or not would rest on how one responded to circumstances at the moment. If a natural impulse welled up from within to lie and protect Jews then that would be fine: one would be following their natural inclinations. If no such natural impulse arose, then there would be no overarching moral standard to be applied one way or the other. Not lying would be morally acceptable to a Taoist.

In the end, Taoists would generally eschew lying and they would be ambivalent, I believe, on the difficult question of lying to protect a person from bad acts.

But I could be wrong. Opinions from readers would be appreciated.


Dang! Just don’t lie thru your teeth to save yours or somebody’s ass!

Your parents and kids gotta be proud of you, yah?


Interesting times ahead in Sodomy II trial?


bumi-non-malay said...

They are all SCUMS and another UMNO-BN SCUM MP is DEAD....Yippie.....Looks like the tide is turning for more UMNO=BN MP to die..... ...Lets hope Chief Racist Priest Tun Dr Munafik sees his make this year.......or maybe Najis.....

Allah will need to intervene in Malaysia.....Hunger and Anger not in people heart yet like in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia.....

sampalee said...

When December 2102 comes around,the viel will be lifted and light of truth shines through.
Human DNA will go through an evolution jump and we will be gifted to read each thoughts.Lying will be redundent.The habitual lyers have to struggle to adapt,while the honest one already have honesty as a default mood.
Certain profession such as politics will be oblitrated as lying is the main tool of the trade.
So we can now imagine how a new heaven and new earth will be like,with complete absence of Lying.

Anonymous said...

What if one has to lie to protect the asses of his/her parents or kids?

Or maybe, there's a videotape ala CSL out there waiting to show up on youtube depending on how the testimony goes?

Sometimes, dignity and "doing the right thing" has to take the backseat ... in unusual times ...

I root for Anwar ... doesn't matter whether he did it or not. The way this whole darn thing is handled smell worse than my unwashed socks ... besides, this is 21st C and how 2 persons like to do it is strictly their business.

Anonymous said...

want to know the abc of lying?

just ask the pariah mamak kerala!

this compulsive liar has perfected the art of lying...

wandererAUS said...

This son of a bitch Dr Siew is fighting very hard to claim the 72 virgins after life! Instead of behaving like a doctor of integrity and dignity, he has proven himself to be a deranged low being, who has mastered the art of lying. You are a disgrace to the Chinese community ...let a curse befall on you.

Anonymous said...

31 march 1940; Louis Finkelstein, director of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, wrote in a letter in the New York Times: “Nobody has condemnd Nazisme (of which antisemitisme was the heart) as sharp as Pius XI and Pius XII)”

1 maart 1947; King Gustav V of Sweden praised Pius XII by giving him the Prins Charles medal ... It was the deepest conviction of the King of Sweden and all his advisors that no one during World War II had done more for the persecuted jews and worked harder to save the jews than Pius XII. (Jansen, p.280)

1967; Pinchas Lapide, a writer and journalist from Jerusalem, wrote the book: The Last Three Popes and the Jews . He states that: ‘it is not so much because of the irritation about the lying play from Rolf Hochhuth, as as wel as about the silence of those who knew damn well what Pius XII did during the war to save jews from the Nazi’s. Pinchas Lapide says: “Pius XII saved more jews than all other churches together and certainly more than all Western politicians together.”

29 augustus 2001; Historian David Dalin, opperrabijn in New York said in an interview:
“The jewish people had in the 20 century no greater friend than Pius XII. During World War II he saved more jewish lives than anyone else in the world, including Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler.”

Anonymous said...

May the hottest place in hell be reserved for those who wilfully lied to cover their political masters in this case.

No excuse for the professional doctor as well. Selling your soul to the devil won't save your children children from being curse.

Anonymous said...

This cursed-fool siew shue fang, for every lie he tell, let him be cursed 100 years. Behaving like a snake; BLANK performa-form submitted, can you imagine that? He had refused to refer to the medical report - which wasnt given to the defense, for obvious biased reasons - yet he snakily sneaked to refer to it during court recess, and got caught for that. Beladi Bastard Siew, go to hell, you despicable dishonest snake salivating with greed for najis gravy to fill your mouth. Suck lah his but*h.

Anonymous said...

We shouldn't pass judgement or try to induce another to pass judgement on a fellow human being here on earth, especially on his personal character, should we ?

Thats pretty unbecoming & disgusting of you Mr Zorro, unless you are God, but are u ?

Do not run people down, just terminate them, can you ?

zorro said...

Anon442pm.....thank you for your fatherly advise. Have a nice Valentine day and spread your love around.The exit is on the left.... for the self-righteous.

zorro said...

Anon557: Grateful. Was hoping this would elicit and evoke historical evidence of Pius XII involvement. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

People of Sarawak please rise to the occasion to oust your dictatorial Taib!!!

Anonymous said...

Najib's new initiatives would include the listing of bumiputera companies with a market capitalisation of over RM1 billion (S$420 million), after launching the Unit Peneraju Agenda Bumiputera (Teraju).

Teraju would lead, co-ordinate and drive bumiputera economic participation through new and existing initiatives, propose institutional reform to increase effectiveness and act as the secretariat for the Bumiputera Agenda Supreme Council (MTAB) that oversees bumiputera economic development, he added.

Najib has been under pressure from right wing nationalist groups like Perkasa which accuse him of watering down Malay rights. He seems to have bent to as his New Economic Model has been significantly watered down since he originally announced its aims last year, a point conceded last week by one of the model's planners Zainal Aznam Yusof.

But there are dozens of units in various ministries and agencies that are supposed to help the bumiputera effort. Why not merge all these and place them under Teraju? It would save money and make for less bureaucracy.

The last thing Malaysia needs is more red tape, and more excuse to extend the lifeline of NEP.

Anonymous said...

Siti Nor Bahyah Mahamood is a well-known Islamic motivator on local television and a popular TV personality, with Semanis Kurma on TV9.

Siti, Jawi, Jais and Jakim should not demonise other people’s religion for their own narrow agendas.

They should not use other people’s celebrations as excuses for the failings of their own people. By hiding behind these excuses they are doing the gravest of injustices to their own kind by deliberately hiding the truth.

Well anyway, I have just heard that we have again achieved the dubious distinction of this silly Valentine argument and ban highlighted in the Western media. It makes a mockery of the PM’s loud proclamation in the UN that the moderates should reclaim the center stage. Worse still, it drives another nail into the coffin of the FDIs.

Siti, Jawi, Jais and Jakim, soon you will have your wish because with the loss of jobs from declining FDIs, the people will be struggling too hard to earn a living that they will lose all interest in illicit sex. Or is it the other way round? Too much free time so more time for more illicit sex?

Within 8 years there were 257,411 births of wedlock. They say the illicit sex took place on Valentine’s Day. Well and good.
If true, then almost all the births would have taken place some 9 months after the couples had sex on Feb 14.

Will the religious bigots confirm if the deliveries took place somewhere in November of each year.

Surely, they can give birth in between March and October.

Anonymous said...

This Dr Siew Sial is a first class liar...and like the DG of Health a professional thieve. These fellows will be marked....Where is spineless Mad malaysian medical council always going for drs selling cough misture instead of going after sial drs like Siew...who so obviously manipulated medical evidence...?????

Find out where he stays and works...where his kids go to school...and the Egyptian style revolution hits Malaysia soon...this fella must be hung by his balls publicly for his family to watch...

The time is round the corner....

Anonymous said...

Listen to Charlie Chaplin about what he got to say these scumbags,