The Instigator
Pro (for)
7 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

What you don't know, won't hurt you --- it's ok to lie

Do you like this debate?NoYes+3
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 1 vote the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/23/2008 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 6,261 times Debate No: 5498
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (1)




It is well known that we do not always tell the truth. In fact, one might argue that we are morally and socially obliged to lie at times.
"Do you like my new haircut?", she asks.
"Do I have a big nose?", he wonders. (not a reference to Pinoccio, no pun intended!)
"I'm sorry, I won't have a relationship with you. You're nice and all but I'm just not prepared for commitment at this point" (as opposed to "I think you're ugly")
These are but some examples of lies that are in fact intended to make things easier for another person.

But I intend to go further. My claim is that it is ok to lie even for selfish reasons, as long as there will not be any detriment to another person or persons. An example might be lying to avoid punishment. Or lying to one's partner after cheating on them. No, I'm not suggesting it's ok to cheat on one's partner.
I'm saying it's ok to lie to your family, your friends, parents, your teacher, your boss, the police, and the community at large (just look at politicians, they do it best). Let's lie till we're blue in the face!

It's ok to lie because what THEY don't know won't hurt them!

nb... the question is objective. I don't want to go into an argument that the person being lied to would be very upset and never trust us again if they found out we lied. What they DON'T KNOW won't hurt them. We are to be good liars, our "victims" are to never find out.

WARNING: this is NOT intended to be a debate about semantics. I am happy to clarify my position (if it is to any extent unclear) in the comments section if requested to do so.

Short-form RESOLUTION:

"There is nothing wrong with lying as long as the lie is not intended to hurt another person and it is not reasonably foreseeable that the lie will hurt another person"


Lying is not permissible under any circumstances.

I first draw my statement from deontological ethics, which states that lies undermine the trust in society. I further state that lying is not popular amongst the people. The Bush presidency has been caught lying multiple times and has the lowest approval rating among the American people.

Second, how can one draw the line between white lies and lies that harm people? If you do not tell someone that they have a nice haircut, and they do not, how can you tell the ramifications of this? A relationship, however superficial, could be destroyed by this. To use a famous example, say you're hiding a friend in your basement, and a man comes to your door with a gun and asks if your friend is there. Under your justification, you should lie to them, because you're protecting your friend. But, if the man comes back and finds your friend in your basement, what's to stop him from killing you and your friend?

Also, how can you determine what is and is not reasonably forseeable? For the reason mentioned above, how can anyone make a lie?
Debate Round No. 1


I thank my opponent for taking up this debate.

Having read and digested my opponent's argument I persist with my proposition as stated in the first post.

I now turn to my opponent's argument.

1. That lying undermines trust in our society might be, to an extent, true. However, trust is only affected if the person lied to finds out that they have been lied to. Furthermore, even in those situations, that person might still continue to trust the person who has lied to them. This will depend on whether the lie and the reason for it has been sufficiently explained.
As stated in my opening argument, we are to look at lying objectively and on the assumption that the person lied to does not find out that what was said to them was a lie. I was not suggesting that it is ok to lie in ALL CIRCUMSTANCES and I have made that very clear from the outset. The circumstances I have referred to were rather narrowly defined.
Lies can only undermine trust if they are found out to be lies. The majority of lies are never found out. Furthermore, one can quite easily limit lying to matters that are very unlikely to be found out in any event. The same argument applies to the contention that lies will make a person unpopular.

2. The ramifications of answering the question "Do you like my haircut" with "I do not" can be quite upsetting to the person asking the question. It is accepted and customary that people compliment each other, even if those compliments are somewhat stretched (ie LIES). In the least the person might shrug this off. Or they might feel hurt for the duration of the day. Or they might take great offence and decide that the person who answered the above question truthfully is rude and unpleasant and this might affect their entire relationship. The effect of lying (and telling the person their haircut is nice) would be somebody feeling good about themselves.

3. The example of hiding a friend in the basement should be considered on two levels.

a) if telling a lie in this example in fact is likely to increase any risk to our friend's safety then by that very fact that example does not apply to this debate (see Resolution).
The scope of this debate is limited to lies that are not intended to and it is not reasonably foreseeable that they will cause harm to another person. If the situation is such that it is reasonably foreseeable that lying to the man with the gun will result in our friend being shot then by that very fact this is not a situation where lying would be ok (as per the resolution)

b) I contend that on its merits this is a perfect example where one not only could but in fact SHOULD tell a lie

There are two possibilities when we open the door.

i) the man is here to show the gun (or something to that effect) to our friend and has no evil intentions
If that's the case, lying to the man by telling him that our friend is not in the house will not foreseeably cause any harm to anyone. The man's attitude towards our friend is amicable and the situation will resolve itself once he has an opportunity to find out that we were worried about our friend's safety. It is likely that all three will then go for a beer and have a laugh about the situation.

ii) it is more likely (and can be probably ascertained from the man's demeanor) that the man is here to hurt our friend
If that's the case, we have two options.

(1) tell the truth and say our friend is in the basement.
Chances are the man will then enter the basement and hurt our friend, possibly kill him.
It is of some relief that my opponent would then feel comforted by the fact that he did not tell a lie. I would not. What the observers of this debate would feel is for them to decide.

(2) tell a lie and say our friend is not in the house
My opponent then argues that the man could come back and shoot both us and our friend. Yes, that is a definite possibility. I would suggest that a person in this situation should tell that particular lie, lock the door, tell the friend that a man with a gun was looking for him, depending on what the friend says possibly call the police and ask for an immediate deployment of a SWAT team.

My advice: DO NOT let gun-wielding maniacs near your friends.

I will conclude this section of my argument by the following proposition:
In the above scenario, the risks flowing from lying are in fact lesser than the risks of telling the truth. Even if those risks were equal, this would not go to support my opponent's argument. That is because this factual scenario could then (and definitely can now) be used both for and against my opponent's contention that it is unacceptable to lie under any circumstanes. As things stand, however, I submit that the scenario in fact supports my argument.

4. The concept of reasonable foreseeability exists in law as well as in real life. Essentially it means just what it says. It relates to a future event which has a reasonable possibility of taking place. If I tell my girlfriend a lie and say I went to work last night whereas in fact I went for a quick bourbon and coke with my best friend, a reasonably foreseeable result is that she will feel comforted and that I will not get yelled at. If I tell a well known violent criminal that Joe Smith has threatened to break into his house, rape his daughter and kill him a reasonably foreseeable result is that the criminal and a few of his friends will pay Joe Smith a rather unwelcome visit.


adamapollo forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


I see that my opponent has forfeited the round.
I will now briefly sum up.
Although the onus lies with the proponent (initiator), one must keep in mind the general rule that everything is allowed and permissible and ok unless there is a rule (legal or moral or otherwise) against it. Thus, in a debate like this, there is something of a reversal of onus. I said that lying is ok under certain circumstances simply because there is no reason why it shouldn't be ok.
My opponent then claimed that lying is NEVER ok and gave some reasoning and a specific example.
I then showed (so I hope at least) that the reasoning is not applicable to this debate ("they don't know they've been lied to"). In addition I have addressed my opponent's specific example (friend in the basement) and demonstrated that this is in fact a good example of when a person not only could but in fact SHOULD tell a lie.

Given all this, and my opponent's forfeiture of the last round, I now submit that I have successfully demonstrated that lying is ok as long as it's not intended to hurt a person and it's not likely to hurt a person ("reasonable foreseeability").

I have also presented a number of examples in which lying is either beneficial or has neutral consequences. My opponent has, in my submission, failed to refute those.

I therefore now respectfully submit that my proposition deserves the voters' preference.

Thank you


adamapollo forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by Lightkeeper 8 years ago
I'm quite sure the horse has been beaten repeatedly over the last 4 thousand years or so. And yet it stiill occasionally rears its ugly snout.
Not unlike the "there's a God" horse, the "there's no God horse", the "homosex is a sin" horse, the "homosex is no sin" horse and last but not least......
"0.9999 recurring = 1" horse!
Posted by Rezzealaux 8 years ago
Yesh, laaaaiiiing iz morulay permishibul.

I thought this horse was dead already.
Posted by Lightkeeper 8 years ago
My con-what? :P
Posted by brian_eggleston 8 years ago
Crikey Lightkeeper! Your conscience is supposed to be your guide, not your accomplice!
Posted by Lightkeeper 8 years ago
I don't know that it's rigged. It's narrow, I agree. I'm not going to argue that it's ok to lie in any and all circumstances. Arguably such a position would not be arguable :)
If you want to run semantics then go for it. Let's see how it goes :)
Posted by Kleptin 8 years ago
The resolution is pretty rigged.

""There is nothing wrong with lying as long as the lie is not intended to hurt another person and it is not reasonably foreseeable that the lie will hurt another person""

Not completely, but it would involve a semantics argument.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by JoshNiggli 8 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Agreed with after the debate:-Vote Checkmark-0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:Vote Checkmark--2 points
Total points awarded:70