In class, we split up into groups and each group received a pack of cards with various types of deceptions on them, ranging from “Using a performance enhancing drug” to “Saying ‘I’d be eternally grateful if you passed the salt'”. We had to arrange them in order from least acceptable to most acceptable.
The easiest to place where the ones we felt were necessary deceptions, whether for safety (secretly infiltrating a terrorist group) or for science (giving someone a placebo). We had a very hard time deciding which lie deserved to be the worst and in the end, we hadn’t reached a conclusion that satisfied everyone. We were split between “Using a performance enhancing drug” and “Lying under oath”. We found it fairly easy to initially group the lies into groups: bad, not too bad, polite, and finally necessary. However, within these groups, it was often very difficult to decide how to arrange them, particularly in the polite group because we felt they were all acceptable and social niceties that really aren’t better or worse than each other.
I didn’t have very much time to look at other groups, but I do know that, at least in terms of which lie was the worst, we were fairly similar. I’m not surprised by this, however, because there were really only two that the group even considered for the worst and I would be very, very surprised if anyone had chosen anything else.
I think there were definitely some that could have benefited from some context. For example, one reading “Artificial flavoring” or “Giving someone a placebo” were very unspecific and could have applied to a wide variety of situations. The one that I felt needed the most context was “Deceiving someone in a psychological test” because there are very types of deceptions, some of which are acceptable and some of which are entirely unethical. We placed it on the necessary side of the spectrum, but if it had been deception that could be seriously harmful (the Milgram Experiment comes to mind) we would have to reconsider.
When looking at myself, I saw that I had participated in slightly less than half of the deceptions (if I remember correctly). However, it was difficult at some points because the cards were either too specific (no, I’ve never told my grandma how much I loved the socks she had given me, but I’ve done something very similar) or too vague (I’ve eaten artificial flavoring and I’ve cooked before, adding flavors, but does that really constitute a lie?).
I think that deception is obviously very widespread but I don’t think that necessarily is a horrible thing. When my group went through the cards, the majority of them were not greatly offensive to us; they were things we had done or would do if the situation called for it. The word deception has a negative connotation and honest has a positive one, but I don’t think this is accurate in all cases.
A lie is simply something that isn’t true, and so all of the cards would be lies (except, perhaps “Artificial flavoring”). Some of them were hardly lies, however, because though you are saying one thing, you obviously mean another, everyone knows what you mean, you aren’t trying to conceal the truth, and it is harmless (examples from the game include “I would be eternally grateful if you passed the salt” and “Would you like to come up for coffee?”).
I think that there are many circumstances under which it is appropriate to lie. There isn’t something objectively good about telling the truth. Happiness is infinitely more important (although long term happiness must be considered as well, not just short term). If your grandma asks if you like the sweater she knitted you, what excuse could you possibly have to say no?