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Telling Lies Acceptability: Ethics Across the Professions


Morals are a unique feature of the human world that had emerged with the sophistication of relations between individuals and became an integral aspect of society. Being a set of behavioral standards and principles, this phenomenon had been determining the people’s actions and the course of history. Moreover, morals serve as a specific determinant of good and evil, right and wrong, which means that all decisions, events, or significant questions will be measured regarding the existing values and representations. That is why the majority of philosophic and ethical concepts acknowledge morals as a fundamental element of society and offer various perspectives on it. The evolution of human thought in the course of history cultivated multiple changes in people’s mentalities and worldviews, and, in their ideas of good and bad things. At the same time, some notions are traditionally viewed as unethical, and telling lies belongs to them. However, the attitude to this act might depend on the general concept and the theoretical framework applied to analyze the case.

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The ideas of good and evil, or good and bad things, emerge in early childhood when parents share their worldview with their child and cultivate a specific value system that will impact all individual’s actions and decisions in the future. In accordance with the classic model, children are taught that lying is unethical and unacceptable in modern society, and they should avoid it (Martin, Vaught, and Robert. 2017, 174). Nevertheless, they also acquire the idea of a so-called white lie, or situations, when rules are not so strict, and people are allowed to lie to spare feelings of a close person. For this reason, there is a certain paradox when a person has to lie to a friend to guarantee his/her happiness, as from one hand, it is unethical and, from another, it can contribute to better outcomes. The attitude to this act also depends on the ethical model that can be employed to analyze it.

Deontological Perspective

The application of deontological ethics, or deontology, is one of the ways to understand if it is acceptable to lie to a friend to spare his/her feelings. The given theory introduces the idea that the morality of any action can be determined by analyzing the nature of the action itself (Martin, Vaught, and Robert. 2017, 171). In other words, the consequences of a doing are less important than the observation of the existing rules or code of ethics when making a particular decision (Martin, Vaught, and Robert. 2017, 176). Evaluating any act, it is vital to consider the existing value system, behavioral norms, and duties as they are critical for concluding whether the action is acceptable or not. Under these conditions, the given paradigm views any action through a prism of morals peculiar to society at the moment and representations of good and bad things.

In such a way, telling lies to a friend is not acceptable from the perspective of deontological ethics. The result or consequences are not as essential as the morality and virtue of actions are determined by the existing series of rules and norms. Lying has always been taken as an unethical and immoral act that can result in the deterioration of relations and undesired outcomes. This idea becomes central for evaluating the situation and concluding about its acceptability. Although it will not cause great harm to a friend, the given action should be considered undesired ones as it contradicts the existing moral norms and standards. From the deontological perspective, communication with friends presupposes absolute honesty as this virtue is cultivated by society and has always been topical for human interactions.

Utilitarian Perspective

However, the contradictory nature of the discussed case is evidenced by the existence of the opposing view. For instance, utilitarianism states that the morality of a particular action is not a question of direct perception as it depends on a certain case and how the existing law can be applied to it (Martin, Vaught, and Robert. 2017, 84). In other words, the moral value of any action is determined by the context and utility, or benefits, happiness, pleasure, well-being, and other related concepts that can be generated due to this very action (Martin, Vaught, and Robert. 2017, 84). Utilitarianism recognizes and accepts moral laws and existing representations of good and evil as they also remain important for human beings. However, this framework considers the consequences of an action, a standard that can help to determine if it is good or bad (Martin, Vaught, and Robert. 2017, 84). For this reason, in their decision-making, people should be more focused on the result of their doings, rather than on the existing moral laws that might offer contradictory recommendations.

In this regard, the situation presupposing telling lies to a friend acquires new meaning from the utilitarian point of view. The primary cause of this action is the desire to spare feelings of a close person, and, at the same time, there will be no substantial harm caused to an individual because of the provision of false information. It means that the results will be beneficial to a person as he/she will avoid moral suffering associated with the concealed data and will remain happy (Martin, Vaught, and Robert. 2017, 86). Because utilitarianism emphasizes the increased importance of consequences and context, rather than the moral laws and rules, the given action becomes acceptable as it contributes to the achievement of better outcomes, which is vital for communication between people and their happiness.


Therefore, utilitarianism and deontology offer two different perspectives on the idea of telling lies to a friend to spare his/her feelings. The first one emphasizes the importance of positive outcomes that can be achieved by this action. In contrast, the second one postulates the critical importance of moral laws as the determinant of the value of any action. Accepting the reasoning offered by both frameworks, the utilitarian paradigm seems more defensible as it means increased flexibility and utility. There are no universal laws that can fit all situations, which means that the context acquires the top priority when making decisions and acting. That is why it is important to ensure that no harm will be done and people will benefit from the improved positions.

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Altogether, regardless of existing standards of behavior, the moral value of any action depends on the perspective and the framework that is employed to analyze it. Telling lies can be viewed as unacceptable from a deontological standpoint as it underlines the critical importance of morals and existing laws. At the same time, in accordance with the utilitarian view, the positive results that can be achieved due to this act are more important than the unethical nature of the action itself. For this reason, decision-making remains contextual and depends on multiple factors that also influence our mentalities.


Martin, Clancy, Wayne Vaught, and Solomon Robert. 2017. Ethics Across the Professions: A Reader for Professional Ethics. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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