The morality of a lie to prevent emotional hurt.
The morality of a lie to prevent emotional hurt is an interesting concept. If someone lies to you in order to avoid hurting you, in what sense is it “wrong”? Is not telling you the truth, your right? Does not the truth always come with some kind of sacrifice? I believe so.
If we take lying to heart as our standard, we will generally look down upon all other types of lies as well. After all, people tell lies to avoid pain or discomfort. People also tell lies to avoid certain truths. Lies are often necessary for survival, to hide the unpleasant truth, to protect loved ones, to get ahead, to win a lottery, to have more respect, to escape punishment, etc. And all these lies have a utilitarian reason – people have to survive, otherwise they’ll die.
But what about when a person does not know the difference between one lie and another? If they are involved in any activity where their honesty would be in question, they might be called upon to defend themselves against a charge of lying. How can we classify lying then? That becomes a different question altogether.
There may be some circumstances where the only valid lie is the truth – there may be no need to lie at all. Yet even in those cases, if the truth is required to protect anyone’s interests, people will sometimes be willing to lie to protect their reputations, family ties, money, status, etc. In these circumstances, the lie is not a bad thing per se, but something that the person concerned should try to avoid doing. But if one is doing so to avoid paying taxes, or to avoid being convicted of a crime, it would seem that the lie is not merely unnecessary – it is harmful. That is to say that sometimes the morality of a lie is dependent upon what one is trying to avoid. In such cases, one would probably be advised to find some other way out of the situation.
But let us consider an example where the only option available to avoid hurting someone is the honesty. If this is the only choice, then the morality of a lie to avoid emotional harm is not under pressure at all. And if a person is caught lying, especially if it comes to the knowledge of others, then one could be said to be doing something wrong by lying. The right thing to do in such a situation would be to tell the whole truth, even if this means to deceive someone. This seems to be in conflict with the concept of honesty, which, for obvious reasons, one cannot give up when it concerns matters of life and death.
The morality of a lie to avoid emotional harm is therefore relative. It depends on whether the person is helping a friend, lover, or an innocent person. One could also consider this concept as involving the obligation to protect one’s image. In this regard, it is important to point out that the person who lies has to decide whether he wants to maintain his integrity or protect the image that he has built up over a period of time. If a person lies for this reason, then the whole idea falls apart.
The morality of a lie to avoid emotional hurt therefore, pertains to the need to protect one’s image, regardless of what this means to the person being lied to. It also involves the requirement to maintain one’s honesty, even if it means avoiding the truth. In fact, one could be required to lie just to maintain a relationship that has gone stale or to keep someone happy. The concept of the morality of a lie to avoid emotional hurt does not apply to situations where the truth would be harmful to someone.
One could be required to tell the truth in order to protect oneself from danger, such as when talking to a friend who may try to harm them, or from receiving false information. However, it would be morally wrong to bear false witness to someone’s hurt. The concept of the morality of a lie to avoid emotional hurt is therefore not based on considerations of right or wrong, but on considerations of what is best, i.e., the protection of one’s self from suffering. In short, the only rule that applies is that if you feel bad about lying to avoid hurting someone, then you should do what you have to so that you do not get in trouble. The expression ‘the greater good’ certainly applies here.