Kantian Ethics Case Study
The ethics of a system that is founded, and relies on a ‘lie’ seems at first glance a kind of breach of human right to live freely without deception. Naturally the ‘noble lie’ is indeed a form of lie, a falsity. Kantian ethics would of course dictate that one should never lie as the act of lying, whatever the intentions or outcomes, is wrong on the basis that telling the truth is a moral duty.
Socrates’ defence splits lies into two categories (382a4-5, 382C3-4) – ‘verbal lies’, or lies in speech (which can be useful and/or good) and ‘real lies’ (lies that create ‘error in the psyche’, which are never useful, or good). He claims that the noble lie only ever utilises ‘verbal lies’, and as such are beneficial for the Republic. Socrates’ definition of a ‘real lie’ as better explained by Reeves (2006, pp209), is “to be a real lie… …a proposition must be about the "governing things" or the things that are, and it must be held or believed by the governing part of the psyche.” In other words, a ‘verbal lie’ (saying something false with the intent to deceive), is not a ‘real lie’ insofar as it does not always try to achieve belief in a falsehood – which would constitute a ‘real lie’. The noble lie, then, is a lie that aims to deceive, but not to ultimately achieve belief in a …show more content…
Just as doctors administer drugs or treatments to patients, so the rulers are the ones to administer the ‘truth’ – which in this case is not quite truth as we know it, but also not a ‘real’ lie insofar as it does not create any errors in the psyche. Any use of lies by the citizens may be ‘real’ lies, as they do not know the good itself, which leads the Republic away from the good.
The secondary defence for the noble lie could be argued through examination of ‘motive utilitarianism’, which holds that “one pattern of motivation is morally better than another to the extent that the former has more utility than the other.” (Adams, 1976). Holding this view, falsehoods generated by the noble lie are motivated by the desire of rulers to do good by the Republic and its citizens.
Through reflection on the statements above, it would appear that use of the noble lie, is a situation in which the ‘verbal lie’ is ethically