A Welfarist Perspective on Lies
48 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2014 Last revised: 6 Jun 2016
Date Written: May 19, 2015
Should a Muslim employee who falsely stated in his job interview that he is Christian in order to avoid discrimination be fired for his dishonesty? Should a buyer of a tract of land who conducted an expensive investigation before contracting that revealed a high likelihood of mineral deposits be subject to liability for fraud because he told the seller he knew nothing about the land's mineral potential before purchase? Is a doctor violating her legal duties toward her patient if she convinces him to get vaccinated on the pretext that it is in his best interest when it is instead in the public interest? In all of these cases, and many others, parties are allowed not to disclose material information to an interested party but not to lie about the same information.
This article makes the argument that in many contexts, where non-disclosure is permitted lies should also be tolerated, for otherwise the social goals sought by allowing non-disclosure are frustrated. With this as its starting point, the article develops a theory of valuable lies, discussing the conditions under which lies should be permitted. It analyzes the main impediments to allowing lies, the most important of which being the risk that permitting lies would impair truth-tellers' ability to reliably convey truthful information. The article applies the theory to various fields, including contract law, tort law, medical malpractice, criminal law and procedure, and constitutional law. It concludes by proposing changes to the law that will allow telling lies in well-defined categories of cases.
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