(On the Concept of Lying)
Karaniwan nang bukambibig ng maraming tao ang “Huy, masama’ng magsinungaling!” Halos lahat nga yata ng magulang e palaging pinaaalalahanan ang mga anak nila na “Masama ang magsinungaling.”
However, I think that lying itself is not a bad thing, because lying may be defined simply as “the act of not telling a truth.” And not all cases of not telling a truth are bad. As how my friend and fellow thinker Adonis Fernandez put it: “If one takes on moral philosophy (and perhaps, some other disciplines), an action is usually evaluated on three considerations: nature of the act (legally, culturally, psychologically, etc.), intention of the doer (if it can be known and can be verified), and circumstances surrounding the act. Lying’s being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is relative to a specific legal, cultural, psychological, religious context. The intention of the doer and the circumstances surrounding the act serve either as mitigating or aggravating factors to the overall judgment of a certain action.”
Lying Is Bad If
…the information being withheld, being undisclosed, or being lied about is malicious, illegal, or has the possibility of causing harm or danger. And not only that: Lying—being a normative action—should be better judged as not only either good or bad but also reasonable/unreasonable, justifiable/unjustifiable, or legal/illegal.
In philosophy, normative actions are actions that may be subjected to what is known as subjective morality—how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, and which actions are right or wrong based on culture, religion, or laws.
Some examples of cases of lying that may be considered bad:
1) A friend of yours committed a crime. He went to your house for refuge. You welcomed him. A few days after, a police officer came knocking on your door, asking if you have information about the whereabouts of that friend of yours. You said you haven’t seen him for a while. You lied. The act of lying here may be legally bad, because the information you are withholding is tantamount to breaking a specific stipulation in the law—that is, hiding or harboring a criminal or fugitive or a suspect of a crime is in itself a criminal offense. However, on a moral standpoint, your lie may be justifiable and reasonable because your intention was to protect your friend whatever it took.
2) You took money from the purse of your mother without asking permission from her or at least letting her know that you took something from her. The next day, your mom asked you if you took something off her purse. You said no. You lied. This act of lying is bad because there is malice in the information you are withholding—you took something that is not yours, which is tantamount to stealing and is, therefore, illegal. And even if the deed was too trivial for your mother to consider it a crime, what you did could still be seen as something against a perhaps universal cultural norm or standard of morality of not taking something that does not belong to you.
3) Despite your having a spouse or a girlfriend or boyfriend, you still dated or had an affair with another person. Your partner, for some reason, learned that you did; and asked you about it. You denied it. You lied. This act of lying is bad because, even if your reason may be not to cause emotional harm to your partner if you tell the truth or to protect your own self from whatever negative consequences your confession might result in, still you broke an implied agreement; and that is what makes it bad. Every time a person enters in a relationship with another, there is an implied agreement that the relationship would be exclusive only to the two of them—unless, there was a clear understanding of a so-called open relationship, in which both partners agreed that it would be okay to see other people or, in extreme cases, a threesome or polygamous relationship was the nature of the relationship they got into in the first place.
Lying Is Not Bad If
If the purpose of the lying is to protect oneself or another person from certain or perceived harm or danger, then this case of lying is not bad. A good example would be the following case:
A known enemy of an acquaintance of yours asked you where to find that acquaintance of yours. Even though you knew the present location of that acquaintance of yours, your answer to his inquiry was, “No, I don’t know where he is.” Clearly, you did not tell a truth. You lied. Why? Your reason was to protect that acquaintance of yours from a perceived harm or danger that he might get from that known enemy of his. Therefore, the act of lying here is not bad. Because of your reason, it may even be considered justifiable.
Sa Madaling Salita
Hindi masama ang magsinungaling. Ang kasamaan nito ay depende sa dahilan kumbakit ang isang tao ay nagsisinungaling.
Or, in Simple Words
Lying is simply “not telling a truth,” and not all cases of not telling a truth are bad. What we should be fostering or teaching especially to children is not “Don’t lie, and don’t ask why”; but rather, when could lying be considered good/bad, reasonable/unreasonable, justifiable/unjustifiable, and legal/illegal. Add to that, the consideration for these three important factors involved in lying: nature of the act, intention of the doer, and the circumstances surrounding the act.
(with inputs from Adonis Fernandez)