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Lying to be Nice

Monday, Mar. 3, 2014

The first 20 student comments on “Lying to be Nice” win a $5 Yiftee gift to a local business. Use your gift to try out that new flavor of ice cream or spend it on two slices of your favorite pizza. Entries must be received by midnight, Sunday, March 16th, 2014. Subscribe to the blog (by RSS or by e-mail in the right hand column) for updates.

**DISCLAIMER: All characters and scenarios in this post are fictional.**

Mark is an upper classman college student at a large university. He is a double major in Psychology and Political Science, is involved with on-campus Associated Student Government, and works two jobs in order to pay for college and essentials like food.

Mark is very focused on his education and career growth at this stage in his life and in the rare free moments he has, he enjoys spending time with his housemates who are his best friends. He isn’t against dating, but he knows that relationships take time and money and is not sure he has the availability or funds for a girlfriend. That being said, he has told his roommates several times that if he finds the right girl, he will make time for her and will budget his earnings accordingly.

Joe, Mark’s roommate, has been trying to set up his friend with a girl for a long time. Joe is under the impression that Mark needs someone to help him enjoy the moment and not just focus on the future. Joe sets Mark up with his girlfriend’s best friend, Laura. He tells Mark to just go to coffee with the girl and see if they mesh. Mark agrees to go to coffee with Laura.

At coffee, Mark struggles to find anything in common with Laura. He thinks she is a nice girl, but he also doesn’t feel that she is someone he wants to date. Her interests and hobbies are very different from Mark, and it even seems like her values are different at times during his talk. Mark enjoys the conversation with her, but he decides he doesn’t want to pursue anything after the coffee.

When leaving the coffee shop, Laura tells Mark she had a good time and would like to get to know him even better. She gives Mark her phone number and asks him if he will call her later. Mark knows he isn’t going to call Laura. He has no interest pursuing her for a relationship and is already so strapped for time. However, he tells her he will call her because he thinks it is better to be nice than to tell her the truth.

Did Mark do the right thing? Was lying to Laura that he’d call her the nice thing to do? Is it just to withhold the truth from someone, even if you think it’s for his or her betterment?

Useful Resources:

A Framework for Ethical Decision-Making

Truth in Thomas Aquinas

Is Lying Ever Right?

Lying and Truth-Telling

Photo by Kris Krug available under a Creative Commons license.


Comments Comments

Gus Hardy said on Mar 7, 2014
No, Mark did not act in proper accordance. Following Saint Thomas Aquinas, who made the point that "every lie is a sin", Mark should have been honest and upfront. Now, he may have argued "Oh, well I didn't want to hurt her. I chose the lesser of two evils." This is unfortunately not the case. Aquinas makes the point in ST II-II Q110 A 3 that it is not in accordance of what is right to tell a lie in order to do good. We may withhold the truth prudently, but we are not allowed to deliberately mislead others. In any case, if Mark had just told Laura the truth, it certainly would have hurt, but some good may have come of it. By being direct, Mark is saying, "I acknowledge you and I want to be serious. I don't want to mislead you, but I want to be honest to myself as well, and I cannot see us as being in a compatible relationship." Okay, he probably wouldn't have said it in so many words, but the fact remains that for all intents and purposes, Mark did not, as the question asks, "do the right thing." - Like - 1 person likes this.
Eddie Nugent said on Mar 8, 2014
In the Thomistic view, Mark did not do the right thing. Because Mark did not have the intent of calling Laura, he had "the will to tell an untruth," which, for Aquinas, determines the "essential notion of a lie" (ST II-II, Q110, A1). With this established, we may proceed to Aquinas's conclusion that "every lie is a sin" - here, he also draws upon Aristotle's position that "lying is in itself evil and to be shunned" (ST II-II, Q110, A3). Thus, in this tradition, Mark has not acted morally. Nor was lying the "nice" thing for Mark to do in this situation - it would be kinder, ultimately, for Mark to be honest with Laura so as not to inflate her expectations or waste her time. Aquinas does allow for the truth to be withheld "prudently, by keeping it back," though this is to be understood as distinct from lying (ST II-II, 110, 3). In this situation, however, Mark was asked a direct, innocent question, and thus refusing to respond would be more awkward and injurious than the truth; a prudent withholding was not really possible here. - Like
Nicole Maulino said on Mar 8, 2014
If we apply Aquinas' idea on lying, Mark did not do the right thing. He knows after the date that he doesn?t want to pursue anything further and it may seem like the nice thing to do by telling Laura that he'd call her. However, it is not just to withhold the truth from someone because "every lie is a sin" (ST II-II, Q110, A3). It would have been in Mark and Laura's best interest if he had just told her the truth. - Like
swheaton said on Mar 8, 2014
While Mark?s intention was good-natured at heart, his actions are considered unethical in the views of Thomas Aquinas. In his article discussing ?Whether every lie is a sin? Aquinas mentions that is ?unnatural and undue? for someone to speak in a way that does not reflect what they are honestly thinking, and therefore is a sin. With this in mind, Mark would have been better off handling the situation in a truthful manner, and his dishonesty may escalate even more if he fails to tell Laura the truth in the future. When the truth does come out, Laura would surely be annoyed with Mark having wasted her time. - Like
Shannon Pinder said on Mar 9, 2014
In the ideology of Thomas Aquinas, Mark did not do the right thing. He knows what he wants, and knows that he will not call Laura back. Therefore, by knowing that he would have no future contact with her, Mark lied. According to Aquinas, "lying is directly an formally opposed to the virtue of truth" (ST II-II, Q110, A1). Mark intentionally told a falsehood, thereby opposing what is true. Although, Mark was trying to be nice, he ended up telling a lie, which will have consequences in the future. - Like
Nikki W said on Mar 9, 2014
In today?s view, Mark?s lie would be considered a ?white lie? and many would not be so quick to disagree with this possible wrongdoing. However, to Aquinas the severity of the lie does not make a difference and it is still considered a lie or sin. Through a Thomistic perspective, Mark lied to Laura regardless of his intent to spare her feelings. Therefore, Mark did not do the right thing by telling Laura he would call, when he had no intention to. - Like
Nikki W said on Mar 9, 2014
*Not quite sure why my apostrophes turned into question marks. - Like
Nelson Scharffenberger said on Mar 9, 2014
Applying Aquinas ideals about lying, in this certain situation I believe that Mark did not do the right thing lying to Laura. According to Aquinas, this was the unethical decision to make in this scenario while Aquinas states that "every lie is a sin". Mark's intentions were not negative in any sense but he did withhold the truth from her which Aquinas would strongly disagree with. As Aquinas states "lying is directly an formally opposed to the virtue of truth". Mark withholding the truth from Laura in this situation may result in consequences in the future from telling a small lie. Aquinas also makes in apparent that "A lie is sinful not only because it injuries one's neighbor, but also on account of its inordinateness". Mark should have explained his intentions to Laura and told the truth. - Like
Gregory Gate said on Mar 9, 2014
Thomas Aquinas would argue that Mark did the wrong thing by lying to Laura. Lying with the intent to lie, even to protect someone else, is never right. Lying has its basis in evil, the basis to deceive others from the truth. Due to the evil of its base, lying is never right. No matter how good the intent of the end is, the intent of the object was never good by lying. - Like
cvmartinez said on Mar 9, 2014
Thomas Aquinas would argue that Mark did not do the right thing by lying to Laura. His arguments hold that every lie is a sin even though the greater the degree of good intended, the less severe the sin. Though Mark may think he is sparing Laura's feelings, Thomas also makes a point to state that lying for the sake of preventing some greater evil still does not excuse the sin. That she may face even greater hurt and disappointment when she eventually realizes he will not call her, also rather negates any positive effect the lie may have had. - Like
CarlosBriones said on Mar 9, 2014
Mark's action was intended for good reason, but it is still something that Thomas would not agree with and argues that his action was wrong. To Thomas, "Therefore it is evident that lying is directly an formally opposed to the virtue of truth" (ST. 110 Q10 A1). Any form of lying to Thomas was in direct relation to evil. He even says in the next article that every sin is considered evil, no matter how little the lie may be. It is very much accepted in our society to have what we call "white lies" and can be considered to be a way to get out of difficult situations. But Thomas reminds us that we must be honest with ourselves as well the people around us that are affected by our decision to lie. - Like
Steven Goetter said on Mar 9, 2014
Mark thought he was doing they right thing by telling Laura that he would call her later. Although this seems like a small, meaningless lie in the grand scope of things Aquinas would argue that no matter how small a lie, it is still a sin. Even if the extent behind the lie is good, he believes it is nevertheless wrong to lie. - Like
Estephanie said on Mar 9, 2014
Mark is not doing the right thing in lying to Laura and it can be viewed as being selfish in the respect that Mark is looking out for his own interest. For the fact that Laura seems nice, he does not want to seem like a jerk and he is therefore only looking after his own image opposed how Laura will feel when Mark never calls. Aquinas would also agree that it was wrong for him to lie as he wrote, "lying is directly an formally opposed to the virtue of truth." (ST II-II, Q110, A1) and he also states that lying is a sin. Therefore Mark is not doing the right thing even if he feels that he is being considerate of Laura's feelings. Thomas would argue that Mark should have been honest with Laura and practiced the virtue of truth. - Like
JFarinha said on Mar 9, 2014
I agree with most of those commenting that Mark, even though he had the right intentions, still was wrong in lying to Laura. Aquinas who holds the virtue of truth highly sees any lie as a sin and in direct relation to evil. Aquinas does not approve of "white lies" finding that it is a means that has a root in evil no matter the consequences. - Like
Yi Chen said on Mar 9, 2014
According to Thomas Aquinas, Mark did not act in a right way because ?every lie is a sin.? (ST II-II, Q110, A3) The lie seems forgiving due to his intent of not wanting to hurt Laura?s feeling; however, this little lie can generate more lies in the future. Aquinas would say that the better the degree of the good intention of a lie might lead to less sin, but a lie is still a sin. No matter how good the reason is, lying is never a right thing to do. - Like
Erika Smith said on Mar 10, 2014
When considering the views and beliefs of Thomas Aquinas, Mark did not do the right thing by lying to Laura. Even though his intent was to spare Laura's feelings, what he did would still be considered a sin for Aquinas. According to Aquinas, " order for an action to be good it must be right in every respect" (ST II-II, Q110, A3). Although the action of sparing Laura's feeling was meant to be good, it was not in fact good because it was not right in the long run. - Like
Lindsay said on Mar 10, 2014
This scenario reminds me of the moment when Jesus tells his disciples, "let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no." I am certain that Aquinas would look at this particular situation as unethical in nature. If Mark has already made the decision that he was never going to call Laura, he wasn't doing anything for her or himself by identifying in some grey area. Aquinas would find even these small lies, perhaps seen as beneficial for Laura in the moment, to be the deterioration of Mark's character in the long run. - Like - 1 person likes this.
Samantha Mazza said on Mar 10, 2014
Analyzing Mark's decision to tell Laura that he would call, despite having no intention of doing so, from a Thomistic perspective is unethical. Thomas Aquinas recognizes every lie as a sin, regardless of the intention. Thus, the fact that Mark was trying to be nice is insignificant to the question of whether Mark did the right thing. To lie is is to withhold the truth and each being should be driven and acting towards the truth at all times. While a lie may have preserved Laura's feelings temporarily, I'm sure she will inevitably be hurt when she does not hear from Mark. Niceness is dependent on the circumstance and context, but truthfulness is of infinite importance to the functioning of humanity. Mark should have been honest with himself and with Laura. - Like
Kristin Lee said on Mar 10, 2014
According to personal belief and the perspectives of Thomas Aquinas, Mark did not do the right thing by lying to Laura. Thomas Aquinas says that lying is a sin if an individual's intentions are to deceive another person. Mark's intentions of not calling, even though he said he would, is a violation of Aquinas' ideals about lying. There is a discussion of whether every lie is a sin in Summa II-II, Q110 Article 3. Aquinas states that a lie is not a sin if there are circumstances that prevent the truth from being told or promises from being broken, and there were no obstacles that prevented Mark from telling the truth. Additionally, Aquinas states, "it is not lawful to tell a lie in order to deliver another from any danger whatever". I imagine it would have been awkward if Mark had said "No, I'm sorry but I won't call because I'm not interested", but by trying to avoid hurting Laura's feelings by saying he would call, Mark may have hurt her even more by lying. - Like
Jared Hobbs said on Mar 10, 2014
Even though Mark had the best intentions when telling the falsehood to Laura, he was still lying. According to Aquinas in ST II-II Q110 A1, lying takes place whenever an individual states a falsehood with the intent to deceive. It doesn't matter if Mark was trying not to harm Lauren's feelings. Nothing stood in the way of Mark telling the absolute truth to Lauren so he is completely liable for the falsehood of his responses. I think the best course of action that Mark could have taken would have been to tell Laura the whole truth. I believe Aquinas would agree that telling the truth to Laura, no matter how much it hurt her, would be the admirable and moral thing to do. The harm done by telling the truth would likely be a fraction of the harm done by lying. Lying would only postpone and amplify Laura's pain to sometime in the future. I think Laura would appreciate Mark being upfront with her about his lack of interest. - Like
Alexis Sarabia said on Mar 10, 2014
In this case, Mark did not make the correct decision. He intentionally lied and deceived Laura into thinking that he would call her. Aquinas argues in ST II-II Q110 A3 that a person may be excused if circumstances change with regard to person(s) or business that the lie involves. Yet, the circumstances did not change and Mark knew full well that he would not call her back. Instead of trying to not make her feel bad, Mark should have told her the truth upfront, which Laura likely would have appreciated. In the end, Mark will still hurt Laura because he would not call her back, which is why it is better to be truthful. - Like
Yetian Mao said on Mar 12, 2014
It is understandable and common for many people to lie to be nice. I believe Laura will understand the situation after she hasn?t heard from Mark for several days after the coffee. All modern people follow this pattern. However, according to Aquinas, he treated lying a serious behavior. According to him, ?every lie is a sin.? He thinks people should be honest to others all the time. Lying to someone intentionally is a sin. The purpose of lying doesn?t really matter. The action itself is a great harm to others. - Like
Z said on Mar 16, 2014
Many of the above comments look at this situation through the lens of the Scripture. While this can be useful, I think it is also important to look at the situation in terms of personal experience and common sense if possible. These types of situations are unfortunate, but inevitable. There will always be discrepancies in feelings between individuals, so it becomes hard to tell the truth at some point. From personal experience, lying in situations like these is the worst decision - one that everyone makes. While what I'm about to say is easier said than done, it truly is the best course of action. Mark should have been more up front with Laura when she asked the question. While I don't think he should have explicitly said no, I believe that saying yes to be nice was not a proper course of action. By doing so, Mark is allowing Laura's feelings for him to grow more intensely. This may not be the case after a single date, but if Mark were to continue "lying" in this fashion, it would hurt Laura much more in the end when he finally has to break the news that he is not interested. Ultimately, all Mark is doing is avoiding the situation temporarily - it is always temporary. At some point, he can't lead her on anymore, and by that time she will likely have established feelings for him. This is unfair to her, especially if she opens up to him and actually gains interest in him. If he is more honest to begin with, he can prevent a more intense feeling of rejection and pain for Laura. One option is for him to have said something along the lines of "I really enjoyed talking to you, so maybe we'll see each other again when we are with Joe and his girlfriend. I don't have much free time between all my activities, but it was great to meet someone new like this." This response would imply his honest answer of "no" without coming across as outright rejection. - Like
Austin/Scott Advisory said on Sep 3, 2014
Yes, Mark is doing the right thing because he is not hurting himself and he's not hurting her by making a scene. He is trying to make the girl happy by allowing her to have hope. It is sometimes OK to lie if the person you are lying to won't get hurt. It's not OK to lie when someone's life is in danger or if there is some other important situation. - Like
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