Is A Lie Ever Permissible — Some Famous Cases

The classic example I’ve always heard when considering if lying is ever permissible is the Nazi scenario: If a German family was keeping a Jewish person hidden in their home, and the Nazis came knocking on the door asking “Are there any Jews here?” then it would surely be okay for the German family to lie. But that scenario wouldn’t be able to play out for a few more decades after this article. So what kinds of examples did they use in 1910? Much less dramatic ones like this:

The great painter Constable… had expressed his opinion that a certain landscape artist’s pictures looked like putty. This criticism came to the man’s ears, and some time afterward, on meeting Constable, he exclaimed, “I am told that you say my pictures look like putty!”

If the Royal Academician had adhered strictly to the truth, he would have said, “Yes, and I will explain to you exactly what I meant,” and would have told him his objections to the paintings in question. But being a kind-hearted man, and unwilling to give unnecessary pain and offense, he responded, “Well, what of that? I like putty!”

It is hardly necessary to point out that Constable did not, and could not, like putty in pictures. But his excuse saved the feelings of his fellow artist.

Read the article for other equally bland examples.

IS A LIE EVER PERMISSIBLE — SOME FAMOUS CASES: Lord Guthrie’s Statement That It Was “Unconditionally Reprehensible” Contested by Clergy and Others — President Hadley’s Views — “Chinese” Gordon’s Attitude. (PDF)

From September 25, 1910

One response to “Is A Lie Ever Permissible — Some Famous Cases”

  1. “Scruples for truth may be said to be imbibed with the mother’s milk among the English-speaking races, and the slighest scruple of truth is fatal to the perfect lie. While these scruples may disappear in the space of the next two or three generations, it will take considerably longer before we can ever hope to rival the Orientals in the art of lying.”

    Imagine someone writing this in a newspaper today. The riots would be most impressive. And well deserved.


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