What is wrong with lying if there is no morality?

I’ve previously argued extensively that there is no moral realm.

Now, consider the following 2 questions.

  1. What is morally wrong with lying if there is no morality?
  2. What is wrong with lying if there is no morality?

I get asked question #2 quite often, and upon further interaction, usually I discover the questioner is actually asking questions #1.

The answer to questions #1?

Nothing. You can’t have moral fact where there is no moral realm in which those moral facts can exist. Nothing surprising here.

The answer to question #2?

That will depend on your goals.

If you intend to live honorably in a society that values honesty, chronic lying is the wrong way to accomplish this. If you hope for others to believe you in the future, you’d be misguided if you thought lying would be consistent with that hope. If you make a habit of lying, you’ll discover the response will be anger, mistrust, and marginalization. Most people consider lying shameful, a useful emotion that maintains social cohesion and advances most personal goals. Very few thriving individuals have achieved their happiness with lies.

However, if you wish to protect a child from a criminal seeking to harm the child, then telling the truth about the whereabouts of the child to that criminal is definitely wrong.

“Wrong” can refer to the notion that something is morally wrong, and “wrong” can refer to the pragmatic mistake of acting in a way inconstant with your goals. I’ve argued in other posts that moral wrongness is impossible in our universe which is absent a moral realm.

So the word “wrong” obviously has several meaning. It is there for the equivocation for those who consider intentional equivocation a noble way to further their goals. I hope my readers are not of this shameful mendacious mindset.


15 thoughts on “What is wrong with lying if there is no morality?

  1. Lion IRC says:

    I would love to engage in dialogue on this topic, but (for some unstated reason) you blocked me on Facebook. So I’m just going to lurk until I find out what your discussion policies here may or may not involve.

    • I can’t remember why you were blocked on Facebook. I usually block those who are evasive, so as long as you are not evasive, don’t misrepresent my arguments, and refrain from psychoanalysis, you are free to post.

  2. Lion IRC says:

    OK, well lets start over again here. :)

    I think the answer to question #2 is also… ‘nothing’.

    There is nothing more or less wrong about one lie compared to another, if there is no moral standard (datum) by which to compare the two lies;

    a) No Mr Gestapo, there are no Jews hiding in my basement.
    b) No Mr Policeman, there are no murdered corpses in my basement.

    The above statements are simply either true or false. Invoking some stated form of morality is necessary in order to go that extra step and declare under which circumstances someone ‘ought’ or ought not tell tell the truth. (IMHO)

    • As long as you have never told nor ever will tell anyone attempting to perform a particular task “That’s the wrong way to do that”, you’ll be consistent with your comment. But then you’ll be forced to abandon a perfectly good phrase completely understood in a non-moral way by the bulk of English speakers.

      Lying is only pragmatically wrong as demonstrated. There is no need to refer to a moral realm to identify the negative consequences of lying. And some lies may produce more negative consequences than other lies, and so you’re wrong to say there is no difference in the pragmatic “wrongness” of lies. The pragmatic “wrongness” of lies corresponds to the degree of the undesirable consequences. Consequences vary, so the pragmatic “wrongness” varies. This is based on the conventional use of “wrong” in the context of a statement of the form “X is the wrong way to efficiently/effectively accomplish objective Y.” No morality of any sort is necessary.

  3. Lion IRC says:

    What about the person who asks me about the “right” way to do something? Doesnt that presume the existence of a “wrong” way?
    If there is no right or wrong way of doing something why would a person ask me in the first place?

    • That’s right. In the complete absence of a moral realm there will always be pragmatic rights and wrongs. If you want to accomplish objective Y, do X. If you do X, you’ve done something right to accomplish objective Y. If you don’t do X, you’ve done things wrong to accomplish objective Y. And all without morality. Riding a bicycle is the wrong way to get from the US to Japan. Taking a boat would be a right way. If you attempt to take a bicycle, you’ve obviously done nothing morally wrong. You’ve only done something pragmatically wrong as you’ll soon discover. If you take a boat to Japan, you’ve done nothing morally right. You’ve only done something pragmatically right in that you’ll end up reaching your objective.

      • Lion IRC says:

        It seems that we are in agreement about the semantic/amphibology difference between propositions such as;

        a) Tightening the bolt/nut thread clockwise is the ‘right’ method.
        b) Dropping litter on the ground is the ‘wrong’ thing to do.

        a) Flying a plane to Japan is a ‘good’ way to get there.
        b) Trying to ride a bike to Japan is a ‘bad’ idea.
        c) It would be ‘good’ if we donated bikes to poor people.
        d) Greenhouse gas pullution from commercial aviation is ‘bad’.

        So perhaps we can move on from morally neutral propositions and mundane questions like the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to assemble flat pack furniture from Ikea, or how to get to Japan, and instead move on to…good versus evil.

        • I don’t believe in moral good and evil. I see no evidence for it. All I see are emotions. Do you have any evidence that there is a moral realm that can not be explained simply in emotional terms?

          In an attempt to give emotions more weight, many have attempted to suggest there is a moral realm full of moral facts (reflecting their emotions of course). Emotions explain the totality of human behavior. Conjuring up some moral realm on top of the clear emotions-based explanation of human behavior is like acknowledging the mechanical workings of your car engine, then suggesting fairies are also needed for your engine to work. It is superfluous.

          (You may want to read the many other articles I’ve posted on morality before you respond.)

        • Lion, do you have your own blog? What is your background? (country/age/religion/education) More information about your perspective may help me to approach your questions in an optimal way.

  4. Lion IRC says:

    I dont have a blog sorry. (nomad)

    And when I first started visiting the Internet/Undernet it used to be considered poor netiquette to preface conversations with requests to know the other person’s age/gender/nationality/skin color/social standing/occupation/education…real name.

    I think ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ questions and propositions about the mechanical workings of a car/engine are (semantically) the sort of mundane pragmatic, amoral things which fall into the category of “IS” rather than “OUGHT”.

    Science and technology can answer the eternal existential question that plagues humans about whether putting 10 gallons of fuel in the engine IS or IS NOT what one must to do (if one wants to travel 100 miles.)

    “IS” versus “OUGHT”.

    Am I right in understanding that you think questions such as;
    Should we (ought we) allow same sex ‘marriage’?

    …fall into the same category as;

    What setting should I use on my torque wrench?

    Is it just as meaningless to talk about the “evil” or “sinfulness” (right/wrong) of abortion, pedophilia, children starving…
    as it is to talk about the “evil’ / “sin” of not using the recommended air pressure in your car tires?

  5. That is correct. There are no non-pragmatic ‘oughts’. Based on years of inquiry, it appears there is no moral realm.

    Some things are more emotionally important than airing up my tires, but, in the end, there is nothing beyond emotions behind human behavior.

    Based on what most of my 2,500 Facebook friends say, I’m often quite nice. If I’m nice, it’s not that I think I “should” be nice. It’s merely that I enjoy being nice. I’ve discovered that nurturing my empathy and altruism makes me happy. That’s all. No morality. If I’m mean to others, that also is due to my emotions. If being mean to others results in unhappy consequences I change. But I have no problem attacking (seldom physically) those whom I’ve assessed need an ass-kicking. There is nothing morally right or wrong in this. Here in Japan, this more commonsensical approach to behavior has resulted in a very low crime rate.

    (The quite sensible reason why more people are asking others to have a real name behind their comments is to provide some risk that will cripple the now-common post-nonsense-and-run tactic. I don’t want to waste my time on a troll or a poe. What is your reason for anonymity?)

  6. Lion IRC says:

    Well I appreciate the clarity your unqualified position. I disagree with you but at least I understand what you actually think.

    * All “ought” propositions are subjective and pragmatic.
    * Words like ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ and ‘noble” are emotional responses and emotions are hormonal and hormones are chemicals and chemicals are mechanical, (like cars.)

    You ask, what is your reason for my pseudonym anonymity.

    Firstly, I reserve the right to have the same anonymity as all the unseen, unknown people who read your blog and DONT make any comments. If they are free to sit and consume dialogue – point and counterpoint – without revealing their internet identity why can’t I?

    Secondly, I avoid discussion my personal life on the internet because there are other more important, more interesting topics I would rather talk about instead. (I dont come here to talk about your personal life either.) Yes, there ARE a lot of egotistical AvT bloggers who probably revel in the publicity and who like to Tweet pictures of their breakfast for their fans to drool over but all that “real life” stuff is just SPAM . Breakfast/SPAM – get it? :-)

    Thirdly, in the context of virtual reality, I find that the concept of “real name” is a little bit antiquated. Facebook Admins (like a gazzion Mods all over the internet,) hide behind anonymity when they send you infractions. They use a mask to hide behind when they ban pages they dont like. Fake names? WOT a joke! If you can spam Facebook with page after page about changing the definition of the word “marriage” then I’m not going to get too hung up on a strict definition of the term “real name”.

    Finally, in my experience, the folk who put it out there and include their personal stuff in forum discussions get trolled and flamed more than those who do not.

    What “race” are you Lion IRC? (So I can prejudge you.)
    What country were you born in? (So I can treat you the way I treat EVERY person from that country.)
    What gender are you? (Because I like to attack CIS male stereotypes and only women are allowed to have a view on abortion.)

    The only thing I get trolled over is my world view – biblical theism.

    • As I mentioned, knowing your background would allow me to customize my responses to match that background. If you’d rather not, no problem. It just makes it easier for me.

  7. Lion IRC says:

    A pop quiz.

    How would you propose to resolve (pragmatically or ethically) a scenario where two people are stuck on a desert island with only one loaf of bread.

    If they share the loaf of bread they BOTH live for a week.

    If one kills the other and eats all the loaf that person lives for 2 weeks – increasing their chance of possible rescue.

    BTW – you dont know the age/sex/race/religion/sexual preference/etc of either person. (BUT…in reality one is an atheist and the other is a Mormon.)

    • If it were me (who I am at the moment), and I knew nothing about the person, I would simply give them the loaf. I’ve already lived a full and happy life. I don’t mind dying. And chances would be that they would be younger with more life ahead of them. However, if I knew the other person was intent on harming others, I would not hesitate to let him/her die. But that is just based on my current emotions. My actual decision would be based on my emotional state and related values at the time of the actual event.

      But neither decision would be moral/immoral since a moral domain does not exist. There are emotions, actions arising from emotions, and the consequences of actions. Those are the main variables in my calculus of behavior.

      emotions > values > needs > decisions > actions > consequences > rational assessment > modification of emotions/values/decisions

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