Is it ever okay to lie?

“Lying is the royal road to chaos.” ~ Sam Harris, Lying

For instance: say your boyfriend buys you an outfit you don’t like; is it okay to lie and tell him you like it if he asks? My argument is that it’s not, even though it’s a “white” lie.

The counterargument goes something like this: “I’m only trying to spare his feelings by lying to him. If he knew the truth he’d be upset, and I don’t want to do that to him.” First, let’s be honest: you don’t actually care about his feelings; you only care how you’ll feel knowing he’s going to be upset, and what those feelings might do to your relationship. Humans are self-interested like that.

If lying were actually about his feelings, wouldn’t it occur to you that he’d want reassurance that he’s in a trusting relationship, even if it meant some short-term discomfort for you? And if the situation were reversed, wouldn’t you want him to do the same for you?

More from the philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris in his book, Lying:

“What could be wrong with truly ‘white’ lies? First, they are still lies. And in telling them, we incur all the problems of being less than straightforward in our dealings with other people. Sincerity, authenticity, integrity, mutual understanding–these and other sources of moral wealth are destroyed the moment we deliberately misrepresent our beliefs, whether or not our lies are ever discovered.

And although we imagine that we tell certain lies out of compassion for others, it is rarely difficult to spot the damage we do in the process. By lying, we deny our friends access to reality–and their resulting ignorance often harms them in ways we did not anticipate. Our friends may act on our falsehoods, or fail to solve problems that could have been solved only on the basis of good information. Rather often, to lie is to infringe on the freedom of those we care about.” (p. 14-15).