We all lie. Whether it was to poke fun at someone or to get out of a bad situation, but everyone has lied in one point of their life. The questions are, “Can a lie ever be justified?”, “Is it always bad to lie?”, “Is a lie better than the truth?”. It is very easy to say that all lies are bad and that a person should strive to tell the truth one hundred percent of the time, but to me the ethics of lying depends on perspective, what is gained out of a lie, and whose affected by it. If all of these reasons are to protect someone or something then I believe the lie is justified.
This first example of lying is one many people think of when they see the word liar. Issac Brown was a freeman who was convicted of being a runaway fugitive slave in Philadelphia. Right off the bat, this case is filled with lies and injustice from the start. The witnesses claimed that Brown “was supposed to be a slave of Mr. Somerville”. This type of manipulation is what most people commonly think of when someone does not tell the truth, and there is a good reason why. First, the intent of lying is usually bad. Lying is typically used as a final effort to get out of something or, in this case, cheat someone or something. John Zell wanted to takeover Brown’s life by turning him into a slave. His intentions are of greed and such that it would only benefits himself. Slavery has an inherit evil that comes with it, and lying is usually a part of this problem.
Today in the 21st century slavery is still a problem. Many men, women, and children are being tricked into slavery and human trafficking. An example of this is the story of Ima Matul, an Indonesian lady who was promised “$150 a month”. Except that she never compensated for her work and was threatened “that if [she] ran away, the police would arrest [her] because [she] didn’t have my passport, and that [she would] be thrown in jail”. These stories are reasons why lying can be perceived as purely negative. However, lying is not always used this way.
Slavery is shameful part of American history. In the nineteenth century, black peoples were subjugated to inhumane conditions, horrible punishments, and terrible prejudices. This period saw, especially in the south, what would now be considered horrible racism to blacks from whites. The social norm was however very different from what it is today. It was okay to whip, brand, and sometimes kill slaves because they were seen as property. It was also a time where people had to be a man of their word and that being branded a liar could be very damaging. Slaves were often called liars, thieves, and cheats because they often needed to in order to survive. With this information who is more ethically and morally correct? The oppressive and abusive slave owner, or the slave that lied to protect themself. In the book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass writes about his life as a slave. In it he briefly answers the question, why slaves would not speak unkindly about their masters? Slaves would, “suppress the truth rather than take the consequences of telling it”. Looking through the eyes of a slave there is rarely any reason to tell the truth, especially if they are being investigated. If they tell the truth or speak their mind they are most likely going to be punished. However, if they lied about how the felt about their master then there would be no consequences. In this instance, the consequence would mean separation from their family and friends. The only benefit for the slave is to stay with their family. It does not hurt anyone. It only protects the slave’s family and keep the status quo. These reasons are why I think that lying in this situation is better than telling the truth.
To summarize all of my points, I believe that lying is not a purely negative action. It depends largely on its situation and its effects: what are the intentions of the liar, who is harmed through the lie, and does it have any universal benefits? For me, lying is justified you are trying to protect others and yourself, but in the blurred reality of the world there is no purely good or evil, or right or wrong. It all depends on what perspective you hold and how you perceive the truth.